By Tyron Caliente
2448 L_____ Street, Pasay City. I can’t remember if that was a 2448-D (as my mother used to write on my school forms) or just 2448, as the house used to be beyond the fifth–after the landlord’s, a standalone after a row of apartments.
It was a wooden box on stilts.
I stared at where the stilts used to be, all four of them, a foot deep, the width about the size of a man’s leg. Passing through the rows prior where our house used to be I saw skid marks of plywood and steel, signs of how it wanted to squeeze through the narrow alley. I went back and opened the landlord’s door.
It was as I remembered from ten years ago–stacks of records from the Beatles to Peter Loro, posters of Linda Lovelace and Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss, and his son’s laminated college diploma. The heady smell of trapped air was everywhere, as it was back then, only stronger. Everything was as faded as a 50′s manual on how to build a bomb shelter, the palette attempting to shout its vibrancy, reds turning to pale salmon and greens to gray, muted and lost with time.
Back then, Vivaldi’s Allegro from Spring or Eddie Ilarde’s voice woke everybody at 4AM, punctuated by the landlord’s son’s laughs. He was Boo Radley in real life, as I realized later. We were separated by a concrete wall and a water pipe connected our houses–we paid water on top of the rent. And because I graduated from the same school as Boo did, maybe in the future I’ll share the same demise–walking around naked inside his house, dressing up in all white or all black outside, never any color in between, and laughing a drugged laugh until he is taken away, his sister working in Buenos Aires paying for his electroconvulsive shock treatments.
I never went upstairs, but I was sure it had a nice view of the houses around it–one can actually peer into a room and watch people have sex. Mother threw stones at me once I went up our roof one evening but I was too bothered to go down seeing what commotion our neighbors did at that time. It was way much better on tape, I said to myself that night.
I found a contact card–Oikorcismus, Inc. The landlord’s name was inscribed as founder-member. Some letterheads, too, blank mostly, one a list of addresses. I didn’t bother to go up, but took the card and the list.
I searched for the first living, talking–and surviving creature around. Time was never kind–the Briones family moved to Australia, the Perreiras to New Zealand, neighbors still but in a larger sense of geographical scale. The Macaraigs planned to move to Carmona when our house was still there, the Guerreros–husband moved to the States, estranging wife and daughters who moved to Alabang. Only one fixture remained and that was Alfredo the storekeeper. He kept a mental record of what happened to everybody along L____ Street.
–I know my eyesight is failing me but I still have a strong sense of hearing. There was heaving, the sound of wood against wood and metal against metal.
I can imagine. Alfredo can be poetic sometimes, owing to verbal jousts he joined during his youth. Black on black, the boundary only palpable by the stirring of night air.
– There was a huge shadow even if it was a moonless night.
It was enough to convince me that the house made its way somewhere.
I tried searching on the net for Oikorcismus, all the entries were in Dutch. An online translator suggested houses, abjuration, renunciation. I now have a lead, to where or what, I have no idea. Do houses grow evil as they age, as they are abandoned by the first owners, as hatred, murders and scheming thoughts of family members accumulate throughout the years? All I knew was that the house that used to stand on 2448 (-D?) was gone and I might search for it for nostalgia’s sake.
How do you profile a lost address?
The house, save for its cement flooring, was made out of secondhand materials–lumber salvaged from prewar houses, window screens from the estates of Zamora, and corrugated roofs donated by generous contractors. Its door was painted green, with a glass window that was covered with brown paper, perhaps a shopdoor in its former lifetime. By 1989 it had a net worth of eleven thousand pesos, exclusive of land value.
How do you report it to the police, notwithstanding my distrust for authority, given their wide sense of time as if there is a season for crimes and a season for solving them, and seasons of sitting in between, gathering momentum only at the slightest hint of money? Do I place a missing house ad in the newspapers, as if it was a senile person who decided to go out to get some air, caught double screenings at a rundown cinema, and walked the path he thought was home only to emerge like a loinclothed Krishna covered in soot, unrecognizable several months later?
This house was a decade older than I am, the absence of heat insulation implied the coolness, weather and fashionwise, of the seventies. The wallpapers matched the upholstery that I had to feel my way around, with the sofa merging invisibly into two-dimensional limbo. Same went with my sheets that had several sets of the same pattern as the walls. I usually woke up as if I was tacked horizontally all night.
I studied the list, several of which looked familiar to me, ones in which my family had lived until I decided to be on my own and until mother died of old age. I encircled these addresses. We were prolific renters in my youth, going as far as Shanghai, deciding only to buy a house when mother retired.
The inconvenience of traveling again way south bothered me, as well as the expense of going to China and the personal hassle of renewing my visa. Surely my friends would still be there, friends of friends until the sixth degree, as long as I figure out what the list implied–my landlord, or his heirs as my lifeguide, as my savior from malevolence or perhaps, a chance at inheritance of city property. It made me smile at the outrageousness of the thought, but wary at the same time knowing how infighting brings out the worst within his family, what more with those outside their circle of trust?
1521 Don B___, Balic-Balic, Manila
–Joel, Kumusta pare?
I stared on the screen too long. I haven’t talked, mailed and made my presence felt to Joel after we moved from Balic-Balic.
The reply was immediate.
–Come over ASAP.
From a picture-perfect row of Commonwealth-era houses, ours disappeared like an extracted tooth, obviously missing from where the street started. Wooden spires pierced the heavens while brises soleil of various patterns screened whatever light is left from the overcast sky. When we rented it, it grew room upon room upwards, as much as a nautilus shell progresses chamber upon chamber. As it vanished, a house-shaped void existed that only that house alone can fill, a three-dimensional Tetris piece of the universe.
I stared at a lamppost with a Lipat Bahay bill and a contact number.
–Can I use your phone, Joel?
I dialed the number. A bored, manly voice answered. I asked if they tried to move houses before, like the huts carried by provincial men, a standard mural to depict unity among the proletariat.
–We don’t transport houses from one point to another. That would be tedious.
Then he enumerated the pipes to be disentangled, the wires to be cut, the papers to be filed at the city council.
–When we say Lipat Bahay, we don’t move houses. We move people’s things. How can you young people never get it?
I hung up.
–The morning after it was gone, this road has cracked, as if your house left footprints. Look at that.
Joel pointed to a “O” sigil imprinted on where my bathroom used to be.
–Is this the time to be paranoid?
I remembered the list that I took from the landlord’s house.
–I would say, better be careful.
I promised Joel that I will call back.
28-A K____ Road, Project 2, Quezon City. He was standing in front of the facade, as if commandeering a platoon of tall, cubic tanks without turrets. The snow-white hair, the pince-nez inherited by his crazy son, the liver spots on his Castillian skin, it was unmistakable that the landlord is coaxing 28-A K___ Road until 28-E like eyeballs out of their sockets, pulling and tugging invisible ropes this way and that like a conductor. Nails and wooden splinters gathered and pointed at him, lightbulbs flared like eyes of a wild animal, pipes and wires and tiles screamed like an evil orchestra–last attempts at resistance, which he dismissed merely with the slap of his hand. The combined strength of a demolition team wasn’t apparent in his drooping posture but his presence made up for it.
I approached him and managed a smile drawn from afternoons playing his records after Boo Radley was sent for treatment. He drew a deep breath and passed me by. Maybe his eyes weren’t as sharp as before, but he should have at least felt a human nearby. My effort futile, I didn’t care nonetheless, much more save the house filled with nightmares and deathly shouts that lasted well into the night for months.
I wasn’t sourgraping at losing this house. It was here where I tried to build my dreams and went outside disappointed. Its energy was overwhelming that afternoon heat was unbearable; I found it hard to breathe. Knives and forks always stood at attention, ready for a kill that was too hard to understand. Doors slammed, Celtic music blared and faucets turned on their own. Underneath the stairs smelled of expired wax. Squeaks and tiny footfalls were heard on the rooftops, under the stoves and over the kitchen counter. Dust settled as soon as it scattered, leaving china and puppies black as soot. Outside, the screech of racing tires alternated with the wail of squashed humans and animals. A sickly hue of jaundice sky and gray concrete composed the view from the windows, sad paintings drawn by a tired city.
The house was pleading,
–let me out, have mercy.
I was only lucky to have escaped first.
We don’t move houses; I remembered my conversation with the Lipat Bahay man. I tried to connect the house’s progression from its once atmosphere of terror to anger. Memories stay behind doors marked by the blood of youth whenever forgetting passes by. I trooped to a nearby store and watched the houses march out of K___ Road into midnight like a showcase of criminals.
2001-07 B___ X___ Road, Shanghai, PRC. Fortunate Liu spoke in broken English.
–It was in Shanghai Times.
Other residents complained that the common bathroom also disappeared. They had to go down another floor to take their evening baths, carrying dippers and towels and making puddles on stairways and elevators. A cubic void was all that was left of the apartment on the third floor, framing the Hotel St. Regis across the street. The nip of autumn was giving way to winter, the trees were shedding their last leaves for the long sleep. Faded white paint thick with industrial soot mixed with the unmistakable scent of coriander, an atmosphere akin to the stale smell of old hospital rooms, rusted bedframes and aging nurses. I heard again the solitary tinkle of the bell that signaled my father’s death, the sound of resignation after a fight with his own body that lasted three years. We thought a change in atmosphere would benefit him, except that this apartment exhaled a ghostly smell, encasing him in a virtual gas chamber when the rest of us were outside.
Fortunate stooped and pleaded me to step into the void, like training a child to take his first walk.
–Is this a portal?
–Portal. Gate. Enter. Another place.
I made hand-signals, miming a door about to be opened and stepping inside with my right foot.
–No. No doors. Come.
He stood on the edge of the void while I followed behind him in slow, steady steps that could have disturbed the occupants on the second floor. Below him, an old woman was setting her noodle shop for the night crowd. The heady smell of umami from the giant pot of broth swirled upwards. I peered on the dark street below made bright by the occasional passing of cars. The height, even for a low-rise, was vertiginous. I vomited strings of noodles and discs of tea eggs bought from the woman whom I’ve never met, whose wares I haven’t tasted.
He snatched my arm, we swirled our bodies in mid-air like acrobats and sat on one of the shop’s benches in a well-timed landing. On another table across us, a pince-nezed man with liver spots clacked his chopsticks and started to slurp the flat noodles. Fortunate ordered for me.
I said I wanted what my landlord is eating.
8 L___ Street, Area 2, Diliman, Quezon City. The record was swirling endless revolutions on the player, the needle on the groove stretching sound waves like rubber against polished concrete. The Andrews Sisters’ “Rum and Coca Cola” has reached its conclusion.
–oh, you vex me.
Vex, sex, hex. There are always first times to hear these words, to do and undo these verbs, the first letters dancing this calypso, changing partners in an evil daisy chain. On the sofa I saw the landlord, lying as if sleep bridged with death, the morbidity heightened by the absence of light and air. A loud moan punctured the bloated afternoon from across the street. Mister Tapales, I suddenly remembered. He cried the cursed sigh of a man sentenced to eternal life.
–both mother and daughter, working for the Yankee dollar (dol-laaaaaah!)
I ran up to the landing and remembered the first bittersweet taste of tobacco smoke mingle with the diaphanous curtains of my upstairs room, at the time when I was granted the privilege of privacy. The radio alarm clock whose time never functioned, as still as the day father finished repairing its antenna, always promising yes, the clock can be fixed later. The dog-eared Guitar for Beginners. A coverless Fischer-Spassky chess how-to. A wind-up Winnie the Pooh with a jar of honey rotating on its head. A pencil sketch of Molly Ringwald. Statistics tables and a hardbound Metallurgical Engineering by Schuhmann (related to the musician). Finger paintings and a Prang watercolor set. Musikland tape receipts (Viva Hate, Automatic for the People, In My Tribe–270 pesos total). An autographed Color It Red concert ticket. The exotic scent of fresh basil forever on the kitchen splashback in amorphous shades of green. I heard the hurried steps of my grandmother who raced to the piano and played Perfidia at two in the morning.
Listing it all would have made up for my bildungsroman.
The landlord opened his eyes as if from the snap of a magician’s fingers and proceeded in haste towards the porch. The slow movements of his hands and body conducted the apartment into a mechanical fugue, like clockworks.
My plea was useless.
With a rattle the house on 8 L___ Street shook off its pipe and electric tentacles and walked off westwards. It was hopeless to put everything in a box. In the corner, I clutched the record player. I found a track and replaced the needle. My tears erased the only indelible words of the chachacha I recall. Memories stay behind doors marked by the blood of youth whenever forgetting passes by. I ran into the opposite direction.
–corazon de melao, de melao melao melao melao. corazon.
I called Joel to relieve myself of the shock, of the frustration that the landlord seems to be blind of my presence, of the trepidation to the power behind his frailty. Oikorcismus has gone too far. There was no answer. I tried sending an e-mail but it bounced. There were a few messages.
– When you hear people speak in your head you are not listening to the actual people. It is the computer role playing. Being involved would hurt these people. Even being role played does, likely to a lesser degree than “hands-on involvement”. This doesn’t stop with those from Planet Earth::::Expect NO MIDDLE MANAGEMENT!!! All of these goals can be accomplished with Artificial Intelligence, freeing individuals from incurring evil by hurting others.
– Manifest Destiny dictates a white-man’s prophecy – White-man’s world, white-man’s Apocalypse:::History says society evolved into where it is today. Others may look at it differently::::Because of the white man’s favor the gods bestowed great wealth upon them:::::It is quite obviously a white man’s god. The reality is that the gods SCRIPTED Earth’s history and utilize reverse positioning::Money is a corruptor and is hurting you badly.
There was nobody to talk to. I waited for days. I hear the irregular passage of trains. It seemed like years when the telephone finally rang.
–Where are you?
–I can’t tell. Somebody might be listening.
–Meet me at the sundial. Please, Joel. Today lunchtime.
The gnomon landed its shadow three-fourths after twelve. The heat pounded at the back of my neck and sent red-hot pulses to my face.
–I needed to make a detour.
Joel whispered as he lit his fourth stick.
–I thought it was an earthquake.
He returned my lighter. I took a drag from my cigarette. I wiped the sweat on my forehead.
–Your house is not on the list.
–Isn’t it that we took you in after you came back from China? Seven months.
–You didn’t pay rent.
–And how much would that be?
–No, it doesn’t matter. I estimate that my house will move away two years from now.
–But, do you mind?
–No, not at all. Either it’s me or the house first.
I was confused, as it appeared to be Joel’s bigtime paranoia. Now he didn’t mind that he is losing his house, all thirty years of him. There is nothing left, he told me before. He would rather travel from place to place, eat at corners whatever would drop from heaven, sleep in churches and sidewalks. It came as a mystery to me who orchestrated his eviction, but his choice mooted the issue. He looked in the distance and pushed the stub into the sundial. Ashes fell in between the numbers six and seven.
–I am more concerned about you.
–I have everything in bags, Joel. You’ll never know.
#_ ____ __, _____ ____. I would not tell where I live today, for fear of losing this address, someday on its own negotiating a slow tread to the streets, ordered through the schemes of the landlord or his ilk. But this one thing I can share–even if I live alone the house is full. Bags and bags of letters and tapes and books. The sepia photograph of me and father in front of a giraffe at the Manila Zoo. His wingtips, a double-knit pair of pants, mother’s pension passbook. A stamp collection.
My view is of a palm tree whose top showed signs of giving up, like life as cliché as it is. Its leaves tear through the canvas awning of the neighbor, shadowing a panorama of rust, catshit and TV antennas. In the distance a smokestack emits white steam at regular intervals like an emaciated steel volcano. I clocked its fumes at once every thirteen minutes.
I always slept a shallow, haunted sleep. I wake at the slightest hint of movement. My bed occupies more than half of this house. Slowly I feel the blissfulness ebb away, eaten little by little, by nightmares and phobias. I lie on my side and read the tiny letters across the unpainted concrete wall some intelligent vandal wrote: cursum perficio.
My journey ends here. The landlord will soon find out about this.
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