Tender is the Flesh

FEU Advocate
November 06, 2023 08:55

“Aling Hannah is the best! You gotta try her food, man!” 

“Delicious, and the portion sizes are crazy.” 

“I’m definitely never eating anywhere else now.” 

“I’m so hungry. Can we go to Aling Hannah’s?” 

“Let’s go to Aling Hannah’s.”

“Aling Hannah is the best.”

Behind my face mask, I grin. What a wonderful feeling this is: to give love and be loved in return.

Another student comes in front of the queue. Today’s menu are chicken adobo, sinigang na baboy, and some tortang giniling. My special mechado is never absent, sitting in its prized location in the display. The steam rises; a constant fog settles on the glass, painting the yellow-clad students duller.

But the dullness wears away once they see my stall. Relieved smiles illuminate their weary faces. It fills my heart with joy to see them enjoying the food I prepared, savoring the hard work that comes with it. With joy comes love. It almost feels natural.

I thought I’d never love again after Clarice. I used to cook for her; she loved that I knew what she liked. Every breakfast, every lunch, and every dinner—for all of our decades together, I was there to provide, to give, to serve. 

Then she fell ill, and the ground shattered beneath my feet as I held her cold body the night she couldn’t put herself back together again. My heart hasn’t felt the warmth of kinship and love since, but now some semblance of it has returned—one satisfied customer at a time.

The students here love my cooking. They can never be Clarice, never replace the rip she left in my soul, but I’ve grown fond of them. They love my mechado as much as I knew they would. I make sure of it in the way the potatoes and carrots are always soft, and the red gravy just the right amount of tart and sweet, savory and rich. The meat—the star of the dish—is always succulent and tender.

“Ano sa’yo?” I ask demurely, widening my smile and letting my eyes crinkle at the corners.

“Ah, ‘yung mechado po,” the student answers. 

It’s muscle memory at this point. I give them what they ask, and though I’ve no care for money, I take it. 

“Enjoy,” I tell them, and they smile at me. The student begins digging into the cup of food, walking away from my stall. 

I feel like I could dance! There is nothing more satisfying than this.

Years and years ago, I only cared for my Clarice. I only wanted her to eat well. Now she’s gone and has been for years, but in her place, I’ve learned to love the students of this university. Their hungry mouths, their tired eyes. I want them all to eat well. 

It’s wonderful they don’t know the difference between cuts of meat, only caring for the taste. Even then, it’s all the same to them. But Clarice would know, as I do.

Humans taste so much better. 

-Aryanna Mikaela C. Bengan

(Illustration by Miles Munich Montreal Jimenez/FEU Advocate)