It is 3 o’clock; the perfect time to have a snack in this cool, air-conditioned restaurant. A couple walks in, trailed by two little children. The man stays at the doorway and surveys the room for a table while the woman heads for the the bar to ask for a highchair. The smaller of the two children, a boy of about three, latches onto his mother’s navy blue skirt. The girl romps her way to the toilet and turns the knob. It is locked. She stamps a foot and runs to her father, who has chosen a table by the window and is now reading the newspaper. He feels his daughter tugging his sleeve. He lowers the paper and glances in the direction of the toilet and pats the chair next to him. Sit down and wait for your turn. But the little girl refuses to sit. Instead, she walks back to the door. She shifts her weight impatiently: first on one leg, and then the other. She does this for a while, the intervals becoming shorter as her discomfort increases. Finally the door opens and an elderly woman walks out.
By this time, Mother is seated across Father and is looking at the menu card. The boy is looking at a menu, too. He points at the pictures, naming the dishes he is familiar with. He looks up at the waiter and says he wants this one, and this one, and this one. Father shakes his head and smiles at the waiter. He places their order after consulting with his wife, who read all of the descriptions before deciding what she wanted.
The girl joins the table and Mother asks her a question. She nods, yes, she did. She shows her mother her hands, first wiping them on the skirt of her Sunday dress. Father takes her right hand to examine it then tickles her armpit. The little lady resists slightly, her face indignant, then finally gives in and breaks into squeals. The boy wants to tickle too. He tries reaching for his sister but is stuck in his seat. He manages to undo the clasp and slithers out of the chair. Father warns the boy to get back up. Mother picks up the child and replaces him in his chair. Then Father tells Mother something about her pretty waist. Mother involuntarily pats down the hem of her yellow silk blouse, then playfully slaps Father’s arm.
The boy persists and slides down to the floor. He traces an arc by walking around their table, the squeaking sound of his shoes accelerating . The boy trips and yelps. Mother stands up with a start and takes both children by the hand. The kids are getting restless, she tells Father. Who wants to look at the cakes, she asks. The girl raises an eyebrow thoughtfully. What kind of cake? The boy jumps up and down enthusiastically. Cake cake cake! Father returns to his reading, relaxed and content that he is here. He leans on the back of his chair and crosses his left ankle on his right leg, his shiny black leather shoe reflecting the light.
The three walk to the glass display case beside the cash counter. The girl already knows what she wants and points an assertive finger at the sans rival. The boy however – sorry, ma’am but we don’t have upside-down cakes. The boy lies on the floor screaming unintelligibly until Father steps in and straps him back onto the highchair.
The smell of shrimp and calamansi wafts into the room. A waiter appears at their table. The boy settles down. Plates of noodles, rice cakes and a large bowl of dinuguan are served. Father offers the first puto to the child and shows him how to dip it into the stew. Mother heaps a hearty mound of steaming pansit on her daughter’s plate. The family says their grace and starts to eat quietly, and with much relish.
After the cakes have been eaten and the coffee has been had, Father asks for the bill. The sky is bright orange like the sauce on the noodles they just had. The little boy ambles up to Mother’s lap and sleepily sucks on his thumb. The girl gives out a belch that makes Father laugh. She wipes the corners of her mouth with her napkin, trying to cover her upturned lips. But Father will not let it go, so that later, even she and Mother are laughing too.
And next Sunday, after hearing Mass, they will come back to this place at the same hour for a little more of the same.
Freeda Ko wrote this piece as a study of body language. The workshop panel in general praised it for its subdued atmosphere and its subtle representation of ordinary life. One panelist thought it evoked the happy optimism of a Norman Rockwell painting.