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Assassination – Scene 3 (Draft 1)

Assassination – Scene 3 (Draft 1)

Rough hands lifted David up and propelled him forward toward the smoking corpse of the immolated man – toward his own fate. He wanted to scream, to fight free, but shock and disbelief kept him mute. A cane struck him across the back and another across his face. Fists beat into his chest and shoes against his legs. His two captors shouted at him to stay silent and then at the crowd of men.

“We are taking this white man to our village,” they announced. “He is an American! CIA!” They spit the words as though something foul were in their mouths.  “Our village mourns the death of our Mother Gandhi. We have not had a way to revenge the murder. We will take him to sacrifice there.”

“Where is your village?” challenged the brute who had started the fire.

“Awagarh,” David’s captors answered. “We deserve our own sacrifice, so our village knows we honored the Mother,” he repeated, as though the crowd had not heard him the first time.

Somehow the crowd acquiesced. Their need for revenge had been sated by the horror of their deed. Much later, David would reflect that the ungodly screams and the sickening smell of burning kerosene and flesh brought them out of the collective trance that drives a mob. When the spell is broken, each man then becomes an independent witness to the atrocity of the mob and must carry the cruel act alone in memory. But in the cold emptiness of that night, held rigid by his captors, all David understood was that his fate lay somewhere else.

They walked for miles in the dark. At first the two men struck him viciously with canes and shouted in threatening tones, telling him he would die like the men who had killed their Mother Gandhi. David’s eyes swelled shut, his legs bled from the rake of thorn bushes, and he broke toes on unseen rocks. His lips bled and he vomited bile from the stomach kicks. But miles away from the train tracks, miles from the immolated man and his friend who’d been left behind, alive, when, sobered and perhaps ashamed, the vigilantes had dispersed, David’s two captors grew quiet and gentle. They stopped at a river to rest and to bandage his wounds.

“My name is Suresh,” said the older man in soft, broken English. “What is your name?” David couldn’t answer. Shock, fatigue and pain had reduced him to a shell. “What is your name?” repeated the man. David looked in the man’s face and saw neither anger nor unkindness. “This is Arjun.” Suresh pointed to his partner and David looked into the face of a boy who had yet to reach adulthood. “What is your name?” Suresh insisted.

“David.” The sound was garbled in his broken mouth. “David,” he tried again.

Suresh bound the worst of David’s cuts with a bandana and Arjun picked gaanja along the stream, crushing the leaves into a pulp. “Eat. Eat,” mimed Suresh, as Arjun forced the bitter mash into David’s mouth. Within a few moments, David lay back on the ground to sleep. Dawn was a light streak across the sky, so Suresh and Arjun stripped to their lungis and bathed in the river, quietly invoking the goddess as they watched for danger. When David woke, Suresh and Arjun were squatting silently nearby.

“We had to beat you,” apologized Suresh with a deep sorrow in his voice. “They had to believe…” A long silence followed. “Are you American?” Silence again while David’s fogged brain tried to decide the right answer. “American?” pushed Suresh, and David nodded, no idea what that meant for his future. Nothing more was said so David succumbed again to the pain and gaanja, slipping gratefully back into semi-consciousness.

At dusk they woke him and wrapped his head and face with their dried lungis so he would look like an Indian. Crossing the river, they circumvented the main road of Awagarh and wound through fields to a mud and straw house with open windows, a cow, several chickens and a few stray dogs. David ducked as they pushed him urgently through the small entry and into a storage room on the side of an open courtyard. He heard Suresh silence the alarmed voices of women and then he was alone.  The windowless room held pots, bags of grain, and a pile of dried buffalo dung patties for cooking. He fell to the ground in exhaustion and when Suresh came in some hours later, David was asleep on the mud floor.

Suresh carried a bowl of dal, some chapattis, and a lota of water. He sparked a kerosene lamp and squatted near the wall. “Kha,” he grunted. Eat. David painfully curled onto a bruised hip, aware of every wound, and looked warily at Suresh.  He took up the lota and drank, but most of the water ran through split lips down his filthy shirt. He soaked the chapattis until they were sodden bites and drank the dal. Then he looked Suresh in the eyes and asked why. Why was he pulled off the train? Why did Suresh beat him and then feed him? Why was he here… in this village…in this storeroom?

“They would have killed you.”  Suresh followed the simple statement with a matter-of-fact silence. “They’ll kill you if they find you here.” Then it was David’s turn to be silent. “We’ll guard you, but don’t come out of this room.”

Tension wrote itself across Suresh’s face. David’s own anxiety waned only slightly as he began to understand the risk Suresh was taking on himself and his family. Gangs of men were wandering the roads killing Sikhs and their supposed ally, the American CIA. Suresh and his young brother Arjun had saved him in the only way they could…by convincing the mob at the train that they would show him real punishment when he got to their village.  It had been a convincing ruse, and he had the bruises to prove it. But the danger had not passed. Now he would have to protect this family by hiding in silence, as Suresh had protected him by shouting and beating.  The very thought was exhausting. Suresh said nothing more as he left and closed the door, plunging the storage room into darkness again. David dropped back to the mud floor, a grain sack for his head. His clothes smelled like burnt flesh, his cuts still bled, and his teeth were loose, but he was alive. As he passed into sleep, he saw the man afire and heard his screams, and he knew that scene had been burnt indelibly into his brain.

Two weeks passed in the darkness of the storage room. Before dawn, Arjun would take him to the field to relieve himself, wrapped always in a lungi to disguise his white skin. Then he’d have a banana, some chai and perhaps a clay bowl of poha mixed with yogurt. By the full light of day, he’d be back in the storage room until nightfall. Occasionally he became restless, but the persistent darkness caused sleep that helped heal his wounds and, except for his broken teeth and toes, he started to feel mostly whole again. In the evening Suresh would bring dal, chapati and more chai. They’d sit in the dimly lit storage room talking about life in America or David’s interest in Hindu philosophy, then Suresh’s work in the jute field and gossip from villagers about the current level of safety. Suresh had a plan to take David across miles of open fields on the next moonless night and put him on the slow cargo train to Calcutta where he could ride 3rd class with the goats, chickens and grains.

David anticipated the escape would be as terrifying as the night he’d been thrown off the Rajdhani. Memories of the burning man had grown and morphed in his dreams until he saw himself alight and more than once woke screaming, to the dismay of Suresh’s household. He imagined himself stumbling through the dark, hiding from mobs of killers, missing the train, or worse, catching it to find the same killing mob in the cargo car. Cowardice bent his mind into perverse anguish, but shame made him humble in front of Suresh, the gentle, simple man who risked everything to save him. When the moonless night finally came, David rallied and accepted whatever fate allotted.  Dressed in the ragged clothes of a villager, hiding behind a scruffy beard, uncut hair, and a lungi around his head, David set out with Suresh and Arjun for the long walk.

The cargo train rattled across west India for an interminable two days. David squatted in a benchless 3rd class car crammed full of India’s poorest people, their livestock, and their meager household goods. He looked and smelled like a vagrant, and no one paid attention to him. He was relieved to be unrecognizable, even to himself.  Fear and humility had been great teachers over the past weeks, along with the miles walked barefoot in darkness with Suresh and Arjun. They had guided him safely to the train and given him a cloth bag with five rupees and three chapatis. He felt wealthy…full of their kindness and their gifts, full of life as a different person than he’d ever been.

End Assassination – Scene 3 (Draft 1)

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Assassination – Scene 2 (Draft 1)

Assassination – Scene 2 (Draft 1)

My husband, David, was doing complimentary research at Jawaharlal Nehru Library in New Delhi. As a linguist, he worked with several translators on esoteric manuscripts dating back to the 16th century. I expected him back in Calcutta by early November, but days, then weeks passed and he did not return. Indira Gandhi had been assassinated in Delhi, so I assumed he was laying low somewhere until he could safely catch a train back to Calcutta. It was mid-December before I saw him again.

David had waited a couple weeks after the assassination, watching the same kind of urban anarchy that surrounded me. Delhi authorities, however, were quicker to bring out the Army and quell some of the violence, but not all. Finally thinking himself safe, David grabbed only a backpack and caught the Rajdhani at midnight – a fast non-stop train that would have him in Calcutta within a day. Once on the train, he saw the error of his decision. Entire Sikh families were fleeing Delhi, hoping to move into cities, rural communities, or anyplace they could be safe until the violence abated. Unfortunately for them, the non-stop train made a perfectly inescapable cage for the angry mobs of men moving car to car down the long length of the non-stop train…killing, maiming, abusing, raping.

David spotted an older Caucasian woman in the train car ahead of him. He made his way to her through a crush of bodies, crying children and piles of household goods. She was probably over 70 and alone, crammed in a 2-person seat with five other people, and looking distraught. Pulling out some luggage and shoving it into the lap of a sleeping man, then rousting out a couple other guys, David sat down beside her.

“What are you doing on this train alone?” he barked and then realized his own stress was showing.

“I’ve come to visit my granddaughter,” she responded in a tougher voice than he would have expected. “She lives in an ashram on the Ganges River and she invited me to spend a few months with her. I’ve been in a hotel in Delhi waiting for the violence to calm down. Now I’m not so sure this train was a good idea.”

David looked around at all the Sikh families and wondered if they were going to be safe. These were innocent people, but the anger of the Hindu nation had yet to be assuaged, and gangs of vigilantes still appointed themselves avengers of the martyred Prime Minister. He settled back on the hard, wood train seat, letting his tension subside, when his musings were abruptly interrupted by shouts and fighting from the train car ahead of them. Suddenly a frantic young man burst through the connecting door.

“Churee! Churee! Chaku!” Knife! Knife! he begged first in Hindi and then in Punjabi. “Cut my hair! Cut my hair!”  He pushed and shoved his way into the crowded train car with the desperation of a man about to be executed, which he was. His Sikh turban was in his hand and his long black hair hung wildly down his back and shoulders.

“They’re coming! Killing anyone with a turban! Killing anyone with long hair! Cut my hair! I don’t want to die!” he shrieked.

The deceptively agile old grandmother beside David jumped up and shouted, “Come here! Come here!” He hardly heard her over the frantic din of other Sikh men shouting, reaching for their turbans, knowing they would have to fight the killing mob if they wanted to keep their lives and families safe. The crowd propelled the young man back to where David sat and the fearless woman pulled out her knitting scissors and went to work on her first emergency haircut. Other men approached for haircuts and she never hesitated, cutting fast and furious. Then knives appeared around them and other turbans disappeared as men began to cut their own long hair and throw it out the train windows.

By the time the vigilantes reached David’s train car, two Sikh men still wore turbans. They sat proudly and waited, showing neither fear nor anticipation. Their hair was a connection to God and their turbans were a sign of their religious conviction. No one in the train car breathed when the turbaned Sikhs stood in silent opposition to the vigilantes. Then the train whistle suddenly rent the moonless night and the emergency brakes sent everyone lurching into seats and aisles around them.

Before the train completely stopped, the cars were overrun by more angry men who climbed the train’s outside ladders from the open countryside. They had blocked the tracks and taken over the train, fueled by the fever of riot and revenge, knowing that fleeing Sikhs were trapped in the train cars like goats in a pen. Ten more men entered David’s train car from the outside. Spotting the turbaned Sikhs first, they let loose with canes and clubs, attacking the two men and anyone who tried to defend them.  Weakened and bloody, the broken men finally surrendered to their fate and were thrown out of the train car to the hardpan beside the tracks. Half the vigilantes still looked around the car, hoping to find another scapegoat for their unsatisfied bloodlust.  Not one passenger moved. Then a hot, angry hand grabbed David from behind and drug him to the center aisle. Accusations from the vigilantes of “American! CIA!” came in Hindi and broken English, and the rioting men were on him with feet and fists. He tried to fight but their canes bloodied his head and shoulders. They drug him to the door and flung him into the night. He heard the wail of the old grandmother as he hit the ground and lost consciousness.

David tried to sit up, tried to find himself in the cold, moonless night. A hard kick from the back sent him sprawling again, face down in the gravel bed of the tracks. Terror gripped him and he screamed through torn lips and broken teeth.  Then they had him by his arms and were dragging him out into the barren countryside.  Far from the tracks, they dropped him next to the two Sikhs who had fought and lost on the train. An argument amongst the captors had the group pushing and fighting each other almost as viciously as they had beaten David and the Sikh men. David listened to their slurred and possibly drunken Hindi and understood there was disagreement about the next move. They had stopped a train, raided the cars, and extracted innocent men for punishment. But they had no common resolve when it came to revenge.

A large brute of a man ignored the fray and grabbed one of the Sikhs by his long hair, dragging him in front of the other captors. From nowhere he produced a metal can and liberally doused the prostrate man with gas. Some of the captors shouted objections, but others cheered him on. He lit his small cigarette and threw it on the Sikh. A startling whoomph of fire, an inhuman scream, and the crowd was forced backward, into the shadow of their deed. The burning body whirled and writhed, bent and rolled, fought like a wild beast against the inevitable. Unholy screams called in both gods and demons, called in the land, air and water as witness, embedding themselves in the heart of every man who stood silent. On and on they went, as though the burning man would not be silenced until only ash remained, until the screams would rise unbidden from the earth having borne such a travesty. And when the sound was only an echo in their memories, the guilty men were bound by the smell of burning flesh, clinging to the fetid night, wrapping itself around their clothing and resting firmly in their nostrils lest memory of the deed fade. Then the train whistle wailed a last time in the far distance, leaving them alone and anonymous in the dark countryside. David vomited into the brown soil beneath him.

End Assassination – Scene 2 (Draft 1)

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Assassination – Scene 1 (Draft 1)

This is the opening scene from a story about my early life in India.  It’s the initial draft, and I’ll have to re-write many times before I’m satisfied. If anyone here can help with critical comments, I’ll be most grateful.  Stoney.

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Assassination – Scene 1 (Draft 1)

I huddled over my balcony desk, surrounded by ancient texts and scrolls that hadn’t seen light for decades. Pages crumbled, tiny mites and spiders crawled out of the bindings.  I fussed over every item, documenting what I could, saddened by the knowledge lost from these dried and deteriorating scrolls.  The old library was dark except for my small lamp. Long rows of unlit archives spread out behind me, silent except for the scurry of a rat, the groan of an overladen stack of books, or the whisper from some long-dead scribe. Suddenly, the soft swish of fabric, and I startled as a librarian in her silk sari materialized at my side. I took a deep breath, covering my surprise by pulling out my library authorization form, one I had worked hard to secure. It was 1984 and I was a white woman in Calcutta; the Gandhi Memorial Library where I studied was never really convinced I could be a scholar of ancient Hindu mythology.

“You need to leave immediately,” she whispered in a surprisingly hoarse, frightened voice.

“I’m authorized to handle these old scripts,” I countered, showing her my card and letters of introduction from American University in Washington DC.  I thought she was just protecting her archives from me, as the other librarians wanted to do, but she paid no attention to my documents.

“It’s not that,” she croaked in a broken voice. “Indira Gandhi has been assassinated. You’re not safe here. Go home and stay inside.”  Then she disappeared back into the dark stacks, her sandals slapping hurriedly on the old stone floor.

My mind was blank for a few minutes. Then I looked at the priceless old texts around me and wondered if I’d ever see them again. “Why wouldn’t this quiet library be a safe place?” I whispered to no one. The urgency of leaving caught me as I looked over the balcony and saw the library staff and other patrons running out side doors, locking everything behind them.

I caught a riksha and made my way through chaos toward the small apartment I kept near the Hooghly Bazaar. Shops were closing, people running home or somewhere, grabbing food and supplies. Calcutta streets were always a calamitous dance of vehicles, animals, bikes and humans that I could barely navigate, but now a palpable frenzy, a low hysteria, drove the street. The fear was contagious, and in the midst of the frantic, pushing crowd, I felt alone and vulnerable, even though I didn’t fully understand the cause. I’d been in India for years, and I’d seen impromptu street justice meted out at the scene of an accident, or fights between strangers on the road, but this desperation was something new. The riksha driver also sensed the urgency and left the main road to cut through back alleys, then loop around Fort William where travel toward the river and my home became easier. He was an old man, the riksha driver, and I could see from the tension in his muscles and the instinctual way he avoided groups of young men or agitated crowds, that he knew more about the danger we faced than I did. I paid him well when we reached my apartment and watched him run off, perhaps to help others or find safety in his own home.

Upstairs I found my 10-year-old son, Chris, home early from school. Konika was with him, as always. She had lived with me for more than a decade, guiding and guarding Chris through the perils and joys of young life in India. She had started working as Chris’s nanny in Uttar Pradesh, just after he was born, I spent my days in libraries, documenting old texts and manuscripts related to the origin of Hindu mythology. We had lived in Dehradun, Jaipur, Vrindavan, and Madras, but now we were in central Calcutta. I studied in the disquieting old Gandhi library – with library staff who didn’t want me there – and otherwise simply survived the crush of an overpopulated city that pressed in from all sides of our daily lives. Fortunately, Konika was an astute young Bengali woman and I could trust her to get Chris to school and back, shop for our groceries, and give me sage advice on how to survive rural and urban India.

“You’re home!” I gasped, out of breath from anxiety and climbing the stairs to our 3rd floor apartment. “Did the schools close?” I hugged them both a little longer than normal.

Chris remained silent which didn’t surprise me because he was an undemonstrative child. Konika answered in her soft Bengali, “I don’t know. I heard about the assassination on the radio and just brought him home. Many parents were picking up their children.”  I thanked her for her diligence and felt some of my apprehensive dissolve now that we were together and safe. Konika went to the kitchen to cook, Chris to read his Tintin comics, and I to tune the radio, first to a BBC station and then All India, hoping for some national news. I stood at the bay window, watching the local news act itself out on the street below.

Rikshas continued to run past my building, hot and fast. Normally patient shoppers now hustled through the streets, pushing and shoving, looking lost or frantic, trying to make quick decisions in the face of an unknown threat. Dogs were kicked out of the way and some large, slow animals were abandoned as people raced for security. Then I saw the first mob fight, 10 to 12 men against one, giving permission for violence to erupt across the city, wherever a gang of men could find a scapegoat.

I still didn’t really understand what was happening. Twenty years earlier, U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated. I joined the rest of my countrymen in shock and sadness. We cried and mourned and asked questions of a government that lied, obfuscated, and promulgated war. Some of us blamed Texas, but we blamed Texas for lots of things. We did not, however, run into the street and start mobbing innocent people. The radio said Gandhi had been killed by her Sikh guards, and it was turbaned Sikhs being mobbed and beaten in the street outside my window. I believed that Lee Harvey Oswald – a young, white, American male – had killed Kennedy, but I would have been astounded if there had been a nationwide attack on all young, white males as a result. The lawlessness of the Calcutta street violence, the anarchy of all things moral and right from my own upbringing, made me tremble in fear as the end of day brought darkness to my window and terror for anyone on the street.

Days went past, Chris stayed home from school, the door stayed bolted although we heard voices in the apartment building hallway…shouts, cries, then silence. On the morning of the fourth or fifth day, Konika said we were out of food and that she would try to get to the bazaar. Neighbors had told her that the American CIA had been implicated in the assassination, and although I had no doubt that Gandhi’s death played out on the larger world stage, I didn’t want to be held personally accountable for the political machinations of my country or any other. If rumor on the street blamed Americans, how would a mob determine that I was a research scholar and not a covert operative? Perception is always reality in the absence of fact, and ignorance has a bullhorn in a mob. I let Konika go out, and she made it home without incident, while I hid like a quiet, hunted animal waiting for danger to pass.

End Scene 1 – Assassination (Draft 1)

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“Comfortably Numb”

It started off quiet.
Small.
Like a fire that’s kindling in a corner. A small breeze delivers it the life-giving breathe needed to birth a flame.
Small still. Growing.
I sat up in my bed to listen more attentively. Five. I was five years old at the time. My long black hair brushed across my face when I rose and smelled like Bubblegum. It always brought a smile to my face when I smelled it, intermittently dance under my nose. But tonight it didn’t.
I could hear her crying through the music. “And I….have become comfortably numb.”
Anytime mom played Pink Floyd, it meant bad things were about to happen. I’d learned this faster than I’d hoped I’d ever have to, not that any child should ever have to. I thought it was ‘normal.’
The sound was growing now. Growing more.
“It’s just a little pin prick, there’ll be no more aaaahhhh……” the music wouldn’t pause for them. It didn’t work that way.
Screaming. Then I heard screaming.
More screaming.
Her screaming at him.
Hitting.
Breaking glass.
“….and I have become comfortably numb.”
Him screaming at her.
Him screaming at us.
Him screaming for us.
“Kids get down here!” he called for us.
We had been summoned from our beds to go. So we went, descending from the reality of earth into the deep dark depths of what was our hell. We marched warily down the steep stairwell with unsure steps and hopeful worry. Hope that maybe tonight wouldn’t be so bad and that we wouldn’t have to worry. The moment we stepped onto the flat floor of the first floor every ounce of hope had slipped away and was out of reach as we realized what was happening. It had happened so many times before that you’d think we’d become numb to it, or at least used to it. The truth is, you never get used to it.
“You need to choose and you need to choose now! Do you think she’s going to be there? Like she’s always been?!” He screamed at us, words slurring together. Whiskey tainted breath provided evidence that his judgement was clouded.
I turned to my younger brother, Ricky. A countenance of confusion stared back at me. It was so hard to think through my stinging tears and sobbing. My head felt heavy. My eyes stung. No matter how hard I willed myself to respond to him I found my breath hitching in my throat and stopping whatever response was trying to escape. A large lump had formed in my stomach and was making its way up my Esophagus. I thought I was going to throw up at any moment.
I hated these nights. This cruel game we were forced to play on their bottom-of-the-bottle nights that came and went at a pace faster than we could keep up with.
All of her relationships were like this. Each patterned so much like the last that you’d think they had provided instructions for those thereafter. A detailed list of ‘what to do’s,’ when really it should have been a list of ‘what not to do.’
This was the relationship my mother had run into after the one with her last boyfriend didn’t work out.
When I say didn’t work out, I mean that her last boyfriend ran me over with his truck by ‘accident’ when I was two years old. Somehow I had managed to walk away from that. My mother had chosen to do the same, not surprisingly.
Now it was him. Now it was them.
By ‘them’ I mean him and her. Who knew how long this one would last…
Donnie was her second husband and a rotten apple if there ever was one. I don’t know if mom took an ad out in the paper calling for the biggest asshole ever…but, I often wonder. In Donnie she found just that, the biggest asshole ever.
My mother was pretty. She was petite but voluptuous. A 5’4’’ brunette bombshell. She reminded me of those models you see in shampoo commercials, swinging their hair around while looking straight into the camera, eyes speaking more than any words ever could with a ‘come get me’ seductive stare that paralyzed men where they stood. She was a southern girl. Born in the backwoods of Southern Illinois where the air smells of hickory chips and crop dust. Her silky voice with her southern accent made her that much more appealing, though she had done a good job at almost getting rid of it. It still tinted every sentence she spoke, coming out subtly which only added to her sex appeal. She had a sweet scent about her that was accented with honey suckle and musk. It proved to be too potent a love potion when in the presence of men. They came and never stopped coming.
Men swarmed about her and tempted her with poisoned apples that she found herself consuming so quickly that by the time the poison had coursed through her bloodstream even an anti-toxin couldn’t have worked fast enough to reverse the damage the poison had done. They had her after that. She had tied her hands. Bound her feet. She wore a collar around her neck connected to a short leash. They held it. They choked her with it. She let them.
By ‘they’ I mean the men.
The one-week boyfriends, one night stands that never called back, good guys that tried but ultimately had failed in their attempt to capture her heart. Mom tended to test them the most. She pushed them with a torture treatment of words and sketchy times spent together. She wanted to see how much they would take, if they really loved her would they play the game? With her it always seemed to be a game. Ultimately in the end the bad guys moved forward, passed go and collected their $200. The good guys, realizing they couldn’t tame this wild woman, chose not to play. Donnie was one of those men that chose to stay with this good time woman and he held her under his thumb unyielding and unmerciful in allowing her any freedom of choice. Any thought she strung into words was pushed to the wayside and his took precedence.
They had met while out riding motorcycles one evening while out on a group ride, one of those friend-of-a-friend endeavors. At the time we were stationed at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan, where mom was active duty Air Force.
Memories. That’s what my mother made for us on that island. That was her intent.
Most of the memories I had of Okinawa are much better than that one. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed its people, it’s food, it’s culture. We had fun.
Mom knew how to have fun…with us, and without us. When she wasn’t with us having fun she was with men having fun.
“Did you not hear me?!”
Donnie screamed at us as we stood at one end of what seemed to be the never-ending hallway in our housing complex while mom lay broken and battered on the floor at the other end.
“Do you want to go with me, or stay here with her?” He asked with a rage in his voice that I had experienced before. Too many times before.
End. I just wanted it to end. When would it be over? How could I hurry this terrible moment along? I thought to myself.
Ricky and I, as if reading each other’s minds, naturally ran to our mother and fell on the floor, crying beside her broken body, the smell of alcohol fresh on her breath. We had never gone to sleep, as the early signs of an argument had been brewing in the atmosphere hours before bedtime in the melodies of Pink Floyd, and we tried to brace ourselves for what we knew was going to be a rough night.
“Fine. I’m gone.”
And we never missed him. The next day we came home from a tired day at school and arrived to find mom lying on the couch nursing her foot, which was in a cast and resting on a mound of pillows. Donnie had pushed her down the stairs that night and broke it. Almost every bone in her foot that was needed to support body weight had been crushed. She’s had four surgeries on her foot since then. Seven screws and two plates have been maneuvered and constructed in such a way so as to produce some type of arch support. Donnie left not only scars on her heart but also scars that will forever be evidence of our rough nights and broken home to which he is due credit in what very well could have been a love that mom would’ve died for.

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Sister Love

One August day, I was  looking out from  the window of  my new bedroom, one of  three of our   townhouse  in Milpitas, a city located within the Silicon Valley,  where we moved into in March 2017.

It’s summertime and temperature was at 86 degrees .  At 8 pm, the sun was  still perfect as a  yolk on the horizon  stubbornly chasing away the color of darkness. The calm of the still bright night longingly transported me  to that place in my heart that houses  happy and loving memories  of  growing up with three sisters.

Dad was a self-made man. Son of an industrious farmer, he became a lawyer  through innate intelligence, sheer guts, dogged determination and true grit. He practiced law only briefly before he realized his true  calling was in the teaching profession. One of the subjects he taught was International Law. His expertise on the subject easily got him  his first United States visitor’s visa in 1987.

During his interview, the American consul asked why he wanted to come to America.” I have been teaching about your country to my students, so why can’t I come to your country and see it for myself,”  he told the consul cleverly.  Impressed by the answer, the  consul right away  stamped  the B1 B2 visa onto his passport.

Mom, on the other hand, was the eldest of 11 children.  She was a pharmacist by profession but left the practice to venture into business. Mom and Dad eventually found their rightful niche in the business world helping people acquire life insurances. Because they were hard workers, they easily established  a veritably modest fortune that growing up my  three sisters and I  never experienced wanting materially.

We grew up in very comfortable surroundings, molded  in the traditional Filipino values  and raised to be good and well-mannered people. We were taught to treat the less privileged with respect and compassion.

For most of our childhood we lived in Bulacan, a region in the  Central Luzon area of the Philippines. We attended a private catholic  school in Malolos run by strict German nuns from the order of the  Servants of the Holy Spirit (SSpS). Malolos now a  highly urbanized city in the province of  Bulacan is  about 36 kms north of Manila, the country’s capital.

Everyday, we were up at 5 am to get ready for school and be there by 7 am.  Mom  would diligently help us  put on our starched stiff light brown uniforms and black leather shoes, while the Colonel Bogey March, the theme song of Dad’s favorite movie The Bridge on the River Kwai, played on the background. Mom was always assisted in getting us ready by  Inang Rita  (Mommy Rita),  my Dad’s older sister who never married but chose instead to help raise most, if not all of her nephews and nieces, the four of us included.

Breakfast was never rushed. We took time to relish the delicious meals that Mom and Inang Rita prepared . Mom was a real good cook in her younger years. But Inang  Rita, admittedly, was a better cook. Two of our favorite meals that she cooked was  Bopis, a piquant dish of pork or beef lungs and heart sautéed in tomatoes, chilies and onions and Kare-Kare,  a stew of either oxtail or pork hocks, calves feet or tripe, complimented with a thick savory peanut sauce. To this day, our mouths would water when we crave for these local dishes.

Then off we were, chauffeured to school everyday in our gaudy orange colored Mercedes Benz.  Of the siblings, I was the artsy and girly one, always making sure my looks and my things looked perfect.   I went to school with my lashes curled  that gave Betty Boop’s own a run for its money. In the early days, Johnson’s baby powder came in white tin cans and it’s lid handily became my  curling tool.

On my 6th grade graduation, I went up the stage with both my eyebrows missing. Covered by my long black tresses hid  a tiny bump on my head.  Wanting to look cool on graduation day   I shaved my eyebrows a day before instead of neatly plucking  them away. To look coiffed,  I teased my hair so hard with a teasing comb that the effort hurt my scalp. The hair spray that I  lavishly spritzed on my  teased hair reacted to the sore scalp and caused a big bump on a portion of my head.

On weekends, the four of  us played and romped  around all day  on our neatly manicured, bermuda grass covered   lawn  that had swings, seesaws  and toy horses. We  played hide and seek  and hilariously mimicked  famous local movie and television actresses of the 60′s era as we danced along the music blaring from  our 45 RPM stereo dressed in  pillowcases as our snug  fitting skirts and shod in Mom’s many high heeled shoes.

Summer breaks were always spent out of town.  Laguna was a place we went to  for  Lanzones, an edible tropical  fruit native to the Southeastern parts of Asia. In the Philippines, it is mostly grown in  Laguna and peak of its harvest happens in October. Calamba, a city in Laguna, is  the birthplace of  Dr. Jose Rizal, one of the country’s greatest national heroes. A trip to the Rizal Shrine meant touching base with history in  the hero’s house which was converted into a museum in 1950.  Batangas,  Bataan, La Union and  Quezon were among  our frequent destinations for beaches and nature trips.  Mom and Dad made sure to take us to various places to broaden our knowledge of our surroundings and the environment. They believed  that travels make people more  curious and smarter.

Our all time favorite  summer vacation was  Baguio, a mountain town of universities and resorts, located in the Luzon Island. It is referred to as the “City of Pines” and is a popular summer destination because of its unusually cooler weather. Baguio vacations were occasions for us to bond with our second degree cousins of 4 boys and 3 girls,  children of my Dad’s first cousin and best friend. In Baguio our sorority of 4 became a mix  of boys and girls and gained for us, at least the temporary joy of having and playing with pseudo- brothers.

If we were not in Baguio, our cousins were down in our place in Bulacan.  We were a rowdy bunch that got on the nerves of our grandfather who wagged   a stick at us  ready  to whip anyone  who would answer back to him. Grandpa Manuel or Lolo Uwing as he was fondly called, died at the ripe old age of 110.

But it was not all play. We also attended ballet classes and guitar and piano lessons. Beth benefitted most from the piano lessons. When she left for Connecticut in 1979, her first job  was giving piano lessons to kids in her neighborhood. For our youngest sister Techie, ballet, piano, guitar, or arts in general, was never her forte. She always complained of tooth ache every time our piano teacher came for our lessons  and when  it was her turn to sit in front of our baby piano.

If we were not studying, playing or going on vacations we were fighting. We fought like  boys , or even worse. We used Mom’s wooden ladle to hit each other or pulled each other’s hair until we all tumbled onto the floor. Our fights  filled the house with a cacophony of shrieks and yelling . Once Mom heard this, we were  ordered to get  down on the  floor and we got a whipping from either her or Dad.

After the fights however, Mom and Dad made sure that we all  acknowledged our mistakes and apologized for them. This process  instilled in us a  sense of discipline,  humility and accountability for our actions.  We were raised with the right mix of tough love  and tender loving nurturing. The occasions for discipline drew us closer to each other and strengthened  filial bond and sister love among us.

Daddy named us all after a queen, a fascination he had  with  the women of  history,  another major subject that he taught  his university students.   The eldest, of the brood was named after  Queen Elizabeth of  England. One of Beth’s  earlier jobs upon moving to the United States was  giving piano lessons to children in her neighborhood. Eventually she  worked in the banking industry, a far cry from her  Political Science  degree from the University of the Philippines. Catherine , the third in sibling succession was  named after the Queen of Russia. Her  culinary skills led  to a degree in food and nutrition from the University of Santo Tomas. She was the most adventurous and daring among us. A week after learning how to drive, she  hauled a bunch of her friends in our Mercedes for a joy ride  to Batangas, a province in the Philippines located in the Calabarzon region in Luzon, and about 115 kms from Manila. Frederika, the baby in the family and the most bashful of the four of us, was  named after the Queen of Greece.  Though she was  the sibling who never learned how to play the piano, never took a liking for wearing a tutu, and did not even care to learn how to  drive, Techie, her nickname,  metamorphosed into an intelligent social being, graduating with a degree in Economics from  Miriam College,  an all exclusive girl school in Quezon City.  She  presently holds a reputable position in the local government of Quezon City. Mom and Dad went up the stage at school to pin scholastic medals on  her and Beth, who were both  consiste ntly  on the honor roll.

The second in sibling hierarchy, I was named  after  Queen Wilhelmina of Holland. My  interests have always been the arts – movies, stage plays, concerts, reading and writing.  These varied interests told me  I was going to do good in Journalism. When it was time to choose my major course in college, I was thus propelled to enroll in this bastard sibling of literature and graduated with the degree from the University of Santo Tomas.

Weekends were our time to socialize but I made good use of them instead by reading books, novels, short stories, essays, and foreign glamour magazines that thrived on the inanities of the celluloid world. I loved watching foreign  films, particularly American productions that at an early age, I knew Gig Young, Gary Grant and all the leading actors in Hollywood.

Reading fascinated me. I used to carry with me a notebook where I wrote down all the titles of the books I had read for the week. As the list grew extensively, I had fallen in love so many times over with all the male heroes of the novels and short stories I had read. My fascination with reading  translated into a love affair with writing.   I would write letters to friends that were filled  with ornate words. What I could have said plainly, I embellished with the richness of my vocabulary. The many places our parents took us to became the subjects  of most of my compositions in school.

Writing also took me to the halls of of Malacanang, the  highest office of the land in the Philippines, serving as an Executive Assistant to the Press Secretary for six years from 1992 to 1998.  Writing likewise played a major role when I met the man  I eventually married. He was a man of science but he swept me off my feet with the very first letter he wrote me. It was prolific and poetic. In the course of a seven year courtship, he seduced me with his own style of writing.  I had thought that love for pen and paper  was to be the common thread that would bind us forever. That thought perished in 1997 after 20 plus years of marital bliss and blisters.

In 1999, I migrated to the United States and has since made a life that has become so ordinary and yet surprisingly peaceful; drab yet not completely uneventful. I stepped out of my comfort zone and turned 180  from a life of comfort  to  humbled  existence. I moved around a new environment stripped of the amenities that I had grown accustomed to. All my enthusiastic attempts to get under the American skin failed and made me unhappy.

When loneliness reared its ugly head during this transition period, replaying in my mind the happy childhood memories with my sisters sustained me. They knew I was recovering from the wound of separation so they checked on me everyday to make sure I was okay.  The  sister love that our parents had nurtured in us  adequately  equipped me to deal with the emotional woe at hand and empowered me to  overcome the ever continuing challenges of living in a foreign land.

I have since adapted to living in America . My  sisters and I are past our golden years yet we  continue fanning the flame of  sister love by being  witnesses to each other’s miseries and triumphs. We are support system to one another’s  highs and lows  and  we are each other’s  company as we continue to travel life’s  many peaks and valleys. Techie and I have already been widowed, Kathy has  separated from her husband early on  and  Beth is still happily married. Though I did now have kids of my own, I am thankful to my sisters who let me share in the joy of being a virtual  mother to their children and  in the even more joyful experience  of  being a grandmother to their grandchildren.  And all four of us feel so blessed that at 89, Mom is still around and still remembers our respective dates of birth.

To God be the glory forever!!!


 

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On Details

The first time I met my grandmother, I was six years old.  My mother, my sister and I, traveled by train from San Francisco to Rosario Mexico, where my grandmother lived. It was the first time both my sister and I had been in a train.  I remember listening to the metal sounds of the wheels as they turned faster and faster, as the visions from my tiny window became a blur. The first train, for we must have traveled in at least four different trains before we arrived at my grandmother’s house, smelled like it was washed with soap, the kind of soap my mother used to wash clothes.  All the seats were made of some soft material, and all very clean.  When the train whistle began whistling, I knew we were approaching another station.  This meant more people.  I didn’t really see anyone leaving the train, only getting into it.  I remember being annoyed at having to give up my seat to an old lady, nevertheless I managed a smile, because my mother was staring at me.  My mom had eyes that talked, she didn’t have to say a word and I got her message.

 

 

 

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The Spark

I loved my first experience of flatting.  The flats were provided by the Education Authority to attract teachers to our small country town.  All my flat mates taught at the nearby school but I travelled each day 40km or so on dusty roads to a tiny three teacher school in farming country. The school families were kind and welcoming and I had boarded with one of the families until now but it was a little claustrophobic living in such a small community where my every move was scrutinized.  It was much more fun in town.

In the flat I learned to live independently. This was the first time I had to share the responsibility of cooking and housekeeping for a group.  Housework was fine.  We usually attacked the tasks on a Saturday morning with the latest pop songs booming from the radio.  Cooking was another matter.  None of us had much skill at cooking but we took turns at putting dinner on the table each night.

We had some memorable meals. Our Scottish flat mate had never so much as boiled an egg before, and I came home from a weekend away to find her almost in tears trying to follow the most basic instructions like “Brown the onions in a pan.”  “What does that mean?” she asked. Another flat mate boiled the caramel sauce for so long that it set like concrete in the saucepan and she cut her hand on the sharp points trying to clean the pot. Not many people can say that they cut themselves on the caramel sauce but she could.  Someone gave us two whole fish they had caught and we faced the dilemma of how to deal with them. By the time we managed to remove the fillets, the kitchen table had disappeared under a cloak of fish scales and we were still removing them from every surface a week later.  I don’t remember who decided to cook an entire packet of rice for dinner one night but even our biggest pot was not big enough and there were cries of panic from the kitchen as the rice rose up and up and over the sides to create a charred mess on the stove top.

It was all great fun but I was starting to get itchy feet.  I had grown up in a small town, gone to teachers’ college at the age of sixteen and completed four years teaching in small places so the lights of the big city were starting to look quite attractive. However I had given no serious thought to moving on until one night in the flat.  We had no television so it was our habit to sit around the table after dinner where we often talked for hours.

One night a new friend of Viv’s came round for dinner.  Viv had recently returned from a couple of years living in London and it turned out that Graeme had too.   The rest of us did not get a word in as their excited voices kept us entertained.

“Did you go skiing in Austria?” asked Viv.
“Yes.  Wasn’t it great?” said Graeme.  “Which village did you go to?”
“St Johann.”
“Really? That’s amazing! That’s where we went.  Did you have ski lessons with that crazy instructor from Norway – Erik?  All the girls were in love with him and all the guys hated him. I bet he took you to that bar by the chairlift to drink mulled wine.  We’d never heard of it before but wasn’t it the best when you came back freezing from skiing?”
“Oh yes, he certainly did. We used to make it in a preserving pan when we got back to London. Our flat became famous for its mulled wine. We had it so often that I’m absolutely over it now.  I’ve never drunk it since.”

On and on they went.  One minute they were comparing notes on teaching in London.  Next they were reminiscing about the trips they had taken to Russia or to Spain or Morocco.

“I couldn’t believe how easy it was to get teaching jobs in London, could you?” said Graeme.
“Oh, I had a great job in a school full of kiwi teachers.  I went back there every term and travelled over the summers.  I never had to look for a job once I got a foot in that door.  The head teacher was a real martinet but she just loved kiwis.”

Didn’t you love that crazy market square in Marrakech?” said Viv.
“Yes, especially that guy with all the false teeth arranged on his rug in the dust for his customers to choose from.“
“What about riding those grumpy camels in the desert?”

“Did any of you have bath plugs in your hotel rooms in Moscow?”
“No.  None of us did but the hotel ladies were so fierce that nobody dared ask for one.”

I listened enthralled. Their delight was obvious as they shared story after story about the fun they had had, the people they had met and the exotic places they had visited.  For the whole evening their  laughter and reminiscences kept us entertained.  As I looked at their animated faces and their shining eyes I made up my mind.  I was going to save every penny I could and I was going to travel overseas too.  That conversation at our dinner table encouraged me to set off on one of the greatest adventures of my life.

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A Special Teacher

Miss Fincham, Freda Fincham was my class teacher at St Joseph’s Primary School, which I attended when I was 10 years’ old.  She was tall, lanky and gangly, her limbs mobile and appeared not to fit her body.  She had a long face and a long nose with dark lustrous hair that she piled together on top of her head and clasped back with a huge slide but which kept escaping into wild tendrils around her face.  She wore bright red lipstick and long flowing dresses with large colourful flowers on them and big woolly cardigans which had probably been hand knitted.

My mother was in hospital at the time and I was boarding at the Fidelius Convent but I was neither clever enough, nor was my mother rich enough for me to attend their school, instead had to walk down down the hill to the local school.

I was unruly and disruptive in class, I’m not sure exactly what I did, I talked alot (I still do) and joked alot (I still do) and generally did anything I could to attract attention which resulted in my being sent out to stand outside the Headmaster, Mr Brennan’s Office.  He would give me a telling off and hit me with his cane on the hand which stung and made my fingers red.

What I liked about Miss Fincham, although in my head she was always Freda, was that she would sing instructions to us.  ‘Put your pencils down’  ‘Take out your books’  ‘Pay attention when I’m talking to you’ and so forth, all on one note but very musical and I found her fascinating.  On one particular day there was alot of noise and I, along with others, was making paper aeroplanes and throwing them about.  Freda approached me and sang at me

‘Get out of the classroom.’

I sang back, ‘No.’

She then sung, ‘I told you to go out of the classroom.’

I again sung back, ‘No.’

She reached out to grab hold of me to pull me up, I resisted and grabbed hold of her cardigan which was flapping around and pulled back.  The cardigan sleeve stretched and stretched until I fell back down on to my chair, still holding on to her cardigan.  She looked at me for a few moments with such a look of caring that it was like an arrow of surprise that pierced through my hard, sulky exterior straight to my heart.  I didn’t realise anybody could care for me.  I let go of her cardigan and went straight out to wait for the cane.

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“Hey Jude”

“Hey Jude” – the sound for me of London in the swinging sixties.  I’m not sure why that particular song should evoke memories of those carefree days but every time I hear it I can picture myself back there with my flatmates belting out the song with a lot more enthusiasm than tunefulness. Whenever it came on the radio, we would all join in at the tops of our voices and that song was everywhere in 1968. 

The lyrics are quite sad and the song was apparently written for John Lennon’s son, Julian, at the time of his parents’ marriage breakup but it only brings back happy memories for me.  I was young and in London for the first time and there was a real feeling of excitement in the air.  I had come straight from a tiny country place on the other side of the world, a place so small it didn’t even have a shop, and London seemed like a box of chocolates, full of my favourite flavours.

I was flatting for the first time with people from three different countries; there was always a party to go to, a friend to come sightseeing and people my own age with whom to debate all the subjects under the sun.  After three years of being a teacher lodging with school families, this was a dream come true.

London offered endless diversions.  The shops were open all day on Saturdays, transport was easy and cheap and we had only ourselves to please.  Every weekend we caught the tube to the West End to take in the action.  Skirts were so short that men used to sit at the bottom of the stairs in double decker buses to watch the girls climb to the upper deck. Minis had became popular, a fashion helped by the invention of tights in place of the awful suspender belts and stockings we used to wear. Shiny hot pants were also a fashion item although I was never brave enough to wear them.   At the same time, maxi coats or capes were all the rage for winter and we wore knee-high boots for the first time.  I even had a wig with blonde streaks which made me feel very glamorous.  Fashion was cheap and disposable, so exciting for we girls who had always had to make our own clothes.  We all shopped for underwear at Marks and Spencer’s, commonly known as Marks and Sparks, and even sent parcels of knickers to friends at home.

 Mary Quant was the high priestess of fashion and makeup and Twiggy was the model to watch with her stick thin figure and haunting black-lashed eyes. We would spend whole days in Carnaby Street, the world centre of young fashion.  It was a riot of colour, each shop vying with its neighbours to present the most eye-catching displays. They had terribly British names like Lady Jane and Lord John, the latter attracting attention with the whole of its shop front painted in a psychedelic mural. Union Jack flags fluttered overhead and loud music boomed out of every doorway.  At that time, London was a magnet for all the world’s most creative young artists, musicians, designers and photographers.  It was the place to be. 

There was a real feeling of optimism in the air. Post-war austerity was over and young people felt a huge sense of freedom. They felt they could change the world and boundaries were being pushed everywhere.   The anti-Vietnam musical “Hair” was a smash hit and, for the first time, nudity was shown on a mainstream stage, even if it was for about twenty seconds in dim light.  We lined up for standing room tickets at all the shows as they were very cheap. We had to climb hundreds of steps to the Gods and watch from a great height but we were just thrilled to be there. We could not believe that we were actually in those theatres which had been familiar names from childhood – Covent Garden, Haymarket, the London Palladium and the rest.

We stood on the fringes of the anti-Vietnam protest march led by British-Pakistani Tariq Ali and actress Vanessa Redgrave when tens of thousands of people marched through the streets with placards, the biggest and noisiest crowd we had ever seen.  The march turned violent when protesters broke into the grounds of the United States embassy and the police were strongly criticised for their heavy-handed approach. In those pre-Internet/social media days, news didn’t reach us back home until quite some time after it had happened and we felt very important to be right in the middle of news as it was made.

These major events were exciting but we found everyday things almost as novel.  We used to listen for the sound of a horse and cart clopping down our street with the driver shouting “Rag and Bone” as he collected everyone’s castoffs. We were fascinated by the nippy little milk vans delivering their goods to our front door and we couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw the girls in the flat next door actually cutting their minuscule front lawn with scissors.  Cutting the lawns at home had been half a morning’s work.  We fell in love with the man roasting chestnuts at our local tube station. He always gave us a few extra and the little bags were ideal for warming our hands as we walked home.

To be young and free in London in 1968 was the most exciting thing in the world. I could not have spent the tail end of the sixties in any better place and, although London is very different now and our hopes and dreams of a brighter future for the world have not quite turned out as we hoped, I still love retuning to London.  It is full of happy memories.  And, if I can’t visit in person, there is always “Hey Jude” to take me back there.

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Baking as a Tool for Healing

Around the late 1990s, cross stitching became a fad that everybody in my group of friends, except me, took to  it to while away the time, or possibly to get together to gossip about. In hindsight, and no offense to them, i also considered that taking on the hobby was a way for them  to escape hearing my separation narrative that had their ears already full for months since my marriage fell apart in September 1996.

We were first neighbors in an exclusive village called K-Square Townhomes in Quezon City, Manila’s capital as well as the largest city in the Philippines. Through the regular homeowners’ meetings, 4  of us gravitated towards each other and not long after, we have developed a solid friendship that has stood the tests of both time and distance. The circle expanded to include 2 other friends who lived outside of K-Square who were  friends with one or the other. Tess and Menchie T were coming to our place almost daily or nightly for our game of Pusoy 2. Soon they  were virtually residents of our village and that made my original neighborhood friends of six.  Five of us are now living abroad.  Menchie T and myself are in CA and is in New York,in the United States;Tess and her family live in Vancouver,  British Columbia, and Aida  just recently migrated to New Zealand.  Menchie Sexy ( an adjective we have attached to her name to distinguish  her from the Menchie with a T in our group)  still lives at K-Square, a decision she  stood up for to provide moral support to her son as he finished his medical school. Vincent, who is godson of  all 5 of us, is now a practicing pediatrician,

When all five  of my friends became so engrossed in cross-stitching, I looked for an alternative hobby to pursue because my eyesight could not handle the tediousness of sitting all day sewing x-shaped stitches to complete a pattern.

I did not hurry. Between sobbings over a failed marriage and trying to heal emotionally though spiritual retreats, I bid my time and waited until some promptings came to me. Then it just dawned.

I had no experience at all in cooking but I  I could very well undertand and follow cooking terminoogies and instructions  without even consulting Mr. Websters. So I told myself  why not baking?

So baking it was. The following morning, I rushed to Killion Merchandising, a place where bakers, caterers and  cooking enthusiasts flock to source ingredients because of its cheap prices.  It  is  located in Quiapo in downtown Manila, about 12.3 km from our place  but  about a two hour ride from Quezion City given the perpetually notorious traffic reputation of Metro Manila.

Every trip to Killion always included a visit to the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene,  famous home for the shrine of the Black Nazarene, a dark statue of Jesus Christ which many claim to be miraculous. The Basilica or the Quiapo Church as it is more colloquially known is just a stone’s throw away from Killion.

While Killion was a place for me to stock up on my dwindling baking arsenal, Quiapo Church was a quiet, serene sanctuary for me to unload my pain and hurt of my failed marriage  that had swelled anew from my last visit. I would stay in the church for some indeterminate time, not saying anything, listening to my grief that I believed was being divinely transported to the right channel of grace. I would come to the place burdened but always emerged feeling light as a feather.

With every visit to Killion and corollarily to the Church,  I knew that, aside from getting better at baking,  I was, more importantly, getting emotionally  healed  increasingly and progressively.

So my baking saga continued. My first attempt was a simple pound cake. I found it in my older sister Beth’s stack of recipes which she must have left when she moved to Japan with her husband. Beth and another sister Cathy are the good cooks in the family. Mom,when she was younger and  in her  heydays, was a very good cook herself. Beth also took some courses in Culinary Arts while waiting to move to Japan; Cathy, on the other hand, was a Food and Nutrition graduate from the University of Santo Tomas, which must have imbued in her the art of food preparation, and ergo, the art of cooking. Techie, the baby sibling, and myself, had our interests away from the kitchen.

Braced for the task at hand, i propped up the recipe and spread out all the tools and ingredients in front of me. My nephew BJ and niece Carina were my little helpers. I suspected however that they volunterred during my baking sessions to be around not to help but to lick the batter from the mixing bowl once I was done with the mixing. Carefully and thoughtfully, I followed the instructions verbatim.  When the mixing bowl started whirring and I saw how the dry ingredients softened into a thick paste of butter, egg, milk, sugar and flour, I was ecstatic. When the batter was done, I greased the yellow bundt pan and shoved it in the oven to bake for 50 to 65 minutes. Needless to say, my first experiment was successful and from then on, my  cross stitching friends  had made it a point to gather in my place, almost daily  at around 3 pm, their cross stitch patterns in hand, while waiting for my next baking experiment to come to fruition. While I cautiously and painstakingly  separated the dry from the wet ingredients, folded in the eggs into the batter of flour, sugar and butter, and poured in the milk into the batter, my friends had their heads bowed down on their cross-stitch patterns,  looking up only intermittently to see my progress and how far off still they were from getting their hands into the finished product. This became a daily bonding time for us and for every compliment I was getting, I was progressively getting affirmed of my emotional healing.

My baking repertoire grew over time and inspired me to branch out to  cookies and other cake variations.  Oh, cookies. The plain sugar and butter cookies which my niece Trisha so much loved.  When I first made these I had  all 5 of my  nephews and nieces ( Trisha, Erika, Raymond, aside from Carina and BJ) present, cousins who were then all playful, and obedient  and whose gifts   of innocence , almost certainly, would end in time with the coming of age and reality.

It warms my heat to remember that memory when they would huddle around the kitchen counter and soon as mixing was  done,  grappled for the bowl to get the first taste of the batter. Trisha,herself a mother now, bakes this recipe to her own children Raphaela and Thea.

The hihglight of my baking adventure was when I chanced upon a recipe for Food For The Gods, a sweet dessert bars, made with dates, butter, walnuts and honey. It became a hit soon as it came out of the oven. So good in fact that my family and friends suggested I make them as give-aways during Christmastime. So I did and did it with flair. They were given away in beautiful christmas themed boxes or tin cans with either gold, red or green ribbons tied around it and a fancy gift tag dangling from it. Soon after they were not just giveaways. I was getting orders from everywhere which I accepted for a while to keep me engrossed until I was ready to leave for the States to make a brand new start in life, on a clean slate and without a man.

I have been living in sunny California  for the last 18 years now and bake only at my leisure.  When I look  back though the rearview mirror of  those devastating years  of my separation in the Philippines,  I am grateful for that  prompting to try baking as an effective  vessel  for me to rise above emotional hurt.  This prompting would have been   difficult to decipher without the wisdom of the Holy Spirit whom I have fully embraced during a three day spiritual retreat back in 1997.

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