Tabada: Not a ghost story

·2 min read

UNLIKE the rest of the country, Cebu City will keep cemeteries open to fully vaccinated individuals during the “kalag-kalag” days of Nov. 1 and 2.

Defying the national government may make waves in the political realm. For souls, the closure of cemeteries is not an issue. There is no quarantining the dead.

Clay covers of secondary burial jars from pre-Hispanic times feature two human figures in a boat, the rear figure rowing. A museum curator told me that the ancient Filipinos believed that after death liberates the soul from its corporeal casing, the immortal continues to the destination it has been journeying in its lifetimes.

Raised as a Catholic, I believe Jesus will return and judge the living and the dead. Meanwhile, the dead are not in crypts and columbaria but among the living.

A few nights ago, a flickering bulb brought back a nearly forgotten memory. It was near midnight when I cleared my work and switched off the lights at home, one by one.

Downstairs, the flickering light bouncing from the toilet broke the dark into intermittent shards that hurt the eyes. Even more strangely, the set of bulbs that automatically shut down in power fluctuations all worked except for the one in the toilet.

The shadows cast by that flickering bulb reminded me of a weekend when my cousins and I were playing “tago-tago (hide and seek)” in my grandparents’ home. Not eager to be found first and take the place of the “It” who had to find all the players, I ran inside Lola’s small dark storeroom, which we were forbidden to enter and thus, seemed to be the perfect hiding place.

Crouching in the dark, I waited for my cousin to shout that he had flushed out his brothers. Before this happened, though, a shadow was silhouetted against the door’s vents: Lola. Caught in the forbidden, I bolted out of the storeroom, got more than an earful from her, and, of course, became the next “It.”

The morning after, the bulb worked perfectly, as if it had never flickered in an icy toilet where the jets of the shower were only a degree less cold than the chill that certainly did not come from the small window closed for the night. The husband confirmed that the bulb worked when he had his shower earlier in the evening.

Power fluctuates, he said.

I stared for a time at the bulb in the morning light that mocks and dispels all fancies. I learned later that Mama, 82, made a turnaround and consented to a hospital procedure that she was earlier set against. My mother is Lola’s eldest and the most contrarian of her children.

In the journey of the living, the souls of our dead stay at the helm. The immortal steers and rows, steers and rows.

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