Sunday, October 31, 2010

Anima Sola

All Hallows' Eve, and it's raining outside. Nights like this, when I was a boy, always necessitated the telling of ghost stories, which I and me siblings readily devoured. We are much older now, though, and are admittedly harder to scare. But the tradition, thankfully, remains.

I remember one story my father told me some years back. It was 1982, eleven years into Martial Law, and the Marcoses were at the peak of their chicanery. Dad was a senior then, studying in one of Manila's oldest universities, and he was right smack in what is called, around these parts, the U-Belt-- short for 'University Belt', owing to the fact that the area was home to at least three universities. Today, U-Belt has the unfortunate distinction of being known more for its seedy underbelly rather than its education; Recto Street, for example, is quite near it, a street infamous among many for its single most popular ware: fake diplomas. There are stores in Recto, for example, which allow one to wait for the diploma, much like one of those photo studios in the mall that only seem to be there because of the demand for ID pictures. Despite the notorious traffic, however, Dad lived in an apartment well outside the U-Belt. He lived with his sister and a roommate, a rather naive provinciano named Joey, who, I'm told, had a peanut-shaped head.

It happened that, one chilly December night, Dad and Joey were heading back to their apartment from school. The semester almost halfway done, and Christmas break just looming a day away, it was only natural that excitement would get the better of them. And so my Dad, dorky Math major that he is, decided to go out and have a drink with Joey and the gang. The place was a seedy, dilapidated bar (of course, he would leave out this detail whenever he would tell us the story back then)where one could 'table' some girls for a paltry sum. It's one of those places where the dances are badly choreographed, and the music selection is tacky, at best, excruciating at worst. Being the son of my grandmother that he was, though, my dad opted not to partake of the carnality of it all; so he and Joey decided to leave early and head back to their apartment, where my aunt would be waiting.

The distance from U-Belt to West Avenue in Quezon City, where the small apartment was tucked away in some half-forgotten street, could scarcely be said to reach 10km, yet the time of the day (or night, rather) made it difficult to hop on a jeepney too easily. After about fifteen minutes, they found the right vehicle, and, stopping it in the middle of the street, hurried up to enter it. The ride took twenty minutes, and the windy Decemcontrolfreak214@hotmail.comber night carried the soft lilting of Christmas songs in the background as the faint, luscious smell of piping-hot bibingka wafted into the steel confines of the jeepney.

The ride ended, and Dad and Joey alighted from the vehicle. The light from the sole lamp post by the apartment complex was the only thing illuminating the street at that dead hour. And the light, dim as it was, suddenly revealed a figure that hid in the shadows, a tall, slender, and sleek figure. Joey's eyes were drawn to the right, as even then, he contemplated this sudden apparition that had hitherto lain in the dark; it was a woman, clad all in black, as if she were a widow fresh from her husband's funeral. Her sable clothes contrasted greatly with her pale skin; a pair of dark glasses-- at night!-- buried her eyes. Long, black hair, reaching almost to the back, fell on her shoulders. Lips, redder than strawberries-- or blood, if you wish-- were pursed tightly on her face. My Dad and Joey turned to her, despite being unnerved. Then the woman moved forward, and spoke in a velvety, yet hollow voice.

'May I ask if this is the residence of General Ito? Please help me, it is very important I see him.'

Either my Dad or Joey spoke next. 'I'm sorry, but there is no General Ito here. Maybe you're looking for Mr. Tansingco? He is Chinese but often gets mistaken for Japanese.'

The Lady remained still, mulling the words, until at last she spoke again. But this time, her voice betrayed an inner turmoil; and the Lady's voice was cracked and nervous, as if she were on the verge of tears. 'Please help me! I don't know what to do anymore. I really have to see the General, it is a matter of life and death!'

At this point, both men had already grown uneasy, and were resolved to call upon their landlord, an ancient gentleman who was probably at least eighty years old then, to help resolve the situation. 'Hold on a second miss, we'll call the landlord, he might be able to help you.' They fumbled with the key, trying to unlock the gate as quickly as possible, driven in part by fear, and by a sense of pity; whoever this woman was, she clearly needed to see this Ito fellow. And yet, there was no Ito resident in any of the apartments; and more, the Lady's clothes seemed too old-fashioned, as if they had been made, sold, and worn in another decade, one considerably older than the 1980s. The lock resolved, Joey turned around, renewing his effort to help the mysterious Lady.

The light, however, revealed the stranger's figure no longer; and in the span of a seconds that both of them fumbled with the lock, it seemed as if the Lady had disappeared all of a sudden. Eyes frantic and filled with fear scanned the streets looking for any sign of the sable-clad Lady, but no trace of her was to be found. Then, suddenly, from the corner of his eye, my Dad spied a curious movement in the middle of the street. The faint light revealed it to be a snake, slithering from one side of the street to the other; and in that faint, hazy light, the snake's black skin glistened. The chill wind blew once more, and it carried with it the howling of dogs, which masked the cries of many an anguished soul.

1 comment:

paul said...

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