The modest dinner table. We were ready to eat. Then a knock came at the front door.
Monsoon season. Rain with no let up. Day and night torrential rains pounded the sandy soil. Alleys became wadis and the dirt road a huge mud hole. The South China Sea roiled and cavorted pounding the fragile shore with unusually large waves. None of the village fishermen who lived close to the river’s edge could launch their outriggers. To the village fisherman, no fish, no rice, no food. The monsoon held back the fishermen from plying their trade and earning their keep.
We lived a quarter of a kilometer away from the sea. We relied on my parents’ buy and sell business for our sustenance. My parents planned for the monsoon season, storing enough grain to last during extended rainfall. That day we helped prepare dinner and set a modest table of toasted dried fish, ginger black beans, wakame seaweed salad, steamed rice, hot pickled peppers, ripe mangoes, and sweetsop.
My father led the prayer before meals and we sat down to eat. A knock came at the front door. “Go see who it is,” my mother said addressing no one in particular while she placed the bowl of seaweed salad on the table.
I got up and ambled toward the front door opening it. A woman in a mu-mu stood in the pouring rain. A tattered towel covered her head partly covering her face. She bit at the two ends of the towel to keep it in place. Water cascaded from the towel folds down her face, neck and body. I stood there too stunned to speak. I forgot my manners.
“Who is it?” my mother asked.
The woman answered, “Missus, I am Soledad from the river’s edge.”
“Please come in,” my mother walked over to the door, pushing me aside gently. “My goodness boy,” my mother said looking at me, “where are your manners? Can’t you see Soledad is soaking wet?”
“Come in, come in… please,” my mother looked at Soledad imploringly.
“Please Missus, I am soaking wet and your floor,” Soledad started to cry.
In a comforting tone my mother reassured Soledad, “What’s wrong my dear girl… never mind the floor, come in out of that rain before you catch a cold.”
Soledad stood in the rain. “Missus, my family, the kids… we haven’t eaten in two days. There is no rice. Please I beg you loan us even just five cups. We will pay you in fish when the waters calm down and my husband can set his nets again.” She was sobbing by now.
“Oh Soledad,” my mother said, “we only have enough rice for a couple more days. I am so sorry…”
From where he sat at the dinner table my father heard the entire exchange. My father signaled my mother to come back to the kitchen. I followed my mother to the kitchen. “Just give her the rice she needs,” my father said reassuringly to my mother. “God will make sure we have enough. He always does.”
Just like that. My mother put five cups of rice in a plastic bag and handed it to Soledad who by now was drowning in the rain and in her tears. Soledad tucked the plastic bag close to her breast and bidding my mother goodbye she hurriedly cleared the gate on her way home.
I never forgot that exchange of words between my mother and the woman in the rain. Neither have I forgotten my father’s reassuring words to my mother: “God will make sure we have enough. He always does.”