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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.