Across the street at Philippine Christian College high school, there's a growing rumble of cars, vendors and students. At 8:00 a.m., Bayang magiliw blasts over the PCC loudspeakers calling us to school, work, and prayer.
We make our beds, dress, and brush our teeth. “Come to BREAKfast!” calls mom. Scott, Johanna and I scramble to the big wooden table. Mom leads us as we sing,
When morning gilds the skies my heart awakening cries,
May Jesus Christ be praised! At life and work and prayer
To Jesus I repair. May Jesus Christ be praised!
Daddy prays, “Eternal Lord....” If we don’t stuff fried or scrambled eggs into our pan de sal, we have eggs and fried rice, and always a slice of sweet red papaya with calamansi, little round fruit more maásim than limes.
In our blue kitchen, I sit at the middle table getting in the way. Under the porcelain sink, there’s an oilcan full of rice. That’s what we eat, rice. When it’s cooking, which is everyday, it has a bland white smell like laundry soap. “Do you eat bread?” friends and strangers ask, because Americans only eat bread.
“No,” I say proudly, “we eat rice.”
By 6:00 a.m., we start the meal with “Day is dying in the West” or,
Evening is here the board is spread.
Thanks be to God who gives us bread.
Praise God for bread, Amen.
Even though we don’t eat bread, we thank God for it.
My father prays, “Eternal Lord…” The plates are stacked and dad delivers us equal servings. If we eat fast enough, we can have seconds. I eat all the rice. But when Elena cooks bitter ampalaya, I drop-kick the small green stars under the table.
Homage to The Airconditioned Room
There is only one place in our house that is dry and cool: The Airconditioned Room. The AirCon is an old cranky King. Daddy shows Scotty how to turn it on.
“I wanna watch!” Dad turns to me,
“Don’t ever turn it on.” He says sternly. I nod meekly.
When I learn how to turn on the AirCon, I turn Off too soon and almost bust it.
How to turn on the air conditioner:
- Flick the switch to Fan. Wait ‘til it rumbles and exhales a musty medicine smell. The windows rattle, which is a good sign. Wait a little more.
- Then flick the switch to Cold. But don’t turn the arrow to too much Cold or it will turn back to Fan.
- Don’t turn it to Off too soon or you will bust the air conditioner, says dad.
It’s not an injustice that our parents get to sleep in The Airconditioned Room. It belongs to everyone. This is because the b&w TV lives in The Airconditioned Room. We paddle through the house with a rangy mob for our one-hour ration of Betty Boop, Felix the Cat, and Popeye.
The Airconditioned Room also has the best bed for bouncing.
“Don’t jump on the bed.”
We jump and jump then–Crack! Johanna’s head hits the window sill. “Araayyy!” Blood dribbles through her stringy blond hair onto the sheets.
“Mommy! Mommy! Mooommy!”
Grownups swoop down in great alarm and whisk her away. Other than that, it is the safest bed.
When it's time to get ready for our beds, we squat under the low faucet to wash our pukes. When there’s no water, we scoop water with the tabo from big plastic pails in the bathroom. When pipes are dry, we can’t flush the toilet. It stinks with everybody’s bm together. But mom has stenciled dancing Oklahoma figures from her favorite folksong book on all the bathroom cupboards and toilet seats, so even when it’s stinky, the bathroom is ready for fiesta.
We’re dry; it’s night. The butiki, little lizards, climb onto the screens. A hidden gecko burps. “Gecho,” warns Laling, “stick to your skin.”
“Ping, Ping, read Ping!” We cluster around mom. I suck my two fingers while Ping, a lazy yellow duck, is late to the one-eyed boat with his twenty-one cousins on the Yangtze River. Or we hear how Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, the plump cheerful woman in an upside down house gets the sloppy girl to clean her room or the picky boy to eat his peas.
Then mom guides our words to God’s ears. She curls on the cool mahogany floor near our beds. When we are done, we wait for “Stealaway.” Her voice lifts off in the dark, “Steal away, steal away, steal away, to Jesus, steal away home....”
God is close since “Stealaway” is his most favorite song. Then God goes to bed. Johanna is making slurpy asleep sounds. From Dakota Street you hear “baluuuut,” “baluuuut,” from the duck egg man. Cats yowl. Sometimes deep into the Malate nights, multo rustle against the screens.
When it’s too hot, we each stealaway to The Airconditioned Room.