The Reliquary

 

“It has been more than six years… I’m widowed. Since his death, Joy and I have gone through loops and hurdles: forced to work in a Call Center in Lipa, left Joy under the care of Mae, my best friend, and the nightmares—and morning terrors. I started having those terrifying episodes in our house in Batangas City. Although, some of his close relatives offered their help and stayed home with me, I felt we weren’t the only ones in that old house.” Cristel poured tequila into her shot glass on the floor.

“Ano? What do you mean?” said the other woman perplexed “that your dead husband is haunting your house?

“Maybe… I haven’t seen anything unusual, but you know that feeling… like someone is watching you?” she sighed, sprinkled salt onto a slice of lemon, bit the lemon, and took a shot. “I don’t know where I have gotten that idea, but they have believed that if your intuition tells you someone is watching, most likely there’s a sort of seventy or eighty percent that that’s true.

Mae ascended from the floor and stretched her arms, “Naku Cristel! You know what, it’s one o’clock and I can’t be late tomorrow for work just because you gave me nightmare!”

“And Beshi…,” she grabbed her friend’s hands and ascended, “I—too was having terrifying nightmares.”

“My god! Not that I don’t care, but this isn’t the good time to talk about this okay?” she pranced around her and slightly jolted her towards the sink, “let’s brush our teeth and have our beauty sleep okay? We have a big day tomorrow and Mrs. Sanchez wants the report to be in PowerPoint presentation! My god! Let’s go!”

Six years ago, my mum called overseas to fetch pieces of furniture from an antique store in Laguna. It was a warm summer noon, and the warehouse was as hot as a furnace. While men were pulling, lifting, and loading the furniture into the delivery truck, I wandered absentmindedly along the rows of candelabras; grotesque figures of Jesus, angels, and saints; and a golden framed mirror.

“That’s a Spanish Colonial Mirror,” said a swarthy tall young man wearing sun glasses, “the center mirror is 7’ by 11’’ and surrounded by triple bands of mosaic mirrors and an outer band of rosette mirror insets… valued around two thousand dollars.”

She just glanced at the young man, in a white polo shirt tucked in a well-fitted wrangler pants and brown leather shoes, as she strode and inattentively lingered on a man-sized crucifix.

“And that is—” the mysterious man hesitated to open his mouth.

“Ugh! Excuse me and who are you?” Cristel glared at the man.

“Oh! I don’t mean to be rude,’’ the young man took off his oversized aviator sunglasses and introduced himself.

That’s when I met Mr. Roman Santos, my husband. He was a dashing young man with a well-toned body towering over me; nevertheless, I didn’t give into my infatuation. I had been into a terrible break up and looking at him seem like more or less the same—dangerous. Apparently, Roman is the manager of the Casa de Antigo in Laguna owned by his rich grandmother. Although I was drawn to him inside the warehouse and when I was about to leave the antique store, there was something about him that gives a shiver on the back of my neck. He gazed at me as I shut the door of my car closed. I steered backwards and turned straight to the right. On my side mirror, I could see his smiling face staring back at me. It’s weird, but it almost feels like he was craving and salivating deep inside for something… something forbidden. I drove as far as I could along the winding rocky path. I have been kilometers away from Casa de Antigo, yet amidst the endless greenery of the place, his prying eyes linger. I could almost see him emerging from the side of a bridge that I passed by: He was standing there, smiling, frowning, and gazing at me through the pillars of smoke trailing from the back of my car. My heart hammered in fear. I just really wanted to be somewhere where there were houses or sign of civilization. In my surprised, I was seeing things unearthly, as Roman—or at least what seemed to be him—wasn’t touching the ground, was moving towards and closer to my car. Beads of perspiration were forming just above my eye brows and my neck was stiff and frozen in fear that he could be seated at the backseat. Thank god! I could see a Petron Gas station from afar, but a chilling weak voice came from the direction of the backseat, “Cristel…Cristel…Christel…” When I turned, a distorted pale figure Roman, drenched in dark water, came looming over my face. In split seconds, a crashing sound reverberated and everything turned black.

It was dark and red everywhere—like I was in the womb of my mum again or inside a 25-days chicken egg. I could hear the faint chatter and the sound of life throbbing. As I slowly opened my eyes, I could see Mae talking to man in white garment. My eyes were bleary and heavy; and so, I fell into a fleeting moment, I fell into a deep slumber. Later on, she noticed that I was conscious. She staggered to her feet outside the room shouting for help “Nurse! Nurse! She is awake!”

 “Ah! Beshi…Friend!” she sat beside me and held my hands with wrist crammed with transparent tubes from a water bag hanging.

“How long have I been here?”

“One week and three days besh,”

Cristel strained to seat up straight, so Mae propped her back to seat upright of her own volition. When she was leaning comfortably on the cushion of pillows, she was offered a glass of water.

She looked around the white room, with stench of dried blood and alcohol lingered.

At the corner, there were basket of fruits, balloons, get well cards, stuffed bear, and bouquet of flowers.

“Those are from the office,” said Mae

“How about those,” Cristel pointed on the stuffed toy and the roses, “who sent them?”

She smirked and giggled, “Aruy! You didn’t tell me you have a ‘secret admirer!’ He has been visiting you since the accident.”

As she explained to her what happened, a tall swarthy young man suddenly showed up at the door with a bouquet of flowers and chocolates.

“Speaking of the devil! So Roman was the culprit!” pointed out Mae.

Roman sauntered to the center of the room just below the crucifix hanging on the wall. He took off his sunglasses and laid the presents at the corner among the others.

“I was so worried when I saw your car smashed into a tree and I was—”

“And Roman ‘was’ the one that brought you here to the hospital, isn’t he your superman!” May cried “Lucky you the Dr. Hernandez said that you didn’t have any fracture on your head considering the condition of your car…you could have broken your bones or worst your face! Oh my god!”

Roman went beside Cristel, “Anyway, are you feeling well now?”

“My car—,” she strained to respond.

“No worries! I have already taken care of your car I got—”

“Whoa! He also got your car repaired! Isn’t he such a prince charming…” Mae gave a quizzical look. She murmured, “I wonder how’s that even possible….”

“That’s smile again,” murmured Cristel, “I couldn’t remember you somewhere…except for…” she was looking gravely and staring outside the window facing her. “I don’t understand.”

“Aha! Now that you mentioned that, I also don’t understand why your car smashed into that poor tree!” said Mae, “Don’t tell me you are still doing that fad diet of yours! My god! Look at you…,” she unclenched her shoulder bag and took a cigarette put the stick between her teeth, “Bahala ka! You’ll look like a doped America’s Next Top Model.”

Since that day, after I got into that accident. Roman and I were seeing each other, but I never ventured again in that area, along the rocky road to their antique store. Regardless of that obscure experience I had, that never stopped me from loving Roman. He was educated and cosmopolite. He would drive to places, restaurants, and resorts that I have never been before. Also, I started to meet his family—his mum and dad who are both into buy and sell of antique furniture and jewelries. He’s really from a well-off family, buena de familia. After months of panliligaw, courtship, he finally proposed with a diamond ring, just like what all women dreamed of.

Screen Shot 2019-03-29 at 9.50.49 AM
The Demon playing the fiddle

In the big ancestral house in Taal, Mrs. Ponciana, Roman’s grandmother asked him to bring Kristel with him. They gathered in the porch made of mahogany. As a gift, her grandmother gave Roman a reliquary studded with emeralds. It was an antique piece of jewelry and could be traced during the Spanish era here in the Philippines. “It’s a family heirloom pass from generation to generation,” said Mrs. Ponciana, “Now that our dear Roman has finally found a suitable wife, Alicia, his mother, and I decided that it’s time to pass this reliquary to you iha,” the old lady laid a small dark-blue box. The frail pale fingers of the old woman skittered on the clutch like a spider to unlock it. The moment I laid my eyes on it, green streak of light reflected from the emeralds around it. My pupils delate. My breath was taken away by the shimmering light from that jewelry. The old woman pushed the box towards Kristel, “it’s yours now Iha.” Absentmindedly, Kristel reached on the black diamond at the center. Touching it almost felt like something ominous was unleashed. Out of nowhere, a black horned being—face of a goat in a vest, came out the arch doorway with a violin and fiddled an unearthly melody that I have never heard before and the sinister sound echoed—from the bronze sculture of the Santo Niño, large statue of the Madonna and Child, horned Jesus crucifix, to the life-sized wooden Jesus Christ. Everyone was beaming at me. I didn’t flinch from where I am standing to remain composed, but I knew I got more than the reliquary and the blessing of her grandmother—welcome to the Santos family!

I didn’t tell anyone yet about that dark goat violinist and I am certain that no one wanted to marry a woman like Sisa, who went mad in El Filibusterismo. Since I am marrying man from a conservative family and very much a Catholic, I thought I should attend a mass every Sunday and, in my surprised, I never thought that every March is called Kuaresma and it’s about love and sacrifice. The priest said that if one doesn’t know how to sacrifice, he or she doesn’t know how to love. And because of that, I was finally convinced to quit my job in a business firm in Makati to prepare for the life of being a full time house wife and try to set aside that goat, yet one Sunday morning after a mass, I was persuaded by Mae to have my future read by a Manghuhula, a fortune teller. I thought to myself that perhaps that illusion, that horned goat, foreboded something bad is about to come.

 “Sige na! Come on! This will not take much of your time!” Mae folded her umbrella and they were standing in front of a shabby shack few miles away from the church. When Kristel approached the door way and peered inside, Mae cast a sly look at her. “Although you’re engaged with Roman, by having your future foretold, you’ll at least have an idea of what life would be with your sweet Roman! What are you waiting for? Go inside! Go!” she jolted Kristel inside the hut almost tripping.

Inside, there was a circular table at the center and a single source of light above the roof. “What’s that smell?” Kristel winced from the incense wafting the room.

“You’re a devout Catholic, you should get use to that smell beshi,” she uncletched her shoulder bag to get her lipstick and ran it smoothly on her lips pouting. To be continued…

 

 

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