A burger steak story | Inquirer Opinion
Young Blood

A burger steak story

I studied elementary in a typical public school in a small town. It’s a vibrant and sweaty memory, with sounds that ring clear in my head. I remember the long corridors buzzing with overlapping layers of noise. There’s the chatter of girls in green overall skirts and the snickers of boys in white polos, the voices of teachers as they tap-tap-tap pointing sticks against the charts on the walls, the hum of aging electric fans, the creak of wooden floors as people pass, the scrape of chalk against blackboards.

All of it plays asynchronously together, melded by the heat and echoes and magic of childhood memory.

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School was everything then. School was the outside world where all else existed outside the smallness of home. There was no internet at the tip of my fingers to tell me about the world beyond our house and Santo Rosario Elementary School. And so, adventures were made within those few hundred square meters. We had the usual kuba lore that we would frighten ourselves with, the standard Monday flag ceremony, and First Friday Mass to either dread or look forward to (depending on whether it allowed us to have a glimpse of our crushes or not), and, of course, the beloved classroom tray that was passed around for mid-day snacks.

I was more of a bring-your-baon kind of girl. Papa always made sure I had something to munch on and to drink at recess before he dropped me off for the day. Chocomallows with Yakult, pretzel with Chuckie, or Knick Knacks with a tetra pack of mango juice. Every day without fail, we bought my baon together and he always let me pick which variation it would be each time.

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On the days I had to stay the whole day at school, say for an afternoon EPP class or an extended day for MTAP, I always had an express delivery of fast food lunch. Papa was my personal delivery service guy before it was even cool, I now realize. And it was always something he knew I would love. Usually, that meant a burger steak meal — my childhood favorite.

At 22, this image of primary school has resided in my head for over a decade. It’s still as clear as day: that vision of my dad bringing me lunch, his big hand clutching a plastic bag with a smiling bee’s face on it.

I guess, when I was in elementary, Papa meant everything to me, too.

He would wake me and my siblings up at the crack of dawn and drive us to school in his tricycle. In my memory, those morning drives were always bitingly cold. At the end of each day, he would pick me up. He could get quite stern though, and would always have a frown on his face if, heaven forbid, I make him wait even a minute more than his patience for the day allowed. In all of my six years in elementary, I cannot recall a single day Papa did not drop me off and pick me up again from school.

But much after grade school, just before I stepped into college, Papa’s untarnished attendance in driving me to and from university started to taper off, until it was no longer a routine he kept sacred. It was my turn then to be the one to bring food for Papa during his “classes.”

I was 15 when Papa was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease.

He had to undergo dialysis treatment two to three times per week. Given the frequency of his sessions, it became a family running joke that this was his equivalent of school. Each time I was his designated companion, I would be in charge of buying or preparing food for us two during those four-hour periods as he sat hooked to a dialysis machine. Curiously enough, I don’t think Papa and I ever ate burger steak together, even once, when he was still in treatment.

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Back when Papa had to be my personal chauffeur for school, I never heard a single complaint from him for doing his driver slash food delivery duties. I wish I could say the same for myself when it came time to return the favor. These regrets come too late though, as they say. And for this reason, I do my best to focus on my best memories with my father, even if it sometimes means reminiscing moments as far back as elementary school.

Nowadays, I can’t say I’m still fond of ordering burger steak. Maybe it’s because I’ve eaten more than my share of it when I was a kid. But whenever I do happen to get a taste of burger steak again, for a brief moment, I’m taken back to the time when Papa was here, always with a pasalubong that he knew I would be excited for.

How silly, I know, to be crying over burger patties in gravy. Papa must be shaking his head at me in heaven.

* * *

Jhuniella Aira Salalac, 22, is a public relations practitioner. Though she has learned to cope with grief, there are days when she still finds herself reeling from the loss of a parent.

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