By: Luis Mondejar, Jr.
One Sunny morning, Mercedes went to a river near their house (an infamous river in Southern Luzon). The river is feared because of the numerous drowning incidents there. A number of people were also being reported missing after a trip to the river. They were never found and their disappearance remained unsolved to date. Mercedes was warned not to go to the river. However, she had to do their laundry. Their deep well needed repair so she really had no choice but to do her laundry in the river. She could have postponed it, but she was insistent and obstinate.
At the riverside was an old mango tree about 200 meter from their house. Across the river, beside a hilly portion draped in heavy shrubs and bushes, also stood a centennial tamarind tree. Many believed that the heavy vegetation in that area hides a cave but no one dared venture into place. It was believed to be inhabited by elementals. After doing her laundry, Mercedes went back to their house. Her mother was furious. “I had to do the laundry today, Nanay. Tomorrow is school day again,” Mercedes reasoned out. “But, anak, that place is dangerous ,” replied her mother. “Nanay, look, I have come back and nothing unusual happened to me,” Mercedes defended herself. Her mother ended the discussion with a stern warning; Mercedes will never set foot in that river again. Mercedes just shrugged her shoulder. A few hour later, Mercedes had an accident-she slipped and had a ball fall. She fell so fast hitting her head on the floor. She immediately lost consciousness. Her hysterical mother cried for help. The responding neighbors rushed to their house and helped brought the still unconscious Mercedes to the nearest hospital. She was pronounced dead on arrival by the attending physician. Cause of death was cardiac arrest. “That’s impossible!” exclaimed the mother. “Mercedes didn’t have a heart disease. She was perfectly healthy!
News of Mercedes’ sudden death spread in the barangay. They immediately suspected that the river had something to do with the accident. However, they were baffled by the fact that Mercedes didn’t die in the river but at home. Mang Inting, a dumaan (a native) of the place was consulted by the parents of Mercedes. On the last day of the wake, and before the coffin was to be carried out of the house for burial, Mang Inting advised the parents that the coffin be brought out through the window and bring it to the old mango tree near the river. The people . including the parents of Mercedes, were advised to return to the house immediately and never to turn back as soon as they have placed Mercedes’ body under the tree. All of them complied. Mang Inting promised to return with Mercedes, alive before noontime. “Mercedes never died at all,” he told them. So, Mang Inting waddled across the river to where the tamarind tree stood. Upon reaching the tree, he stopped awhile and said a prayer in a language only Mang Inting could understand . Then, he pried apart the shrubs and bushes that covered the entrance of the cave. And alas! A young girl was seen sobbing. Her dress was wet. Her body was stained with muds as if she was pulled out of a quagmire. “Are you Mercedes?” asked the dumaan, Mang Inting. The girl nodded. She could not speak. At exactly 12 noon, Mang Inting returned to Mercedes’ house. Everyday stood in awe, their eyes widened in disbelief, when they saw that Mang Inting was really with Mercedes.
The curious and doubting Thomases returned to the mango tree to see what happened to the coffin. It was still there, but without any body. What they saw were shrubs and bushes inside the coffin. Later, they saw a man coming from the tamarind tree and entered the cave. Mercedes had not spoken since the incident as is her tongue had permanently cleaved to the roof of her mouth. When asked, she just gesticulated with her hands to describe the man in the tamarind tree was tall, black, hairy, with shiny big round eyes. The residents thought, as confirmed by Mang Inting, that the mysterious man in the tamarind tree was what the Cebuanos called agta or engkantong itim in Tagalog