Chris had no idea his father knew something about formal Filipino weddings. His father had warned him that not all weddings were as brief as you might hope, that they could be lengthy ceremonies sometimes, “As if they wanna make sure the bride and groom can keep the relationship going at least as long as it takes for them to get to say their ‘I dos’.” This was a joke, but the humor of it went over Chris’s young head.
Well, this one was a doozy. From the time the processional music began until the bride and groom kissed, Chris felt as if enough time had passed to build the Great Wall, or at least one of the pyramids at Giza, if not all three. Plus the sphynx.
To make matters worse, the captive audience had to constantly kneel, stand up, kneel, stand up. All told, he figured Chris figured he’d have put in the energy it took to run the 26.2 miles of the Honolulu Marathon. He wished he’d brought his basketball kneepads. The moments when they were allowed to sit were the equivalent of water stations along the grueling route.
From time to time, either sitting, standing, or kneeling, he would look outside and envy the people who smoked and chatted while he and the rest of the inmates here in their San Quentin satellite sweated as if their goal were to see who could lose the most weight that night. From time to time he would hear one of the smart wedding guests laugh somewhere outside. It had to be, he decided, that they were laughing at those who’d been unlucky enough to unwisely condemn themselves as eyewitnesses to the ceremony.
And if that weren’t trying enough, the ceremony included long sections where the languages spoken were either Latin or Tagalog, neither of which did he understand a single word. When English did occasionally break up the communication chasm, it was as if open captions had popped up, and these were telling you nothing you cared to understand.
Finally, staggering up off the floor for the final time, the little tinkling sound driving Chris near the point of feeling like Lon Chaney romping through a bell tower in miniature, the recessional music kicked in, and everyone looked around, smiling at each other and shaking hands. These had to be congratulations and smiles of relief, no doubt, at having lived out their sentences, and now, standing at the gate, these parolees were set free to begin rebuilding their lives.
Chris followed his father out.
“Hah,” said his dad, “just under an hour. Not bad. I’ve been to some that lasted an hour and a half.”
Chris was glad there would be a buffet right around the corner in the church’s reception area, which meant they wouldn’t have to take more time to drive to a restaurant before chowing down. The wedding workout had created a hunger in him he’d not felt since the last time an electrical blackout had made it not only impossible to cook for two days, but prevented his family from opening the refrigerator door. That meant cold canned goods and cereal for two days, neither of which appealed to him much, so he’d barely eaten a thing. When the power came back on his family ate like proverbial kings.
That was the kind of hunger he felt now, and the aromas from the food that reached his nostrils, although a bit foreign to his palate, beckoned enticingly nonetheless. Chris followed his father in the long line. By the time they grabbed their plates, he felt he could have eaten one.
His father told him he had to take some salad. The macaroni looked good, local style, but he was forced to take some of the leafy stuff as well. They each grabbed a butter roll and a scoop of white rice. The aromas were quite strong now, and they were, well, not as appetizing as he’d hoped.
“Ah,” said his father, scooping into the first dish, “Dinuguan.”
“What’s that?” Chris asked.
“Pig’s blood stew,” his dad said, spooning some on the boy’s plate.
That would be an easy pass. Next was something black looking, like the creature’s lagoon.
“This is squid ink adobo,” said his dad, putting some of that on Chris’s plate. The smell almost made him gag. Worse, the dark liquid began to invade the space of his edible food. The rice, the roll, and the macaroni salad fell victim. Why not the leafy greens? he wondered.
“Have some of this too,” said his dad, dousing the last of his still-white rice in what looked like the kind of mess you’d toss in the kitchen slop bucket.
“Are those eyes?” Chris asked.
His dad smiled down at him, his eyes gleaming as if he were Bogart savoring the treasure trove of Sierra Madre. “Balut,” he said, almost reverentially. “Chicken embryos.”
Chris stared at the little half-formed eyes gleaming back at him. He thought he might throw up.
“Oh man,” said his dad. “Chicharon Bulaklak. I love these deep-fried intestines. Without hesitation, he dumped some on the woozy boy’s plate.
“And look at this,” cried his father. “You hardly ever see this.”
They looked like some kind of insect, but that couldn’t be.
“Cricket adobo,” said his father. “Oh man. I haven’t had this in ages.”
Onto Chris’s plate fell a healthy scoop of this mess. He grimaced. This was to be starving and then having to sit down at Miss Havisham’s wedding banquet table to eat. Maybe mold and cobwebs combined in some excruciating way would be the next delicacy piled on?
Feeling very faint and deciding he had enough on his plate, Chris stepped out of line and walked swiftly in search of an area where no one could see him. Finally, far away from the madding crowd, he found a seat and collapsed. He closed his eyes. Waves of nausea washed through him. When he finally opened his eyes, he wasn’t sure how long he’d been sitting. He tried not to look at the food. The smell, however, he could not escape. What to do?
He heard his father call for him. Desperate, Chris looked for somewhere to hide. His father, much nearer, called again. Well, if he couldn’t hide, at least he could conceal the plate. Putting it on the floor and pushing it under the chair with his heel, he succeeded in burying the treasure for some unfortunate soul to discover at a later date.
His dad turned the corner. “There you are. We’re headed home. Did you enjoy the food?”
Getting up, Chris said, “Ah, yeah, it was quite a dinner.”
“And a wonderful wedding ceremony, too.”
Chris nodded. “Yes, Daddy, everything really was.”