Friday, November 12, 2004

vignette: revisiting dragons in hinirang

I first began to hate my mother when I was three years old.

My family was host to an important official of the Tsino trader society, representing the mercantile interests of Diya al Din, a land in the mysterious southern reaches of Hinirang where no Ispancialo had ever set foot. My father had spent much time and gold wooing this man, with the intent of establishing stronger ties for the goods my family bartered.

For the entire duration of his stay, my mother was an unreasonable bundle of anxiety, running this way and that, making certain that every little thing was perfect. The appearance and smooth running of a household, then as now, was reflective of both my family’s worth and business acumen. Everything had to be pristine without the sign of any effort, as if such circumstances occurred every day without fail.

On the last day of the official’s visit, my mother prepared an extraordinary feast, thirty-six varieties of food with selections from the Tsino, Katao, Ispancialo and southern Hinirang cuisines. Each immaculate offering filled no more space than a saucer, so as not to dull the appetite.

One of the dessert dishes was made with my favorite duhat, a tartly sweet purple fruit the size of two thumbnails. As the adults ate and made conversation, I spotted the dish on a tray and fell to temptation. I ate one, two, seven pieces, before I realized what I had done. As dread stole up my spine, I ran to the vestibule and tried to wipe away the evidence of my crime, using the cloth closest to my stained hands. I thought myself free of any suspicion until I realized just what cloth I had used.

It was the formal silk over-robe of the official my family was entertaining. My handprints had marred the fabric, imprinting violence on the subtle sky blues, lavenders and grays.

When the official stood to leave after dinner and saw what had happened to his robe, he could barely repress his fury. My mother fell to her knees offering profuse apologies as my father ran after the angry official, whose unspoken curses were felt nonetheless.

After the ornate doors shut close, my mother turned to me slowly, flashing her dragon eyes. She stared at me for a moment then looked away as she picked herself up off the floor. But instead of saying something to me, she spoke to the servants who stood a distance away.

“Bring all the duhat we have in the kitchen, in the storeroom, in the pantry,” she instructed loudly. Within moments the servants returned with four large baskets brimming with the violet fruit.

My mother took the baskets and set them on the floor in front of me. I remember not understanding what was going to happen, wracked by tears of guilt that caused my entire body to shudder.

“You have brought shame to this house,” she told me, in a tone that defied any denial. With a quick motion she took a duhat and forced it into my mouth.

“Eat it.”

I struggled to chew, moving the fruit back and forth quickly between my teeth and spitting out the seed into my hands.

“You will eat until you realize the spirit of gluttony leaves this house, so eat this, and this!” She forced another into my mouth. And another. And another, her fingers relentlessly stuffing more and more between my lips until I lost count of how many I was trying to swallow. I choked and retched and wept but had to finish every single duhat contained in the four baskets.

When I still could not get out of my bed three days later, my father called for a doctor, but my mother told him it was obviously just a case of overeating.

Since then I have obeyed her, to the extent that my nature allowed me, like a good daughter. But she never had my love or my sympathy, even when my father died. Because my hate was strong and true, violet in its secret violence, and tart with the stench of overripe duhat.


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