Aling Anday of Mayhaligue
By Victoria Manasan Milan
I could hear her loud voice, barking orders in the dark of dawn, from my bed. She made sure her children were awake and knew what to do, before she left for her daily morning shopping in Divisoria. It was always too early for me to get up and I would close my eyes and doze off again.
The clippety-clopp of the kalesa signaled her return, about an hour later. And soon, her screaming commenced. “Nestor! Ponso!” she would call out to her sons, to help unload her merchandise. More screams, peppered with a word about their mother, when she thought they moved too slowly. Did she realize she called herself a p…? I wondered.
There were big bags of roasted peanuts in shells, boxes of candies, golden ripe pineapples, perfectly round watermelons, ripe papayas, bunches of sinkamas, sampaloc, and bushels of mangoes – green ones and golden ripe ones. She bought every fruit she could find and other favorite seasonal specials like atis, duhat, siniguelas and santol. A thrilling array of produce and the colors more stunning than even Cézanne’s famous fruit bowl.
Onions, garlic and ginger, she picked up for those harried cooks who ran out of these basic staples every so often.
Once a week, a burly, deeply sun-tanned man in a truck delivered bundles of sugarcane, the sweeter, juicier, purple variety not the green ones, which were mostly milled for sugar. Each bundle, the size of a big man’s embrace, had about ten or twelve long stalks, the length was about ten feet. Loads of fresh green and golden coconuts still bunched together naturally in fives or sixes, were dropped off by lanky, long armed men, usually on a different day.
Ice was delivered daily, in industrial size blocks, scored on its lengthwise and crosswise surface, which made it more easily chopped up in five-inch cubes. An old icebox, which sat up against the wall outside of our house, contained Coke, Pepsi, 7-Up, Cosmos and Royal Tru-Orange in bottles, kept cold by the cubes of ice, for sale.
Aling Anday started her preparations furiously, early every morning. The watermelons, papayas and pineapples were cut up to retail pieces and arranged on a bilao. The pakwan turned into colorful red and green triangular chunks. The large, oval papayas were sliced in long wedges that looked like golden “banka” poised to glide down the Pasig River.
Although you wouldn’t exactly want to go down there, now. The Pasig River had not been as gloriously romantic as Rizal had described in his El Filibusterismo since the turn of the century, but that is another story.
Intricate designs of flowers and geometric shapes appeared on the sides of the peeled pineapples. It was tantalizing to watch Aling Anday thinly slice off the thick outside layer of peel and then with a smaller, sharper knife the eyes were carved out, creating the designs. Rodin himself would have considered a few of them works of art. Aling Anday was proficient with the knife.
The missing forefinger on her left hand might have been due to a disastrous sugarcane accident. Just a hunch. With a sharp machete, she would cut up the long juicy stalks of sugarcane into roughly twenty-inch lengths and piled them high on a wooden bin made to hold the “tubo”. Each piece sold for five centavos, peeled or unpeeled. Most often she would peel off the hard outside layer, about sixteen inches of its length and leave about four inches for the handle.
I can still imagine and relish the sweet juice streaming down my chin, all the way down to my neck and the squeaky-clean feel of my teeth after chewing on the fibers of the cane. My grandmother used to say that chewing sugarcane made our teeth stronger.
With the same, extra sharp blade, Aling Anday would hack off the husk from the pointed end of the fresh green coconuts so she could crack open the shell more easily. The sweet water was collected into a very large glass jug. Then the tender white meat was expertly scooped out with a flexible spatula made from a carabao’s horn, leaving nothing edible in the hollowed out shell.
Chunks of ice, water and sugar were added to this delectable thirst quencher, a favorite on those long hot summer days. After drinking up all the sugared water you get to the sweet strips of the tender white meat of the coconut, a delight at the end. You, really, would not have been satisfied with just one glass of this concoction in those ninety-degree days. The “buko” juice, served in the thick and lightly tinted green glass, was a fast seller. After each use, the glass was simply sloshed in water, ready for the next patron.
Aling Anday’s fruit and vegetable stand occupied a small triangle of land facing the street, between our house and our neighbor’s on the left. Two long benches were on either side fronting our neighbor’s sari-sari store, next to her stall. There, people sat and discussed the latest news and gossip while they enjoyed a smoke, a bottle of beer or gin. A gang of men, friends, sat there on all hours of the day, sometimes everyday. They did a little bit of gambling, too, when one felt lucky and just happened to have his prized rooster, there was instant cockfight.
On occasions singing was heard, and then wild guffaws at one who couldn’t quite carry a tune. There was laughter all the time, except when one got too drunk and a fight would ensue. Everybody knew everyone else in the neighborhood and in a way, looked after each other.
Like the men, flies hovered over Aling Anday’s fruit stand all day long. Most of them probably lived and died there on top of the fruits and sugarcane peels on the ground, around the stand. The heavy sweet scent of the pineapple was especially enticing.
For this reason, my grandmothers allowed us to buy only the whole, uncut fruits from Aling Anday; the ice-cold coconut juice was forbidden. We watched with envy, while other children ate the slices of papaya and the green mango slivers topped with “heko”, the dark, irresistibly pungent fish sauce.
Somehow, the fruits we had at home were not as good as those personally prepared by Aling Anday. Clearly, her gourmet magic was not there. It was Aling Anday’s touch that made the difference. Once in a while, we were allowed to buy some of the stuff we craved, but were cautioned to get them first thing in the morning before the scheduled fly conventions got too hectic.
I can’t remember who Aling Anday’s husband was or even if she had one back then but I’m sure my mother would recall. She was the only one I remembered working in their family. She looked like she was in her early to mid forties, with a seemingly tough disposition. She hardly smiled but when she did, she self-consciously tried to hide the gap where her missing front teeth used to be. I knew of her three children. There might have been four, with one in prison. All three lived with her, depended upon her. Perhaps, she had to be tough.
Their house was behind another to our left. To get there, you had to walk through a narrow alley. It was about twenty yards from her fruit stand. The little house with thatched roof was close to the ground even though it stood on stilts. From the second floor of our house you could see almost everything inside the sparse living room/bedroom layout. All its windows, made of capiz shells like ours, were always open. You could hear everything too; they talked loudly, screamed, when they talked.
Letty is Aling Anday’s only daughter; she was much older than my oldest sister. From our windows, I used to watch her wash the family laundry around the public faucet on the alley. She always seemed friendly, always smiling. Every morning several other women did their wash there too. They talked constantly, gossiped, laughed, punctuated by a yell here and there, whenever some of the raucous children came too close to the clean, washed clothes.
Letty swore like a sailor. Someone told me once that Letty’s new husband was in prison. I thought it was odd but my young age did not grasp the full meaning of what must have been a very sad and lonely life for a newly wed.
Ponso and Nestor, Aling Anday’s sons, held but fleeting moments in my memories, though they seemed to be there at their mother’s beck and call all the time. Back then people would disappear and the next thing you heard was that they had gone to jail.
Another neighbor’s teenaged boy went to prison for torturing and killing a poor kid from a distant neighborhood, who peddled balut at night. It was a prank, a dare, to mug the kid and eat all the balut in his basket. But he fought back and was stabbed and left alone on the side of the street, to die.
Like Aling Anday, there were others who sold food on the streets to earn their living. Aling Ana sold three-day old boiled eggs and cut up Sunkist navel oranges. She was careful to remove all the spoiled brown parts of the oranges she sold. I always wondered where she got the eggs and the spoiled oranges and why people bought them. My grandmother and I have shared a few of them. The three-day old boiled eggs were actually very flavorful and the oranges sweet.
A jolly man, everybody’s friend, who lived with his mother near the kapilya, came around our neighborhood, daily at close to noontime and sold food his mother cooked. He sold from a big and heavy native basket, Lumpia and Turon.
The yummy turon is a sweet snack of bananas layered with a piece of langka, in a lumpia wrapper, deep-fried with brown sugar or penuche. A favorite of many, the scrumptious Lumpia is the Filipino egg roll made with stir-fried vegetables, pork and shrimp.
Dangling on the side of this man’s basket was a large bottle of vinegar with garlic and red and green hot peppers, for dipping. Actually we didn’t dip, we bit off one end of the lumpia and poured vinegar into its opening; the tangy flavor of the vinegar in every mouthful was wonderfully addictive.
A thin, quiet lady sold steamed balut every night. She usually showed up a little before dusk and on a tiny stool she brought with her, settled down near the basketball court at the end of our street. By eight or nine she got ready to head back home, gathered up her basket of still warm balut and the miniature cones of newsprint paper, filled with salt. I didn’t know her name and her face was not familiar.
Before plastics or Styrofoam were ever used, fresh green banana leaves and old newspapers were the popular packaging for foodstuff bought on the street. Cones of varying sizes appropriate to the merchandise were fashioned from them. Boiled and roasted peanuts and balut were packed in old newspaper. Food cooked or prepared ready to eat like peeled green mangoes and bibingkas were packed in banana leaves. Street vendors and food peddlers allowed for very little overhead expenses or none at all.
There were two sari-sari stores on our street where you could buy all kinds of foodstuff and groceries. Both were much bigger than Aling Anday’s and both were located on the ground floors of two, two-story buildings across from each other.
Another woman who had several children owned the store on our side of the street. All her grown children helped at the store but the oldest one managed it daily. It seemed like he enjoyed his job in the store. He had the creepy habit of staring at people. I went there only as a last resort.
Some afternoons my Lola would order and they would deliver, a mug of brewed Batangas coffee for us to share. It smelled good and tasted strong. To go with the coffee we would get our favorites, the “Marca Pina” Edam cheese, imported from Spain, sold by the slice and some freshly baked pandesal from the store across the street.
A very nice couple, a Chinese man and his Filipino wife owned the store across from us. They sold everything you ever needed, it seemed and they allowed you to haggle for the price. My Lola used to buy her stuff “on credit” at Kong and Aling Rita’s store. Once a week she sent me there to get for her a bottle of C. Hok Tong tonic, a Chinese red wine and Alhambra cigarettes, with no money and all I had to say was “lista”.
Only Aling Anday had a permanent stall that’s not quite a full store. She was open from very early in the morning until very late at night. Hers was the very first farmers’ market I have ever known. Sure there were others who tried to compete but Aling Anday was indomitable. I sometimes wonder whatever happened to her. She was almost an institution on Mayhaligue.
These stores, they anchored congregations of people, you see, like the assembly of older men telling tall tales, the gaggle of younger teenagers, engrossed in their games and the young men, coming of age, chatting, watching the girls go by.
All these places had their moments, as the song goes, in that small strip of a street called Mayhaligue, believed to be the toughest street in Tondo, the toughest district in the City of Manila, my hometown.