The Fruit Guardians

Following a list of daily writing prompts for April to push myself to write more and yesterday was “In the Fridge.”

It’s close to midnight. I’m hungry for a snack. I go down to the darkness of the kitchen and yank open the fridge door. Cool blue light slices through the shadows. Not sure what’s there to eat, I scan the contents and find five orange faces peering down at me.

They’re not blinking. Wait, they’re just doodles. On fruit.

The topmost shelf is reserved for bottled food and resting on the tin caps are mandarins with silly faces drawn in white ink. Framed against the sloping roof of the ref, they look like totem poles, bodies made of glass with jam, capers, or dried fish soaked in oil pressed against the surfaces.

One of my siblings must have done this, I think, as I smile and snap a photo. Although, it wouldn’t be beneath my mom to doodle on some fruits. She does have an awful lot of chalk markers.

Under their watchful eye, I slip out the jar of yogurt that my dad made. It’s tucked away in a corner at the back of the fridge. And then I close the refrigerator door.

The next day, I show a picture to my mother and she laughs. “It must have been Dani,” she says. My youngest sibling, who wakes up later than everyone else, comes down and giggles when I ask her about the mandarins. “You saw?” she asks. Of course, I say – while searching for a snack in the middle of the night. It was quite the surprise. She laughs at the thought.

The fruit guardians stay in their lofty position for the next few days. They greet every person who opens the refrigerator door with the expressions given to them – one is perpetually mad, one wears a friendly smile, and the other three are animals (a cat, a dog, and a bear) with calm, expectant faces. What could they be thinking? What stories could they be conjuring up about the family beyond the door?

They must have surmised that a common trait among us is that we’re always hungry, always thinking of what to eat next. The refrigerator door is one of the doors most frequently opened during this lockdown. Unable to go outside, we peer in. We look to food for comfort, thinking what leftovers we can eat, what new dishes we can make with whatever’s in there. The fruit guardians must be amused at the mask of concentration we wear when we search the contents and reach for containers.

Mom, do we still have sardines?

Do we have cheese? Let’s make sure to buy on the next grocery trip.

What can we eat with these pasta noodles? Oh look more sardines.

Is there still leftover bistek from the other day?

My brother loves to cook. He follows recipes and videos online, creating one Masterchef-like dish after another. It’s like he’s on a 30-day challenge to cook a different meal each day and we are the willing judges, eager to sit down to whatever new thing he conjures up. Just yesterday, he made a Brioche bun from scratch. “Tomorrow, I will make French toast,” he announced, which is music to our ears.

The constant cooking, of course, means leftovers. Despite that, there is very little food wasted. My parents are averse to buying more than we can consume and hate seeing any food spoil before we can consume it. So every now and then, they make important announcements:

The bananas are getting too ripe – please, guys, eat more fruit!

Bring out the food from last night, let’s eat it for lunch.

This peanut butter is about to be expired na! Get the crackers.

With the quarantine, we’re being more mindful about what goes onto our plates. Personally, I’m learning how to find leisure in cooking – to appreciate the time that goes into preparing, chopping, boiling, simmering, and frying. I’m nowhere near as good as my brother and my older sister, but I’m getting into the mindset. The way I understand myself, it’s not that I don’t know how to cook; I just don’t enjoy the process.

But with so much time on our hands now and with nowhere else to go, I figure I might as well give it a shot.

And really, I find the preparing and chopping enjoyable – in fact, it’s therapeutic. What’s nerve-wracking is the actual cooking and flavoring, knowing that the judges are out there waiting and expecting good food. If it flops, then it’s food wasted. All those ingredients went under the knife and into the pot for nothing. And I will have a harder time justifying my presence in the kitchen should I decide to make another meal.

How I’m convincing myself to like cooking – by drawing and painting!

But my first dish – sinigang – turned out to be satisfactory. We ate it for breakfast and lunch the next day, the one complaint being that it lacked a bit of sourness. My second, bistek, was actually quite good (if I do say so myself). We finished it right then and there. No food wasted.

Despite the whole tirade against food wastage, I slip up every now and then. The fruit guardian was my latest victim. “I ate the angry one last night,” I tell Dani one morning. “I didn’t finish it. It wasn’t sweet. It tasted like orange-flavored water.”

“Oh? I eat them even if they’re not sweet,” Dani shrugs, making me feel guilty as I picture the remnants of a grimace in the basket. “I still like ‘em.”

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