“How will I use this one, hey! How will I use this mahrt(s)elyo?”
“Ah! Don’t question me again. Mind your own business, will you, Vicente?”
That was very Vincent Vicente. I remembered seeing him the first time when I came to the construction site one Saturday evening when the moon was out, full of glory. I stood facing the wall, estimating the length of a particular wood. I didn’t take a good notice at him when I stepped in for the nightshift. However, one couldn’t ignore an accentuated sentence—a foreign-American-accent at that. I was no exception. I looked back and saw a bald dark man, about twenty-eight years old, and lean. He wasn’t at all tall, only five feet, eight inches, and he had a mole between his upper lip. The queer thing was, he didn’t at all look like a foreigner. How queer! I asked the nearest soul to me, “Who is that?”
“Oh, new ...”
“I know he’s new, but who is he?”
“Vincent Vicente: executive turned to construction worker.”
“Where did he come from?”
“I’m sure from where he came from,” he said with finality.
Suddenly, without warning, a gust of wind blew hard and closes the aluminum door toward the kitchen. The men, construction workers, shuddered. A thick cloud covered the bright moon; a shrill howl from a mongrel could be heard. We stopped, alarmed. The construction had been going on for its thirteenth week and by that time, no one was new (except may be for Vincent Vicente, the FilAm) to the rumors about the Balete Drive.
On that night, obviously, everybody remembered the ghosts, kapre, manananggal, tikbalang, dumende, and other supernatural beings believed to be roaming around New Manila. The new one Vincent Vicente looked around with disbelief. “What happened to you?”
“Hush! Close your mouth or the gods will cut your tongue,” one said in the bravest sound he could muster.
Tok, tok, tok, tok, tok.
Someone knocked at the door. Petrified by the memories of the ghost stories, no one moved (spare Vicente) even an inch to answer the door. Vicente looked at each stupefied face.
“Oh! It’s only a knock! Are you all doe-wagsz?”
Vicente turned and headed towards the door. He was only a step from it when a big voice, muffled because of the door, boomed: “Ngngabbii nnaahh ... nah nah ... Mmaakit nanditohh pa kayo … yo yo yoh.”
Vicente stepped back and shivered.
“W ... wa ... what was that?” he asked in a whisper.“Oh my ...”
“Bathala save us ...”
“Oh Lord, I have a family ...”
“Mary, Mother of God ... oh ...”
“St. Katherine ...”
The door opened with a smash. An ear splitting yelp broke the silence, almost like an animal but it’s not because it had an American accent. Ghosts or not, each one saw how the aluminum door jammed on Vicente’s face and knocked him down. Blood issued from his broken nose. His eyes stared widely at the ceiling. Screams erupted inside the room. We obviously didn’t know what to do. Some shivered at a corner, cried for mercy, and asked for the forgiveness of their sins. Some (including me) went to Vicente. I looked at everyone’s faces. They were concerned. I asked the very same being I had asked earlier.
“Dead, isn’t he?”
“Probably,” he said, gave me a ghastly look he always wore and went away...
There were murmurs. One brave soul knelt and felt Vicente’s neck. He looked up gravely and announced, “He’s gone.”
Those who were at the corners moaned and pleaded to the heavens. Those around Vicente made a sign of the cross. I being a, well, former Catholic, was compelled to do the same.
“Oh my ... Nid I ngkil ngim?”
We turned to the direction of the voice. The person who smashed the door open was a stout man, had a very big nose, chipped front tooth and a slit, cutting his upper lip to the left hole of his breathing organ. He was carrying a big yellow candle and wearing a white nightgown.
Louder screams filled the night. I looked to the left and to the right and all around. Men scampered until only I, standing in the middle, the stout man at the door step to the kitchen, and Vicente lying dead on the floor, remained. I could still hear the construction people’s cries and yells for help to the moon and the vast sky, only to be answered by the howl of the dogs lurking in dark places.
“Mest nu ngkol da molis,” the stout man said, got his cellphone, and called. “Ngello, wan wan seben, imestigador?”
He turned away leaving me there and then, asking myself why he was calling the Investigator. I shook my head and “Tsk tsk tsk” was all I could muster. I looked at Vicente. Slowly, very slowly, a replica of him sat, then stood up. He brushed an invisible dust on his black, almost transparent (that makes it translucent) pants. He touched his face with his left hand and felt for non-existing blood. He looked at his hand.
“Oh, my ...”
Through his hand, he could see my shoes and through my shoes, he could see a pair of feet, lying on the floor. He looked down.
“Oh Lord, that’s me,” he gasped as he saw his face with blood staring at him. Vicente attempted to walk but found himself floating instead. He came face to face with me and I saw how brown his mole was, how abnormal his right eye winked, and how Filipino he looked; even he said mahrt(s)elyow. He gaped at me stupidly as if he were seeing me for the first time.
The dogs howled to the full moon again; bats danced and made a shrill music. Vicente swallowed as he looked at me from head to foot. I swear he saw the deep portion of my temple, almost the size of the mallet’s head that I’d be carrying all my life (if I still have a life). He swallowed again and said, “Are you tutuohw?”
Oh, how I pitied him! I rolled my eyes upward and asked why this FilAm was so stupid. I fixed him with an exasperated look before saying: “Isn’t that obvious? What do you think?”