realm of the dreamweaver

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Location: Manila, Philippines

Sunday, June 18, 2006


The old house belonging to the Garcia’s can be found at the middle of the long street we used to call the Main Street, although it is officially Casa dela Reina Street. It used to be a busy lane since it was the only road going to the Church, the Our Lady of Sorrows (thus making it the road going to the House of the Queen). Now, a faster cemented road to the poblacion was built bypassing the whole barrio. The street has become quiet now. The houses were decrepit and sad-looking.

I stood just outside the bamboo fence, hesitating until that moment on whether I should bother Elias with my problems. I guess, at that point I could’ve called back the tricycle and asked to be returned to the bus station. I could have taken the 4 o’clock bus back to the city. But maybe it was Fate that intervened.

“January?” A woman stepped out of the house. It was Julie. She has become, shall I say, roundish now, but her cheeks were rosy and she looked healthy. She was carrying a baby barely a year old in her arms. “Is that you?”

“Julie. Kamusta? I hope I’m not bothering you.” I was nervous. My hands were flitting from my purse, to my sleeves, to my hair.

“What are you talking about? After all these years of not seeing you, I’m just glad to see you here!” She briskly walked up to me and then hugged me. She faintly smells of garlic and vinegar but not in a repulsive way. She’d been probably cooking. “ I saw you from the kitchen window. Come in! Come meet the kids. Elias is at work, but he would be home any minute now.”

I followed her lead and went inside the house. Oh, the house. It used to be one of the more familiar places to me. I half grew up here. But now, it stood as if it’s this alien structure, refusing me entry. I stood for a half minute at the doorstep, unable to move.

“Jan? Come on in!” Julie gestured to me. “Oi, kids! Come meet your Tia Jan! She’s come all the way from the City!”

I stepped inside. Reluctantly, grudgingly, I felt the house let me in. Now, don’t you make trouble here… it seemed to whisper.

From above me, I could hear running feet on the wooden floors. Darn it. I haven’t brought pasalubong… A few moments later, four pair of eyes were peering out through the slits in the staircase. With a bit more prodding, the boys went down and shyly stood in front of me. Goodness, they all looked like miniature Eliases.

“This is the eldest. He’s in Grade 5. That’s one is in Grade 3, come on! Introduce yourselves!” she ordered them.

“Spartacus po.” Said the tallest one, smiling and then shuffling his feet. He had his father’s light brown eyes.

“Aris po.” Said the next one, reintroducing himself. “Short for Aristotle.” Julie quipped in.

The third boy, who could barely be six said, “I’m Alexander!” He had a lisp.

The smallest one just stood there and stared while sucking his thumb. Julie ruffled his hair. “This one’s Philemon Cassius. He’s terribly shy. And this baby is our precious King Edward.”

She wasn’t joking. She really did name their kid King Edward. All five kids had their father’s light brown hair and fair complexion. There was almost nothing of Julie in them.

“I – I don’t have pasalubong yet… but I’m glad to meet all of you.” I kneeled to meet their eye level. “You all look like your father.” And I just had to smile. Philemon Cassius finally took out his thumb from his mouth and grinned at me.

“I’m five.” He said in the vernacular. “Papa would be home soon.” And then the thumb went back in.

“Okay, off you go, back to your chores then.” Julie told them. In under a half minute, they disappeared upstairs again. Julie winked at me. “Their task is to keep the house clean. If you could only see how much mess they could make out of it though… it’s just the principle of the thing, I suppose, that they take on responsibility while young.” she shook her head. “You would be staying for dinner, of course? No, I do not ask, I insist. Philemon would be heartbroken if you won’t. I think he’s half in love with you already.”

I couldn’t refuse to stay given that I had nowhere else to go, can I? I just nodded and offered to help with the dishes. Julie refused.

“Oh no, you’re a guest, just sit and in a while, I will… I will…” She was cut of by King Edward’s cry. She expertly rocked him in her arms. Then suddenly, I saw it. She was flustered. With a sigh, she looked at me and her eyes looked as if it was trying not to despair. “Oh, Jan. This all must look terrible to you. This old house falling to pieces, look at this mess inside…”

“No, Julie, everything is just fine. I love this house…”
“One wouldn’t think I’d end up this way. We had such promise when we were younger, hadn’t we? But unlike you, I never got any chance… I never tried to find any opportunity…”

When we were in high school, Julie followed me everywhere I went. She was at the top of the class, second only to me. She told me that since we were the brightest in our class, we should naturally be friends. I thought she just wanted me to help her get close to Elias, who was before her, inseparable from Moses and me. She let me read her fashion magazines, and once she even gave me makeover which went awry. By then, she already succeeded to be Elias’ girlfriend. During the high graduation ceremony, I found out Julie was pregnant and Elias would be marrying her. I was invited to the ceremony but never quite made it. I felt a rift form then, and I suddenly have no idea why I’m here after not communicating with them for so many years. I’m just so messed up.

“I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of. You have five wonderful kids, you’re keeping this house intact… Julie, you’re doing a wonderful job!” I assured her. “I didn’t come here to flaunt whatever it is you believe I have achieved. I’m here because my life is so messed up that I had to leave the City. I just ran away.” I shook my head and I let her see the despair in my eyes in return. “I haven’t any clothes, nothing! I just got on a bus to where I believe I can hide from it all. Lumengracia is the only other place I know, maybe it’s the only place I know. That’s why I’m here. I’m seeking sanctuary.”

We stood there quietly and awkwardly for a number of minutes. Then Julie smiled. “I am glad you came here. You came here because you believe we can keep you safe. I am flattered and -- relieved.” She gave a short laugh. “Well, seeing that you’re not here as guest, but as family, maybe you could help me with the dishes then.”

And at that moment, I repented from the grudges I held against Julie for taking Elias away from us. I felt guilty for not treating her better as a friend when we were younger. At that moment, I believe I truly loved her.