October 26, 2009

Into The Great Wide Open

When finally I was of school age, my mother got me back and started living away from my grandfather. It was hard at times to be away from my grandfather since I got so used to be with him. The giddiness and wonderment of childhood might have staid off these longings for my grandfather that I easily readjusted to newer surroundings. When I was with him, I played with my cousins, when I was with my mother I played with my sister and two brothers. Children always play it seems. They were built and created for to play and nothing more that games was like a narcotic to every child's longing and impartibility. Old habits did not die down that in the afternoon, on Saturdays and Sundays, I would earnestly find some solitary moments and played with "unreal" friends. I would climb trees alone and fish with a crude hook and line equipment in a nearby pond. My mother was living in the house of our grandaunt, Hadja Saniya, and it was an old house with a colonial built. In that place, there was some woods full of banana trees and a guava tree in the midst of it, near the pond were tadpoles litter it to the hilt.

The guava tree gave me a view from above and I had always liked the air up there. I would climb it and stayed up there for hours that I could not almost feel the afternoon passing by until twilight comes and all the children were up playing hide-and-seek or cherry base, a game where one would guard a post in order that the others would not take and conquer it by surprise and win the game.

One day while darkness crept slowly into the night, I was in a hide-and-seek game when suddenly, as I looked into the area full of banana trees, while hiding from my seeker, I noticed a little distortion in the trunks of the banana trees, and as I stared lengthily towards the woods, I noticed that a group of persons were looking at me. Some were standing while a couple was sitting in a kneeling position. They were all staring at me. They looked unusual that they had skin gleaming like bronze and their body sizes were relatively small like children's body and yet their faces looked old. I should have been scared and immediately run away but they seem to have put me in a trance that fear was absent in me at that moment. I remember it now so vividly, as I try to recollect these past events. I could even describe to you how one is put in a trance. As I looked at them, my head felt a gentle swelling, painless and smooth, as if the rest of me disappeared, except my head and my feet did not feel the ground. Again, my surroundings became yellow and everything seemed to glow despite the lateness of the day. My sight became sharper and I could hear my heart pounding and my body seemed ethereal like I was a spirit floating above ground. The one person sitting kept on signaling to me that I should approached them, because perhaps of the trance that I was put in, I headed towards the woods slowly, into the thick groupings of banana trees. As I pierced through the woods, the surroundings became brighter and ahead of me was a pathway in the forest, and I could see many of them at each side of the pathway, hanging from trees and huge stones. They all held palm leaves in their hands and shook it that collectively they made a swooshing sound that is gentle to the ear. Nobody spoke to me and nobody touched me. After a few meters of going forward, I stopped abruptly without deciding on my own, and turned back and into the games that I was playing with the other kids. It was a transition so smooth that I could say that time stood still and the event suddenly disappeared from my mind, never able to tell it to any of my friends or to my mother about the particular strange occurrence. It was only later on in life, that the memory kept coming back every time I walked into some woods with the same landscape and contour, feeling déjà vu every time, and vividly recalling details of such event. It must have been a dream. It must have been not. But dreams I could really recall to be dreams no matter how vivid they were and the forest incident was never a dream. In fact I had a dream once, about three years ago that was so vivid and yet I fully recognized it as merely a dream, not a memory of past events. In that particular dream, there was also a pond. I found myself in the middle of a wasteland, with red cracking clay all over, up to where my sight could reach. And then there was the pond that was unusually situated near a sloping hill and the air was yellowish and the sky a bit red, bleeding into many hues and concentration of red. There were no trees or a single bush in the arid ground except for a leafless tree protruding at one side of the shore of the pond and the wind was very still and motionless and the only sound I heard was the poundings of my heart. If you could perhaps imagine Mars and its landscape, that was how the dream looked and felt like.

The pond was of fair size in a shape that is almost perfectly circle. It was a small pond indeed with a radius not more than ten meters. I climbed the barren tree and sat there looking into the water, undecided about my next move. I could see the water inviting me to jump, almost feeling the coolness that it harbored; the dewy color of the water was refreshing to the sight. There was some life in the pond that I felt it could talk and communicate as if it was a creature on its own, with a head and a torso, and the tentacles of an ancient mollusk. I stood up from one of the tree's branches and dived into the water. The splashing sound it made as I entered the water reverberated throughout the heavy air that I could hear it rumbling even while I was deep into the water. Such sound made me reckoned that the pond was deep, so deep in fact that I kept going further and further into the water and I could not see ground. As I went deeper, there was exaltation inside me, a sudden gush of joy that became more and more prevalent as I dived deeper and deeper. But even as I go further into the water, I could find no end, as if it was a bottomless pit. I was insisting to lunge deeper when suddenly I felt a hand grabbed my body and pulled me towards the surface. When I reached the surface of the water I realized that I could not swim that the man who grabbed me had to help me reach the shore. There were actually two men that helped me get out of the water, as I lay there gasping in the banks. I examined the two men and observed them carefully and to my amazement, they both looked like me. They were my twins if only in that particular dream.

I sat there at the pond's shore while the two men stayed in the water, so expert in their swimming prowess that you could not tell from the surface if they are really moving their hands and feet to wade above the waters. That was the time that I saw this vision of an old person who looked like an old woman in a very long white dress. She looked so old that I had initially thought of her to be a ghost but despite such apprehensions, I could not move and continued to stare at the apparition. She approached me slowly as she floated through the wind, her feet entirely above the ground. As much as I thought that she was approaching me, as much farther she had become. It was completely a distortion of physics and of sight. She moved away from me, hovering towards the top of the nearby hill. A smile was pasted on her crinkled face that somehow I felt reassured that she meant no harm. She pointed towards the tree and through my mind, she instructed me to dive once more into the water. And so I recreated my previous dive and the sudden gush of happy emotion was there again as well as the temptation to go deeper and deeper. To seek the ultimate depth, the bottomless pit. The water offered such narcotic feeling that the two men had to grab me and pull me up before I go so much deeper and became lost into such very fearful depth. Every time I reach the shore, I dived again and then dived again until I was able to swim on my own, having gained the patience not to go deeper into the water.

And the dream went into a blur. The last recoverable image I have got of that dream was the old woman dancing atop the hill, while floating, and swaying her arms sideways and roundabout, as if ordering the wind and all the elements to move, and the air moved. In fact the entire atmosphere was in a whirl.

If dreams could be so vivid, nothing could top that particular dream where even when years had already passed, I could still remember the details, and the minutest of emotions that I felt. It was one of those dreams that once I woke up, I had the feeling that I had been transported from one place towards another instead of the general feeling of waking up.

Of dreams and of past memories therefore I have a healthy recognition and have reasonable distinction.

It was also in my Hadja Saniya's front yard that I also had another experience of trance. Again, we were playing a catch-me-if-you-can as twilight was already heavy into the night that it was only the full moon in the sky that gave us sufficient illumination. When the moon was full, us children would play into the night and it was sort of a ritual for us every time the moon appeared at its fullest. Before night came, the older children would inform all of us that the moon would appear in the night so we had to prepare for the night games. They say the night was full of monsters and ghosts but when the moon was full, even the olds would be in the yards to enjoy the mystic of a moonlit night.

The extra playing time we've got made us giddy and a little bit livelier. Every one seemed to laugh and snitched, until we were all laughing incessantly as we go running in a circle continuously and I started to hear laughing voices not of my friends but of some other persons'—old persons'. I stopped moving while the others kept running in circles, and the laughing voices faded as if I became suddenly deaf. And I stood there petrified and my body moved independently of my will until I was positioned apart from my playmates and gazed towards a guava tree whose leaves was crumbled due to the coolness of the night. The night became a little bit darker and my friends disappeared into a blur, as if I was the only person on earth that night. There was a red flickering light in the middle of the guava tree. The spark of light flickered so slowly as if someone was blowing it again and again. I squinted my eyes and I saw a figure of a huge man with the head of a horse, and the flickering light was at the end of what looked like a huge cigar. I could see figures in shadow because the tree was just about twenty meters away from where I was standing. The figure then changed into the figure of an elephant. After a few moments, I saw the shaped of a whale, then a horse head again, then of a monkey. The shape kept on changing and changing. The occurrence took about nearly an hour but when it ended my friends was still running in circles. I felt a sudden loneliness that I started to cry for no reason at all. I saw my mother coming after me and asked what was wrong with me. The other kids said that we were just playing. My crying caused the disruption of our over extended play into the night. Somehow, I could not remember telling my mother or anyone about the strange figures I have seen. Funnier still, when the day after came, nobody mentioned to me that I acted queerly by just standing there and crying so suddenly. Just like those other strange memories, I always failed to tell anyone for reason that is perhaps beyond careful remembrance. It may be perhaps the feeling I had then, even up to now, that no one would believe some queer stories anyway that it was not worth telling in the first place. Such memories faded in my head as the years went by, to recur as deja vu in later years.

All these experiences had one major tread that are similar to all and that is the feeling of entering into another dimension, penetrating an invisible wall that divides this world from some other parallel existence. I have a great feeling that those events were planned by some supernatural beings, as a way of introducing their presence here on our material world, to declare that they are here.


Hadja Saniya was unlike other elders we had. The more she got older, the sharper she had become. She had been tending a store and kids like us could not touch the goods as easily, in order to put some candies into our pockets without paying for it. All day long she played solitaire and was all too engrossed in it. I have learned one lesson or two about playing cards from her. At age six, I was already crazy about solitaire. At age nine, I was already gambling with the older cousins and uncles, playing poker and baccarat.

She never spoke much but she was always ready with the broom every time we did some mischief in the house, even those malefaction we did outside whenever news of such reach the house. One afternoon, words got to her that we took some bits of pork meat from some neighbors grilling a whole swine. I did not have so much beating from anyone as much as I had from her. That was my first religious lessons. Moslems do not eat pork she screamed and gnashed and from then on, I never touched the meat for a long, long time.

Her house would have been so grand when it was newly built as if centuries ago. While I was scrubbing the floor and wiping the dusts from furnitures, I imagine it to be a classic house made of wood, somehow Spanish in architecture but always remind me of American houses that I often see in the movies, just like the one in American Psycho. Her husband died years back that we did not really saw him alive but his picture hanging in the living room reminded me about how handsome he might have been, a man pure in Middle Eastern blood, leaning to the Turkish rather than Arab. He might have been a cinch with the ladies in his younger days. I imagined their stories of adornment. Perhaps, he was a handsome young man then, setting eye upon a fair Samal lad, and some other girls. He must have been a rich man to put up such a house. In Moslem wedding engagements, at least to those who were prosperous, all the matters are never settled in one sitting, at least not in one grand ceremony, merely climaxing upon such explosion of merriment and celebration. There would be the engagement procedures where the family of the male would bring all kinds of sweets and delicacies wrapped in colorful packages. In recent times, they used colorful cellophanes and Japanese paper when in the past they have to make use of carefully garnished garments and expensive silk from china. The china man brought these things and porcelains in exchange for the gold of the local tribesmen. There must have been a lot of gold vein in the area of Zamboanga that there were old pictures of Samal tribesmen flashing those teeth that glitter even if the photograph were in fading black and white.

Imagine yourself in a stock exchange as quoted prices flew by here and there and you would be able to feel how the parties negotiate for the amount of dowries to be taken by the family of the would-be bride. The spokesman for the male party would offer all the things that were superfluous like four heads of cow or a pocketful of pearls and morsels of gold. The father of the bride-to-be would of course negotiate for a better deal until the two parties meet at one delta of understanding. About a year after the agreement, the wedding ceremony would take place and in those olden days, it would last almost a week of merry making and festivity. The gongs would reverberate throughout, day and night, insistent and almost to the point of annoyance to the neighborhood. The best dancers would be invited to take turns, as the bride and groom are kept apart until the last day of the ceremony. There was the persevering smell of rice cakes and pastries made of mustard and egg, the kind that I always look for whenever I am in such activity, identifying the area of the kitchen as early as possible and then reconnoitering the area like a vulture. I usually fill my stomach with a lot of native coffee as the supply was bottomless and unending and every adult would took notice that such young child would spoil himself with nerve wracking amount of coffee.

Even in her fading years, Hadja Saniya looked fair that there was no doubt that she had deserved such grand wedding from the "Turkish" suitor.

Years after, the house of Hadja Saniya was graying and the paint on the walls subsided that there was an apparent darkness everywhere. When night comes, the darkness is more pronounced as silence complements the general dimness. The smell of old wood always lay heavy upon my nose that every smell of wood reminds me of the house. Dirt stuck to the decades old walls invites me always to stare at them and I reckoned then that the dark stains on them formed the shapes of men and other unlikely beings. The house was alive I thought then and it breathes into our lives every moment we happened to be there. In the night, these shadows become sharper that I thought I saw the shade of an old woman always while the lights are out and I lay there trying to find sleep, turning in my bed while cuddled inside heavy fabric, sweating profusely from fear of shadows.

I would sweat so heavily from warmth as I resisted the terrifying shadows of an old woman sitting just at the foot of my bed. There were times that the fear ate so much into me that I screamed and cried in the middle of the night. My father thought I was just missing my grandfather that at midnight, they would deliver me to my Uncle Mameng's house nearly ten kilometers away.

Of course, I would have to be back with my mother when school finally opened. The shadows finally came at lesser frequency and besides sleeping together with my brothers kept me somewhat reassured. If that old woman would strangle me, at least I would not be the only one to be strangled.

I could not tell if those shadows were really ghosts or spirits but I felt so sure that they breathe a life and they were unmistakably the shape of human beings.

My real sighting of a ghost came years later when I was just about ten or eleven years old. I could remember some particulars as I relate this to you now. It was near midnight, on one weekend, when most of the members of our household stayed wide awake to watch a television special; it was a late night movie if I am not mistaken.

Usually when the night comes, I had felt dutiful always to check the back door if they were safely locked and shut tightly. That night, before I sat to watch the show, I reconnoitered the kitchen and locked the door after reassuring that every chore in the kitchen has been done. As the show started, I felt a strong urge to relieve myself that I headed for the comfort room, situated just to the left of the kitchen. As I turned towards the direction of the kitchen, I saw a figure of a woman in white gown, with her hair down to her knees, walked pass the hall leading to the kitchen.

" Is someone still in the kitchen?" I asked.

"Everyone is here. Why?" quipped my Aunt Coney.

"I just saw a woman in white walked by in the kitchen hall!" I exclaimed.

"Do not kid us like that." She warned.

"Really. I did saw a woman"

We all stared at each other and after a moment, we all scurried for the main bedroom. Every one was blaming me for playing some wicked game on them and I kept on denying them.

"It must be your imagination." they all indicted me.

Half an hour later, we were back in front of the television while I was feeling so sick already from fear. I had no choice but to join them in the living room otherwise I would be alone in the room.

While the television was glaring, a sudden wind blew forcefully from the window and rain poured instantaneously as rumbling thunder shook the house. It was just another bad weather, as we disregarded the weather's tumult and stay stuck to the television show. Perhaps the wind was so whipping that small bits of stones were thrown at our direction, entering thru the window.

"Damn it. Someone is throwing stones at us," Coney said and we all peered into the window to investigate the malefactor and we find exactly nobody outside as more bits of stone came at us. The sound of thunder became extremely forceful that the lights went out. By this time, I could already feel the fear that had enveloped not only me, but also the rest of them; fear has a smell I realized that moment. In the middle of the living room, a small whirlwind was lifting the small stones towards the ceiling in a circular motion and while the stones circled above ground, the wind suddenly stopped and the bits of stone fell simultaneously to the ground. We all screamed and run to the bedroom.

It was strange that the day after, no matter how patently strange the experience we had the night before, everyone was merely jesting about it while Hadja Saniya simply dismissed it as the playful imagination of our minds, us who were still tender in the head. She was deep in slumber when the strange happenstance occurred. Even those who were present in that strange occurrence simply forgot about it, never mentioning it again. My Aunt Coney just did not talk about it. My brothers Nasrullah and Akmad and my sister Rimaisa just went to the yards and play the usual games, as if nothing happened. If I remember well, my cousin Nimfa and Mernisa was present then and similarly, they never took it so seriously despite the common terror we had felt that night. Where in contrast, that unusual night were etched forever in my mind.

The eldest who was there was Aunt Coney. I had expected her to convince the others that some spirits really played fun on us but she acted as if the strange night was merely a usual occurrence, and did go on with the ordinary chores, as if nothing happened, as if she was expecting such things to happen ordinarily. After that night in fact, she had slowly gained isolation from the rest of us, at least it was how I have observed her to be. She would walk along and would give me that iniquitous stare that I felt somehow uncomfortable that she had suddenly become so mindful of my presence that she would shout at me easily if for example I happened to touch the expensive jar in the living room.

I reckoned that she had blamed me for that strange occurrence in that one strange night.

First published: 11/28/05