It was four in the afternoon. I was busy watching cartoons when I heard a jeepney park in front of the house. Looking through the window, I saw the silver and blue jeepney that bore the words, “Egg dealer” on its side. I ran outside and opened the gate.
“Nanay!” (Grandma!) I shouted.
My grandmother extended her hand through the jeepney’s grill bars. She placed her hand gently on my head, “Kawaan ka ng Diyos at magbabait.” (God bless you and be good.)
Then she handed to me bags of loaf bread and three twenty peso bills, “Galing sa Inay ang tinapay. Para sa mga Ate at sa’yo ang pera, ha? Pang-meryenda.” (Mom gave the bread. The money is for you and and your sisters, okay? For your snacks.)
I thanked her and she bid goodbye. That was our routine every Thursday afternoon when we still lived in Cuenca, Batangas.
The egg played a big role during my childhood years. Since my mother sends our needs via the jeepney that delivers them, there was an unwritten agreement that we should visit my grandmother at barrio Emmanuel every Saturday. My siblings and I make sure we go. We spend the entire day playing with our cousins who lived nearby.
Sometimes, we play hide and seek in the poultry farm. I remember hiding in one of the growing cages with one cousin, holding my breath so I could not smell the stench of the mixture of chicken feed and water in the chicken drinker and feeder. We shooed the chickens and turned off the lightbulb, hoping that the It will not find us. The It did not find us but one of Nanay’s workers did. He turned the light back on and said we should not have turned it off because the chicks needed the strong light. My cousin and I just ran off, worried that our hiding place is too easy to find.
Some days, I come with my mother and we find Nanay sorting the eggs with some workers or ‘boy’ as she calls them. There may have been hundreds of egg trays, grouped and placed at a specific spot. I never knew the reason for this until my grandmother told me that the eggs come in different sizes: pullets, small, medium, large, extra large and jumbo.
“Ay paano ho naal’man ang size?” I asked her. (“How do you know the size?”)
“E ‘di mayro’ng egg grader kung tawagin. Machine iyon na nagsasabi kung ang itlog ay small, medium, large, ganuon. Para ala-man kung sa’ng tray ilalagay.” (“There is a thing called the egg grader. It is a machine that determines if the egg is small, medium or large. So we know which tray the egg should go.”)
On one of the Saturday visits, I saw a truck at Nanay‘s driveway. An aunt was checking the sacks of chicken feed that workers were transferring from the truck to a bodega. I was about to kiss her hand but she declined, saying the chicks caught some sickness and she was busy treating them with antibiotics and vitamins.
“Ay nako, amoy poultry ako,” (“Oh my, I smell like the chickens”) my aunt said. She added that the feeds were for the new chicks she just bought to replace those who died and those who are more than two years old.
I learned that day that chicks and chickens do not eat the same food. One-day old chicks ate the chick booster feed. When they reach two weeks, the boys give them the chick starter feed. At two months, they shift to eating the chick grower feed. When the chicks become chicken and begin to lay eggs, they have the laying mass feed.
Unless informed earlier, my siblings and I are supposed to back at Cuenca by sundown. We always take the tricycle ride on the way back. At some point, we hold our breaths simultaneously. We know that we are passing by another poultry farm, one that has its iputan—that place where the collected chicken droppings go—near it so that the smell is unbearable to passers-by. I often wondered why Nanay‘s poultry do not smell the same. I got my answer when I browsed Wikimapia: the iputan was far away from the poultry, labeled by my cousins as ‘Iputan ng Nanay‘. It was supposed to be far, my grandmother says, because some people from Baguio buy the dried droppings at four pesos per fifty kilograms. The farmers there use it for fertilizer.
The Thursday routine changed when my siblings and I moved to Manila to be with our parents. I hardly saw my grandmother except during summer and Christmas vacations when she delivers the egg at our bakery and I was the one in-charge for the day. She usually approaches the storefront and says, “Hi!”
To which I always reply—with the loudest voice I could muster, “Nanay!”
She extends her hand and blesses me, “Kawaan ka ng Diyos at magbabait.” Then she hands me the receipt.
I pull some cash from the register and pay for ten trays. Then I start to answer her questions about my studies, my parents and my siblings.
“Uwi ga kayo sa Pas-ko?” (“Will you be home for Christmas?”) my grandmother asks whenever I am at the bakery and the Christmas holidays are coming.
“Ay itanong n’yo ho sa Inay,” (“Oh, you better ask Mom”) I say. Over the years, it was the code my siblings and I use to say indirectly that we cannot go but we want to; orders are piling in that is the reason for our sudden order of ten trays of egg.
My grandmother says nothing but smiles and blesses me again. She says they have to go.
I ask one of my siblings to watch the register for me. I go out of the store and walk her to the jeepney. I give my final goodbye and watch as the silver and blue jeepney drive off.
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