Thursday, November 24, 2005

Chapter Two - Unplanned

While Gerald struggled with his dreams and his need to get his cellular phone from beneath the refrigerator, someone else was juggling matters of expectation and responsibility in another part of town. Deep within the less popular south-western side of town lay a location that most residents spoke only of in hushed whispers. Shrouded in shadows born from the thick sinuous branches of towering trees, the place was rumored by many others to be enchanted by duwendes and diwatas, if not haunted by strange eerie spirits. The place was called Kantong Kuba, which when translated meant “The Hunchbacked Corner”; a nickname most likely born from the fact the streets were no longer even, broken by a patch of ground at the very corner that rose higher than the rest of the street. Cats loved the place and sadly the prevalence of such feral guests simply lent more mystique and suspicion to the place. Over-grown hedges and lawns as well as the numerous patches of mushrooms and weeds gave the place an even more abandoned quality to its ambiance. And lastly there were the cobwebs, gigantic nets that seemed large enough to capture passing cars, that hung from second-storey windows and broken front doors, or clung from garage openings like semi-invisible threads that hoped to capture any unsuspecting victims. Almost three square blocks of abandoned homes and small commercial plots, very few people ever came to visit Kantong Kuba.

Many would have expected that an abandoned area such as Kantong Kuba would have its population of transients or even squatters. With numerous buildings that still stood and possible remained, perhaps for those not too picky or choosy, livable, it would not be beyond one’s expectations that others would come to make use of the empty rooms and still roofed portions of the place. But surprisingly, none ever did. Though at the outer most buildings within Kantong Kuba, one would notice the occasional presence of gang graffiti or more commonly lurid sexual art pieces done by evidently expressive vandals, none of the buildings showed any signs of human waste left splattered about or odorously growing in strength. The place, as abandoned as it was, was truly empty. And clean.

And perhaps the reasons for such laid upon the fact that as empty as Kantong Kuba was, it did have one single tenant who resided in its lifeless halls. One single living tenant, that is. The remaining eighteen others were long past life, yet in no ways lacking of luster and animation.

Kantong Kuba was indeed haunted.

And one single living soul was permitted to remain within its boundaries.

“Patricia,” a voice in the darkness of one of the buildings announced. A large husky figure stood at the edge of the room with his face towards the window. Glowing a sickly green, a shade that would have reminded one more of radioactive mucus, the ghost watched as Patricia turned the corner into Kantong Kuba and made her way towards the house. Patricia was oblivious to the fact the ghost was talking about her. “Patricia has been helping us for so many years now,” the ghost continued and turned to face its other ethereal companions, “Perhaps it is time to allow her a life outside these halls?”

“You talk of her as if she were some prisoner.” a second ghost retorted. She was shorter than the male, though seemed to carry herself with a much more regal posture. Her hair was tied into a tight bun and her neck was adorned with gigantic pearls. A delicate looking terno pushed further her air of formality, “Patricia takes care of us because she knows it is what she should do.”

“’Nay,” the man spoke up but the matron hushed him with an open hand raised to his face. With her other hand fondling the pearls that adorned her neck, the spirit hovered towards the nearby couch and made a move to sit. Two other spirits, both male, emerged from the shadows to help her sit.

“Don’t think that just because we are dead you can tell me what to do, Carlito,” the matron angrily scolded the ghost.

“’Nay,” the ghost rolled his translucent eyes in their sockets, “Carlo. I only liked being called Carlito when I was still young.” And alive, he mentally added but decided that might simply add fuel to the fire of his late mother’s anger. He gave out a sigh, which he realized the last thing he should have done the very moment he did it.

“Carlito,” he heard her voice rise as she prepared to reprimand him for his display of insolence but her anger and rage never found its release. Patricia had stepped into the house that moment and announced her presence to the spirits that haunted the house.

Now, it must be understood that the relationship between the spirits of the house and Patricia was a relationship of mutual respect and assumed responsibility. Patricia, unlike most people in this mundane world, was gifted with very many gifts among least of which was the ability to perceive and communicate with the dearly departed. Though there were many in the world that would claim to have such arcane oracular ability, few truly had the ability to the degree which Patricia did. To her, the spirits were as tangible as anyone else. They had the appearance and solidity as anyone else as far as her senses were concerned. While the ghosts had to struggle and plead and cajole their very essences in order to emit something as feeble as a whisper of sound to gain the notice of one of the living, there was no such extraneous need in order to gain Patricia’s attention and notice. And this was an occurrence so rare that none of the ghosts wanted to risk losing having such a presence among them. Through her, many loved ones, forgotten old flames and remembered strangers were thankfully reachable once again.

But as it were, such favors were all permissible so long as Patricia herself was willing to accomplish them for them. It didn’t matter if the grandmother saw herself as the matron and senior voice among the spooks of the haunted block, if Patricia chose to ignore her she could; in many ways this ability to selectively remove the other from her perceptions reminded the ghosts to treat Patricia with much honesty and kindness. After all, nothing truly forced her to make her visits to Kantong Kuba.

But at the same time, Patricia learned that while the rest of the world faced the presence of her numerous impossible gifts with doubt, disbelief and in many cases ridicule, the ghosts were always supportive and very much willing to help her hone if not control them. For example, for many years prior to visiting Kantong Kuba, Patricia would unknowingly afflict herself with the illnesses and ailments of other people. Counted among her many gifts was a touch-based form of empathetic connection that allowed her to ease the ills of others by sharing in the discomfort and pain they felt.

Patricia finally freed herself from having to be the world’s mother martyr by visting the spooks of Kantong Kuba for a few months and learning from them how to better control her ability. “It was all in the essence,” Carlo explained to her back then, “It was all about knowing how to focus inward or outward your essence.”

”You mean like, the Force?” Patricia would tease and Carlo would struggle to understand the joke.

And thus, their friendship thrived for many years with no one save themselves ever knowing about its existence.

“Lola?” Patricia called out aloud and stepped into the living room of the long abandoned house. Though the floors were dusty and in dire need of a good sweeping, Patricia felt a small sense of awe as she looked around. Many of the houses in Kantong Kuba were built during the Spanish Occupation of Manila. And such houses housed more than just ghosts; they housed beautiful architecture and wonderful antique décor.

“Ineng,” the grandmother called out as she descended the central staircase that lead to the living room. Beside her, assisting her with each step was Carlo and his brother Juan. Carlo had died after hiting a ripe age of fifty-six. His heart failed to catch up with his alcohol and his tendancy to devour huge quantities of lechon. Juan, on the other hand, died when he was sixteen. He had befallen an accident on his way home one late evening. The criminal who took his wallet and left him for dead with a knife wound in his gut was never caught.

“Lola Jocelyn,” Patricia respectfully bowed her head and waited for the ghostly matron to reach the bottom of the stairs. Taking the old woman’s luminous mint green hand, Patricia smiled and gently kissed it. Lola Jocelyn slid her hand up Patricia’s cheek, allowing the seemingly adopted psychic permission to look at her directly.

“There is something different about you. Something different,” she observed as she held her hand towards Patricia’s cheek. Carlo stepped down the staircase and stopped a few feet away from Patricia. It was evident he was concerned about her, but still tried to hide it by never smiling at her directly.

“Lola, maybe its just because I haven’t been here for quite some time,” Patricia suggested but the old matron was not convinced. Juan seemed bored and sat on the staircase, fiddling with his ethereal nose for snot that no longer existed. “Or maybe its late and you need your rest,” Patricia tried again.

“Oh don’t start with me,” she retorted and walked to Patricia and held her hands. Patricia smiled and tried to look calm but her curiosity was too noticeable in her eyes. Carlo gave Patricia a knowing look, one which Patricia chose to ignore. Perhaps in some ways she felt nervous that he’d be jealous.

“What’s his name?” Lola Jocelyn asked and Patricia felt her cheeks blush. There was no hiding secrets from the departed, that much was true. Lies were after all discordant notes in the harmony that is a person’s soul. To lie was to make all these weird noises that were evident against one’s typically melodious soul. And Patricia knew Lola Jocelyn was an expert in reading such things having been practicing for what was pretty much another life worth of time. “His name,” Lola Jocelyn repeated, “This man who makes you sing deep inside.”

“Gerald po,” Patricia replied and saw Carlo and Juan visibly scowl. The name wasn’t that dignified for them. It was funny how dead people tended to be much more racist than they realized. But then again, maybe when you’re dead, such things matter more.

“Gerald?” Lola Jocelyn repeated the name as if to test the roll of it on her tongue. She brought one hand to her lip and bit on the nail, “Gerald Gerald Gerald…” she repeated the name as she gnawed on the nail, much to Carlo’s disconcertment.

“Lola stop that,” Carlo began only to have Lola Jocelyn wave him away. She continued to pace around, repeating the name over and over like a record player that had hit a back scratch. She repeated his name with a certain cadence to it. It was almost as if she was about to burst into song with the name as the introductory lines.

“I know that name from somewhere,” Lola Jocelyn finally admitted.

“Maybe it’s from some illegitimate child of yours,” Juan teased only to receive a quick punch from Carlo. Juan opened his eyes to complain but Carlo clamped both hands on his shoulders and shook his head as one final warning. Juan remained silent.

“Gerald what?”

“Grandmother?” Patricia asked aloud, not having caught what she asked.

“His name. His family name. His last name as you kids call it nowadays. What was Gerald’s last name?”

“Oh,” Patricia smiled, “Mapagtapat.”

“Mapagtapat,” Lola Jocelyn repeated and allowed the name to roll in her tongue once more. Carlo shook his head and began to make his way up the stairs. The other spirits began to make their way down. Aling Jacqueline was there with her glowing basket of fruits. As was Manong Aldwin who still carried with him his broken sombrero and old rusty bolo. Even the strange foreign spook Isami was there, peering from behind the much taller Filipino ghosts with his Japanese helmet still covering his head. All the ghosts save Carlo seemed suddenly possessed with the urge to find out what was going on. Patricia could almost swear they were on the verge of breaking into song about how love was this or that; perhaps even transforming the run down house into some strange multi-scenic set for a long song and dance sequence that perhaps ended with Patricia admitting that she liked him.

“So does he reside in your heart?” Lola Jocelyn asked and Patricia found herself realizing that he had forgotten how vulnerable and transparent she was to the spirit. She raised both eyebrows and slowly began to nod her head. Yes, she wanted to say, Yes I do think I have found myself falling for him. Yes, I do think he’s quite interesting and cute. But how does one really admit such things to someone older without sounding like some immature love struck fool?

“I’m not quite sure,” Patricia admitted and realized that deep down in her heart that’s how she really felt about these things. Love was in many ways an odd and strange emotion that she was not that well accustomed to. And though she thought she knew where she already stood as far as matters of the heart were concerned, she could not deny the fact that deep within her she felt the presence of doubt. Like a rude stain upon her convictions, she realized that she was feeling many things which sadly did not quite easily fall into place. What if her supposed feelings were more just curiosity than love? What if she actually just really liked Gerald to be her friend? What if someone else came along and only then did she realize who she really wanted? So many uncertainties. So many questions.

“You are honest to admit that,” Lola Jocelyn smiled at Patricia and slid both hands to cup her chin. Patricia felt a bit akward. A bit vulnerable. And though she felt the urge to shy away and move some distance from Lola Jocelyn, she realized she did not want to do that. She did not want to give the impression she wasn’t giving her words weight. “This world we live in, far too many people embrace the idea of love and romance as if it was something so easy and so simple and so perfect. They believe they fall in love and the next thing you know, they insist that love should be enough for everything. It is a sad, sad way to view love. To place upon it far more than it can really carry. To demand of it everything else that you should have the responsibility of taking care of then expecting it to still work after breaking it apart and making it handle what it does not.”

Patrica smiled and gave Lola Jocelyn a hug. The spirit, touched by Patricia’s sudden action, could only hug back in return. But somewhere the floors above, beyond the sight of any of them, Carlo stared out the same window he was looking out earlier and pondered on what was to come.

Word Count = 2,590
Previous Count = 19,734
Total Count = 22,324 of 50,000


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