“Ang liliit yata ng karga mo ngayon, Aly.” Rick, the manager, complained.
The middle-aged man, shoulder-length hair tied into a tight bun hidden underneath a red hat, held a brown Cup A tit in his left hand. Beneath his thumb, the nipple was a hard nub of flesh. Aly liked him. She looked at his long fingers curved around a pair of boobs and almost smiled. She had to remind herself: kuya Bong was adamant. Before she left the compound that afternoon, he pinched her arm and made her squeal a promise to sell the entire Clutch. Otherwise, Bong promised her an afternoon harvesting with no lunch or dinner. Aly liked Rick but she’d like him more if he bought all five boxes stacked near the door. Kuya Bong liked Sir Rick, too. He made sure they mixed less of the sagging week-old tits into Sir Rick’s boxes.
“Malapit na kasi mag-summer, Sir. Minsan, ulang Lalaki na inaabutan namin. Pero yan, masarap pa. Tikman niyo pa, sir!”Aly smoothed her shirt and hitched up her sleeves, a nervous habit she picked up from the other harvesters employed at the Compound.
When Sir Rick began rummaging beneath the first three layers of mixed Cup Ds and Cs, she began to sweat. She wrung her hands and stared at her new shoes, the pair Din picked out for her underneath the overpass last Saturday, from a street vendor’s shoe-laden blanket. He didn’t buy them for her, that’s true, but she never would’ve bought them if Din hadn’t insisted they made her feet look cute.
Outside the manager’s office, a fully manned assembly line produced burgers upon demand. Past the counters, she spied four queues, and a small crowd looking up at the back-lit menu placards. She listened to the orders: double patties, cheeseburgers, burger steaks. Large fries. Extra-large fries.
The gleaming, metallic kitchen was abuzz with activity: two cooks manned the deep fryers while another pair stood salting fries and packing them into cardboard sleeves of varying sizes. The five attending the counter looked most harassed, frequently turning away from their customers to shout instructions or questions to their comrades-in-arms who were safe in the kitchen assembling food orders. Farthest from the storage-turned-office, large vats of rice and buns stood steaming.
The frenzied activity reminded Aly of the Compound, where kuya Bong’s manic energy fueled his harvesters. Kuya Bong himself rested only when all his employees finished; he even waited up with his logistics head, tasked with accounting for every breast collected. Her kuya enjoyed a relatively simple life which constituted solely of continuing their family business. She couldn’t fault his mono-track mind. Ganoon talaga kapag panganay. Instead, she was grateful kuya Bong had never expected much from her. Although Aly shared his enthusiasm, she was content with harvesting and the occasional odd job or two, including running errands for Sir Rick.
“Matigas pa ‘oh.” Sir Rick frowned down at her. Aly wrenched herself back.
Sir Rick was taller than kuya Bong, even. “Sino ba ang supplier niyo ng jogga, ha?” A familiar joke. He held a pair of fluffy Cup Cs, two shades lighter than the usual Filipino kayumanggi. He squeezed hard, the rosy flesh bulging out of his fist.
Aly gave a wide smile. “Sir, anong jogga? That’s 200% pure burger patty, sir!” Her broken English amused him as he flipped the box close.
“Tama.” Rick inspected a third box. Bong always made sure he littered the worst of the Cup A on top, easy to spot, for Rick’s benefit. He said Rick was the type of man who wanted to be in control.
Rick clicked his tongue, counting five small Cup A, each perfectly round, the size of large marbles, but too soft.
“O, heto pa.”
Kuya Bong said finding the spotted, sagging bits of flesh on his own made Rick feel confident he found them all.
“Nako sir, sorry po! Pero yung iba, malinis na. Iyan na yata lahat ng rejects, sir.”
Sir Rick nodded, separating the small handful. He squeezed them until creamy milk seeped out their nipples. “Sige, kukunin namin. Pero tig-tatlong piso lang bawat jogga, ‘ha?”
“Sir naman! Four-fifty po ang SRP namin.” But Rick had the receipt pad half filled up. “Sir, malulugi po kami!”
He looked up, frowning. Aly had played it right. “Sige, sige. Ayan, four pesos. Quits na tayo ah.” Sir Rick began a fresh receipt. He paid her nearly five thousand Pesos for five boxes of breasts, largely unhandled, and caught after the morning rain.
“Huwag ka muna umuwi, Aly. Tumulong ka muna rito. Same rate, ah. Marami kasing customer.”
“Sige po, sir.” Aly bit her lip. “Sir, tutulong na ‘ho ako sa prep.”
Pera rin yan, sayang naman, she thought, although the sentiment tasted bitter upon her tongue. Walking to the heavy back door where, earlier that evening, she stacked five boxes of breasts, tits, jogga, bampers, she produced an old mobile phone from her pocket. The message came readily to mind but the well-rehearsed words inadequately expressed the frustration of rescheduling dates planned a week in advance. Sayang lang. Sayang. It was a well-worn theme she embraced frequently, though no less easily. The word spiced her everyday life so that everything was a familiar shade and she learned how to douse her tongue with expletives or, whenever Din was concerned, near-cloying affection.
Overtime me, sw8hart. She liked that word. “Overtime”.
Before frying, each jogga must be cleaned, minced, and reconstituted as burger patties. Most of the flesh was a darker shade of brown. Once fried, it became near indistinguishable from beef, although they come at a fraction of the cost. On their own, breast meat tasted saltier and slightly spicer than beef but customers barely notice the difference.
Sir Rick rationalized his decision to half-poison is clientele this way: “Beef yan! Human beef! At sino ba ang tanga na maniniwalang mabibili ang beef ng dalawang-daang piso?”
Aly patted the mobile phone in her jeans pocket where it lay unresponsive and silent. Din hadn’t replied. Baka nasa Compound, naaasar. She didn’t frown. Nagtext naman ako. Nasa kanya na kung ayaw niyang magreply. Sino ba siya?
She slapped her thighs to dry her hands before positioning herself at the end of the production line, as far back from the counter as possible. There, she was hidden from view. Her job was simple: Aly separated the meat. Large breasts classified as Cup C and Cup D grouped together in one pile to be washed, minced, and reshaped. Cup B and some Cup A, smaller and less conspicuous, were simply seasoned before being deep fried. They passed off as burgers on their own: lumps of brown flesh roughly palm-sized and plumper than ordinary beef patties. Customers usually complimented Sir Rick on their generous serving size. Sometimes, crew members didn’t even bother removing the hard nipples: in the fryer, the soft nubs of flesh shrank, hardened, withered, and became virtually unrecognizable.
Aly sifted through the breasts. The past week’s harvest had been leaner than usual. She hadn’t lied when she casually mentioned Lalakeng Ulan. Twice this week – tightly woven nets ready to catch the daily tit-fall – heavy clouds rained plantain-sized phalluses. Hairy balls and all. Each fall lasted little more than two hours but it took the harvesters three hours to clear away etits, baton, tektek aplenty. Some that were erect punctured the nets. Kuya Bong was furious. As far as they knew, no one ate these birds. The meat counted for nothing so Kuya Bong had them burn the harvests.
“Ang tunay na lalaki, sinusubo hindi sumusubo!” To which Aly wanted to reply: “Ang tunay na lalaki, malakas kumain!”
Cup B and Cup A were tricky. Size, shape, and color all varied significantly. A handful were caucasian, their rosy nipples like wide, bewildered eyes. Aly removed all the week-old flesh whose nipples were turning sick green or black from curdling milk. Holding two Cup B breasts in her hands – one light brown, the other tinged slightly yellow-green – her mobile vibrated. Aly hurriedly threw the breasts into separate piles.
Din’s message read: “Nxt time n lng, busy u.”
She tried again: “Sorry hon!” Should she have added a supplicating emoticon or two to enhance the effect?
Aly deleted the text and all Din’s previous messages. Bwisit. Let him sulk, she thought. Maghintay siya. She knew she would have to explain, apologize, and coax him into a good mood once she returned to the Compound.
After she killed her mobile and pushed it back into a pocket, she opened the fourth box of breast meat. Peeking at the two cooks manning double deep fryers, Aly spied only two rows of burgers and chicken for frying. Luckily, the last two boxes were mostly Cup C and Cup D breasts, still dusty from the Compound garden.
The ache began in her lower back, shooting up her shoulder, and finally creeping down her arm. Struggling with the mincer, she rubbed a hard knot in her neck, trying to calm down. Bwisit. Tempted to tinker with her mobile, she took up another breast, squeezing the flesh until it bruised and milk seeped from a swollen nipple. Bwisit!
Alan, one of the fast food restaurant’s prep cooks, walked over to her as she dismantled the boxes, neatly laying them beneath the metal counter and out of the way. Although their uniforms were comical – blazing red button-down shirts paired with khakis and white or black rubber shoes – Alan wore his as though there was nothing more natural than the scuffed shoes, his brown pants permanently soiled by oil stains, with a shirt two sizes too large. Smiling, he sidled up to Aly, a receipt in hand.
Aly looked up only when Alan examined a fistful of freshly ground breast meat. Annoyed, she stopped working the metal meat mincer.
“Puwede na ba ‘to?” Alan asked, sniffing the raw meat. Until then, Aly hadn’t noticed how quickly the burger patties ran out. Only half a dozen beef burgers were left. Nodding, Aly turned back to the final pile of breasts ready for mincing, their nipples staring up at her expectantly. She didn’t understand why people stubbornly looked for beef, or pork, or chicken, when breast meat fell from the sky. There was no need to slaughter.
“Okay ka lang?”
Aly shook her head. Sayang. Din had a surprise for her. She saw the long, rectangular box as he wrapped it in the dining hall, all pink wrapping paper. And a polka-dotted bow. Harvesters hooted their approval or disdain, it wasn’t important. Kuya Bong, frowning, warned her – hindi ako papaya na magpa-boob job ka. Sinasabi ko lang. That didn’t matter, either. Din finally found her a perfect pair of tits. They better be a pair of white Cup Cs with large nipples for maximum pleasure!
“Kukunin ko na ‘to ah.”
He took the large metal bowl full of breast meat, thanking her as he went. Aly removed an armful of Cup A and Cup B breasts to the deep-frying station where she set up an extra drying rack. They usually fried the smaller breasts first; they were easier to prepare. Alan and another employee were seasoning the minced breast meat with pepper, salt, and Ajinomoto. Steaming hot and bubbling over, the Cup A and B breast meat browned in the deep fryer, a perfect replica. 200% human beef! Aly watched the first few orders go out.
Prep work finished, Aly stepped out of the production area. When she checked her mobile after three hours’ work, there was no text or missed call from Din.
“Ano ba ‘tong pinapakain niyo rito, ha?”
Aly heard the shouting when she moved to the managers’ office, the storage room. Sir Rick was pacifying an angry customer near the counters. A middle-aged woman in a thin pencil skirt, white lacy blouse, and black blunt flats shoved a burger towards him.
“Ma’m, I’m really very sorry but let me assure you this is real beef. 100% beef.” Sir Rick stood facing the customer and his back was turned so Aly never knew how calm he looked.
“Mukha ba akong tanga? Tignan mo. Hilaw pa yan, and it’s green, Mister Manager!”
Sir Rick peeled back the waxy paper. Half his crew stood watching as he inspected the sick-green, bruised flesh, half the nipple bitten off.
“We’ll give you a full refund, ma’m. Please calm down.”
“No! I will not calm down. How long have you been serving suspect meats? I’ve been eating here all year!”
Other customers stopped eating. The restaurant grew quiet.
“Please calm down, ma’m. This is an isolated incident.”
When Sir Rick didn’t answer, she threw the offending burger at him. With a wet flop, it stained his red uniform and dropped, dismantled, on the tiled floor. The breast bled milk. When Sir Rick turned around to retreat into his office, he caught Aly staring as she huddled near the backdoor.
At home, her fellow harvesters and Din were all asleep when she got home, shaken. Sir Rick refused to leave his office. As far as she knew, the crew were still waiting outside his door, most of them confused.
The Compound was a large house built to house offices, a large kitchen, and an even larger dining hall on its ground floor. Upstairs, six bedrooms and three bathrooms shared a dingy corridor that opened up to the family space kuya Bong used as yet another office. A small terrace beyond a pair of sliding doors overlooked the wide garden where kuya Bong spread double nets to catch breasts. In the city, they expected at least one good harvest a day. Once, they were taken unawares by three successive falls – one at dawn, the other in the afternoon, and one just before midnight.
The gate was unlocked. Kuya Bong remembered she hadn’t returned from a delivery. Bright, golden light jutted out from lampposts at regular intervals along their high wall. Their well-oiled nets gleamed, catching the glare. Like so many lines of fire, they ran across the grass and concrete. Once inside, she locked the front door.
Kuya Bong stood on the landing above her, arms crossed against his chest. “Tumawag si Sir Rick. Sinumbong ka. Iningles pa’ko.”
Her elder brother was a tall, thin, balding man whose large, vein-ridden hands reminded her of paddles. He had the distinction of being able to hold two Cup Cs in one hand. In his office, she sat on the couch beside a wall. The sliding doors were open; through the balustrades, she stared at the nets below.
“Humingi ako ng dispensa para sa’yo. Pero ayaw paawat ni Rick e.” Her brother sat on the edge of his desk – a low coffee table covered by thin glass whose carved legs creaked. Aly decided to ignore him. Instead, she thought about Din’s surprise, wondering where he kept them.
“Hoy, Aly. Makinig ka naman, o.”
Her cheek stinging from his slap, she nodded, hugging her knees. “Hindi ko naman sinadya, kuya. Nasama lang siguro noong pinaayos niya sa’kin yung order.”
“Buong restaurant narinig yung bangayan. Rush hour pa noon, Aly!” Her kuya ran a hand through his thinning hair.
“Anong gusto niyong gawin ko?” She shot back, frustrated.
Her kuya pointed at her chest. “Magbayad.”
At first, Aly didn’t understand. “Hindi natin mababalik ang nawalang customers.”
Hugging herself protectively, she shook her head. “Kuya, masamang biro yan!”
“Alam mo namang mas masarap pa rin ang karneng puro.”