"Les gustaria una tarjeta del Dia de San Valentin?" Would you like a Valentine? she asked, her round, brown face poking out of the TBA train window. Her eyes were playful and excited, despite the un-childlike tasks she had been charged with.
"No, gracias," we smiled at her and kept walking down the platform. We needed all the change we had for the bus ride home.
"Espera! Espera!" Wait, wait! she shouted. She bent down, out of site for a moment, only to pop up a second later, her black bob bouncing.
"Aqua!" Here! and with that she flung a valentine out the window at us, just as the train started moving down the tracks.
We laughed and shouted gracias, waving our thanks. She waved back and we watched as her little face and hand became littler and littler, until it was just a small dot in the distance.
We looked down at the valentine. It was just like the playing card-size notes we all handed out with candy sweethearts in the first grade. It had three swooning fairies encircled by puffy red hearts, each fairy accompanied by a love-dovey thought bubble. My favorite fairy had purple hair, blue eyes the size of a Disney character, and a pink dress. Her thought bubble mused that "Nuestro amor. Es sentimiento presente en cada rincon de nuestros corazones." Our love. It is a sentiment present in each corner of our hearts. We smiled and tucked the card into my purse. A sweet memento from a sweet little cherub of the TBA train.
Later on and into the next day, I kept wondering about this little girl. How did she keep smiling? Her sun-browned face was smudged with dirt; her knees were black with grime. She had no more than five years to her name and she was forced to sell trinkets on a commuter train when she should be have been playing in a sandbox. And yet, she seemed unscathed by this reality, by the lack of fairness that characterized her life.
As Nick and I were riding the train from the province back into the city, I couldn't stop watching this little girl. She simply set her goods down on each train rider's lap, giving each person a chance to consider her wares. When all the cards had been passed out, she would run from one side of the train to the other, giggling the whole way. When she went to collect the cards, she didn't seem frustrated or sad when people returned them without purchasing. She simply acted as if it were all a game between friends, a game without expectations of proof of purchase from a family in the shadows.
When the process was all over and all the cards had been delivered and re-collected, the little girl simply went and plopped down on her father's lap in the back end of the train car. How could her father allow her to do such a task, and do it alone? Why couldn't he at least hold her hand the whole time? And yet, she seemed happy as a clam.
I imagined her at home, smiling away despite the ramshackle dilapidation sweeping through the slum where she most likely lived. A villa (veejah) as they call the slums here, in the province or along the train tracks in the city. A villa where meals are eaten over-shadowed by the worry of where the next meal will come from. A villa characterized by street violence and persistent illnesses that come with poverty. A villa where thousands sleep when they are not sleeping on dirty mattresses on the busy city streets where they make their living selling objects like plastic angels and rubber figurines. A villa where children have children and the cycle continues.
And yet, here she was, this little valentine messenger, this little cherub, smiling in the face of such despair. How? Did she have someone that looked after her and taught her that she would rise above this? Or did she simply have an inner voice that told her this? Or was she purely innocent of the injustice of her situation? Who can know. But this is where the hope lays, in a child whose pure innocence and happiness is stronger than the violent poverty that she was born into, our little angel of the villa. Let us place our hope with her and the others like her. "There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle."