The other day sixteen year old Iveli, one of the four girls I’ve been taking care in my house here in Iquitos for years, asked me if I would give her more money for her lunch.
Schools here in Iquitos are divided into two shifts. The first shift, the one that Iveli attends, begins at seven in the morning and ends at one in the afternoon. The second shift begins at one in the afternoon and ends at seven.
At four-thirty the students have a half hour to eat.
Most students bring food from home. Usually a couple of egg sandwiches or something left over from the previous night’s supper. The families who can afford it give the child a sole or a sole and a half to buy a glass of Kool-Aid and a small sandwich from a middle-aged woman who sells them just outside the school
I usually give Iveli two soles—seventy cents in American money. Giving her a puzzled look, I said, “I don’t understand why you need more money.”
Standing next to Iveli is her best friend. Carol is a skinny girl sixteen year old girl with an olive colored angular-shaped face and long black hair that falls all the way to her waist. She lives with her unemployed single mother and a seven year old brother and ten year old sister in a run-down shack of a house with a dirt floor several blocks from us. Her mother has a tough times clothing and feeding her children since the husband skipped out on them several years ago.
Slow to understand why Iveli has asked me to give her more money for her lunch, I’m about to ask her why she wants more money for lunch. That’s when I notice the look of despair on Carol’s face.
Turning to Iveli, I said, “You’ve been sharing your lunch with Carol, right?”
She said nothing. But her eyes told me, “Yes.”
I thought about my reason for coming down to this remote jungle town years ago. My goal was to do God’s work. Has my mental condition deteriorated that much in 18 years? I ask ed myself.
I felt so thick-headed.
I reached into my pocket, took out three soles and placed them in Iveli’s hand. “I’m sorry I haven’t been giving you enough money for lunch, Iveli. From now on you’ll get three soles for lunch every day.”
As I watched them half-walk, half-skip down the street toward their school, I glanced up toward the heavens. Smiling, I said aloud, “Better late than never, Lord.”