Friday, June 3, 2011

San Biag Ko: Killing Me Softly

Killing Me Softly (Apologies to PETA)
©2010 Johnny Domawa
All Rights Reserved

A shadow fell over from the doorway chasing away the lull of the moment. I looked up lazily, not really looking forward to the next chore. Already my muscles, not so used to continuous physical labor screamed for rest. Twelve years of city living does that to the body and the suddenness of rural living, particularly in the first weeks could be considered hellish.
My grandfather was framed over the doorway, his eyes appraising me with a mixture of undisguised irritation that is somehow tempered with care. I felt embarrassed. I wondered where the strong young Applai man that I was in the yesteryears had gone to. (I was never really strong, so that might be an exaggeration, which you must allow.) I stood up gingerly, ignoring the screaming of my knotted muscles.
“Engka tiliwen nan manok ad ngato ta maisibo as maawni” My grandfather said matter of factly, then turned away, leaving me to watch his fading shadow. His order did not dawn on me yet. He is frail now, his age and drinking finally catching up to him. I felt the pang of sadness settle and for a moment my sore body was forgotten.
And then it hit me.
Damn. Triple damn.
I don’t know how to butcher a chicken.
I went out, hoping that my brother is outside to do the dirty work. Between us, he alone had mastered the art of pinikpikan, or has he? I blame my mother for sheltering us during me during my childhood. Had no time to interact with other tribe members. The result: my knowledge of tradition is virtually approaching nil.
My brother was nowhere.
Quadruple damn.
I treaded slowly to the chicken coops and as if the chickens knew something was afoot, they started squawking at my approach.
“Into asna?” I shouted over the din. My grandfather should be somewhere in shouting distance and I was right.
“San mangaak ay nakaseparate assan right side mo.” Came the answering shout. In case you are wondering why his words are mixed with English, you have to understand that we are natives of Golinsan, the town that is ‘kate-kateg ad Yoo Ess’ or literally the lost town of the US of A that somehow got itself mixed up in the Philippines. At least up to the late 90s, our second language is English until the new generation somehow put it in their minds that Taglish was cooler which is actually rubbish, considering that our strength lay on our near flawless English diction. (perhaps this is why, in terms of education and smarts, the new generation are lagging behind the previous ones.)
I walked towards the aforementioned chicken coop. The brown hen regarded me with doleful eyes as if it knew its impending fate. I lifted the wooden barrier and gingerly plunged my hand to grasp its legs and woops.
A smart rap on my knuckles. It kicked and started to flail, its version of panic, I guess. It flew around its coop and it took me a while to grasp one of its legs but it fought on, flapping its wings with reckless abandon, its cries riling the others into a cackling frenzy.
Securing both legs finally I pulled it out and flipped it outside down. As I closed its coop, I wondered if its mind had grasped its situation. It had lain still on its upside down position, though its mouth was open and its eyes were wild with apprehension.
“Into nan mapaltian na?” I shouted again as the chickens around gradually settled, the major drama on their part over at least. Not so with mine.
“Iyey mo ad likod. Wada nan pang lamew assan dalikan. Makigad kayo.”
Oh man, I am going to be alone in this. I snatched a small pao (a kind of grass stem, don’t know its genus but it is the best thing to use for pinikpikan.) and proceeded to the assigned place. My brother was nowhere still to be seen.
I finally reached the place. Like most Applai backyards, it was open earth. A small ditch ran across it which served as drainage for the houses and banana trees (shrubs is the more accurate term, but lets call them trees as my lowland friends tell it) draped their wide leaves over. Settling down on a barren rock, I shifted my hold on the chickens lower wing and held it upright. The change of position made it regain its strength and it started flailing again and for a moment, I thought it would get free.
My apologies to PETA for the next section. This is a tradition that is passed over the Applai culture since the beginning of our time.
Holding the wings firmly, I grasped my pao and gave its head a whack with all my strength. It froze as its body became rigid, its toes splayed open and its bill open in a wordless cry. I raised my pao again and another blow landed. Whack!
(If you are feeling squeamish, please don’t read further. This is not for the squeamish.)
(Haha, no, its not like I am enjoying this. Just making fun of the squeamish. Hehe)
“Ay inayan pay na.” A booming voice jolted me from my reverie. I looked behind to see my grandfathers scowling face. “Itapim nan payak na.”
And with that, he disappeared again.
I forgot.
Regrasping the tips of its wings, I began to ‘pikpik’ its wings. It’s the reason the dish is called ‘pinikpikan’ without the ‘pikpik’, it should never be called one.
The chicken, its strength sapped made only small movements, occasional muscle twitches and feeble attempts to move.
I did the wings over until they were the desired texture. (Words omitted to avoid the impression that we torture chickens. Hehe)
Satisfied after a few minutes of ‘pikpiking’, I gave it a once over, admiring with a little pride the skilled handiwork. Now comes the messy part where I am unskilled. How to butcher it?
‘Lamew’ Ah, the water.
In the old days, people do it with fire. (What’s the Applai term again for this, anyone?) but now in modern times, we first do ‘lamew’ (is this even right?). Dunking the chicken carcass in boiling how water that would make it easier to remove the feathers. (mangidutdutan.)
I went inside the kitchen, where true to his words, grandpa had a cauldron of pipingly hot water. After wrestling with it, I managed to get the cauldron outside. The chicken seemed dead as it lay quietly where I left it.
Grabbing it by its legs, I unceremoniously dumped it in the water and whoosh! It suddenly came to life, its wings flapping with abandon showering me with scalding water. I jumped but the pain was drowned with laughter. My guffaws brought someone to investigate and a new set of laughter joined mine. I looked at the source. It was my young cousin, a thin gangly kid of around nine years, his face flushed with mirth.
“Yaket?” he asked as we watched the chicken flailing inside the cauldron. Then as abruptly as it came to life, it halted its movements and dropped limply. My cousin, the more adventurous at this point poked it gingerly with the pao.
I breathed a sigh of relief as it gave no response. Emboldened I approached it and swirled it around the hot water, letting it soak in the heat to loosen its pores.
“Ay getkem nan teg-an inudik?” I asked my cousin. I know that once I finish removing its feathers, the next step would be to open it and I have no idea of the proper method.
“Inilak ad kawni ad kalsa ya, adjak manet getken no into inmayana.”
“Kad engka ilan?”
“Baka inmey ad kiniw.” My cousin poked the chicken in its bath, obviously not wanting to be sent on an errand. I smiled. We were probably feeling the same.
I gingerly pulled a feather from the wings. With a small effort, it came free. Its probably done. Pulling it halfway out of its bath, I started pulling feathers, my unused hands smarting from the hot water that clung to it. Laughing, my cousin joined me and we proceeded to expose it to its naked glory.
Which took a while as stubborn feathers and down continued to suppress our bravado but finally, with a heap of unkempt feathers, red hands and a dressed chicken to show for it. (is that even the right term?) we did it.
I laid the chicken in one of the basins and pondered what to do next when my cousin suddenly erupted in giggles. I looked at him then followed his gaze into the chicken. A bewildered eye appraised me. I watched incredulously as it raised its head and flapped its now featherless wings.
Transfixed, I could only watch.
Slowly with much effort, it stood up, though it teetered precariously close to collapse.
My cousin was beside himself with laughter.
“Mendad-aan nan manok! Mendad-aan nan manok!” he shouted as he did a little dance.
I watched it waddle away.


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