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How a mother survives the lockdown

LODESTAR - Danton Remoto (The Philippine Star) - March 13, 2021 - 12:00am

Every morning, the mother will repeat this line after waking up, “We’re better off than a million others. At least we have fried fish and tomatoes for breakfast and my husband works as an overseas Filipino worker in Saudi Arabia.” Then she will rise from bed, wash her face and mouth, proceed to pour vegetable oil into the frying pan. She will let the lard sputter and quiet down. Now the lard is hot and she can begin frying the dried fish.

After frying the fish, she will flatten a head of garlic, cut into small pieces, put into the pan and then follow this with last night’s rice. She will sprinkle salt to taste. Then, she will wake up the only child, now a teenager having his share of sulky days. She will tell him to wash up and then sit before the breakfast table. She will fill his plate with rice enough to last until snack time.

She will get the quarantine pass from the village chief, in the village hall painted green. She will bring her red umbrella to shield her from the hot sun. She will buy one dozen eggs and 20 pieces of fried fish cut butterfly style; she will buy canned goods. She will buy minced meat, not whole meat. She will use the minced meat sparingly, just enough so that their mung-bean stew would somewhat taste of meat.

She will look around her workplace to check which item was not yet being sold. This lockdown will be over soon, or so she always told herself, and she has to think of the future. She could go back to selling things after the lockdown. In her elementary school, almost everything was already being sold by the public-school teachers: sweet meats of tocino and longganisa, clothes and decorative items of angels painted pink.

On the way home, she would ask for cassava leaves from Mareng Mely who lived around the corner. Old Woman Mely thought that she would give them to the children in the neighborhood, to play with. They would break the thin, green-red stems into inch-long strips, the tough skin hanging on, and the strips of stem could be turned into instant necklaces, with the star-shaped leaves as pendant. But no, the cassava leaves could be simmered in coconut milk flavored with shrimp paste.

Finally it’s Monday night. She did not want to watch television again, for the President stutters when he speaks, addled by the painkillers he is taking to alleviate the spasms and stabs of pain in his body. Like a bat he always holds his weekly press conferences at night, when the hour has struck 12, and his face can be seen on television, his voice heard on the radio.

The last time she watched him he seemed to be afloat on an orange cloud, suspended in another intersection of the time-space continuum. He intoned: “Take from someone dead. From someone who has died of this mother-f*** COVID-19 virus. Why did this virus happen under my watch? Take blood from a dead man and inject it into a horse. You inject the infected blood slowly into the horse, not suddenly but slowly, because the horse might get the virus of COVID-19. You inject the blood slowly until the horse is immune. When there are already many antibodies in the horse, plenty of it has passed through the horse. It is like the bite of a snake. Really, it is like the bite of a cobra and we have many cobras where I come from. But I did not know that many of the cobras there have already moved here, in the capital city. You can see them yakking all around you. These are the cobras who are doing nothing. They are just waiting to bite. They will open their dangerous mouths just to be able to bite, just to be able to say something. Really, these sons and daughters of whores have done nothing for this country. All I want is for all of them to die.”

But before the noisy President could see his enemies die one by one, the mother had already beaten him to the draw. She grabbed the black remote control, pressed the red button aflame like the eye of an angry beast, pressed it hard, and darkness swallowed the visage of the President.

She says a prayer to calm her down, but still, she feels ashes on her tongue. Suddenly she is tired. She will draw a deep, deep sigh (a mother is a lifeline and the rope should not break). Her husband was working as an overseas Filipino worker thousands of miles away, in deepest, hottest Riyadh. They could only communicate through free phone calls in Messenger, but the calls now get cut more often, their voices just drop and vanish in the void.  The distance would spread between them like a desert. Her heart would thud heavily in her chest.

There are still many days before this lockdown will end: how many medical personnel have died from lack of protective gear, the farmers in La Trinidad Valley are throwing their harvest of carrots and potatoes into the deep ravines, for lack of transportation to the markets in the lowlands. The sirens, she should sleep now before the sirens begin to wail again in the darkest night, bringing the sick and the dying to the crowded hospitals. She holds her rosary tightly, the one her own mother gave her. She will turn the brown beads in her fingers as she prays to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, to save her and her son, her relatives and friends, the whole helpless archipelago from this virus that she cannot see.

She will try to fall asleep, and then  she will repeat this daily life when morning comes through, again.

*      *      *

Danton Remoto’s latest book is Riverrun, A Novel, published by Penguin Random House South East Asia, available in Shopee and globally through amazon.com

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