I was more than a little annoyed when the dogs started barking. Their chains clanged against the gate and made loud metallic noises. It’s not often that they make any kind of noise. Our neighborhood is not easily open to outsiders. When they do bark, it often means they see strangers passing by outside.
They barked even more loudly this time, and I lowered my book down to my lap. I sat up and got out of the bathroom. I was worried that they’d wake up the baby.
I went outside the living room and saw a man standing in front of the house across the street, his back to us. He was strumming an old ukelele. A little boy was standing beside him, holding a black pouch with one hand and with the other a thin stick. He bowed his head while waving the stick in front of him.
I walked slowly along the garage. The man heard my footsteps and turned around. I went inside the kitchen and sat down on a chair. The air was humid and I started to feel the beads of sweat on my forehead. The dogs continued barking, albeit this time in a more subdued way.
Then the barking and the ukelele stopped abruptly and I listened to the sound of the birds gathering in the bamboo plant at the back of our house. It was late afternoon at last.
“Good afternoon, sir,” a man’s voice called out from outside our gate. The loud barking and metal clanging resumed, and the man began strumming his ukelele again. He played an old Bisaya song.
“Who is that?” asked Mary.
“I dunno. Some guy,” I said.
“Give him something,” she said.
“I will,” I said.
I went to my bedroom. The coins jingled as I opened my drawer. I took out several ten-peso coins. The man was still playing the instrument when I stepped out of the front door. He was still young, much younger than me. The little boy was still standing beside him, still holding the pouch and the stick, his head still bowed down. I handed the coins over to the man through the iron bars.
“Thank you, sir,” he said when he finished the song.
“Come on,” he said, and the little boy trailed behind him. They went to another house across the street, and the man repeated his greeting and his song. This time, the little boy sat down on the curb.
I observed them through the window. The little boy looked up and stared at our gate. He couldn’t be older than four years old.
I turned around and returned to my chair. Mary was looking at me.
“He is so small,” I said.
“Who?” she said.
“The boy. He is so small.”
“The boy with the man. He is so small,” I said. “Probably this tall.” I lowered my hand to my thigh. “He is probably the man’s son.”
“Really. He can’t be that small,” she said.
“See for yourself.”
Mary remained seated.
“I don’t like it,” she said. “Why did he have to bring his own son with him?”
I thought about it. “Why not?” I said.
“It’s not safe for the child.”
“What if he didn’t have a choice?”
“What if he’s using the boy to appeal to our emotions?”
“We don’t know that. What we do know is that they need money.”
“I just don’t like it.” She stood up and went back to the kitchen. “What do you want for dinner, by the way?”
“I don’t know. What do we have?” I said.
“Let me see, there’s still tuna. Do you want me to grill or fry it?”
“It’s up to you.”
“Grill it is.”
Just then, the baby wailed from inside the room. I stood up and ran to the door.