The month was December, the year she could barely remember. The chill of early dawn was in the air. Already lit and ablaze were the small straw bonfires billowing with thick, white smoke underneath the tabungaw vine trellises. Trina got up anyway to walk the main street to sell sampaguita flower garlands she and her grandmother had crafted on strings the night before. She only had a shirt and a pair of worn out shorts to wear. No jacket, no baseball cap, not even a shawl. She had on a pair of old shower sandals. The left sandal was so worn out underneath the big left toe it had a hole that exposed her big toe to the pavement. Towards noon, as the hot sun baked the asphalt on the road, she skippity-hopped her way along the roadway to ease the burning on her toe exposed to the smoldering pavement.
The garlands weighed heavily on her left arm; she shifted the load to her right and kept on walking. Somewhere in this busy thoroughfare a tourist may stop to make a purchase. Other times, curious foreigners and unscrupulous older men getting a glimpse of her beautiful face would haggle over a garland or two. On a good day she could sell all her garlands before noon. She made an average of P500 pesos for the flowers and another P300 pesos in tips, or more accurately handouts, as in "alms".
It wasn't always like this for Trina Salcedo. Years ago before her parents split, broke up, abandoned her and went their separate ways she was attending school. She had everything - that beautiful angelic look, stylish clothes, play clothes, athletic shoes, sunglasses, designer handbags, pocket money to spare, and a cellphone. She was very popular, if not the most popular girl in school. She was the dream girl of every school boy. She convinced herself that school was not for her. She wanted to model - one of those international-million-dollar-a-minute sensations.
Trina Salcedo had big ideas, big dreams. In school she didn't much care how she scored in the tests, the quizzes, or the periodic examinations given four times throughout the school year. In fact she didn't even participate in the classroom discussions. No, she was too good for school work. Assignments? What assignments. Projects? What projects. Trina lived as if there was no tomorrow.
Then Trina's tragic reversal of fortune came to pass. She found herself penniless, or in this case centavoless and out on the street. Her once devoted friends deserted her. Nobody wanted to talk to her. Quickly and overnight she became a nobody. The boys didn't even want to be seen with her lest they be called losers. Trina sought refuge and went to live with her aging grandmother at her house by the river's edge.
Over time she learned to subsist on one meal a day and to sleep the night on the cold and bare cement slab floor of her grandmother's shanty. She had no blanket, just a thin pillow upon which to rest her head. Each night she dreamed about her glorious past; she had everything, she commanded all attention, yet now she has nothing but regrets. What would she do differently today had she known ahead of time her life would come crashing down and turn out this way? She cried softly over what could have been. She sobbed deep regrets at all the chances she wasted, the opportunities she squandered, and the great potential she was not able to reach by not taking life seriously and applying herself. She knew she only had herself to blame. She yearned for another chance at finishing school.
Some years passed. Trina's wrinkles were not only visible on her forehead now. Her weather-beaten look was also on her neck. Her grandmother passed away leaving her to live alone in that old shack by the river's edge. Nobody among those who attended school with her remembers Trina Salcedo - the most beautiful girl in school who had everything. Today they see an old, wretched, wrinkled, toothless woman of no consequence begging at one of the four entrances to the open public market.
"Alms... alms... alms for a poor beggar... please kind Sir... Ma'am... ka-asiandak Apo..." she rattles a tin cup with some coins at passersby, her shaky voice trailing even as the noisy tricycles drown out her initial cry for help.
Another day in the life of Trina Salcedo... a beggar who graduated with high honors from the school of haughtiness, ignorance, apathy, lack of common sense, irresponsibility, and idiocy. Trina toils and works with nothing more than blood, sweat, and tears.