Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Eleventh Commandment

I once had a pet duck named Coochie. He came from the province, via the North Luzon Expressway, to live with my family for what I thought was forever.

Forever, as it turned out, only lasted 5 days.

I did not question why a duck would travel four hours to live with people he did not know. And I wonder now, on hindsight, what made me so sure that Coochie was male. I realize that I never had evidence to prove it; his maleness was a fact I took on faith.

I also wonder why, if I believed him to be male, I nonetheless named him Coochie. Did I, in my 6-year-old wisdom, intuit that he was gay? Or was I setting him up for a lifetime of ribbing from other ducks? Naming a male duck Coochie, after all, is like naming a boy Joy. It’s a cruel exercise of power by the Namer over the Named.

Coochie, however, seemed neither aware nor caring of the political implications of gendered nomenclature. In fact, he seemed neither aware nor caring of anyone and anything but himself. Coochie, I remember, was not sweet and approachable like his name made him out to be. Like most ducks, he walked with a girly gait, feathery bottom swinging left and right like a ramp model. But his head was raised a tad too high, his beak a tad too upturned. Coochie was aloof. He had a wall around him like the biblical city, Judah. And I felt like an Assyrian—or was it a Philistine? Anyway, I felt like one of the thousand strong army of Judah haters who wanted to invade it. I wanted to break down Coochie’s wall.

I talked to Coochie a lot seeing as I couldn’t cuddle him. Because, really, how do you cuddle a duck? They’ll be wiggling and waddling all over the place. You’ll have feathers stuck to your clothes. And, frankly, ducks stink. Coochie, God bless him, was like every other duck in that regard. He stunk up the place, specifically the small laundry area of the apartment we lived in at the time.

I felt real affection for Coochie even though he did not seem to feel the same way. I guess I also liked the idea of talking to someone—or in this case, some animal—who I could pretend was listening.

I remember a time during Coochie’s 5-day stay with us, when I was mad at our Yaya, Ate Vilma. I don’t quite remember what I was angry about. I just remember being angry and petty. While she was doing the laundry, I talked to Coochie about her and said some mean things when she was within earshot—which was the whole time. She graciously let it slide, like water off a duck’s back. Coochie, as usual, couldn’t be bothered to care.

Coochie came on a Monday. He went on a Saturday. It was afternoon. I had just woken up from siesta. I went out of my room, down the stairs, only to find Coochie at the bottom. He lay in a small, blue batya. His neck was severed, his blood pooling around him like a ritual bloodletting gone wrong. The culprits, my uncle and cousin, looked up from their slaughtering of my duck and said nothing. No explanations, no reasons for the murder they had just committed.

I screamed and wailed like I had never before and never since in my life. They killed my duck and felt no guilt about it.

As it turned out, Coochie was never meant to be my duck. The five days he stayed with us was the grace period before his execution. They were fattening him up for the next day’s meal. Coochie was Sunday lunch.

It was the first meal I missed.

Twenty-three years later, I still don’t eat duck. It is my speed of light, my one absolute rule:

Thou shall not eat duck.

It is the one thing that keeps me from being a true connoisseur of Chinese food. As we all know, duck figures heavily in Chinese cuisine. Peking duck, grilled duck, fried duck, duck pancakes, duck dumplings, sweet and sour duck.

I never touch any of that. It is out of the question. I can eat balut even though it’s aborted duck fetus. But I won’t ever eat dead adult ducks, out of respect for the dead duck who was never truly mine but sure felt like it.

Sometimes I feel that it’s time to move on, especially when everyone keeps telling me that duck tastes really good, that its meat has more marbling, i.e. fat. Sometimes I think Coochie wouldn’t want me missing out on the quintessential Chinese dish. Maybe he wouldn’t want me suffering through an awkward, tortured conversation like this:

You love Chinese food?
I sure do!
Have you tried Peking duck? It’s awesome.
No, I haven’t.
Oh, come on! I thought you love Chinese food?

I don’t eat duck. I had a pet duck once. He died a horrible, violent death. No one told me he was Sunday lunch. They let me name him. NAME him! Only to kill him and offer him to me as FOOD! Like I would eat my pet! Who in their right mind would EAT their PET?!
Uh… I guess… no one…

That’s right. No one… Anyway… I don’t eat duck.

Other times, I think Coochie—wherever he is—could care less. He never cared before, why should he care now? It’s almost enough to make me want to reach out and spear a piece of duck on my fork and bring it to my open, waiting, salivating, mouth.

Coochie never asked for my respect. He never demanded it. He never even tried to earn it. But he had it anyway. He still does.

Thou shall not eat duck. It’s my eleventh commandment.

Thank God I never had a pet pig.

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