Spaghetti and Fish Paste © (2004)

Chapter I: Perilous Bliss

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Time and again, little Teresa waits for the freight train to come. With her short stature, she stands on the tarnished roof of a discarded fruit shipper abandoned beside the rail track. She waits patiently for the train. Barefoot, she lingers in delight and hums a rhythmless hum as she picks out the ripe ones from the branches of the aratilis tree closely stretched towards the roof of the old fruit truck. For a while, she stares at the huge reddish sun setting far west. While picking on her fruits, she would frequently squint and rub her eyes to get the dark shadowy figures out of her sight from staring at the half-sun; she bids it goodbye.

As she begins to hear the rickety sound of the rails, she hurriedly jumps off the fruit truck and stands a yard from the side of the rail track. She then holds on to her place as the train dashes near, threatening the life of the young little woman. A burst of fierce wind almost thrust her delicate body to the ground but still she stands her ground with her skinny legs, her eyes shut and arms wide open, delighting in the perilous bliss. Resounding to the loud trembling of metal trails, she screams frantically as if she was riding a wild coaster. Dirt was dragged onto her wry face. No one noticed her peculiar act, but she wouldn’t have minded even if there were anyway, she thought.

After those quick seconds of madness, she huffs for air and gazed with her glassy eyes at the far-flung train. A half-smile was traced on her filthy face. She finds herself in temporary satisfaction after that terrifying moment.

For the past two years, she would always go there to find console. And just as the big red sun vanishes through the purplish-blue sky, she knew that it was her cue to head back home.

___

Chapter II: A Broken Home’s Memoir

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It was a sullen day at Acarios, the village where Teresa grew up. She hoped for the hard road to freeze so that she could squeeze her fragile little self to the other side of it.

It was already full dusk. With her weather-beaten “baro”, she faintly wipes her filthy face. Suddenly, a strange current of cold breeze blew past her face. The while was too familiar that it snatched her from her thoughts lost into a sad reminiscence–

…Five years ago on a windy nightfall…

She stayed inside her room with a bowl of untouched spaghetti that her mother had prepared. She just sat on her bed and stayed there as she was told to. Outside, she could hear murmurs that slowly turned into disturbing screaming arguments.

Suddenly, everything went quiet but her heart was still pounding frantically. She went for the door and slipped her head through to see. She saw a man wearing a hat on his head and a green coat that looked like molds on a fish tank. He was dragging some luggage and suitcases on his way out of the house. It wasn’t until little Teresa saw boxes of fish paste that she then realized it was her father. Quickly, she ran to the kitchen and with her little arms, she drags a tall chair to the sink, helped herself up and snatched her little plastic cup. She went after him for some fish paste but before she could, her mother had already wrapped her arms around her.

“I need to have some fish paste so that I could eat. The spaghetti’s getting cold. Where is he going, mother? I need to have fish paste so that I could eat…” said little Teresa.

But her mother, hiding her misty eyes from Teresa, just ran her fingers through her little daughter’s thin hair and said, “It’ll be but a while before he comes home, Teresa…”

She had her palms pressed on the cold hazy window as she watched her father leave with the fish pastes. She waited for him to come home.

For years, she would often stand by the same window, hoping that he would come home, even though she felt that he wouldn’t be coming back at all. Every night, she would sleep and hope that at her first breath in the morning, it would be her father’s fish pastes whiffing into the morning breeze.

It took years before she figured out what her mother meant about “a while” – it meant a series of slow and long years…

Honks from the hard road brought her back from musing through her memoirs. She then heads back home.

Chapter III: A Trance from the Stars

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At a distance, Teresa’s mother could see a fuzzy figure walking towards the house. Two of her housemaids and a butler headed for the young soil-covered girl and accompanied her inside. One immediately ran for a warm, wet towel to wipe the little girl’s filthy arms while the other prepared supper. Every night, Teresa would read through her lectures since she was home-schooled and then her mother would tuck her in bed for the night.

The house was spacious yet it seemed empty and dreary. Teresa and her mother were the only ones who lived in it, along with some helpers who would frequently set off to their homes after hours of work. At times, Teresa would be left alone since her mother works in the city as a chef. She is well-known for her fine delicacy of spaghetti. It was also a great demand in the village of Acarios and everyone loved it – everyone but Teresa.

That night, Teresa could not sleep. She gazed outside her window where the sky is stretched like a pitch-black blanket speckled with diamonds. She made a wish to the great stars.

“I need to have some fish paste so that I could eat… ”

After that wish, she fell into a deep sleep and had a dream. She felt as if she was floating above a seasoned place. She was racing with a freight train, soaring above it with her fingers tangling through aratilis tree branches. It would’ve hurt her but it was just a dream, she thought. Suddenly, a trail of familiar scent gets into her senses. She felt like everything was too real to be a dream. The pungent smell was getting stronger that it had her hurriedly paddling through the air but the quicker she paddled, the farther the train drifted away from her. Her body was getting heavier by the second. As the fishy aroma reaches its strongest peak, she starts to drift down slowly. She was sure that it’s fish paste she smelled. The current slowly descended her to what seems to be a backyard with distorted metal fences and big muddled barrels. Suddenly, her sight starts to faint. She swore it was the only time that she really fell asleep.

Chapter IV: A While Away From Home

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It was still as early as dawn when Teresa woke up. Still, she could not forget every vivid detail of her dream.

“Was it really a dream? …What if it wasn’t?…”

She remembered the evening sky last night. She did make a wish, she thought.

“It was a gift from the stars…” she gets up hastily and decided to take the almost-real journey.

She took with her a small sack just strong enough to carry a load of fish paste bottles.
She pauses, thinking how to take her father home, too.

“Perhaps my hands are enough to take him home…”

Upon leaving home, Teresa left her mother a note:

“I may be gone for a while Mother…”

She heads to the place where she would always go to every dusk for the last two years, where she would patiently wait for the train to come. This time, she was going to take a ride.

While on her way, she starts to figure out what her dream really meant.

While she waited, she gathers again aratilis fruits beside the discarded fruit truck. The train finally approaches but still she hasn’t figured out what to do. She looks for an entry to any of the stock cars attached to train but they seem to be shut. Still, she could  not agree to fail the ride.

“This was where I raced with the train. This is where I should get on”, she thought.

She raced with it and prayed to the stars that hid beneath the early morning sky. The train suddenly decelerates and there she saw the last stock car of the train – its door was open. Inside it looked like a barn piled with haystacks. She ran with her skinny legs in an attempt for the leap. An old lady she sees, standing beside the door of the freight train’s last stock car.

“Where are you going, little girl?!”, the old lady shouted.

“I’m going to find my father! I have to have fish paste so that I could eat!”

“Is that so?! Well, take my hand little girl! Run harder!”

She ran as hard and as fast as she could, almost to falter. The old lady grabbed Teresa’s stick-thin arms and pulled her up to the train. She couldn’t believe that she made that leap. She gasps for air, looks back and realizes that she is far-off Acarios. She was headed to find some fish paste. Her journey starts.

Chapter V: Follow the Fishy Whiff of Air

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It has been two and a half long hours of travel ever since Teresa got aboard the freight train. It was running at a constant speed. All the while, Teresa shared with the old lady some of the Aratilis she had picked out.

“These are good, little girl.”

“Here, Manang, have some more.”

There was still enough time that Teresa started to tell the old lady about her journey and her dream. The old lady couldn’t help but laugh a little in amusement while listening to her.

“So you came all this way just to have a fish paste for spaghetti? You have an odd taste for food, little girl.”

“I know Manang. Even my parents think….. they thought I had a weird taste for food ever since I was just little.”

“Well, I guess we all have our reasons, little girl.”

Teresa picks up strands of hay and scrunched them lightly with her tiny fingers. She looks at a distant and utters,

“Manang… do you know that feeling when you know that some things just might not work, like, when you put them together? Like my mother’s spaghetti and my father’s fish paste?…”

The old lady keenly listened, nodded and garbled while munching on her last piece of aratilis.

“Well… for some, it might seem strange. But…” she pauses in hesitation, thinking that the old lady might not be able to understand.

“Go ahead, I’m listening…” the old lady smiles to assure the little girl of her empathy, albeit in between her aged teeth she had some micro-sized aratilis seeds stuck.

“Well, for some, Manang, for someone maybe as strange as me… to have them together would really mean the world… no matter how at odds they are with one another. It would really matter to me.”

The old lady noticed how much it meant to Teresa.

“Well then, little girl. I do hope you succeed, I mean it. You know, there’s this town called Allejon, just a couple of miles ahead. There exists such fishy stench whenever you pass. Good aroma, though. It’s worth the try, maybe there you’ll find your fish paste.”

“Thank you, Manang.”

Teresa could now smell the fishy stench.The train is nearing Allejon.

“Do you smell that, little girl?!” said the old lady.

They slipped their heads out the door to sniff the surpassing wind.

“Yes, Manang! The scent is getting stronger!”

Teresa was altogether nervous and excited. Finally, she’d have both fish pastes and her father back, she thought.

The train slackened but it was not going for a stop.

“This is where you drop off, little girl. This is Allejon.”

“Thank you so much, Manang. I hope to see you again!”

“Who knows, maybe I’d be around to drag you up the train again”, said the old lady as she smiles.

Teresa disembarks from the train and bade the old lady farewell.

Chapter VI: Not Enough Bottles

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Allejon was a big village. It was an eerie suburb with a bunch of dead dry trees that were still strangely erected. Teresa felt as if the town itself was staring down at her with its houses built high and slanted forward.

Still, it was the fishy stench that had her hopes high. She went into the village and asked about a man who makes a good fish paste. The people in the place weren’t as scary as she thought they would be, though they were slightly taciturn in nature. Some bystanders pointed Teresa towards the place where a delectable fish paste was being made.

She sustained her little self with enough energy for two hours just walking in search for her father. She felt as if her skinny legs were already trembling in exhaustion.

When she finally reached the house where the fish paste was being made, there she saw some rusted fence and muddled barrels outside.

“This is what the place looked like in my dream. But what happens next? I… I can’t remember…”

A bearded man walks outside of the house carrying heavy empty jar bottles.

Teresa was so surprised to him. She could not fathom what she was feeling. She was simply overwhelmed at the very moment.

“Father…” She slowly approaches him, misty eyed.

Her father turned wordless to see her daughter again after so many years. Although with short stature, he could tell that she had grown up well as a young woman.

“Teresa…”, he held her in his arms.

“Father… let’s go home, I have to have fish paste so that I could eat.”

His heart broke upon hearing those words. All he could do was to embrace her daughter tighter.

”I can’t, Teresa. I can’t go with you. I am sorry…”

Teresa loosens from his embrace as she stands confused.

“What do you mean, father? The spaghetti’s getting cold. I need to have fish paste so that I could eat.”

“You see, Teresa… I have a family now. A family of my own. I have to take care of them.”

“But… why? Don’t you want to take care of mother and me? Who’s going to make me my fish paste? I came all the way here just to find you.”

A bridge of tears starts to form at the corners of her glassy eyes.

“You have to understand, Teresa. You see, everything’s different now. I’m sorry Teresa. But it’s just the way things are.”

She wept without a sound. She tries to show no trace of frailty but her lovelorn tears persist to show.

“Could I have at least a couple of fish paste before I go?”

“That’d be okay, Teresa.”

She handed to her father a small sack strong enough to carry bottles of fish paste.

“Would eight be enough, Teresa?”

“Another one would do…”

“But the sack’s full.”

“I Have room in my pocket for another one… It’s big enough.”

“Okay then.”

She walked away without a word to his father. Only a grin that tells him goodbye. She felt her heart break into tiny little crumbs but she was sure that there was no trace of remorse at all. Though pain lingers, she was grateful at the same time.

Teresa walked for another two hours back while carrying eight heavy fish pastes on a sack and another one inside her big pocket. Her feet were sore and blistered but she was heedless of the pain.

Finally, she returns to  where she first dropped off and waited for the unpredictable freight train’s return.

Chapter VII: Down to the Saddest Bottle 

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She was hoping to have a ride home again. Upon leaving the doorsteps of the strange place, she carries with her both the sad and almost happy remembrance of her journey.

Finally, the train approaches. Teresa runs for the last section, panting. But this time, it was too impossible for her to jump in with all the heavy bottles of fish pastes that she has. The old lady appears and lends her a hand.

“Take my hand, little girl! Run Harder!”

“I can’t! These fish pastes are too heavy!”

“Then let it go!”

“I can’t! It’s the only thing I have left from him!” Teresa starts to weep as she runs heavyhearted for the old lady’s hands.

“Let it go! It’s the only way!”

Teresa’s heart broke along with the shattering bottles of fish pastes. She ran hard and leaped up on the train. The old lady pulled her up.

She looks back in tears to see the broken bottles of fish pastes.

The aroma started to wither away. They are now far-flung from Allejon. Still, Teresa’s sadness was traced onto her face.

“How did it go, little girl?”

“………I almost had… everything.”

“I’m sorry about the fish pastes.”

“It’s okay, Manang… I still have one left here in my pocket.”

“Did you get to see your father?”

“Yes, I did. But… he has a different life now.”

“I’m sorry, little girl.”

Teresa burrowed her head beneath her arms in sorrow.

“It took me years of waiting for him to come home. Would it be possible to forget him in a day?”

“Child, letting go doesn’t mean you have to forget. All you have to do is to embrace everything about him, my dear, everything for the last time. There and then will you’ll find the strength – to finally let go.”

Teresa took the last bottle of fish paste from her pocket and held it close to her flat bosoms. After everything that happened, she finally understood. She smiled whilst her puffy eyes. Her smile was none like any other before; it was a first after a very long time.

Chapter VIII: Savor One last Sweet and Salty

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The train arrives in Acarios. She disembarks from the freight train with her last bottle of fish paste.

“Thank you, Manang.”

“No worries, little girl. I’ll see you around, perhaps. And, oh, let’s have some of those aratilis next time.”

The old lady bade the little girl goodbye.

She heads to the city and ran as fast as she could to where her mother works as a chef.

“Mother, I need some spaghetti!” Teresa frantically requested.

“You look filthy, Teresa. Where have you been?

“Mother, I need some spaghetti! Please,” she said with a grin on her face.

Well… do you want someone else to cook for you? Honey, I know that you–”

“No mother. I want the one you cooked for me then…”

To her surprise, she prepared some especially for Teresa.

Then, Teresa brought with her the bowl of cooked spaghetti and took off. She went back to that place where she scraps Aratilis from the top of a discarded fruit truck, where she would always wait from the freight train to come, where she finds console.

With fish paste on her spaghetti for the last time, she savors every taste, the salty and the sweet, however the two are at odds with each other.

And just before the big red sun disappears through the purplish-blue sky, towards wherever in the far west it always bids her goodbye, Teresa’s bowl was already empty. All that’s left with her are the salty sweet memories of what was and what has been. Everything was now clear to Teresa. She was ready to embrace what is and move on.

-end-

Author’s Note: Took me about, what, roughly 11 years(?) to finally proofread this short story that I myself wrote early in 2004. I feel kind of old and silly having to read this stuff written by a 17-year-old me all over again. *chuckles

During college, I remember they had this published on a school publication, but to be honest, I really didn’t like how I wrote it and how it turned out back then (sorry meant to self, not to the editors, they did a good job). It was written in a way that made me feel uncomfortable as I read through.

That’s why I felt the need to overhaul it – or maybe not totally overhaul per se since I’m not a perfect editor either. I just wanted to preserve some of the “flaws” I had back then. It’s for a good/personal reason, really. Since doing so kind of reminds me of how time can really change the perspective of people, how we can see things as they are at the moment – and how the way we feel about it can change over the years the next time you see it.

And, oh, I decided to divide it into little chapters just so it’s easier for you guys to read. Hope you enjoyed some good old fiction reading!

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