Admittedly, I was trying to look like Cinderella. But I realized after that my skin was too dark to begin with. (Maybe I should have aimed for Pocahontas instead.)
When I entered my stage, I put on the airs of spoiled nobility. I held my head high and proudly pulled my skirt up as I walked. I frowned at the giddy, sweating kids in front of me. I glared at them as I began to spoke, “Ako si Prinsesa Maria. Kung hindi kayo tumahimik, ipapatay ko kayo sa bodyguards ko.” Evil, maybe, but the statement was received with roars of laughter. Afterwards, I continued, “Bakit niyo ako tinatawanan? Isusumbong ko kayo sa hari! Daaaadddddyyyyy!” That’s when I covered my face with my hands and pretended to cry. The children once again laughed like hyenas.
Yesterday, I dressed up like a princess because I wanted to do something different for the children of informal settlers in barangay Holy Spirit. KRIS Library – Quezon City has had a number of book-reading activities, but for this year’s “World Read Aloud Day”, I wanted a book to come to life.
“Once upon a time, a rich man had several daughters, but the youngest of them was the smartest and most beautiful of all. Her name was Beauty,” I read. I clutched a large storybook of Beauty and the Beast on my lap as the children excitedly sat in front of me. I would read the lines first, and then they would repeat after me. After every page, I asked them questions. But, I still maintained the airs of my glamorous exterior with scoffs and fake tears.
“Ngayon, ikukuwento ko naman sa inyo ang aking buhay.” I then proceeded, as I stood up on my stage, to act out the legend of the monkey. It was a tale of a Beauty being turned into a Beast because of her arrogance and spite for all things ugly. It was a tale I used to make them laugh and pull impromptu cast members from my audience; and it was a tale I used to teach a lesson.
When the loud laughter, the jeers, and the applause died down with the end of my story, I asked them, “Ano ang natutunan niyo sa ating mga kwento ngayon?” One girl’s hand shot up. She shouted, “Never judge a book by its cover!” It was a brilliant answer.
I think that the same answer could be said for these children. Their clothes may be worn. Their limbs may be skinny. But through our activities in KRIS Library, I had found out that some of them were so witty, so smart—and they just needed some motivation to truly seek out learning. The same could also be said for our library in Quezon City. It is only a makeshift garage that we had renovated with a simple budget, but already it has been given a new life and purpose through days like this one.
The same answer could also be said for people. News reports tell us that people are evil and cunning. Stories tell us that there are villains. Parents tell us that there are always criminals lurking in dark corners to lure us to death. But, so far, with KRIS Library, I have found out that people can be so generous and kind-hearted.
Yesterday, as the children listened and followed their arrogant princess, their parents received medicines thanks to the kindness of Ma’am Juris Umali Soliman, a P.R. Executive. She had donated four boxes of medicines for children—including Ceelyn Syrup, Tiki-Tiki, Amoxycillin Suspension, Solmux Syrup, and Biogesic. There was enough to go around for the children, for the fathers who humbly told us that their sons were sick, for the mothers who carried stick-thin infants on their breasts, for my 16-year old friend who now has a baby girl, and for the poorest families of the barangay.
Indeed, a multitude of stories commingled to teach me the lesson that you can never judge a book by its cover. Beauties can be Beasts. Beasts can be Beauties.
In the end, I was not a princess because of my cover—because of my clothes, or my shiny shoes, or my glittering headband. I was a princess because I felt that, yesterday, fairy tales were coming true. Barangay Holy Spirit is not a sly collective of slum areas; it was a magical kingdom with princes and princesses abounding in their books and stories. It was a place where noble families worked together to reap good lives.
And, yesterday, all of these came alive because of one true magic: the magic of hope.