Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sweet, corny

I'm so sorry, I couldn't resist the title!

Whenever I go to Manila, I find myself craving street food, usually bananacue, turon and sweet corn. I think it's because when we were kids, we would go with my mother to UP Manila when she was still a graduate student there, and she would often buy us these snacks. I didn't care much for the city--it was too busy and dark and dirty for me--but I looked forward to merienda and I eventually associated any trip to Manila with street food.

When I was a student at DLS-CSB SPACE recently, I'd often buy sweet corn from this old lady who parks her cart in front of a 7-11. I'd buy more than one cob, one for me to eat on the bus and the rest to bring home. This old lady was unfailingly pleasant and accommodating, and she always remembered not to put any margarine on the corn and to salt only one of them, the one I would eat on the bus.

Tonight, since I was already in the Starbucks at the corner of Taft and Vito Cruz, I decided to walk in the opposite direction, to the Rizal Coliseum, to find someone selling corn.

I came upon this old man manning a cart. He smiled when I ordered four cobs, and smiled again, apologetically this time, when he said he could only give me three because the rest of the corn wasn't ready yet.

I said three was okay, and watched as he shucked three corn cobs and slid them into transparent plastic bags. I couldn't help but notice his hands. Like those of many of the street vendors I'd bought corn from, his hands were red and thick, toughened, I suppose, by constantly handling hot wares. He could dip his hands into the bucket of steaming water and take out bushels of corn.

As I paid, I asked if anyone else nearby was selling corn.

He smiled, this time a little shyly, and said his wife was selling corn at the 7-11 near the school.

"That nice lady is your wife?" I replied, "I usually buy from her, but this time I was on this side of Taft so I came here. But I almost always buy from her!"

This time he smiled with pride, with love in his eyes. "Yes, that's my wife."

As I walked to my bus, I imagined them holding each other's hands, hands that were red and tough and very much loved.