"Thank you, Sir. Praise the Lord!" the old beggar exclaimed in clear English as I shove a five-peso coin into his hand.
I was on my way to meet a friend at a restaurant near Raja Solaiman park one rainy October day couple of years ago when I chance upon the kindly old man, charming passers-by for alms with his tooth-less smile and sunny disposition.
Minutes later, as I sat comfortably in the restaurant with my friend, the memory of the old man lingered in my mind. After our meal, we go to the spot where I left him, but he was gone. About to give up, I saw him a few metres away, drying himself under a tree. I asked my friend that we sit with him for a while before we go to the mall as we've plan earlier.
A group of passing teenagers stared at us, no doubt wondering why a well-dressed men would be chatting with an old dirty derelict. We learned that his name was Max Mercado and that he was 85 years old. He's been here since Mt. Pinatubo erupted. It is the generous hearts that keeps him alive. Owning nothing more than the shirt on his back and a few mementos from his past, he roamed the park every day. When it rained, he would take shelter under the trees and concrete structures that dotted the park.
When Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991, torrents of lahar covered their entire town. He tried to save his wife and children, but they all died. In the end he could save only himself. Having nowhere to go, he moved to Manila and ended up begging.
He told us that he used to entertain American GI's as a cabaret singer in Olongapo City. And as if on cue, he begun crooning a song, that gathered a crowd around us. My friend, took off his cap and pass around the crowd and was able to raised 40 pesos. The teenagers who had stared at us minutes earlier were now smiling at us, eager to hear what we were talking about.
"God sent you to me," Max said.
"See, most of the time people don't even mind me, but because of you they're noticing me.Always give thanks. Appreciate what you have."
As dusk was about to settle, I bought a buy 1 take 1 burger nearby for his dinner. Before long, my friend flag a taxi to take us to the mall. We left Max sitting contently on a park bench, begun eating his burger.
It amazes me how someone who has suffered so much can have a grateful heart. I guess it is true what I once read in a book: God is closer to beggars than to kings.