Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Human Soul In My Hands

*****[Disclaimer: This story appeared for the first time in Trash Radio Manila. I was creating a mood for a playlist and thought of putting this up. Wrong venue, I figured out later on. *shrugs*
So I thought of reprinting my crude attempt at story-writing here. Je, bless his soul, the very talented writer that he was, had told me that my writing style is too "clinical" (I do not know what he meant, and I think I mentioned this in my past post), but he admitted to having enjoyed reading this story. To my classmates in primary school who may come across this piece, I changed some details just a wee bit, but this actually happened...go do the guessing now.]*****

At six years of age, I, semi-autistic cartoon-preoccupied Catholic school girl in my first year in primary school, had a very little inkling of what a human soul is like. I only knew that a soul is what comes out of the human body at death, yet another concept that was alien to me. And that I could not, pity my feeble brain, theoretically distinguish a soul from a spirit, or a ghost perhaps.

But what did I care then? I was living in comfort world, studying in a school just adjacent to a church, the school canteen annexed strategically to a funeral parlour. At recess time we just had to look at the windows to know if there was an ongoing wake; the reflection of the candles and incandescent bulbs on the window glass said it all. We would get our lunchboxes and eat and gleefully exchange stories, unmindful of what was at the other side of the wall.

Now we had a classmate named Rachel (not her real name) who was new to our school. We found Rachel to be rather unusual. For one, she hardly talked: the infrequent questions that went her way, most probably by accident, were returned with a sly smile and nothing more. She was never seen to use a handkerchief, so oftentimes she went around with snot dried up over her lips, which did not help to flatter her white face. Her school uniform always bore creases in all places, and if one was lucky he may be able to identify a number of areas that required reinforcement with numerous stitches. Her straight brown hair was unkempt at all times and needed de-lousing.

But most of all, we never saw her bring food, or buy snacks at the canteen for that matter. During recess time, Rachel would approach the richer kids, palm up, and hiss, her voice coming off a mouth most likely filled with saliva: Pahingi.

[Pahingi, this wretched Tagalog word which can mean a lot depending on the person saying it or the circumstance during which this is uttered, translates to "Can I have...". In this case, Rachel was always seen to ask for food.]

So it was no surprise that Rachel never joined one group, nor was welcomed by any. She would just mosey along, or stay near the sink for the most part of snack time, fidgeting with the contents of her pockets.

One day, the class was having an art activity. I asked permission to go to the canteen to drink from the tap faucet. My teacher agreed.

I descended onto the few steps of stairs that led to the canteen. The windows of the funeral parlour shone brightly as I walked.

Rachel was standing by the sink when I got there. Her hands were wet, the left holding a few one peso coins. She gave me a crooked smile. I whispered a tentative “hello” then leaned onto the faucet.

Rachel bent towards me and hissed.

Gusto mo makakita ng kaluluwa? (Would you like to see a soul?)”

I straightened my back and wondered what she meant.

Ano yun? (What did you say?),” I asked. Maybe I heard her wrong.

Rachel’s almond brown eyes gleamed. “Eto o. Hawak ko ang kaluluwa ng lola ko (Here, I am holding my grandmother’s soul),” and she opened her right hand. I looked at her palm and squinted my eyes.

I saw a few pieces of smooth white wafer-like material, like scraps of cement. Except that Rachel’s had a matte, powdery appearance to it. There were no traces of white residue or soap suds on her palm. Rachel was then grinning, her mouth revealing dirty, uneven set of teeth. The yellow light from the window was shining on her right cheek, rendering a rather grotesque appearance to her face. I got a bit scared, but my sense of curiosity prevailed.

Nahahawakan mo kaluluwa ng lola mo? Paano? (You are actually able to hold your grandmother’s soul? How is that possible?)’ Then pointing at Rachel’s right palm, I asked. “Paano mo nakuha ito? (How did you get this?)”

Rachel beamed.

Nang namatay ang lola ko, nilibing siya. Noong hinukay siya, nakita namin ito.” (When my grandmother died, she was buried. When her body was exhumed, we found this.) Rachel then went towards the faucet, and as water dripped from the tap, so did questions flow in my head. I found her tale to be too incredible.

She then continued.

Tapos kinuha ko to. Binasa ko siya kasama ang mga piso. Naging makikintab sila. Tingnan mo! (Then I got this and washed my peso coins with it. Look how shiny they’ve become!)” Rachel shook the shiny coins on her left hands. “Gusto mo subukan natin sa piso mo? (Would you like to try to do the same thing on your peso coin?)” she excitedly offered.

I touched the glistening coins on her palm, running my fingers on the embossed figures. I frowned.

Sabon naman yan eh! (That must be soap!)” I snorted, as I thought to myself how stupid I was to even start to think about believing her tall tale.

Hindi ito sabon! (This is not soap!)” Rachel insisted, drool threatening to escape from the corners of her mouth. “Kaya nga pahiram ng piso mo, ipapakita ko sa iyo na kikintab yun ng walang bula (That is why I’m borrowing your peso coin, I will show you that it is going to be shiny without creating any soapsuds.)” The shadows on her pale face were getting more and more grotesque. I would rather not wrong this girl since she was becoming creepier by the minute.

Hesitantly, I dug into my pocket. Taking out my dainty wallet, I clicked it open and picked out some dirty coins. Rachel, having kept her own set of shiny coins in her pocket, was nearly breathless, posed in her favorite gesture of supplication, as I was giving her my coins.

She tossed the coins and the “soul” and shook them together in her palms cupped upon another. Rachel then brought her hands to her mouth and muttered what seemed to be a spell. She placed her hands directly beneath the faucet, which continued to spew water.

I watched intently as Rachel mumbled more unintelligible words while gently wiping the coins and the “soul” alternately. My coins, and the soul of Rachel’s grandmother, in the hands of one girl so earnest to prove that she was not pulling my leg. The coins started to catch the reflection of candles and light bulbs from the window. No bubbles to diffuse the eerie glint of the coins, no words to break the morbid silence enveloping this irreverent ritual.

Finally, Rachel spoke.

Ayan, makintab na. (Here, they’re already shiny.)”

She brought the coins up close to my eyes.

Ang kintab nga! (Shiny indeed!)” I conceded as I started to pick up my coins from her palm, trying to avoid touching the white matter beneath.

Rachel, her face glittering with her little victory, inched nearer. Her white forehead, her glistening nose, the top of her upper lip smeared with sweat and snot, her crooked smile, her dirty, uneven teeth – for the first time, I had seen her countenance in full detail. I felt an unexplainable sense of fear.

Sige (Go ahead),” she urged, “Hawakan mo ang kaluluwa ng lola ko. (Touch my grandmother’s soul.)”

As if by trance, I lifted my right hand. I shivered as I tried to feel the “soul” that Rachel was alluding to. The white wafer remained matte, not at all slippery. The whole experience was making me sick on the spot.

With the little courage left in me, I spoke.

Rachel, baka hinihintay na ako ni Miss Aldaba. Baka magalit siya. (Rachel, Miss Aldaba, might be waiting for me. She might get mad at me.)”

Having said this, I quickly left, scurrying past the sink, past the sickening reflection off the window, past the short flight of stairs. I could no longer bear the sight of Rachel, palms up, holding her grandmother’s soul, anymore.

Reaching the classroom, I nodded to my teacher who then gestured me to my desk. I picked up my artwork with trembling hands, my heart throbbing hard and fast, my thoughts running crazily in my mind.

No. I had not seen a human soul before, but I had just touched one.

I shut my eyes tight.* * * * *

Rachel stayed in school for only a few months. We would still see her during snack time, fidgeting by the sink and talking to herself. I never got to talk to her again, nor did I tell my groupmates about my fateful encounter with her.

Sometimes, while I eat lunch with the group, I would catch Rachel looking at me, her little form illuminated by yellow light coming off the window of the funeral parlour….

Then she was gone, and no one has ever gotten to know where she went.

Human Soul In My Hands
16 August 2007

Photo credit: Grad pic courtesy of my good friend AL Bjornstad.


al bjornstad said...

... read the story before... reread today... reread 2 times... I could still not figure out who Rachel was. I have collective memory so it doesn't really help.

Very well written. :) I am not a very good critic but this is not clinical

gigi said...

it would be a little tricky to guess...she was quite obscure.

thanks for the kind words. i have to admit that i enjoyed writing this, because up until now, this encounter is very very clear in my mind.

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十習因 鬼道 畜生道 人道
貪習(貪物) 物怪(依草附木)   梟類(土梟) 頑類(愚呆)
媱習(貪色) 風魃(旱魃不雨)   咎徵(烏鴉...凶兆) 異類(妖怪)
誑習(貪惑) 畜昧(狐獸精靈)   狐類(狐狸......) 庸類(卑鄙)
瞋習(貪恨) 蠱毒(毒虫惡蟲)   毒類(虺蛇......) 狠類(剛暴)
怨習(貪憶) 疫癘(散行瘟疫)   蛔類(蟯蛔) 微類(賤僕)
慢習(貪傲) 氣餓(飢虛之鬼)   食類(虎狼......) 柔類(懦弱)
枉習(貪罔) 憂魘(厭人心胸)   服類(衣服二類) 勞類(勞苦)
見習(貪明) 魍魎(山精之鬼)   應類(燕鴻......) 文類(小才)
詐習(貪成) 役使(咒術役鬼) 休徵(鳳麟吉類) 明類(小聰)
訟習(貪黨) 傳送(遞傳吉凶)   循類(鴿犬......) 達類(小知世故)