By Jing Villamil
SHE grew up, with “them” not only as a sometime but as a constant presence.
But these childhood companions were almost always the good (mabait), the rowdy (magulo), the mischievous (pilyo). Seldom the bad (salbahe) or the vengeful (mapag-higanti), as the knowing claimed or warned they were or might be.
As a child, she thought “they” were normal, regular members of the family, in permanent residence or with visiting privileges. She could not will them away; “they” peer over her shoulders, bump through her, crowd her along hallways or to the door, run through walls, whisk past outside windows (of the upper floors!), even play, laugh, dine with the family! She looks up from her spaghetti bowl, and a shimmery child would be kneeling on an empty chair beside her, chin on a palm, gazing with wonder on noodles she slurped so fast without choking, vaguely remembering “it” must have done so, too, in its own lifetime! She and her brother would chase each other through rooms; and another child or more would be tailing after them screaming and flailing arms copying the siblings’ screaming and flailing!
It was only later in her young adult life, when she encountered more of “them” but unfamiliar non-familial ones, that she realized it was not normal it was not regular to be witness, to be party to two worlds co-existing in one (and there is only this one!) physical dimension.
Then her mother began to notice that she would sometimes brake her headlong joyful rush to somewhere with an “excuse me” to someone no one; or she would turn a startled glance and a nod of a greet at something nothing. Mom asked with dread in her heart: Do you see, hear or feel “them”? When she whispered yes, Mom held her shoulders tight and made her promise to say this prayer of belief, during or immediately after a sighting, to Him who created them all, including the someone no one, the something nothing. Mom told her, too: You are not alone. We are one, the same. As with your only sibling. As with your Grandpa. As with your one Tita but not with the others. It is weird, it is scary, but it will be alright. “They” were once one of us. Except for those of the earth.
Then Mom tapped her heart with her index finger, kissed it and touched the air. The gesture is a message to “them” – you are loved, so run along! Be where you must be.
But “they” do not really listen. As we do not really listen, as we went our merry ways.
And so, she would walk unhurriedly and unafraid past the morgue of her medical school, daytime or night, though the hair on her neck and arms would all stand and freeze up. She could feel the soundless feet and the stone-cold breath of the unseen watchers keeping pace, especially along the corridors of the children’s ward, the OB ward, the cancer ward and the hospice.
Sometimes, she would call her Mom to join her in the night shift, to distract the nosy ghostly whirling crowd away. That she may keep the still-living from crossing-over to their side! So, then, do not grieve too deeply or too long when a loved one dies. The beloved is not gone, just hanging around with a barkada beyond!
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