Contradiction in Terms
You say to-may-toe; I say toh-mah-tah. Deal with it.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Heritage (part 1 of a 4-part short story)

This is one of the two stories I ended up not submitting for Dean's antho. I don't particularly like it anymore--less than a month after I wrote it!--but there are some interesting bits here and there.
Kit found Lola Basyang on the back porch of the old family home, stitching contentedly as she sat in Kit’s father’s old-fashioned wood-and-wicker lounging chair. She looked exactly as anyone would expect her to, wearing a shabby but well-mended flowered dress, a knitted shawl close around her shoulders despite the stifling afternoon heat. Her skin was milk-coffee-colored, smooth and saggy at once the way older Filipinas sometimes get. She had once-black hair, mostly gray now; and she did not look up when Kit stepped through the French doors that opened out from the formal dining room.

“Excuse me,” Kit said, a bit more sharply than she meant to because she was surprised. “Who are you? No one’s supposed to be here!”

“You must be Marikit,” the old woman said placidly, still not looking up from her needlework. “I am sorry for the loss of your papa, anak.”

Kit stared. No one had called her “Marikit” in years, not even her father, on pain of Kit hanging up the phone. “I asked you a question,” Kit pointed out. “Who are you, what are you doing in my house, and why do you know my name?”

“I am Lola Basyang,” the strange woman pronounced, looking up at Kit for the first time. Kit noted that she did not wear glasses, despite her obviously advanced age. Her eyes were bright and sharp, like a bird’s, though her gaze was level and unwavering.

“How do you know my father died?” Kit asked, regretting the question as soon as it came out. The crazy old lady was obviously not disposed to answering any question that wasn’t repeated at least once; and really, her answers were hardly relevant to the situation at hand. “Never mind, just listen. My father left this house to me; and whoever you are--or whoever you think you are--you need to leave before I call the police.”

“But I belong here,” the woman said, as calmly as ever. “I have been living in your house for some time now.”

Kit backed up against the French doors, digging in her slouch bag for her cell phone. She knew she really ought to call the police, but somehow--although she was now keeping a wary eye out for any accomplices that might be hiding somewhere--the old lady seemed harmless, if possibly insane. And it wasn’t as if Kit actually knew what number to dial for the police, anyway.

She decided to call Ramon instead. “Hey, it’s me,” she said into the phone, fighting the ridiculous urge to turn away so that the old woman wouldn’t hear her.

“So how’s our little love nest looking?” Ramon wanted to know.

“You won’t believe what’s happened,” Kit told him. “I found an old lady sewing on the back porch. She says she’s Lola Basyang.”

“What!?” Kit wondered why she didn’t feel as astonished as Ramon sounded.

“She’s Lola Basyang, she says. And she says that she lives here.”

Ramon, terse: “Kit, you have to get out of there. Lock yourself in the car and call the police.”

“Don’t freak out, okay?” Kit said, trying to soothe him. “She’s just a little old lady; there’s no one else here. It’s not like she’s tearing down the walls or anything.”

“She’s a squatter, Kit,” Ramon sounded exasperated now. “You have to be careful. People like that will fight to the death for what they think is theirs.”

“She’s a little old lady,” Kit repeated. “What’s she going to do, stab me with her sewing needle? ‘Fight to the death’... you should hear yourself.”

“Will you please just call the police?” He was getting that tone in his voice that she had learned to recognize as acute irritation. “I inputted the number in your cell phone. Just call and wait for them at the gate.”

“In the first place,” Kit said, as patiently as possible, “they’re Manila police. I could call and stand by the gate all day and they might never show up. In the second place, this woman knows way too much about me to be some random squatter. Maybe she was Papa’s maid or something; I can’t just throw her out into the streets.”

“Why in God’s name would your father have a maid who thinks she’s Lola Basyang?”

“I wouldn’t put it past him,” Kit said dryly. “Listen, Mon, don’t worry about it, okay? I can handle this. I’ll call you when I get home.”

“If you can handle everything so well,” Ramon rasped sarcastically, “then why did you bother calling me?”

He hung up. Kit methodically put her cell phone away, counting to ten, then twenty.

“Your fiancé is a very hot-tempered man,” said the erstwhile Lola Basyang.

“He’s just concerned about me,” Kit said absently, a split second before realizing that the old woman had revealed yet another instance of overly-familiar knowledge. “How do you--Did you work for my father? Are you the helper here?”

“I worked with your father, let us say,” the old woman said, seemingly amused. “I helped him a great deal with his work, yes, that’s true.”

Kit clicked her tongue against her teeth. Her father had been a cultural anthropologist--a profession no one really understood, so Kit generally explained it as, “He goes around talking to people, then writes down the stories they tell him and publishes them.” It had probably tickled his peculiar sense of humor to have a crazy old coot of a maid with delusions of being the grande dame of Filipino storytelling.

“Listen, you can stay here until I’ve figured out what to do with the house, okay?” she told the woman. “How are you eating? Is there food? Do you need money?”

“Ramon won’t like that,” Lola Basyang said, drawing her embroidery thread taut, “especially if you give me money.”

Kit had turned on her heel and gone to check the kitchen, in which there was virtually no food stocked--typical of her father. She had offered the old woman a generous amount of cash, only to find herself gently but adamantly rebuffed.


“I don’t get it,” she said to Shelly, a day later at work. “I mean, okay, I guess she needs a place to stay, but why would she turn down the money? She’d better not have anyone coming into the house to feed her.”

“Well, you said Ramon hired some security guards, right?” Shelly reasoned. “So no one’s going in or out without you finding out about it.”

“No one’s going in, period,” Kit grumbled. “Mon gave instructions that the minute Lola goes out, they’re to lock the gates behind her.”

“Harsh,” Shelly commented.

“He calls it a compromise,” Kit said. “We’re not throwing her out, but if she leaves, she’s not coming back. I told him ‘when she leaves’ is more like it; I mean, she has to eat sometime.”

“Too bad,” Shelly mused. “It’d be kinda cool, don’t you think, to be able to say you live with Lola Basyang? You’ll be married in a couple of months anyway, so Ramon will be able to look after you.”

“Shel, in the first place, when are you going to get that I don’t need ‘looking after’?” Kit asked, smiling. “In the second place, anyone with half an education knows that Lola Basyang was really a man, Severino Reyes. You’d think a cultural anthropologist would have kept that in mind.”

“Says the comp lit major,” Shelly quipped. “The sampaloc doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

to be continued tomorrow!

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