My Father's Tragedy

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It was one of those lean years of our lives. Our rice field was destroyed by locusts that came from the neighboring towns. When the locusts were gone, we planted string beans but a fire burned the whole plantation. My brothers went away because they got tired working for nothing. Mother and my sisters went from house to house, asking for something to do, but every family was plagued with some kind of disaster. The children walked in the streets looking for the fruit that fell to the ground from the acacia tree. The men hung on the fence around the market and watched the meat dealers hungrily. We were all suffering from lack of proper food. But the professional gamblers had money. They sat in the fish house at the station and gave their orders aloud. The loafers and other bystanders watched them eat boiled rice and fried fish with silver spoons. They never used forks because the prongs stuck between their teeth. They always cut their lips and tongues with the knives, so they never asked for them If the waiter was new and he put the knives on the table, they looked at each other furtively and slipped them into their pockets. They washed their hands in one big wooden bowl of water and wiped their mouths with the leaves of the arbour trees that fell on the ground. The rainy season was approaching. There were rumors of famine. The grass did not grow and our carabao became thin. Father's fighting cock, Burick, was practically the only healthy thing in our household. Its father, Kanaway, had won a house for us some three years before, and Father had commanded me to give it the choicest rice. He took the soft-boiled eggs from the plate of my sister Marcela, who was sick with meningitis that year. He was preparing Burick for something big, but the great catastrophe came to our town. The peasants and most of the rich men spent their money on food. They had stopped going to the cockpit for fear of temptation; if they went atall, they just sat in the gallery and shouted at the top of their lungs. They went home with their heads down, thinking of the money they would have won. It was during this impasse that Father sat every day in our backyard with his fighting cock. He would not go anywhere. He would do anything. He just sat there caressing Burick and exercising his legs . He sapt at his hackles and rubbed them,, looking far away with a big dream. When Mother came home with some food, he went to the granary and sat there till evening. Sometimes, he slept there with Burick, but at dawn the cock woke him up with its majestic crowing. He crept into the house and fumbled for the cold rice in the pot under the stove. Then, he put the cock in the pen and slept on the bench all day. Mother was very patient. But the day came when she kicked him off the bench. He fell on the floor face down, looked up at her, and then resumed his sleep. Mother took my sister Francisca with her. They went from house to house in the neighbourhood, pounding rice for some people and hauling drinking water for others. They came home with their share in a big basket that Mother carried on her head. Father wasstill sleeping on the bench when they arrived. Mother told my sister to cook some of the rice. She dipped a cup in the jar and splashed the cold water on Father's face. He jumped up, looked at Mother with anger, and went to Burick's pen. He gathered the cock in his arms and went down the porch. He sat on a log in the backyard and started caressing his fighting cock. Mother went on with her washing. Francisca fed Marcela with some boiled rice. Father was still caressing Burick. Mother was mad at him. "Is that all you can do?" she shouted at him.

"Why do you say that to me?" Father said. "I'm thinking of some ways to become rich." Mother threw a piece of wood at the cock. Father saw her in time. He ducked and covered the cock with his body. The wood struck him. It cut a hole at the base of his head. He got up and examined Burick. He acted as though the...
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