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Nice Lady

Florencia arrived near the hut as the children dispersed.

They, unaware of her presence, disappeared into the smaller huts.

She looked about her. ‘Who will play with me now?”

Field after field spread far and wide with men and women working
various crops.

She sighed when their faint calls were directed to one another
instead of her. Those people smile while they work, she realized, not like
Aunt ‘Rong and Uncle Gorio who only did so once they were finished.

Florencia studied thick wooden pillars that held this enormous hut
higher in the sky than Uncle Gorio’s. I think more than one family lives
here. It certainly was large enough to house many. After seeing the
many people outside, she decided there must be someone indoors to play
with.

She eyed box after box, joined together, leading from the ground
high up to the front door. She looked about and chose to climb up and
knock. Once she approached the boxed steps, a large cinnamon-colored
German shepherd, a white blaze on its chest, sprang from behind one of
the wooden supports.
He snarled and sniffed her, and she froze when his teeth bared.
Lydia Corpus shut her chicken-house gate in time to hear Mr.
English’ growl intensify.

He moved closer to Florencia.

The woman rushed across the yard to where the two stood fixed.

“What is it, Mr. English--what’s wrong?”

The dog sniffed the child again then lay at Lydia’s dusty, bare feet.

“Good dog.” The woman rubbed his neck. “Are you lost, little
girl?”

Florencia looked up with great chocolate-colored eyes. “No--I don’t


know.”

“Where is your home?”

“I don’t have a home.”

Lydia squatted before her and continued to speak gently. “Why


don’t you start by telling me your name?”

“‘Encia.”

The woman was moved by the young one’s warmth and reached to
stroke her hair. It’s strange, she thought, this child looks familiar. She
touched the girl’s soft cheek. “Can you tell me where you’re from?”

Florencia leaned against Lydia’s bent knee. “Uncle Gorio.”

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“All right--” Lydia’s eyes widened. “--Gorio?”

“Uh-huh.”

She pushed a strand of hair from the girl’s eye. Could it be? “Can
you tell me your uncle’s formal name--I mean, his last name?”

Florencia breathed deeply. “Uncle Gorio--” She looked up for the


answer. “--de la Coooz.”

It’s true! Lydia ached to shout. She looks exactly like her father,
Florencio. She cupped the child’s face. “De la Cruz,” she whispered
back.

“Uh-huh. Uncle Gorio and Aunt `Rong.”

“Yes, ‘Encia--I know who your aunt and uncle are.”

“You do? Are you my mamma?”


Tears slipped from the woman’s eyes. “No, but you’ll be okay. My
name is Lydia, and I’ll take care of everything.”

Florencia stiffened. “Are you going to make me go back?”

Lydia smiled and hugged the child tight. “Don’t worry, sweetheart.
I’ll take care of everything. I’m so glad. .

She‘s a nice lady, Florencia thought while curling her arms about
the woman’s neck.

Lydia carried her up the steps of her house and the pair proceeded to
move through the expansive house. They passed over bright red and
yellow floor mats and around numerous tables and chairs.

On top of many stools, Florencia noticed creme-colored cushions.


To her they were additional mats that had somehow been sewn and
stuffed.

When they passed down a long hall and entered Lydia’s sleeping
room, to Florencia the bed also seemed to be two massive sewn and
stuffed cloth mats. The puffed pad didn’t look flat and rough like her
abaca mat back home. This one was even laid on top of a low table with
several folded sheets placed at one end.

Lydia opened the door to a smaller room filled with clothing and
more sheets and set Florencia down.
The child watched the woman sort through a stack of folded blouses
before selecting a sleeveless smock.

“This one should do.” Lydia peered down. “I don’t doubt you’re
hungry, ‘Encia, but first I’ll bathe you because we like to do that before
sitting down to a meal.” She then led her by the hand down to the hall’s
opposite end.

All along, Florencia noticed more rooms with beds or furniture and
wondered why some sat empty.

The two continued out of the main house and crossed a flat bridge,
with a bamboo floor and hand rails, to the nearby cooking house.

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Lydia slowed her pace for Florencia to carefully advance over each
gap in the decking.

Once inside the open-air cooking house, Lydia removed Florencia’s


tattered clothes and set her in a shallow tub. Her brow creased when she
peeled away the worn bloodstained bandage from the youngster’s
wound. “How did this happen to you?”

Florencia remained quiet until she was sponged clean from head to
toe. Then, she felt confident enough to pour out her story of how she
was injured. She also spoke of many people she’d met along her
journey’s path.
Lydia absorbed each detail. “It’s good to hear that they were kind
and generous with you. You’re also a brave girl, ‘Encia. I’m glad to
finally know you.”

Florencia gripped the nice lady’s shoulder while she dried and
dressed the child.

The smock hung long and loose, so Lydia pinned it in various places
to fit the child’s delicate form. She then fed her fish stew with
vegetables and led her back over the bridge. “Now I know there is a
little girl that’s quite tired, so I value your going to bed.”

The two went back inside the house past several sleeping rooms
before choosing the one adjacent to Lydia’s for the girl to sleep in.
Florencia was set on her own stuffed sleeping mat that felt
comfortably cool and soft when she pushed her legs between its clean
sheets.

Lydia immediately tied the child’s shoulder-length hair with a pink


string and laid her head back.

After a few moments, Florencia peered over the edge of the futon
bed. She wondered why this woman would have her sleep off the floor
on a low table. Visions of her disturbing ride across the Magat River in
Simon’s rocking dugout ferry popped into her mind. Maybe the rains
were heavier here and even poured into the house and across the floor.
She sighed. “I don’t want to get wet at night.”
Lydia sat beside her and rubbed her back. “You’ll be fine. If you
need to go in the night, you use that over there.” She pointed to a
portable potty in the hallway outside the bedroom door.

Florencia nodded. She felt uncertain of the metal container with its
lid. What’s in that bucket at night? she wondered. What if I sleep until
morning and never find out?

“You’ll be okay,” Lydia was saying.

Florencia closed her eyes and wondered if any of the other families
would arrive home soon to this grand hut.

“You’re all right--I’m right here.” Lydia continued massaging


Florencia until she dropped off to sleep.
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