Saturday, May 15, 2010


THE FLY that walked like an underwater trapeze artist in my “utan Bisaya” transformed lunch into a spectacle in the south of Cebu, but I am getting ahead of my story.

When my mother sent us off on an errand late last week, we welcomed the break.

After the view outside the bus window exchanged walls jaded with campaign hangover for open spaces, I realized how toxic the city had become for weeks, even months.

The hubby thrives on long drives. I am enamored with sleepy towns.

But it must be a hard and fast rule that the sleepier the town, the more tumultuous the local hates and loves.

Politics had not yet released from its grip the towns we passed but there were signs of life, ordinary and uneventful and timeless, resuming.

When the mid-morning sun became too fierce and penetrated the tinted windows of the bus to blaze on the shiny hairless pate emerging from the seat before me, the passenger pulled close the shades.

The panorama I was savoring was drastically reduced to a sliver.

Yet my luck held out because that narrow view served like a camera’s eyepiece, sharpening details I would otherwise have ignored or missed.

So, while taking a curve in Carcar that’s a chokepoint for traffic because of a nearby mall, I espied a roadside shop. The trade of the owner had something to do with glass and aluminum, the latter being a material I have an intense apathy to.

Arranged on a window sill were three or four miniature buses. There was a crude handmade look to the forms. Dangling from a peg was a skewed hand-lettered sign advertising toys for sale.

Our bus flashed by. The view of bright paint and miniature details resembling the real buses plying the southern trail so electrified my mind’s eye, it felt as if I were a kid gazing up at the toy buses, silently willing my parents to buy one and make it mine.

Whose were the hands that made these toys? What compels those hands to craft toys when cheap imports and noisy gadgets flood the market and minds of kids? Who found deliverance in aluminum?

A side trip to Simala introduced us to the business side of pilgrimages.

In a roadside bakery, we looked for bread that was either hot or did not host a game of soccer for bluegreen-bellied flies. The siopao seemed like a tasty candidate.

Anticipating the steaming white mounds with their sweet asado, we were surprised when the bakery attendant suddenly stabbed each siopao with the tip of a catsup dispenser. She then handed over our siopaos, looking unharmed except for a red dot.

When I next glanced at my husband, he gave me a ghastly red grin. Mine outTwilighted his. Given the crowds flocking this formerly sleepy side road, now the intersection leading to a local shrine, the bakery must have created the catsup injections to cut on cost and waste.

This hands-free enjoyment also benefits diners competing with flies divebombing anything made of flour and butter.

Some flies, though, beat the competition by going amphibious.

For late lunch, we stopped by a roadside place that had the local equivalent of an extremely rare three-star Michelin rating: there were enough customers to reassure that the food was safe for humans but not too many diners to keep us waiting, drinking the dust and fumes of passing traffic.

Fried food is comfort food for anyone born in this country. When you’re on the road, though, fried food is often displayed in a cage where the sociable flies are playing a hard game of pingpong or he-said-she-said.

So we opted to order dishes ladled from the covered cauldrons. While I was about to take a first sip, I saw a fly dive into our soup. It made no sound at all, making me presume the fellow had been practicing quite a bit.

When my husband asked me why I was smelling the soup, I told him I was following Hairy Houdini traipse along the leafy green stems. In the clear broth, the confident fellow crawled over a submerged leaf, from end to end, before disappearing under.

I looked around, surprised by the absence of applause. Everyone was eating. I picked up my fork and spoon. Death by drowning in a sleepy town reminded me of my own mortality but at least I wasn’t eating vegetables for a last meal.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 16, 2010 “Matamata”

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