Monday, April 16, 2007
The date of the completion of its construction is inscribed on the elevated pavement leading to the front door-September 2, 1979. The deep inscription is nearly invisible during long days without rain as it was totally covered with dust. More than two decades passed, and one can only be mystified at how it stood annual spates and turbulent storms which could have wrest havoc to its existence. Its walls are made with neatly weaved sawali that were replaced once since its construction and which are starting to loosen up again. At the bottom of the walls, almost all the sides are dotted with big holes that have been patched with anything my grandmother would pick up and fit on them in order to preserve some dignity.
Ever since my mother abandoned the house, no one has been able to assume the responsibility of maintaining it. Except, of course, of the octogenarian and crippled old woman who always whispers in my ears that she would be leaving us soon because she foresees her death in just a few months. My grandmother has been living with us since my mother boldly liberated herself from the ghosts that hounded her life during her sojourn in the house. She left the house when I was twelve. On the day she was leaving, I remember myself climbing the guava tree with my childhood friend who asked me if my mother would go to another country because she had a big suitcase with her; the big and bulky maroon travel case my father forgot to carry with him in his last trip abroad to work as an OCW. I climbed the highest branch I could reach and looked over the roof of the house where I saw her on the other side of the road waiting for a bus. I answered my friend halfheartedly, “Maybe”.
My mother never spoke of her destination. Hope slipped from her grasp and even at the early age of twelve, I understood that.
The roof of our house is made of nipa that was annually replaced with new ones ready for the rainy season. My father resisted galvanized irons because these, he said, will cause too much heat inside during summer. He wanted ventilation by salvaging the cool air in the province during afternoons no matter how costly the maintenance required which only explains why our roof never improved. Cobwebs are strewn underneath it as flickers of light pass through numerous holes created by typhoons. When I was a child, the light coming from them appeared to me as a certain kind of divination because it looked as if it descended from heaven. I remember me and my sister Lia, spreading our bodies on our bed and letting the beams of light hit our nose, palms, legs and forehead. Lia would sit with her legs crossed and would position herself on the spot of the largest hole. The ray of light gave her a phosphorescent look and would pretend that she is an angel as I laugh at her.
Termites are everywhere! They creep from the foundations up to the roof. They leave cavities on the wooden framework of the house. They have eaten up the windowsills and the six posts that make up the framework. They could really be said as the inhabitants of the house. They occupy the empty space of our rooms, which have long been vacated by its true inhabitants.
All my siblings have their own lives now except for the youngest who still live with my grandmother but who is always out for school and frequents himself in somebody else’s house. The “diaspora” started with my mother that brought a certain kind of epidemic in our minds. The eldest was the first victim. She escaped wittingly by getting herself pregnant. The rest rebelled and God only knows where they are now. The house is always empty except for the hanging laminated picture on the wall at the sala that shows the four of us- Lia, Mike, Manang Mel, and me- posing in front of the church in the nearby town where we, together with our mother, religiously go every Sunday to hear mass. Just lately, I saw my face blotted and blurred as moisture penetrates into the last souvenir that time has salvaged from the past.
When I went back for the holidays, after a year of not visiting it, the house did not look livid like others which are adorned with lights and all that breathed excitement and comfort. It stands amidst unkempt weeds and fruit trees whose leaves covered most parts of the house except the western side that, ironically, looked almost barren like a desert.
When I opened the front door which I haven’t used for a long time, it shuddered as if in trepidation of my arrival. The thought of the dilapidated door falling over and hitting me was shocking as it intuitively spoke of the decrepitude suffered by our house and the confirmation of a long-standing question. After all these years, I feel the same longing I feel every afternoon when I was in primary school. Back then, every time the teacher dismisses the class at the moment the bell rings at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, happiness grows out of my heart as I get up from my seat with the feeling that I will finally take refuge from long months of battle in our humble house. There’s tranquility as I look at the window of our classroom and marvel at the beauty of the sunset glowing behind the enormous acacia tree whose leaves sparkled brightly flattering the glow of the fireflies in the evening, as I eagerly imagine my mother preparing my favorite merienda, washing our clothes, sweeping the accumulated dust in the sala and uprooting the unwanted weeds in front of the house carefully watching if a boy just alighted from the jeep that parked at the side of the road.