The man in front of me was massaging his face using a fine-toothed comb. He hardly had a mustache, in fact it was a poor excuse for one, so I wondered if the intense grooming was for the purpose of growing more of it. I thought about how it might feel to have facial hair on my lip, if it would tickle my nose and how it would smell. I pointed my lips forward as if to sniff an imaginary mustache, but smelled only the distinct aroma of Chickenjoy.
I’ve learned not to do a double-take when a sensation reminds me of home, because other things might very well produce the same kind of stimulus. Brooklyn’s KFC (Kennedy Fried Chicken) probably used the same frying oil, and why would there be Chickenjoy, a Filipino fast food dish, on my packed downtown Q train?
Right then a man beside me ruffled his bags and drew my eyes to his feet. They were cradling a bucket of my childhood favorite fried chicken in a bag labeled Jollibee. (For the uninformed, some trivia: McDonald’s is the top fast food chain in every country in the world except for the Philippines, where an overly jolly bee is the mascot of a burger and chicken joint called Jollibee.) The bearer had just come from the Jollibee in Queens, the first in New York.
“Is the Chickenjoy any good?” I asked in Tagalog to strike up conversation.
“Oh! I didn’t know you were Filipino,” the man responded.
I laughed and repeated my question. Ronnie said he just came from his shift as a fry cook at the restaurant, where he makes Chickenjoy all day.
“How about you, Ma’am? Where do you work?”
I was embarrassed at the automatically applied term of reverence, but did not correct him. I answered him, learning in return that he was going to his second job at a Colombian restaurant in Brooklyn. He said that the chef there was a fan of the Filipino-style chicken pieces, fried naked to an unparalleled crispiness that cannot be achieved by the use of batter, coatings, or soaking in buttermilk (“Batter-whattt?!” a Pinoy cook would say.)
“This is for them,” Ronnie said.
“Come visit the store sometime and ask for me in the kitchen,” he went on, although I knew that Jollibee had been open for years and I never had the urge to go.
Maybe I was afraid to find out that what I remembered too fondly didn’t taste so good anymore. Or maybe I’d learn that it did, that I actually missed it, but that it would never taste right in New York.
A response to the Creative Exercise : Travel Companion
Jane and Mia always touched each other. It wasn’t necessarily romantic or sensual, but it was some form of comforting contact, as if they needed each other for reassurance every few minutes, the way a talisman is rubbed for strength or good luck.
Mia had long arms that could wrap around Jane twice in an expert grip. They covered Jane’s entire body the way a boa would if it ate an elephant whole in a Saint-Exuperie fashion, but without the choke hold.
Jane enjoyed being entangled in Mia, bound by her limbs and secured by them the way a belt does for a body in a vehicle’s seat. Mia wrapped Jane like a present, collecting loose ends and covering exposed areas, enjoying all parts of the ritual – a blanket for paper and arms and legs like the bows that found each other’s ends and tied knots taut for safe measure.
It seemed maternal, this swaddling of an otherwise independent adult. Mia wrapped Jane so diligently as if her life dependent on it, because truth be told it really did. Each stroke and knot, each pull and grip – to Mia these were the physical manifestations of how Jane actually kept her together. In securing Jane, Mia allowed no space for things to rattle or seep through, between them but mostly within her, where things were often flying, fighting for air, waiting for their turn to be shown.
It was as comforting to the apparent comforter, as separate and different as they seemed, their touches were reminders to each other of what they needed, and who they needed when they stepped out into the world undone.
A response to the creative exercise “Relationships”
CAT nodded. Although a small eater, her excellent hunting skills made her notorious — especially in Asia, where women are expected to be submissive, pale and skinny. That’s why she plays with her food a lot, sometimes skips them altogether. She can’t help the killing, but she can at least watch her weight.
Men keep telling her to stop the killing, saying it is cruel. There is no need to hunt. They would feed her and even dress her up. They promise her a good life thereafter, as long as she listens. She doesn’t trust them. Men change. Her claws and teeth stay. She constantly hones the skills she will need back on the street.
She usually kills behind their backs, sweeping the remains under the carpet or the dishwasher to save them the screaming and pretentious mourning at the crime scene. They can’t even sue her. Cats are not liable for murders in court.
“Men need someone to blame for the wrongs of the world. They are probably just jealous. You should be proud,” CAT told SHARK.
The boatman picked me up at the dock when the sun was still busy trading sob stories with the leftover stragglers at the bar. The water, dark purple with slivers of pink and chrome, was split by the keel of the palm boat, painted blue and white but appeared gray to my squinted eyes that morning. I didn’t get any sleep because Marco snored all night. He does this when he’s had too much to drink. When this happens I usually spend the night in the study, but while on vacation in an obscure backpacker’s resort, there was no refuge. I wasn’t interested in heading outside to watch the other tourists head off in pairs to their rooms.
I told Marco the previous day that he wouldn’t be able to get up for our planned island expedition, but he insisted on booking the trip anyway. After my hasty scrambling didn’t even interrupt the tornado in his throat, I left with a few pesos, a magazine, a pack of Spanish rolls and my sunglasses, and met Puding, a dark, quiet and bearded man, and boarded his wobbly boat.
“Empty Your Pockets”
Illustration by Kanako Shimura
Text by Shakira Sison
(a CreativationSpace collaboration)
On the ride to the barrio I thought about the nearby river and how strange the mud felt between my toes as a child. During a summer at my nanny’s house when I was ten, a nephew of hers picked me up one morning with his carabao to take a ride to the river. When we got there, I jumped in from the bank and swam to the other end where all the children had all gathered, looking like they were reaching down for something stuck in the mud.
Someone raised his hand and screamed that he had found an oyster. Another pair of hands approached with a knife and shucked the shell open, and yet another pair grabbed it from the shucker and handed it to me.
“Eat it,” he said.
I did, feeling the warm mollusk meat kiss my throat before I gagged and spat it out, washing out my mouth with water. They laughed and swam away.
I got sick that night and my nanny fanned me with a piece of cardboard, lathering my tummy with aciete de manzanilla in methodical circular strokes.
In the car on the way to her house decades later, the thought in my head was of her hands on my belly, taking my aches away. I closed my eyes until we arrived.
But something was wrong. Her house was brightly lit and buzzing with people in a solemn hum. When I got out of the car, a man was weeping outside…
In response to the creative prompt Coming Home.
“It is a strange thing to come home. While yet on the journey, you cannot at all realize how strange it will be.” – Selma Lagerlof