Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sweetness in the Bones - Papa's Birthday Story

My family loves chicken. My dad, especially, loves chicken wings - as much as I do. Funny thing is, I never saw him eat chicken wings before. I'd be the one that eats the chicken wings, and he'll eat the neck or some other parts of the chicken.

"Papa, I thought you liked eating the wings?" I once asked when I was much younger. 5 or 6?

"No lar!" He replied even before I finished my sentence, while still chewing on the bones. "Who said?"

"Mummy said one..."

"Any part of the chicken tastes the same.. chicken is chicken.. Eat eat eat!! The meat is getting cold already." I did ask myself then, was Papa lying?

One night before going to bed, my mom boiled a bowl of chicken essence soup for me and my brother. It tasted bitter - horribly bitter - but somehow we managed to swallow the very last drop of it.

"It's the best of the whole chicken," I remembered my mom telling us while we were slurping it down at high speed. "I spent the whole day boiling it. All the nutrients and the proteins and stuff are all in there, so don't waste!" And that smile from my mother. The smile that would convince anything that she's telling the truth.

I was supposed to sleep right after that. And again, you wouldn't really expect a hyperactive boy to sleep at 9.30pm. So I thought of a brilliant excuse to go downstairs again - supper.

Half expecting my parents to yell me to go to bed from their master bedroom opposite my bedroom, they were sitting on the dining table eating some stuff. And I thought to myself, maybe they're having dinner, I might as well just join them for round 2 of makan.

I grabbed a chocolate muffin from the pantry and sat at the table with them. They were eating bread with chicken dipped in sauce. Putting my muffin aside for the chicken then, I took my dad's fork and grabbed a piece of chicken. Lo and behold, the chicken was completely tasteless.

My face must have clearly expressed all my thoughts and taste as my dad said, "This is the chicken Mummy used to boil the essence."

Passing the fork back to my dad, I reached for the muffin when suddenly the thought came to me, If we had the essence of the chicken, then that means both of you are having the leftovers... For dinner?

If my memory still serves me correctly, I never opened the muffin. I think, I quietly got off the chair and went back upstairs, choking with tears. Or maybe I just sat there in front of them and cried, making a fool of myself. But what I clearly remembered was, I felt so bad and so guilty. That whole night, I thought of how my parents would give me the best of everything and end up collecting whatever was left for themselves.

Later in life, there were numerous moments where I asked myself, why must they go through so much for me? Was it worth them giving up all the goodness that they themselves could've enjoyed, just for me and my bro?

Finally, I understood something: that those 'empty' chicken meat they took for dinner, those dried and drained bones that were left after the essence had sweetness that was never meant for the mouth. It's a sweetness that came from within. The sweetness of knowing that their son is happily sleeping upstairs after a nice bowl of essence, the sweetness of knowing that they've given their best for the children, and the sweetness of watching their children growing up.

And I too had my fair share of those sweetness, because from that day onwards, when the sight of my parents eating the 'empty' chicken meat unfolds in my mind, the chicken meat I eat those meals never quite tasted the same, ever.

That's my dad. The dad that would lie to us just to make sure we get everything even if he gets nothing, the dad that would fight with my mom over stuff that me and my bro should have, the dad that would wait for us to sleep before he starts taking up the leftovers with my mom, and the dad that would never admit that he's old enough for a break to make sure there's always good food on the table.

Yup. That's my dad, the man that turned bones into honey. Happy Birthday Papa, I love you.