4 September 2021 - Are Spirits Just Ghosts?
Isn’t it strange that when you expect something to happen and you prepare for it, then nothing really happens? I couldn’t say if I was disappointed or relieved that I spent a pretty uneventful evening. The past few days had actually been surprisingly uneventful, which I did not take as a good sign. It felt like the calm before the riot. Something was brewing. The air hummed with it.
When I arrived the other night, Ada had quickly led me to the dining room while shushing Dante and scolding him for getting wet in the rain.
“Get changed! Quickly! Quickly! You don’t want to catch a cold, not especially these days!” she grumbled and fussed at him like a mother hen.
When she turned to me, her arms began to extend. But she caught herself and instead tried to busy herself with wiping the moisture from Dante's shirt onto her stained apron. I felt as though she wanted to give me a hug but caught herself before she did. I felt regret that somehow, with my desire to disentangle myself from the mystery of Lola and my family, I somehow estranged these people who seemed to truly care for me. I never wanted to push them away. But sometimes, we have to do painful things to ourselves and to those around us in order to protect our sanity, like a much needed surgery. But without anesthesia.
Ada had not lost her motherly look. She exuded this air of warmth and comfort that welcomed me whenever I was hurt as a child. Surprisingly, I still felt that pull like a cold person longing to sit beside a crackling fire. But I didn’t plan on fixing bridges that I had willingly burnt, so I only managed a small smile.
“Hello, Ada. It’s been a while,” I said softly though I couldn’t keep the pleasure out of my voice. It was truly nice to see her after so long.
Ada’s smile widened. She then gestured towards the table and said, “I prepared your favorite soup - shrimp sinigang! I went to the market early to get the freshest catch, and there’s also some tuna in the fridge if you want me to fry you some? I also made fresh orange juice, and your favorite leche flan for dessert. There’s also some mangoes and -”
“This is fine, Ada,” I said as I interrupted her rambling with a soft chuckle. The cold uncertainty that I had been feeling in the pit of my stomach had turned to warmth that spread throughout my body because of her thoughtfulness. After all these years, she still remembered. This, more than anything else, made me feel like I was truly home.
But then, there was this house. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but strange things happened to me in this house. Lola had said that it was because of the spirits in the house. Many stopped by here before moving on. Some could even be trapped with nowhere to go.
“Why here?” I had asked innocently and with a growing fear one gloomy morning when I was barely twelve years old. I had been reading in the study while Lola was also doing something from behind her desk.
My grandmother's study was one of my favorite places in the house. It was decorated in 18th-century Spanish style, with matching furniture that featured carvings and exquisite upholstery. The color palette of the room echoed that of the outdoors - varying hues of green with accents of pastel colors on rich velvet and glistening carved wood. But more important than its looks was how I felt whenever I was in this place. The heaviness that was perpetually present inside the house was absent here. It was like being outside. I felt free, like I could breathe without uncertainty.
That heaviness, I learned, was due to spirits and ghosts. But weren't they the same?
"No. There are spirits and there are ghosts." Lola had told me then, which confused me even more. She then got this thoughtful expression on her face and continued to explain, "Spirits are the souls of the dead. A spirit normally begins to travel to its destination nine days after death. A ghost is a spirit that stays. It is a spirit that chooses to communicate or interact with those walking on this earth."
"But that's scary, Lola!" I cried then, clutching the book that I had been reading to my chest more firmly as though trying to ward off unseen enemies.
"They should just go! And they are the same! Spirits! Ghosts! They're all scary!" I squeaked in fear wondering if they were here and watching my every move.
"Don't fear them. They are often the ones that need our help," Lola said in a serious tone.
"Your help?" I asked in a voice filled with uncertainty and with much incredulity that I couldn't hide.
Lola chuckled as though making light of her scary revelation. "Yes. My help. Even yours."
"Mine?" I gasped. "I won't!"
"You will," Lola said with much certainty as though I had no choice in the matter. Her tone had changed from nonchalant to serious in the blink of an eye.
"It is our work. Our family's work," she said in a tone that provoked no challenges.
This strange work that Lola had mentioned was something that I never got to experience because, as soon as I was able, I ran away. Fear fueled me then. Fear still fueled me today. This house would never have me as its servant.