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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.

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