Carlo struggled his way to the fire, avoiding the poisonous gas that tortured his lungs. In his arms was little Juan covered in pyre. Juan was crying loudly because of his wounded leg. It was injured because the pillars of their home crumbled and fell on him when he tried to save his favorite shoes. The sirens echoed loud but far. The fire truck arrived late only to find Juan and Carlos’ home along with fifty others burnt to the ground.
Medics rush to treat the injured boy. Carlo gazed as his brother was screaming in pain. How he wished it was him instead of his brother. How he wished the fire never happened. Teardrops formed like dewdrops on the side of his eyes, he turned back and saw their home once standing tall now in ashes – and along those ashes were his parents.
Ten years have passed. Carlo now works as a waiter in a restaurant. He stopped schooling after the fire to look after Juan. He was hard working. Yes, he would’ve gotten a promotion if were not for Juan’s hard-headedness.
Juan grew up with bad company. He was influenced by his friends to smoke, to skip classes and to cheat. He visited Carlo once in the restaurant he worked in and stole the wallet of Carlo’s co-worker. Promising his parents that he will look after Juan no matter what happens decided to take the blame. He was supposed to be laid off but the manager saw his hard-work and decided to give him a chance.
Carlo went home tired. He was now 27 yet the lines of his face reveal another number. His hands were cold, numb from all the work. Along with him was a bag of pancit. He managed to spare a couple of pesos to buy food for him and his brother.
As he arrived he saw Juan, he smelled like cigarettes. His eyes were red as if he had cried all day. The calling of the night was Juan’s comfort and as he saw his brother inching in his way into their little home he felt the vengeance of poverty and the pain of ignorance.
“You smoked” – Carlo said while putting the pancit on two plates. One had many cracks on it.
“No, you leave me alone”. Juan avoided Carlo’s eyes, he felt the pang of hunger seeing the pancit yet his pride flourished more than weeds in a garden.
“Remember how our parents taught us honesty, now eat”. Carlo was mad at his brother actions.
“No! I’ll eat my own food!” – Juan limped. After his accident by the fire Juan could no longer walk properly and he was angry with that fact all his life.
Juan went out of their house. Carlo did not stop him. All night he wandered in the streets until he came upon an empty waiting shed and decided to sleep their.
Amidst his slumber he was woken up by a group of men. Juan knew they were evil. He knew he was in trouble. They shouted at him saying that this was their turf and that trespassers are heavily punished. They beat him up, but after a while Carlo rushed to save his brother. Carlo was outnumbered. He was almost beaten to death if it were not for the police. Juan watched his brother drenched in blood. Black and blue all over yet alive, Carlo had always something inside him and Juan never understood it. It was hope.
After they were treated in the police station the brothers went home. Juan began to sob as he saw the pancit in the table still untouched. He looked at his brother, at his bruises. At that day Juan decided not to be selfish.
He treated Carlo with respect – with love. Carlo treated him the same as always. His grades were improving. He wasn’t hanging out with his juvenile friends. He was getting better from the bitterness of life.
One day Juan arrived early from school. He saw his friend wearing sports shoes and showing it off. Jealousy came upon him as his mind again wandered in then insecurities of life. Upon arriving home, he nagged to his brother of how much he needed a phone, how much it was a necessity to him, how he couldn’t live without it.
Carlo’s words did not calm Juan. And he promised to get him one after three months. Carlo worked day and night, he went home hungry. His soul became tired yet he cannot bear not giving his brother happiness.
Carlo was working late at night doing an inventory of the newly arrived vegetables. He did this every night until his eyesight deserted him. His co-workers admired his dedication, his devotion to work and most of all his love for his brother.
One night, as he was recording vegetables at the kitchen the neighboring shoe shop owner shouted for help. Carlo rushed to the owner and saw the big fire gobbling the shoe store.
“My wife and daughter are inside!”. The shoe shop owner cried.
Carlo rushed inside. He smelled the pang of burned rubber as he finally reached the room where the two are. He first saved the daughter. Then as he came back for the mother, the fire was bigger, hotter than ever. It reminded him of the night their house got burned. He quickly helped the mother up. Assisting her as she walked Carlo stumbled upon the melted rubber, his leg was burning.
“Go on”. He said
With hesitation the wife of the shoe shop owner rushed outside the burning shop.
The firemen arrived late as usual. The medics treated the injured. The once tall shoe shop was now in ashes and so was Carlo.
Juan slept that night without his brother. Although he was concerned why he did not go home, he was certain that he was okay.
A knock on the door was heard. Juan opened the door and saw his brother’s manager and the owner of the shoe shop. They did not speak a word. Hearing nothing Juan’s heart cringed, his breathing hardened as he would like to refute the fate of his brother. Although he did not know what happened, their faces told a tale even the deaf can hear and the blind can see.
They told him what happened. Juan heard his heart split into two. After a long conversation the shoe shop owner said: “Your brother saved my family, when I reopen my shop get all the shoes you want. As long as I am the manager of that shop you can have any shoe any time”
Hearing those words did not comfort Juan. It made him in regret even more.
Twenty years had passed. Juan maried. The memory of Carlo made him twice as hardworking as he was. He valued his education more then ever until he graduated as an engineer. He was contented with the happiness of what life can offer him. And most of all, he learned to hope. He was no longer afraid of fire.
Juan had a son of his own. And he treated him as he was treated by his brother. Teaching him right from wrong, telling him the courage of his brother and how hardworking he was.
The night was cold. Yet the warmth of a little home filled with love and hope made the dark shudder in fear. Juan was telling his son a story. The stars were in their place as if to play a trick to the human eye. They were distant yet to the man who used to be filled with bitterness – they were perfect.
“Father , tell me more about your brother”
“Tomorrow, I will tell you more”
“Good night Carlo”.
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