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.