By Virginia Jasmin Pasalo
IT was about ten o’clock in the evening and we were told that The Patio operates only until eleven. We had the option to go home, but his mother wanted to treat him to a good meal at the University Hotel where dining was recently expanded outdoors, among trees that allowed a magnificent view of the night sky.
Nahihilo ako sa lawak ng space. (I get dizzy in the vastness of space.)
You want us to move to the covered area?
“No, I will get used to it eventually. I used to be cramped together with more than 65 people in a four by six square meter room, with a very small window covered with thick iron grills. Fresh air refuses to get in there.”
After browsing over the menu that offered him a lot of choices, he settled for dinakdakan, an Ilocano dish traditionally consisting of grilled pork head parts cut into thin strips, mixed with slices of red onions, siling haba or siling labuyo chilis, ginger, black peppercorns and calamansi juice, with a creamy sauce made usually from pork brains, but now substituted with mayonnaise. His mother ordered sisig nachos. Sisig is a Pampanga dish composed of parts of the pork’s face (boiled and grilled), chopped into smaller parts compared to dinakdakan, then mixed with similar seasonings as dinakdakan (except for the pork brain or mayonnaise), usually served on a sizzling plate.
“Inside, we were fed with hard rice, cooked without separating bits of stone. Our viand normally consisted of boiled malunggay, without taste. Aside from this, they forcibly sell food, even if you do not like it. I pay, to avoid any trouble, and give to others.”
“Well, maybe it is part of the system, to make you not want to go back there, where you have no choice but to accept.”
“It could be more human, given that the objective is to reintegrate us back into normal life. When I left, most of them requested that we should write to the warden and suggest among other things, to prevent the forcible selling of goods that are not wanted, and to allow the entry of necessities that are cheaper outside. The price of goods inside are five times higher than outside. A cigarette stick sells for fifty pesos, often sold forcibly, even if you don’t smoke, like me. That’s wasted hard-earned money from my mother, which I reluctantly give away.”
A full dinner from one-month detention and four months in jail. When he finally got home, he took a very long deep breath, the fresh air he took for granted. At the small opening below the iron gate, Sun, his dog tried to push his nose to welcome him. Sun’s father Thooey, wagged his tail and both climbed up to him.
He slowly walked to his room, almost the size of the area where he and more than sixty-five people were cramped together, except that now, the space, with two wide open windows, was all his. The taste of freedom choked him to tears.
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