By Romeo E. Tejada Jr.
My younger brother has an odd fascination with fighting cocks, and I don’t approve of it. Every morning, he sacrifices an hour to prepare their food and water, pet them, and comb their sparkling feathers with his bare fingers. He reminds me of our grandfather, a cockfighting enthusiast who sacrificed his meals and medicine and eventually had to be operated on for gastric ulcer. “My brother is treading the path of doom,” I often think.
I’ve been staying at our house with my mom and six siblings during this pandemic. Unlike the empty streets, our house is filled with commotion and brawling. Our house is just another cockfighting arena after all. My youngest sister would punch my youngest brother, showing maneuvers better than an MMA fighter, ending in either of them crying because of the fight or because of the punishment from our mom, while I record their sudden outburst. Oftentimes, my younger siblings would complain about their endless unintelligible modules, chores, and my mom. As a supportive brother, I tease them with their deadlines. “Halaaaa!” I would often say just to rattle their senses.
Inspired by my brother’s fighting cocks, my mom bought native hens, culled chicks, ducks, turkeys, and piglets and reared them. Under my younger brother’s tutelage, these animals grew in our rented lot that became a humble farm in the middle of our municipality. Slowly, I managed to accept that I’m the “dejado” (underdog); my younger brother won the derby.
It was lunch when my mom decided to finally eat a family-reared chicken, a few months after the purchase. Adobo was on the menu, and fumes from the kitchen filled our house and tickled our noses. The kids showed a dichotomy of excitement and sadness while scribbling in their notebooks, waiting for the food. They had been living witnesses of the cute chick’s growth, and we were about to devour it. They didn’t say what they were feeling, but I knew.
Food was served finally, and I plundered the second biggest dollop of meat. I saw my younger siblings’ faces when we were eating; they were not feeling blue anymore. The tender meat, its sweet and salty ambrosial flavor complementing the rice, flared our simple lunch into an otherworldly feast. With enough livestock in our arsenal, such festivity was bound to happen frequently.
A few months later, the price of pork skyrocketed and we sold our pigs. Seeing both of them tied and weighed and hearing their reverberating squeaks in a hot noon was tormenting for us, but we had to survive. No strings attached. On that same month, the chickens and ducks started laying eggs. Instantly, I became the guardian of eggs because some of them would go missing.
While I was in bed, I heard a sudden movement outside and crunching dry leaves. I tiptoed toward the door. I grabbed the pair of scissors that was used to cut our ducks’ wings to minimize their mobility, and served as my knife. I tried hard to suppress my breathing, grabbed my phone, and tapped video recording while covering its flashlight with my sweating palm.
I slowly opened the door, fully exposed my phone, and raised my knife to scare the culprit. I ran toward the noise. I recorded everything, and I caught the ducks—breeding—in the middle of the night. Out of pure respect to privacy, I left the scene and returned to my bed. To this day, I haven’t found out who is stealing the eggs.
It’s ironic that I despised fighting cocks before and now protect their eggs. I’ve slowly learned to appreciate my brother’s talent in rearing animals, knowledge on vitamins and medicine for his fighting cocks, and dedication to feeding them on time with reminders from our mother. It became a source of income and food. I ate chicken meat; I retracted my words. Once he matures, he could become a cockfighting aficionado, a veterinarian, or whatever path he chooses. I, together with my family, will bet on our “llamado.”