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Young Blood

Childhood’s make-believe money

/ 05:00 AM September 16, 2018

At 10, I was in a hurry to grow up. I spent my summer vacations in my southern Iloilo hometown building makeshift playhouses from bamboo stalks, banana leaves and discarded linoleum sheets; making sure my Lola Dia won’t catch me picking gumamela buds from her garden to “cook meals”; and getting my hands dirty baking sun-dried soil cookies and crinkles.

My concept of money used to revolve around discarded cigarette packs and bottle caps. Why would I ask our parents for real money to buy play money, when my childhood playmates and I could make our own?

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We took the denominations seriously, assigning values according to their colors and their corresponding prices. We knew the hierarchy of cigarettes: The blue one that cost most was worth P1,000; the red cigarette pack, P50; while the silver linings were equivalent to P10. On the other hand, soda tansans were equivalent to P1, and the gold and bronze caps of lapad and litro were P5.

They reeked of uncles who lived off nicotine and alcohol, but my cousins and I didn’t bat an eyelash about their vices, so long as we could get our hands on make-believe money.

Their boisterous laughter fading into slurry words paid for our childhood escape. But, in the morning, I would leave home empty-handed because my father never smoked and rarely drank.

Twelve years later, this girl whose eyes used to sparkle at the thought of holding a P5 bill witnessed the transition to new-generation currency — crisp, modern bills coupled with shiny, metallic silver coins that all look the same.

The latter have been romanticized by social media locals with sappy lines about “appreciating value,” never mind that market vendors and jeepney drivers would take a few seconds more to make sure they don’t hand out the wrong change.

Since then, I’ve understood that I could no longer wait for Tito Bing to finish today’s pack of cigarettes, or for Tito Mundo and his kumpare to shuffle home drunk so my playmates and I could fight over the metal caps strewn all over the floor.

I just wish I knew then how much it cost to dream — and if only all my yosi bills could pay for all the childhood dreams and desires I needed to set aside to gain “real-world money.”

I wasn’t at all ready to answer a society that puts a premium on jobs that pay a fortune, or when a rude date  or a distant relative has the gall to ask me “How much do you earn?” instead of “What do you do?”

Nowadays, my eyes roll when I read quotes about passion being enough and viral stories about self-made successes. I nod politely and force a smile when someone preaches about financial freedom, when I know that these people live at the mercy of their parents’ hedge fund.

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The sound of cash coming out of the ATM no longer sounds anything like excitement; it’s more akin to the awkward silence that followed when I finally mustered the courage to explain to my parents that a degree wasn’t an instant ticket to success, and the thump of my heart, too, as I accepted that they were also victims of a system that equates money with worth.

Money smells strongly of 2 a.m. breakdowns, quarter-life crisis, and counting down to the next payday. More often than not, it smells of hard work being suffocated by the stench of defeat.

Real money also feels lighter on my palms now, when it blurs and dissolves into transaction codes I send to my parents back home in Iloilo.

Funny how it still goes to temporary escapes — to cigarettes on rooftops, tipsy evenings in the concrete jungle, and prescription medicines to help me sleep.

My peers and I would laugh over hangovers and half-assed regrets, but somehow I understand now how oldies yearn for that fix of poison every time.

We are becoming our tired, drunk titos, and our practical titas  who get annoyed at lost food containers. Sometimes, they yell at each other in our heads, because the millennial welcome party to adulthood requires us to be both.

I find comfort in the fact that I am not alone in this ordeal. In the playground we’re now in, money plays all of us. No amount of make-believe ever trained us for growing up, even if we were already busy counting coins in our childhood.

* * *

Rhea Jane Germia, 22, is a communication and media studies graduate from the University of the Philippines Visayas. She’s a writer in a company based in Bonifacio Global City.

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