Lolo Siso was not the typical doting grandfather. He had an almost aberrant notion of how his grandchildren should be. If there was anything he would deem unconscionable in his grandchildren it was cowardice. He would, at any opportunity, test our courage. I was among the few whose courage remained untested by Lolo, which was all right because I would have conceded my being a craven coward at the onset.
My grand parent’s estate was notorious for being inhabited by all sorts of malignant spirits who sprang to life at the fading of daylight. On a typical early evening my brothers, Dado, Pete and I together with my cousin Delfin were seated in the sala listening to a radio serial called Principe Amante when my grandfather strode into the room and called out my cousin’s name. Delfin promptly got up to meet him. He ordered him to get some banana leaves for my grandmother who was going to prepare rice cakes and other delicacies that would need the leaves as wrappers.
Grandfather gave some vague reason why the banana leaves should come specifically from a grove at the edge of the estate. The area that he specified was in a bamboo cluster where, only the week before, it was rumored that a boy who strayed inside the property saw elves pulling a “bayawak”, a monitor lizard, by the tail while a “capre”, a giant man-horse creature was holding on to the head tugging at the other end.
My grandfather knew that my cousin who was about thirteen at that time was the least fearful of the place since he stayed with my grandmother most of the time and was used to going into the interior of the estate even in the dark. I guess he wanted to find out how tough he really was. My cousin went off dutifully. He passed through the kitchen where he dallied a while and took something from the cords of wood in the big wooden stand for the earthen stoves. It was an old and worn out horsewhip that Emong Kabayo, a “karetela” driver gave him earlier that day. At almost the same time my grandfather went hurriedly down the front steps of the house and disappeared into the darkening surroundings.
Cousin Delfin could hardly see the banana trees in the dark. There was a bit of high wind and the swaying of blurry banners in the dark gave out a familiar silhouette that he readily recognized as banana leaves. As he was gathering his errand frond by frond he heard an eerie sound coming from the banana grove on the left side of a cluster of bamboos. It was the sound of a woman’s plaintive cry. The cry was earnest and heart rending but its shrillness gave it an otherworldly tone that even he, the bravest of the cousins, was terrified by it. He put down the pile of banana leaves and pulled out the horsewhip and rushed towards the banana grove and lashed out at the swaying shadowy figures which by now had become less recognizable because darkness had completely set in. He heard a stifled yelp coming from where he had vigorously struck and then silence. The wind momentarily died down and all he heard were fading footfalls on dry leaves. He gathered the banana leaves from the ground and hurriedly ran back to the house.
Grandfather returned home very late that evening. Getting up early the following morning I saw him all alone at the long molave dining table having his usual cup of coffee and toasted “pan de sal”. He was wearing a long sleeved shirt that he seldom wore except for weddings and funerals. I asked him if he was going to some important appointment that he had to dress up for. He grunted a yes and seeming not to want to pursue the conversation further he finished the still steaming cup of coffee, rose from the table and left in a huff. What was conspicuous was the way he kept massaging his left arm throughout his morning repast to the time he moved towards the door.
There was another incident with Lolo testing once more the courage of his grand children and ending up with sorry results.
During the war there was a nipa hut that was built adjacent to the main house. This was used primarily to store palay grains and other provisions. One time we had visitors from Manila who were staying over. Since there were a lot of us we could not all fit in the main house so the upper part of the hut was also used as a sleeping place.
That night my sister Patty was sleeping in the hut with Nita our eldest sister and Tia Luz, mother’s youngest sister. She woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of a loud rapping on the sawali wall. Outside she could hear the wild and tormented howling of what seemed to be a wounded creature.
Patty got so scared that she peed in her pants. The floor of the nipa hut was made of bamboo slats. Underneath, at ground level there was a sack of “palay”, or unhusked rice exactly below where Patty peed. The whole sack was soaked. Normally we would have thrown away the whole sack. It was wartime and each grain of palay in that sack was precious. The next morning they had to spread the palay grains to dry to make it edible albeit smelling differently.
My Lola knew that it was my Lolo who made the howling and the rapping noise on the sawali wall of the hut because he could not contain his amusement about the incident. He had to confess his little caper to Lola who all the while was looking at him in askance. She had suspected from the start that he was up to his mischievous pranks once more.