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All in the Head This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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I separated the head from the body. It looked at me with glassy eyes, and I stared back. It opened its mouth one last time as if to ask me why I decapitated it. I murmured something about my father. Then I realized I was giving too much information; after all, it was dead. Quickly, I devoured the head.

My notorious career began late one night when my father and I sat cross-legged on the floor. ­Emptying the contents of my school bag, he inspected No. 2 pencils and third-grade textbooks, and found what he was looking for: Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, which I had borrowed from the library.

“So!” he spat. “You have been reading behind my back? You think you are smart? You think you will go somewhere? You think you are better than your father?” I could see a vein in his forehead bulging with jealousy and hubris. My father had quit elementary school to work in the fields.

Humbly, I bowed my head and looked at the photograph of Anne Frank on the book cover. She would have understood just how I felt: trapped, dependent, and hopeless ­because my place in society was ­dictated by someone else. My father reiterated that I was his daughter and the inheritor of his booth that sold rice and assorted beans in the marketplace.

“Books are a waste of money; books poison the mind,” he said.

“No. Don't worry about me, Anne Frank,” I assured her, “because I ate anchovy heads for dinner.” When I was a child, I developed a curious habit of eating only the heads of sautéed anchovies. In the marketplace where my father worked, fishermen coaxed shoppers into buying dried anchovies. They boasted that eating anchovy heads would make me smarter. And smarter it made me.

Until I started eating anchovy heads, I thought I needed my father's permission for my educational goals. As I grew, I thought up unconventional, creative ways to pursue higher education without being detected by a father who shadowed my path.

To teach myself the English language, I watched subtitled Hollywood movies. In life, unlike in my first American movie, “The Sound of Music,” I did not have Julie Andrews to teach and encourage me. I had to find my own way.


When my father instructed me to put on some music, I played English pop songs, working on my pronunciation by singing duets with Frank Sinatra. “I faced it all, and I stood tall; and did it my way.”


When my father did not allow any books in the house, I stopped by a bookstore every day on my way home from school. Ten pages at a time, I read Charles Dickens' Great Expectations.

I still remember how my father guffawed during mealtimes to see me eating only the heads of anchovies. He thought I had senseless taste in food. But I kept my rea­l purpose a secret. I created goals and dreams of my own. The day I started eating ­anchovy heads, I became an epicurean of my acquired tastes for intellectual independence and self-reliance. I was no longer a beggar at the table of ­success.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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