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Rice
a short story from
the 2005 Global Filipino Literary Award - Fiction

Seasons by the Bay
with an introduction by Vince Gotera

T'boli Publishing and Distribution, San Francisco, CA.
tiboli@comcast.net
©2004

During the five years that he would spend in British Columbia, he noticed gradually that when he was with his friends his age, he felt old; alone he was still
a boy.

Breakfast was the most different of all. He remembered that he awoke then to the smells of seasons in the air, and at no time of the day were smells of seasons more distinct than those at breakfast. The mornings of Vancouver, British Columbia told him he was now on foreign land, now by a very different Bay, English Bay, and for a long time afterwards the buzz of radiators and rank odor of furniture in heat steered his memories towards that Vancouver tenement that they rented on Thurlow Street.

He was given toast or cereal (instead of rice), jelly, jam, eggs, sausages, and fresh milk (he hated the taste of that) warmed because it was too cold outside and his mother said that they were not used to it. His father stood in the corner every morning making their lunch with the same bland, permeating tastelessness. His brother and sister got used to it quickly because his sister was still too young and his brother was already old enough for sudden changes. It took him three years to even just tolerate it. But for no one did anything ever replace rice, though not everyone admitted that.

When he was a boy—well, he was still kind of a boy then, just turned fourteen, but oftentimes he did not feel it anymore. Maybe he was a different kind of boy already. During the five years that he would spend in British Columbia, he noticed gradually that when he was with his friends his age, he felt old; alone he was still a boy. He felt this way for a long time after, too. Even when they moved into another area by the bay, San Francisco. He remembered the two places sounded alike at night because of many foghorns blowing and would not give him peace because it got to a point that he kept hearing them or thought he kept hearing them and when he awoke fully to give his complete attention to the horns anticipating it, so that he would be sure what it was he had just heard, the sound would never come, and he would forget what it was that sound reminded him of, the image would never crystallize and his sleep would be troubled throughout the rest of the early mornings.

Back home when he was a boy, there were no seasons, only rainy or dry. But there were a thousand different kinds of mornings in those two seasons. There, you did not wake up smelling the morning and from that detect the season, no. There, you woke up smelling the thousand different kinds of dawn, and looking out your sea-shelled window, hear the sun rising, struggling to be born. From this aura you could tell what kind of day it was going to be. Each awakening was a season.

And whenever he could find opportunity...he would take no chances and get up early...and scarf up some rice,
the forbidden rice...

And it was in this ritual and atmosphere of breakfast that he felt the most difference. For his father would fix their lunch. And it would be some kind of sandwich, devilled ham or some spread, just like the rest of the people in school. He tried to eat it, stuff it somehow into his mouth, but after a month finally told his father he could stomach it no more. It never filled him and he didn’t like it and never would for it took away the pleasure of eating already and he wanted the pleasure also not just the substance. “You’re in America now. Go on, you can do it. It’s good for you. Better for you. See how big the boys here are?”

So he would have to trick his father again, outsmart him again. And whenever he could find opportunity, when his father would turn up to do the cooking, go to the bathroom, leave the room, or if just in case his father would not do any of these, he would take no chances and get up early, extra early when no one is up yet and scarf up some rice, the forbidden rice, and some ulam—adobo, paksiw, sarsyado, toyo, anything that his mother cooked for her lunch or last night’s leftover. She made sure there were always leftovers (seconds were forbidden because they were for tomorrow) and a spoon, then stuff it in a bag hurriedly, hide the sandwiches behind the toaster or behind the toilet, and rush outside feeling his mother’s knowing and warm gaze of goodbye on his back.

“Where did he go? He left already?” his father coming out of the bathroom would ask. “The stubborn idiot left his sandwich again! I get up extra early to cook for these children and what do I get? A slap of ingratitude! He keeps leaving his lunch . . . I’ll have to talk to that—”

“Let the boy eat what he wants,” this from the woman his mother coming out of the kitchen, pliant but firm, to her husband at the door. “You are starving him already. Look how thin he is.”

© Oscar Peñaranda

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2005 Global Filipino Literary Award for Fiction
Rice
by Oscar Peñaranda

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by Victoria Kapauan-Gaerlan

Lagim 4
ni Conrad Tolosa, Jr.
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