It wasn’t really a good idea to stay overnight at Lolo Caloy and Lola Estella’s house, a quaint two-storey Filipino colonial-style house. Its sliding wood-panelled windows and decaying walls have been home to termites. To a thief, it’s the last of the last resorts for stealing because it has always been famous as a haunted house.
When my mama dropped me and my siblings off at their ancestral house that night, there was a surge of excitement for a mystery-seeker like me. I remember wearing only a shirt, pajamas and a pair of muddy slippers that was also my companion when I sneaked out three hours earlier to go to another derelict nipa hut about two kilometers away from the back of our concrete bungalow. I remember because that’s the reason why we arrived late at lolo’s house and though excited, my eyes were red and huge teardrops were flowing to the floor because my mama berated me and pinched me hard on the arm.
As soon as a tall burly old man opened the door, his inflated tummy sticking out of his white shirt, I started sniffing to indicate that I was crying as if my swollen eyes were not evidence enough. Noticing my exaggeration, my lolo bent over, stroke my hair and gave me soothing words I can’t remember what.
Upon entering, I could already smell Nanay Cunsit’s aromatic pork Humba: a sweet pork dish with catsup, brown sugar and salted black beans and banana blossoms resembling the more famous pork Adobo. Cooking Humba signaled an important occasion, so our presence could be a significant visit for them.
Nanay Cunsit, a scrawny elderly wearing a stained plain daster, flashed her yellowish teeth and greeted my mother while circling the ladle in her cooking pot. I squinted my eyes to show her I still hated her for making my last summer miserable at Lolo’s house. Suddenly, another plump old woman emerged from the door connecting the kitchen to the dining room. It was my lola Estella. She noticed my muddy slippers so while the rest entered the huge dining room with a long rectangular narra table at the center, my lola brought me to the bathroom where she cleaned my feet several times before offering a pair of clean giant slippers.
I proceeded to my place in the dining table. In lolo’s house, each of us has our own seat. While the old ones chattered, my sister Kathleen a slender kid with short hair and bangs started rolling her eyes and pouting her lips to show her impatience. She was seated directly in front of me in the long table. In response, I started raising my eyebrows several times smirking indicating my agreement. The two of us understood each other by mere facial expressions.
After 30 minutes of eager wait, two huge bowls of Pork Humba, a platter of Kinilaw, raw fish salad, and two bowls of rice were laid on the table. Then an hour passed, my mama bid her goodbye while the two of us with Ate Karen -the eldest among us, who grew up at Lolo’s, more refined and always wore a dress – ran upstairs. The stairs were situated directly across the dining room. Each careful step produced a creaking noise, so imagine running through it. Nanay Cunsit yammered from below while the three of us just laughed boisterously. We stopped when we reached the last step up because it was creepily murky. Only a yellow chandelier “adorned” with cobwebs lit a sprawling bare space upstairs. There were four rooms. The first room from the stairs was Nanay Cunsit’s, the second I haven’t opened and checked, the third was my lolo and lola’s and the last was my Ate Karen’s room.
Three expansive sliding windows bedecked the bare space supposed to be a living room.
We hurried to Ate Karen’s room, threw our bags and as free kids, started jumping on her pillow-filled bed. After a while of jumping and playing “Langit Lupa”, Lola Caloy came in giggling elated to see us in high spirits, bringing a pitcher of water, a cup, and an anerola, a pail for pee. He stopped us though and ushered us to sleep. Because we’re there, he decided to stay with the three of us. He positioned himself at the left side of the bed. I lay beside him while my sister Kath sprawled herself next to me, and my ate Karen slept at the far right side. Two windows were slightly opened, allowing a gush of wind to seep through- its gentle cold breeze ventilating us- and the moon and the eerily silent sky as the backdrop. I couldn’t sleep, my ate Karen too, so my lolo started humming a lullaby.
“Lolo, we’re not babies anymore”, squeaked Ate Karen. But the old man continued. As his eyes were closed humming the tune familiar to him, I faced him and noticed streaks of tears. Puzzled, I questioned, “Are you crying lolo?” He opened his right eye, and gazed at me, smiling. I bugged him to tell us why. Then out of the blue, he started sobbing like a kid. Ate Karen sat down worried, while Ate Kath was already in dreamland. My surge of excitement waned as I listened to a once strong old man’s vulnerable sobs. By that time, Ate Karen stood up and took a cup of water and gave it to lolo.
Lolo sat down, wiped his tears and beckoned us to sit in front of him.
Only the two of us were there as my sister Kath was asleep with mouth opened. Lolo, turned to me and said, “No matter what, love each other. One day you’ll be separated from each other. Di gid ninyo kalimtan nga magutod kamo. (Never forget that you’re siblings)”.
At a very young age of 8, I barely understood what he meant.
“Parehas gid kami ninyo dati pero wala gid kami subong naghirupay bisan gisakripisyo ko akon nga pamilya para sa ila” (We were once like you but now it seems that we don’t know each other, I sacrificed even my own family for them).
I was a mere spectator in that mournful monologue. He wiped his tears and poured out, “Gipalangga ko sila. Nagpaningkamot ko para sa ila”. (I loved them. I labored for them).
For the first time in my life, I peeked through the window of this hardworking grandfather’s past.
Sometimes we close these windows terrified that a gnawing memory would haunt us, at times we slide it open, allowing the gentle breeze of the past to seep through. Now, I fully understood what he meant:
The mundane things we did together as siblings became my most memorable windows.
Side note: I seriously miss these moments.