A Prophet's Life by Y.B. Masdal
The Rising of the Dawn
I was born at around two o' clock in the morning of the seventy-second year of the twentieth century, as I have been told by my mother. If hospital records would concur, then this must be the fact. My mother once told me that she had a reasonable difficulty in her labor that it took her towards the beginning of dawn before I first breathe the air of this mortal world. That day, all Moslems went to the community mosque because it was also the day in the Hijrah Calendar to be the commemoration of the birth of Prophet Mohammad (P.B.U.H.), the feast of the Maullud-din-nabi.
I had a very special affiliation with this coincidence because when there is nothing more to say, I always mentioned to my friends that indeed I was born on the day Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) was born. To be born in the day a known prophet was born may be a sign of some bigger things for me ahead I thought, something grand that I had a sentiment of grandeur because of the coincidences of my birth. There was some sort of pride in this; perhaps I was just like any Christian born on the twenty-fifth of December.
So I celebrated two birthdays each year. My aunt Minda would prepare me a feast and my cousins would savor upon Chinese ramen and chiffon when April came. My grandfather, Imam Unih, a Muslim preacher, on the other hand, would always hand me some money to celebrate my birthday when Maullud-Din-Nabi comes which I always used to buy lots of toys instead of a grand feast.
Mine was a very unusual childhood. As far as my memory takes me back, it had seemed that the first consciousness I have gotten was to be a child living with my grandfather, those memories where my grandfather was always there when I was still an infant. My grandmother, Hadja Daihanna, passed away when I was about three year old or so that I really had no substantial memories of her except to see her sitting stoically in her rocking chair for hours and hours, all day long due to general paralysis. I remember quite well that in my pre-school ages, I always dream about her (those dreams where I always fall from my bed; having that feeling of falling endlessly from a cliff).
I dreamt that I was flying furiously through the woods terrified from being chased by this being who looked like an old woman with graying hair l like wire fences on her hair and she had wings blacker than the night. And it was really uncanny that she looked like my grandmother, at least the stringed hair was similar as I observed her when sometimes she let her long hair spread out in order to dry it up after a bath. I had this kind of dreams and the winged old woman sometime had companions and they kept on chasing me. In one of those dreams, I also had these companions who looked cherubic and whose hair where curly like American babies. It was because of these dreams that in my waking hours, I felt some discomfort every time I stared at my grandma, though at that early age, I have learned to dismiss those dreams to be merely dreams and nothing more.
I had this particular dream that left me really screaming in the deadest hours of the dawn. Again as usual, I was speeding through the night forests being chased furiously by those dark winged creatures that looked like my grandmother Hadja Dayhana. I would bend my arms in front of my face in order to protect my body from the branches of the trees that I went into in my flight from the flying specters, speeding into nooks and caverns. As I escaped from the woods, I blurted into the wide-open night sky and lost those who were chasing me. I was huffing and puffing from the furious chase and flew to a nearby gathering of trees and there I found my companions, those cherubim with faces of infants. Without speaking in words, they instructed me to be quiet while we had a view of a assembly of people encircling a huge campfire. They were all kneeling and I saw some familiar faces, the ones who were chasing me, being part of the group, chanting and singing and howling as they faced the burning woods in the middle of the circle. It was a ritual. I was awe-stricken by the unusual event before us when suddenly, something from behind us moved and the winged serpents found us again and we scurried hurriedly, to flee again. When I woke up, I screamed my hearts out and my grandfather had to make me drink cool tap water.
These were the familiar nocturnal dreams that I had when I was so young and little. Each time I woke up, I always felt so surprised to find myself in bed instead of the caves and forests that were inside those dreams, as if I really was in those dreams that in fact whenever I fell in a dream, from trees and cliffs, I also fell from my bed.
Of cherubim I always had memories the most vivid of which was me afloat the clouds with many of them trotting throughout and food fell from the sky without end and we held baskets to collect the manna from heaven. I remember these dreams for they were happy dreams.
I died once when I was a child. I profess to these because now as I grew older, I realized that memories are there to remind us of things that happened in the past and not to put fabricated events in our mind. How could one for example imagine past events that are so vivid that they recur incessantly whenever we see things that remind us about such incidents, refreshing our memories towards the growing years. For example, whenever I see rice fields I always go back to the days when I and some other children would scour the wetlands and hunt for birds with our slings. The smell of coffee now takes me back always to the moments when my grandfather would always retreat to the front yards and sip hot ground coffee while sitting in his rocking chair, wiling away the afternoon without uttering any word while reading Arabic jottings he had written himself in miniature notebooks.
Dying was a matter of darkness. Death is all of darkness, just like sleeping. When we sleep, we close our eyes and slip into darkness and unconsciousness sets in. Such was dying. Darkness was like a tunnel, like being caught in the body of a huge cannon. My body floated towards higher ground like a speeding rocket coming out of the dark tunnel. I had a feeling similar to skateboarding and of being carried in a Ferris Wheel, lifting my entire soul into a maze and into a circle. At the end of the tunnel, I appeared so suddenly into the open air that made my skin tremble a bit. And lo and behold, I found everything to be brighter than any sunlight that I have experienced before. Above me was pale bluesky, a kind of hue that was so sweet to my eyes and below me were clouds thick as foam. I felt a sudden gush of joy that my heart flew and skipped a bit. In the air was the spine-tingling sound of strings possibly that of a clarion or a banjo guitar and my eyes swelled with tears as I felt an overpowering outpour of divine happiness. I floated and floated, letting the wind control my body, leading me towards the thicker clouds that lies ahead. Within the clouds appeared angels with curly blond hairs and faces that one imagines the biblical David have. So handsome and so pure in white raiment and wings so white as they flutter through the clouds. They seemed to be full of jest, disappearing suddenly and appearing at the other ends of the walls of clouds. As I hovered through the clouds, I could see a figure that took to be the shape of a white castle, as I go nearer, I affirmed that they were really castles afloat the clouds, my first sight of a castle with high turrets and towers; years before I saw an illustration of such in children's books. Before I could reach the castle, I suddenly woke up and found myself atop the table in the living room of my Uncle Mameng's apartment, the eldest child of my grandfather who we were living with, and I could see my bloated stomach as I regained vision slowly and slowly. Initially, my vision was dull and could only appreciate the sight immediately in front of me until I regained full view. I could see my father worriedly scurrying near me but with a great sigh of relief in his face while the others smiled. I heard the man whose name I could not really remember now, living next door, saying to my grandfather, "See, I told you he would be alright". And then I still remembered my grandfather's face with tears on his face. That was the only time that I saw him cried and never ever again.
It was a fever so high that almost took my life in my infancy. I had frequent fever attacks then that often, my grandfather would perform a sort of ritual with a blade in one hand and a candle on the other, reciting Arabic prayers in order to cure me of my fever. Of the many times that I remember him doing such ceremony is how I reckoned how in my early years, I was often afflicted with high fever.
I felt so harassed by the heat every time during those bouts that my head was aflame and my skin was torching. In such infantile consciousness, I always remembered how my body was burning with extreme temperature that my consciousness would somehow separate from my own body. When my body became numb and isolated, the burning sensations were not as disturbing anymore.
My grandfather was a busy man that he had to be concerned with my frequent fever attacks while at the same time lulling my grandmother away from her recurrent malady.
Once I had asked my grandfather about my grandmother's weakness and general immobility. He told me that it was indeed because of a disease that afflicted her and that she would not be able to speak so well anymore. What I really wanted to asked him was why she would scream at times into the midnight that everyone in the house would be awaken. What kind of disease would let one scream into the night was the thing I wanted to inquire upon. But as a toddler, I bet there are things that we do not even know how to ask, when vocabulary would not be enough to elucidate our inquiry. Everytime she was attacked by such "disease", Uncle Mameng and the servants would come and help my grandfather calmed her down, to reassure her that everything was all right. She was always murmuring about some person she was afraid of; a one she calls "the jinn".
"There are no jinns. You are just imagining" my grandpa always assured her while she would lay there wide-eyed and trembling. From the looked on her eyes, pity was the natural thing I could feel for her. She was like a child afraid of something.
"I have checked the whole house and there was no Jinn around" my uncle would add to further reassure her.
At times the attacked on her nocturnal sleep would be so serious enough that in the stillness of the dawn, we would packed the necessities and head for the hospital, staying there for nearly a week every time.
At such a young age, my grandmother's predicament affected me so much that I had always hoped then that I was already grown up and be able to help her, wishing earnestly to appease her. Those dreams of flying had made me somehow distant from her, a little bit wary of her and somewhat disturbed that the winged old woman in my dreams somehow looked like her. And yet, I felt so much for her. Besides those were merely dreams.
Once I decided to investigate the cause or causes of the "weakness" of my grandmother. I was relatively confident that I would find some answers however tender my mind at that time. It was in the apartment's bathroom with its yellow darkened light and perpetual wet floor that she had pointed to be the place where she had seen the "jinn". The bathroom had malfunctioning equipment that always had that pungent smell typical of aging lavatories, full of slime and fungi stuck to walls and corners giving it a dark green shadow all over, from the floor to the ceiling. What augments the general dimness was the decision of the household to put a bulb of the weakest power that even at daytime, I would always feel like it was already midnight whenever I enter it. There was desperation written all over it that anyone who went into the toilet would realize immediately that it was a place where the smell would remain even if best efforts to clean it up would be undertaken.
As I relieved myself, I tried to stay longer when the apartment was quiet and everyone was either asleep in the afternoon or were out for work. I examined the ceilings for some clue and stared at the walls for holes and cavities to where the jinn might be hiding. When I convinced myself at that time that there would be no such signs of the unknown being, I stepped back and headed for the door. As I turned my head, suddenly I saw in the corner of my left eye a huge shadow of a man that goes from the floor towards the ceiling, the shape of its head folding into the surface of the ceiling. The hairs at the back of my head stood up and I felt my skin trembled. Despite such apparent terror however, I gathered all of my strength to focus my stare into the wall but the shadow was not there anymore. I went quickly outside and found the afternoon very still as usual.
I went to the garden in the front yard where I usually enjoyed my solitariness when the sun was readying to fall towards sunset and played in the gardens, picking some leaves and mangling some stems. My cousins would be asleep in that hour of the afternoon while I did not developed such habit, allowing me so much time alone to play with whatever my mind could think of. As I put some stones into holes that I have previously dug in the ground, I pondered upon the shadow in the toilet. Was it the shadow of the "jinn"? It was a huge being I thought and the image of the shadow was vivid enough that I was able to surmise that it wore a g-string garment on its body and had a strip of clothe wrapped around its head while its hair was shoulder length, like an ancient warrior. He must have held spears and knives but such things did not appear to me.
I kept on digging holes and putting stones and coins into them and then covering back the holes, ironing out the surface to look as if the soil were never disturbed. Such was the kind of solitary games I played. I have reckoned then so early in my life, when I dug up the stones and coins the day after, that plants and trees could grow from the ground and flowers multiply too; but stones and money would not.
I had perhaps had a very strong desire to tell my grandfather about the shadow but somehow I did not had enough inclination to put them into words while my grandmother kept wailing in the middle of the night every now and then. Then after a while, her predicament eased towards serenity that she just stared and sat in her rocking chair until she died in the hospital one day while I was looking after her. My Aunt Julpa cried first and asked me what have I done that she died. Of course, I did not know what to say but her asking was etched so much into my mind that every now and then I would ask myself if indeed I had done something to hasten her death. But as I child that I was then, the disturbance of Aunt Julpa's inquiry just faded into memory till now that I earnestly attempt to recollect those events so far into my childhood.
There were a lot of card games played while the family was mourning the death of Hadja Dayhana and the smell of brewed coffee permeated as the men would take turns in making the coffin. They were in jest as they kept on putting one up against each other about who is the better carpenter. My father attempted to drive a nail into its rightful place but the rest laughed that Salip Hussin could never become a sharp carpenter. This had somehow eased my apprehensions about Aunt Julpa the day before. Every one was in a light mood that everything must have been all right and done with. Dying in the latest of ages seemed to be most acceptable to all. But when my grandmother was finally rested to the ground, as the men held her body so gently and tucked her into the crevices of the ground, almost everyone was teary eyed and Aunt Julpa was even talking to my dead grandmother while we throw soil to cover the grave, about why she had to leave, about her being not able to come and visit her frequently. How could she talked to a dead person I thought? Would her cries and words be heard and not flow into the rural wind of Taluksangay? This had somehow recuperated the apprehensions I had about her.
There must something in my grandmother that gives spark and liveliness to the house that after she died, there was a gradual silencing of the household and everyone was more incline to frown, more inclined to be introspective that conversations became lesser and us children played lesser games, as if a great lonely shadow was cast over the household. If anybody missed her among the members of the house--including the servants--no one could tell, the least myself. It was the newfound serenity of the surroundings that everyday I had wished that all those who played card games in the mourning of my grandmother would come and played those card games again and again, to make the noise stifle the sadness of the gardens and of the front yards, to fill the air with coffee smell again and of rice cakes. But this was never so. And so in the afternoons, I kept playing in the garden, careful that the traces of stems mangled and flower picked would not be apparent enough less my Aunt Nene would call upon to inquire upon the suspects and then the guilty malefactor, which would be either one of my cousins or me. I went about to pretend that I was like the older men who did the coffin thinking that I might become a good carpenter, unlike my father. It was in sunny days that I loved to play alone in the yards when the air was a little yellowish and everything seemed to glow, like the image of those pictures not developed properly and everything in the picture would be bright yellow. I smelled the air and they were thick that almost I could see the wind swooping by, and caressing my hair so gently. I smelled such air so smoothly they seemed to be delicious, like chicken or chiffon cake thickly covered with butter. In one of those sunny afternoons, I had looked towards the sky and observed the sun. I tried to examine if the sun had come nearer towards the ground that everything looked brighter. And my mind got stoned when suddenly the clouds move so agile that a hole in the sky formed, like a gate opening. And then I saw a very colorful image coming into the center of the hole. What a beautiful kite it was I said that it had the bluest of blue and the greenest of all green. It was a horse with the head of a woman with its hand waving at me. A kite would not do such things I told myself. And the gate in the sky closed and the technicolor horse disappeared.
I wanted to ask my grandfather if kites could stare back and waved at us while in the sky but somehow, I did not ask anymore. It happened in those very early years where my vocabulary was not yet efficient to elucidate every thought I had then.
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.
The Mystical Old Man
You could fall in love in such tender ages this I realized when I stepped into first grade. Those feelings might have been merely infatuations. I was not sure. Nothing is so certain with emotions especially that of a child.
I could always write "C-H-A-I-R" or "U-M-B-R-E-L-L-A" when our teacher instructed us to identify things on the board. That was how Julie chose a seat beside me. She was like a leech poring into all the answers I have got on my paper while I was always ever willing to share them. She was there with her angelic face looking perpetually it seemed at my paper. In such closeness, I could study the gentle features of her face, the wide-eyed girl who also happened to be a neighbor of ours although their house was far enough that she was not with the regular kids I play with every afternoon.
Julie had a face of dolls my cousins used to play and she wore dresses like those dolls wore. With flowers and sunbeams in them embroidered like badges. Her hair was always prim and her shoes shiny. When rainy seasons came, she was the only child who carried to school an umbrella made for kids while we carry the larger ones, whose length were nearly our heights, making us looked laughable and tragic it seems.
Even in the gardening activities, I would be the one toiling for her that it felt good to be so needed while she enjoyed being so dependent. At that age, the littlest of vocabulary in our minds never allowed us much conversation that what I did was merely stare at her face and wonder how it attracts my attention so much. In the afternoon, I would go home ahead so that I could again examine her face while she walked past Hadja Saniya's house.
One day she shook the entire class as she narrated to us, while we were playing in the fields, how she had a dwarf friend that she had put in the bottle. I inquired so earnestly if the dwarf was still there and said that in fact she had spoken to one of them that morning.
We all grouped around her for dwarf stories and she would tell them with so much energy that she sweated sometimes.
From then on, she was full of dwarf stories that my classmates proceeded to disregard her. Perhaps, bandwagons were a fact of life even in our tender ages that even I started to isolate her. She became bitter and always in argument when we chided her about the dwarfs. Until one day one of the dwarfs died and it seemed she never spoke again and became all the more introspective and isolated. In the second grade, she had changed classes but I continued to examine her face whenever she was around. As she grew older, the dresses she wore disappeared and started to wear jeans and t-shirts, and before we knew it, she had developed lesbian tendencies and became silent.
When I entered high school my grandfather took me back and paid for the expensive fees of my catholic schooling. He had become weaker and weaker that perhaps, he needed someone to tend over him when weakness consumed him altogether. He had bouts with asthma that often, we both slept in the hospital for days. The hospital became my second home during those years while I struggled with my studies.
In his healthier days, he would give me Arabic lessons and great myths of old. Being a Moslem preacher that he was, he was always writing some Arabic scribbles into his minute notebooks and I would ask about them.
"It is the mysteries of the world." He would always say. I wanted to ask if for who does he writes it for when almost nobody could understand Arabic but I did not.
I would observe him scribbling all afternoon like a well-versed scholar on composing his post-graduate opus. He had an apprentice whom he always consults every now and then, a young preacher named Abirin, who was also our relations. I would go along with him to these frequent visits and indeed they compared notes. I observed so keenly how they relate and strangely enough, they do not speak as much to each other but they would smile and grunt as if they understood each other. One time, they had this ritual where they lit up a candle and Abirin was holding the Tasbi, the Moslem prayer beads, and held it up that it lay there static in a hanging position. There was no one around except the three of us. Both of them continue to mumble Arabic verses that they both seemed to fall into a trance, including me that my sight got plastered into the hanging Tasbi. Then all of a sudden, the beads swayed back and forth, about forty-five degrees from left to right. Then it went forth in wild circular motion without the hands of Abirin moving. Then if stop so abruptly that even at that age, it must have been impossible. When after a while, the Tasbi stopped completely in a forty-five degrees position, for a bout sixty seconds and this had astounded me so much for I know this is not how gravity actually works. My hairs stood up and felt a sadness so deep that I wept there so hard, and tears flowed from my eyes like a river. Both of them pacified me telling me that "it's alright. It's all right. Stop your crying". And they were both smiling at each other without conversing in dialogues.
One of the manuscripts that Hadji Unih was writing one afternoon was a wide paper with shapes in them. It was so wide that he had to fold it before tucking it into his black leather case. In the middle of it all was a circle and at each side were three rectangular shapes. At each corner was a triangle and within the shapes were Arabic verses. I was particularly mystified by the work that I asked him its meaning and consequences. "It's the mystery of our existence," he would vaguely answer again. I imagined those writings to be charms that I had a keen eye on them, coveting them in my heart that I planned to tuck them away. I daydreamed that they would give me powers of the supernatural kind. One that could make me disappear perhaps and become invisible or one that would afford me extreme luck and plow in mountains and mountains of money and other riches. But it was only after he died that I have got hold of the paper that I wanted most. Not by stealing it away as I had planned but by just appearing in my sight several nights after he had died. All his garments and materials were distributed among the relations including all his writings and paraphernalia. It was only the one that I coveted much that I found in the empty closet that we both used to share. I was so consumed with sadness that after putting the paper in my bag I just forgot about it and did not mind it much until years later. His death meant that I had to go back to my mother and started the "silent years" of my life.
The death of Hadji Unih was like the world falling down on me. I awoke to a newer set of reality where the very person that almost became everything to me, to be the father and a mother, to provide every garment and every toy, suddenly disappeared. My body became literarily wobbly that uncertainties of future things cast a huge gloom into my mindset.
I became the more introspective and the change was so abrupt that my classmates once took notice of this change and ask if something wrong was happening to me. I said there was none.
As I visited his tomb every now and then, I would take a stone from the surface of the ground where he was buried thinking and hoping that his spirit would into the stone and guide me throughout my life. I would be like a man gone out of his head as I spoke to him while my words just flew into the wind. Extreme introspection was the consequence of his death to my person but sadness was not so. A week after he died, my mother and many others would still cry, especially my mother who even months and years after, she would wake up in the middle of the night to sit by the dimly lit kitchen of Hadja Saniya and cried. But I did not cry as much. Weeks after his death, I was playing basketball with so much fire that I excelled in it. I cried once and then never again. My body became lighter that despite the abrupt change in the things that I have, as compared to the things he had been affording me, I never cried so much over him. As if somebody was lifting me up and protected me from longing so much for him.
And yet, the lack of things was a something that I had to struggle with and took me a long time to adjust.
Years later, he would appear in my dreams. One of those dreams I quite remember so well. We were walking along the bridges and planks of a Moslem community by the sea, like typical communities of Samals. It was unlike any community that I see or that I have been. As we were walking, his footsteps became faster and faster, leaving me a little behind and struggling with my own footsteps. Then he walked faster that the distance between us became wider and wider until he ran suddenly forward. I was teary-eyed calling out for him, not to leave me behind. I could see him run and suddenly dived into the water below and swam towards the deeper sea. I was flooded with tears as I ran after him and I also jumped into the water. I struggled to swim as water poured in through my mouth and suddenly he appeared from under and carried me while he swam like a swooping tornado. When we were in the middle of the sea, he suddenly became a crocodile. I did not mind it so much as the ride gave me a serene exaltation, and a wide grin was on my face. The dream ended as we approached the beautiful orange sunset against the blue horizon.
In a Jesuit institution, one appreciates the love of God and of country because the insignia in our school uniform boldly states "pro deo et patria" a latin phrase declaring "for god and country". I had always stared at that insignia and studied every detail of the design. The very minute I got hold of that high school uniform, I felt ecstatic because for every child, Ateneo was a dream school, it was where the rich men's children gained their education.
Truly indeed, there were lots of them rich kids in their huge basketball shoes and rubber wristwatch protruding gravely from their little gangly arms. I could see that even in appearance they were different from each and every one of us. They always had skin so fair and tinges of foreign look.
My first day in school was not a good memory. I had bought this orange pants a month ago thinking these were such garments the hip American kids wore, those Bronx black kids used when they were break dancing. I was a huge follower of the strut and breakdancing movement that caught the whole world at that time.
While we were in the flag ceremony, some kids from behind snickered and I heard him mentioning the color of my pants. I should have been gone to the city jail instead of school he said. I heard that because they meant it to be heard so I felt so conscious and sweated for the rest of the ceremonies. I tore that pants later on so that I could use that at home, at least, my money did not went for naught.
In my college years, I stayed with Ateneo and planned to master politics or literature when some student assistant led me to my scholarly perdition.
" You are taking A.B. Political Science while others are struggling to enter nursing" the student assistant from the admission office quipped as if she was so bored with her job that she could not help but interfere in some poor lad's career.
" What's wrong with the course", I answered.
" You have a very high entrance score and you could take just about any other course", she suggested and I thought she was waiting for my acquiescence with bated breath. I could see the white of her eyes as she stared worrying for my life.
"I am planning to enter law school" I said, " It is just a preparatory course"
"You could take Accountancy then" she insisted and added " it has law subjects in it"
I examined the curriculum and indeed four entries there read "Business Law". As if just to do away with her pestering, I agreed and sign in with the batch of people who wanted to count other people's money.
At home, I reconciled my earlier decision with the uncertainties of the future. I assured myself that it was for the better because if things would not work out right, I could always slide into counting money in banks or some institution. I could even go on business myself and be proficient with money. But it turned out; accountancy was not just about counting money. It was full of worksheets after worksheets that test the patience of the students, while it was supposedly to be merely a stepping-stone for me towards another course. I lacked the patience and discipline that I performed miserably at school. I did not decided to change course anymore because I felt my intellect were enough to wrestle the course even with the minimal attention to it. Whoever says that an accounting class was not a bore must have been a fanatic of numbers. We always had to determine the money of some Mr. X or Mr. Y and see if the profits he raked in were properly reported or not. Then Mr. Z somehow had this factory and we must advice him at what price to sell his goods. Then there were the banks that we had to reconcile. It was a merciless subject that I never really cared if banks reconcile or just kept on kicking at each other's butt.
I spent a lot of time in the library instead. While my classmates was carefully putting entries into their ultra-neat worksheets, I dived into the world of Russian literature- of Feodor Dostoyevsky and of Tolstoy- and into those American textbooks who were not wanting in graphics and designs, full of school yards and prairies and colonial houses made of Oak.
I joined the school paper to further stifle the general boredom of classrooms. I must have questioned enough inquiries as a reporter that in my senior years I took the rein as the Editor in Chief. I learned to make more poetry because the ones submitted were simply crap. Well, not all of them at the least. I would hide in some other name to fill a section full of serious literature. Each issue was always a labor of love that I would stay alone in the pressroom up to the late evening to get some editing done.
I kept the greater load of the works, burning hours after hours doing the dirty stuffs, integrating issues with more than two of my pseudonyms. I kept every member of the publication at bay. I was not a good administrator despite my writing skills that a friend declared that the publication was a one-man magazine. I sort of took offense at that, but it somehow gave me a feeling of invincibility.
The Man In The Moon
There was a time when my grandfather was telling me the story about "the man in the moon". In moonlit nights, long after my grandfather died, I sat and merge with the cold wind and studied the geography of the moon's surface. He called the man Taberlok, a scary name I surmised then. He rode the sky in a magic broom and had a pointed trumpet-like hat. He comes down once in a while my grandfather said, looking out for kids who did bad things and taking them away into some other world, never to return again. I shriveled at the proposition that I gained some distrust against my grandfather. How wicked Tamberlok was I thought for children only wanted to play and laugh all day long.
But Tamerlok was not a one-dimensional freak after all as my grandfather continued. On the other hand, according to the old man, a good kid was given a wild and happy ride across the stars and beyond. And it would be a very enjoying ride my grandfather always reassured me.
As I grew older, I reckoned this tale to be purely made up but somehow I kept staring at the moon when the moments were perfectly at hand. I had hoped very much that my grandfather was the real "man in the moon" in order that he may come and took me a ride across the meteors and along side those speeding comets. If he was the moon man I thought, I would gain the wild and happy ride, because I had been generally good with him, at least as I had believe then.
When he was alive, he would always take me with him whenever he had to go downtown or visit some relations. It was a happy walk always that before we went home, we passed by the store to buy some toys or new garments.
At times I stared at the moon so fervently that at one time or another, I saw a face with a huge grin pasted on it. The moon was sometimes a person, living and breathing. They say when it was at its fullest, ghosts and winged serpents would appear and roam the sky and the earth, but to me, it was another chance to summon the man in the moon.
I called upon the spirit of my grandfather also whenever I pray, after calling out to God. It was extremely difficult for me to memorize those Muslim prayers that after trying my best, I gave up and decided that I should settle with the prayer of the beads which only three words were muttered in Arabic. I conformed then to the idea that every prayer, as long as it was genuine, was good enough. There was this Tasbi that my grandfather had which I kept until now as a remembrance and I used it in my nightly calls to Allah. Since he died, my night calls gained sufficient frequency. I called on Allah and confessed all the things in my heart. The things I did in the day and all the things I did not. I felt so sinful then that not at one instance merely that tears would flow down easily from my eyes. "I am despicable", I admitted always. I call upon God and sometimes I could interchange Him with my grandfather unknowingly that my tone for my meanderings were indistinctive, regardless if I was confessing before God and summoning my grandfather.
The Rose Bud
I met Evelyn during my first years in college. Our family moved house towards a neighborhood that had once been familiar to me. The old apartment where Uncle Mameng's once rented was just nearby. Lustre Street felt familiar, there were those stark reminders of those adventures I had in Childhood. There were the chronic water ponds were fishes used to roam and we'd fish like there was no tomorrow. The rice fields somewhere in the out backs of the houses on stilts seemed barren now, but in the past, wild birds dotted them that I had slingered quite a number of them.
I never had a girlfriend since that time and it took me quite a number of nights thinking about my move. The neighborhood friends were too urgent that I had to save some manly honors. There were not a few times that I sipped a bottle of beer before I would speak to her. And some nights it was not merely sipping, but I was already half-conscious from beer.
There was nothing I thought I was best at but at making love letters and I wrote them in stationeries I burnt with cigarettes to heighten the effect and then I wrote her poems.
Poets have privileges that others do not have so perhaps when I finally got her acquiescence I celebrated my poems, almost putting them in plaques.
I wrote poems that were somewhat surreal; the kind only the poet knew the exact meaning and nobody else. They were erotic at times, but adventurous at most. There was the poem that I remembered the most and it was like magic that until now, I remain its most ardent admirer, though it may look I am the sole admirer. That poem was the "Rose Bud" and it goes…
Set your fodder widest
Like an ocean of yellow poppy field,
On an orange farm
That once ruled
The mazes of my perverted dreams.
Here I stand,
A smirking child
Lost in the underground caves
Where I set my Indian soul free
Always upon your magnificience.
You offer me your oriental meal
Flavored with salted tenderness,
Laced with diamonds of
Hopes and promises.
When you tamed a whispering storm,
The moon was a scarlet fire.
Aziz accused me of inventing some poem that was heavy on drugs and perversion. I said it was only in his mind. I explained that the poppy field is the beauty of the farm I used to see in pictures of Europe. They must have been tulips, but I preferred the poppy flowers.
Poems are always misunderstood. Mine were not exempted.
The Accidental Politician
Law school was both a destiny and a curse. The first appreciable words I heard from my father was "you would be a lawyer when you grow up" and stuck to my mind like mildew on wet rock. If he were a warlock, it would have been the curse from Gods. But since he was not, then it must have been destiny.
The minute I stepped into the halls of the University, there was a realization that every other hour I have spent in classrooms were for the sole purpose of this endeavor, to learn and argue for somebody else's tragedy. Sighing as if a great thorn in my heart had been plucked out and yet sighing, or rather yawning that the specter of boring classrooms would still be there to haunt me. It had become the wildest of my ambition to finally find myself free of blackboards and teachers mimicking textbooks. And in my first year of law school, my patience was gravely questioned; my discipline doubted thinking it would be another four years of classrooms.
To make matters worse, my law years overlapped with Satan's wrathful stranglehold on me, stifling my attention rules and procedures as the scourge of depression sent my emotions into ecstasy, and then sadness, then everything in between. Again, I merely traipse along periodic examinations and semestral breaks and along summers and make-up classes and completion tests. The years in the University would have been mostly plain and sordid, until I got myself entangled in student politics.
I was riding the seaside highway towards school while heavy in my mind was whether to skip the class or not. My decision to attendance led to a lengthy conversation with a classmate that was himself harboring a hard decision to make, that is, whether to run for another term as President or not.
"This is a good proposition," he said. Teng Catong is a miniature national politician who takes his politics so seriously that it pores out of his skin. Elections were his staple, the lifeblood that makes his spirit rise and gain him some shine in his face. If orations were an Olympic sport, he would have represented Philippines.
"Any good proposition is good to hear," I said, pinching in some bravado, upon speaking to one who is full of politics.
"I am sure you could do it," he sort of whispered to me and that was the time I realized that this may be something beyond jest. I felt some sinister.
" If I can do it, then I will do it," I answered with bated breath, somehow recognizing that the proposition would demand so much from me. I thought perhaps this was a business proposition and he needed some capital, which I do not have really.
" We need you run as President for our party" he muttered casually, psychologically assuring me that it would not be so much of a big deal.
I regretted my bravado soon after and smiled so hard I thought I would laugh. He must have been joking I reckoned then and my mind rushed for excuses.
"I do not have the resources"
"We have the resources"
"I won't win. I have no previous reputation."
"You will win."
The following day, I submitted my application with the dean of student Affairs and rode the campaign trail thinking I was merely in a movie and everything was merely an acting job. And most of it were actually acting job for someone who does not have much time in the past speaking in front of crowds. I would scurry to imagine Jose Rizal or Ninoy Aquino. If I had then the proper equipment, I would have studied their movements and actuations every time I prepare to speak, like basketball coaches do. In my mind was a playground, and I was the master of my speech, the director of that movie. I became Gandhi and then Marcos then Pilate, sometimes all of them at the same time. "Lend me your ears.." were words I learned in school; "bring me your votes" was the phrase I learned in the field of political battle.
When the counting came in, the lights went out and Teng was almost shouting at me to make the rounds and guard every vote. He was holding his personal tally sheet as sweat poured all over him. He shouted like he was my master and I was merely a confidant. I did not say anything although I wanted to appease him that losing would not be the end of the world for me. It was then I realized that my defeat would be the world falling down on him. It was much of his election as mine. When the smoke got cleared and every bullet was shot and every cannon fired, I got away with the most minimum of votes and worry overcame me rather than elation. But it was a show all along until the very end that I jumped as Teng and my other teammates hugged to the air. I smiled but did not laugh.
Running for the topmost student post was one thing and winning was another. It was purely bravado that got me embroiled in such very alien endeavor. I would not worry much anyway for winning is not one of my expectation. You see I was a complete nobody then. I had not anticipated governing that my losing would just be another day for me. But I won and worried so much about governing.
The summer after such election, I fell into an abyss and that made everything worse. I have to deal with a major depression while preparing for my reign as the University president.
Depression is like water. You could not get hold of it. You grasped it into your hands and they just melts away. It is also like upon a darkened room that the darkness would be so unkind that you would not know where the chairs and tables are, not even the way out. I bet our soul is like a ship and mine was the Titanic. I hit an iceberg and got sunk into the deepest of the icy Atlantic water. There, in the most desolated of the ocean's bed, nothing lives except some freak creature, staring at you every now and then. The coolness of the water would not support any moss, not even some anemones. I remember again that dream of mine where I repeatedly dived into a pond, where I dove deeper and deeper and had no such temerity to rise up again. My anxieties had gotten so worse that to compare me to a shipwreck was an understatement. Depression was like that, you have worries and could not point out to the source of these worries and you end up just letting go of any resistance and wallow in sadness and general bowing gait that paints the darkness of my life then.
I carried on with routines of governing when there is not much to govern except that you are being expected to make something move and live, like a magician. Student politics is not similar to the usual politics we have where everywhere and everything calls for action and work, work and more work. In that set-up, you have to create work it seems not so unlike of milking a male cow. So I had concerts and essay writing contests and everything in between. If history truly judges the rein of student presidents, then I must have not deserved a single jottings or a blot of ink in the history books.
My Pen, The Arrow
In my senior years in law school, an old friend, Aziz Mustafa called me up and inquired if I needed a job. The offer was like that of Marlon Brando's, it was hard to refuse. Working for a foreign-funded institution is like a baptism of fire, threading another dimension of existence. My hands were so full I choke on paperwork virtually. There is this braggadocio in me that always get me into the prying pan. I never learned it seemed. Serving the second half of my presidency, tackling the end years of my law school, and eating up paper at work—all of them almost at the same time—stretched me up like a rubber band in order to clip bundles and bundles of papers. I was always up and about, always on the run it seemed. If I find myself sitting in a corner at that time, that would have been a minor miracle. Even at home, I would take work and finish it there because there was a time that regular office time could not accommodate them. There was madness in activity, so much activity it seemed that you could imagine me like a crazy wheel rolling and rolling until nothing is there to roll for. My nerves were full but it did not snapped because somehow, I felt at ease with furious activity that inactivity was then a hellish idea. I bet when the juices gets going, work becomes more and more palatable.
The money was so good that I stayed in my job even if I had consequently has to take the bar examinations to gain my lawyering license. And besides I was married already then.
I did not last in my work. There was a parting that was both hurtful but at the same time relieving. For almost two years, office work had gotten so flat that with more personnel coming, the load got lighter and lighter until there is nothing more to do except watch for the clock's small hand to approach five o' clock. And the days grew longer that we always joke around that somehow there must be some fantasy company we could work in that every day was salary day. At the beginning of the day, we wished it were already twilight. At the beginning of the month, we would wish it were nearly halfway through. At least not all of us felt that way. Or perhaps some were just not as honest about being disturbed of the almost fatal routinariness of day jobs, especially government jobs.
But work is work and a job is a job. Without it, there is no sense that you find yourself suddenly idle and not earning the usual things. Besides, who could go against that unwritten rule where it seems that humans were created merely for the purpose of growing up until you could work and then die? There were times when I was too uncomfortably busy that I used to daydream how my world could be so wonderful if I could spend every day of my life just sitting around in front of my computer and make that proverbial "great Filipino novel" and watch over my kids when I am not scribbling anything. Alas, writing a novel was so much easier to imagine than do. It was like putting up a rocket ship or assembling a nuclear bomb. I tried to make some upstarts but nothing came about not until years later.
Delusion I had hoped then could propel me towards success in literature. I had believed that my intellect was adequate to harbor such ambition, sadly, intellect and grammatical skills were not enough to get me going towards endless and lonely nights by myself, writing and imagining, the sort fiction demands. I had fully realized then that there is more to me that writing demands, something ethereal and incorporeal, one that could not be seen; some call it inspiration and it was inspiration that I lacked then.
I tried giving life to an otherworldly tale of two-lovers separated by time. I called it "Black Sea, Dark Night", the way old writers thought of fancy but concise titles like "My Brother, The Executioner" of F.Sionil Jose or "The Joy Luck Club" of Amy Tan. More of it, it was a title that came to my mind whenever I pondered upon the darkness of depression. I had learned so well that writing from the heart is the sole highway towards affective writing and I could not be genuine I would not find no parallel in my life to the things I write. It was about Peter, an adolescent struggling with the same depression problems I had who suddenly saw a creature of the night, a vision of an old man with a decrepit hat. The spirit would talk to him and proposed that he do some favor for a task only he could do. Peter would not know how to tackle this quandary at first for no one would believe his tales, when almost everyone he knows he had this mental or behavioral problems; until someone did and the story goes on and on until the final journey into the spirit world and back and the final task accomplished to appeased the spirit. What task was this did not materialized in the story, I could not even invent one until now that it is such of essence that a spirit would go to the extent of contacting a half-deranged boy. Although the tale would take me into the ancient warrior days of Zamboanga, towards the colonial days of Spanish Conquistadors, it stopped when the tribal chieftain was about to declare war upon the much stronger Spanish soldiers and I left it at that. Until now, Black Sea, dark Night is still yearning for its ending but you would learn later on why It remains eating dust somewhere in one of my attaché cases.
Stephen King might have invaded the crevices of my veins that I had this inclination to write about the things that feeds our fears. There is something delicious in testing the limits of our nerves. The more we fear the more we scurry for the mysterious. Like eating pepper; the more it stings the more we crave.
I remember that before there was "Black Sea, Dark Night", I had this short story, again with a fancy title. I called it "The Southbound City of Iceberg", a tale of an imaginary beast lounging beneath the city under ways, in sewages and giant canals, pulling down each victim one after another, one by one that as the disappearances became more frequent, the "beast" would go on a very lengthy guilt-trip. What if men finally knew about his existence? And although it was merely a beast it had the proper intelligence to regulate its mayhem. It ended just that way, although every possible circumstances was scrutinized by the "beast", to the worse where mankind would pour all its resources, the fighter planes of America, the satellites of China, the tanks of Great Britain—all at once coming to the city of Zamboanga hunting for its own mischief and blasting it towards perdition, turning into pulp or pulverized like crisp biscuits.
The "beast" would stare upward the sky and got disturbed by the moving starlights that it did not suspected at once to be man-made, until later on it surmised that men had invented eyes in the sky in order to hunt it. It had surmised that before, man had no such equipments to search for misfits of nature now it has meteor-like gadgets to roam the sky as searchlights. The "beast" was an ancient creature that slumbered for thousand of years, only to wake up to a cacophony of downtown lights, rock music, honking jitneys and television. The world was never the same it had determined. Even at night, the streets were brimming with clarity making its haunting all the more difficult.
And yet, despite this difficulty, the thirst for flesh and blood was overpowering that day in and day out, it would peer from the dark crevices of the street, in some isolated nook or corner of the city, finding out if it could be lucky at any time, that someone had drunken too much or got too much honked by drugs in the head, to walk alone by some abandoned alleyways, and then go for the kill. It could get luckier it thought, if some lovers who lacked patience would abuse the darkness of bushes and wayward trees, to do the unthinkable, where the beast could go for a double kill.
As days went by, newspapers started to report these mysterious disappearances and so the "beast" finally went into the guilt tripping I mentioned earlier. Men are now more sensitive to this untoward incidence, that every crime has its record and every sin has its public board. The "beast" hated the modern man all the more. It had delusions of murdering the city inhabitants all at once, wrecking havoc like a crazy evil god, flooding the ground with flood. Luckily for the city, it inhibited itself. Thanks to the things it sees on television. Those weapons of the modern man were so different than those it had seen before—those spears and daggers—even those catapults were no matches.
It ended when it decided not to devour as much in order that it would not be indicted by man that in my fantastic mind, the "beast" is still out there, pulling down its victim one by one.
The "beast" story was somewhat lyrical and honest. It was then the first and only tale that I had completed. It was flowing since it was all about my struggle against "Satan", that beast of a menace that keeps pulling down young men and women, leading them into some dirty and stinking abysses of life, and never to get out again.
I simply lost my manuscript that was why it did not go all the way to the papers.
But material things are not to be fret up, especially when these things could be created. If I lost it, I thought I would just make another one then. A better one, it must be.
This better one did not materialize and the tale of that doggone "beast" is like a lost child whom I wish to be reunited in the future.
Oh, I lied about completing just a single work. Remember the dream of the pond? The moment I woke up from that dream, I could not stop the itch to write and document it for I had no such other dream that could be so vivid at that. I remember so well the caking red clay to where the dancing old woman floated above. Even the color of the dewy water was stained like rust in my mind that every time I think about it, I could feel the sharp and crispy coolness it brought my skin. I documented every moment, every emotion and every color of the environment. The sky was red, bleeding towards horizon and the air was heavy and so still, and that my breathing was the only sound I heard most of the time. In fact there was that conversations with the other two men present that I forgot to mention. As I came out from the water, I remember being a little aghast at the interferences of the men who looked like me.
"Why don't you leave me alone", I almost shouted at their faces.
"You could not go deeper. You would not be able to come out", one of them said, with a worried look in his face that tells some grave worry or concern.
I looked at them and hissed and I almost sneered. What could have gotten in their heads that they burden themselves the issue of my well-being? These were very particular dialogues and emotions that I have captured in writing "The Pond" then. I remember how surreal was the world that I painted in that story, responsibly truthful to the happenstance in my dream of the pond.
Then perhaps by now we recognize that my dreams, my memories and my fiction had a heavy thread on them; all are surreal. Perhaps, we could add my life to that.
When The Dead Came Marching In
There was one fish story that brought me to the very ends of the world it seems, so far away that running water does not exist and a paved road is an alien concept.
My cousin King came to me on a warm day, the kind of day that my head is loose and every idea could grow and expand into some humongous concept. The kind of weather that the breeze is almost thick you could see them pass by, making you light inside and cheery. It was this cheeriness perhaps that took a bite into salesmanship, an amateur one that I realized later.
"I am busy with some business prospect," I mentioned to grasp some talking points. King always seeks tutoring with his school assignments.
" That must be a good prospect," he condescended.
"What do you know about silk?" I asked. Perhaps he must have known some who could give me some idea.
" Not much" he said. He seemed to know nothing. Bet that's why I was always ghost writing his report.
"It's something we could grow from silkworms" I answered my own questions. "We have to nurture worms and the most part of the work is growing hectares and hectares of mulberry trees to feed these worms."
"Oh" he exclaimed and I felt hopeful." I know such worm. I saw some huge ones in the beaches of Tawi-Tawi. They sell well."
He was talking about some other specie of worm.
"Why don't you try dried fish?" King suggested later on.
"What about them?", I asked.
"They cost half as less back at home."
I went for the calculator and grinned at the prospect. A week after, we were heading for the islands, about two boat-rides away, three hundred miles downward, and near the Malaysian border.
Banaran Island is place rich in lore, the ones you hear from the elders whenever they visit us. I had been there once but that was way back in my childhood. There was one ghost story about the place that I could not forget. When we were kids, my two brothers and me and my sister would always seek some retelling after retelling about such particular incident from the visitors from down south. As children, we craved for fear and scurry for more mysteries. The scarier it gets, the more attentive we became. It was like eating pepper; it hurts to eat more and yet wanted to eat more and more. At night, after we took our meal, we washed our bodies from sweat and put on fresher clothes and then we troop into the living room where the available storyteller would be waiting for us.
One night, they always started the story, when ships and boats was not supposed to sail anymore, when the air is so fragile and the wind was harsh, a ferry sunk on the way to Banaran from the main island of Bongao. All those aboard did not survive the tragedy. This accident had happened about two decades ago and it had caused so much distressed to those whose relations were part of the doomed voyage and due to the large number of victims, the sinking of the ferry cast a huge shadow over the entire province of Tawi-Tawi and would be remembered as a sorrowful time for the area for years to come.
Island life then might have been darker without electricity, and lonelier without the touch of modernity that every death lays every possibility of otherworldly apparitions and the wanderings of ghosts.
Then came the night when the wind whistled and overhanging clouds made the night more sinister. When the dogs howl started to howl incessantly, the elders in the island would call for their children the doors and windows were so locked that even air could not come in.
The yards have become empty and even cats would scurry for safety. Not even crickets were brave enough to serenade the eerily hushed night. It was a night that humongous clouds would cover almost the entire sky. Everything you see would be cast in shadow and the stars were all absent. They said that it had become so dark that when they look towards the sea, they could see nothing but darkness. No glow of the sea would reflect and the waves did not made a sound the way they usually make.
The island folks first heard the sound of drumbeats reverberating through the cold and wet atmosphere. "Tom…tom…tom…tom…" The beat did go until it got faster and faster. They could feel the air get thicker they said and the smell of decay became so overpowering according to one account that their stomach would ache, urging to regurgitate.
Some peek into the darkness to investigate the source of the drumbeats and as if in a sudden, the yards became illuminated, as if the sky parted instantly and the moon belched out its head. The moonlight gave those few brave souls the undeniable sight of a parade of people going in circles in the middle of the community plaza, walking in a line. Most of them have limbs unattached and their faces were white as chalk. The leader of the parade was in fact a headless drumbeater carrying his own separated head. The children cried when they heard some of their fathers and mothers wailing and shouting. They scurried into corners as if it would be of much help to them. They hide in thick fabrics and sweated horrendously. The men were ready with their bolos anticipating any physical attack by the limbless walkers.
No such attacked occurred as they sighed every time they tell and retell the haunting. The drum beatings carried forth through the dawn and many were not able to sleep that night. They said the ghosts was somehow taunting them as the beatings would suddenly stop and then came back again gradually, slowly and then frantically. The sounds of the drums were suddenly loud and then suddenly calm.
When the morning came, the entire island populace was awestruck with fear that nobody spoke much. The children were kept inside their homes most of the time even when the sun is blazing in the sky. Many went to the nearby cemetery to make some offerings while the men embarked on a lengthy prayer session so arduous that it started just after sunrise and ended when midnight was already around the corner. The air was so full of the smell of burnt sulfur, as the prayers involved the burning of small yellowish stone-like bits of sulfur.
The shock in their faces was so apparent that in a matter of hours, most of their countenance shrunk and withered so gravely. They were bowed and their heads stooped all day long, a sign of surrender to the menace of the unknown. There was no knowing what was to come really. Most of them until that time had not really fully believed in ghost but since that night, their greatest fears came true.
At first, they said, the parade of dead people came every now and then, especially while the moon was full or at least fairly illuminating. Then they came less frequently, sometimes catching them by surprise. The parade would announce its haunting by the sound of drums, starting rhythmically slow until it gets faster and faster as children cried aloud and the dogs howled into the night wind. It was really very fortunate that the dead persons physically harmed nobody although the emotional injury was so palpable.
The parade of the dead, some told us had successfully lessen the island population by at least half. Many left their homes to seek some habitat in nearby islands and Banaran became the more silent. Many houses lay empty and were allowed to wither by themselves.
Most of my relatives, as we were told, decided to stay despite the haunting, for they said, they would never know another place aside from Banaran where our forefathers settled and died through the years.
In the Middle of Nowhere
It was a huge disappointment to find out that although dried fish processing was rampant in our island hometown, there was just too much buyers of the goods that I could not possibly penetrate the cartel in so short a time. Traders from as far up north in Pagadian City, about five hundred miles from Zamboanga, would come and negotiate with the local fishermen and cornered the market there. I was advised that seizing a sufficient amount of the goods would entail some patience and a lengthened stay in the islands. This was an untenable idea for me. The urban man in me would be so hard pressed to slide into the virtual desolation of rural life, to be "the man called Friday" and away from the honking noise and pollution of the city. While the serenity of the islands provided me a great breather, it was imaginable for me then to succumb into general silence of a rural environment. There would be just too much silence that it would border the deafening.
The wide and miles and miles of stretch virginal beaches consoled my frustrations and led my mind away from the profits that I nearly counted already and yet the ones that would not be obtaining, at least not with that trip. We took small boats and scoured the nearby islands. The breezy seascape had regained my trust in nature, quelling every suspicion that nature has finally and absolutely lost its battle against the industrial advancement of humanity.
There was this over-stretched patched of sand in the middle of two islands that really caught my amazement. It was not of course very unlikely that such natural accumulation of sand would concur in an area full of shores in the first place; but have you heard of a beach in the middle of the sea? One could not help but surmised that Atlantis might have been similarly situated as that particular beach, once rising to the surface before it got sunk into the pit of the ocean.
I walked almost the length of the half-mile patch of the whitest of sand and wondered why nothing grows except some marine plants attached like mildews to rocky corals. I picked some shells and stones and felt somewhat mesmerized that there were sea stones that were embroidered with the most perfect shape of a star. My cousin King told me that they sell well with Japanese tourist, the ones they make into beads. My eyes squinted to examine the stones more forcefully and I almost concluded that God must have some industrial factories up there that stones like those could be sculptured with some design that only machines could afford. The perfect symmetries were there and the lines were straight.
I stared upward and the sky was clear of any cloud and it was the kind of place where you could view the entire sky from one end, towards another, at any angle you gained sight. Funny that I felt reassured that in that place, I would not hear the sound of radios, nor the cacophonic slur of television, neither the honks of cars and motorcycles. There was no smell but the salty fragrance of the sea and I was assured that any fumes or dusty accumulations of factories would never ting the air. No matter how trivial was such realization but I could not help appreciating the newfound belief that despite of everything, there is still a place where the hands of urban life, with its many gadgets and equipments and convoluted industrial mazes, could not reach.
An Old Warrior
My paternal grandfather was my namesake or rather I was the namesake of my grandfather. I never saw him alive. He died when we were infants. There was one very old black and white picture that I once got hold of in my childhood years and I had felt strongly that it must have been my grandfather Yusop that was positioned in a kneeling position. I was not able to reaffirm and verify that notion with anyone but every time he comes into my mind, I saw him as that one man in that old picture.
After scouring the islands for supplies of dried fishes and finding none, I went to visit his tomb feeling perhaps like it was to console him since I did not meet him before. I had always thought how it was very ironic that the old man to whom I was named for was one that I did not meet even for once before.
But my father and aunts had good stories about him; how he became the richest man in the province; how he trailed the Malaysian borders to buy imported cigarettes and selling rice to Malaysian Chinese in the island of Labuan, merely an overnight boat ride from Banaran Island.
How I thought he was such a man of character that he gains these lore and tales from the ones who survive him. And then I felt the heaviness of the name; the name of the old Yusop they always mentioned.
There was the heavy name on the side of the tomb and there were others, the brothers and sisters perhaps. They all had the title of Salip, the one I suppose to have but do not use. That was to identify the bloodlines of the heirs and descendants of the Caliphate of Arabia, the relations of Mohammad, the great prophet of Islam, peace be upon him, him that was born in the day that I was born or the other way around.
There was violence in the history of old Yusop, or was it of the father of old Yusop. Banaran Island was the place of exile from nearby Sulu town where someone was killed, by vengeance or by mischief was an issue that was never retold. This was the issues of old rekindled by persons suddenly appearing in our lives and one that exemplified to me the delta of every human being, that always it seems people part ways only to meet at some point in the river of life, and the world is but a very small place to live in.
My Mind is A Desert Sometimes
Business acumen is never the automatic mark of every person that I realized upon my return from the islands. I sat for almost an eternity inside my desolated room, back to the drawing board it had seemed, and asking the gods of fate of all things that I must deserved. I was some guy who has no luck, one person that Rod Stewart did not sang about.
My writing hit a blank wall, a cul-de-sac, the story that I started-that is, Black Sea,Dark Night—lay hanging like a piece of painting half completed. I could see the beauty of its mysteries and the stark philosophical investigation into the darkness of depression and the imagined revelation of a spiritual world somewhat subsisting parallel to that of what we have in this earthly existence.
I could not make money grow by themselves. My dried fish venture staggered like a herd of wild stallion falling from a high cliff. Plants and flowers grow but money does not; a lesson of a child that recurred to me that time.
My law education opened a brief sight of opportunity, so minimal that if my back was not pasted on the wall, taking the bar would have been the least of my options. I never had confidence on my legal knowledge, not with an education fraught with the deadly menace of depression and general disinterest to classroom sessions.
Despite this quandary, the seeming hopelessness of it all, I took the trip to Manila to take the bar examinations and changed my life forever.
Fleeting Clouds in The Night
San Beda might have been somewhere in my past memory if only memories were so affirmatively credible every time. The minute I went there, I thought I had known just how those gothic buildings would have looked like; as if I had previously walked those high-ceilinged halls before, where my shoes would click and clack like horses' hooves. I felt a little de ja vu as I roamed those halls with their handsomely checkered floors. I must have loved temples and mansions in my past life.
So much of the past was in my mind.
I burned candles for nearly four months in order to refresh my grasp of those mountains and mountains of law books, as if I had any grasp at all. I rented a room less than a kilometer away from San Beda and for most of my stay in Manila; I must have walked the length between the law school and the boarding house a million times over.
I felt comfortable the minute I stepped into my boarding school. My room was overlooking the busy street of Legarda while facing the northern sky.
At night, I sat in near the window and watch the motorcars speed through the street below. I relaxed my tired mind by listening to my Walkman, letting my consciousness slip slowly into sleepiness.
As I gazed towards the night sky, a very bright star near the sky summit always took my attention. Every night, I could see that star at the places it usually appears, treading the same path in the sky consistently. I had realized then that navigation thru the guidance of those heavenly bodies could be so accurate that even in the ancient times, men find faraway places by merely staring at the night sky.
It is one those nights typical in Manila, windy and wet. The clouds would move easily that they have patent fragility. The clouds were too dynamic that I indicted Manila to be a place of queer weather. I thought that back in Zamboanga, the clouds never moved like this. I pitied the Manila indeed, always struggling against typhoons and hurricanes. A city with the burden of being the capital of a nation and at the same time bugged with hellish winds.
One night, the movement of the clouds started to move so queerly that I decided that was not the weather anymore. The thin clouds would seem to break out, then close in again. Sooner, I thought I saw the shape of a man. Then there were the winged horses. Then there appeared also a shapely woman in white gown.
I retreated back to my room thinking my mind merely needed rest. Too much reading may have affected my visions that I started seeing things.
Inside my room, I sat in front of my study table and proceeded to read. My head started to move independently, sideways then all around, until it got plastered facing the wall. I could see shadows and then figures began to move. The shape of a boat took shape and at both ends were two little beings that looked like the form of aliens usually depicted in movies, hairless heads and thin body structures. Again I questioned my senses and proceed to the living room and gasped for air. I started to worry then about my sanity. In my past readings, seeing things is a symptom of schizophrenia. This may be it, I thought. I was already losing my mind.
I recollected myself and began to calculate my entire person. How does an insane man think and behave. Am I of the unusual behavior? I had also asked myself. Do I talk senselessly? Am I still able to acquaint with the usual people I know?
After such inquiry, I concluded so determinedly that indeed, there is no marked changes in the way I behaved and relate with others. I am still able to have the common notions and senses. If I were not insane, then only one thing was deductible—the visions is a reality that I must accept. I tucked my thoughts through a deep sleep, hoping somehow that whatever defect of mind that bothers or would be bothering me would soon go away.
And yet, the night after, I looked at the sky again and the clouds behaved as usual—so fleeting and fragile—and the bright star that I have mentioned earlier shone the brighter than the night ago.
When the clouds began to form figures again, I did not retreat anymore to my room and instead tolerated what was then to me was a huge stage show in the night sky.
As I trained my sight so carefully, in the middle of the sky appeared a figure of a person with wings extending towards its sides. It was an angel, as we know them through stories and movies, cloth in a long white garment and wings so white that it almost shone. Such image stayed there for a long time that it had seemed that it had merely served a center point of the entire visions. At the farther left of the sky, I saw clouds in the shape of a ship of the ancient form, with huge mast and sails, voyaging towards the eastern side of the sky until it faded as the clouds soon disintegrated into thin parcels of smoke. Then I saw the figure of a man, also sailing by from the left of the sky heading to the right. Despite the distance, I could see that the he looked like a Chinese man with a headgear, and he was smiling. If Genghis khan were photographed before he died, the man would have resembled him. That was the thought that immediately came into my mind.
I returned my attention towards the middle and there were the winged horses trotting the center of the sky, in circling motions, so steadfast and so gallantly.
Those were my initial visions.
The night after, the visions became more lucid that the angel in the middle of the sky showed me a dance that was somehow familiar and yet altogether unique.
The angel spread its wings again and again and I just stared. This particular vision was so clear that some tears flowed from my eyes as I realized that the visions had already transgressed the bounds of reality, as I know it then. I became so concern that one of my companion in the boarding house might come and find me in such unusual condition—staring vehemently at the sky while my eyes were wet with tears. One of them, Alexis, was just nearby at that particular moment, reading in the living room just outside my room. In later times, I had felt the notion to tell Alexis about the vision since he was the closest to me--sharing the room I had-- but most of me relented because again, that would only propel the suspicion of insanity. In the mind-numbing mad rush towards the bar examination, many had lost their minds in the past.
So I just stared at the angel and marveled at the sight. I could feel a little rising in my emotions and a general feeling of gratefulness.
The angel kept on spreading its wings, again and again; that I thought it wanted me to follow such movement. My head nodded independently. I took this as an instruction so I spread my arms while being so wary that some of my mates would suddenly come in towards my direction and deduce insanity.
Then the angel's arms showed as apart from its wide wings. It swayed its arms towards the right side of its body in a circling motion and I followed it. Then its arms went back to the middle of its chest, while its palms were open, and then I followed suit. The arms swayed to the left of its side, and I also followed suit. After a while, the Angel moved its arms in circling motions that were so complicated that I was not able to follow it as it slowly faded away.
That part of the vision was the mesmerizing of all for it was the one that exhibited a lot of movements that naturally ordinary clouds could not do. This is perhaps more coherent than the vision of a bearded man sitting on the throne. About the bearded man, I saw a huge throne and the man sitting on it. If my notions were not wrong, I reckoned it looked like Jesus Christ in clean white raiment. But this vision was static compared to the dancing angel where there was dynamism of mobility that had clearly erased whatever doubts I had of the phenomenon.
The morning after, while still embraced the foggy streets of Manila, I recreated the dance I had witnessed the night before. I planted my feet in a fairly wide position and swayed my hands from left to right, just like the angels did. I did the routines as far as my memory could serve me right. Then after a while, my hands started to move by themselves that on its own it had seemed, my hands repeated the complicated movements that the angel made, the ones that I was not able to follow well the night before.
The dance drew some lightness of being inside me that it felt good always to recreate them. It was sort of habit forming, an addictive action. There was such lightness of being that I felt floating above air when I walked. I felt my hands and I could feel some force in it, a trapped wind beneath my palms that whenever I held my hands against a surface, I could feel a palpable force underneath, a kind of a magnetic force. And my body started to move queerly at times, a sort of an independent force was controlling my movement and from my mouth the sound of a bird's chirping came out too often. I would sway to one side and to another without intending to move. I would walk into directions that I never intended to head.
There was a visible smirk on my face whenever I walked the streets or the hallways of San Beda. The phenomenon of angels had given me such giddiness that humored my mind to no end. How could such things happen? I asked and meandered upon myself and why of all people it had happened to me? I must be the "chosen one" I was tempted to deduce. For what purpose that I was chosen was not yet apparent to me at that time.
The review for the law examinations had gotten more intense. By the end of July, all the students were priming up for the big month, which was September.
I had been tenacious with my reading in order to recompense for the poor quality of my law foundations, the result of boredom and frequent inattentiveness at school during my college years. As September approached, I even forgot to eat at times.
The "night calls" of the angels somehow tempered the rigidity of readings. And because of the queerness of my body movements, I felt so strongly that I gained the attention of many. They were good attentions although I could feel some look that decided that I had gone haywire in the head. Most of the attentions however were of the inquisitive kind; the way one looks upon an exploding mystery. In the library, when I thought no one was looking my way, I would sway my hands to recreate the dance of the angel. The dance always relieved me of stress, especially when my readings became so ardent and straining. Obviously, some of the students noticed me that some of my acquaintance started to inquire about the strange movements I made with my hands. I felt embarrassed by the inquiries so I had no recourse but to explain it. I could not explain it to them as factual as possible for I felt it would be too much for them to accept and then it would only lead them to the belief that my mind had already succumbed to the pressure of the bar preparations. So I put up a comfortable lie. I told them that I was a practitioner of a Chinese form of meditation and I sway my hands in order to relieve me of stress.
My comfortable lie might have been convincing that instead of shying away from me, most of my acquaintance became interested in the movements of my hands. They wanted me to teach it to them. I said I had no luxury of time to become their Chinese meditation master. They liked it many condescended because of the harmony and synchronicity of my palms swaying thru and fro.
Some threw me a disconcerted look. Some stares were stained with disparagement. And then there were those with amazement in their eyes.
I seemed to be easily get blown by the wind that I had to readjust the angle of my footing or walk in order to evade the whipping of heavy breeze. When I stood still, some force was tugging me towards some direction that perhaps many observed it so keenly and decided fairly that I was not just making them up.
The inquiries about my condition had become more prevalent but still, I had not yet gained the proper mindset to divulge the truth about my visions as the cause of these strange movements. I continue to hide under the lie of a Chinese meditation. Perhaps, my lie was somehow weak in some point, there were gossips going around that I was really going haywire in the head. The talk spread like wild fire that it had reached my hometown of Zamboanga. Apparently, one of the barristers preparing for the examinations was my town mate. I did not know her so much because she was from the lower years though her face was familiar to me. I received messages in my cell phone from friends back in Zamboanga, advising me to slow down and take some breather. I felt disturbed by the gossips running around in San Beda and as far as back home. But I easily set it aside for I felt that someday they would know the truth about all these matters.
...to be continued