The room next door - SunStar

The room next door

By Denver Ejem Torres
For Umberto Eco

MY suspicion began when the thrid tenant left. That’s right, I can only suspect, because I don’t have a third eye.

Illustration by Geraldine Sypiecco
Illustration by Geraldine Sypiecco

While I was taking my shower one evening, I was surprised to find out that there was yet again a new occupant — a young man. My bathroom window affords a view of my neighbor’s room. Through the room’s clear glass windows, I could tell that he is decidedly a foreigner. I am not certain if he is Korean. But I am certain he is neither Japanese. Inside my Nasipit flat, after my shower I sat by a window that offered a view of a boulder’s visage. While sipping my coffee, my mind kept on wandering into the next room. There was a moment of conjuring; these questions appeared in my consciousness: Why do they move out that fast?

Why do they stay no more than three months? And why did that couple stay for only two weeks? What or who was pushing them out or sending them a-packing again? I found it strange that in less than seven months that second floor room in a building across my shower already had four tenants. Something was not right, I thought.

I have been a tenant myself since my father kicked me out of our house. I have been living in leased spaces for quite a long time now. Which is to say that I have become quite savvy when it comes to the politics and business of leasing. This is why my mind could not let go of the theory that what pushed those three tenants, and possibly soon, this fourth one too, away, was and could only be of reasons spectral or paranormal. That room is haunted. But this remains a suspicion for now. It frustrates me because there’s no way for me to prove it myself — the ghosts don’t like to show themselves to me, I surmise.

I say this because I remember feeling envious over the fact that my former dormmates, apartmentmates, housemates, get the haunted room, they were assigned the most exciting rooms — those that make sound at night or hide their keys or coins or wallets. They have the taw-an rooms or rooms with the so-called restless spirits. I, on the other hand, have been denied of this kind of experience despite the many houses and apartments I’ve lived in. In the dinner table, all I could do was listen to their stories.

Logic makes me uneasy in claiming that I believe in the existence of ghosts. But Auntie Violy swore that one afternoon, at around 3 o’clock, she and Uncle Abel were in the sala downstairs and they started hearing footsteps and sounds of people making or unmaking a bed. Auntie had been hearing the same sounds for several afternoons since they moved in to their new house which was unoccupied for roughly six years. They could hear the yabyab or the dusting off of linens. Unsure of what to do, she asked the help of Uncle Abel: Dad, nangyabyab nasad Sila. Unsa atong buhaton? Calmly, he replied: Ingna lang Ma nga they can stay basta dili lang sila manghilabot. She went upstairs and relayed Uncle Abel’s term and condition: Ingon ni Daddy, pwede ra daw mo mo-stay diri basta dili lang mo manghilabot. The sounds suddenly disappeared and never to be heard again. Auntie Violy was like a mother to me. I trusted her and I knew in my heart she was not making it up. So I guess, that makes me a sort of a believer in ghosts.

I once lived in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Cagayan de Oro City, on Burgos St. I lived at 12 Burgos Street, a residence located a few steps away from City Hall and at the back of Lourdes College Auditorium. In that house, I was assigned to an end room. My room had windows that gave a view of the Cagayan de Oro river. Before I could get to my room, I had to pass by a big, old closet which served as a divider of the rooms in that house. The closets had the heavy smell of moth balls and cockroaches. The smell was unsettling. According to the house help, the Veloso ancestral house is haunted. The piano downstairs would play by itself. Or so I was told.

There were times, alone in that room, I would intentionally turn off the lights and I would just sit in my bed. I would whispher a wish to my window — to give me a ghost friend. I wished a ghost would appear before me, sit in my yellow chair and converse with me. But not one ghost was interested in me. Not one appeared before me. All I got was the big wooden door creaking from time to time.

I thought to myself, it would be an honor to be one of the chosen, trusted few. How awesome it would be, I thought, to speak with that ghost next door — someone who once lived and died, someone who left this reality I am in right now to exist in another. I wonder what sort of stories he (granting he’s a he) will tell me. I wonder if like me he is still capable of anger, hate, happiness, pity, lust, love, etc. I wonder too if in his reality he is still subject to rent or landlordships. I will ask him many questions. And I am excited for his answers. That ghost and I will make the candles burn throughout the night.
I am thinking of moving into that room.

(Denver Ejem Torres is a poet and essayist. He’s been renting since 2002.)

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