Martes, Hunyo 21, 2011

Kapre in the City

I'm almost home, the college student told herself as she walked down the dark alley close to her house in what is now Makati City. A few steps and I'll be home.

This was the first night she was going home in the dark, after the first evening classes at the university. The neighborhood that looked so ordinary during the daytime looked sinister and unfriendly in the dark and she shivered in her blue and white uniform as her heels clacked more and more quickly on the sidewalk.

Two dark figures leapt out at her as she neared her home. Something glinted in the hand of one of her assailants, a knife, perhaps, or an ice pick. "Holdap to!" one of the two men said, poking the weapon close to her throat. "Amina pera at relo mo. (Give me your money and your watch!)"

Two girl knew her neighborhood like the back of her hand and she did not need lights to guide her home. She was also in the college track team--shje could run at her top speed and hope to make it home in the dark or hand over what few valuables she had on her at the time. In a split second that felt like forever, she came to a decision and made a break for it, leaving the two cursing muggers and one leather she behind her as she ran the most important race of her life thus far.

I can't lead them straight to my house, my parents are already asleep and my brothers aren't home! I'd better make switchbacks and confuse the muggers, she told herself as sharp pebbles bit into unshod foot and she felt blood trickling from her unprotected sole. There will be time enough to take care of the wounds on my foot later.

She went running up and down the alleys and her neighborhood make crazy Ivans as she went. Winded from the exertion but having left her assailants behind, she leaned against the large, old ipil tree that stood about 20 meters from her front door.

The ipil tree was a neighborhood legend because it could not be cut down, despite the fact that the property developers had used everything they could-axes, chainsaws, even a backhoe--to remove the tree. The gossipy old ladies a the sari sari stores near the basketball court opposite the tree said an engkanto lived there.

Whatever they said about the tree, there must be some truth to it, the girl thought, wondering if the smell of burning tobacco assaulting her nostrils was really wafting down from the tree branches as it seemed to be doing.

The girl remembered the stories well, wondering if she was in for something worse than the muggers by seeking refuge in the shadow cast by the creepy ipil tree that night, but still she needed to catch her breath. Panting, she decided it was better to be safe than sorry and she repeated the age-old chant of "tabi-tabi po (excuse)" thrice, as her father had taught her.

As she leaned against the ipil tree's rough trunk, she heard the heavy footfalls of her assailants approach her position, she pointed herself to run for home. Just as she was about to make the final run to her house, an inhumanly deep voice broke the silence of the cold night air.

"Huwag kang gagalaw. Malapit ang mga kalaban mo, (Don't move. Your assailants are nearby.)" the voice said. "Hindi ka nila makikita kung hindi ka gagalaw. (They won't see you if you'd not move."

Now I'm hearing voices, the girl thought to herself. Great, just great. I'll either be locked up in the loony bin or stabbed dead. Ugly choices indeed. As these thoughts ran through her head, she quickly reviewed her options. She was risking a lot trusting the voice ,but if the muggers caught her before she made it into her locked and dead bolted house, she'd be dead, too--and deadbolts require the use of both hands and at least five minutes to open.

Trust the voice, she decided. Don't move.

She held as still as a park statue despite the weight of her book filled backpack and one of the muggers came to a stop dead ahead of her, standing a foot in front of her. Don't breathe, she told herself. Don't sneeze, she said, ignoring the itching in her nose born of her intense fear. God, I hope my fear doesn't give off a stink, she thought.

Her assailants looked straight at her and her heart did somersaults as she held her breath, still poised to run or fight if the need arose.

"Wala siya dito, pare! Pag nahanap natin yun, pag sasaksakin ko yun! (She's not here! If we find her, I'll stab her!)" one mugger, the one holding an evilly glinting ice pick said to his companion, the anger burning in his boice. "Papatayin ko ng paunti unti yun. (I'll kill her slowly.)"

They don't see me, the girl thought, relaxing just a bit, exhaling slowly and drawing a small breath of air. Her lungs were about to burst from the effort of holding her breath. Go away, she willed her assailants, nobody's here.

After a few terrifying minutes, the muggers left empty handed and devoid of prey. The girl sank to the ground, her back leaning against the old ipil tree.

"Maari ka na umuwi, taga lupa. Wala na ang kalaban mo. (You can go home now, human. Your assailants are gone.)" the voice addressed the girl from the height of the tree branches. The smell of burning tobacco was stronger than ever.

The girl looked up, frightened still but curious and eager to thank whoever it was that helped her. She saw a dark, hairy giant of a man whose only covering shadow and leaf fronds. It's a kapre, she thought, a tree guardian.

"Salamat po sa tulong ninyo. (Thank you for your help.)" she said, the thanks coming out a squeaky and frightened stammer.

Story by: Alma S. Anonas, True Philippine Ghost Stories 22

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