A moment ago, seven-year-old Danilo was holding his little three-and-a-half-year-old sister Marikit in his arms. He was sitting on concrete steps in a filthy alley in Tondo where everyone was poor and there was no one to help.
“I promise little Mari, I will take care of you.” He stroked her hair knowing it wasn’t true, but who else was there? He hoped she was just sleeping but he was afraid she was going to die. He tried to get her to drink out of the water bottle but she wouldn’t take any.
Before Mama died she said Jesus would watch over them from Heaven, but what good would that do if he were way up there and they were sick and starving down here in Manila?
Danilo’s stomach started hurting. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten. He gave the last food they had to his sister three days ago, an apple he had stolen.
Then it wasn’t just his stomach, but his eyes. He couldn’t see. How could he take care his baby sister if he couldn’t see?
Mama was wrong. Her Jesus was going to let them die just like he let Mama, just like he let Daddy go away right after tiny Mari was born.
Trying to calm down, he took a deep breath but he didn’t smell the stink of garbage and human filth anymore. How did the air get so clean?
Danilo opened his eyes. He could see again. How long had he been asleep?
He looked around. He was high in the air. A tree house? It was enormous. No, not one. All of the trees around him as far as he could see had houses, bridges, balconies, gardens, like a village in the forest, built way up in the branches.
He looked around but she was nowhere in sight. If she fell… He looked over the nearest edge. It was hundreds of feet to the ground. “No! Please, no!”
He heard someone talking behind him but he didn’t understand. Danilo sat up and turned. It was a boy about his age but he had the darkest skin in the world, like pictures he’d seen of children in Africa. He was offering him some sort of fruit saying a word over and over in a strange language.
“Do you know where my sister is?” He could tell the other boy had no idea what he was saying.
“My sister.” He sat up taller and held his hand in the air at about her height.
Then he heard another voice, a girl’s. She was maybe twelve or so and she was holding Mari!
The older girl said something to the boy in a different language and then handed a healthy, happy, and smiling Mari to Danilo. He took his sister and crying held her as tight as he could. “I was so afraid for you, my Mari.” She hugged him back. “It’s okay, brother. They’re nice here.”
It was then he realized that his sister was clean and in different clothes, something like linen. He was also clean and dressed almost the same as she was. When he’d been asleep, these children must have taken care of him and Marikit.
Then the bigger girl talked to him in Tagalog, “She’s going to be alright now. When you got here you were both really sick. You should take the fruit Kofi wants to give you. I bet you’re hungry. Your sister sure was.”
“Thanks.” Mari sat next to him and he took the food the boy was still offering him. Then the two other children sat next to them.
“I’m Tala and this is Kofi. I am from your land and Kofi is from Ethiopia. We want to be your friends and I promise no one here will try to hurt you or your sister.”
“I’m Danilo. This is my sister Marikit.” He’d finished the fruit and found he was still starving. He looked at Kofi who pulled another out from a sack he had tied to his belt.
Tala said something to Kofi then looked at Danilo, “I told him what you said but you’ll have to learn Maduu soon so you can understand what everyone’s saying.”
Danilo finished his meal and looked around again. There were children everywhere, nothing but children, and they were all so different from each other. They looked like they had come from everyplace on Earth. Some looked like Marikit, Tala, and him, some like Kofi, but he could hardly believe how many more there were.
“Where are we? How did we get here?” He looked at his sister who seemed to be playing with a flying insect or bird just a little smaller than a sparrow.
“They call it ‘Vovin’ which means ‘green’ or ‘safe’ in Maduu. It’s the language we all speak. Otherwise, we’d never be able to talk to each other.”
“What language is that? From what country?”
Tala looked at Kofi and said something to him. They had a short conversation, probably in Maduu.
“We don’t want to scare you or Marikit but you’re going to have to meet the others, the ones who take care of us. I just want you to know that they’re pretty scary looking at first, but once you get to know them, they’re really nice.”
“Who? Where are we?”
“Marikit, can I play with Ejedeha?” Tala smiled at the little girl and held out her hand.
“Okay, Tala.” The winged creature was perched on the toddler’s left hand and she held it up.
Ejedeha hopped from Marikit’s hand to Tala’s. The girl petted Ejedeha on the head and down the middle of the back between its wings. Then she held her hand very close to Danilo.
“I want you to look at Ejedeha very carefully and tell me what you see.”
Danilo leaned his face toward what he had thought was a large flying insect or small bird, but then he saw it was neither. It looked kind of like a reptile with shining yellow and green scales, and a very small string of white hair was growing from its chin. It had a long snout and it sneezed once causing little streams of smoke to shoot out its nostrils. Then it fluttered its wings and clapped with its front paws.
“Ejedeha likes you. She says she’s happy to see you.”
Danilo pulled back when he realized what it was. “It’s a dragon! But that’s crazy. They’re not real.”
“They are here, Danilo.”
“Where is here? Where is Vovin?”
“You are not in the Philippines anymore. You’re not even on Earth, Danilo. Magic brings the children who have no where else to go to this place. We’re all like you and your sister. If we hadn’t been brought here, we would have died. No one wanted us. No one would take care of us. Now they take care of us.”
“But they’re so little. How can they…?”
“Danilo, some like Ejedeha are very small, but most of them are not. We introduced you and Marikit to her first because she looks so tiny and harmless. If you can get used to her, then we can take you to Shay.”
“Shay? Shay is a dragon?”
“Yes she is, but she’s not like Ejedeha.”
Tala gave the miniscule dragon back to Mari and stood. So did Kofi. They were both looking up above the forest canopy. Danilo stood next to them and followed their gaze. In the sky something was flying toward them. It looked like Ejedeha but as it got closer, it got bigger, a lot bigger.
“That’s Shay, Danilo. She and the others like her take care of us. Would you like to meet her? She treats us all just like her own children.”
Like a lot of other words, “treat” could go in many different directions so I looked up the dictionary definition plus synonyms and settled on “treat” as in “How do they treat visitors around here?”
I’m developing a world for what I hope will become a trilogy of novels about a partnership between dragons exiled from their world by evil dragons in league with demons and children from all over the Earth and across human history who have been abandoned because of war, natural disaster, epidemics, and many other causes. These are children who would either grow up abused, exploited, and impoverished, or who would die because of adult indifference and human cruelty.
I had a dream once about how such children would be magically whisked away to another world to be raised in a large tree village by dragons and ultimately become a united force to help the dragons expel the evil from their realm.
Danilo’s and Marikit’s story is an experiment as well as the beginning of a fantastic adventure. I’ve written about this world from a completely different point of view and I hope you enjoy this peek into that universe.
As part of my research, I consulted the Global Orphan Crisis – Facts and Statistics, a UNESCO Social and Human Services abstract on Street Children, Wikipedia’s Street children in the Philippines, Saving street kids in Duterte’s Philippines, and Wikipedia’s Slums of Manila.
I’m not picking on the Philippines. According to some sources, there are an estimated 150 million abandoned, orphaned, and street children worldwide. It’s amazing that any of them survive. I wish there were a good and kind place where they could all go to be cared for and safe. As it turns out, dragons might be better parents than at least some humans.