One morning while I was puttering around the house, cooking rice and sweeping up dog poop in the yard, I heard a feeble “Tao po?” (Is anybody there?) emanating from my front yard. I ambled outside to discover a fresh-faced young man with a hopeful expression on his face, standing outside my gate.
“Good morning, sir. I am a working student from Biñan, Laguna…” he began. Inevitably, anytime someone in the Philippines tells you that they are a working student, they are about to try and sell you something. I have almost never heard anyone here describe themselves as a working student for any other reason.
I was about to brush him off, when suddenly he raised two packages of biscuits into the air. He now had my full attention! I asked him what he was selling. “Biscocho and broas,” he answered.
Biscocho? Since it’s kinda like Italian biscotti but not nearly as good, maybe not.
Broas (pronounced “Bro-ass” – well, OK, actually “bro-as”)? Although I am a total bro, I’ll pass.
“Do you have otap?” I asked, hopefully.
To my delight, he quickly produced a package of otap, one of my favourite Filipino snack foods, from his bag of treasures. Why didn’t he mention it in the first place? I can never resist the flaky, buttery goodness of good otap from the Visayas. In fact, I melt before it just as quickly as it melts in my mouth.
Happy to have the chance to help a working student – arguably the hardest-working type of student – while also helping myself become grotesquely fat, I purchased one package and began to munch away. And as I snacked, I got to thinking: That would be a great way to murder someone (not, I must hasten to say, that I would ever want to do such a thing myself)!
Think about it. In the Philippines, at least, door-to-door vendors are not uncommon. All you would have to do to dispose of your enemy would be to send an innocent-looking young man to their door selling packages of poisoned biscocho, poisoned broas, and, if the victim actually has good taste in snack food, poisoned otap.
After a day of sporadic otap-snacking, I still feel fine; I guess the otap really was just a way for a dedicated young man to make a bit of extra tuition money, rather than a nefarious criminal ploy. If there’s any lesson here, I suppose it’s that we constantly put our lives and personal safety in the hands of others, and even with all the dangers in the world today, it’s a miracle that our tattered social contract continues to hold up as well as it does. OK, I’m probably overreaching now – I think I’ll just shut up and eat some more otap.
Note: My macabre train of thought may have been unconsciously inspired by the pretty terrible story of the milk tea poisoning deaths that recently occurred in Manila. It’s really a horrible tragedy, and my heart genuinely goes out to the victims and their families. I don’t want my readers to think that I really find humour in the idea of a real human being actually dying from poisoned food – except, of course, for myself!