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By: Cianna Maniego
“Watch out for that pothole!”
Claire clutched her husband’s arm as the car they had rented lurched into a ditch. Mario tried to avoid it by swerving to the left, but the right rear tire still hit the pothole.
“Tsk! Mag-ingat ka naman ( Be careful),”Claire chided her husband. “Sorry, sorry,” Mario apologized, It was nearly noon, and they were both cranky after chugging along for two hours along bad roads. The couple had rented a car upon arriving at the Bacolod airport . They were on their way to Claire’s hometown in the hinterlands of Negros.
It was a combination of business trip and family visit for the two. Claire was back to visit her relatives, who still lived in the old hometown, after almost ten years of absence. She was there to introduce her husband to Lola.
Mario, on the other hand, was assigned to do an ocular inspection of his company’s latest fast food site. He worked for a food conglomerate that was currently expanding its operations in the provinces. The Bacolod outlet is the company’s first in the Visayas area.
Since Claire’s hometown was far from the city proper, Mario needed a car to transfer him to and fro in the next three days. The couple decided it was more convenient to rent a car. But now, faced with a long stretch of deserted road that was pockmarked with potholes, renting a car didn’t seem like such a good idea.
“Wala bang gasolinahan dito o kainan na pwedeng tigilan? Gutom na ako (Isn’t there any gasoline station around here, or restaurant where we can stop? I’m hungry),” Mario asked.
“Oo nga, kailangan ko din mag- CR. Naku, hindi ko na ma- recognize yung ibang mga tindahan dito ( I know , I have to go to the restroom too. But, I don’t recognize any of the stores here anymore),” Claire answered, peering at the passing scenery. “Ayun (Over there)!” she pointed to a cafeteria standing apart from the other houses. “That looks like a restaurant.”
Mario pulled into the parking lot. As they got out of the car. Claire and Mario noticed there were a lot of vehicles on the lot. Some of them looked like vintage cars. “Naku, baka puno ( Oh no, the place might be full),” Claire muttered.
Pushing the door open, the couple was taken by surprise to see the place nearly empty of customers. Only two or three of the 20 tables were occupied by one or two people who were eating quietly.
“Magandang tanghali, tuloy po kayo ( Good afternoon, please come in), a waitress met them at the door, ushered them to a table near the air conditioner, and handed them the menu.
“Ang specialty po namin ay bulalo, baka gusto ninyong subukan ( Our specialty is bulalo, you might like to try it),” the waitress smillingly suggested.
The couple agreed to try it. After taking their orders, the waitress relayed them through a swinging door.
Claire looked around. The restaurant was very spacious. It was decorated in the old Spanish style typical of most houses in Negros, with lace curtains framing big capiz windows and overhead rotating fans. The floor was of narra planks that were polished to a brilliant shine. The tables were not made of formica or monobloc, like most modern restaurants, but of real wood, and covered with lace tabletops with vases of flowers on each. “Ang ganda naman nitong restaurant. Bakit hindi ko maalala ito ( This is a beautiful restaurant? How come I don’t remember this)?” Claire wondered.
When the food came, they both dug in.
“Wow, this is really good, ha!” Mario remarked as he helped himself to more rice and bulalo.
“Oo nga. Do you think we can get the recipe? I’ve never tasted bulalo like this before,” Claire agreed between mouthfuls. When the waitress passed by, Claire tapped her on the shoulder and asked what’s the secret of their recipe because she hadn’t tasted food that delicious before. The waitress smiled and said, “The secret is in the ingredients.”
“Hmmm… I wonder what they put. Must be some secret herb,” Mario said, glancing at his watch. ” Aba, 4:30 na pala, tara na, Baka Abutin tayo ng dilim sa daan. Malayo pa ba tayo? (oh no, it’s already 4:30, we have to get going if we want to reach your home before dark? Is it still far)?”
“No naman, it’s just two towns away,” Claire answered.
After paying the bill, which the waitress took a long time to fetch, the couple hurriedly left the restaurant, promising to stop by the next time they were in the vicinity. They wondered briefly about the vehicles in the parking lot, but were too much in a hurry to dwell on them. They finally arrived at the house of Claire’s grandparents just as dusk was falling. They were greeted by her Lola Ninay and other relatives who lived nearby. “Why are all the lights on?” Claire asked.
“Ay naku, we were so worried about you. We were expecting you before lunch. What happened, did you lose your way?” her Tita Sally answered.
“No, we didn’t get lost, pero we stopped by this restaurant along the highway and, somehow, we lost track of time, “Mario exclaimed.
“Which restaurant?” Lola Ninay asked.
“Two towns back, along the highway,” Claire described the vicinity of the restaurant.
“There are no restaurants in that area. Is it newly built? Claire’s Tita Lucita asked.
” I don’t think so, it’s like an old Spanish house with capiz windows and narra floors, actually,” Mario recalled.
Her lolas and titas exchanged worried glances.
“What is it? is there something wrong?” Mario asked, beginning to get worried.
“Did you notice any cars in the parking lot?” they asked.
The couple nodded vigorously.
“As a matter of fact, we did! But when we got inside , there weren’t that many customers!”
“Susmaryosep! Muntikan na kayo. Mabuti na lang nakaalis kayo dun nang bago kumagat ang dilim ( Good grief! you had a close call. It’s good thing you managed to leave before dark),” Tita Sally exclaimed.
“Why?” Claire and Mario chimed.
Lola Ninay explained that there have been several mysteries disappearances throughout the years. Most of them were tourists or visitors from Manila who were not familiar with the area.
“According to the story, these visitors have been lured to stop by a restaurant. Those who fail to leave before darkness falls, never leave at all. That’s why there are all those cars in the parking lot.”
“But what happens to the customers?” Mario asked. ” It is said that the customers are killed and used as ingredients for their dishes, which are supposed to be really delicious,” Tita Lucita said.