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The rattling sound of a small bell welcomed their arrival to the Lungsodaan Public Market. After they had stepped out of the bus, the first thing she did was scan the alley between the complex and the shoulder of the highway. The high-pitch bell announced of something so familiar to her, and her eyes were looking for it of which her mind already knew.

There it was, she found it, right next to the graffiti-marred public kiosk, right before the surrounding gleeful children. She turned to check if her mother was looking at it, too, so it would be easier for her to make her buy one cone. But her mother was looking straight ahead, oblivious to the alluring chanting of the tiny bell, or at least she appeared to be. She wanted to pull her mother's hand towards the inviting ice cream cart, but her mother overwhelmed her and pulled her instead towards the unkempt, overcrowded interior of the old building.

They walked inside towards the meat section; a basket made of rattan swayed beside her as they waded through the crowd. Her mother released her other hand when they stopped near the end of a long row of  unbroken tables. Beef and dressed chickens scattered all over the tiled surface, and parts of pigs hanged still from the long iron bar that ran parallel above. Smell of blood and stale flesh and pungent liquids hovered in the air, almost made her puke.

A fat woman with a dull blue apron wrapped around the waist, which she guessed was one of the vendors behind the  tables, flashed a grin as they halted. Her mother smiled, too, and greeted each other while she just stood there observing the crowd, the place, the shouting, and the offering and bargaining that polluted the already foul air.

"Is that your youngest, Irene?" the woman asked her mother with a voice a  little louder than the surrounding noise.

"Yes," her mother beamed. "She won't stop asking until I bring her along  with me."

"Look at her, she's taller than the last time I saw here. How old is she  now?"

"She's eight."

The woman listed forward, belly pressed against the wet table, and smiled exorbitantly to her. "Hello, sweetie. What a beautiful girl you've become, honey. You still remember me?"

She responded with a coyly smile and a shaking head. Her  mother told her nothing about this greasy woman.

The woman went back to her mother and, in the middle of buying and selling, the two were both engrossed by their adult chitchat. Just like that. No more mentioning about her.

The fat woman handed her mother a plastic filled with chicken wings and pork meat, and followed by yet another exchange of gossip.

When she heard something she didn't understand from their conversation, she  lightly pulled her mother's long skirt twice.

Her mother turned her head and looked down. "What is it?"

Casually, she asked, "What is a third party?"

Her mother glanced at the vendor, who giggled and shook her head, and then looked back at her and said, "It's nothing, honey. It's a word that only grown up people talk about."

Her mother and her friend continued talking, completely ignoring her, and this time their voices were  slightly hushed. As her mother handed a hundred peso bill to the woman, she heard yet another new word from the latter. She pulled her mother's skirt again.

"What is it?"

"What's a hoar?"


"She said, 'she's a big hoar'. What does it mean?"

Her mother's friend chuckled at her innocence. And she didn't like it. She didn't like the way she laughed. She didn't like her laughing at her. She didn't like her mother's friend. Cautious yet uncertain, she tucked  herself closed to her mother's right side, and instinctively gripped her mother's hand. And she stood there staring questioningly at  the woman.

Her mother, who grinned along, said to her, "Honey, this is a conversation between two adults, OK? And ---wait, here ---" She fished something from her skirt's left pocket.

She heard the collision of tiny nickels, and turned her head slightly towards where she heard it. The pinched fingers of her mother flew from the inside to the smirking space before her, and then her mother freed the three 1 peso coins, which landed splendidly to her wide-opened right palm.

Her excitement leapt. Her shy face revealed her smile and, in her mind, the floating image of the grainy ice cream enticed her once again. She gave to her mother the rattan basket and, with her fist shut tightly the coins inside, she ran as fast as she could towards the portable motley-colored cart outside.

She waited in line, but when it was about her turn she remembered something. As the boy before her paid his scoop of ice cream, she was just standing there fighting over a decision.

She had made a promise to herself. And she didn't want to break it. She told herself to buy something only if she asked money from her parents. But today she was not asking for it. Her mother gave it to her, just like those many times in the past. And she shouldn't spend them; she had to place them somewhere where she had put those other coins.

The face of the vendor  flashed radiantly as she looked at him. She peered over the open aluminum lid, and saw three beckoning colors of mango and chocolate and vanilla. Her eyes glowed and her mouth watered as the cold vapor met her face. And as she was about to give the man her coins, the other barefoot kids rushed toward the cart from nowhere, their arms heaving money into the space before the man, and vied for his attention. The man instead entertained the more eager children. She freed herself from the tempting call. She stepped back, turned around, and thrust herself out of the small throng of frenzied young crowd.

Along the way back to their house, her mother asked what she had done with the money. She told her she wasn't hungry, and that she was keeping them. And as soon as they arrived home, she dashed inside, up a flight of stairs, and into her room.

She was excited and happy that her savings were increasing. Last week, her mother gave her five-peso coin, and two weeks before that she had dropped two peso coins and two twenty-five cents. Last month she had saved nine pesos and fifty cents. She lied on her bed facing the ceiling above, her mind a dream of beautiful dresses and pints of ice cream. But what her young mind didn't see was that her every attempt to free her mind and speak of those words she'd been wanting to say were muffled by the worldly value of her mother's coins.

After some time she stood and grabbed her peggy bank. And through the thin slit along the center top of it, she peeked to estimate her rather accumulated price.

--- END ---

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