Let me tell you about my beloved grandmother, or my nana, as I call her endearingly. She’s quite tall, lean, with wrinkled, dry, and sun spotted skin, and had gloomy, drooping, lackluster eyes that hide a wise woman way more advanced than her years. I was starting in high school, 12 going on 13, and she was already in her mid-60’s. My relationship with my grandmother was at the borderline of love and hate. Do you know why? Because I was her favorite grandchild for house chores! She wakes me up very early to gather firewood in the riverbanks, wash our clothes in the river, harvest onions and garlic in the fields, sort harvested tobacco leaves that the big tobacco company would buy for cigarette manufacturing, and accompany her to the early dawn mass. It’s not funny at all to go to the early morning mass with her because often, we arrive at a closed-door church. She thought she had missed the tower bell’s toll for the first mass of the day. But the priest’s attendant had not tolled the bells yet because it was still too early for the first mass! Nana would just say it’s better to be early than late. Imagine having to sit outside the church for another hour more before the church door will open. And to think that I have to go to school at seven in the morning, right in time for the flag ceremony, or else I’d end up absent from my teacher’s time record. I think my nana had always preferred me because I was a responsible and obedient daughter and granddaughter, who, though grumpy and pouting on occasions, would still do as told.
My nana was illiterate, being a pre-war and post-world war survivor, but I would say she’s wise: she’s the neighborhood quack doctor. She makes herbal concoctions that she would readily hand out to ailing patients when needed. She would say, “Boil these leaves and drink this broth, heat the oil and massage it on that part of your body, and drink the juice of such fruit or vegetable.” But believe me, it works every time and she would never ask for anything in return. That’s why, the entire neighborhood loves her and during occasions, there’s always a little gift from everyone: a live chicken, a basketful of fruits or vegetables, several rolled tobacco, a bottle of gin, or a tamer drink like a home fermented wine from fruits.
That’s not all. She’s a weather forecaster, though not certified by any scientific agency: she could forecast tomorrow’s weather from the look of the sky, the stars, and the moon! We don’t need a TV or a radio announcer in the country as long as we have nana. So, if there was a scheduled school excursion the next day, and she knew a storm was brewing on the horizon, she would tell our parents not to let us go. Mind you, she was right again! The radio broadcasters were crucial hours delayed in letting the public know. My nana should have announced it earlier in school, so the school buses would not have left the school only to return minutes later to bring back the students to safety.
And lastly, my grandmother could interpret dreams! Yes, she can tell you what to expect from your dream. And I learned early from her that not all pleasant dreams bring good tidings. I’ll tell you why.
My friend and neighbor, Minerva, once came with us early in the morning to the river when we went to wash our clothes on a Saturday morning. It surprised me she’s awake so early when she would usually burn her bed till mid-day, and wake up for lunch that’s already served on their dining table. I used to tell her she was so lucky, unlike me, who had to work to help my family. But she just came with us because she hated staying in their house while her older sister, Marie, was home, having come for a weekend break. Her sister graduated from high school last year and entered a university in the city in the Cordillera highlands. She hated her sister because compared to her, she’s a beauty. The neighborhood guys at her sister’s age or even older than her would sit near their ancestral home, just to have a glimpse of her or talk to her. She’s not liking it because she becomes invisible to them when her sister is around. None of them would even say a simple hi, and it irked her so much that every guy seemed to ignore her presence. I just laughed at her, telling her to wait for her time. Maybe being younger, our bodies are still underdeveloped, they would still classify us as children, I would say. She hated it when I dismissed her petty tantrums of jealousy. Just to appease her, I also said that sometimes beauty can be a curse. I wish I hadn’t said such a thing just to make her smile or to stop her from whining.
We were sitting on the enormous stones in the river while Minerva helped me wash our clothes when she told us about her dream. My nana is a stone’s throw away but may have been listening. She told us she had dreamt of her sister in a white bridal gown walking down the aisle towards the altar, while she was wondering why the church looked grim and bare, and there was almost no one around except the minister and very few family members. And the weird thing is, there was not even a groom! That was not your sister’s wedding, for sure, I quipped. Then, I remembered that recently, I also had a dream. I told her I was passing by their house and saw from afar that her sister was home, and looking out her bedroom window. However, as I neared their house, I said I couldn’t see her face at all. Yes, she was there, standing and looking out, but her face was blank. Our conversation was simply an innocent exchange of our dreams, which featured her older and beautiful sister. We talked some more and had moved on to other topics when my nana came near us. She told us to finish wringing the clothes and spread them on top of the blistering stones on the riverbank to dry. After having done that, she made us follow her to the cool shade under the trees and opened our packed lunch. My friend suddenly felt shy having to share the little food that my nana cooked and packed for us that morning. I said it’s okay, it’s nice to have her with us on a picnic.
Suddenly, my quiet nana broke her silence. She wanted us to pray for Minerva’s sister. We looked at her, wondering why she would say that. She told us that our dreams were foretelling an impending doom involving her sister. What kind of doom could it be? I asked my nana. She wouldn’t say. She told us to offer a prayer with a lighted candle. Nana asked my friend if her sister was okay. Is she healthy or feeling sick, she asked. I looked at my friend, waiting to hear her reply, and it surprised me when she said that she’d been coming home for the past three consecutive weekends, feeling gloomy and weak. In contrast to her former bubbly self, she was quiet and withdrawn; often, she would just sit by her bedroom window looking at a far distance. Nana told my friend to alarm her parents. They should know what’s bothering her. They should give her a little more attention during these times. But my friend said her sister must have already returned to the city and would be back again the next weekend. Then, perhaps they should see her in the city before it’s too late, my nana said. I didn’t want to cause my friend anxiety, but I hope she would heed my nana. Throughout my waking life with her, there’s one thing my heart acknowledges, and that is, to always listen to my nana. Either she’s an angel of fortune or a harbinger of doom.
For the next few days, I didn’t see my friend, and I had been busy at school too with all those dance practices for a forthcoming school activity. It was the weekend again, but this time, I must be lucky because my nana didn’t wake me up so early: I had an extra hour of sleep on that relaxing Saturday. Suddenly, there was a commotion downstairs and around the neighborhood. I asked my cousin what’s happening, and she said Minerva’s sister seemed to be under a spell of witchcraft. How could anyone just believe such nonsense during these times? Witches had perished long ago, and how could they be sure that it was witchcraft? My nana was not around and I came to know later that they had called her to Minerva’s house to witness what’s happening with her sister. I hurriedly changed into my outdoor clothes and went there as well. Marie was on the bed, writhing and crying for them or anyone to bring a certain guy to their home. Who was the guy? They wondered. He was one of her ardent admirers, a native boy of the Cordillera mountains. She didn’t like the guy. They came to know when they called her female friends on the phone. She hated him because the guy was persistent in pursuing her when she had already declined his amorous advances from the very start. She had even humiliated him in front of their classmates and friends.
On one occasion, she lost her used clothes and underwear from her bag during her Physical Education class. She had a swimming class, and she was going to change back into those clothes after her class. After reporting this to their class teacher and the facility-in-charge in school, they still didn’t find them. In the days following that incident, Marie had been exhibiting weird behavior. She would call out the guy’s name in her dreams: her roommates said. Then, she would look for the guy in the school, but he had dropped out suddenly. She would exhibit sexual movements such as kneading her breasts and cupping her mound, as though she was being touched and made love to. It alarmed the parents to know of this. They asked two of their male relatives to go to the school to find the man. My nana had said that he must have taken her missing used clothes and had used them in some spell-casting or evil-brewing, or whatever. If they can’t find him, and they won’t be able to stop what he was doing to her, she could die. She couldn’t eat, sleep, or do anything at all; they couldn’t help her unless they could find someone up there in the mountains who could cast a counter-spell.
The parents followed the earlier sent relatives in the mountains to find someone from the tribe where the man belongs to; who would know how to cure their daughter. After a day, some of the school authorities and the older men of the tribe found the house, but not the man. They found Marie’s items used to cast a bewitching spell on her. The tribe had helped to counter the spell and returned Marie’s items to her parents.
It took a week for Marie to be cured, but she had transformed into a melancholic young lady. Her parents didn’t permit her to return to the highlands anymore. They will have to find another university for her in a nearby city. From thereon, Marie feared guys and would shun anyone who had an interest in her. It will take some time for her to be back to her old self. The experience had traumatized Marie for life.