Quarantine Conversations: Nika

September 13, 2020

Trigger warning: Rape/ self-harm/ suicide

I met Nika while she was begging for alms at a local market. As usual, I asked curiously. How old are you? Are you still studying? Have you eaten? Where's your Mama? Like most street kids who are used to being shooed away by passersby, she is thirsty for interaction. I didn't have to ask more to know she's 8, she has 11 siblings including the dead ones, and that she lives with her mom's cousin, who beats her if she comes home with less than P40.

Her older brother, a barangay worker, doesn't like her begging, but she sneaks out anyway to avoid beating.

Her mom doesn't know, though it doesn't seem to matter. She used to beat her up too. "Sabi niya naman po magbabago siya paglipat namin. Mahal po 'ko ni Mama (She said she will change when we move homes. Mama loves me)."

Yet here she is, under the skin-braising noon sun, with not a drop of water in her stomach. Her brother doesn't want a reunion with their mother in Bataan. It was with their mom that her older sister had to sell her baby. It was with her mom that Nika was raped by one of her mom's boyfriends. He killed one of Nika's siblings - his own baby - too.

She didn't even blink or flinch. She spoke matter of factly, in between pauses to ask strangers for alms. There were no tears shed. But you don't really need tears to realize how much poverty, loss, violence, and rape change you forever.

I know children who slice their skin open to bleed the pain dry. Who down pills and hang one foot over a ledge to soothe the wounds. I know adult survivors who remain lost today. Because I have been there too. I am one of the luckier ones who healed.

I've heard similar stories many times over the years. There's a 10-year old boy in Intramuros who cut his arms because he likes "how it feels". There's Justin, a polite 8-year old orphan in Lucena who hopes to save enough for new clothes when he leaves the streets, away from the bigger kids who bully and beat him. I don't have grandiose delusions of being a savior. God knows, when I leave, those kids would have to go back to their shitty lives. But just like us, they are in pain. And it makes a difference that out of a thousand nameless faces, someone stopped to listen. Don't we all want that? To know something, someone is out there. To matter enough to be heard.

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