By Roberta Lamujer
“This spacious hall will be a good place to hold parties,” said Esther, the real estate agent. She was walking her clients through a two-storey house in a quiet neighborhood in Quezon City. “Oh, I’d rather hear children laughing boisterously in this house,” Stella, my cousin, commented and smiled at her husband.
She and Ali had been married only a few months and were looking forward to having their first child. “Well, if you’re planning to have kids, this house is not for you. But I think I can show you a different house in another subdivision,” Esther offered.
“Nothing’s wrong with the house! It’s got a lot of wide spaces and I think I can make myself a reading area around here,” Stella replied as she approached the window seat.
Indeed, the house was perfect. It came with a sprawling lawn, a mango tree where Ali could put up a hammock, and big windows where she could see herself sitting and reading on a lazy weekend. It was just 10 minutes away from her office. When she had first seen the house, she thought she’d pay every peso to get it. I should know, I was house-hunting with her the day she saw the house. It was a case of love at first sight for her.
Noticing the agent’s reaction about raising kids in the house. Ali butted in, “Oh no, she wasn’t serious about the children. We’ll take this just draw up the contract, send it to me in a week- it’s a deal.”
“Okay then, but I’m telling you, if you two want to have babies, you better have them elsewhere. I have a few more houses to show you. The owner of this house specified that she didn’t want any child-bearing female occupant,” Esther explained, shaking her head.
When prodded further, the agent paused for a moment then quietly said, “something about the house being jinxed- that nobody can have babies here.”
“Just another superstition.”Ali interjected. He and Stella were the progressive sort. This would not stop them buying the house. Despite the agent’s cold response, the papers were ready as expected. In a few months, some minor renovations were made, partitions broken down and replaced, and a library added.
Meanwhile, Ali and Stella were also working double time. During the big move, Stella was already three month’s pregnant.
But the house didn’t have the same good vibes it had then. This time the place had a glommy air about it that was difficult to shake off. The first night and in the succeding weeks, Stella would wake up hearing a baby’s faint cry. Ali would assure her that it must be a neighbor’s child or a stray kitten.
Sometimes it would be a cool gust of wind that would appear out of nowhere, even when the windows were closed. On top of Stella’s delicate pregnancy, accidents started happening. Once, she slipped on a bar of soap in a bathroom-and she knew Ali was never careless sort who’d leave things lying around.
Then, while she was out for a walk, two labradors ganged up on her- but it must be the bag of cheeseburgers she carried. I often visit them on weekends and even I felt that something dark happened in that house. It’s a feeling that’s hard to shake off.
It was a relief when she reached her fifth month. She was past the morning sickness and the drowsiness, and perhaps all these strange happenings were just her imagination working overtime. “Must be a hormonal thing,” She told me. For the first time in months, she was feeling better.
To celebrate, she and Ali decided to have a fancy dinner. It was almost midnight when they got home. But the evening was strangely chilly during that summer month. When they walked into the living room, there was that faint’ baby’s cry again. Stella’s knees weakened. There it was again. Ali made her lie down on the couch and then sneaked off to get a glass of water. He was on his way back from the kitchen when he heard Stella scream.
“What is it?” he said, panicky. “Blood!” Stella cried, pointing at the cream wall. Blood was trickling slowly down the pillar near the doorway. Then she passed out. At the hospital, when Stella regained consciousness, she refused to go home. “There’s something about that house! Remember what Esther said? We can’t have a baby there! It’s true!”She cried. Ali tried to calm her down, already used to his pregnant wife’s seesaw emotions, but he later acceded to Stella’s insistence to find their agent. That same day, Ali had Esther drive to their residence and meet him at the gate. He had left Stella in my care at the hospital.
Esther introduced Ali to Rosemary, the house’s ex-owner, who was in her forties. She brought with her a bespectacled man who was clutching a Bible. Ali told them about blood on the wall, the infant’s cries, and the eerie atmosphere. “It’s about time you learn the history of this house,”Rosemary said, her voice cracking. “More than a decade ago, I fell in love with someone who got me pregnant. But he could not marry me. He was married and was about to join his family in the states.”
“I didn’t know what to do. I had a good career going, and this man and I had no future together. So I had to get rid of the baby. The midwife told me she buried it at the backyard. I left the house and had it rented out but each time an occupant would get pregnant, she would have a miscarriage or give birth to a stillborn.”
“It’s your child haunting the house!”Ali exclaimed.
“Yes, and it’s about time we both find peace,” Rosemary said quietly as she led them up the walkway. At the living room, the four of them formed a circle and held hands. Chris, the bespectacled man with the Bible, led a prayer. As he spoke, the wind blew harshly from outside. They could hear a baby crying. “Father, please welcome this child into your arms. Give this little angel the peace he or she has long sought for,” Chris said softly.
“Anak, please forgive me,” Rosemary said, sobbing as the baby’s cries grew louder. “It was my fault. My youth was no excuse. You deserved to live, but I was selfish and crushed your chances of experiencing life. “I have suffered enough all these years, and I have tried to be a good mother to the children I have now,” she continued.
Let us have our peace. Let those who occupy this house live in peace too. Give other babies the chance to see dawn. Forgive me, your mother, I love you and have always prayed for your soul.” Rosemary fell on her knees, tears streaming from her eyes. “Forgive us, Father, “Chris added, “we are only humans, but it is you that makes us perfect. Envelop this child in your guiding light.”
With that final prayer, the wind stilled and the cries muted. Chris reached out to help Rosemary. “It’s over, ” he said.” God forgives you. Your child has forgiven you.”
Ali looked up at the pillar. The Crimson streak was gone. It was like the walls were newly painted. The worst was over.