The lumpia batch was burnt this time. It made the finger log spring rolls look like fat chomp sticks that forgot to scream when its skin turned charcoal. Time was not a friend. The despedida event was at 3:00 pm and it was already 12:00 noon with two more trays to go. The four trays was suppose to be enough for at least 200 people. They still had to bring the food to the camp thirty three kilometers away where for a surprise despedida party for General Sunghay.
The General was rumored to be the next top man in the Phil National Police. A big burly dark skinned man with squinted eyes and round face. Like most PO’s the stomach was barely held up by a tight belt around his waist and if he wasn’t a police officer, he could make it out as a stuntman with dark secrets and girdled belly. They were cooking for the General’s party hoping that when they meet, the General can name recall her dad during the introductions after offering him the most delicious spring rolls he has ever tasted. The General and her father were classmates once during elementary days. Serving as a municipal traffic aide for almost fifteen years maybe this time, even without the necessary credentials, General Sunghay would give his pass inside the PNP where her father can finally become a Police Officer 1, after all, people with lesser qualifications were even appointed as department secretaries, surely the Police Officer1 rank would not be denied them. They need this break - the promotion, the status, the power that goes along with it. Mother wants it, the family needs it.
Lucio Carcibal was a medium built man. His wife never got over her enamored obsession, even thru age with his brown thick skin, leathered from too many days in the sun directing traffic. Aiding local officers on arresting illegal sidewalk vendors, he would always come home with a biyaya - bread, street food, raw fish or vegetables, the wares that those same vendors were hawking. Either they were gifts just to be assured of a selling spot next day or they were collateral damage when the local officers were cleaning up the city streets dismantling temporary stalls or shooing away vendors on cart wheels. The goods became confiscator’s property and the vendors were jailed for vagrancy.
Lucia’s spring rolls was legendary, she was a good cook. Her kare-kare could rival expensive restaurant recipes- sauces, spices and stew was her forte. She learned cooking from her mother from an early age but hers was a combination of gift meeting skill. Lately, her mother wanted her to start with an online food business. Her mother always kept saying Lucia would make them rich one day.
Aling Anita was heavy woman who favored colorful loose clothes, she insists it makes her look a well off matrona, Lucia thinks it makes her look like a colorful turkey. The short bleached brown hair with white roots peeking its way out was chemically straightened, like a feathered fat feral vomited from a snakes gut, humid sweat has plastered her hair on her tiny head, showing how disproportionately it was with her body. Her mother was now looming by the kitchen door,
“Is it done yet?” she asked frustratingly for the nth time
“Almost,” she lied, “just thirty minutes more,” and a year, she mumbled to herself.
“How can you ever make it on that online business without me, Move!” she self proclaimed herself as a savior, placed another deep fryer pot on the stove, poured oil and set the fire to max.
Now they teamed up as a batching machine frying the spring rolls more faster now. She would have made an issue on how much heat the oil needs to be heated or how long to drip it out so no aftertaste of cooking oil remains, but what does she know, she’s already burned a batch and time was running short.
Lucia was the eldest, employed as a registered nurse at a local city hospital. When she passed her licensure exam, Aling Anita gifted the Local Health Office director with 1st class cotton curtains. She made herself in-disposable for the director from being the girl friday to volunteering for any government programs the health center would make. She made sure she was in the grapevine for any opening for her daughter. True enough when a position became vacant, Lucia’s name was tapped, after two years, she was moved to the city general hospital. There was a slight increase in pay, but the work was hard and the hours were long. This cooking was not supposed to be on her schedule. The cooking should have been done by her mother but there was no excuse, she would have to find a way to take leave from the hospital her mother insisted.
“Happy birthday to you!!!!” everyone chimed, after a long song of happy birthday, there was clinking of glasses and cheers and smiles. Conveniently placed to surround event venue were indoor plants prettied up with crepe ribbons and tiny bulb lights. Each looked like small christmas trees without the star on top. A HAPPY BIRTHDAY banner was hung on stage. There were fifteen tables spread around to accommodate the guests. Her father was wearing one of his best polo shirts. Mother wanted him to wear a barong, but he insisted the polo shirt was more apt. True enough, the party became a despedida as real time news came thru that the papers for his promotion to PNP Director was now signed by the President, he was moving up to another office. Everyone greeted the General, his wife was with him, and two of his children. He sat by the table near the stage where there was a five member band singing 70’s songs.
Paper streamers and lights were hung across the party area in a tent like manner, a center were all the light streamers met, from there hung a chandelier. Pentagonal in arrangement, the chandeliers counted five, five centers of aesthetic fail, but who noticed?
Glasses clinked, the food on the buffet table was like a miraculous cornucopia continuously refilling itself. Lucia’s fried spring rolls was among the first to be laid down and disappeared within minutes. Fortunately, not all of the heavenly lumpia was given out, her mother reserved a few more for General Sunghay, but she wasn’t going to offer it until she made sure her husband was part of his company, most of the top personalities in PNP universe was on that table. How her father going to part of that crowd was Team Carcibal’s challenge, they need to be patient, they needed a precious break.
True enough the break came, the General excused himself for nature call, Anita met Lucio’s eyes, from across the hall, they quickly maneuvered to meet the General halfway as he comes back to his table, Anita holding her tupperware of spring rolls.
When the General emerged from the toilet area, like a celebrity, everyone in the party was slowly converging in on the General’s direction, seeing this, Anita planted herself in front of the Generals path.
“Hi General! Happy birthday sir!, isin’t this a nice evening” Anita greeted, all but curtsied, which she couldn't do because it was a challenge on her knees. “I’m sure you know my husband Lucio,” she grabbed him by the arm, both of them now facing the General.
“Oh, Hi.. Yes, it is a nice evening, well… good to see you here Lucio..” General Sunghay stepped out of their way so he could pass and return to his table.
“Oh yes sir, I’m sure you can remember Lucio,” Anita repeated again, not moving “he was your classmate in Grade 6 at Moises Salvador, tell him Lucio,” as she nudged her husband towards the General.
The General became clearly annoyed and Lucio noticed the change in body language, “I’m sorry sir, I know you have a lot of things on your mind, we’ll be on our way,” Lucio almost apologetically backed away so the General can walk on. Anita glared at her husband.
“But would you care for a lumpia, my daughter cooked it, it’s really good, much like what Lucio brings to school during your school days,” she smiled like an ostrich not knowing sky from the ground. The General took a piece, he acquiesced to escape these irritating people. If it were a different scenario, he would have had this Lucio be arrested on trumped up charges just so to get rid of him and show his annoying wife lessons on what becomes of bothersome pricks. He took a bite, turned heel and stepped away from the couple, he wasn’t two steps away when he stopped and turned sideways in line with the couple’s sight.
“Wait,” the General signaled them to come to him, “I might not remember you much, but I am reminded of someone so dense and daring as your wife” he chuckled then added referring to Lucio. “I can’t remember you, but I seem to recall a classmate we called luslos because we can easily pull his pants down and he’d have no underwear, his balls were the saddest scrotums I’ve ever seen and his prick was like a limped vienna sausage. We kept pulling his pants down every time he walked past me or my friends, even inside the classroom behind the teachers back hahaha.. That was funny and so long ago” a rolling chuckle did not hide the amusement the memory brought.
“That was me sir” Lucio grinned widely, “Would you like a lumpia?” he took the tupperware from his wife’s hands and deftly offered his daughter’s guaranteed delicious spring rolls.
“Oh that was you?!” the General took another log from the container and bit, then swallowed the whole piece. Then he took another one, while chomping he capped Lucio’s shoulder and steered him towards his table, all the while Lucio holding the tupperware of lumpia rolls like an offering to the altar. His wife was now totally ignored, but the snub placed a mission accomplished grin on her face.
Lucio was now effectively seated with the Generals company. He laughed and drank with them watching his alcohol. He cannot leave this table stupidly drunk and regret it later. As the evening wounded up to its end, Lucio had in his hand calling cards from each ranking officer on that table. When everyone was almost inebriated with wine and food, the General stood up from the table, then fell down, he was opening his mouth, luckily one of the ranking officers at the table was a medic, he saw that the throat was inflated and his airways was blocked, he called for people surrounding them to dial the hospital located within the camp grounds, the General clearly needed to breathe. The medic was thumping his chest now doing mouth to mouth resuscitation to force air inside the lungs, as the precious seconds was ticking away so was the Generals conscious body, and slowly his limbs was turning limp.
Suddenly, his wife turned up at his side, frantically looking at her husband, she shouted “My God, he must have been poisoned!” she wailed and kneeled by her husband's side sobbing onto his chest.
With the scream came the realization, and each officer that was present on that table looked towards Lucio. The empty tupperware now remained at the table evidence of the food. Apparently since the General liked the lumpia too much, no one took to share. He ate it all, now he’s lying down the floor.
Quickly, like trained soldiers, Lucio was tackled down the floor and immediately handcuffed. He was being beaten, slapped and kicked on every visible part of his body as he was dragged out of the event place, behind him was his wailing wife and daughter. Both were surprised at the turn of events, they shouted they did not poison the General.
Three years later, Lucio stepped out into the sunlight. He has lost 30 kls of his body weight and the bronze skin was now sallow being mostly inside. City jails is not a good place. Inside he found out that unexplainable deaths could claim anyone if you were not careful. The coroners report would say pneumonia without explaining why there were bruise marks all over the body but the findings can explain the asphyxiation and while someone could be sent to the clinic for a bashed dislocated jaw or a near ruptured spleen, it was reported that he fell from a high place, yet lately, the inmates were dying like flies from pneumonia, it seemed like real pneumonia this time as the inmate would suffer from cough and colds and within the week, he would be wheezing, feverish and die for air.
What made him endure was the regular visits of his wife and daughter, they took turns in giving him food and supply for the week, but as soon as they left, Lucio’s inmates would feast on his supply, if he refused, he would be a game for the free fall body kicks and punches for all the inmates he was sharing the cell block with. He guilt talked his daughter into having sex with the warden so his jailtime would be shortened. It was late when they both realized that the warden had no control over his jailtime, but the sex favor awarded a more comfortable jail life for Lucio. He was given a spacious kubol where he had an electric fan. The kubol was an elevated compartment constructed with plyboard within the cell block. It was elevated from the jail floor which was usually flooded when it rained, like pigeon holes, a kubol can rise up to 4 stories each having 5ft max height. He was allowed to have a cellphone where he could contact with his wife and children, but Lucia will have to be available whenever the warden called and he called often.
As Lucio stepped out of the jail structure, he was greeted by his wife, a bit thinner now but has aged a lot, what surprised him more was Lucia. The once apple of his eyes and innocent child looked different in the open sunlight, Lucia was gaunt and frail, her eyes kept looking at the ground. Her smile was empty and her happiness seemed forced. His wife and daughter did everything by the legal process, eventually proving that the General had not died from poisoned food, but rather more from a long unknown allergy which was triggered by a combination of good food and wine that night, but Lucio was already jailed for three years without bail, his family accused him of premeditated murder.
A slight cough escaped Lucio’s lips that day, Anita asked if he was okay. He claimed it was probably the jail and the atmosphere outside must have been new to him, within three days he was bed ridden and shivering. While Lucia was still an employed RN at the city hospital, her father’s admission was secured, but the test showed he had acquired COVID, victim of the dreadful pandemic now sweeping the country. He needed to be isolated in the COVID ward. Her father’s health deteriorated fast. Now, she was looking thru the PPE and face shield standing beside her fathers sick bed, she held her fathers hand, though he was intubated, oxygen was no longer welcomed in his lungs, soon enough, Lucio Carcibal expired.
Lucia’s shift has ended. Disposed of the PPE suit she was now going thru the disinfection phase. She had already called her mother and told her what happened. There will be no funeral only cremation. When she stepped out of the shower and was changing, her cellphone rang, it was the warden, he wanted her to come tonight. She told him she cannot, her father just died, they needed to prepare, he told her to come just the same, he would give her some money to help with the funeral expenses, he stressed the fact that he was expecting her. Just because her father was gone doesn’t mean it was over, he threatened to submit an affidavit of how Lucia was his whore and her license RN was on the line because of an immorality charge coming from somewhere, then he hung up.
She sat looking blankly ahead, she had never felt so useless all her life. She blamed herself for the lumpia when it was pointed as the culprit for the Generals death, she felt helpless every time the warden fucked her up, when he suggested threesomes or other sex orgies and when refused, it was either that or his fathers jail life, now even in her profession, a life she had started to look at as a lie, she was not able to help him. She naively thought everything would change with her lumpia, then she thought she just needed her father to be out of jail, after that, he just needed to be cured. Her father’s death was an escape, but for Lucia, her life assumptions became a spiraling trap. When she stepped out of the hospital, it was nearly dusk, it would only be a 30 minute ride to the city jail, but she decided not to take the jeepney, she needed to walk to clear her head. It was mandated now to wear a face mask when moving around the city, she wore hers to fall to her neck instead of covering her nose and mouth. She was walking along the sidewalk navigating Taft avenue, now leading towards Jones bridge. It was a wide four lane bridge encompassing Pasig river. She stopped in the middle, she smelled the stank air, looking down she saw the water cascading. It rained this afternoon, probably why the river was moving fast. Feeling as useless as her face mask around her neck, she stepped over the bridge railings and jumped.