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The sights, smells and sounds that had been with her since before she could remember. The way the sidecar vibrated with the motorcycle it was attached to as the main mode of transportation of her hometown drove her from the bus station to the simple dwelling known as home. This humble carefree environment might as well have been a universe away from the luxuries of the Fujimoto estate, leaving Elsa with the perplexed feeling that no matter how much she might achieve after fighting so hard to escape such harsh conditions she may find no greater peace than when amongst her origins.
Ken was right behind her, being driven in a sidecar of his own due to his size, and when the two motorcycles pulled up to the home of the Velasquez family all came out to greet their beloved Elsa and her foreign companion. Soon thereafter dinner was served.
‘Is this your first time to eat Filipino food?’ Mark, Elsa’s older brother asked of their guest.
‘Yes. It’s very good.’
The brief exchange gave Elsa’s young niece the courage to ask a question of her own. ‘You eat raw fish?’
Mark began to scold his daughter for asking such a thing, but Ken was happy to answer. ‘No, that’s ok,’ and turned to the curious little girl.
‘Yes, I do. It’s called sushi. The people of Japan eat sushi because it is the closest form to the purity of the providing sea.’
His insightful answer produced a giggle from the young one, followed by a mispronunciation that had them all joining in the laughter. ‘Shushi?’
Later that evening, once Elsa had familiarized Ken with the three basics of Filipino-style bathing (bucket/scoop/water) she joined her father by his bedside and fascinated him with stories of Japan and a few pictures of some bridges.
That night Tatay had fallen asleep with a smile on his face.
As mother and daughter prepared breakfast Ken walked into the kitchen, handing Elsa a bottle of water and a single pill wrapped in plastic. Once she took the vitamin Ken headed for the makeshift bathroom, concerned mother asking her youngest about what she had just taken. ‘It’s nothing,’ Elsa replied in Tagalog. ‘Mr. Fujimoto just likes to keep us healthy.’
Maternal instinct was telling the seasoned parent otherwise, but before she could press her daughter on the matter Elsa removed the pot their meal was in from the open flame and sat it to the side. ‘I’ll let them know breakfast is ready.’
Elsa had felt it. The unspoken worry emanating from her mother, but how could she respond? By cluing her in on some of the oddities she had experienced while gone? And run the risk of afflicting the family with another heart attack?
Absolutely not. This opportunity of a lifetime was just that, with Elsa about to prove such as she approached Mark with her hands to her back.
‘Hey brother, breakfast is ready.’ Mark looked up from his woodwork and over to his sister, the memory of their childhood bringing a smile to his face. ‘It’s nice to have you home.’
‘Remember that time you tried to make that electric chisel?’ she asked him.
His reminiscent smile turned into an embarrassing grin. ‘Yep.’
‘You kept saying how you were going to be able to do twice the work in half the time. But every time you would try to get it to work, either the chisel would break or the engine would burn out.’ Mark nodded, blew the shavings off his carving and went in for a few more strikes with chisel and hammer.
Elsa brought her hands from around her back, revealing a rectangular box. ‘Try this.’ She opened it up, a brand new factory made electric chisel lying there for Mark’s eyes to behold. Overcome by excitement he picked his sister up and turned around in a joyous circle before returning her feet to the ground and his eyes to the priceless treasure. With careful hands he took it from its box and admired.
‘Remember to read the instructions first,’ Elsa joked as she turned to leave. ‘Come, let’s eat.’
The smothering humidity made the Philippine heat nearly unbearable, Ken unable to comprehend how people could choose to live in such harsh weather as he watched the locals make their way up and down the busy dirt road in front of the Velasquez home.
‘A little different from the Fujimoto estate, huh?’ Elsa joked as she took a seat beside him on the wooden bench that had been there since before she was born. Ken gave a little chuckle, ‘Sure is,’ and wiped the coat of sweat from his forehead as he noticed an approaching man, crucified in the unrelenting heat by a pole across the back of his shoulders, two heavy pales, one on each side hanging from it.
‘Taho! Taho!’ the man shouted out. Elsa gestured for him to come, and when he got to them he unloaded his balanced product from his body and placed it down atop the dirt below. ‘Dalawa,’ Elsa said while going for some coins in her pocket. Ken watched as the taho man ladled the thick sweetened bean curd from one of his pales, filling two small plastic cups and handing over one to each of them.
‘Salamat,’ Elsa said as she handed the man her coins, Ken echoing the foreign thank you and in so doing making all three of them laugh.
‘Taho is one of our specialties here,’ she said. They watched as the taho man lifted the pales off the ground, delved under it, felt that it was in place against the back of his shoulders and stood straight up, balancing the two hanging pales as he headed down the road in search of more customers. ‘Taho! Taho!’
‘Yeah, life here in the province is really hard,’ Elsa explained as they ate the Filipino snack. ‘That’s why I’m so grateful to be working for the Fujimoto Corporation. Hopefully I’ll be able to move my family to a better place in the near future.
‘What about you? Did you have a hard life growing up?’
‘Financially,’ Ken said as he half drank, half chewed his taho, ‘I had everything. But when it comes to family, you’re wealthier than I’ve ever been.’
Elsa looked at Ken in a new light, as this was a side of him she hadn’t known existed.
‘I know I turned out to be a disappointment to my parents, especially my father, but I’m content with what I do.’ Again wiping his forehead and eyebrows to keep the sweat out of his eyes Ken asked in exasperation, ‘How do you guys put up with this heat?!’
Elsa stood to her feet and took him by the hand. ‘Come on, I’ll show you.’
The rest of the afternoon was spent at the Abra River, Ken, Elsa and her family all swimming, her father doing well enough to wade on the bank, taking in the Marcos Bridge that stood high above the water in the not-so-far distance.
With the arrival of the next morning it was time for Elsa and Ken to travel back down to Manila for the flight back to Japan, with her promising her family through tears that she would be back soon. When the two were alone Elsa had given her mother an envelope full of money, ensuring her that she indeed had enough for herself and that her job provided every need and more. While in the embrace of a mother not wanting to let her only daughter go Elsa reminded for the both of them that she had to concentrate on this opportunity, as it was going to raise them out of the dirt and into a better life.
Chapter 4 posted shortly.