Every now and then I still have dreams that take me back to the old house which my family rented for only a short time when I was a child. My sister thinks of that house as ugly and creepy. The only thing good I can say about it is that that house came cheap for its size like what my father said so. Two floors, three bedrooms upstairs, and plenty of space at the ground floor to accommodate a living room, a dining area, a comfort room right under the staircase, and still some excess space for another bed which I used for afternoon naps when the heat upstairs becomes unbearable.
Outside, there is a fairly large front yard where we kept a small flower garden and a chicken coop. The house faced west so that in the afternoons during the summer, the houses and structures in front cast a long shadow upon us, creating an almost surreal ambiance indoors with the contrasting appearances of light and shadow. During the rainy months and when the sky is gloomy, it also gets dark inside even during the daytime so that we have to keep the lights on, or at least the ones in the living room to make reading and certain household chores possible.
The house stood in an impoverished neighborhood. It's not as if the house were the picture of affluence in the midst of poverty for my sister will strongly disagree with that. Only it's safe to say that ours is not as miserable as the other houses on the block.The view from the bedroom window has little to offer apart from the dirty rust-covered rooftops of surrounding shanties, where a discarded rubber tire or a makeshift loft for pet pigeons was a regular sight, an ingenious way to keep the roofs of those houses in place when the wind blows. Our windows were secured by iron grills which according to the landlord were placed there at the instance of the previous tenants who had been unusually fearful of burglary.
That house was a mystery. Or maybe I was just seeing things being young and extremely imaginative during those days. I was alone in the house one afternoon, and I fell asleep on the bed downstairs. In my dream, I was being attacked by a werewolf-like creature. Thank God I was awakened in the nick of time before the nightmare killed me but I swear that in those fleeting moments between consciousness and sleep, I saw a black cat jumped off my bed and ran upstairs. I searched every place and every corner of the house but failed to find it, despite the fact that all the windows and every door were closed and there was no way to escape. From that day on, I would have terrible nightmares and everytime I would open my eyes, that black cat would be there somewhere near staring at me and always it would be a step ahead.
My nightmares stopped only when an uncle and his young wife moved in. They took the other room upstairs, and paid a share of the rent to the delight of my father. But they were an odd couple. My uncle and his wife. They would fight all the time. Loud violent fights. One time, my uncle packed his bags and left for the province leaving his wife with us for several weeks. I commiserated with her loneliness, and I knew she appreciates my being there to listen and to offer a little sympathy.
She would tell me of her frequent nightmares. Of monsters appearing in her dreams. My hair would stand just listening to her stories. To think I have never told her of my own dreams before. One particular story made my head threaten to explode out of shock and terror, which I could still feel creeping in at this moment just writing about it. She said that one afternoon, after being awakened from a terrifying dream she saw a naked man jump out of her bed and turn into a black cat!
My uncle would come back and they would reconcile. But the cycle of marital conflict between my uncle and his wife would come back over and over again until my father finally decided that we've had enough, but instead of making them leave, we were the ones who moved to another house.
I do not know and I wouldn't like to know if there are other reasons for my father to decide that it was time to leave. I wouldn't know and I wouldn't care a bit to know if there is a connection between my not having terrifying nightmares anymore, and those of the harrowing experiences of my uncle's wife. I wouldn't know and I wouldn't care to know if there is a more sinister reason why a few months after we moved out of the house, she suffered a miscarriage which left her permanently incapable of bearing a child again and why a little later, that old house mysteriously burned to the ground.
At least I knew then that thank God, we wouldn't be returning to that old house ever again.