Slum justice

Even toothless dogs respond to a young girl's cries

Her screams saved her life. Lordy Lord that girl could scream. Never heard such screaming.

You could hear her a slum mile away, which is hundreds of decibels louder than a country mile. Slum miles are extra dense with children, adults, dogs, traffic and the like. So, her little-girl voice had to travel through the slum din. And it did. It resonated like a bugle awakening the troops.

"Help! Help me! Heeeeelp!"

Slum dogs jumped to attention. Kindergarten teachers did an about face. Elders stood up and bent an ear.

Imagine, here is this girl, screaming for her life just one week shy of her eighth birthday. Screaming in a way that must've swelled her lungs to adult-size. It would be those frantic screams that saved her, no doubt about it.

This is the heroic story of little Miss Pizza (aka Miss Peanut Butter) and her beloved teddy bear, Mr Cartoon. Beginning to end, it's not for the faint of heart. But if you stay with it, I promise a happy finish.

The sexual assault that day turned into a violent attack on both the girl and her teddy bear. With Miss Pizza clinging to Mr Cartoon like a shield, Monster Man couldn't get a solid grip on the girl. Mr Cartoon served as her last line of defence. With rotten teeth, stinking breath and dirty, broken fingernails, Monster Man kept swiping, clawing and scratching at Miss Pizza. He even bit her, desperate to get at a child who was gutsy to fight back.

Finally, Monster Man ripped Mr Cartoon out of her arms and proceeded to rip the stuffing from him as surely as he was trying to rip the clothes from Miss Pizza.

That's when the little girl's scream became adult-sized. She screamed to protect herself and her teddy bear that had been protecting her. No fire alarm can shriek that loudly.

With such screams in a slum, no assault of a child lasts long. Teachers and dogs and elders all ran toward Miss Pizza's cry. Two howling and toothless ancient hound dogs, limping along, arrived first. They went to work on Monster Man. True, no teeth, but they started biting him with their gums. That was enough to distract him. He turned to run, but was met head-on by women swinging pots, pans, brooms, garbage pails.

It wouldn't be the police with their guns who saved Miss Pizza from Monster Man. We all know that real law enforcers of the Klong Toey slums, the Mums, Aunties, Grannies, toothless dogs and even a clawing cat, would be the ones to save Miss Pizza. By the time police arrived, the slum women were literally beating the monster to death. The police would eventually and begrudgingly save Monster Man. The law is the law. By then, the monster was lying in the dirt cowering and bleeding, begging for the police to arrest him and save him from the mob of angry women.

"Please stop! I didn't mean to do it!"

That horrible lie only made matters worse. The beating resumed. The women kept hitting him and hitting him and hitting him, even whacked him a few times in his most tender of parts.

Finally, the police intervened. Said they had to. Couldn't let Monster Man die on the spot. No, not out of mercy, but his dying there would cause too much paper work. They handcuffed the bloodied monster and pushed him roughly into the paddy wagon.

Miss Pizza was promptly taken to the hospital for bandages, stitches, anti-viral injections and all the important lab tests that check for infectious diseases. But before she would go, she scooped up the wounded Mr Cartoon, cradled him close. She refused to leave without him.

No sooner had a grey-haired nurse stitched together a wound in Miss Pizza's lip than Miss Pizza asked for Mr Cartoon to be stitched back together. She explained that Mr Cartoon had to heal because when no one else is around, especially when her granny gets headaches and has to sleep. So Mr Cartoon, he is the one to take care of her. And her, him. That's what family's do.

As is often the case, the hardened nurse who had seen tens and tens of cases where children were assaulted, turned mushy. Tears in her eyes, she stuffed cotton swabs into Mr Cartoon, stitched together his wounds, and pronounced him to be stable.

All of the lab tests on Miss Pizza came back negative. Monster Man had not infected her with any of his sicknesses, a blessing that allowed everyone to finally breathe easy. We thought it was all over. But then it rained the next day, just before weekly morning mass. Miss Pizza had left Mr Cartoon strategically out in the corridor. To keep watch for other monsters. Stuffed with cotton swabs and sewn back together, he looked stronger than before.

However, the rain came with strong winds, and the winds would spray Mr Cartoon with rain off and on all night. That morning, as 140 children streamed into chapel for weekly mass, Miss Pizza scooped up a very soggy teddy bear. The house mums gently told Miss Pizza that Mr Cartoon would have to wait just outside the chapel. Dripping, soaking wet teddy bears, even those of the status of the heroic Mr Cartoon, are not allowed on the chapel carpet.

This stopped everything. All of the children, and especially the 70 girls, came to Mr Cartoon's defence. For perhaps the first time ever, the children refused to enter the chapel. They took a stand. One for all and all for Mr Cartoon.

The house mums were looking at a military stand-off, but they didn't blink. The girls didn't blink. Then, one diplomatic child thought of a solution. She's the one who wants to become a Thai Model. Her Solution: Hair dryers. Not just one hair dryer, either. Seven. Why seven? Because mass was about to begin, and a soggy teddy bear needed a quicker than quick makeover. The Gentle Weapons of War.

The ensuing chorus of hair dryers was not a roar. Rather, it was a gentle and soothing hum. Everyone worked together to dry off Mr Cartoon. With so many girls fussing over him, I think he came to chapel that day a little full of himself.

With Mr Cartoon back in her clutches, Miss Pizza was happy again. With Miss Pizza happy, our children were happy. Holy mass went on without further incident, and some will swear today that a dried and well-groomed Mr Cartoon left the chapel with a spring in his step.

Father Joe Maier is the director and co-founder of the Human Development Foundation in Klong Toey. For more information, call 02-671-5313 or visit mercycentre.org.