05 Mayo 2012

Breaking Fast

For Jone, breakfast meant two fruits eaten hurriedly in the bus on the way to school. He took a bite of his apple as each busmate clambered aboard, their strollers smacked against the welded steel step, each note hung and rippled in the 6am air, still cool and untroubled with adult panic. Today, when he unzipped his lunchbox, he found two fist-sized fruits, roughly shaped like apples.

Still alone in, Jone unwrapped the fruits as he lurched with the hulking school bus towards the near-empty highway. But when he saw what his mother packed for breakfast, he cocked his head, his eyes wide and disbelieving. The hair on his arms froze and frizzled with tension and excitement because what he held in his hands, no boy his age had ever tasted.

The round thing collapsed on his lap, still damp and slick from the harvest, and between forefinger and thumb, Jone squeezed it gently, the bright film of skin suddenly concave and he held a small crescent moon in his hands, cradling it against the flesh of his thumbs. It must be damped, Jone mused, from the rain last night. His mother had finished burying the last meat bags of fertilizer late last night. He had seen the slim rope from which his mother hung the dung bags to dry and the brown, flat grass she killed walking in circles half the night. When she finally settled down beside him, Jone had felt large red ants crawl down his neck and, peacefully, out the window.

Good night, anak. Jone's mother whispered before closing her eyes. Jone remembered asking, san na si Pa? His father's habit of coming home later than promised had become a constant source of arguments whispered during Saturday morning breakfast, before Jone was supposed to wake up. He heard it all, anyway. Their voices trailed from the kitchen into the family bedroom where Jone slept with one ear pressed into the pillow, an arm thrown over his head.

Wala pa siya. But Jone had heard the crunch of gravel, his mother's furious hissing like a covered iron pot lid trembling above boiling stew; the tinkling sound of his mother's hysterics outside in the lawn had long ago woven itself into Jone's experience of domestic life, early on established as the herald to his father's arrival. Still, he didn't fall asleep. He heard a curious clunking sound -- something metallic and heavy upon something blunt and large.

It wasn't strange that his mother attended to her favorite garden at all hours of the day or night. In fact, it was typical and therapeutic. It kept the crazy outside, concentrated among the weeds and the drying grass. It was among his mother's tall fruit trees that bore his breakfast everyday. Jone's mother regularly hung bags of meat to attract bats, moths, and cats, believing that the trees needed the company. The sack of meat sometimes thudded against the window panes, squelching when it rained, picked clean by the bats and the cats. But the trees never failed to flower and provide sweet fruit so Jone never questioned his mother's peculiar gardening techniques. 

Jone quietly shoved the thing back into his lunchbox. It was ripe and he should probably eat it soon but it had begun to rain and he looked out the window, counting the cars stuck in traffic. They had only picked up three other busmates and they were all preoccupied with the storm. Outside, he watched another busmate upon the shoulder of his tall father. The rain and wind only blasted more insistently, rocking the bus on its wheels. The air soured, pungent with the smell of the old plastic, a tire waiting in the corner, school books and paper, and Jone could smell everyone's breath in each of his own. His busmate's father opened the door of the school bus and pushed their busmate in. Another stroller quickly followed and with the cold wind and strangely sweet rain on his cheeks, Jone quietly watched the older man stride back to his house. Their bus rumbled on.

 Matulog ka na. When she turned away from him, Jone could no longer sleep or ignore the curiosity. Akala ko narinig ko na siya, Jone said to his mother as he lay tucked in bed, his arms aching from growing bones, and his feet snug underneath two pillows. Nasa baba siya, pero di yata siya matutulog dito.Jone's mother tucked him against her. She smelled like honey and vinegar, the curious, thick liquid she gulped before sleeping and directly after waking.

Jone felt his stomach growl. He had been hugging his lunchbox to his chest but he had to eat his breakfast. His mother would scold him later on if he did not. Gulping sour air, he took the first clumsily rewrapped fruit in his hands and peeled back the tissue paper. His mother must have plucked it straight off the tree, hacked it clean with one of her long, shrewd, sharp knives. It resembled a dwarfed santol in his hands and the giant eyeball glistened wetly. Jone would have liked to show it off but he felt it slipping in his fingers, sticky from some sweet paste he guessed must have been honey. When he bit into it, it tasted almost exactly like almonds and it melted in his mouth like gelatin.

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