It was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining brightly. The wind was blowing warmly over the fields. The birds were sitting on the branches of the trees singing sweetly and twittering with delight. The bees were buzzing around the garden sipping on the rich pollen of the flowers. The butterflies were flying freely in the wilderness while the frogs were croaking and the animals were romping and playing on the field.
Theo and Mary woke up before the crack of dawn to get ready for their big day. They were very excited because they had chosen that day to open their fruit and vegetable stall in the town. Five baskets of fresh fruits and vegetables were loaded on the wooden cart. There were crisp and delicious apples, grapes, oranges, cucumber, mangoes, tomatoes, and papayas. They also had baskets full of coconuts, cartons of eggs, and vegetables like string beans, carrots, onions, and cabbage.
Ray sat up on the bed rubbing his eyes, yawned a couple of times and then he stretched his arms high above his head. He looked at the warm blankets he had just left and felt the urge to dive back in and sleep through the rest of the day. As he was about to go back to sleep, he realized that this was his parent’s big day. They had waited so long for this moment to happen, so Ray immediately got dressed and went downstairs. A smile spread across his face when he found his parents eating breakfast while the dog was running around the kitchen table obviously excited. Ray picked up the dog and gave it a big hug. He took a quick bite and went straight to the barn to feed his animal friends. In a short time, the family was on their way to town to set up their stall at the farmer’s market before it opened.
St. Matilde nestled at the foot of beautiful mountains, surrounded by a lush forest and flowerbeds. The marketplace was the center of all the activities in the small town. There was always a crowd of people searching for bargains. There were rows of tents and booths of fruits and vegetables. Bins of pumpkins, squash, and jars of locally made jams, pickles, and salsa were everywhere. There were food vendors selling snacks and drinks, and peddlers selling the finest quality of quilts. There were even vendors selling a few unwanted household items and used clothing.
The market was divided into three shopping sections. The first part of the building mainly offered gift items, clothes, household items, and fast food. In some of the fast food stalls, the owners were calling out with smiles on their faces urging customers to eat at their places.
Next was the busy meat and fish section where local residents and tourists alike flocked to shop for fresh seafood. A few men were seen unloading fish from trucks to take into the market to sell.
Theo and Mary’s fruit and vegetable stalls were located in the last section of the market towards the lower end of the building. There were at least twenty rows of vendors selling different kinds of fruits, vegetables, and flowers, and their wares seemed to overflow from the market onto the street.
The sun was setting, and the market was crowded with a few vendors already open. As the family approached the entrance, they were welcomed by aisles of makeshift stalls and pushcarts selling all kinds of traditional foods, handmade souvenirs, and even potted plants. Theo just smiled at the familiar sights and sounds of a busy market while Mary was so excited to finally become a part of this town—to have a business of their own.
When they arrived at the last section of the market, they looked for their assigned stall and were glad to see that it was located in the corner, with a long hallway close to the back entrance, allowing enough space for the shoppers to walk. He knew the market would be throbbing with human activity soon. Theo and Mary immediately cleaned their stall and the surrounding area while Ray helped by placing sale signs and displaying their items for sale on the table.
Before long, the market opened. Some were shopping, but there were also a few just strolling around enjoying the scene. It was a perfect place to be on a Saturday morning. Local people flocked to see Theo and Mary’s fruits and vegetables stand, curious about what they were selling. Soon, it became the most popular and favorite stop for all the shoppers because their fruits and vegetables were freshly picked, and because of their unique taste and beauty, not to mention that they offered the most reasonable prices.
One customer, after biting one of the fruit samples Mary had laid on the table, remarked that it was the sweetest fruit she had ever tasted. Some shoppers were encouraged to try a sample of Mary’s mango salad with tomato, cucumber, onions, and cilantro, and it was so good that they ended up buying some and even picked up a few unusual things such as Mary’s recipes.
Ray was busy outside calling out enticements in the hope of luring more people to buy their goods. Theo laughed when he saw his son trying to attract some potential customers to their stall. Some passersby even stopped and listened to Ray calling out customers, and they were so amused that it definitely brought smiles to their faces. Before leaving, a few older people patted him on the head and even took out their wallets. They handed him a few dollars for the entertainment and for giving them a good laugh of the day.
Ray was a little red-faced as people applauded him and he shyly bowed his head in appreciation. He tried to return the money, but the people told him that he deserved it. Ray hesitated, and when he looked at his parents, they smiled at him and nodded that it was okay to take it. Ray put the money in his pocket, thanked everyone, and resumed the work of calling out for more customers.
Suddenly, Ray saw two young children scavenging for food by rummaging through the garbage cans. Ray did not think anything of it until he looked at them carefully. The children were filthy and malnourished. They were staring at the trash cans as if they had won the lottery. Ray saw the girl picked up a dirty old doll and hugging it tightly. She was so happy that she started dancing and spinning around with her new doll. Meanwhile, the boy found an old fire truck and cried tears of joy. They were about to look deeper into the garbage can to see what else they could find when the children saw Ray looking at them, and they tried to hide behind the barrels.
Concerned and a little bewildered, Ray walked towards them. He looked at the children and knew they were starving. He ran back to their stall and took some fruit from the table and gave the kids the apples and grapes. The children took the fruits and then giggled with delight. They said, “Thank you,” and hungrily ate the apples and then the grapes. The boy rubbed his tummy and burped, showing that he was full. Theo, who was standing nearby, saw what Ray did and he walked over to them and patted his son’s head. He looked around to see if the children were accompanied by anyone and to his surprise, they did not appear to have a chaperone. He asked the children where their parents were, and they answered that they only had a mother and she was sick. They did not have any food so they thought they could find something to bring home. Theo sadly looked at the children and nodded his head. He invited the kids to have lunch with them, and the children looked at each other in utter shock. The little girl was worried. She whispered to her brother asking why those people were kind to them.
“I’m afraid they will call the police and turn us in.”
Her brother, who was eagerly looking forward to eating free lunch earlier was now worried.
“Why do you have to say things like that?” the boy asked his sister angrily. “Look what you’ve done! Now we have to try to get away from them.”
The children were about to make a run for it when suddenly, the boy’s face broke into a broad smile, and his eyes lit up after recognizing Theo, the most admired person in their town for his heroic qualities that got him through his adversities. He looked up to him ever since that day when the town proclaimed him as their hero. He excitedly told his sister about Theo, and she immediately recognized him as well. They knew Theo would protect them and not hurt them. The children shyly accepted his invitation and even held Theo’s hand as they walked to their fruit and vegetable stand, occasionally looking at him full of admiration.
Mary did not ask any questions but smiled when she saw the children walking with Theo and Ray. The brother and sister smiled when they recognized her as well, and they quickly introduced themselves as Mario and Mirla. Mary was pleased to meet the children and invited them in. The brother and sister went inside quietly, and Ray seated them on two wooden chairs that his dad had made. Mary took out the food she had prepared for their lunch and set it on the table. Mary apologized to the children that they only had mixed vegetables and some eggs for lunch. The children were surprised to hear Mary apologizing since they had never experienced any adult being nice to them before. Theo handed them a wet towel, and while the children were wiping their hands, their stomachs started growling.
“Just relax and eat, children!” Theo said with a grin.
Mario and Mirla gobbled up everything on their plates, and at the end, let out a contented burp.
“We feel full already!” they giggled.
When the children finished eating, Theo asked if they went to school. Mario looked down at the floor, shuffled his feet, bit his bottom lip and clenched his fists with anger. As Theo glanced at the boy, he noticed that it wasn’t sadness he saw in his eyes but anger. Mario had a weird expression on his face, almost as if he was choking. Then he just burst out and started sobbing.
“Since our mother got sick, we went to school dirty and hungry. I was teased relentlessly, and because of that, it was pretty difficult to continue. Boys tripped me as I walked to my class and I was picked on every day without fail. They shoved and pushed me, but at times, I managed to get away. The teachers never helped, and even treated me as though I deserved the abuse, and they never took action against the constant barrage I faced. I walked to school and tried to ignore the staring and whispering that went on right in front of my eyes. I arrived at school with no friends and no one to talk to. My sister took the brunt of abuse as well, and I would defend her at times, but we were hopelessly outnumbered. I woke up every morning, hoping something would be different, but it never happened. I was good at singing, but no one took the time to hear me sing. Usually, it isn’t enough to just be talented,” said Mario with tears in his eyes. “It went on so long that we stopped going to school. It was better at home. In fact, we were glad that the teasing and bullying finally stopped.”
After listening to the children’s story, Theo and Mary had tears in their eyes. They knew how it felt to be an outsider. They sat down and found themselves telling the siblings about their own life.
“A long time ago, we were outside the social circle ourselves, and it haunted us each day. People had not accepted us into society because of our looks, but we learned to accept and deal with it because that’s who we are.” Theo went on with difficulty. “Being different isn’t a hindrance to being successful, and finding a true friend is not impossible if you know how to conduct and carry yourself. The trick is confidence, and you have to be true to yourself. Right now, things might not seem good to you, but in time, I know others will accept you and your sister, just as we were. Please do not be disheartened. Just keep your heads high, and the people who were cruel to you before will stop. I promise!” said Theo, patting the boy’s shoulder.
Somehow, it seemed that everything Theo said had a huge impact on the brother and sister. They were delighted, especially when Ray stated that they would visit them later on in the day to bring some food and medicine for their ailing mother. The children told them where they lived and before they left, Theo gave them bags of fruits and vegetables while Mary gave them a few dollars and told them to make sure to give it to their mother. Ray even took out the money the people had given him earlier and gave it to the children as well. The brother and sister could not believe the luck they had and thanked everyone and happily walked away hand in hand, as they waved goodbye. Theo, Mary, and Ray watched them leave, and as soon as they were out of sight, they sat down to eat.
Lucy, the governor’s wife, was passing by and quickly stopped and asked what it was that smelled so good. Mary explained that it was their meal, a mixture of different kinds of vegetables that she grew at home. Mary offered her a taste and Lucy could not resist, so she took a bite excitedly. Lucy never liked eating vegetables before and could not believe how tasty they were. Apparently, she had missed one of the good things in life. It was so good that she asked Mary if she could order a tray for a party that she was going to attend the following day. Mary gladly agreed, bowing her head and nodding. She told Lucy that she was honored and would have it ready for her the next day. Lucy was so pleased she gave Mary $50 for her trouble. Mary could not believe she met such generosity and tried to give it back, but Lucy refused and told her she was late for her appointment and left abruptly, leaving Mary standing there, shocked. She could not believe that the governor’s wife liked her cooking.
Theo, who was listening nearby, heard it and said, “How could she not like it? My wife cooked it!” Then he put his arm around his wife’s shoulder and kissed her. Mary smiled shyly while Theo smiled at her embarrassment and watched her face turn red. Ray laughed and said, “Yeah, Mom! You are the best cook ever!” and they all laughed.
Their conversation was interrupted by four naughty eleven-year-old boys from out of town running around with their grandparents chasing after them for some reason. Ray was curious and decided to check it out. He quickly excused himself and told his parents he would be right back before running towards where the boys went.
Ray walked around the fruit and vegetable section but did not find the kids. He continued walking and found them in the fish and meat sections. They were still yelling, laughing, and goofing around, and their grandparents were nowhere to be seen. Ray watched the kids as they made fun of people. When they passed him, they stopped and started making fun of him as well. They messed up his hair and grinned as they grabbed him by the arm. They were about to put him in a bucket of fish when they realized where they were and complained about the smell.
“Eww, it smells gross in here!”
They looked around the crowded and dingy space and saw fish guts and heads on the table. They were so gross that they almost threw up. By that time, the market was buzzing with activity with vendors selling almost every single fish in the sea. The boys felt like they were suffocating.
“This place looks like a swamp. Let’s get out of here!” said one of the boys.
“I’m with you. This place sucks. It is filthy and smells like a sewer!” said another.
“This town and everyone here are nasty, so let’s go. Let’s leave this stinking boy and this place now!” With that said, they pushed Ray down on the floor.
As the boys were leaving, they knocked over some fish buckets and coolers, annoying the vendors and customers, but the kids just laughed at them. The boys started running, but the floor was slippery, and their shoes had no grip, so they struggled to keep their balance. They managed to stop themselves for just a moment, but then they lost their balance and footing, crashing down and hurting themselves badly. They tried to get up a few times on their own with no success. A crowd quickly formed, and a few people walked right by them without offering any help. The boys felt helpless and humiliated to be seen lying on the ground. They could not believe that not a single person helped them. They seriously needed help, but the people just passed them by. They knew they were mean to them, but they thought at least one person would assist them.
Roger, one of the boys, was severely hurt. He slowly opened his eyes, and as he did, intense pain assaulted him. His head was pounding, and he could not move his leg. He tried to breathe calmly, but he found himself short of breath and gasping for air.
Meanwhile, Ray squeezed himself into the crowd and rushed to help the boys. Seeing them lying on the ground and injured, he whispered to the wind, and in an instant, it slowly lifted the boys up as if it was some kind of acrobatic stunt, and their feet were back on the ground. Unbeknownst to the boys, Ray laid his hands on each of them and healed them. It was so fast that the kids did not notice what Ray was doing. The boys quickly recovered from the fall and had no idea what happened.
“Are you alright?” asked Ray.
The boys checked themselves for injury, and when they realized they were okay, they smiled.
“Nothing bad ever happens to cool guys, huh?” the boys boasted and high-fived each other, all except Roger, who was trying to make sense of what happened to them.
I remember falling and hurting, and some ‘thing’ pulled me up. Roger told himself, feeling confused about suddenly being okay.
The boys looked at Ray standing beside them. They could not believe that he was the only one who stopped and that not a single adult helped them. They were mean boys, but they knew when to appreciate someone’s help. They shook Ray’s hand and thanked him for what he had done for them.
“You don’t have to thank me,” said Ray. “I didn’t do anything,” he said innocently.
The boys smiled brightly up at him as they nodded vigorously. After they introduced themselves to Ray, they asked, “Do you want to come with us to the park so that we can treat you with some hot dogs?”
Ray did not have to think twice. “How could I say no to a free food?” he replied as he laughed. “But let me tell my parents first that I’m going with you, okay?”
The boys looked at one another. They were shocked because they never asked their parent’s permission for anything.
“Why would you do that?”
“Do what?” asked Ray.
“Ask your parent’s permission?”
“I need to tell my parents where I’m going. I don’t want them to worry,” answered Ray.
“No offense, Ray. You have to be a little more like us. We get to go virtually anywhere we want to. Yes, parents can make your life miserable, but you get privileges when you learn to play their game. We learned how to thrive under our parent’s system, and they can’t wait to give us the nod to go until curfew time.”
“Play the parent’s game? What’s that?” Ray wondered.
Just then, Ray saw a group of elderly people walking down the streets, closely watching some children 20 yards ahead, playing tag on the playground and they looked worried. Ray suspected that they were the boys’ grandparents looking for them.
“Are those your grandparents?” he asked.
The boys looked at the elderly people and just shrugged their shoulders. “Yes, they are!” the kids said without any concern.
“C’mon, let’s go already!” the boys said impatiently. Then they walked back to the market to meet Ray’s parents.
The children had to wait a bit as people were flocking to Theo and Mary’s fruit and vegetable stand. Ray apologized to his friends and asked them to wait a few minutes while he helped his parents. The boys quietly nodded, and they stood back and watched Theo and Mary as they worked. They were shocked to see how ugly they looked. They could not believe that Ray’s parents looked so hideous and felt repelled, but they controlled themselves and decided not to say anything because of their newly formed friendship with Ray.
When the customers were all gone, the boys heard Ray politely asking his parent’s permission to go with them. They saw Theo smiling at them, and his teeth were crooked, and he had dark spaces between his front teeth. Theo walked over to the boys, patted his son’s head, and told him to have fun. Then he turned to the boys and told them in a nice soft voice to be careful while playing in the park. Mary waved at the boys as they left. The children were very quiet and kept looking back at Theo and Mary while they walked to the park. They were amazed at how good Ray’s parents were. They were meeting for the first time, but they treated them as if they were old friends.
“Your parents are awesome! They trusted you right away with us,” the boys said.
“My parents are great! Don’t your parents trust you?” asked Ray with curiosity.
The boys just shrugged their shoulders and did not say anything more. Obviously, Ray had a better relationship with his parents than they had.
When they got to the park, they each bought a hot dog and sat on the bench. While they were eating, they saw one booth selling used bicycles.
“Hmm. . . I remember my first bike,” said Jason, the oldest of the boys.
“Me, too,” said Chester, the mischievous one, but sweet and fun-loving at the same time. “I must have been eight or nine when I got my first bike. The freedom, the exhilaration, the challenge, and the accomplishment of staying up on two wheels for the first time! I had so much confidence that I did not wear helmet, or knee and elbow pads. When I hit the road, I was at the mercy of the gravel. It was awesome!”
The boys roared with laughter. Then they noticed Ray was very quiet.
“How about you, Ray? When did you first ride your bike?”
“I never rode a bike because I never had one.”
“What? You never had a bike before? That is so lame.”
The boys thought about it for a minute and then whispered to each other.
“C’mon. Let’s go,” they told Ray.
“Where are we going?”
“No question. Just come with us.”
Ray followed the boys, and they went straight to the bicycle vendor. They quickly bargained for an old bike for $10. The vendor was not able to sell anything that day, and he wanted to go home early, so he agreed to the price quickly.
“Ray, pick one!”
“What do you mean?” he asked with a twinkle in his eyes.
“We’re leaving this afternoon to go back home, and we want to give you a bike to remember us. The next time we see you, you better be riding it?” the boys chuckled.
Ray lit up in excitement. “Are you sure? Are you kidding me?”
“Why would we joke around at a time like this?” the boys laughed.
Ray excitedly looked at the used bicycles lining up on the curb and picked an old red Schwinn Tornado, but the paint had its share of chips and dings. The boys tested it around the block, and even though it was old, it was still in good condition.
“Okay, let’s see how much damage you can do with this bike,” said Jason.
Ray sadly looked at his friends, and it was embarrassing to tell them he could not ride a bike. He walked it across the street back to the park and attempted to ride it. He found it was hard to keep from falling and whenever he tried to push the pedals, he fell over. He tried several times, and he still could not ride it. He stopped and stared at the bike.
“What’s wrong?” asked Chester.
“No. It’s just that. . . I can’t ride a bike!” said Ray turning red in his face.
“You can’t ride a bike?” the boys asked while chuckling. “Hello? We know that already. Why do you think we bought the bike? We are here to teach you how to ride it.”
“Really?” said Ray excitedly.
“You are our only friend in this tiny town, and before we leave, we want to see you ride it. We’re going to help you learn!”
Ray found himself overwhelmed with happiness for having such great friends and all he could do was say thank you.
The boys high-fived as they laughed and spent the whole morning teaching Ray how to ride the bike until he finally rode on his own. Moments later, the boys’ grandparents found them and said that it was time for them to leave, but not until they scolded them for running amok in the neighborhood. Ray and the boys sadly hugged before saying goodbye. The grandparents were shocked when the boys held their hands as they walked back to their hotel. Ray smiled and knew that the boys and their grandparents would finally get to spend a very good time together. The kids turned around, waved back at Ray once more, and whispered, “Thanks.” Ray acknowledged it by nodding his head and saluting. The kids saluted him back.
“By the way, how old are you, Ray?” the boys asked.
“I will be six-years-old in a couple of months.”
“Six-years-old?” the boys’ jaws dropped in total shock. They thought Ray was nine or ten!
Meanwhile, Theo and Mary sold everything they had early and were busy cleaning and packing up their things when Ray showed up with his new bike.
“Where did you get that?” asked Theo with a bright smile on his face.
Much to his parents’ amazement and joy, instead of answering his father, Ray started showing off what he had learned. Then he stopped, smiled at his parents, and told them that it was a gift from his new friends.
“It’s old, but it rides like the wind,” said Ray proudly.
The father and son looked at the bike and smiled. Theo checked it out. It was old and grimy, but he thought it had potential. He told Ray that they would work on fixing the bike together. Ray was so happy that he could not wait to get home. He quickly helped his dad clean their stall and haul away their garbage while Mary put away their things in the cart. When they were ready to leave, the family agreed to stop by and check on the brother and sister before going home.
The children’s house was not far away from the market, so the family stopped by at the store first to buy the things they needed at home; gas lamp, new pillows and blankets, plastic containers, and some herbs and spices for Mary. They also bought some toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, and shampoo for the children and medicine for their mother. They also stopped at a clothing store and the final stop was at a little fast food restaurant where they bought food for the children and their mother.
They walked to the children’s tiny house behind an abandoned building. As they walked towards the children’s home, they thought it was not a place for the children to be. They could not believe they lived in such filth.
“I think our tiny shack next to the landfill was a little bit better than this,” said Mary shaking her head.
Theo nodded in agreement, and even Ray felt bad that the children had to live in such a dangerous place.
“This is no place for the children to live. There’s filth everywhere. I am sure that is the reason why their mother got sick. Sooner or later, the children will be sick too if we don’t do something about it,” said Theo.
They knocked on the door, and Mario opened it. He had a big smile on his face when he saw Theo, Mary, and Ray standing outside. He asked them to come in and took them to his mother, Betty, who was lying on the bed. Mary held the mother’s hand and asked how she was doing. Betty looking distressed and in a breaking voice answered softly, and started coughing. She said that she was always getting colds. When she got better and clear for a few days, she would come down with another one. When she got sick, it usually put her in bed, exhausted and needing a nap. She said she could barely drag herself through the day. She apologized that the children were rummaging through the garbage cans. She said she couldn’t really blame them for leaving the house looking for food because they were hungry. She then thanked Mary and her family for feeding her children and for the money and food, the children took home.
Theo felt sad as he watched the sick mother. She apparently needed help. He couldn’t bear to see the children and their mother living in such misery. He thought about it harder and finally made a decision. He whispered to Mary that she was to stay with the family while he stepped out for a little while and promised that he would be right back. Mary frowned, totally confused, but when she saw Theo’s eyes, she knew her husband was planning some way to help the family but did not know what it was.
As soon as Theo left, Mary took the food out of the bags and laid it on the table. She took the lid off a soup container and fed Betty while Ray showed the children the clothes his parents had bought for them. Mirla danced around with her new pink dress and Mario was admiring his new shirt and pants. Mary called the children, and they all sat down and ate at the family dinner table.
Moments later, Theo returned with a few people from social service to help the children and their mother. The children cried because they thought they were being taken away.
“Oh no, children, they are not here to take you away! They’re here to help you,” explained Theo trying to comfort them. He sat down next to the children, looked at them straight in the eyes and said, “Your mother is very sick. She needs to go to the hospital. First, the good doctor will look at her. Then they will give her medicine to make her feel better. Lucy, the governor’s wife, told me that once your mother is better, you could live with her in the mansion with her family. Your mother will work for them. Isn’t that nice? You will have a nice bed to sleep in, and you will no longer search for food in the garbage cans. There will be plenty of food to eat there. You will go to a new school with new clothes and shoes, and no one will tease you and your sister anymore. Those bad times are gone and will just be a memory.”
Mirla’s eyes got bigger with excitement. She stopped crying and hugged Theo. She kissed him and kept saying ‘thank you’ until she fell asleep in his arms with a smile on her face. Mario was so happy that he started crying uncontrollably. Mary comforted him and said that everything would be all right from then on. Mario smiled and hugged Mary. The thought of not seeing the kids who were bullying him at school was something he was looking forward to.
As the ambulance took the mother away, the social workers took the children to the shelter to be watched while their mother was being cared for at the hospital. Theo, Mary, and Ray went with the children and stayed with them until they were settled in their temporary home.
Before the family left, they received word from the hospital that Betty was all right and that she would be released in a couple of days. When the children heard about it, they were thrilled and hugged the family once more; thanking them for everything they had done for them.
The kids looked out the window, waved goodbye, and waited until the family was out of sight before going to bed. They were thrilled about the opportunity for a fresh start in a new home and a chance at a new life. They knew they had nothing to worry about anymore.
When Theo, Mary, and Ray walked along the field to head home, they knew that the children and their mother would have a better and more fulfilling life awaiting them. They had been going through tough times all through their lives, but God had smiled at them and those difficult times were finally over. Their first day at the market was incredibly rewarding!