The aroma of dried laurel leaves and ground black pepper always lured my senses to wake up from sleep. As I left our bedroom, the aroma became more pungent, hooking me in even more powerfully. My eyes would stumble on the plump, native chicken, now dressed, that my father had won during the local derby competition. They they panned toward the potatoes from my grandmother’s backyard, randomly diced. My father always teased my mother about her aimless way of butchering the potatoes.
My father would routinely joke about his god-tier cooking skills, but it was indisputable that his dishes were like divine interventions. My sister casually popped out from the bedroom and said, “Do you know Papa’s cheat code to have a delicious adobo? It’s the sugar; however, Knorr Cube is always the answer to his excellent recipes!” We laughed heartily at that.
Every weekend during my childhood, I thought I was damn lucky to be part of this family. But one Sunday morning, what awakened me was not the usual aroma of adobo cooking, but a fight between my parents. It was an intense one, with ultimatums flung in the air. Thereafter, our house that had previously seemed awash in color became a monochromatic haze.
I was wrong when I presumed that the only thing capable of changing in our lives was the size of my mother’s diced potatoes. The utter transformation in my family turned my world upside down, blasted by the reality that our family was not as perfect as I had perceived it to be. My eyes apparently picked only the wholesome moments in our lives. Happiness is ephemeral, I realized, and suffering is bound to strike you like lightning even during the brightest day.
It would turn out to be the longest and most excruciating six months of my young life. I thought about where I should direct my anger. I couldn’t blame my family, because my love for them still transcended all the hate possible in this twisted world. Instead, I blamed my innocence and ignorance for the bitter dish that life served me. I was angry that I had been oblivious the whole time. If emotional wounds could physically manifest, my body would have been full of battle scars at the time—but marks that I wouldn’t be proud of.
The only thing that kept me going were the treasured moments we had during weekends. Recalling these beautiful moments allowed me to hope somehow.
One day, after six torturous months, I was awakened by unfamiliar scents—thick peanut butter paste and bagoong alamang. I went to the kitchen and saw generous beef cuts that, I learned, had been sent over by my sister’s godmother. Beside them were precisely cut bok choy and eggplant from our backyard. And, to my astonishment, my father and mother side by side, working on the family meal together, my father praising my mother’s newly improved chopping skills.
My sister then asked me to prepare the dining table. While arranging the utensils, my sister jokingly asked my father, “Does this kare-kare have any Knorr Cubes, or perhaps Magic Sarap?” My father replied, “This time, our food has no cheat code or any flavor enhancers.”
On that Sunday morning, I was glad that our suffering as a family was over.
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Mea Nicola D. Alegre, 17, is a STEM senior high school student (Grade 12) at Ateneo de Naga University. She wants to be an orthopedic surgeon and perform pro bono surgeries.
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