Honesto Mercado’s wake was delayed several times.
You would think that the dead would be given a break in this day and age. However, the fundamental laws of economics state that even the poorest dead need to pay up before they are laid to rest.
Pay up – if they ever wanted to leave the endless cold and darkness of funeral homes with their loved ones.
Honesto’s mother Besa placed upon herself the nearly impossible task of producing the 40,000 pesos needed to claim her youngest child. Besa and Tomas opted for the cheapest casket and had asked the local kapitan to allow them to use the barangay chapel for the wake. After a week of soul-shattering haggling with the funeral home, they finally brought home Honesto’s body.
Known to his friends and classmates as Oni, the fourteen year old boy helped his aging parents eke out a living in the Valenzuela public market where his mother sold all sorts of vegetables: tomatoes, green chilies, peeled taro and the odd assortment of leaves used for clear soups and stews. Honesto augmented the family income by doing random errands for stall owners.
A tiny boy with peroxide blond hair (made possible literally, by hydrogen peroxide) and a long, hard-set face that belied his actual age, Honesto was one of the youngest laborers in the public market.
He worked so hard that he earned anywhere between 50 to 150 pesos a day. When he’s not busy pushing a rickety hand trolley stacked high with boxes of groceries, he’s doubled over, trying to carry 25 or 50 kilogram sacks of rice for Igme’s Rice Dealer Store when it’s shorthanded.
At night at around 8 PM or thereabouts, Honesto would walk with his mother and father back to their ramshackle “mansion” located a few streets away. Their hovel was built against a crumbling wall that constantly groaned and threatened to fall over when the concrete expands in the midday heat.
They called their house a “mansion,” for a second floor was built hastily on top of the first one. Before the fatal day, it often housed up to 15 people at a time – especially at night.
Honesto’s brother, kuya Junior, learned that the best way to earn money was to ‘rent out’ their hovel to shady individuals looking to score methamphetamines well away from their homes.
Honesto never touched the sachets of white crystals himself, even though tooters, lighters and all manner of improvised bongs are scattered throughout the “mansion.”
There was even one night when Honesto yelped in pain after sitting down on his low wooden bed. He accidentally punctured his backside with a stray syringe that one of his brother’s customers left behind. Kuya Junior laughed and ruffled his hair. “Here,”kuya Junior said, extending a five hundred peso bill to his younger brother, “go buy us some sisig and lechonmanok with lots of sarsa. I want to eat like a king tonight!”
Honesto’s parents felt that they had no right to stop Junior, who was 12 years older than their youngest. The money Junior shared with his aging parents was enough to tip the fragile balance of parental authority. The son who brought in the bigger buck, however infrequently, had a say on things – end of story.
(Valenzuela) The body of a minor, 14 year old Honesto Mercado, was found in a grassy area near the Valenzuela public market. SPO3 ErnanCapulong, police officer present in the initial investigation, stated that the teenager was bound by duct tape from head to foot. A cardboard sign marked with “PUSHER AKO HUWAG TULARAN” was found at the scene of the crime. Deep ligature marks were found on the victim’s neck, prompting suspicion that the minor died by strangulation. Probable motivation for the killing may be drug related, a source said, as the victim lived in an area known for illegal narcotics use. (Continued at B9)
Honesto’s father, Tomas, stood at the precipice of unbearable sadness coupled with the frequent tremors of impending insanity. He had been unable to sleep for days, only spending short minutes to nap. Whenever he closed his eyes, he saw his youngest son again in the morgue, lifeless, with angry bruises on his neck and empty, staring eyes that nearly popped out from extreme pressure of strangulation.
He held a small, clean rag and constantly wiped the casket’s glass. Tears made it harder and harder for him to wipe the glass clean. The image of the departed soon blurred with the pale arcs of bitter moisture falling from the old man’s face.
Behind him was kuya Junior. His face belied nothing. He sat cross-legged holding his small cellphone. It beeped three times. He pushed a button and a message flashed on the screen:
INGAT DN PG MAY TYM. WG K KSE MAINGAY. SBI NI TSIP.
The text message came from an unknown number. Kuya Junior looked at his cellphone with unseeing eyes and turned it off. He walked to a small cardboard box near the door of the barangay chapel and opened it. Inside was a fluffy chick, as yellow as the morning sun. He picked it up and plodded slowly to Honesto’s casket.
Kuya Junior placed the chick on top of the glass.
He watched as the chick began pecking.
He took one last look at his brother’s peaceful face and stepped out of the barangay chapel and into the night.
In the Philippines, it is believed that a chick placed on top of a murder victim’s casket will “peck at the conscience” of the victim’s killer. The chick is as much a sign of societal injustice as it is of hope – that one day soon, unidentified assailants will be brought to justice and bring peace and closure to the families of victims of unresolved killings.
Marius Carlos, Jr.