The Things you can find in a Tin Can
By Kathy Molina
It was 1:00 in the afternoon. My father was driving his old Mitsubishi Strada with me and my two older sisters in it. My mom couldn’t come. She had to stay at home to take care of the business and my little sister who was just in pre-school at that time.
The airconditioner was working fine but it was as if the humidity had pierced through the glass windows and worked its way to our faces – worn out eyes and wrinkled foreheads; passive from anything that we could possibly see on that highway, which wasn’t much. It was just a plain cemented road on a downhill mountain.
By this time, you’ve already figured out that we didn’t come from a vacation. Alicia, Isabella is not exactly a popular tourist destination. We were coming back to Manila from saying goodbye to our grandmother who, at that time, was slowly passing away. It was the first time that I had met her.
“I’m hungry.” My older sister suddenly broke the ice. My Dad then realized that it was almost 2:00. There was nothing on the road. No restaurants or eateries or even small stalls for pasalubong goods. My Dad broke out a “Hala!” – Truth is, we were all hungry.
Until we stumbled upon a small house-like structure. It was on the side of the road, on the edge of the mountain. It had a big propped-up window where we could see chairs and tables with tarp-like covers inside. We entered this plywood-made of a house. There was a lady there who welcomed us in. It was apparent that she was the only adult there. We could hear her small children playing in a room behind the house. My dad and the lady spoke in Ilokano – a dialect I didn’t know my dad spoke prior to that trip. My dad then told us that they only served canned goods. At that time they had plenty stock of corned beef and a few eggs and my dad had ordered them already.
We uncomfortably waited for our food. The “restaurant” was small. It was quite dark. The only light was coming in from the windows. I noticed unlit Christmas bulbs hanging on the ceiling, tracing the edges of the structure. They only had about 3 tables. Its tops were covered in waterproof table cloths which had green and pink floral patterns. The ground was almost soil – I couldn’t really tell. It was different from what we were used to. Despite all that I noticed in that quaint “restaurant,” I saw my father, comfortably sitting with his left arm on the backrest of my sister’s chair and his right hand bringing the glass of water to his laughter-full mouth, as he was watching a popular afternoon gag show from a 6-inch TV on the counter top. I shook my head and smiled.
It had been about thirty minutes and our food still hadn’t arrived. My dad tried to call the lady earlier to follow up our order but no one was answering from the back room. He then got up from his seat to look for the lady. It had been a good 15 minutes since he left our table and my sisters and I were already wondering what was going on. It was almost 3:00 in the afternoon.
I decided to get up and go to the back room. I peeped and there was no visible sign of the lady – although I could hear her scolding her children in Ilokano from the back of the house. There was a gas stove with two burners. One had a wok with oil which was almost coming to a boil. Beside it was my father, chopping onions. “Dad?” – I was so surprised and a little confused. “I’ll cook na lang. Go back to our table.” He answered. He crushed some cloves of garlic with the face of the knife and gracefully took off its skin. He threw in the crushed garlic and chopped onions in the wok. As it sizzled, I walked back to our table and hurriedly told my sisters in the most shocked tone “Nagluluto si Dad!”
My dad went back to our table with a big plate full of corned beef – the toasted garlic and onions were very much visible! I tell you, the smell reached the bottom of my stomach and it was irresitable. I know, it was just corned beef and hunger had probably altered my sense of judgment but up to this day I believe that that was the best corned beef I’ve ever had!
As my father sat down, the lady followed from behind him and brought a plate of sunny-side up eggs and a bowl of steamed rice. My eldest sister then asked my dad in a bewildered manner if he was the one who cooked all this. My dad tried to resist from laughing and explained that the lady was busy taking care of her kids. We started eating.
I got a scoop of rice and placed an egg on top of it. I can tell the yolk was still raw – just the way I like it. Using my spoon and fork, I cut through half the egg and as expected, the yolk oozed its way to the hot, steaming rice. I could already tell that this was going to be a good meal. I put a generous amount of corned beef on my plate. I don’t remember what brand it was but it tasted how local, canned corned beef should. It was simple but tasty; humble but filling. The garlic and onions made all the difference! My dad popped open a bottle of soda and poured its spirit onto our small plastic cups.
It was almost 4:30 in the afternoon. In a span of 3 and half hours, I had gotten to know my father.