Raul Saev and his two siblings were lying in bed. The moon shone brightly elsewhere, but not in their area. Raul looked out of the window. The moon was full and bright, but for some unknown reason, the moon’s rays did not reach their home.
Strange, he thought. There was an ominous feeling creeping into his nerves – as if some peculiar thing were to happen. Why did the moon not shine? It feels as if there was some kind of matter blocking the light – like a shadow cast over their roof, preventing light from getting into their home.
The night deepened. All was still. It was very quiet – too quiet. Raul wondered if there was some occurrence in nature that rendered the silence of the crickets – the ones that usually make those chirping cricket sounds at night. He realized how comforting the cricket chirps actually were. Now that he does not hear a sound, he felt uneasy. There must be something wrong.
Three days ago, Raul watched as his grandmother closed her eyes forever – shutting the gates to mortality and perhaps, opening them up again to another world. It was a peaceful exit, so to speak. There was no clamor from a crowd or a commotion of a sentimental sort; it was just like the shutting of the eyes to ordinary repose.
“It is so like grandma,” Raul thought. He expected as much from an elderly who was all-too-prepared to enter eternal calm. He remembered his grandma telling him, “I’m ready to leave this place, appoko. I’m old and tired. I’m only waiting for grandpa to come fetch me.” Every time Raul’s grandma told him that, he shuddered. There is a terrifying feel to the thought of looming death. Raul thought that he would never be prepared for such a thing.
‘ But, as in all deaths, Death punctually arrives at the doorstep to claim; it did not fail to preserve its long-standing reputation of promptness. Hence, at half past four of that afternoon, Raul’s Inang (as his grandma was so fondly endeared) passed on. There were no tears and wailing; just calmness and composure seen among the other members of the family.
Raul pondered fondly on the memories of Inang. Although the old woman was ready to leave them, her family members certainly, were ill-prepared. Albeit the tough façade that each of them displayed at their Inang’s deathbed, the loss seemed prematurely given. It was all too soon for them. Not all of them were ready to be left behind.
Raul’s mother, Elena, bore the encumbrance of three days past, all too well. At her mother’s deathbed, she was as still as a statue. Who knew what went on in her head? Raul observed his mother’s demeanor and thought that something was amiss. Surely, no one could look so torpid and emotionless at a loved one’s deathbed – let alone, one’s mother’s deathbed!
“Was there something I did not know?” Raul mused to himself. “How come Mamang took it so lightly? I always thought Inang and Mamang were close” he considered. “No tears in her eyes. Not even a look of hurt or pain. I missed something there, for sure.”
“You know that I will always follow Inang wherever she goes, Raul” Elena Saev declared
To which, Raul replied, “I don’t understand what you mean, Mamang“.
“Whatever happens, Raul, I should always be beside Mamang.”
Little did Raul know that Elena Saev was braving impending doom on her own. Like her mother who just recently passed on, she was to greet death like an old friend. She was harbouring an illness for months now – like a fugitive on the run. Elena kept this clandestine affair with death from her relatives and her three young children. “They just wouldn’t understand” she reasoned. “I don’t want them to pity me.”
The truth was that, Elena was not willing to give up life just yet – not while her kids were still young. She was in doubt: to live or not to live? Was she to be so selfish and leave them all to the mercy of this merciless world? No. She refused. Elena decided to live her remaining days as if no sickness restrained her; and in so doing, she unknowingly strained herself to her limit; thus, hastening the dreaded appointment.
“Raul, Raul!” an unnerved voice exclaimed. “Wake up! There is something wrong with Mamang.”
A sleepy Raul forced his eyelids open and saw his sister Rallana shaking him furiously.
“You’ve got to hurry, Raul. There’s something wrong with Mamang!”
“What do you mean ‘something wrong’?” Raul asked; his faculties still in confusion.
“I’m telling you, something is amiss. I can’t put a finger on it, but there’s something…. Just come. You’ll see what I mean.”
Elena Saev was declared “deceased” that morning – three days after her mother passed on. Two caskets now deck the Saev house, seemingly adorning the walls in harsh mockery. Raul, Rallana, and Arman, the youngest, stationed themselves beside their mother’s casket. Their faces were a graphic representation of shock and bewilderment. The lookers-on were shaking their heads from side to side in pity – some genuine, some unfounded; for who could have ever expected this strain to materialize in reality… to such young souls, at that.
“Elena looked the spitting image of health, just a week ago” thought a neighbor.
“What accident had befallen her? I wonder” said another.
“Perhaps she was keeping an illness from us!” surmised someone. “Whatever it is, her children will suffer the consequences”
Of course, these suppositions were all inexorable, for nobody knew the reason of Elena’s death. Among these intelligent musings, there was no way to validate. The reason for Elena’s death was left at “accidental”. Everyone seemed to be comfortable with that.
The three orphaned children bore the incident with solid sturdiness of heart. How will they mourn if they do not know what it is they mourn about. The loss rendered them vulnerable and sore, but to not know why such loss came to be, left them more confused than grief-stricken.
As the evening deepened, the number of visitors began to decrease. Even so, the Saev family was to expect an all-nighter; that was the custom. In the midst of obligatory wakefulness, then happened a strange occurrence.
“Inang….. inang!” a woman’s voice called. It was the voice of a woman distraught. In between utterances, there were undeniable sounds of sobbing and weeping. It was more like, “Inang… iiiinnnnnn-a-a-a-a-annggggg!” (sniff… sniff).
Raul’s ears were alerted. “Did you hear that, Lena?”
“Yes, I did. Who could that be?” she answered.
“It looks like it’s coming from upstairs.”
“But nobody’s upstairs.”
“I’m going to check it out” Raul bravely declared. To him, there was an element of familiarity to that voice. Still…. His gut is imploring him otherwise.
The voice grew louder. Everybody undoubtedly heard the wailing.
“Ay, Apo! Ni Elena!” one visitor cried, gesturing several, rapid signs of the cross.
To Raul, this was a bittersweet circumstance. That all-too-familiar voice of his mother was comfort to his hurting heart, but his logical faculties made him realize that this was just a cruel ridicule of nature.
“Whoever is doing this, please stop it! This is not funny anymore. Please!” Raul cried in exasperation.
The voice only wailed louder. It was unnerving. Some people looked about, searching for the unknown; the hairs on their skins rose.
The doors and windows ajar were shut by some wind-like force. The lights flickered and the temperature suddenly dropped to abnormal levels. Everyone in the room gasped and stood frozen in their places. No one dared to move.
“INNNNAAAAAAANNNNGGGGG!!!” the voice thundered – this time, filling the room; its resonance deafening those who could hear. There was no doubt that the presence was amongst them.
“What do you want, Elena?” yelled one person.
Suddenly, Raul’s aunt, Rizalina Saev, dropped to the floor, twitching and convulsing; her body shaking and trembling wildly.
“Innnaaaaaaannnggg!!! Where are you?” the Rizalina shrieked. But it wasn’t her voice. It was the voice of Elena Saev. “Innnnaaaaaaangg… I cannot leave you!”
“Hurry, someone put a black cloth over her face!” another aunt cried. “We have to free Elena’s spirit. It’s trapped in this house.”
Raul hurried to the search for a black cloth. He knew where to find one. His Inang used to wear black shawls as a staple fashion statement.
“Here it is.” Raul said.
The Aunt reached for the black cloth and placed it over Rizalina’s writhing face. “Give me the keys to your house, Raul” she ordered.
“What for, Auntie?”
“We have to free Elena through this body’s navel. Hurry, Raul. We have no time to lose!”
Without asking anymore questions, Raul handed the house keys he kept in his pocket. His Aunt lifted the hem of Rizalina’s shirt and pressed the key against the navel.
“Go free, Elena. We are letting you go” the Aunt said.
Rizalina ceased to thrash about; her breathing became regular. Her deathly paleness became vibrant again. Her eyes, rolled back to their normal position and she stopped screaming.
“Raul, Rallena, Arman… say your goodbye’s” the Aunt said. Almost in unison, the three children muttered “Goodbye, Mamang.”
A wind-like force whooshed around the throng of people, passing one person to another, searching it seems, for a way out.
It found the door; it forced the door open.
The people followed the force’s path – astounded, perhaps, by the things unfolding. As the phantom force made its way outdoors, the guard dogs at the house’s entrance jumped up and followed. The canines seem to know, with eerie intelligibility, where this force was heading. They howled and barked as they tracked the apparition. Deeper into town, these dogs ran.
Elena, perhaps, has found her way…
After the commotion has died down, the Aunt said to the three kids, “I’m glad we have freed Elena”.
“Yes, Auntie. We are glad, too” said Rallena. “Aren’t we glad that Mamang’s free, Raul?”
Raul was motionless. His eyes were glassy; his pupils dilated. He was looking in the direction where the dogs fled. He murmured, “I wonder if Mamang found Inang before she left.”