Kidding PAul JAmesI was on graveyard shift for four days two weeks ago. During the first two days, everything seemed customary until a woman named Sabrina walked in. When she called my attention, I thought she would complain of something. As an employee of a service-oriented company, my utmost composure was on as I neared her. I said the usual spiel and smiled before she asked me to sit across her. I would not typically sit down with a customer because it is for a fact improper, but something about Sabrina was compelling. I was ready for her barrage of unpleasant customer-experience protests when she smiled and said, “I have a big favor to ask you”. Sabrina is not beautiful but very adept of English. I can tell, by the color of her lips and by the black tartar of her lower teeth, that she is a heavy smoker. Her breath proved me right. Her short blonde hair was disheveled, she wore average clothes and she was seating as if she had osteoporosis. She looked forty, but as I took time to listen and interpret her, I knew she’s in her early 30s. After her brief smirk, her mood shifted and she became teary. She first assured me that if I feel uncomfortable, I could just stop her and walk out of the conversation. She began talking of her short career with our company and started mentioning of other managers I personally knew. I believed Sabrina and I started trusting her. She then mentioned she also previously worked in a call center, but resigned after a few months because she personally felt ‘invalidated’ with the job. She reminded me again that if I become uneasy at some point, I could stop and send her out of the store. She did not fail to establish her spiritual welfare when she consistently mentioned her perpetual prayers and church worships with her sick daughter Rench. Rench, according to Sabrina, was hospitalized because of pneumonia and by-respiratory complications. She showed me a doctor’s diagnosis with the logo of a nearby semi-private hospital near my workplace. This pertinent document made me even trust her more. Sabrina said that Rench had been in the hospital for a week now, but was already recommended for discharge should her medications be complete and vital signs be stable. Again, for the third time, she emphatically said that if I feel uncomfortable I could just stand up and ask her to leave. At this time, I had given her my full trust; she was very successful had she been targeting me to do so. Sabrina was not the typical stranger you would trust or like, to say the least, but her smile, gestures and talk would make you want to give her a shot. At this point, she slowly moved a piece of paper towards me. She unfolded it and explained that it was her daughter’s prescription. I knew where this was going, I had an inkling of this from the very start but with the way the conversation went, I disregarded my intuition. Each medicine had a corresponding peso amount and they were summed up at the bottom of the paper. All the medicines were expensive except for one. “This is where my favor comes in,” Sabrina glumly and softly said as I looked at the paper. This stranger was asking for help. This stranger was asking me to monetarily assist her. I wanted to stand up and ask her to leave, but everything felt so genuine. Someone was whispering that I should stay with her and believe everything she was saying. Sabrina looked at me intently and continued her story. She explained that all the medicines had already been secured except for one. She pointed at the cheapest drug worth 214 pesos. She said the supply at the hospital’s pharmacy was limited. The rest of the prescribed drugs were on hand and would be billed to Rench’s invoice upon discharge, except for the one she was pointing. She went out at 3am in the morning because she was advised to immediately look for the drug to avoid any bodily constraint within the day. According to Sabrina, this drug had to be injected three times a day to her daughter’s system to help stabilize physiological patterns. The first inject was routinely scheduled every 5am. She added that the drug was bought per vial and each costs 214 pesos. The hospital had none at the moment and she was obliged to look for at least one. The medicinal supplies of the hospital would not arrive until noontime the same day. I just had so many questions and she seemed to anticipate every single one. Sabrina said she only had six pesos in her pockets. She walked three dark alleys just to get to my store. Along the way, God only knows how many prayers she prayed for guidance and safety. She also prayed that I knew all her erstwhile manager friends to corroborate her stories. “Why can’t you ask your husband for help and why can’t you ask for assistance in your job now?” I asked her. She sighed and bowed her head longingly. Sabrina is a single mother. Rench is an illegitimate child and she has been solely raising her daughter ever since. Sabrina is unemployed and currently living by means of deficient allowances provided by her mother in Dubai. She often accepts baking jobs and gets a few orders but the revenue generated out of it still can’t pay all the bills. She sometimes does few tutoring sessions, but nowadays, competition has been stiff. “Who would want to hire a wasted woman?” she lamented. Sabrina was bold enough to admit she had done stupid things before. “I acted like a whore. I didn’t care and I was recklessly carefree. All the vices you can mention sir, I tried them all, and I had never felt so authenticated getting away with petty and naughty things.” There was a long pause. I stared at her blankly. I wanted to stand up, but her veneer managed to keep me glued on the couch. Then, a single tear fell down her cheeks. “But that was before sir. When my daughter came everything changed. Motherhood changed me. My sick daughter changed me.” Sabrina wiped her tear. “That is why I am asking you for help sir. I would kneel in front of you if you want me to. 214 pesos is a small amount for you but right now sir it is a meaningful amount for us. If you think I am swindling you, why would I swindle for such a small amount? I wouldn’t risk my values and dignity for 214 pesos.” Her words struck me. My gut tells me she was not faking anything, and I really would want to help. My conscience would kill me if one day I’d bump into Sabrina and she’d tell me her daughter died because I refused to let her borrow 214 pesos. Before leaving, Sabrina held my hand and thanked me for letting her borrow the amount and adding a few more pesos for her fare. Her smile was so real and her reaction was so pacific. When I gave her the money, she assured me she’ll be back next week with Rench. “We will come here and Rench will personally thank you sir! Thank you very much sir! You don’t know how much of a big help this is!” I gave her my schedule so she’d know when to come back and she asked for my number so she can text me. Sabrina also promised to return my money and even said that Rench shall personally hand it. It has been two weeks since I last saw her. No text messages. No Rench. No money. After everything, it was actually just a simple case of swindling. I was bowled over of how much of a good actress she was. I called all the managers she mentioned in our conversation. They further confirmed that Sabrina is indeed a con artist, a crook. She would use different identities; sometimes she would be Eunice, then Carla, then Audrey. Her method is to visit stores, ask for help regarding medicinal supplies and mention names of previous victims to build her story. Most managers are acquainted and know each other by first names. She exploited this to her advantage. One friend told me that when he came back after excusing himself from Sabrina to call the manager she was mentioning, she was gone. Based on the stories of others, she would ask for amounts ranging from 100 to 300 pesos. This was her simple, deceiving yet lucrative modus operandi. Imagine how much she can earn a day if she can do rounds in at least five of our outlets. I could not believe that a woman so fluent and so smart would resort to crime for a living. Sabrina had the charisma of a trickster. I bet she planned the whole scruffy and haggard facade to convince me she’s just the common citizen who’s struggling to get pass her financial mess. Her acting was damn flawless and she got away with it! Sabrina exemplifies a bitter truth. It is undeniable that most crimes are products of poverty. Some, ignoring spiritual damnation, swerve towards criminal acts to at least fill one plate up a day. Normally, people who resort to petty crimes are uneducated, but Sabrina is not uneducated. She has a modest intellect and has a good command of English, yet she chose small-time swindling as a way of life. This means that the criminal network is expanding. This means that justice is becoming more elusive. This means that a lot of people are getting poorer and hungrier. The bigger picture is more painful. All the classes of society have criminal representatives. Those who studied in principal universities and were born in well-off clans have resorted to big-time criminal acts too. This is currently evident in the media. The diplomatic riot over graft and corruption cases proves a trademark we Filipinos have been nursing. How can we make a community safer if a lot of members in our supposed pool of elite leaders commit more aggravating crimes? How can we rise from poverty if we advocate misdeeds? How can we stop or at least minimize criminal acts if the claws of justice clasp things from the sublime to the ridiculous? Like what I said, Sabrina had every reason to deceive. If Rench was really sick or if she even existed, I hope I contributed to her wellness. If Sabrina was poor as a church mouse, then she is like the majority of Filipinos enjoying parts of the same cake. If crime had to be the best option for Sabrina, I can only implore that someone pulls the fat from the fire for her. Lastly, if I meet her again someday, I’ll tell her she is in a country with no retributive justice, and is porous enough to permit crime and poverty. And this is something I couldn’t blame her for.