That was the fortune from the cookie that came with lunch today. Except when I ate the cookie it had gone soggy, either from the humidity or…I didn’t want to think about the other options.
“Why can’t that good thing come right now, and be air conditioning,” I thought.
Laying spread eagle on the cot in the porch, the sweat trickling over the sides of my belly and streaking the dust that accumulated there during the day. The cloth beneath me began to get wet. It tickled as it ran, causing me to slap at my sides occasionally and increased my irritation with everything.
The job looked easy enough when I received it. Deliver the bag from Roxas to Trinoma. They gave me plenty of time, so I’d walked to save the transportation fare. The fortune cookie was an odd addition to the isaw I had for lunch, but for half a peso I couldn’t resist.
First I hoped the good thing would be in the form of a large tip from the receiver of my delivery. When the woman in the sweat stained blouse just grabbed the package from me, shouting that I was late, “Ay huli!” I was sure of no payday coming from that direction.
When the boss, on the other end of the grubby flip-phone, said “no more deliveries till tomorrow,” I decided to walk back to the porch to wait out the heat of the day. On the way, I was hissed at by a cat, given the evil eye by more than one stray dog, shoed away with a broom by the green grocer, “humawi, hooligan,” and sneered at by other sweaty walkers that thought they were clearly better than Sam, I am.
Returning to the porch I thought of as the humble carabao and felt smaller and more tired than usual. Then I remembered a story Grandma used to tell when I lived with her in the province and would complain about working so hard.
“Look at the way the carabao toils with no complaints, Samson,” she said.
She always called me by my full given name, Samson.
“In the heat of the day, with his worst enemies around him,” she continued.
Even though I remembered carabaos as being quite grumpy, I was quiet and let her go on.
“Who do you think is the carabao’s worst enemy, Samson?” She asked.
Not even thinking about it, I replied, “Flies, I guess.”
“Besides flies,” Grandma said.
“Mud?” I tried.
“Mud isn’t a ‘who’,” she answered.
Thinking for a full minute this time I next answered, “Well, I guess it must be the person with the whip, that drives the carabao to where it must go.”
“No, no, no. Think, boy,” Grandma answered, clearly irritated her story wasn’t hitting its mark with me.
Rolling my eyes, I answered back, trying not to also sound irritated, “I don’t know…maybe dogs?”
“Ah, now you’re understanding,” she answered, even though clearly, I wasn’t.
Now she continued her story in earnest.
“I once watched as the pinuno’s dog relentlessly harassed the carabao I was driving. It was a mean dog and simply wanted to bite the big cow’s nose until it tasted blood. The pinuno, whom the dog clearly took after, stood away and watched me struggle to get the carabao to move.”
I must admit, I was a little intrigued by the story now, asking, “But, why didn’t the big boss call his dog away?”
Grandma answered, “Someday you will see, Samson, that is not always in the mind of many pinunos.”
Despite my protest, she continued, “This pinuno’s dog would dart in and snap at my carabao’s face and the big cow would swing her head at him, both missing their marks. But, after several tries the dog caught a piece of the carabao’s nose with his teeth and I heard the pinuno snicker, even though he was far away.”
Now my eyes got wide. All I could think of was the four powers at work here, my grandma, the carabao, the mean dog, and the big boss, all of whom I had great respect and fear towards.
Checking on my level of interest out of the corner of her eye, Grandma decided to go on.
“Well that big carabao was so surprised by the dog’s nip to her nose that she didn’t even twitch her head the last time. However, I saw her eyes get wide and her head turned slightly towards the dog as it came in for another taste. What do you think happened, Samson?”
Quickly I replied, hoping beyond hope, “The big boss called his dog back?”
Shaking her head, Grandma continued, “When that pinuno’s dog came back in for another taste of carabao nose, that old cow lifted her front leg and, like a lightning flash, set it down again right on that dog’s shoulder.”
My eyes practically bulged out of my head now, waiting for her to continue. “Well? What happened?!”
Grandma simply smiled and answered, “Well I never did see that mean dog again. With a ton of carabao and two feet of mud on top of it, that dog stayed down there for good.”
“Then the toiling carabao won?” I asked, a smile creeping onto my lips.
Grandma sighed and put another wad of tobacco in her mouth.
“Well, right? What happened to the carabao?” I insisted.
“The pinuno came to our house the next day and shot it in the head. Papa skinned it and the whole village cooked it,” she finally answered, looking away into the sunset.
Lying back on my cot, I sighed and decided to try to think of a different antidote, but maybe one not told by my grandma.