Tala was getting frantic. She had lost one of her tsinelas. It had fallen off her foot as she was running along the path down to her house, and although it was pink with light-green straps, it was nowhere to be found. It was too dark to see but she could not bear to go back and face her mother. She would yell at Tala and hit her for being so clumsy.
Tala headed back up towards the village. If she couldn’t find the sandal, maybe she could beg or steal another one that would match hers. She really was as stupid as her brother Alon always said.
As she passed the dark bulk of the stone church, she heard the noise of many people from the barangay hall ahead of her. The barangay captain had set up a TV outside and dozens of people from the village were crowded around it. Tala caught a glimpse of the five-ring symbol on the screen. They were watching the Olympics again, but Tala had no interest. Who cared how fast somebody from Africa or America was? She had bigger problems.
She walked across the road to the store but everything was locked up. She had just started looking in the gutters to see if anyone had dropped a tsinela there when there was a sudden roar from the barangay hall. Everyone was shouting and hugging and jumping up and down. Tala was confused. Why would anyone in the tiny barangay of Mapantao care what some athletes far away did?
“Gold!” everyone was shouting. “We won!”
Tala pushed closer to the TV. There on the screen she saw a woman in a blue uniform.
“Tala, did you see?” Tala turned to see her aunt, Tiya Rosa behind her. Before she could say anything, Tiya Rosa swept her up in a big hug. “Did you see what Ate (ah-tay) Hidilyn did?”
“What? What happened?” Tala asked, shouting over the noise of celebrations.
“127 kg!” Tiya Rosa said. “She lifted that to win gold! The first gold medal in history for the Philippines.”
The TV was showing a replay now, the woman lifting the bar over her head. The name Hidilyn Diaz was at the bottom of the screen with the Philippines flag next to it.
“How much is 127kg?” Tala asked.
“Like your mother and father put together,” Tiya Rosa shouted, laughing.
The crowd was singing and dancing now, but Tala could not take her eyes off the screen. That woman, who looked like anyone else in her village had lifted the same weight as her parents over her head? How did anyone get that strong?
“Tala, you lost your tsinela,” Tiya Rosa said suddenly and Tala was jerked away from that faraway sports hall in Tokyo, back to the barangay of Mapantao. Tiya Rosa saw the look on Tala’s face and smiled.
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell your mother. Come over to my house, and I’ll give you an old pair of Analyn’s. Just be careful and you’ll grow up successful like your Ate Hidilyn, okay?”
Tiya Rosa brought Tala back to her house and gave her another pair of tsinelas and Tala walked down the path to her house. Her mother scolded her for being late, but no one noticed her tsinelas were different.
The next day, Tala found a piece of rusted rebar out behind the house. She gripped it with both hands and lifted. She barely lifted it to her ankles before she lost her grip. It fell with a clang on the stones.
“What are you doing?” Alon called from up in a tree. “You can’t lift that. You’re too much of a baby.”
Tala ignored him. She imagined lifting the weight of both her parents over her head and she gripped the rebar again. If Ate Hidilyn could do it, so could she.