Turon

 

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Turon , a famous delicacy in the Philippines

It’s the wee early hours in the morning. I fell asleep . I heard the cock living next to our house stentorianly crowing to the world, saw the sun streak of the breaking dawn through the fissures of our roof pillars, made of poor plywood. I forgot that I pulled an all-nighter; I had to prepare for another bloody exams in school. I had to get higher grades from the two subjects I nearly flunked last mid-term test. I didn’t want to keep behind my smart-alec classmates. Besides, I had to study harder; I wanted to be on the dean’s list or more than that. I was so driven to do so since it was not that easy to save money for the next semester, especially both my parents worked so hard.

I left my room for the kitchen which is not just far from me. My room is just one place I share with my younger sister with wooden partition. I greeted my mother who was still lying in her bed while brushing my teeth.

“ Ma, I’m going to school now.”

My mother did not reply. She must have been sound asleep. I could peripherally see her half body inside the mosquito net. She had to cover herself for the sake of our two-year-old born sister who was also sound asleep with angelic face, next to her. I wonder what they were dreaming about. My father was sprawling across from her, passed-out, dead to the world, full of the alcoholic spirit that rendered him unconscious of my presence in the kitchen.

I skipped breakfast since I knew there was nothing mother would fix for me. I would just sip a cup of coffee despite my buzzing stomach. I would not care about it; I am inured to this misery. I would eat whatever was prepared on the table.Sometimes,I would subsist on my small allowance. As long as possible,I would tide it over because I didn’t want be such a burden to my parents. It broke my heart seeing them,particularly my mother preoccupied, absent-minded,or sometimes catching her crying alone at night when everyone was asleep already.

Since I was in a hurry, I did not mind my creased all-white uniform. We did not have a flat iron. Sometimes, we would borrow one from Ate Ning, one of my mother’s closest friends. Sometimes, I dislike her being a bigmouth toward her two children. Her roaring bawl could be heard in the neighborhood.

When we forgot to return her flat iron, we could no longer borrow it out of shame. One time, I could not bring myself to go to school because my uniform was so crumpled that I was very conscious of it since everyone could be nitpicky. So I tried to experiment by filling a bottle with hot water ; then, I rolled it over the clothe. Unfortunately, it could flatten the spots like the big ones seen up on the moon. I had no choice.  I wore it with aplomb. I knew my mother had a pity on me.

I was so excited to go home because our last class was dismissed early. Since it was the final term, I had nothing to keep up with. Besides, I prefer to review at home than in the school library. I could find solace in the house , especially the presence of my mother bringing up our younger sister soothes me. My father was somehow busy with his job at my uncle’s mini-factory.

As usual , it has been my habit to buy a ‘pasalubong’ for both my younger sister and Mother. Sometimes, I buy two pieces of turon, Mother’s favorite, or purplish ube when no one sells it . If I guess that she’s tired of them, I buy two pieces of hamburgers. Anything I can get, mother would eat them. Nothing can describe my happiness whenever I see my mother smile in joy at something at my hand for her.

I decided to buy two pieces of turon again. I know it is her all-time favorite. Thanks to Aling Lucy; nothing beats her big and savory turon. Its wrapper is brittle, coated in brown sugar. But its banana slice with jack fruit  adds to the heavenly taste.

When I got home on foot, Mikaela had arrived from her work already. She is working for a meat processing company. It saddens me that my parents are not even able to send her to college. So she has no choice.

“ Oh, Reggie. What is that?”, as she noticed something in my hand.

“ Some turon for mother and Mae”, as I put them on the table, “ Where are they?”

Mikaela was just quiet, confused. Her eyes popped out at my question.

“ Don’t eat them, OK? “ Don’t be PG as in patay-gutom.”

Mikael and I are almost close. We can banter with this kind of barbaric language. I felt that Mikaela wanted to blurt out something, but I skipped out on her because suddenly, I was conscious of myself. I had to change myself right away ; I smelled so disgusting; I was soaked in sweat after walking in the scorching sun. No wonder my skin is burning brown.

I decided not to call for both Mother and Mae. They must have been at someone’s house. I was sure Mae wanted to be comforted by the people she is familiar with. It is a matter of object permanence as I learned in psychology.

I stayed in my bed strewn with books , notebooks , and colorful highlighters. I had to review.We would have the last final term after that day.Actually, I did not have to worry about that because I found PGNC and Economics easy to commit to my memory. As far as my classmates are concerned, they know me as the “Father of Rote Memory”.

I leaned against the wall by the window so that I could be freshened up with the afternoon breeze although this air comes from our greedy neighbor’s pigsty. We, along with our neighbors, have been complaining about that putrid pig smell since we moved in our place. The owners just turn deaf to us. Despite that, I tried to stuff  my mnemonic memory with all  the key words until I dropped off to sleep.

I woke up to the sound coming from the kitchen. That must have been my mother. She must have been busy cooking something. Mae must have been playing. I heard her babyish voice  from the living room. Whenever mother was busy, she would let Mae on the ground cluttered with her toys , gliding , talking to herself  or her toys  giving them new life to play with.

I stayed in my bed staring at the rusted roof which we have never thought of covering with wooden ceiling. I closed my eyes and was pleased with the busy sounds echoing around the house. It was like a lullaby that I wanted to sleep through. Maybe it’s better not to have the roof covered with wooden ceiling. It creates echoes whenever the people make happy noises . I just can’t stand the noise echoed around made by the nerve-wracking dispute between Mother and Father or between Father and John.

I came back to my senses when I heard Mae wailing. I got up and hurled out of my room to catch her. I reached for her in my arms trying to comfort her.

“ Why Mae?”, as I was trying to hush her , “ Hush,now. What’s the problem?”

Mikaela came down , surprised at what was going on.

“Where is Mother?” “ I heard her doing something in the kitchen”, I asked.

Mikaela was trying to hold herself. I did not understand why her eyes welling up about to burst into tears.

“ You should not let Mae play alone.”

As I said it, father came from his work. He looked bedraggled and exhausted. He may have gotten home to call it the day and been ready for lunch.

“What happened?” as he was reaching for Mae.

“ Suddenly I awoke to her crying.” “ Where is mother?” “ I heard her cooking in the kitchen while she was playing on the ground here.”

Father wanted to get Mae from me, but I refused because he had not changed himself yet. I was trying to calm Mae, “ Hush, baby” , “ Mother is coming.”

I looked back at both my father and sister . They looked gloomy, trying to hide their faces from me. I could not understand. I was bewildered.

Father sat himself on the wooden bench he made last year,  quiet, staring into space  . What was he thinking? 

Mikaela decided to leave us , fluttering as if she was trying to wend her way through the door. Suddenly, John turned up, entering past her .Mikaela was surprise- stricken at his arrival , in pale as if she had seen his archenemy. They have never liked each other. Nervous, she turned back to father and looked worried.

Fred came up to father. “ They have come.” He murmured and left the room.

Father looked sadder upon hearing him and turned to me.

(What’s everyone so weird?)

“ Reggie, give me your sister.”

“Why?” “ You look dirty. You haven’t changed yet.”

“ No worries, son.” Fatherly calm, he was trying to hold himself not to cry. But what was the reason for him to cry?

“ Reggie, my son. I’m sorry.”

He had taken my sister away from me. It was too late to realize that I was letting go of her since I was confused what he meant to say, “ I’m sorry.”

“ Wh-y?”  Shit.

I saw my father can no longer control himself. He cried. (When was the last time he did cry) ? Mae wailed all of a sudden , infected by his emotional state. Mikaela wanted me to ease my grip on her. She  left us with her, teary-eyed too.

“ What’s happening here, father?” I pleaded. Then, I thought of my mother. Where was she ? Did she know what’s going on in here?

All of a sudden, my brother, John, came  nearer with four men in white uniform.

(Who were they? )

“ Father, who are they?”

Father could not look straight in my eyes. He was tearing his hair, turning his back on me.

The three men gently grabbed both my arms. I tried to flinch.

“ Hey, what the fuck are you doing?”

Two of them trussed both my arms ,trying to put me in a straitjacket while the two supporting me not to hold back. I was trying to  tussle with them.

“ Father, what’s this?” “ What are they doing to me?” Afraid. I was more confused. I didn’t understand what was happening.

“ Wait!” I shouted at the men. “ Does it mean that I am screwed up?”I was asking my father.

But father finally did look at me, surprised at what I said. He looked at me, worn to a frazzle. Then, he gave a nod at the three men.

“No, father!” “ I am not crazy!” “ Tell them I’m not a nut!”  

At this time, I cried in fear. I cried that I might be gone in the head out of confusion.

I was dragged out of the house.The sun was still high up in the sky. I was shouting to my father. There were many onlookers. They were staring at me. They were supposed to be taking a siesta after lunch.I did not understand. I didn’t know what to do. I saw Ate Ning. She was looking at me too as if she was feeling sorry for me. I was trying to move toward her while being taken through the crowd.

“ Ate Ning! What’s happening? Where is mother? “ “ Where is she? Please, call and tell her what these fucking amoebas doing to me? …Please, I don’t understand this.”

She just averted her eyes from me, trying to hold herself, bleary-eyed. I could feel her . I was being escorted  up to a white van with the word ambulance printed on its wall. I looked around. I heard some of my neighbors whispering under their breath,

“ He went screwed up right after his mother died. Poor, Reggie! He can’t accept her loss.”

“ What?” I was surprised at what I heard, “ Loss?.” I was dumb-founded. I was trying to grasp their words, clinging to the reality . I could no longer walk . My feet were heavy. I could not muster up enough strength to hold the situation. I was about to fall over. Beads of sweat trickled down my neck. The three men tried to usher me up into the van.

“ Mama!!!” I shouted around.

“ Where are you???”

“Mama!!!”

Then, I burst into tears. I could no longer let the tears well up in my eyes. I could not bear it any longer. I was all perplexed. I didn’t know what this was all about. I wish it were just a nightmare. I wanted to wake up. It could have been a sleep paralysis. I tried to move my fingers as what a book advised I had read before.

Out of nowhere, my aunt, my father’s sister, appeared to talk to me.

“ Tita, what’s happening? I don’t understand. Why was it that they said…loss?”

Then it dawned on me. “M-other died???”

I covered my mouth with my hand , choked to tears, trying to control it while searching for her answer in her face. But she could not even look at me. Instead, she attempted to embrace and muss up my hair.

“ Oh, Reggie. Poor, Reggie!” At this time , she could no longer stand it .

“ Yo- your mother died already. Sh- she died three months ago.”

“ What??? “ My eyes popped out in surprise. Everything seemed stopped moving , darkening like the nightmarish limbo I am afraid to dream about.

Before she got it across to me, the three men in white uniform had to escort me to the van.

“ Wait! Tita! What do you mean Mama died already? I don’t understand!”

The three men tried to drag me away to the van . I shouted to them looming away.

“ Tita! “, “ Wh-at do you mean Mama died???”

I was already put inside the van, trying to talk to them through the peephole.

“Tita!!!”

“ Papa!!!”

I saw my father running up to her and hugged her as the ambulance was moving off from our house.

“ Papa!!!”

“ Tita!!!”

-Joey-

08/01/2016

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Tolstoy Marathon # 3: The Coffee House of Surat

coffeehouseIt is now my third Tolstoy’s short story, I have noticed that most of the themes of his stories  mainly deal with  religion. In fact, atheists and religious apologists have still been debating whether Leo Tolstoy is considered theistic or agnostic, or probably atheistic. Perhaps they deduce their standpoints from Tolstoy’s ‘literary writings.   In this short story, although abstract, it could be interpreted that he was agnostic.

A learned Persian theologian ended up perplexed about his religious conviction that there was no higher Reason controlling the universe after a long period of studies about the nature of  Deity  and reading and writing books.  Subsequently, he was banished from Persia when The Shah heard of this.

 The  central story began in a coffee shop when the theologian asked his slave whether there is God, which provoked  passionately heated  arguments at a time of some guests  with different religions in the same coffee house upon hearing the theologian’s opinion. But all the rage in the story is the tale of a Confucius student.

When you read it, perhaps, what Tolstoy wanted to imply in this story is that whenever a person comes to the point that he questions about the hypothetical question whether God exists or not  by virtue of idle curiosity brought about by extensive studies, reading and writing, he is bound up in agnostic views. In addition, the story simply puts that when it comes to religion, people with different religious convictions have different tongues . In other words,   there   could be many truths.

In harmony with  the story,   Richard Dawkins, the author of the best selling non-fiction,  God Delusion,   put it  bluntly, that the world is deluded with  diverse religions, here  are the excerpts from the  story above   pictures how people with completely different  convictions  tend to be at sword’s points :

A  Brahmin, on hearing the words spoken by the slave who believed that he feels the presence of God in his girdle , turned to him and said:

“Miserable fool! Is it possible you believe that God can be carried under a man’s girdle? There is one God–Brahma, and he is greater than the whole world, for he created it. Brahma is the One, the mighty God, and in His honour are built the temples on the Ganges’ banks, where his true priests, the Brahmins, worship him. They know the true God, and none but they. A thousand score of years have passed, and yet through revolution after revolution these priests have held their sway, because Brahma, the one true God, has protected them.”

So spoke the Brahmin, thinking to convince everyone; but a Jewish broker who was present replied to him, and said:

“No! the temple of the true God is not in India. Neither does God protect the Brahmin caste. The true God is not the God of the Brahmins, but of Abraham,

Isaac, and Jacob. None does He protect but His chosen people, the Israelites. From the commencement of the world, our nation has been beloved of Him, and ours

alone. If we are now scattered over the whole earth, it is but to try us; for God has promised that He will one day gather His people together in Jerusalem. Then, with the

Temple of Jerusalem–the wonder of the ancient world- -restored to its splendor, shall Israel be established a ruler over all nations.”

So spoke the Jew, and burst into tears. He wished to say more, but an Italian missionary who was there interrupted him.

“What you are saying is untrue,” said he to the Jew.

 

 “You attribute injustice to God. He cannot love your nation above the rest. Nay rather, even if it be true that of old He favored the Israelites, it is now nineteen

hundred years since they angered Him, and caused Him to destroy their nation and scatter them over the earth, so that their faith makes no converts and has died out

except here and there. God shows preference to no nation, but calls all who wish to be saved to the bosom of the Catholic Church of Rome, the one outside whose

borders no salvation can be found.”

So spoke the Italian. But a Protestant minister, who happened to be present, growing pale, turned to the Catholic missionary and exclaimed:

“How can you say that salvation belongs to your religion? Those only will be saved, who serve God according to the Gospel, in spirit and in truth, as bidden by the word of Christ.”

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Such  discourse showing  one’s zealous devotion reminded me of the other novels  which  such indelible scenarios  I have read such as in Life of Pi by Yann Martel:bookcover lifeofpi

The priest broke it when he said , with pride in his voice, “ Piscine is a good Christian boy. I hope to see him join our choir soon.”

His parents , the pandit and the imam looked surprised.

“ You must be mistaken . He’s a god Muslim boy. He comes without fail to Friday prayer, and his knowledge of the Holy Qu’ran is coming along nicely.” So said  the imam.

His parents , the priest and the pandit looked incredulous.

The pandit spoke. “You’re both wrong. He ‘s a good Hindu boy. I see him all the time at the temple coming for darsham and performing puja.”

My  parents, the imam and the priests looked astounded.

“ There is no mistake ,  “ said the priest. “ I know this boy. He is Priscine Molitor Patel and he’s a Christian.”

“ I know him too and I tell you he’s a Muslim. “ asserted the imam.

“ Nonsense! “cried the pandit. “ Piscine was born a Hindu, lives a Hindu and will die a Hindu!

The three wise men stared at each other, breathless and disbelieving.

—————————————————————————————————–

And this is how each brainwashed  perplexed Piscine:

Piscine, can this be true?” asked the imam earnestly. “ Hindus and Christians are idolaters . They have many gods.””

And Muslims have many wives, “ responded the pandit.

The priest looked askance at both of them.

“ Piscine, “ he nearly whispered , “ there is salvation only  in Jesus.”

“ Balderdash! Christians know nothing about religion, “ sad the pandit.

“ They strayed long ago from God’ path, “ said the imam.

“ Where ‘s God in your religion?” snapped  he priest. “ You don’t have a single mirace to show for it.  What kind of  religion I sthat, without miracles?” 

“ It isn’t a circus wth dead people juping out og tombs all the time, that’s what! We muslims stick to he essential miracle of existence. Birds flyin, rain falling, crops growing- these are miracles enough for us.”

“ Feathers aan drain are all very nice,  but w elike to know that God I strully with us.”

“ Is that so ? Well, a whole lot of good it did God to be with you- you tried to kill him! You bagged  him to a cross with great big nails. Is that a civilized way to treat a prophet? The prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him- brought us the word of God without any undignifies nonsense and died at a ripe old age.”

——————————————————————————————————-

And in this part on how each  slandered one another”

“ God is universal,” spluttered the priest.

The imam nodded strong approval. “ There is only one God .”

“ And with their one god Muslim are always causing troubles an provoking riots. The proof of how bad Islam is, is how uncivilized Muslims are, “  pronounced the pandit.

“ Says the slave-driver of the  calf lovers. They kneel before cows, “ the priest chimed in.

“ While Christians kneel before a Whiteman! They are the flunkies of a foreign god. They are the night mare of all non-white people.”

“ And they eat pigs and are cannibals. “ added the imam for good measure.

What it comes down to, “ the priest put out with cool rage , “ is where Piscine wants real religion- or myths from a cartoon strip.”

“ God – or idols, “ intoned the imam gravely.

“ Our gods- or colonial gods, “ hissed the pandit.

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Admit it , the two scenarios  above usually occur in a place and among people  with different religious convictions.

Since it is now my third Tolstoy marathon, the longer I read his other short stories, the more it comes to me that Leo Tolstoy’s religious viewpoints, probably suppressed by his restricted atmosphere then, were sublimated through writing novels, novellas, or short stories. Thus, I may infer ,  in my humble opinion, that probably Tolstoy was an agnostic.

Rating: 3/  5 stars

Tolstoy Marathon # 2 : The Candle by Leo Tolstoy

thecandle  “…We all know that it is wrong to kill a good man, but even God would take that way the life of such a dog as he is. It is our duty, if we have any love for mankind, to shoot a dog that  is mad. It is a sin to let him live. If, therefore, w e are to suffer at all, let it be in the interests of the people…”

-Leo Tolstoy, The Candle

An uprising among the serfs is about to break out when the lords of  the land   keep on turning their  backs on their human rights.  One serf  has at last spoken up due to the arrant cruelties he has  experienced suggests that Michael Simeonovitch, the superintendent, be killed. But Peter Michayeff, a pacifist,  stopped them , for commiting such a crime leads to condemnation. Paranoid he may be, Michael sends an elder man to spy on the secret rancorous meeting  of the serfs. When the elder man reports to the superintendent, Michael  realizes , with the  insistent platitude  of his wife, that he is prone to perdition. To change the life he leads, he goes to the village to reconcile. Unfortunately, he falls off his  horse and dies. Upon hearing the horrible accident and the cruelties befall  the serfs , the noblemen freed their serfs.

“ The power of God is manifested not in Evil, but in goodness. “

The story deals with   cruelties among the slaves with their suppressed feelings they can no longer stand, a factor which can trigger revolutionary act; the moral question when it is an evil  to kill a person;  or when  the humility  or turning –the-other-cheek  biblical teaching  is a perpetually necessary mean to put an end to an animalistic  slavery; and  all in all, how God plays a role in such a  realistic scene of human life.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Tolstoy Marathon # 1 : The Emperor’s Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy : A Book Review

emperor's questionsAfter reading Anna Karenina ( 5 /5 stars )  a few years ago , the time when I was still looking for a job; plus  this recent  A Confession ( 4 /5 stars ), and  being  borne upon the fact that Leo Tolstoy is  considered by prominent literary lovers from different aspects of society as  the  unparalleled best novelist in  the world  , I promised myself that I would read all his books at my disposal , more even so that  we  can have now an access to any classics  in the internet.  Since I cannot  splurge on his other books yet , that I want to collect in my  own library someday, I would begin with his short stories as one of my friends on Goodreads put it and thus I would call this  mission from now on :  “ Tolstoy Marathon”.

Tolstoy Marathon #  1 The Emperor’s Three Questions or simply  known as The Three Questions 

An emperor   philosophically existentialistic would give a great reward to whoever could   best answer his three a la riddle  questions :

 First: What is the best time to  do each thing?

Second: What is the most important people to work with?

Third: What is the most important to do at all time?

 Unsatisfied with the answers of the persons who had at once made way to the palace , the emperor turned to a hermit  living in a far forest. As the emperor only saw the  small forest of the forest, he ended up realizing the answers based on his experience with the said hermit and a persecutor.

 The emperor learned  that :It is important to live at the present time, with whom the people you are , and how to make them happy.

_________________________________________________________________________

Somehow enlightened, the Emperor promised  that he would apply the insight by heart. As he wanted  to have a second opinion, it occurred  to him that there was one person known throughout his kingdom he had not turned to yet: the bookworm , living in a house  filled with  books to the rafter somewhere in Timbuktu.

 Reaching the book lover’s dwelling place, the emperor found him sitting on a sofa, burying himself in a voluminous book   and around him was  the  musty stacks of books he had to keep up with.

 “ It must be  a novel by James Joyce  “, thought the emperor.

 When the bookworm saw the emperor, he nodded his head in greeting and continued to immerse himself in the book.

 The emperor approached him and said, “ I have come here to ask your second opinion with three questions:

 When is the best time to do each thing?

Who are the most important people to work with?

What is the most important thing to do at all times?”

 Hearing these, the bookworm  put down the book; his eyes  popped out, sparkled with interest in the questions. He looked as though he had not gone  to bed yet, for he had been reading the whole night.

 “ Your Majesty, just read and read and read.”

 Blushed by the answer, “ How about the most important people to work with? “

 “ Your Majesty, make friends with the other bookworms and be part of their book clubs.”

 Noticing the bookworm unmoved from his crossed- sitting position ,and  his eyes backed  to the book, for he was used to being paid homage.

 ” Seriously, what is the most important thing to do at all times?”

 “Share your ideas you have learned from the books with the people .”

 Weird he looked for the Emperor and stifled   an air of  disappointment,  off he went leaving the  bookworm with his business.

 Rating: 4/5 stars