BOOK ONE: Stranger Strangers.

A series by Ice Arrojado Basit.

Chapter 1

It’s been a little over a month since my mom and siblings left Sta. Mesa and moved to this new condo in Pasay. This decision was long overdue, and finally, mom acknowledged the need for us all to breathe.

I had to stay behind though. No, not in the same house as my grandparents -they were the ones who pushed us to the end of our wits. I’d rather live in a cardboard box on a sidewalk than remain there. Don’t get me wrong, I love them, and the remaining respect I have for them is what made me decide to keep away. Luckily I didn’t have to live in a cardboard box. I moved to the apartment in the next lot, where I now share a space with Earl. “Are you actually independent, now that you’ve moved ten feet away from the house where you spent your entire life?”, my friends joke about.

The new place mom got was a penthouse unit sitting on the ninth floor, that comes with a roof deck overlooking a grand panorama of the featureless Manila Bay and the Vito Cruz slums. No, I’m not very fond of this part of the Manila-Pasay border. It’s a district well known for sex trade, among other things. Mom got it because of its proximity to her office; she won’t have to take the cab everyday anymore.

It’s just a little bit bigger than the apartment Earl and I got, somewhere around 30 square feet of rectangular space. You walk through a gate that separates the residential units from the common roof deck area, you’re greeted by the kitchen sink on the left, the bathroom door on the right, then you proceed to the dining and living area, and then straight ahead is the bedroom with windows that open to Roxas Boulevard’s polluted horizon. In the short distance is the old Film Center, and beyond that, the beached Manila Bay beach.

I come to visit every couple of weeks to refresh myself with the classic sarcastic lines of my mom that would throw Maricel Soriano off her throne -something we all grew up with, and the witty conversations I exchange with my sister. My brother… well, he always stays in one corner doing his own thing. He’d laugh with us once in a while but you’ll get no words out of him.

The building seems to change its security guards quite often, and each time I visit, I get asked a bunch of stupid questions before I’m granted passage:

“Where to, sir?”

“Ninth floor.”

“Which unit?”

“Penthouse Two.”

“Who’s the person you’re seeing?”

“Uhm, my mom?”

“What’s the occassion, sir?”

“I fucking live there, what the hell is wrong with you?”

Well, technically I don’t, but mom had me listed as one of the unit’s tenants. Anyway, I hopped into the elevator and reached the ninth floor. It takes people straight to the common area of the roof deck; a wide open space with some shade, two chairs and a coffee table, and potted plants lining the gutter. The gate leading to the residential units is on the left, by a staircase leading to an upper deck where they keep the water tanks and generators, I think. I never bothered to check that yet, although I’m interested in taking sky-high portraits by the ledge.

I noticed something odd this time… Something I must’ve failed to notice in my previous visits. Up on a wall by the far end of the common area, on the right, was a small window, about a foot in height and two feet wide. Why would a window be there? Why would a window be on a wall with no doors? What’s behind that wall?

I went inside Penthouse Two. My phone badly needed some charging.

Chapter 2

I just woke up from a bad dream. Maybe it wasn’t even a dream. All the events and the conversations were so vivid I could write them in verbatim. I could describe every detail as if they were right before me this instance.

If it was another premonistic astral projection, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ve been experiencing it a lot these past few weeks, but I never heed the visions until the actual events strike, and when they do, I’m seldom lucky to do anything about the situations.

But I’m back at my mom’s couch; it’s 10:00 in the morning. Mom has left for weekend overtime work, my sister’s at some real estate seminar, and my brother’s still in bed. He probably stayed up late and did a marathon of his favorite Korean series again.

Although they’ve been here for several weeks and this is my third visit, I’m still figuring out where they put things. Found some wheat bread slices in the fridge, a little jar of peanut butter, caramel syrup, strawberry syrup, and chocolate spread. Hmm… And then a sachet of instant coffee. It’ll have to do. Better than the stinky plate of “corned pork” mom left on the table.

Yeah, I’ve been keeping a vegetarian diet and I’ve only accommodated some white meat in the process of getting Earl to transition. It’s been a long process, and I can tell my body’s getting confused.

So I placed two slices of bread on my plate, put peanut butter and caramel on one, and chocolate and strawberry on the other. I took a snapshot for Instagramming later, then I heated some water and poured it into my magic cup of coffee. Reminds me how I miss brewing beans back in Eastwood. Everything I ate there was organic and prepared gourmet-style. That was when I was in control.

Right now I’m starting up this marketing business and things have only been moving in a gradual pace and I can’t afford a lofty lifestyle. I don’t mind. There was a time when I lived like a hermit on a vegetable farm in Tagaytay, where there was no electricity and I had to help around and make sure things were carried out on schedule or we’d have nothing to harvest for food.

I took my plate on one hand, held my cup on the other, and walked towards the roof deck’s common area to appreciate the morning air. If I was in a bad mood, I’d call it “morning pollution” instead, but the dream wasn’t that bad to ruin my day. I still keep replaying the scenes in my head, though, trying to make sense of the creepy characters and events that I saw.

Sky was clear, the only clouds I could see were those lining the Manila Bay horizon. Everywhere else was grayish blue. Sun was kind enough to cool down while I attempt to consume my sugar-packed breakfast. I picked the chocolate-strawberry coated slice of bread, lifted it to my mouth, and just when I was about to take a bite, my eyes got distracted by that strange window…

That thing can’t be there. I’m still bothered to not know what’s behind it. There was no way to see through its frosted glass. There was no way to come near it, because of all these potted bushes below. I should remember to ask my sister when she gets home.

Ice Arrojado Basit·
8 min
6 cards

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