by Phillippe Angelo Hiñosa
At the outskirts of UP stood a house bleak, bruised, and battered. Its walls had fallen prey to years of moss. Its roof had surrendered completely to brutal corrosion. To earth its pavement had returned. At birds-eye view, the house weathered like a dead industrial town. But below it appeared like a giant carcass, reminding man of his own inevitable decay.
One afternoon I visited it along with my cousin. We crept through the gate yawning under a marvelous pahó tree. While no one was guarding the front yard, we tread lightly towards the canteen. The door was locked. We sneaked into a tight alley, pursuing a trail of rocks that led us to an alternate entrance. I surveyed the place with my eyes, walked to an empty bamboo counter, then summoned the dead. If tales were true, he would answer me by now.
The day plunged into the canopy. Darkness took over the firmament, colonizing the last rays of light piercing through the clouds. My call fell on deaf ears. We detoured to where the answer echoed—in his room. We found items scattered around the floor, on tables, over the sink, and in a closet that hid skeletons. We turned on the lights and examined one memento after the other.
I began with the books. Pedagogy. Literature. Revolution. Qur’an. I scanned through their pages. I noticed details missing. None of them had dog ears. None had micro tears. No stains. No creases. No signs of forced entry or foul play. I thought, how odd. What if his unread library was symptomatic of cathartic acquisition? The Japanese had a fancy name for it. Tsundoku. I called it overcompensation. At one point in his life, the dead could have been lonely like any soul in town. He overcompensated for it by hoarding books in his burrow. Not any books per se. But books with uncanny personalities. Books that would replace old friends. Books he could talk to for days. His Tsundoku was simple. He looked for the best books and he kept as many as he
could find, and though his heart grieved alone, he continued to hope, by morning, the books would numb his solitude.
I wish it did, even if it appeared otherwise. The wall confronting his books hung artifacts that hinted to a cruel type of nostalgia. Strings of his name in bold, black, serif typeface rested like a dead pendulum, desperately seeking motion. I bet he wanted his golden years back. But he knew it was impossible. Under his desk sat a pile of old letters. Could love be the reason for his death? I had been told, anyone could die of a heartbreak. Medical science called it the broken heart syndrome. It happens when a traumatic event triggers the release of stress hormones that could lead to a temporary heart failure.
I would like to extend my deepest and sincerest apologies to you whom I have committed an undeniably shameful and abominable act….I regret that I caused pain and trauma to you….I feel very remorseful….I know this letter will not be able to compensate for the emotional damage I have caused but I still hope for consideration on this matter. However, whatever your verdict is, I will accept it wholeheartedly. Sincerely yours….
I put the letter down and headed towards the bed. Maybe the answer is hidden somewhere in the closet. I opened the door and a sliver of light squeaked through. I was greeted by torsos hovering in white and bright colors, hangers perching on the wooden reel, and a leather belt hanging like a dead serpent. He kept embroidered bands, I noted, and skin lotions, socks he never wore, wilted flowers, and heaps of unused underwear. Could the mementos be gifts from a former lover? Were they bribes packaged in colorful wraps? Among my speculations, one
stood out—before he died, he took his past hostage, rid himself of guilt, then imprisoned it in the closet forever.
Dusk enveloped the sky. We checked the bathroom for traces of agony. No blood. No vomit. No urine. Only the thick grime on the floor and the ancient cobwebs in the ceiling, suggestive of a different kind of horror. He could have cleansed everything thoroughly so no one would know later. Good for him. A large, black, plastic container sulking at the corner of the shower area grabbed my attention. I walked towards it barefoot, my cousin on the guard. What if the dead forgot to clean one more dirt? I opened the lid. A foul stench knocked me out. His clothes were soaked in filthy water. Clothes he wore at school. Clothes he kept in private. Clothes stained by lust.
We left the house at sundown, boarded a tricycle headed back to the poblacion, then watched it vanish from the road. I took one of his mementos. An old journal in black suede. I lifted its cover and toured the final pages.
I’m in a good place. I read books. I do my laundry. I exercise. Last year, I decided to meet a lawyer. I plan to file charges against my abuser. Thanks a lot. Everything is clear to me now: decay and rebirth are parts of life. They travel in many forms. They come in turbulent times. You can either delay it or embrace it, but in no way can you stop it. To outlive decay is to die and live anew.
I closed the journal and let out a sigh of relief. The horrors of my past are now behind me. It is time to move forward.