So I’ve moved back home for about half a year now, and never before have I been so fully aware of the strange habits of my parents.
Like my father’s belief in the disinfecting power of garlic, for example.
Father cuts up cloves of garlic every morning and puts them around the house. There is garlic anywhere bacteria might lurk, lying in wait for unsupecting human prey. There is garlic beside the sink, garlic in the toilet, garlic beside the cloves of garlic in the kitchen. I am always bemused to see father’s dentures lying in a bowl of water with a slice of garlic – bemused and slightly sorry for the people who will have to talk to him.
I too, now believe in the disinfecting power of garlic. After all, because of it I spend less time at the sink and toilet – those dangerous realms of bacteria – and spending less time there makes for a smaller chance of infection, no?
Living alone with only a male roommate, I’d also almost forgotten about the female menstrual cycle. Now, me and my ilk have a tendency to behave much nicer out of home than inside, which means to say my parents are possibly the only people in the world I’ve ever screamed at. I believe the converse to be true as well, my mother’s professional obligations as a teacher notwithstanding.
And for a few days every month, my mother takes this practice to its extreme.
It’s always easy to tell when the cycle’s around again – the palpible tension in the air, the baleful stares my mother directs at any who dare cross her path, the loud sullen clanking of dishes being done by her instead of her itinerant children – all the signs of a storm in the air. During days like these I try to be as silent as possible and iron my own clothes, mindful of the fact that menstruation is the fault of all men, who are evil and terrible and oppress women with such sinful acts as WALKING ABOUT NOISILY or WATCHING TV WITH THE VOLUME TURNED ON TOO LOUDLY and LEAVING ELECTRICAL APPLIANCES SWITCHED ON FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON.
Weekends are ba ku teh (pork rib soup) days – my mother’s culinary skills have, over the years, developed to the point where the only things she can (or will) cook are plain rice and ba ku teh. I’m not entirely sure why – I think it’s becuase it’s an easy dish to cook, involving the mixing of an insta-bag of herbs and some pork ribs into a pot and boiling for several hours – the extended equivalent of instant noodles (when father is around, there’s extra garlic too). I suppose mother holds the vague this to be her maternal contribution towards the family’s well-being (other than working a six-day week and doing our laundry), the preparatin of food being so important for the women of her generation.
And so we have ba ku teh almost every weekend, sometimes little saltier than others, at other times a little tougher, depending on the butcher visited and the insta-herbs used.
And I look at the two of them, wondering how long I can stay and whether they expect me to, here in this house of quirky habits.