So where are her ashes?, I asked Andre.
It's in a metallic jar sitting right now under my staircase. The ones they'd put the ashes in right after the body is cremated, he said.
What do you plan to do with it?, I followed up in between peeling the orange and scratching my nose.
Oh, I hope I can get a leave from the office and go to Baguio. You know, scatter the ashes along Kennon Road or something, he muttered with a sigh and was about to add to it when I cut him off, Nope, you do it. It'd be more poetic if you scatter her ashes alone. Besides, Baguio is too cold for me.
This was a conversation I remembered I had with my friend Andre right after the cremation of an old woman he found along Ayala Avenue in Makati, one of several homeless people that walk the city's streets. We pass them by everyday, on our way to work or meeting friends at the mall or catching the cab that somebody else might grab from us.
I actually see her every night while I take my cigarette break outside our company building. She'd be sitting across at the Minute Burger stand, her hands on lap and always wearing the same old shabby dress, Andre narrated.
Why did you approach her?
I don't know. I guess every night I see her, alone and... oh, I don't know. I just know that time I thought she needed someone to talk to, you know like the way we'd feel sometimes. Turns out I was right. She's been walking the streets for days and she can't tell me where she's from. The guy at the burger stand would give her scraps every night and she would sleep behind the stand when there's no customer. She's afraid the owner might see her and she'd be driven away.
So I asked her if she'd like a place to stay and a clean bed to sleep in. You know Dan, her face lit up.
What did you do, I asked.
I called up some friends at social service, people I knew from my past job, and I got hold of a hospice in Alabang. All I have to do was to take her there and they'd take care of everything.
So you took her after your shift?, I continued.
Yeah. On the ride going there I found out a bit more about her. You know that she speaks Spanish? And that she said she lived in a big house and yet she could not remember where. And she kept on saying how grand her life was and all... and yet, she could not remember where or even who her children are.
When I brought her to Alabang in the old people's home, I thought I'll try to find out more about her and who her relatives are.
But she died a few days later and now she's fertilizer in that box under your staircase, I quipped.
Daniel Goleman posted a question in his talk at the TED conference. Why is it that given so many opportunities to help others, sometimes we don't? He posits that this is the predicament in our lives that many of us don't help because our focus is on the wrong direction. That we tend to relegate people who are in need of help to the periphery of our vision - we ignore.
He ends his talk with a message that it only takes a simple act of noticing that help can be done and to be provided to those who need it.
There is still hope.