HOUSEMATES

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By Gianna Maniego

I grew  up in a very old apartment in New Manila. It was a two-story dwelling,  built in the style of the 1940’s-with painted hollow blocks on the walls, red adobe tiles on the ceilings.  At the back of the house was a dirty kitchen and an elevated laundry area that  my mother had enclosed and converted into another room,  which she sublet to boarders.

There were two bedrooms and two bathrooms, one upstairs at the end of the  second floor landing,  and the other downstairs, near the  minuscule kitchen.  It was cool  during the  summer months  but leaked  whenever  the rainy season  came around and despite its new  coat of  garish green paint, it had the  definite  look of being  rundown.

Our landlady, Dona Amparo, said  the apartment complex  had already survived a war  and a fire that broke out in one  of the units in the  1950’s  One thing’s for sure, it had seen better days.

Yet it was a  favorite location of several movie outfits, maybe  because of its  proximity to the studios in the  vicinity.  In fact,  it was  customary  for us to come home and  see a production truck parked  on the street and any of the popular stars of the moment  loitering around,  waiting for their scenes to be shot.

We’d see Nora Aunor,  Vilma Santos, Maricel Soriano, Richard Gomez, Ricky Davao, etc., walking around,  cigarette or coffee in hand, waiting for their cue.  Once we  watched Claudia Zobel,  one of the up and coming bold stars of the 1980s,  scream  her head off in the middle of the night. Little  did we know she’d  commit suicide only two  months after shooting that scene.

Many of those  who lived in the apartment complex during our stay there were longtime residents. We stayed  there for 17 years before finally moving to  our own house  in Antipolo. Many  of our  neighbors, as fas as I know,  still live there. At the time,  my mother used to take in boarders to augment  our family income.

Sometimes she took in  students, sometimes she took  in working  girls,  sometimes she  took in families.  One of those who lived with us was a distant relative. Tito Carding and Auntie  Alice  were real estate brokers. They had a  house in San Mateo, but needed a phone to keep in contact with their clients (these were the days BC- before cellphones), so they asked  my mother if they and  two of their children,  who were in college at that time, could stay in the house five days a week. Weekends, they would go home to their house  in San Mateo.

“Sige na Norms, nahihirapan kasi ang mga bata pumasok. Si Bettina alas siyete and pasok,  umaalis ng bahay nang alas kuwatro para hindi ma-late. Si Maricris naman late na  ang dismissal, minsan nakakarating sa bahay alas-nuwebe,  delikado pa naman sa daan ( Please Norms,  the kids are having a hard time.  Bettina  has to leave the  house at 4 a.m.  to be on  time for her 7 o’clock class. Maricris,  on the other hand,  gets  off school very late  and sometimes gets home at around 9 o’clock in the evening.  when the streets aren’t safe anymore),” Auntie Alice entreated my mother.

Sympathizing with Auntie Alice,  my mom  agreed  to sublet the other bedroom to them.  At that time,  she was spending more time in Antipolo, overseeing the construction of the house, so it wasn’t  that big a deal. I myself switched from Antipolo to new  Manila, depending on my schedule in school.

Since my mom and I weren’t there most of the time.  Tito Carling and Auntie  Alice had the run of the house most of the time. Aunti Alice was a good cook and  would  often putter around in  the kitchen with out cat, Jasper. One early morning, Auntie Alice came down to cook breakfast.

From the living room, she peeped into  the dirty kitchen to check on the cat.  She was  startled to see,  sitting on top of the dining table, a little girl,  about two or three years of age.  “Who couldn’t  that be?” she wondered, since there was no child in the house  at the time.  At least, no one that she knew.

She looked at the child for a long moment,  debating whether to come closer and ask her name, or just stay put and see what the child would do.

The child looked angelic, with the early morning sun’s rays shining down on her short curls. Slowly the child turned and looked in her direction and smiled. Then, right before her eyes,  the child began to fade into the ray of light,  until  she’d disappeared from sight. Auntie Alice  rubbed  her eyes. Was  it just  a figment of her imagination? Or was  she still dreaming? She wasn’t upset,  just mildly disturbed.

Later on,  she told us  what she saw, and we all  agreed she was just probably half-sleep. A few days later. Tito Carling  and Auntie Alice brought Mackie, their youngest child and only son to the  house  to stay for the weekened . They’d come from a birthday  party and Mackie, who  was eight at that time,  had brought  home  two baloons, one red  and one white.

The weekend passed  and Mackie went back to San Mateo, leaving  behind his  balloons,  which by now had no more helium  in them and  were lying  limply on the  floor.

Two days after, While Auntie Alice  and Bettina were in their room watching TV,  they heard  a piercing  scream from outside the room.

They rushed out, thinking someone had fallen down  the stairs or had an  accident. Outside the door,  they saw Maricris pointing mutely at the stairs.   Looking over the  balustrade, the two could not believe what they saw.  Mackie’s  balloons  were going  up the stairs!  What’s more,  they were  not gliding up the stairs the way one would  expect  ballons to do.  They were  touching  each step, one at a time, so the two  balloons looked  like they were actually  going up  the steps in a line!

Totally creeped out,  the three ran inside  their room and waited  under the  covers  for  Tito Carling  to come home. ” Did you see?  Did you see?”  the three pounced on Tito Carling the minute  he opened the door . “See what?” he asked, confused. The baloon!! They said in unison.

“Oh you mean  these?” he said, holding  up both balloons. ” I saw  them here in  front  of the door so I picked them up.  Auntie Alice,  Bettina and Maricris all fell in a dead faint.

When they came to, they related  to Tito  Carling the strange goings  on in the  house.  “Is this house  haunted? How  come nobody told us it’s haunted? We have  to talk  to Norms,”  Auntie  Alice  said.  But my mother  had gone  home to  Antipolo that night  and wouldn’t  be back for two days.

That night, they slept  with their  lights on.  The following days,  they went  about the house  in pairs, just so they wouldn’t  be caught unaware.

One afternoon , Maricris decided she was going to launder her clothes while she took  a bath. So she  set up  the basin  and her dirty clothes under the  faucet. Dressed  only  in a piece of towel,  she squatted down to wash,  thinking  of her crush while singing to  herself.  “UUUUHHHHHHH!!”

Shocked  out of her  reverie, she looked around to see where the sound  came  from. It sounded like a loud sigh,  like someone had taken a deep breath and let it all out.

Thinking  it came  from the faucet  (sometimes  the pipes made a lot  of noise), she cocked  her head  towards the faucet.

“AAAAUGGGHHHH!!!!!” This time it definitely sounded  human,  like someone  crying out.  Dropping  everything -laundry bar,  tabo (dipper),  and palu-palo (laundry stick) she clutched  her towel  to herself and ran, wailing, to her room.  “Mooommmmmeeeeee!!!!!!!” she cried, panting as she related  to her mother  what had just  transpired.  The following day,  when my mother came home,  they all  confronted  her and  asked her what was going on.

They told her everything that had been happening for the past week.  My mom  said it must be the work of our “housemates.”

According to  Dona Amparo,  there was a family who lived here a long time ago,  back in the fifties.  A couple and a child. The  couple worked for the movie studio  nearby. Since no one else  would take care of the child.  the couple  customarily brought the child to work.  Letting  her play in  the studio lot, with one  or the other parent watching over her.

At that time,  the area was next to a big  field full of talahib (tall wild grass), with  a brook running  nearby.  One day,  the couple noticed that the child was not at her usual  spot in the  studio  lot.  They began searching for her, asking everyone if they had seen her.

Someone  mentioned seeing her walk off  in the direction  of the field.  At that  time,  there was a shoot going on, a picnic scene,  and there was  a lot of people. Somebody must  have invited her to join the picnic group. But when the couple went there, the child was nowhere to be found.

For two days and two nights,  they searched the area,  not finding a trace of the  little girl. On the third day, someone on the far side of the brook spotted what looked  like the  little girl’s dress.

The rescuers  fished  out the lifeless body of the little girl.  Apparently,  the girl wanted  to dip her feet in the brook  but the other adults wouldn’t  allow her. So when no  one was looking, she slipped past and  ran to the banks of the stream.

In her hurry to  get to the  water, she fell into  the water and drowned. The heartbroken couple immediately packed  their bags and moved to the  province.  A few months  later,  the family that moved  in after them began experiencing several strange goings on: a baby wailing in the night,  little feet running  on the stairs.

Several  times,  in the early morning, just when the sun begins to rise,  the little girl could  be seen sitting on the table, waiting .

As far as I know,  the little girl is still in the house, waiting.

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