My parents have a rather unconventional setup.
They may be living separate lives now, but during the past three years or so, Dad has been coming back to our house in Cubao to have lunch. He drops by every Friday, the day when almost all of his kids are out. I sometimes see him either arriving or leaving the house. I have since forgiven him for all his shortcomings as a husband and father, for I witnessed how messed up their relationship was back when they were still living under the same roof. I was also the first to know about his affair, so only God knows how deep was the grudge I bore against him all those years.
It’s been a long time, though, since that dark period of our lives. The dust had settled and we, his children, have learned to accept the fact that he has abandoned not just the family, but more importantly, his wife, who, despite all his wrongdoings, stood by him and kept the promise she made to the law of God and the law of man that day they exchanged vows.
But the old stone church in Old Manila where they got married is a bit notorious for hosting weddings under delusions of grandeur, only for them to go down the drain a decade or so later.
What puzzles me these days is that it seems like Mom is always looking forward to Fridays. Early in the morning she goes to the market to shop for fresh goods, from vegetables to meat and fish, and once she returns home she gets her hands busy preparing a scrumptious feast. There are even times when she serves special dishes we never knew she could make. I once saw her prepare chicken galantina, morcon, and beef rendang. We are all aware that she is a good cook, but when asked where she learned to make these dishes, she’d wink and say: “blame it on YouTube.”
Today is a Friday, and since I am on a sick leave, I chanced upon her doing her business in the kitchen. She likes to listen to the radio while cooking, and today is not only special because her guest is coming, but also because it’s “flashback Friday,” where the best of the ‘80s hits are dominating the airwaves. Very timely, I thought, for the ‘80s were the years when we were all conceived.
“Mother,” I sit on a chair by the dining table as she chopped on the veggies. “What are you making?”
“Pinakbet and lechonpaksiw,” she answers. “Your father’s coming.”
I already know that, I want to say. But I cannot just curb her enthusiasm that’s almost nearing to that of a girl going giddy over her gradeschool crush.
“Mother,” I place my elbows on the table, my chin resting on my knuckles. “Can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” she says nonchalantly. “What about?”
“Uhm,” I utter, but the song playing on the radio begins to distract my train of thought. She also starts singing along to the popular tune, Roxette’s ‘It Must Have Been Love.’
“Mother!” I raise my voice in a joking manner.
“What?” she exclaims back. “What’s your question?”
“It’s like this,” I turn the volume down a bit. “It’s about Dad.”
“What about your father?” she still hasn’t looked up to me yet.
“Well,” I am trying to find the right words to use, knowing her current mood. “We all know that you two have long been separated, but why does he come here during Fridays? I mean, why are you exerting effort to cooking him all these fancy meals? Can’t his mistress cook? I’m sure she can, but…”
“He realized I’m the better cook,” she looks at me and smiles.
“Mother naman eh,” I squint my eyes in frustration. “I want to understand. This man hurt you many times. He left us. He beat you to a pulp whenever he came home drunk, and it’s only you who didn’t want to press charges. He chose that cheap tramp over you.”
“The things you learn in law school,” she laughs while sautéing the vegetables. “Don’t start with me. But okay, let me tell you something.” She adds the broth to the vegetables and lowers the fire to let the dish go through a slow simmer. After rubbing her hands using a washcloth, she sits on the chair in front of me. “Peanuts?”
I take a bowl of roasted peanuts and start munching.
“Men are never men,” she says in a tone that reminds me of David Attenborough’s documentaries. “They are and will always be boys. Your dad is a boy, and so are your brothers. And as boys, they easily get bored.”
“When I first learned that your dad was having an affair, I asked myself what went wrong between us,” her voice turns sullen. “Was I getting ugly? Was I starting to stink? Was I already that fat? Had I not been taking care of him all those years? Those were really tough days, you know. I’d cry in the bathroom so none of you would hear me. I had to hide my bruises whenever he hit me after an argument, so that you wouldn’t worry. I had to pretend that everything’s normal, so you kids would grow up normal.”
I remember those years. I was in high school then. Dad was always out and each time he came home he was drunk. Mom would dress up to the nines and wait for him to arrive, but it was either she would end up sleeping on the couch in vain or she would attend to a drunkard who was quick to lay a hand on her. We’d wake up in the middle of the night to see her receiving an uppercut, all because she asked why he arrived so late. One time I saw her sobbing after finding a lip stain on Dad’s polo shirt, and that fateful noche buena when she accidentally found a pair of gold earrings in the pocket of his trousers, only to find out that it was his Christmas present for his mistress.
It was after my high school graduation when Dad finally packed his bags and left our home. I saw Mom crying in the kitchen, right on the very same spot where she is sitting now.
For many days she was distraught. None of us in the household could talk to her. She just kept herself in the room she shared with Dad, silently staring at the window during the day and weeping in the middle of the night.
But on one September day, it seemed like she snapped out of her bubble and turned into a different person. She came out of the room looking fresh and radiant, as if nothing happened in those moons of despair. She started the morning by making us breakfast, and then worked on the chores, and by afternoon she asked me to accompany her to the mall. She went shopping for new clothes.
At first I thought it was just her way of coping from the pain of being abandoned, but the clothes had another purpose. Mom was planning to go on a job hunting adventure with those outfits, and it was not long after a small firm took her in. She soon became a busy office girl, but she still made time to attend to not just our needs, but also to give Dad stern warnings over the phone about our sustento.
She wasn’t the nagger type, nor was she keen on pressing charges against him. It didn’t even seem to cross her mind to file for annulment. At the same time, Mom never spoke about Dad and the demise of their marriage to anybody, not even to us.
It was only when all of us have graduated college when she started to relax a bit, and now she prepares Friday lunches for the man who nearly brought her to her wit’s end. That is why it baffles me, her eldest child, as to how she manages to welcome him to our house with glee. Have they reconciled? Has she forgiven him? Has she gone weak? Is their story now included inthe “Alamat ng PokMaru” anthology, if ever there is such collection?
It would break my heart to know if the answer to all my questions would be a “yes.” Dad had hurt us, not just her but me and my brothers too. When he left, she not only lost a husband; we lost a father too. He may have continued to be a good provider for his children, but his decisions left us broken for many years. I don’t know if those wounds have already healed, but I am sure they’ve left deep scars.
“And then I realized that as a boy, your Dad would want someone that’s young and beautiful. Or someone who’d look and think the part, like his secretary, Daphne,” she continues, chuckling. “But women grow up and grow old. Have you seen Daphne these days?”
I shake my head, laughing at what she just said.
“You may want to check Facebook,” she suggests. “Anyway, your Dad said while Daphne is good at many things, she’s not as good as a cook as I am. He told me about this predicament when we attended Junior’s graduation three years ago, so I said why not he come by the house for lunch? It soon became a regular thing, so here we are now.”
“Seriously, Mother?” I gasp for air while feeling this low-key shock towards what her explanation. “You’re doing this all because he said so?”
“He deserves a scrumptious meal every once in a while,” she tells me while laying down the freshly cooked lechonpaksiw and pinakbet on the table. The pinakbet looks really tasty, especially the bagoong that she sautéed with lots of chili peppers. “After all, he’s stuck with a girl who only serves him adobo for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
We then hear the doorbell ring. He’s here, just in time for lunch.
“Let him in, dear,” she says to me. “And be nice. Your father’s got hypertension. He says he’s been feeling woozy these days because his blood pressure’s been jumping up and down.”
I feel the chill run down my spine after hearing say those words. My eyes prance from the mouthwatering cholesterol-laced dishes on the table towards her as she does her last minute grooming fixes.
As I head towards the gate I hear her play a song from her favorite female singer, who shot to fame with her semi-eponymous album, “Martika’s Kitchen.” I then realize that it’s the same song she plays whenever Dad arrives for lunch, somewhat her opening theme to a ritual that’s been going on for many Fridays now.
Love, thy will be done. G