As usual, procrastination reared its ugly head and I rushed to complete Lesson 6 and posted it an hour before the deadline. I kinda like it.
Colin and I are in sebayan, the land of the dead.
My sister Cass had trailed our grandfather here and has inexplicably found a way of preventing him from crossing over to the realm of the living. For manangs, the inability to cross back and forth between both realms is akin to being handed the death sentence. The act of crossing recharges our abilities and failing to do so over a long period weaken us. Grandfather had been held hostage for nearly a week. Cass had cackled – cackled! – when she shared this little titbit in my dream she walked into last night.
The first time I entered sebayan, I couldn’t breathe.
“It’s the air,” Colin’d explained, “it’s thick with spirits. You’ll get used to it. Eventually.” He’d smirked as he left me crumpled on the ground desperately trying to make my lungs work. It was the longest five minutes of my life before he’d deigned to pick me up to cross back into reality.
After numerous crossings, I did eventually get used to the innate strangeness of being in the land of the dead. Not only was the air thick and the landscape perpetually grey but there was also a peculiar astringent scent that assailed me. I’d asked Colin about it and he’d paused, narrowed his eyes and said he didn’t smell anything. I returned his narrowed eyes with one of my own, added a crinkling of my forehead and tossed a Whatever his way.
As we stride towards the location Cass had given us, I steal a glance at Colin from the corner of my right eye. I feel as if I’m walking through molasses and wonder if he feels the same but I see that he isn’t struggling like I am. I let out a huff and think must be those darn muscles of his.
“You shouldn’t be here, Col. Cass is behaving unpredictably. I don’t want anything to happen to grandfather.”
My sister had two stipulations before she’d allow grandfather to cross – come alone to meet her and to bring grandfather’s lupong to exchange for him. I’d failed at both.
“You said it; she’s unpredictable which is why I’m here.”
“She said to come alone and-“
“-and to bring his medicine box which you don’t have and when she finds out, you’ll need someone at your back.”
I hate it when Colin is logical.
“I hate it when you’re logical.”
He graces me with one of his rare grins and I forget that I hate him sometimes.
I can see the copse of screw pine trees ahead of us where we were to rendezvous with Cass to make the trade. I can almost make out two shadowy figures; one was standing and the other on the ground. Grandfather. My heart shudders and I hope that it’s not too late.
As we move closer, I put my hand in my jeans pocket and stroke the rose quartz that grandfather had given me when I first called to be manang. The rose quartz was one of the batu ilau, healing stone, from his medicine box.
“Here, take this to start your own lupong, Jessana.”
I’d held it in my hand, admiring its smoothness and how it seemed to glow from within as if it had its own internal light source.
“It’s beautiful! Are you sure?”
“Yes. It’s time.”
“What does it do?”
“Anything you will it to do.” Grandfather had then taken both my hands in his wizened ones and chanted softly. The quartz grew warm.
In my pocket now, the rose quartz was no longer warm instead, it is cold as ice.
We reach my sister and grandfather and I immediately rush to his side to check his condition.
“Stop where you are, Jess!” I halt my movement at Cass’ order. “Not even a hello for your one and only younger sister?”
I look at her and wonder how it is that we are related. She’s a fairy princess – light and petite while I am true to our indigenous heritage – tan and dark flowing hair with more than my share of curves. The only feature we share are our dark brown eyes that hold a hint of caramel when we’re in the light.
She looks at me with hatred in her eyes and I am confounded as to what I did to deserve that fierce emotion.
“Did you hurt him, Cass? Our grandfather. Did you harm him?”
“He’s fine. Just weak. Tired.” She stands behind his body, legs akimbo. I detest violence but right then, I itch to pull her hair, each and every one of her expensive hair extensions, from her scalp. I clench my hands beside me. Colin, sensing that I am at the edge grabs my arm with his hand as if to hold me back.
Cass sees this and says “Awwww…look at that. Colin is trying to protect you. From lil’ ol’ me.” She claps her hands with glee.
“Stop it, Cass. Tell us what you want.” I am desperate to get grandfather through to our realm before he worsens.
Cass extends her left hand towards me. “Alright, hand over dear ol’ granddad’s lupong and he’s free to leave here.”
“His lupong is missing from the Vault, Cass which I’m sure you’re aware of. This is all just a farce which–“
“Actually, sis, you’ve had the lupong all along. Well, not you per se…”
“Wha-“ I am confused.
Colin brushes past me, reaching into his jacket to remove a small oblong wooden box which Jess recognises at her grandfather’s medicine box. He walks over to Cass and hands it to her and stays there, leaving me alone.
“Colin? What’s going on?”
His face betrays nothing. He doesn’t even look at me in the eye. Cass slips her hand into his and I feel my heart shudder.
“Well, Jess, thank you for not listening to my instruction of coming alone. And thank you for this!” She waves the oblong box at me and I feel the both of them crossing over to the land of the living. And for a split second, before they slip through the divide, I see Colin turn to finally look at me and he mouths forgive me.
I use all the energy I have left to hold my slowly fracturing self together and take grandfather in my arms.
“Babai,” I whisper his name in the old dialect hoping he’ll wake up. “Please get up. Please!” I feel wetness on my cheeks and a tear drops onto grandfather. He lifts his eyelids and when he sees it’s me, a small smile tugs on his lips and he says to me in a voice so faint I have to lean into him to discern it.