By Zarelle Glen Dorothy Villanzana | February 8, 2024
I’ve been staring at the little girl for so long now. I hope her mother doesn’t find it weird. When I look at her skin, I think of how mine used to be: plump, flawless, no evidence of stress. There are no wrinkles, no dark circles below the eyes. Her button eyes sparkle with curiosity.
She counts our folded drapes only up to ten, and the rest she makes up, jumping from seven to nine to three. “Naunsa naman na imong pagcount?” my grandmother exclaims. (“What happened to your counting?”)
In every mistake, there was an opportunity made to correct, to teach. “What comes after ten?” And they always say it gently, always with a soothing voice, one that doesn’t rise in pitch or pack a punch as thick as a brick to the face. No, the voice will always be kind to a child. It is what they deserve.
At what age are adults required to start getting angry for the youth’s shortcomings? Perhaps when they become old enough to think for themselves. Perhaps.
My grandparents smile so widely in their conversations with her, despite the dialogue’s imbalance. This must have been how it was with me once: blank stares of confusion in talking with older people. They seemed to know so much more, it may have been intimidating.
While she waited for her mother to finish working, my grandfather put on a kid’s movie about ants knowing it would keep the little one entertained. And it did, and she would watch the animation without care for its rationality. Everything was possible. Everything was funny. My grandfather enjoyed the movie he put on. I enjoyed the sight of all of this coming together.
While the movie plays, she takes a paper bag from the table and puts on make-believe tape with her fingers. She presses it down as if it’s real.
“What will she do next?” I think, referring to the next minute but also the next ten years.
She doesn’t know what course she’ll be taking in college yet, or what workforce she’ll be entering after. She doesn’t know what meals she will be preparing when she starts living by herself in a dormitory or apartment—if she ever does plan on leaving her hometown. She doesn’t know how to budget her allowance so she can survive another month as a student; how much time to spend on social media, setting app timers to restrict herself from distraction.
She doesn’t know about the complexities of religion, emotion, or relationships. She doesn’t know about the heavy self-marketing online that she may partake in later only to feel the ick of her accumulated ego and decide social media is not for her. She has no background in meme culture or TikTok humor, and she knows none of the many inside jokes that people who are chronically online share.
She does not know about the wiping out of Gaza’s people, or how the United Nations—as important as it sounds—is practically useless in solving international disputes as long as the nations do not cooperate by putting their personal interests aside. She doesn’t know her own country’s government is also having its little feud, wasting potential progress for bigger matters at hand. She doesn’t know about the jeepney phaseout, recent attempts at charter change, or what is happening in the West Philippine Sea. She doesn’t know about capitalism, or climate change, or the other concepts of politics seemingly difficult to understand but stain everyday life whether we acknowledge them or not.
She’ll grow up to be my age and see a child her age and reflect on the disparity of knowledge between the years.
“Social indifference is a sin against God,” our college professor mentions in our Hebrews Scripture lecture. Always caring more to be wiser than my age now, I am reminded of a child’s innocence, thinking—somehow—I deserve to retain some of it.
The little girl doesn’t know enough, but none of it matters today.
“What will she do next?” I think, referring to her paper bag.
She will put on make-believe tape, hide it inside her mother’s bag, and continue watching the movie about ants, leaving commentary on their number and size. She will gasp at the ants’ capability to carry the little pebbles, the leaves, and the trinkets on the floor, without sweat, despite how tiny they are. She will be amazed, go home with her mother, sleep, and wake up to another day.
She will probably start learning to count further than ten in a few weeks.