One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Seven yellow parols hanging on a bamboo pole. AJ counts again. Seven.
Four years old going on five, Arianne James can count up to twenty. Licking his fingers as he eats a snack of preserved green peas, he grins and counts the seven yellow parols his father, Ryan, has made.
He smells Christmas as he picks up the pieces of yellow paper with the same fingers he uses to pick up the green peas. Quite sticky now in the face and in the fingers, the little boy continues to pick up the shiny stuff, remnants of his father’s craft.
He brings them home and sticks them to the little bamboo sticks he has also picked up from his father’s workplace, their front yard. He attempts to make little stars but becomes frustrated when the sticks don’t get tied together. He leaves his stuff and goes to his father.
“Pa, kaon (Pa, I want to eat).”
His father pats his head and asks him to wait. He pulls on his father’s shirt, “Pa, kaon.” This time there is a little twinge of hunger in his voice. His father seems to believe the conviction in his son’s voice and spoons him some lugaw. His father walks to a nearby store and buys lechon baka, a junk food, which resembles chicharon and even has a vinegar sachet to really give the chicharon feeling. He crushes one pack over the warm lugaw and presto – carbohydrates plus proteins meal – the simulated version.
AJ eats the lugaw and watches as his father drinks coffee while making the yellow parols. He gets Spiderman and a yellow truck to accompany his 10 AM breakfast. He has been awake since 7:30 and has taken a bath with his younger sister, who is now sleeping in the second floor of their house, having had her fill of lugaw. AJ walks to a neighbor’s house, holding Spiderman in one hand and naked from the waist down. His father calls out to him, “pagpurol dong.(wear your shorts)” and he walks back home, Spiderman dejectedly hanging from his right hand.
AJ sleeps after his meager breakfast . Spiderman sits on the yellow truck until lunchtime, 12:30. His father wakes his children up and they eat rice and five pesos’ worth of pansit from a nearby carinderia. AJ and his sister are restless, walking to and fro, while their titos and titas who live in the same house arrive from their morning haunts. Julius, their gay tito, has brought home a lollipop, hands it to the children and pandemonium sets in. Luckily, there is another one and AJ with Spiderman walks to his neighbor’s house. Lunch is on the table, their father has gone somewhere and the kids are on a stroll.
When his father comes back, he has brought an air gun. His friend has lent it to him. AJ is fascinated and his little hands reach out to grope the new object. A gun, a symbolism of manhood and here is this four year old kid, shooting away at innocent lizards on the wall. It is a heavy thing for his small stature but his father cocks it, AJ just shoots at the poor lizards galore.
About 3:00, they tire of their game and AJ sleeps again. This is after a snack of MSG – enriched chocolate cornflakes. After all, the seven parols, another two added to their number, still hang unsold on the bamboo poles. There is no money for nutritious snacks and the kid is simply crazy over junk food. It is not such a big deal for Ryan to feed his son such.
Dusk sets in as Ryan creates a fire to cook their dinner. There is no money for Shellane and there are a lot of discarded bamboo sticks to be used as tinder. Simultaneously, AJ wakes up, still naked from his waist down and he says, “Gutom(I’m hungry).” His father tells him to wait and buys him another snack from the same store. AJ gets himself busy with the cheese grits formed into the likenesses of Lumpia Shanghai. He counts the yellow stars. Nine.
His grandpa comes home and brings him some fish to be fried. This is their viand. Half a kilo of fish for eight people. How much can a family driver like him afford nowadays? AJ’s father cooks the fish as AJ bites into the last of his cheesy snack.
Dinner is over once Panday is on the screen. There is no TV in the house and AJ walks to a neighbor’s house where a small crowd has also gathered to watch Jericho Rosales cut the stuntmen’s bodies into bloody pieces. AJ enjoys the teleserye and oohs and aahs along with the mature ones in the audience. He even sings the theme song of the last part of the series, which is also a signal that it is his bedtime.
Nine yellow stars hanging on a bamboo pole. AJ counts them again before he goes inside to sleep. Tomorrow, these nine parols could bring him milk for breakfast and meat for dinner. Tomorrow there will be no more parols and his father would be out. But then, there would still be a lot of lizards on the walls to be gunned down. Tomorrow.
Germaine D. Canilao, 18, is a second year Mass Communications student of the University of the Philippines in Cebu City.