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By Jose  Carlos  Malvar

It was a Saturday night and I had just broken up with my girlfriend. I found  myself alone and drinking a bottle of beer (calorie-free, so they claim), in a popular open  bar in Malate. My friend Marko left earlier that night-his girlfriend was feeling horny,  and her parents were out of  town.

I counted the empty bottles on the table (subtracting the ones finished by Marko and his girl), and was half-surprised to find  that I was  already  halfway through with my eight bottle.  No wonder my head was pounding.  “I bet you can’t drink  another bottle,” said a voice, silky and smooth, from the  other table. She was sitting alone, dressed in a sexy black number that showed a hint of cleavage.

I raised my bottle, and grinned at her.  I finished off the bottle in my hand and signaled  the waiter to  bring two more- one for me and one for her. I motioned her to join me, and she obliged, trailing an intoxicating smell of   expensive perfume as she sat  on  the chair I offered. She smiled. I winked at her. “What’s your name?” I asked her.  “Cecille,” She said, “Yours?”

I told her my name. Our beers came. I ordered for more food,  and for more  beer.  We talked. We danced. We touched, More beer came, more food. People started  going home; it was starting  to get cold.  ” Come on, I’ll bring you home,” I offered. I had stopped drinking beer an hour  ago to make me  sober enough to drive. “Don’t say no, please don’t  she smiled. “All right. My place’s nearby anyway.”

Her house was on a dark street somewhere in Paco.  The neighborhood was already asleep, it seemed. The house itself was covered in a blanket of inactivity. Even  the leaves were unmoving, as if  afraid to cause the smallest disturbance to the peace. ” You live alone? I asked , turning off the engine. She took a moment to answer. ” I live with my mother.” Her hesitation was pretty obvious.

The house was made partly wood, partly of stone.  One of those  old houses in Manila constructed just before  (or maybe after, I’m not sure) the Second World War. There was a pungent, unkempt smell when she opened the gate. I could distinctly smell  urine when she opened the door.   Total darkness enveloped us when we entered the house.

Outside, even crickets could not be heard. I could hear no air-conditioning or electric fans working, but the  interior of the house was cold. There was a definite chill in the place. I folded my arms across my chest and followed her in the dark.

From the corner of my eye, I saw some movement at the top of the stairs, a  barely discernible  shift of shadow and darkness. “What was that?” I asked.  Cecille looked in the direction I was pointing. “Nothing,”  she answered, unable  to mask the nervousness in her voice. She took my hand and  guided me into  a room.

She turned on a lamp,  and the room was filled  with light, albeit insufficient, in the dim illumination, I was able to make  out a tiny bed, a ratty dresser, and a few other personal belongings, all in disarray. She surprised me by planting a kiss on my lips. I felt her tongue explore my mouth.  I reciprocated. She pressed harder.

Then she pulled back. “Stay here. I think I forgot  to close the door.  Alone and cold in her room,  I made my way to her bed and sat. I took off my  shoes and lay down.   Then I saw a shadow  pass by the door.  “Cecille?” I called out. There was no answer.  “Cecille?” I called out again.

I heard  footsteps coming towards the door.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  “Geez, Cecille. You scared me. I thought…” I froze  in mid-sentence. The figure standing  in the doorway was not Cecille. It was an old woman, dressed in a long,   flowing dress that was being blown by the gentle  breeze inside the  house.  Her hair was in disarray. Dirt was all over  her face.

She looked me straight in the eye.”I,I…  She put one foot behind her and moved backwards, moving back into the dark.  I heard her footsteps moving  away from the room. A short while later, Cecille returned with a glass of water. She smiled. “You look like you just saw a ghost,” she told me.

“I think  I just did, ” I answered, hoping to make light of the situation.   She toyed with my hair. “Shh.. that was just my mother. Don’t mind her. She’s been acting weird for months now. Treat her like she’s dead,” she said with a giggle. I kissed her nose. Then I moved to her mouth,  tasting the aftertaste of the  beer we had  in the bar. I felt her kissing back.

Then I heard somebody crying.  “My mother, ” Cecille whispered in my ear. “Don’t mind her,” she repeated. But the crying kept getting louder. And louder. Until it felt like it was inside my  head. resonating in my skull.

Inside the room, as I felt her hands caressing the sensitive parts of my body, the temperature dropped. I started shivering. The crying  had turned to wailing. The room got so cold , I could see  my breath. I pulled back. “I’m sorry,” I told her. I put on my shoes, and made  my way out  of the room. “Let’s do this some other time.”

Scared, I almost ran towards the door. I yanked it open and hurried to my car. It was already 3 in the  morning.   An elderly woman,  dressed in a ratty duster and house slippers, was smoking a cigarette in front of my car. “Oh, dear. I’m sorry, “she half-apologetically smiled at  me. “Are you a nephew of hers?”

I looked at her quizzically. “Of whom? Oh, I’m sorry. I was just.. ah… “of the old woman who lives there. Are you a nephew of hers?”

“Oh, no, maam. I’m just …ah.. a friend of her daughter.”

She nodded.  She walked  towards me  and squeezed my arm. “It’s so nice to  know that young people like you care enough for her elderly. My husband and I used  to be good friends with Mrs Reyes-the woman who lives there.

Such a pity what happened to her.  You know, she used to watch our kids when my  husband and I would be  at work. That was back when everything was good for her, and she still hadn’t lost her  mind. Tsk, tsk. Such a pity.”

She took a drag from her cigarette, and glanced at the house.” Isn’t it a bit late  to visit? No offense, but people usually visit Mrs. Reyes in  the daytime.”

“Oh, no ma’am, I wasn’t visiting her,” I said and grinned. ” Her daughter invited me in.”

The woman stopped smiling and her eyes widened. She threw her cigarette to the ground and stomped on it.  She wrapped her arms around her. She walked  away  from me and from the house. Ma’am?”

She looked at me  with  fear in her eyes. “Her  only daughter died a month ago. Mrs Reyes lost her mind and  had been living alone ever since.”

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