Usually Manuel liked market day in Manila. He liked the happy sounds of the market place. He liked the way the bright sun gleamed on the baskets of flowers, the shell jewelry, and the shoreline of the Manila Bay. But today he was not happy.
“Our neighbor, Aling [Mrs.] Sion, is ill and I must care for her,” his grandmother had said. “We need money for food, and so the flowers must be sold. I have no one but you, Manuel, to take them to market.”
Manuel had started early, so early that the sun was not yet peeking over the mountain tops. He trudged past the little lake, half hidden among dense trees. When he reached the dusty trail to Manila, he joined crowds of people carrying huge baskets of flowers.
Manuel grumbled to himself as he walked. “I hope Jose doesn’t see me.” Jose was a boy from Manuel’s village. Jose was a bully and lately he had chosen Manuel to pick on. Shaking his head as if to cast the thought from his mind, Manuel made his way to Grandmother’s usual place next to Aling Finay.
Aling Finay looked at him curiously. “You are the flower seller today?” she asked.
He explained politely, “Grandmother could not come.”
“You must arrange the flowers nicely,” said Aling Finay.
“Just as she would do,” Manuel agreed.
He set out the pink and yellow daisies, the beautiful red roses, and the big white lilies. Then he stepped back to admire his work. The arrangement wasn’t quite as good as he had hoped, but he didn’t know how to improve it. He was sure Aling Finay would have helped him if she had not already been busy with her customers. All Manuel could do was just wait and hope someone would buy from him.
When the first rays of the sun slanted over the palm-leaf roofs of the village, Manuel heard the clatter of horses hooves on the cobblestones. The men and boys were coming with coconuts, bananas and firewood. Jose will probably be with them! Manuel drew back into a corner, wishing he could hide and forget all about selling flowers.
Suddenly Aling Finay exclaimed, “See! There is Jose strutting into the square. He means trouble for somebody.”
Manuel’s heart seemed to turn upside down. He knew by the way Jose was grinning that he had already caught sight of him. Manuel scrambled to his feet. Only the thought of Grandmother’s disappointment if he came home empty-handed kept him from running away.
Jose stopped in front of him. “Ho!” he scoffed as he grabbed a handful of daisies, tore them to pieces, and threw them on the ground. “See Manuel selling weeds!”
Anger rose inside Manuel as he remembered how hard Grandmother had worked to make her flowers grow beautiful and strong. Forgetting to be afraid, he stepped close to Jose and shouted, “Stop!”
“Out of my way,” Jose ordered, giving him a fierce push.
Manuel sprawled headlong on the cobblestones. He heard Jose’s mocking laugh as the bully went on across the market place. Manuel picked himself up, rubbing his bruises.
That Jose is a bad one,” muttered Aling Finay, her dark eyes flashing. “Still you are fortunate. He might have done much worse.”
Manuel eyed his torn shirt sadly. “It is so. I hope he does not come back.”
The day passed and the shadows grew long. Finally the sun drew its light below the far horizon. Manuel’s heart was glad. He had sold all the flowers, and many coins jingled in his pockets.
Grandmother will be happy, he thought. But now I must hurry to get home before dark. Suddenly Manuel shuddered. Suppose Jose is lurking somewhere along the way!
But in spite of his misgivings, Manuel started up the dusty trail to his village. The breeze was cool after the heat of the day, and he could feel it through his torn shirt as he plodded along.
Manuel was passing the little lake among the trees when a cry nearby made him stop short. He stood still to listen. “Perhaps it was only the wind,” he said at last. “Or a late-singing bird.”
Then he heard the sound again.
Quickly Manuel ran to look between low-hanging branches. Several yards from the bank, he could see someone holding tight to a log and struggling wildly in the water.
“Jose!” Manuel gasped.
He hesitated for a moment. But no matter what Jose had done, Manuel knew he had to try and save him.
As he pulled off his shirt and trousers, Manuel called, “Hold on, I’m coming.”
The bigger boy was not easy for Manuel to help. Jose was strong, and now he was fighting in panic. Once he nearly pulled Manuel under the water.
It took all his strength, but slowly and deliberately Manuel worked his way to shore. When they finally reached it, he and Jose slumped down, exhausted and shivering.
When Jose found enough breath, he mumbled, “Many thanks to you, Manuel.”
“Why were you swimming, Jose?” Manuel asked. “It’s almost dark.”
Jose ran his fingers through his wet hair. “My feet were weary. I meant only to wade a few minutes, but I stepped into a deep hole.” Then he added embarrassed, “I cannot swim. Lucky for me that you can.”
“And that I came along at the right time,” Manuel agreed.
Jose hung his head. “I have often done wrong. There are many people who would have let me drown.”
“Had I done that, I too would have been doing wrong,” Manuel replied.
“I am ashamed I have been cruel. I am sorry I knocked you down,” Jose went on. “You are brave. I would like to be your friend.”
Manuel smiled and began pulling on his clothes. “Come then, friend,” he said, “it is not far to our homes. We will walk together.”