THE FULL foulness of East Bay weather was on display, as globs of rainwater struck the window pane of Adrian Velasco’s quarters at the St. Patrick’s Senior Home, and autumn leaves and broken oak twigs swirl like whirlpool.

A flash of lightning through the faded canary yellow drapes revealed Adrian’s modest lodging: a fuzzy, eggshell white carpeted floor flanked by walls with patches of dark brown where the paint had chipped off; a steel-framed, military style bed pushed to the side.

"Adrian. Adrian! Please. Come here, boy!" yelled the old man in the adjacent room, a strong American accent accompanying the gasping tone of his voice.

“Yes. Coming, Sir Roland,” Adrian replied, carrying a pill box which rattled as he walked briskly into the room next door.

He entered the room of Roland Grady, a Second World War veteran stricken with Alzheimer's. His evenly spaced, faded blue eyes were grafted onto a Caucasian canvas, sprinkled with elderly freckles and hugged by a silvery beard. Adrian shared similar features with him, but with a more oblong-shaped face, brown eyes, and a kayumanggi skin tone.

“Adrian? Adrian,” the old man said, gasping and reaching his hand.

“It’s okay sir. I brought your medicine. Here,” Adrian told him, handing him a blue pill and a glass of water, which Grady slowly lifted up to his mouth and washed down.

“Outside! They’re back,” exhaled Grady, grabbing and shaking Adrian’s forearm. He pointed toward the window. A cold sweat crawled down his brow, betraying his unease.

“No sir, it’s okay, it’s just the rain. You’re not in Pampanga anymore; you’re home, remember? It’s over now.” He waved his hand to show him the custom room, resembling an old Canadian style log cabin, with a fireplace made from red bricks and cement.

On such nights, Adrian found himself trying to appease the old man's frantic spirit with honey, green leaf tea, and stories of his own life back in Pampanga—his Lola Elva's famous pindangbabi(honey cured carabao) and betute(stuffed frog marinated with cane vinegar and soy), their family trips to San Fernando to witness the giant lantern festival during Christmas, and his uncle Lito, who had taught him the ways of exquisite Santo Tomas pottery, fashioned from fresh riverbankclay from San Matias.

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Grady finally began to calm down, he leaned back into his leather recliner, and pointed to the MP-40 rifle mounted atop the fireplace, a blood-soaked handkerchief tied around the front sight; its barrel encased in rust and the butt plate was scarred with scratches all over its left face.

“I remember that. I remember that!” he said excitedly. His bent finger bobbed up and down and his head repeatedly turned to Adrian. An elderly smile wrinkled the patch of singed skin on his right cheek.

“Do you know how I got this?” Grady asked, pointing to his scar.

“If I let you tell me, will it help you go back to sleep?” Adrian asked, to which Grady replied with an enthusiastic nod. Adrian was not one to deny the old man his favorite story, especially since it happened in his own home province.

“It was December 1, 1935…” Grady would always begin. Adrian dared not confess his frequent absent-mindedness, and that his constant nodding was only to assure Grady of his “attention.” Grady’s tale, or rather the details that his ravaged memory could still summon, was something he had grown to memorize that he simply narrated the story by rote.

Grady, night and night again, described his experiences with as much clarity and detail as he could afford. His infantry was traveling to Fort Stotensberg for a timely rendezvous when they were ambushed by the Kempeitai. The two sides quickly opened fire.

He recalled seeing his captain taking a bullet to the shoulder during battle, prompting him to carry his leader into the fields close by. Suddenly, he felt his head snap back, as a bullet from an unknown assailant scraped his right temple, after which he lost consciousness on the damp grassy field. The burning sensation of the projectile grazing the side of his skull was still fresh in his mind when he awoke the next morning, finding himself lying on a bamboo bed inside an unfamiliar bahay-kubo.

As he willed his legs beneath his body in order to stand, a soft hand cupped his forehead, while another one held his bruised left forearm and pushed him gingerly back into the bamboo bed. His caretaker leaned his rifle against a nearby window. It was at this point of the story that Grady would enter a poetic trance.

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“Well, it had been one heck of a day,” he said. “I almost got a piece of piping hot silver lodged in my skull and I ended up on a piece of bamboo furniture in the middle of who-knows-where.” He would say this with a hardy chuckle, hoping to nudge his caregiver to gloss over the fact that he was a bloodied-up American soldier, armed to the boot with an MP-40 and a Swiss army knife he had driven into the mud-drenched scalp of a Kempeitai that same morning.

“She stood over me, hair all bunched up and skin lighter than any native I’ve ever seen. She was wearing one of those white dresses. I forgot what it was called.”

Adrian explained to Grady that the latter was trying to describe a baro’tsaya, an image that again reminded the young man of his Lola Elva.

"She went back to me with a bowl of ox tripe, soaked in a tangerine colored, spongy soup. The smell reminded me of toasted peanuts and the meat was like a chewy marshmallow sheet. The banana buds, string beans and cuts of eggplant she put in left a soggy but pleasant aftertaste. It was… It was beautiful."

From that juncture, there was not much else to be told and not much else that Grady could recall. Adrian was positive he was describing kare-kare and he shared his fervor. His Lola Elva would also make him a bowl after he got home from school, where the young Adrian would quickly unbutton his shirt, throw it aside and race to the kitchen, following the scent of marinating peanut sauce and tender beef cuts.

He realized that this one special dish tugged at them both.

The adjective he used to describe it, however, always made Adrian lose sleep more than it should. He remained perplexed, but a clue would emerge when he recalled his first encounter with Grady some five years ago.

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Adrian had been working in the home for a couple of weeks when Grady arrived. The staff accompanied Grady to his room while a young woman approached Adrian and handed him an envelope. Inside was a recipe for “Ox Tripe and String Bean Stew” and a picture of Kare-Kare.

“Please be patient with him,” the woman told Adrian. “It’s the only thing that makes him happy these days. When he first returned from San Fernando, he began telling these stories about a woman who saved him.”

All throughout their relationship, Adrian kept this story close to his heart. Every time he cooked some kare-kare for Grady, he made sure to put in the best ingredients. He knew very well that this was all that Grady had left. Everything in his life was practically gone. But this one special dish that reminded of all he was before everything was lost to him.

He returned his attention to Grady and poured him another glass of water.

“I'm going to go back there you know! I'm going to find her! Have another bowl of that stew!” he scowled.

“Okay! Okay! Calm down Sir Roland,” he remarked. "Well, maybe we can go together? You know…Maybe we can go there in time for the Suman Festival.” “The what?”

“Suman is what we call a kakanin…some sweet rice with…" He stopped mid-sentence, not wanting to get Grady's hopes too high. “Ummm…Never mind. I’ll show you when we get there.”

“Okay.” Grady replied as Adrian refilled his glass.“Would you mind getting me some tea from the pantry?”

Adrian paused and set the pitcher of water down on Grady’s table.

A surreal silence crept into the room. Grady leaned back into his recliner. He turned his head to the window. His mind seemed to play tricks on him as an image of a woman in white seemed to form on the wet glass of his window.

“I’ll come back. Someday, I will.” Grady said. Cedric Allen P. Sta. Cruz


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