Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Revelation

The days after Christmas and New Year celebrations are often loaded with anxiety, as we try to recover from what could be termed the 'post-holiday-fatigue syndrome' and move into the brand new year to face the new tasks waiting to be accomplished. At home, it was almost an annual ritual for my mother to divest the house of all the clutter, removing the things she would consider unnecessary. It was almost a symbolic act, and I have learned to understand that maybe, the deeper implication of this behavior is to prepare for the transition to a new stage in her life, at least that was what I thought it meant for my mother.

So the first few days into the new year saw my mother engaging in the same pattern, and I am amazed by the volume of personal effects, old photographs, paperwork, letters, clothes, and all sorts of paraphernalia, that found their way out of the house and into the garage, with some ultimately bound for the trash bin. As I curiously sifted through the piles of discarded pictures, I was surprised to find a decades-old family portrait, with myself on it as a seven year-old boy. And just like that, a crawling chill suddenly dawned upon me as I recognized the woman in the picture who was coddling me in her arms for that photo shoot. That woman is a deep dark chapter in my life, and though I was barely seven years old then, something about the past would stay with me for life. She would forever remain a mystery, a ghost of the past perhaps, and I hated the memory of her because of the power it seems to possess over me, the power to keep coming back, no matter how desperately I would try to shut off all reminders of that part of my past.

My father had an accident and he needed to be brought to a hospital in Manila to undergo surgery, as no hospital in our province could provide the facilities and specialists that are up to the task. My mother and two older sisters went with my father, leaving me at home under the care of Manang Choleng, a spinster who was my father's provincemate, and who came knocking on our door one stormy night to beg for my father to let her work for us as maid and nanny, a proposition my father took a long time to consider not because he completely opposed the idea, but for a fact that the thought of us having a household help at that time seemed preposterous or you could even say ridiculous. I would say so because we were poor by those days' standards and in all honesty, I knew that with my father's meager earnings as a carpenter, we could barely afford the three square meals. Yet, she never asked for anything, poor old Manang Choleng, who had practically begged to work for us for free without once complaining or tiring from the everyday chores in the old cramped house where life is difficult and almost always uncomfortable. My mother would proclaim that Manang Choleng was heaven-sent the day after my father's accident when she had to leave home to be on his side during the operation, and Manang Choleng was the only one she had to take good care of me. Heaven-sent?

She would eat voraciously, like she had been starved for days, and it felt funny that, sitting across this woman at the dining table, I had wished the food will not run out or she might proceed to devour me. I was so scared, Scared of the way she would look at me while she licked her lips, I was so scared that my entire family was away and here I am with this strange woman, I was scared of the way she could lift objects, the table for instance, and the couch, without an effort, when I had known all along she was very old, and it showed in her graying hair and varicose veins in her legs, and in the perpetual redness in her eyes. That woman in the photograph couldn't be younger than sixty. And I was scared the most that I would sleep with her each night on the same bed, with all the lights out, and only the moonlight from the bedroom window providing the slightest illumination. But nothing came close to the kind of scare that crept into my very soul during the last night we were together.

I was awakened to her panting and moaning in the middle of the night. She seemed to be in pain, her breathing difficult, and she was on fire, with a burning fever. When Manang Choleng noticed I was awake, she hoisted me to the top of the large dresser as if she was holding a feather, warning that never ever under any circumstances should I even think of stepping down.

I haven't told a single soul what I witnessed afterwards that night and how I wish there is something I can do to completely erase the memory for my own sake, because what I came to witness was something I would do anything to totally obliterate from the mind. She fell on the floor vomiting, doubling up in pain, gasping from breath. Then she crawled under the bed. A strange creature would emerge seconds later, a creature I couldn't even bring myself to describe, I guess it's because that sort of thing only exists in the imagination, I really hope it does, if only to convince myself that it was all a terrible dream that I had experienced on that night when I was seven. It looked up to me and began to lick its mouth, then, unable to reach up to the top of the dresser, it leaped out of the window and disappeared into the night.

We never saw or even heard of Manang Choleng ever since.

8 comments:

This Brazen Teacher said...

As always- I think I have the story figured out...

I should know better by now :-) Wonderful!

-Brazen

Me-Me King said...

Very interesting post, I appreciate your style of writing.

Kat said...

great piece of writing once again

"Hanging on a Hyphen" said...

Thank you... Your words inspire me...

Jack Payne said...

Way out story. I don't know whether I am inspired, or scared out of my drawers.

PinoyXfat said...

my jaw dropped. taga-saan ka at anong hayop yon? while reading your story, i thought you were working on your way to becoming a fictionist. pero baka mali ako. totoo ba talaga to? sorry for sounding incredulous, but I am.

don't get me wrong, but I was born in a province down south (of Manila) and my friends and I used to tell stories of this genre as we grew up and we knew we were telling stories we've gathered from other friends, family members who wanted to scare us. and we knew we were simply trying to outdo each other in the "imagination" department.

ssnuffy said...

Great story,,,or is it?? I am left to wonder now!!!

HATE LOVE said...

just one word....Awesome!!