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‘Nightmares’ on Kahunari Street

12:06 AM November 02, 2015

WHEN MANAY, the last of its three very old, unmarried Bicolano caretakers died, the ancestral house in Barangay San Jose in Navotas passed on to the younger generation of the Naval family that owned the entire estate. The heirs had no plans to keep the huge house—a wooden Spanish-era mansion converted into an apartment that accommodated six families, including us—standing. It was disintegrating from old age, anyway. My father immediately started looking for a house to rent. He found another old house on Kahunari Street.

It was a two-story structure that stood in the middle of an impoverished neighborhood, separated only by a concrete wall about 10 feet tall, just about the height of most of the shanties clustered outside. I was ecstatic—after sharing living space with five other families in our previous residence, we finally had an entire house—with a sizeable front yard, to boot—all to ourselves.

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The house on Kahunari Street faced west. In late afternoons, shortly before dusk, the fading sunlight, gasping through rows of trees and power lines, would cast a pall of gloom over the entire house and its surroundings and, inside, create a bizarre ambiance of light and shadows.

At times I would come home from school to hear voices and sounds of footsteps coming from inside the house, only to realize, the moment I entered, that my parents and siblings were still away and I was all alone.

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Returning early from a particularly tiring day in school, I fell asleep in one of the three rooms on the second floor. It served as a stockroom and it had no ceiling to stop the unbearable heat that the iron roof absorbed from a fiery afternoon sun from swamping the entire room. I couldn’t imagine how I managed to endure the heat, let alone take an afternoon nap in the hottest time of the day inside that hottest part of the house.

I had bad dreams that afternoon. Dreams so unbelievably clear they frightened me: hairy, howling creatures chasing me as I fled, terribly scared, straight into a dark, cold space under very huge trees, with clouds of dust and piles of fallen leaves churning up behind me.

It was just the beginning of what became an inexplicable ritual: coming home into an empty house and falling asleep in the stockroom and dreaming unearthly dreams. It became an everyday occurrence that would leave me trembling and terrified and totally powerless to prevent—again and again.

Sometimes while riding a jeepney or right in the middle of my class, I would have flashes of those bad dreams. Once, on my way home, an aged neighbor asked who I was fighting with inside our house the previous afternoon; she said she could hear my voice from a distance. I just said I didn’t understand what she was talking about. I was telling the truth but it scared the hell out of me.

And then one day, Kuya Jimmy, an older cousin from Leyte, arrived. He had eloped with his childhood sweetheart. They said they had a hard time finding our house, and it was they who told us that our old residence in San Jose had been demolished and a new one stood in its place. They had nowhere to stay and so my father let them have the stockroom on the second floor. It was, thankfully, the end of my afternoon “nightmares.”

They were an odd couple—Kuya Jimmy and Ate Cora. They would always fight. Loud, violent fights ending with Kuya Jimmy packing up and leaving for Leyte without as much as informing my father. He would be gone for months and Ate Cora would be almost completely withdrawn, locking herself up inside their room and frequently skipping meals. I worried that she’d die of loneliness.

One afternoon I came home to hear voices from Ate Cora’s room and for a moment I was relieved, thinking Kuya Jimmy had returned. I hurriedly went upstairs to say hello but was surprised to find the door wide open. Ate Cora was there alright but all alone, lying in bed and talking in a very loud voice in her sleep. She laughed and cried and cursed and argued hysterically with somebody who was not there, all the while that she was asleep.

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I ran away as far as I could and went back only after I was quite sure my parents had returned home. After that incident, I would reach out to Ate Cora, commiserating with her in her sadness, wanting her to know that I really felt bad for what she was going through. We would speak for hours, and little by little she opened up. She told me about her dreams—about odd creatures chasing her and how she would flee from them and get lost in a dark, dusty place littered with fallen leaves, and how lately the creatures would appear even while she was wide awake.

I told everything to my father and thankfully he listened. We moved out immediately and found an apartment in another part of Navotas. I heard that the house on Kahunari Street burned to the ground a few weeks after we left.

Adel Abillar is a private law practitioner with a small office in Quezon City where, he says, “I alternate between being boss and messenger.” He obtained his law and prelaw degrees from Manuel L. Quezon University and the University of Santo Tomas, respectively.

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