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Don’t Be Fancy

Miss Acedillo has a tiny frame but the shadow she casts is the Green Giant’s. She has passed the age of merely being ripe and now in early middle age is spiny-boned and haggard. Below her dark permed hair and high cheek bones her chin creases into a white blouse. Her makeup is an emphatic cherry-red lipstick. Two surprisingly dainty feet balance on a pair of sturdy Cuban heeled shoes.

“Permit me,” she would begin her statements, and we were always obliged to answer: “Yes, please.” An indicator for her to “Go ahead, make our day.”

She has an exaggerated sense of her own authority. An optimist in reverse, especially when teaching English to a bunch of carabao-milk fed brats, she has mastered the Look. That look is “below zero temperature.” This look however turns into doe-eyed piety whenever the principal or the district supervisor comes to observe.

During morning inspection, she would ask us to array the contents of our buri-leaf-plaited school bags onto the desk top. In my bag I have the usual items: the thin basal English primer Pepe and Pilar, a fat black soft-lead pencil: Grade I issue, and a few sheets of paper—the training kind—with red dotted markers in between spaces for printing small case letters, and a rubber eraser. My lunch fare wrapped in banana leaves is the same every single day—a wad of boiled rice and two pieces of finger-sized fried tuyo
(1) and an occasional cherry tomato: the standard lunch for the majority.

The incident happened during Reading.
“See Bantay run. Run, Bantay, run. Run, run, run,” I parsed monotonously as I stood ram-rod reading orally from the primer. Bantay is Pepe and Pilar’s dog.

Soon I heard a familiar crunching , biting, twig breaking sound. My teeth on edge, the image of freshly sliced green mango invaded my thought. Then a deliciously pungent fishy smell stole across the room.
“See Bantay. See, see, see,” I continued reading, but I couldn’t see. My mouth began to salivate filling up like a bubbling spring well. My clenched teeth felt sharply on edge. I pictured biting into slivers of sour mango dipped in salty bagoong
(2). My face contorted wildly into a puckered knot. My stomach grumbled. Lunch bell hasn’t rung yet. It was just too much.

Miss Acedillo looked up from her desk as if to decide whether or not she would be disturbed. Then with a patronizing voice she said. “Keep on reading, we don’t have the whole morning.”

I looked around. The row of kids in front of me were whispering, “Get on with it,” their backs up straight, two to a desk, feet flat on the floor. My eyes swept the room. Nothing unusual. Then I saw a torso half buried underneath the wooden desk from across mine. This person’s bent over buttock cleavage revealed a shirt tail in need of washing separating from a grimy, low-hung khaki drawers bunched at the waist with a string belt. Some bits of sour mango baon were spilling out of a half-opened banana leaf lunch pack. The air was sickly with the smell of sweat, mixed with spilt sour milk and fermenting shrimp heads. Somebody was surreptitiously having early lunch. I discerned the culprit.
“Ma’am, Panying is bothering me,” I blurted out in self defense.
Daggered looks and expectant twitters were directed at Panying’s location.

“What katarantaduhan
(3) is going on?” Miss Acedillo gets up, eyes piercing down every column and across all the rows like a flashlight beam. Panying’s head suddenly emerged to attention, mouth embroidered with boiled rice laced with brown fish paste.
“Epifanio Balasbas…walk yourself off to the principal’s office,” she vigorously cuffed the offending culprit’s batok
(4) and banished him with a shriek registering two decibels high.

Mr. Nicasio returned a few minutes later, Epifanio’s ear lobes in tow, face puckered up like a dried prune. Green mangoes make queer things to a face. The principal faced the class and with both arms authoritatively planted on his waist issued a fair warning.
“Stick to the standard regular baon,
(5) hear? Don’t be fancy.”
We complied.

And we learned a new English vocabulary. Fancy meant bagoong.

4. Nape.

5.Lunch, food provision
1.Dried salted
Fish sauce.
Copyright © 2004 Carayan Press