By  Aya Paredes

She was just another poor,  bedraggled woman,  struggling to feed her family.  He saw  them all  the time,  their faces careworn and blank. The typhoon that had hit the  Bicol  region had created  hundreds  of them.

He was  one of the  lucky ones who still had  his sari-sari store, a source of income to  feed his  family. Mang Tonyo, the store owner,  was very thankful his house was not destroyed by the killer typhoon that left hundreds  of casualties and thousands of families homeless.

She came one day to his  store, carrying an empty infant milk feeding  bottle, and wordlessly place it on the  counter in front of him.  He took  the bottle and Mang Tonyo  soewhat knew she needed infant milk for her baby.

He filled the bottle with his own ten-month-old son’s infant milk formula and lukewarm water saying: “Ten pesos na lang po!” She did not reply. She just took the bottle and left the store.  He might have gone after her to demand for payment or called the barangay tanods,  but he did neither.

He need was evident and he always felt a  little guilty at being one of the lucky ones with his house still  standing and with a source of income. She was  probably  one of the   refugees,  he decided.

She was back the next day with two  empty feeding bottles. Mang Tonyo  once  again  filled them with  infant milk and watched as she hurried  out the door. She looked  so worried that he wondered if she had a job at all.  If she came back , he would offer her a part-time position cleaning the store.

She came again, the next morning,  and refilled her empty  feeding bottles without saying a word.  He tried to talk to ask if she wanted   a job, but she  practically  ran  from the store with the milk.  Her urgency worried him,  He followed, wondering what he  could  do to help.

To his surprise, she headed  away from the  refugee center just outside of town.  She went instead to the abandoned graveyard where houses used to be, before they were buried by the ash flow coming from the volcano. As he watched, she hurried up to a buried house wherein the roof was the only thing  that was not buried, and then disappeared into the ground.

He rubbed his eyes,  not believing what he saw. Then he heard the muffled  cry of  a baby. It was coming from the ground underneath the rumbled home where the woman had  disappeared! He ran back to the store and phone the local police.

Within hours,  the house was swarming with people, and the workers started  digging up what’s left of it. When  the roof  and walls was opened, the store owner saw the woman who had visited his  store lying dead within the rubble.  In her arms,  she held a small baby and two full infant  milk bottles. The baby was still alive.

The story of a dead mother desperately seeking to feed her starving baby has  spread throughout town. The house was blessed and the corpse of the mother was  buried in a proper burial ground. The baby is now under the care of a relative.

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