Photo of dried fish "tuyo" on a plate.

“Hand-To-Mouth Existence: An Interpellation Of Sorts”

Photo of cooked white rice on a plate

You love to cook. You know, the way a jumble of ingredients, chopped and sliced and minced, puts you at ease somehow. It draws you into that suspended, magical hold where endless possibilities may yet unfold.

Ideas arrive swarming into your brain–how you might blend in the staple fusion of garlic, onion, and ground paminta with the solid, bland goodness of steamed white rice; how you could recreate that delicious aroma of love by adding a dash of sugar to the usual adobo sauce; how the smell of yeast conjures a tempting twist to Mama’s basic pancake mix.

Oh, you love to add a pinch of this and a spoonful of that to the traditional; thereby, inventing something new out of the old. If only you had more barya to funnel into the usual, paltry budget, you think you’d be able to cook much better food.

Food. That primary necessity that seems to appear always lacking for you and your family, nowadays. How you wish it were different and that life could be made more comfortable, if only a miracle happens very soon.

Now, you have rice. Mama was able to make utang a few kilos of it. Everyone’s overjoyed, of course. One problem solved, you all exclaim. No one’s going to sleep with the pervasive pangs of hunger tonight.

A few pieces of tuyo–that Filipino dried fish that actually suffuses the whole house with its infamous aroma, once it’s fried. It announces its presence, even to passersby and neighbors outside.

Photo of dried fish or tuyo on a plate
Dried fish or tuyo on a plate.

You’re happy, though, and you praise the Lord for the rare gift of sustenance. Grateful, you pour some cane vinegar into a little bowl and make a little side dish of tomatoes and sibuyas steeped in a bit of bagoong.

Instead of slicing the tomatoes that Mama surprisingly found growing in the garden this morning, you decide to tear them into bits–a trick your Lola taught you which, she proclaims, makes the supple fruit sweeter than when sliced into pieces by knife.

Then, you all gather around the dining table. Sans enough money to pay the electric bill, you have to make do with the flickering kandila. Dinner by candlelight, your daughter laughingly announces. Although, everyone’s just glad that there’s food on the table and so no one complains about the surrounding darkness.

Lately, your thoughts are filled to brimming with possible concoctions of this and that and this. Like, what if you had some meat–any meat for that matter? Chicken, pork, or even just fish may do. You’d cook it with spices. Curry powder, gata, a dash of patis, and a pound of ginger will do the trick.

Your mouth waters and you pray that you be given something soon. Anything will do, you think. A job that may produce some much-needed compensation–that’s what you really hope for, in fact.

Yet, your luck still seems far off. So, you intend to find more ways in order to make do with what you have. Although, you don’t have anything else. Even the malunggay tree in the front yard has stopped producing leaves for weeks.

Fortunately, the monsoon rains have commenced. Thus, you don’t need to worry about water for now. Though, you still wish for some fund-raising scheme and so you plan to inquire about projects that you can possibly do in order to produce some money.

Money to buy food, that is. It’s all you ever think about, these days. If only there were available jobs for you, right now. Yet, the scarcity of that precious gift forces you to squeeze your brain for more applicable solutions.

No matter. Another day has been survived. The tummy quiets down for a night, at least. Perhaps, tomorrow will mean another surprise.

You pray and you pray, convincing yourself that help is on its way. Yes, you’re at that tremulous point of desperation where everything feels like a matter of life-and-death. But then hope, as they declare, springs eternal.

Hence, you decide to cease thinking of food and money and work. You cross your fingers and thank God, instead, for the blessing of today.

Eventually, you get into your kawayan bed. The chirping of kulisaps intensifies as the world gives in to night. The warty karags sing a cacophonous concert in your neighbors’ rice fields outside. You finally close your eyes and heed the restful call of dreams.

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