Back in Santa Barbara - One


People come, and people go. A few lingered for a while, and others were only passing by. Some were promising, only to realize later that that was all there is - they remained as promises. There are those who won’t ever come back again like Mom and Dad who were gone for good. I used to believe when I was young that I would see them again in the afterlife, a place called heaven. Aunt Georgette used to tell me that my parents could still live in my memory, in my heart, that they would continue to live as long as I let them. But as time passed by, my memory of them, their smiles and waves, had deteriorated until they seemed to have become only a figment of my imagination. I could feel a hole in me as if something was lost, but my mind has stopped remembering, or maybe it chose to forget and instead it tried to cope. After their plane, had caught fire, my life had become this one giant blur.

Meeting Chris was a pleasant memory - that one I could remember as clear as day. It was magic, let me tell you. It was a year ago, and I have been feeling dull for months. Then I saw him in the elevator looking charismatic and smart. He simply swept my feet away. It was not really on how he looked like, well, it was one of the reasons, but that would be crazy. No, it was not just the looks. It had something to do with his wholeness, his voice, his hands, words, smile, and humility, an entire being vibrating fresh oxygen in me that made me come back to life.
Who would have imagined I would be driving the same route a year later? I was driving the opposite direction, and this time I was not alone. Chris chose to come with me to Santa Barbara. It was surreal, I know.

The stay in Spring City felt short with only a week of memories. Everything else was like a dream; only I couldn't remember anything. I rolled the windows down just to have the wind blow on my face. I found it difficult to breathe. I looked at Chris who was sitting calmly in the passenger seat. He turned his head to me and smiled. “Hungry?” Was he real all along? Deep inside, I hoped he was. Which category would Chris fit in? Would he stay? If the answer is yes, until when? 

“You better keep your eyes on the road, Faye,” he reminded to which I obliged immediately. I realized I have been driving too slow as I could not find Lucy’s car in front of me anymore. I increased my speed and tried to catch up. I better hurry, or we would reach Santa Barbara in the wee hours of the morning.

No one would suspect the complications I was in by the looks of it. Yesterday, Lucy came right away when I called her for help. She thought I was dead and I couldn't blame her. I would have figured I was dead for a year too if not for the diary. That would be depressing as I haven't even started living yet. Poor Lucy who kept on blaming herself, when she only pushed me because she took pity on my situation. She thought my life would change for the better. She, who was the only sane person I could talk to. 

“Can you still read my mind?” The diary stated that Chris could read and hear minds, for he was an engkanto. 
He shook his head and looked at the streets we’re passing by. “I can’t anymore. Not that it's important."
“You should not have done it, you know? Give up your powers and leave the Underworld, everything behind?"
"Those things don’t matter to me now. I have been an engkanto and have lived for years pretending to be human. Can you imagine? Now that I am a real human, I can finally have all your struggles and triumphs. And besides, I feel that my mind is quieter without hearing other people's thoughts." He spoke those words as if being a human is a dream. 
"I hope you won't regret it, Chris."
"I have experienced it all, Faye, but it never felt real because whatever I do, I can always change my identity. The risk was non-existent. I could disappear if I want to. But this time, there's more thrill and risk. There is no more running away. I like it." He seemed ecstatic this time, and I wanted to believe him. 

The highway to Santa Barbara was dusty, but at least the traffic was not bad. The sun was setting down making the sky a perfect slash of orange, pink, purple and blue. The radio started playing a revival song by a famous Filipino singer.

It felt so much better that he couldn't read what's on my mind anymore. I hope he didn’t think I was pathetic back then when he could still hear my thoughts especially on the first day we met. I remember him asking if we could have coffee. Inviting me for coffee means he wanted to know me better, perhaps I left him with a good impression with that short elevator ride. Or maybe he was only friendly. I couldn't remember my thoughts that time, but it was surely crazy. Enough of my thoughts! What I was most curious about were his thoughts and his secrets. Chris had remained this big mystery to me. 

A strange feeling. Losing a year of memories and all that was left was this diary with recorded accounts of what happened. It documented my exploration with my newly found friends - the dwarves, Queen Zena and Gordo. It also marked our first kiss and the making love. I somehow envied the Felicia who had experienced the Underworld, the one who had this big adventure where no one at the current time has ever been before. The character in the diary I have written myself felt more real than the me who was driving aimlessly. I was desperate for answers to questions I couldn’t figure out yet. This. What I have now does not feel normal. Slowly, the hole had come back, haunting me again. 
“Hey, stop the car.” Chris held my right hand which were shaking. He got off the car and went to my side of the window. “I’ll drive. You shouldn’t be driving; you’re still in shock.” I moved to the passenger seat and started sobbing uncontrollably. He passed me the bottled water. 
“I-I’m sorry, I didn’t know what happened in there. I was feeling okay and then, this!"
“Don’t worry; I am here now. The Queen had entirely erased your memory, so you won’t be able to remember anything even with medical treatments. You'll go crazy if you push yourself.” He kissed my palms and put it to his face. 
“I don’t know what to do, Chris. There is nothing ordinary about all these, and I can't help but feel scared," I admitted, never thought confiding in him felt this comfortable.
“Don’t be, Faye. All we need to do is make up new memories. If you need to take your time to get to know me again, I won't mind because I got a lifetime to do that. You need to remember that erasing your memories was the only solution for you to get back to this world and live again.” Those words made me feel better. It took me a while but eventually managed to breathe normally again. “We’ll take it slow,” he added before starting the ignition again. He turned the radio channel where a lively music played. 

Santa Barbara reminded me of home, while Spring City felt like a different planet. There had been a lot of changes in my life without me being aware of it, and how I wish to remember those! But Chris was right. We could make new ones. The important is what we have now. I repeated the phrase to myself until we reached Santa Barbara, my safe place. 

We reached Santa Barbara at past dinner time. We stopped by Lucy’s house first. I got out of our car to say our goodbyes. “Don’t be silly. I’m just two blocks away!” she teased. 
“I wanted to say thank you for going all the way to pick me up."
“I shouldn’t have sent you to Spring City in the first place. It’s all my fault-" She started stating it again. I despised the guilt that never leaves her. 
“Stop blaming yourself, Lucy!" I exclaimed.
“I still don’t buy your excuse. The only reason I believe right now is that you ran away with that guy driving your car right there,” she teased as she grabbed her keys. “Please take care. We must talk tomorrow. For now, let’s all rest.” I kissed her on the cheek and waved goodbye. We were all exhausted because of the long drive. I returned to the car and directed Chris to drive a few more blocks to the right. Colourful Christmas lights filled the streets of Santa Barbara. Children were playing patintero on the streets. A few girls and boys wearing their best dress were carolling from one house to another. Men could be seen sitting by the sari-sari store drinking on an All Soul’s Night. Our neighbours were standing out of their gates, chatting the chilly night away. There were lighted candles outside of some house gates. I almost forgot that tomorrow was the All Soul's Day. 

When we reached our red gate, it was our home taker, Ising who greeted us. She opened the gate and let the car enter. She was so excited to see me that she was the one to opened the door, then hugged me right away. “Felicia, welcome back! Oh, thank God, you’re alive.” She even pinched me to see if I am real. Ising has not changed since the last day I saw her. She was wearing a black and purple apron, her hair wrapped in a bun.  When I looked at the apron closer, it was a picture of an eggplant. I almost laughed. "I will need to go to the chapel tomorrow, and you need to come with me, you understand that? We need to thank God you are well. You look well! Where have you been?"
I nodded, “I’m sorry if I made you worried."
"If your Mom were here, she would have punished you. You were in newspapers and your poor best friend, Lucy-” She hugged me again before finally noticing Chris. She eyed him carefully from head to toe, twice. 
“Hi! I am Chris.” He held his hand, and Ising shook it.
“It’s nice to meet you, Chris.” Her furrowed brows eased its way and finally smiled at him. "Well, come on in. As soon as I received Lucy’s call, I prepared food right away. What happened to your phone? I couldn't contact you. You should get yourself a new one. Here, I cooked plenty. There's menudo, adobo, and sinigang, all your favourites!"
“Those are my favourites too!” Chris sounded excited.
“Oh, you should try Ising’s cooking. She is the best!"
Nothing much changed inside the house. The same dull lights, walls covered in Victorian wallpaper and old brown furniture. A sad feeling enveloped my being as I walked to the kitchen. I remember how sad I have been after the wedding was called off. “Hey,” Chris called. “You’re quiet."
I shook my head, “I don’t know, this place reminded me of a feeling I had before I came to Spring City.” My contemplation was stopped by Ising pulling me to the kitchen to show her masterpiece. A long table filled with food greeted us in the dining room. “Wow, this is a lot, Ising."
“Go on, eat! Welcome home, my dear.” Chris sat on the opposite side of the table, which means there were ten seats between us. “Do you really plan to eat like that? Chris, why don’t you sit next to Felicia?"
“I am good here,” Chris said amused. “I drove for hours with her sitting beside me. I think it’s time that I sit further."
I chuckled. “Ising, why don’t you join us? Come on, sit here beside me.” Ising had served our family since before I was born and she stayed with me even until my Mom and Dad died. She has always been there for me no matter what. Always been patient and loving. She was never married, and she treated me like her daughter. She even joked that when Richard and I get married, she would still be my cook.
“But I already ate-"
“I insist, Ising, please join us. I miss you so much!” Her smile never ceased to make me feel better. When she smiled, the sadness just simply slip away. 
“Oh Felicia, I have tons of stories to tell you. A lot of things happened when you were gone.” She put some food on my plate, and I started eating while she told us the latest gossips. Chris sat on the other end just listening, laughing when necessary. 

The house is quite big, and Ising did a great job maintaining it. However, I didn’t remember it to be this old. I toured Chris around the house after dinner as he requested. “I don’t want to get lost in this big house,” was his excuse. HA! I didn’t remember him to have this humour. 
I started with the immaculate kitchen that is next to the dining. “This is the kitchen which is also known as Ising’s studio. This was where my Mom used to bake her superb muffins.” 
“Can you bake?"
“I’ve always wanted to learn.” We moved to the library, filled with hardbound books. “I have my library upstairs, and this is just my Dad’s. It’s funny because the smoke of his cigar never leaves this place.” Chris inhaled and started to cough. 
“Oh no, this room is contaminated! We better get out of here.” We giggled like kids as we moved to the next room. 

When we finished touring the house, Ising led him to the guest room which is just beside my personal library and adjacent to my room. “This guest room was where my cousins usually stay."
“Where are they now?"
“They are all out of the country,” I shrugged. “Anyway, that is the end of the tour Mister. The bathroom is just at the other end of this corridor. Let’s go to rest and sleep."

I walked back to my bedroom, a place so distant to me now. But well, here I am. I sat down in the comfortable soft queen bed that has been with me since I was a teen. Ising had efficiently brought my things up here. Including the notebook. For a while, I fought the urge of opening it. I mean, isn’t it too late in the evening for that? It’s almost midnight, and I didn’t have enough hours of sleep last night. I stared at it for another ten seconds before gathering the courage to open it. 

It has been drizzling for days, and I ran out of things to do. I mean, what was there to do in a hut on a tree? I felt emotional, and homesick and imprisoned! I was done reading the various of books bought by Chris two days ago. He got a classic taste in books. He knew what books to get me, a various of subjects ranging from the non-fiction to romance fiction. I read non-stop for two days as if I craved so much for entertainment in the Underworld limited edition. If only I am one of them, I could easily blend in and do whatever I want to do. If I am an engkantada, I wouldn't mind the rain at all. I would enjoy it tremendously, unlike Gordo who chose to sleep in this weather. 

I was dying of boredom when a naked Chris showed up this morning. "Hey, Faye!"
"Chris!" Finally, a visitor, someone I know, someone who's real in my human world! I was thrilled to see him, that I did not mind the nakedness anymore. Seeing him naked being in an engkanto mood, I would have blushed, but I saw what he brought this time. "What do you have there? You brought me chocolates?" He placed the chocolate bar on the table, along with a bunch of books. "Wow, Chris! I am impressed. I can marry you right now."
He blushed and smiled. "I figured you would be bored, so I thought of bringing these to you." 
"You're right, I have finished the lovely books. You may return it to the library. Have you read all these? The author Vladimir I am telling you is wicked!"
"Yeah, I read Lolita twice. You're right about him. I am not sure whether to have him as a friend or as a foe."
"A sure classic, this guy." I poured coffee into a cup and handed it to him. "This books teaming up with this unbelievable coffee-"
"You don't need to flatter me, Faye."
"I wanted to." I was not so sure why I felt cheery inside. "With this rain and gloomy weather, you showing up, you are heaven sent."
He chuckled. "Only I came from the Underground."
"I wouldn't mind that either." We both inhaled the coffee's aroma and simultaneously sipped the contents. "Why don't you bring me to the market today? I can wear the hood. I can pretend I am one of you."
"That will be dangerous, Faye. We can just stay here and drink this coffee."
"Please! I feel horribly bored here. My long list of things to do is getting short now. I already perfected making a Magay. I even considered embroidering, but there was not enough yarn. I am feeling claustrophobic."
"You’re missing Spring City?"
"Not Spring City. I miss my hometown, Santa Barbara. It's the time of the year again, you know. We got the feast and Christmas time. I miss Ising, my parent's home, my best friend, Lucy. I am missing everything." I was on the verge of crying. "I swear I am going to get mad here, Chris."
"One year will be fast, I promise."
"How can it be fast when I am feeling the boredom? How can I push time to go faster? It will be impossible."
"Alright, I bring you to the market, and we will both wear our hoods." I looked at him with a sheepish smile and nodded. "Promise me you will be a good girl."
"I promise."

It was a busy market filled with engkantos wearing hoods. No one would suspect that I am not one of them. Still, I could feel them staring. I tried my best to ignore the feeling, and I didn't want to worry Chris. I could easily blend in, and it felt good. I have witnessed how the creatures negotiated and bartered. I could barely understand the language. It sounded different. One dwarf bartered a bottle containing a coloured liquid in exchange for meat. “Where do you get your meat?”
“The meat is not from here. That’s illegal and smuggled from your world. Funny how they could fit meat in that tiny elevator." He was fascinated.
"Building 325 feels so far away," I whispered in his ear when we were both leaning towards a table filled with vegetables.
He drew his face near mine, and I swear that for a moment, I thought he would kiss me. He ended up whispering into my ears too. "It is far away if you think about it. It only exists to us one day of the year." He licked his lower lips as if flirting with me.
"Stop doing that, Chris!"
Chris was going to barter too. He wanted some meat in exchange of coffee beans he grew from his garden. I still can’t believe how he can apply his botanist skills which he learned from the human world, here in the underground. This man/ engkanto is full of surprises.

While he was busy with the exchange of goods, one wrinkled engkantada drew near and stared at me for a long time. The old engkantada was about to say something. I was afraid that she would notice that I'm an impostor. I don't know why I even stared back. Perhaps because her pupils were red and glowing.

Chris grabbed my hand and started walking fast, almost running. “Next time that happens to you, you do not stare back, Faye, you understand?"
“Sorry mister, I completely forgot that I am not in some wonderland."
“Please don’t joke about this. She could kill you with that stare. She is a senior engkantada. Of course, she knew you are human." I was stunned.
“Okay, I won’t. I'm sorry. The engkantada looked beautiful and innocent."
"You do not trust a senior engkantada, Faye."
"Alright, fine. Wait, where are we going?"
“The last stop of the tour."
“What? But we just got here."
“Why don’t we spend the rest of our time in the library? It should be empty by this time."

I realized how depended I have become with Chris, while I am imprisoned to this world. He has been around all the time whenever I need a friend. He tends to disappear when Gordo would show up, though. When I met him in an elevator, I would never have thought that I would embark on this adventure in an unimaginable world with him. I still remember how I was charmed by him.

And now, I keep on forgetting that he is an engkanto. Once I leave this world, there is a big possibility that he will be gone in my life forever.

It is not allowed to fall in love with an engkanto, Faye. I shouldn’t.

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