Ominous black clouds dappled the sky. Claps of thunder roared across the city. Few minutes ago, there was a glorious sunset. Now, it was as if the heavens were raging with fury.
Kasasakay lamang nila sa jeep pero nag-aalala si Eliane kay Cyrell. She noticed that her friend’s hand was trembling as she stared at the sky with a grim look on her face. This was the first time she saw Cyrell perturbed. Kahit noong pinagdidiskitahan siya ng mga kaklase nila ay wala lamang siyang reaksyon . . . hindi tulad ngayon.
She was not sure where they were going but promptly realized their destination when they got off the vehicle. They continued walking down the street for a few minutes and the impressive view greeted her eyes. She had been wanting to go here but Cyrell would always tell her excuses as to why she could not visit.
Halos kasintayog ng dalawang palapag na gusali ang baiting ng hagdanan sa kanilang harapan. She likened it to the stairs of ziggurat, an ancient structure built during the Mesopotamian civilization. Atop the hill were several ancestral houses, varying from bahay na bato to bahay kubo.
The two tromped up the stairs as heavy clouds hung overhead. Habol na ang hininga ni Eliane nang makarating sila sa pinakaitaas pero agad iyong napalitan ng pagkamangha nang masilayan niya ang malaking bahay sa gitna.
She knew Cyrell’s family was quite well-off, but she did not expect that she would see a grand house, vaguely reminiscent of the ancestral mansion ruins in Talisay, Negros Occidental.
Agad na tumakbo si Cyrell papasok sa bahay kaya naman sumunod si Eliane sa kaibigan. She was still in awe and failed to notice how the sky became darker, as if it was trying to engulf the world in darkness.
Pagpasok nila ay napaawang ang bibig niya dahil sa laki at itsura ng loob nito. She felt like entering a museum. Different artifacts and paintings from different centuries lined the walls. Potteries and burial jars were displayed at the corners of the room. She could see the traces of different pre-colonial and colonial cultures just by walking through the spacious living room. Pakiramdam niya tuloy ay nasa ibang panahon siya.
The Estrella’s home was truly a hall of historical collection, she thought.
Dahil nakatuon lamang ang atensyon niya sa mga palamuti ay hindi niya agad napansin na mayroong taong nakaupo sa couch sa sala.
“Cyrus!” tawag ni Cyrell.
Eliane halted and held her breath upon seeing the other twin.
Cyrell’s aura was quite intimidating, but her twin was someone you would not want to cross. He was several inches taller than them and with his lean yet muscular physique, he looked bigger than he actually was.
Tumayo ito nang makita ang kapatid habang hawak ang librong binabasa. Kumunot ang noo nito. “Kape ko?” he asked but the thought receded when he saw an unfamiliar face. Nagpabalik-balik ang kanyang tingin sa dalawa.
Sino ‘yan? He mouthed toward Cyrell.
Eliane cleared her throat as Cyrell pulled her closer. “Si Eliane,” pakilala nito sa kanya. “Friend ko.”
Cyrus’s forehead creased a little. He did not expect her sister to bring someone in their house and introduced her as a friend.
“May gagawin kayo rito?” tanong nito sa kapatid.
“About that . . .”
The twins exchanged meaningful looks and despite not saying anything, Eliane knew they reached a mutual understanding. Cyrell pulled him away from where they stood and put a little distance between them and Eliane.
“Anong nangyari?” mahinang tanong ni Cyrus.
Unbeknownst to them, Eliane’s hearing was quite good. Kahit mahina ang kanilang boses ay naririnig niya ang pinag-uusapan ng dalawa.
“Something weird is happening. Biglang dumilim at may nakita kaming . . . kakaiba,” paliwanag ni Cyrell.
“I’m not sure of what it was. Basta may barilang nangyari sa tapat ng café kung nasaan kami at mayroong lumabas na mantiw sa katawan ng lalaki. It felt too malevolent.”
Cyrus sighed in disappointment. “Mantiw lang pala, akala ko naman kung ano na.”
“No,” she protested. “Hindi ko rin sigurado kung mantiw pa talaga ‘yon. “This one had no definite form. It appeared like a tendril of black smoke.”
Cyrus shuddered upon hearing her sister’s word. Mantiw are vengeful spirits of the dead, and they sometimes cause harm to people they hated when they were still alive. However, they manifest as ghosts, loosely reminiscent of their living appearance, not an amorphous form.
A grim expression registered on Cyrell’s face. “Something is wrong with them,” she concluded.
The twins exchanged nervous looks. They had to tell this to their parents.
Makalipas ang ilang minuto ay muling humarap ang magkapatid kay Eliane. She felt awkward standing afar from them for a while, though she learned quite a few things. First, she was not hallucinating when she saw that black smoke because her friend saw it, too. Second, they were perturbed by its appearance. And lastly, it was an inauspicious omen.
Hindi niya rin alam kung bakit dito siya dinala ng kaibigan. She just followed her after telling her they needed to run. Nais niyang tanungin si Cyrell ngunit tila marami itong iniisip.
Kahit gusto niyang libutin ang kanilang bahay ay mayroon pa rin naman siyang natitirang hiya. It was her dream to see the exclusive collection of artifacts of their parents, but she felt like this was not the right time for that. Besides, hearing their conversation a while ago reminded her of that horrifying scene in the convenience store the other night.
“Uhm, pwede na ba akong umuwi?” tanong niya ngunit mabilis na umiling ang dalawa.
“Mamaya na lang!” halos pasigaw na sambit ni Cyrell. “Mamayang gabi na lang.”
The twins warily checked the windows and the time. Eliane did the same. It was just 5:30 PM but it already looked like twilight outside. Agad niyang sinearch sa internet kung anong oras ang paglubog ng araw at napaawang ang bibig niya sa nakita.
The sun was supposed to set at 6:21:55 PM, but the sun was nowhere to be found. There was nothing in the sky but the gloomy clouds.
She had to swallow back the fear that was slowly rising in her throat. “A-anong nangyayari? May dapat ba akong malaman?”
Cyrell and Cyrus looked at each other, unsure of what to tell her.
“Basta mamaya ka na lang umuwi, Eliane,” ulit ng kaibigan. “It will be safer once the moon is out.”
Dahil hindi siya pinauwi ng dalawa ay nagtungo na lamang sila sa silid-aklatan sa loob ng kanilang bahay. She thought it would not be surprising to see a library here with how expansive their house was, but Eliane still got astounded upon setting foot in it. Halos yakapin na niya sa tuwa si Cyrell nang pumasok sila sa loob.
“Gaga ka, hindi mo man lang sinabi sa akin na may library pala kayo!” she chirped in excitement.
Cyrell snickered in return. “Maingat kami sa pagpapasok sa bahay kaya wala ring masyadong nakakaalam.”
She was gaping the whole time they were walking through the center aisle. Shelves thrice as tall as her lined the room in rows. Each was neatly stacked with books, scrolls, scripts, and references. Stone and wooden statues bedecked the corners. She could not believe that this room, hidden from the public, housed thousands of years of civilizations, cultures, and knowledge.
Agad siyang naupo sa gitnang lamesa at sinamahan siya ni Cyrell habang nakalayo sa kanila si Cyrus. She started gathering books about pre-colonial time and women in history. The twins stayed there, too, perusing books, old and new.
Hindi niya alam kung ilang minuto o oras na ang lumipas dahil nakatuon lamang ang atensyon niya sa mga impormasyong nais niyang makalap. She was about to return one of the books on its designated shelf when she saw the language section. Tumungo siya roon at tiningnan ang diksyunaryong Pilipino upang hanapin ang ilang salita ngunit wala roon ang mga ito. Sighing, she pushed the dictionary back, but the adjacent shelf caught her attention.
Tiningnan niya ang dalawa at abala ang mga ito sa pagbabasa. She carefully steered toward the mythological section and gently brushed the old spine of the stacked books. Marahan niyang hinatak ang isang talaan patungkol sa malalim na Tagalog at hinanap ang mga salitang nais niyang malaman ang kahulugan.
Hindi ko naman siguro mahahanap dito ang mga iyon, ‘di ba? she thought, but her breath got caught in her throat when she turned the pages.
She found the term used by the guy when he called the kid in the convenience store: Abyan. It was an ancient Tagalog term for unbound spirits who roam the world freely. Sometimes, they would work under gods and goddesses, or they would become spirit guides of katalonans or babaylans. Saglit siyang nagulumihanan sapagkat tinawag naman ng batang babae ang kanyang sarili bilang Diwata.
Magkaiba ba iyon? tanong niya sa kanyang isip.
Muli siyang nagsaliksik at nahanap ang binanggit na salita ng magkapatid. Mantiw was what a vengeful spirit was called back in the days. They could possess the bodies of the wretched or cause harm to people they hated when they were alive. Kinilabutan siya nang mabasa iyon kaya agad niya isinara ang aklat.
Eliane inhaled sharply upon looking at the time. It was already 8 PM. Ni hindi niya napansin na magta-tatlong oras na siya rito. Doon lamang niya rin naramdaman ang gutom.
“Cy, kailangan ko nang umuwi,” bulong niya sa kaibigan.
“Mukhang pwede na nga,” Cyrell mumbled.
Sabay silang lumabas sa silid-aklatan dahil nauna na kanina si Cyrus. Naabutan naman nila ito sa sala.
“Cyrus,” her twin called. “Pakihatid naman si Eliane. May kailangan pa akong gawin.”
Halos manlaki ang mga mata ni Eliane sa tinuran ng kaibigan. She pulled Cyrell’s arm and shook her head. “Huy, huwag na. Kaya ko namang umuwi nang—”
“No,” she said, her voice rigid. “Delikado.”
The seriousness in her tone was enough for her to concede. Wala rin naman siyang nagawa dahil pumayag din si Cyrus sa gusto ng kapatid nito.
They walked down the stairs with nothing but silence. She felt awkward, of course, since they just got acquainted and had to walk together. Gusto na niyang tumakbo para matapos na ang pagkailang nila sa isa’t isa kaya’t nakahinga siya nang maluwag nang makarating sila sa sakayan.
“Uhm, thank you sa paghatid—”
Nagulat si Eliane nang bigla itong pumara ng jeep. He motioned her to get inside but what surprised her was when he boarded it, too. Halos nakatitig lamang siya kay Cyrus dahil hindi niya inaasahang sasama ito hanggang sa pagsakay niya.
Her shoulders flinched when she met his gaze and it was already too late to avoid it.
“H-hindi mo naman na kailangang sumama—”
“Ibinilin ka ng kapatid ko sa akin,” maiksi niyang sagot. “Besides,” sabay tingin nito sa kalangitan. “There are no stars.”
Napakunot ang noo niya. “Baka uulan,” she mentioned.
Cyrus scoffed. “Or something worse than a rain shower. A starless night sky is an inauspicious omen.”
She already knew that Cyrell was superstitious, but it still came as a surprise when she realized her twin was also like that. Perhaps their whole family was?
Gayon pa man ay nag-alala siya sa sinabi nito. She had been into ominous situations these past few days. Pakiramdam niya tuloy ay sinusundan siya ng kamalasan.
Pagkarating ng jeep sa kanto nila ay agad siyang pumara. Tahimik lamang silang naglakad at napatingin siya sa kalangitan. He was right. There were no stars and the moonlight was dimmed by the dark clouds.
With the advancement of science and technology, she didn’t believe in anything supernatural or paranormal. She thought everything could be explained by logic yet these past few days, everything that happened had been weird or absurd.
Ilang hakbang na lamang ay parating na sila sa apartment niya. She did not want to talk to him but her curiosity won.
She turned around and stared at him. “Naniniwala ka ba sa multo?”
Ilang segundong nakatitig lamang si Cyrus sa kanya. She felt embarrassed because she thought it was a weird topic to initiate a conversation, but he suddenly smiled.
“Hindi lamang sa tao nabibilang ang mundo,” sambit niya. “At lalong hindi tao ang nauna rito.”
Bago pa man niya maintindihan ang nais nitong sabihin ay tumango si Cyrus sa kanya. “Ingat ka,” he softly said before turning around.
She watched him walk away until she could not see his figure anymore. His words echoed inside her head, making the hair on her nape bristle. Kumaripas siya ng takbo sa loob.
That night, she slept with her lights on, and she dreamed of those unfamiliar figures again.