Pauwi na ako. Biglang sumakit nanaman yung puso ko 'eh. Nanghina na nga ako e.
. . .
Hindi lang. Kasama yung tuhod pati balikat ko. Tumatanda na yata ako, Sita. Ha? Wala. Hindi sumakit ulo ko. Bat mo natanong? Hello?
Sita pulled off her husband's shoes and handed him a clean shirt, a white one, the kind he usually wore to sleep. The small bedroom was cramped; a large bed took up most of the space.
Ngayon lang, pagkatapos mag-lunch. Sabi ni Sir, umuwi raw muna ako. Pangatlong araw na kasi biglang sumasakit 'yung tuhod at balikat. Tsaka, nagkaka heart burn raw ako.
Knees bruised permanently, Sita walked around the bed to turn up the wall-mounted air-conditioner. Smiling, she turned to her husband who hadn't changed out of his denim jeans. The single brown pair he wore to work five times a week, laundered during the weekend, and wore again. Crushed behind him, milky white pillows she fluffed to life. There were no television sets in the bedroom, there was no room, so Dino closed his eyes.
Oo, gutom ako, her husband said when she mentioned she cooked him some food to settle his stomach. He must be hungry, she reasoned. It was mid afternoon, perfect for merienda. Sita fetched a bowl of watered down soup and a glass of cold water. Neat, bite-sized cubes of meat, carrots, potatoes, the large pechay leaves, and pepper. Her husband smacked his lips and asked for salt -- patis, if they had it.
Hindi ko alam yung lasa nito, ah, her husband said when Sita asked if he liked it. I didn't know you were coming home so I rushed out to buy the ingredients. We didn't have potatoes this week, or carrots, or mermaid meat.
Sirena, her husband said, amused. Akala ko ayaw mo magluto ng kapwa-babae? He recalled an argument in aisle three, between sardines and canned fruit. Mermaid meat was affordable, her husband argued. Cheap for all the wrong reasons, she countered, defiant. She wouldn't look at the rows of blue-green flesh, let alone cook it. Lasang baka, her husband said.
She rushed to the wet market after he called. She knew exactly what he'd want, she said. Sita curled up next to her husband, the glass of water forgotten on the floor. There wasn't much left when I got there. Most of the fresh meat had been bought much earlier but I found just enough. I bought part of her fleshy mermaid tail and boiled hip bones for stock. It's sweet, isn't it? It's the meat. I spiced it only with pepper.
Sita rested her head on her husband's chest, a soft hand on his thigh. How do you feel?
Bakit, anong pinaplano mo? A roguish grin and her husband slid a hand down her back. Hindi na masakit yung tuhod ko. Her husband chuckled. Pero parang sumasakit ulo ko, ngayon. Sita's hand was cool on his forehead. She told him to lie back to let the slight headache subside.
I tried to imitate beef nilaga. Your favorite. Didn't you say it taste somewhat like beef? Sita locked a leg around her husband's waist, her groin against his thigh.
Konti. Pero mas malasa yung beef. Her hand had crept over his manhood. She nibbled his ear. Masarap pareho. He was being generous, now. But I left out a secret ingredient. Did you taste the difference? She slid down between his legs, crouched on top of him. He sprang into her mouth when she pulled down his grimy pants and the pair of old white briefs garter already curdling.
After he came, the pounding in his head doubled. Mouth still moist from his spume, Sita pinched his arm as she lay back beside him. With the secret ingredient, the soup would have been sweeter and your head would not be throbbing.
Ano? Her husband clutched his head, massaging a beefy knuckle into his temples. He blinked twice, thrice, but his vision blurred. Bakit? Ano yun?
The antidote, Sita said sweetly, running a hand through his hair. The antidote I feed you sweetens your stew. Sometimes, it moistens your rice. In water, it's tasteless. Sita drank the glass of water she had left on the floor.
Gamot? Anong gamot? Her husband's words were beginning to slur. Dino pushed his head deeper into a pillow. The sun was too bright.
The antidote to your headache. Sita sweetened her voice, she gave it a lilt, decorated it with a laugh at the end.
Nilalason mo ako!
Yes. Every morning, I slip the poison in your coffee. Every night that you come home, I give you the antidote. A single drop of water clung to Sita's fine, strong mouth.
Nilalason mo ako, her husband repeated, defeated. Yes, yes, yes. But you were only supposed to get a headache. A fine, disagreeable headache to teach you a lesson. But three days, Dino, you complained of an ache in your bones. Sita sounded triumphant. She pinched him again, her face screwed up against the light but her husband only saw her tense mouth curve into a smile. Three days you complained of an ache in your bones, heartburn.
Ano, hindi kita maintindihan, ano, her husband spat out the words, his body tense on the bed, every muscle taut and still.
Whose poisons were you taking, those three days, Sita asked, eyes ablaze. Whose? Who were you supposed to come home to?