Little Prince with a cheesy story
Until a Facebook post made him famous, 9-year-old Prince Lander Solano called attention to himself only through the banana leaf-wrapped delicacy that he sells.
“Ma’am, sir, kesong puti, P120. P100 na lang,” the boy would call out to passersby on Filmore Street in Makati City, who would often stop to buy his native white cheese.
Curious about the young entrepreneur, they’d often ask: How old are you? Are you alone? Where’s your mother? Where do you source this cheese?
Prince, who turns 10 on Oct. 16, answers the questions as briskly: I’m with my mother. She’s at the back of Cash & Carry. The cheese comes from Sta. Cruz, Laguna.
But aren’t you too young to be working?
“I’m just helping my parents,” he says. “I hope someone will buy everything so I can go home,” he says, adding that he misses his siblings.
The staff of the restaurant near his usual spot has grown fond of the savvy boy, while a regular buyer touched by his sense of filial duty uploaded his photo on Facebook in a post that has since been widely shared.
Prince, whose family lives in Pook Villagracia, Sta. Cruz, Laguna, says he stopped going to school this year because his teacher kept pestering him about his lack of birth certificate. He decided to join his father instead and started selling cheese in Makati.
Before he sold cheese, Prince peddled ice candy in their village in Laguna. He so charmed neighbors with his beatboxing skills that they happily handed him some coins, his mother Helen, 47, told the Inquirer in a separate interview.
Prince is the fourth of eight children, but he says matter-of-factly: “Now we’re just seven because my fifth (sibling) drowned during a storm. It was All Saints’ Day.”
He also has seven half-siblings, three from his mother and four from his father, he adds.
His older siblings help sell kesong puti during school breaks as well, but only Prince decided to go “full-time.”
The task has exposed him to the harsh realities of life in the city, like sleeping on cartons under a flyover “in the company of thieves,” or not sleeping at all when he vends in Baclaran.
“That’s how it is,” he shrugs.
Since that viral Facebook post, Prince has added ube (purple yam), suman (glutinous rice) and shing-aling (deep-fried flour snack) to his merchandise. “So I can earn more,” he explains.
Occasionally, his father—with his mother in tow—also sells the same stuff under the flyover just behind Cash & Carry supermarket along Osmeña Highway in Makati. This is where they end up spending the night when some of their goods remained unsold.
But when business is good, Prince gets a “day off” and they head back to Laguna where he gets to be a kid again, playing “Pak! Ganern!” with his younger siblings. When play is over, he helps around the house and does chores like fetching water from a deep well.
The following day would be business as usual, with the constant stream of buyers keeping him from getting bored.
Already, Prince has made friends with the employees of nearby Amber’s Restaurant who occasionally treat him to meals with them. Sometimes they would walk him to the flyover or check if he got there safely, says his mother.
Prince can hold his own even when it comes to naughty banter, recount the Amber delivery riders. Apparently, his disposition has been shaped by his unsavory experiences on the streets.
He once lost money from his body bag, the boy recalled, and had to borrow cash from the beef pares vendor across the street to avoid being scolded by his parents. He has since paid it back through installment.
One time at the flyover, he woke up to see someone trying to steal the box containing his cheese. Fortunately, a policeman saw the thief.
He wonders out loud: “Why do people turn bad and crazy? A lot of them become addicts, thieves. But I’m not going to be like them. I’m not crazy!”
When a vagrant sniffing a bottle passed by, Prince mimics him to illustrate his point. People shouldn’t condone begging, he says.
It’s not a bad living, Prince’s mother says, but her son might get too interested in selling he might drop out of school altogether, she worries. He could hardly read yet, she adds.
But Prince says he also enjoyed school and vows to return next year. His favorite subject was math, he adds.
And what would he want to be when he grows up?
An engineer, he answers. “I find buildings amazing.”
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