Chapter 5 The House of Gnomes
The town fiesta is winding up and so is the procession. It is always the climax of any town fiesta, the procession. Alas for the Parish Priest, this procession had to pass by the House of Gnomes. People are terrified of this house. They would rather avoid it if they could. This procession could not avoid this house. Alas for the Padre Rufino, or Padre Pino for short, for while he does not fear the smell of death itself, he has no gall to hear the sounds coming from this house.
People talk about elfin duwendes frolicking around the house at night; sounds coming from the house as if somebody was being garroted to death, even eaten alive; gnomes kidnapping children to make dolls for the mangkukulam; ogres capturing people to make candles; and elephant-headed people collecting water from the nearby artesian well. Much talked about is the witch seen flying around when the moon is bright, and tiny little dolls shaking the branches of trees. Anybody that happens to pass by on the way to town shifts to a hurried walk or to a slow run to get off the vicinity of this house.
Ric had to stop the jeep to let the procession pass. From this vantage point, the group had a perfect view of the procession, so perfect in fact that Padre Pino’s fear of the house was so obvious. He was so in a hurry that he tripped on a hole on the road, revealing what could have been a colt .45 holster over a pair of green-striped pj’s under his white habit. Now his reputation in town was like he had a large repertoire of swear words. So this was the perfect opportunity to recite these swear words. And he did so, in litany mode.
Ric turned off the headlights to reduce the glare on the people. The lighted float bearing the statue of the patron Saint toppled over from the same hole on the road, breaking the head off and smashing the little statue of the baby Jesus. After being hastily collected and patched, the float trudged on with the saint’s head askew and a Barbie doll substituted for the baby Jesus.
By just sitting there, the dark House affected everybody’s disposition. In his hurry, the bass drummer bumped the mega-sized tuba player who fell down with the tuba wedged over him. This tuba player was as wide as he was tall so putting him up was like raising a dead horse.
Even more hysterically humorous was what followed afterwards in the floats. The tractor pulling the float that carried the Fiesta Queen and her consort suddenly lurched forward over the cavity on the road, spilling everybody off the float. The Reyna hit the ground butt first with the chair falling on her head. Her consort hit the ground butt-first, too, but his ankle got caught on the float and he got dragged over a distance which was enough to scrape a hole in his pants large enough for his mother to get worried about his virtue.
When the float was put together again, the reyna could not wear the crown well because of the sore lump on her head. She had to wear it sideways, like a jauntily placed beret. She had to give up her sash, or the one with the label “Reyna Ng Pista”, to her consort who wore it to cover the portion of his butt that showed. His ankle was swollen so he had difficulty standing. The reyna had a sore butt, so she had difficulty sitting. At every bump on the road, she had to go on a squatting position to raise her butt off the chair. Her consort had to lift his swollen foot. But after so many bumps both fell in to the rhythm of things. Bump, raise butt, raise foot, drop butt, drop foot. Bump, raise butt, raise foot, drop butt, drop foot. Bump, raise butt………and at every bump, the consort’s bare butt had to peek out from its cover.
At the sight of this humorous dance of pain, the band following the float flipped into hysterics. The trombone player could not find enough wind to blow on his trombone. The flute player could not put his lips together due to a snickering fit. The trumpet players just could not purse their lips, and when they did, they could blow only fart sounds. The baton twirler just couldn’t twirl. Everybody fell off the road to clutch their bellies and stomped their feet to force out their pent up laughter. The band was scattered all over the place, so they decided to move the float to the last spot of the procession, to the delight of the electric generator servicemen who were actually positioned in that spot.
YES—-people are scared of the House. I would say, though, that it was the House that scared the people. This was intended as a defense and at that moment I didn’t, wouldn’t say why or how. It succeeded to scare people away, including Ric who, in frightful anticipation of the duwendes, pulled up the driveway a little too fast, scraping the balimbing tree and to stop with a jolt. This brought chidings from Ding regarding Ric’s driving and his “colorum” driver’s license; to which he promptly replied that dissidents like himself are expected to possess nothing more than “colorum” licenses.
As Ding opened the large door(this was seldom locked) and lit kerosene lamps. I helped Perla alight from the jeep and then led her towards a long wooden bench beside a large tailor’s table. On the table were bolts of cloth, scissors and markers. On top the table was crudely-drawn a five-pointed star which Grandma etched a while back. Ric ambled in to see shelves all around a wall upon which lie various odd glass containers. They contain dead fetuses, frogs, toads, a brain, kidney small and large intestines all soaked in formalin. And from the ceiling was hung a completely assembled human skeleton which limbs rattle to the touch.
“Spices,” Ding called Ric’s attention to another wall section. On these shelves were dried bat wings, lizard tails, wood bark, dark chicken clotted blood, baby pigeon’s heads, turtle scales, goat hooves, and so forth. I rang the campanilla.The House of Gnomes is actually two separate neighboring houses bridged by a pedway on the second floor. The house we entered is from my mother’s family. The other house, which is on the verge of getting swallowed by vegetation, is from my father’s family. And from that house now came the patter of little feet followed by the shakes of big, heavy feet. Coming through the large door were two freaks. Ric froze.
“Abra?”, I asked.
“Wrong again, uncle,” she replied. “I’m Dabra. Abra is behind you.” And sure enough she was there with the impish grin that make both of these twins lovable. The huge Quasimodo-looking guy behind Dabra is Ugong, so named because he makes grunting sounds to communicate. He so much crimped Ric’s disposition that Ric was forced to say goodbye and to leave hurriedly, scraping the statue by the driveway, with Ding’s loud chidings about his driving and his “colorum” license.
(end part 1, to be continude)