Fiction

Blessed Are Those Who Suffer

We wished her heart would just stop. We wished she would die, so we wouldn’t be burdened with this decision. This is terrible, I said, beginning to cry. We are terrible.

| October 21, 2016

 

Blessed are those who suffer

By Eliza Victoria

 

Dearest, in your last email you said you can still hear the sound of casement windows creaking open in a room that no longer has windows. I’m glad you came to me with this, because now I can finally tell you this story and perhaps force you to leave that house. (Yes, they are called “casement windows.” I know all about windows, having read about them and having stared at them years and years after the events of this story. That room used to have “double casement windows” that swung in and out on side hinges. I know about “awning windows” and “sash windows” and “picture windows” and “double hung windows,” and “meetings” and “muntins” and “drip caps” and “sills”.)

This happened 25 years ago, before you were born, when your mother and I were still on speaking terms. I was 17 and your Tito Jim was 18 and we were home alone. (I can’t remember now where everyone else was. Where your mother was. Perhaps they went to Manila? Or we were invited to see a relative I didn’t like and I had a shouting match with Mama and your Tito Jim volunteered to stay with me. I was a loud teenager. Difficult.) It was just six in the evening but it was as dark as midnight because of the storm. We were watching TV on the ground floor when we heard a loud bang coming from upstairs. We thought it was the wind hitting the windows, and already I imagined broken glass all over my floor, rainwater bursting into my room and drenching my bedsheets. We shot up from the sofa as though electrocuted and ran upstairs to see the damage. We had not turned on the lights at this point, so all we could see was the shape of someone or something trying to climb through the window. We could hear a squelch, a disgusting wet sound, like the sound of garbage that had decomposed and turned to mush. The room smelled as if it were filled with rotten food. A second after we turned on the light we screamed and slammed the door shut. It was only a second but we knew what we saw: long hair, a woman’s face, gray limbs, black talons, bat wings—

 

My brother and I attempted to run out of the house, but the downpour was so strong and so loud that we couldn’t even make ourselves step out the door. (But perhaps it was her, I thought. Perhaps she was not letting us leave.) We should call the Kapitan. We should call the barangay tanod. We should call Mama and Papa. We should call the priest. But this was before the time of texting and smartphones. The phone lines were down. And even if we were able to contact someone, how could they leave their homes in this weather? We were both hysterical. Would she fit through the window? Is she in my room now? Did we lock the door?

Armed with knives from the kitchen, we went back to my room. My brother pressed his ear against the door. “Can you hear that?” he asked. We could hear a woman crying. We opened the door a little bit, and peeked. The creature’s left wing was pinned against one-half of the double casement windows. Did the wind blow it shut? Did she injure her own wing with her panicked movements? The other half of the windows had swung in completely so it was flat against my bedroom wall. Her breasts swung as she kept herself in place, her left hand gripping the ledge. I couldn’t see past her torso but I knew below her waist was nothing but intestines swinging in the wind. We could hear the furious flaps of her right wing, free but useless. Her right arm had a long deep gash, and she was bleeding profusely. If she let go—if her left arm grew tired, if she slid down—she would tear her left wing in half. Help me, she said. She sounded young. She turned to me, then to my brother. Her eyes were bloodshot from crying. We were still standing at the doorway, about ten feet away from her. We could feel the spray of rainwater coming through the open window. Her hair was drenched and lay heavy on her shoulders. Help me, please, she said. Her left arm trembled. And, if you attacked us? I found myself saying. Your Tito Jim shushed me and told me to stop talking to her, that she was evil. The creature said she was brought by the storm, that the wind slammed her against the side of our house. She was not here to harm us; all she wanted was to go back home. You can’t trick us, Kuya said. The creature tried to use her right arm to steady herself, and she screamed in pain. It sounded like a deeper kind of pain. She sounded like our Tita Azon in the hospital lobby many years ago, when the doctor told her that her son didn’t survive the bus crash. The sound unnerved me. I did not ask to be like this, she said. My brother pulled me back and closed the door again.

We left her there for seven hours. We sat in the living room with the TV silent, listening to the blowing wind. We fell asleep, we woke up. We debated. If she were beautiful, I said, if she had white wings, you would have helped her without a second thought. This was not a question of beauty, he said. You know what that thing is! (I knew what the creature was, and I’m sure you know what to call it, too.) But wasn’t she human once? I countered. We both knew why we waited all those hours without doing anything. We were hoping—wishing—praying—that the exposure, the cold weather, the physical torture, would end her life. We wished her heart would just stop. We wished she would die, so we wouldn’t be burdened with this decision. This is terrible, I said, beginning to cry. We are terrible.

 We wished her heart would just stop. We wished she would die, so we wouldn’t be burdened with this decision. This is terrible, I said, beginning to cry. We are terrible.

We went back upstairs at one in the morning, my brother holding my hand. We never held hands. We weren’t particularly affectionate toward each other, but that moment I was so scared I was shaking, and he held my hand. When we opened the door, the creature looked feverish, delirious, her eyelids fluttering. She was singing, swaying. Her left wing already had dozens of tiny cuts in it, like a kite hacked by tree branches. I could just push her, my brother said, and the creature (who didn’t hear him), snapped out of her delirium and said, in a soft voice, “Oh, you came back.” I was crying as though I were the one in pain. I let go of my brother’s hand and stepped forward. Wait, he said, pulling me back. Let me do it. He moved forward, one slow step by one slow step, until he was close enough to reach the window handle. The creature watched him, still crying. She didn’t move. Thank you, she said, and my brother cranked the window open to free her wing.

 

The searchers found his left slipper three miles away, in another town. Lodged in a santan bush as though it had fallen from a great height. (I took this slipper to my parents but they wouldn’t believe it was his. It was a generic brand, they said. It could have been anyone’s.) The storm passed the next day, morning came with bright sunlight, and I thought your mother and my parents would come home to find a trail of blood and entrails on the side of the house, where the creature who abducted your Tito Jim held onto the windowsill for seven hours, counting on our kindness. But they saw nothing. There was nothing. No piece of skin from a bat wing, no broken talon. No smell. The storm blew it all away. For years after what happened—the many painful years of searching for my brother—I would hear the sound of a window creaking open, even when all the windows in the room I was in were bolted shut. My parents had the wall of my bedroom torn down and rebuilt without the windows. The sound continued to haunt me, and so I left the room, the house. The town. I know what your mother has been telling you. That Kuya just ran away, that I was not right in the head. That you shouldn’t believe me. I don’t care if you believe me or not. All I want is for you to at least consider living somewhere else. All I want is for you to live your life without thinking that an act of compassion will one day destroy you. Do you understand? Yours with all my love,

 

PS Do you know the sound follows me even now? At one in the morning, without fail, wherever I am—I hear the sound of a window creaking open.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eliza Victoria is the author of the Philippine National Book Award-winning Dwellers (2014) and the novel Wounded Little Gods (2016)