Story Review: “The Bread of Salt,” a short story by N.V.M. Gonzales
As we grow older, life unfolds before us the reality of the world where we are living. It may not be as what we believed it to be. Once we discovered that we cannot always have what we want, we oftentimes, just close our eyes to the reality. We continued on dreaming for dreaming was good. But then, we have to face the fact that we are not existing in the world of fantasies. We can deny this reality but it is only through accepting the truth that can set us free from the prison of our own illusions.
The short story “The Bread of Salt” which was written by Nestor Vicente Madali Gonzales or N.V.M. Gonzales depicts about dreams, admiration, failure, and hope. It introduced a 14-year old boy who was a grandson of a late coconut plantation overseer. The author did not mention a particular name of this boy so I will just refer him to my article as a young boy. His morning routine was to buy a pandesal or bread of salt. By reading the story it was evident that he was bored with it. For him, the only thing that seemed as a reward for buying a pandesal was that of seeing the old Spanish house in which the girl of his dream lives.
Like all other boys his age, the protagonist in the story experienced how to admire the opposite sex. He was severely wounded by Cupid’s arrow when he learned about the niece of the old Spaniard whom his grandfather served for many years. Her name was Aida, a classmate of the young boy too.
Endowed with a Spanish blood, I think that Aida’s beauty stands out among the rest of the girls in their class. She is a mestiza and it is undeniable that a great number of Filipinos have this belief that a white complexion is already half of the physical beauty of a person. It was her beauty that made the young boy dreamed of her most of the time and built an expectation that she felt the same way too towards the young boy. He busied himself with fantasies about Aida and dreamed of being a man worthy of the girl’s affection.
His feelings toward the girl motivated him to persevere on being a good violinist. It did not disappoint him. From being the second violin, he was promoted to the first violin position. He improved himself just to captivate her attention.
Just when he thought that almost everybody thinks of his dedication in playing violin being worthy of commendation, his aunt poured a cold water on his dream of being a musician. She candidly told the young boy that it was not practical at all to be a musician. Furthermore, it would just make him hungry being always the last one to eat in social gatherings. Her remarks hurt him. It was like being compared to a poor dog which hungrily ravages plastic bags, looking for food to feed its rumbling stomach. It pierced his young heart.
Despite the discouraging remarks he received from his aunt, he still continued to play the violin. He did not let the offensive remarks to penetrate into his own being. He did not succumb to his dream of being a musician.
His excellent skill in playing the instrument did not escape the vigilant eyes of Pete Saez, a trombone player who had a private band which was the Minviluz Orchestra. If the young boy would join Pete’s band, he could have money. An opportunity to earn fuels the desire of the young boy to purchase a box of linen stationery. He fancied of opening his heart to Aida through a love letter. He thought of a plan. He would borrow Aida’s book in Algebra and slid his love letter between its pages. He would also buy a brooch for Aida.
Unfortunately, all his plans weren’t materialized. His grandmother asked for his earnings from his plays in the funeral, wedding, municipal dance, or any other social gatherings. He couldn’t refuse his grandmother.
A defining moment happened when their band was chosen to perform during the grand surprise party in the old Spanish house.
Afraid of being late to their commitment, they arrived early at the gate of the house without eating supper at all. The band rendered music for hours and it was already midnight when they were given a break to eat.
The young boy who had been starving already took the chance to voraciously devour the delightful cuisines served on the table. He conveyed every food to his mouth as if he was in a battlefield, making his mouth full with a variety of foods that he couldn’t even recognize. Not only that, he even put some egg yolk things inside a several sheets of a table napkin and hid it under his shirt.
Until he heard the voice of Aida from behind.
He was caught.
Aida saw him and she asked him if he hadn’t eaten anything yet.
Disaster, isn’t it? He thought he was with his bandmates only, but he was wrong.
To add insult to an injury, Aida even told the young boy that she would pack him a big package of food if only he could wait for the visitors to leave. She was thinking that the young boy must be extremely hungry.
It was like a forceful punch against his ego, making him too small in front of the girl. Of all people who could see him, it was Aida who caught him off guard. For a long time, he tried to look perfect in the eyes of the girl but he was like a glass already broken by humiliation. He already felt defeated even before he started to tell his feelings. Reality slapped him.
That moment, he realized the big difference between his status and that of Aida. He walked away, went to the veranda, and threw all the egg yolk things amidst the darkness. The admiration for Aida instantly gone. He realized that his dream of him with Aida wasn’t what he thought it would be.
After the party and having their collections for the band, the young boy asked his friend Pete to go to the bakery shop to buy a pandesal. It was too early and the bakery was not yet opened so they have to wait.
The story started and ended with pandesal or bread of salt. These are the brown color, crusty, and crispy kind of bread that complement every Filipino’s breakfast. We love the aroma that we cannot resist not to give one fat bite. There are times that we accompanied this bread by mayonnaise, peanut butter or dairy cream. It will surely be more delicious and I bet, I can eat a dozen. On the other hand, my brother and father love to dip this bread in their hot coffee.
Describing this kind of bread, we can compare it to the skin color of the Filipinos which is brown. It was small which refers to our protagonist who was still very young. His dreams about Aida were undeniably sweet but the young boy could not distinguish that it was impossible at the moment. They evidently belong in two different worlds. Aida being on the upper or elite class and the young boy of lower status. What is it that the young boy can do for the girl he loves? He is still just a teenager and still studying. Just like the pandesal which was still being molded in the bakery shop, likewise the young boy. There are still many things in life that he must learn and what should he do is just to wait for the right time where he can finally prove himself worthy.
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