I can’t sleep. I am haunted by thoughts of Rochel aka Cecil Geronda. I am now supposed to move on to my fellow Isko Ray Bernard Penaranda’s death, but I can’t. I’m still stuck to Rochel. And the 2004 article “Life Given by Jasmines” by fellow UPLB BS DevCom alumna Rose Mananghaya is the culprit.
In the article written for her DevCom class (I surmise this had been for DevCom 20), Mananghaya described seeing a then six-year old Rochel wearing a hand-me-down dress from her cousin, looking small and fragile, selling sampaguitas. I wanted to paraphrase Mananghaya’s words, but I couldn’t, for fear of watering down the emotions a reader is supposed to feel, so here are some excerpts:
And almost unnoticed was a child in a bright pink and yellow dress, a yellow bonnet that seemed so big for her, and a pair of overused slippers on her small feet. On her hands were the necklaces of neatly arranged jasmines she grasped tightly, raising it to her chest in a gesture of begging – begging for pity to have their jasmines bought.
Always, weekday nights, weekend mornings, rain or shine, they were there; the perfume of the jasmines lingering in our senses, but as always, we ignore it, only when we are approached by the youth and beg us to buy just one. Just one, they plead, their faces seemingly plastered in a mask of impassiveness or perhaps pure innocence.
One of them, perhaps the youngest, is Cecile. In the dead of the night, she was walking from one place to another, then momentarily staying near a group of students having a meeting. She looked lost, facing the students, but making no move to sell in her practiced way.
I knew Rochel was a sampaguita vendor, but what I did not know was that she started selling as early as six years old (maybe even younger). And then I realized how young six years old is–just as young as my foster sister Thea, who only cares about eating and watching Playhouse Disney in my parents’ airconditioned bedroom. And that young, Rochel had to stay way past her supposed bedtime just to earn a measly P50 at most. And do you have any idea where she lives, I mean, live”D”?
They mostly work on nights of weekdays, and as the night unfolds, they try to persuade people to buy, and go home; earliest would be 8 pm. Cecile related that she lives near grove, and when she goes home, she is accompanied with her siblings.
Rochel was lying. Their house was not NEAR Grove. It was FAR from Grove. When Grace Nicolas and I visited her wake last Saturday, I was shocked that such a place “near” our subdivision existed. At what I thought was the dead end our a nearby subdivision was a loooong dirt road amid trees, bananas and grasses, with no lamp posts in sight.
See? And that’s just a part of it. Malayo pa, and you still have to make a turn once you reach the end of this road. My heart aches and my tears well up as I imagine a six-year old Rochel having to walk this far at 10 p.m. after a day of walking to school, studying, walking from school, and running after possible sampaguita patrons.
And what place does she call home, the place she probably looks forward to going home to? This:
I feel so sorry for her. I remember feeling ashamed of myself when I talked to her mother last Saturday, when her mother told me that Rochel was selling sampaguita to be able to continue studying. Why did I feel shame? Because I remember some times when I refused to buy sampaguita from Rochel/Rochel’s co-sellers, thinking to myself that I if patronize them, I would be encouraging them to stay out of school. But it would not have been the case for Rochel.
Yes, for Rochel, who continued selling despite already being in high school, a time when a “cool” image is just about everything. Her mother told me an exchange between them: “Nak, high school ka na, hindi ka ba nahihiyang magtinda pa rin ng sampaguita? To which Rochel replied: “Bakit naman po ako mahihiya, e hindi naman po nagnanakaw.” I wonder whether Rochel’s killer(s) feel any shame now. And you know what’s worse? Chances are big that Rochel’s rapist(s)/killer(s) is/are just her neighbor(s)*—some one(s) who knew how she had worked her little body since she was a little girl just to make sure she would be able to continue studying. A neighbor who probably had a big, strong body deteriorating because of laziness, booze, and drugs. A neighbor who, out of lust, just grabbed her, raped her, oblivious to her pleas, and then mercilessly strangled her.
My heart is breaking for a girl whom I have given no second thoughts when she was alive, fending for her everyday baon. I can’t imagine how much pain her mother must have felt when she saw her daughter’s lifeless, semi-naked body, with her jogging pants wrung around her neck. I only nodded and cried with her when she told me, “Masakit mamatayan ng kapatid, ng magulang, pero libu-libong beses na mas masakit mamatayan ng anak. Kung p’wede lang na ilagay ko sa garapon lahat ng mga anak ko para mabantayan ko sila lagi.“
I honestly do not know how to conclude this entry. I wanted my ending to be strong, memorable, but I feel drained. Drained by anger towards the merciless criminal, and drained by sadness and pity I feel towards Rochel, who had always lived a difficult life. But then, compared to what and how she must have felt during the last moments of her life, her sampaguita selling days were far sweeter.
*I say that the rapist(s)/killer(s) is/are probably neighbor(s) because we do not think any outsider would go to Rochel’s place, given how far and liblib it is. I can only imagine how scary it is there at night, and I do not think a dayo would be brazen enough to abduct someone from there. Plus, the rapist(s)/killer(s) seemed to know where to commit the crime.