#readPhilippines: Secret Scent by Erma M. Cuizon

Philippine literature Filipino short stories writers

Secret Scent, a short story by Filipino writer Erma M. Cuizon, tells the bittersweet reunion of a heavily pregnant woman named Carissa with her mother during the latter’s 70th birthday and with her brother Jim who came home from the US. The occasion also meant meeting again her mother’s friends, the welcoming and talkative ones who recount some of Carissa’s adventures of her youth, way before she married and moved out of her parents’ house.
This is, for me, an all too familiar scene. I have moved out of my own parents’ house when I got married several years ago, but each time I went back for a visit, home smells of home, of past life, of nostalgia, of days with less worries of the future. In the story, Carissa feels the same, although more painful because her father already died and, for her, there is one less person to share her stories with.
In Filipino households, no matter how poor or how sick or old some members are, there is always the effort to cook traditional food, such as pancit or lumpia or hamonada or all three at once, during birthdays, holidays and anniversaries. In Carissa’s mother’s house, there is humba or braised pork belly cooked by Jim who learned the secret of the delicious recipe from her mother who learned it from Carissa’s father. Carissa has come to the party alone; her husband neck-deep with work, a sentiment understood by Jim who has family troubles of his own.
Secret Scent may mean the smell of humba, but it may also mean the secrets one hold to keep families together. Whatever it may mean, the story itself is one of the enjoyable, straightforward piece published in Ala Carte: Food & Fiction (2007) edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard and Marily Ysip Orosa. I bought my copy of the book and had it signed in one of the Cebu Literary Fests.
Erma M. Cuizon was an award-winning Cebuano writer, one of the few people I truly admire in the literary scene. I briefly worked with her when she was working as editor and columnist of SunStar Cebu. She was one of the founding members of the Women in Literary Arts-Cebu. I am no stranger to her work, having read her weekly essays published in the community paper and her novel, Women in the House. She passed away on November 9, 2017.
Image:
Adderley, C. (2018, November 22). Croissant Bread on Clear Glass Cake Stand [Digital image]. Retrieved January 13, 2019, from https://www.pexels.com/photo/croissant-bread-on-clear-glass-cake-stand-1631894/

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