THE breeze was cool and the evening sky was velveteen blue, but it was summer in the ‘Land of the Golden Sand’ called Dubai. The pale purple group of clouds that gathered around the half moon resembled a bluish-white hole in the sky and the sound of yawning camels, along with lotars played by musicians in the street, created a distinct Arabian melody.

Amid the vast regions of Arabian golden sand was a luxurious hotel that stood proudly under the moonlit sky—the Al Nasr Bar. Inside it was a night bar famous for its blinding lights, electrifying music, overflowing drinks, and accommodating bartenders. That night was the hotel’s founding anniversary.

For once in a year, everyone in the bar was allowed to sing, dance, and be merry—even the bartenders and chefs. But despite the inviting aura to be wild and carefree, one bartender was left in the smoke-filled kitchen, heating up the pan and pouring olive oil onto it.

Alexander was a man in his mid-thirties. With his mestizo complexion, black hair, and brown eyes, one would assume that he was a typical Caucasian bachelor in search of temporal satisfaction, but among the members of the crew—with Russians, Brazilians, Indians and Chinese—he was the shortest of them all, and the only Filipino member.

The mood in the bar began to intensify as the disc jockey dropped his bass and the crowd of tipsy adults heated up the dance floor.

Everyone in the club was in the center of the dance floor—some were hitting the highest note of a song they could ever reach, a few were bumping with each other to the tune of hyper-active music, and most were drowning themselves with alcohol—except for one who was left in the kitchen, wearing an apron and a woven toque on his head.

Sining bilang pasismo

“Hey, Alex, come party with us!” one of his Indian friends called from outside. “For once, leave your chickens. They can cook themselves without your help.”

His Russian friend added, “Or at least, you take off your son’s apron and toque!” and a tumultuous laughter reverberated on the walls of the club.

“I’ll join later, Raheed, Ivan,” Alex lied. For 5 years of working in Dubai, Alex had learned to adapt to sarcasm.

If there was an option between dancing and cooking, he would rather be alone in the kitchen, perfecting his specialty. After all, it was his childhood dream to cook in silver pans, to use olive oil instead of vegetable oil, to eat with an orchestra playing under glittering chandeliers, to serve food in marble dishes, and to be in an apron and toque while cooking.

He set the fire in the stove and he watched the flame almost consume the steel pan. It was sweltering hot. It transcended through his shirt and rivulets of sweat poured down from his face.

It was much hotter in Dubai during summer and he missed spending it in the Philippines just swimming with his family, grilling barbeques in the yard, and teaching his son how to cook.

He placed olive oil on the pan until it seethed, and dropped the chicken breast already covered in bread crumbs. The pan filled with oil rumbled and trickles of blistering oil spluttered on him.

His son would be excited whenever he would bring home chicken from a famous fast-food chain in the Philippines as pasalubong. He taught him how to fry a chicken at seven-years-old. Unlike other children, his son was not afraid of fire, hot pans and blistering oil. His son very much enjoyed wearing an apron and toque, just like him.

Where science comes alive

He could still remember how his son first cried after having a blister on his face. He was sobbing, but not a single tear fell from his eyes.

He grew to become more passionate about cooking. He became an expert in frying and was starting to learn the basics of soups. He began to demand cooking materials like pressure cooker, grinder and blender when he was 10. But the dishes he cooked started to taste bitter to him.

For a second time, oil spluttered on his right arm. It didn’t hurt as much as how the first one did earlier. His famous fried chicken was almost fried to perfection. He could hear the loud music and see blinding lights from the outside. It was flaming hot and he was sweaty when he burned off the flame. Then he drained the chicken. It looked perfect.

“Alex, you’ve been married to your chicken! Come here and sing!” shouted Raheed.

At last, Alex was done with his task. He put the fried chicken in a clean platter and garnished it with spring onions. Then he put salad dressing on the side. Between singing and dancing, he would rather break his vocal chords on videoke.

“Okay, here I am,” Alex said, surprised of his own enthusiasm.

He chose among the list of songs until he finally selected one and Raheed encoded it. But before the music fell, the manager of the bar just thought it was the perfect time to give an announcement.

“Let’s give a toast to Alex—and his famous fried chicken,” and everybody started to laugh, including Alex, and they raised their glasses to a toast.

Odyssey to the self

The smell of champagne filled the atmosphere as the cork was detached from a newly bought Dom Perignon. A generous indulgence of champagne left dryness in their mouths like drought in the middle of desert land, and when the music finally started to play, Alex grabbed the microphone and for the first time in a long time, he took off his son’s apron and toque. Jon Christoffer R. Obice


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