The following is a sort of "sequel" to "An I for an Eye"...last and only:
“Tommy, hurry, will you?” Kuya nudges my shoulder as he walks past me, delivering me from my trance-like state as I stare down at a tattered copy of Transformers Comics. The thing is mine—the first I ever bought for myself with the first P50 that I’d earned about thirteen summers ago.
“Tommy!” Kuya knows I hate my childhood nickname.
“Yeah, yeah! Be there in a sec!” I yell. I can already hear him running downstairs—always the guy bustling with energy, his life geared on the fast lane.
I hold onto my prized fifty-peso childhood possession: yellowing, fragile, ripped in some parts, but Bumblebee still speaks in his usual italicized, broken phrases in box-like bubbles and Megatron still has that kickass façade. It’s funny how things never change even as you do. This morning is especially nostalgic as Kuya and I drop by our family’s old house in Quezon—the family’s since settled down in the city, see. I’ll be back in the university in a week and we’ve gone on a road trip just before academic hell breaks loose. After a year-long gig in one of those British call centers—where we were actually tasked to speak in a fake Limey accent, yuck!—I’m finally going to law school. Nanay and Tatay had to save up for my “Honorable” ambitions. Now, I am about to share my brother’s bachelor’s pad. Next month, maybe I should already start looking for my own. Wild bachelor parties and chicks are no good to a law student. Or maybe I’m just saying that because I haven’t even started yet.
“Hey, what’s that crap?” Kuya exclaims upon seeing the comic book.
“Gimme a break, it’s good toilet read.”
“Fine, just leave your teddy bear behind, alright?” he jokes in his usual, cocky manner. Kuya grew up being the pretty boy athlete who gets away with an arrogant sense of humor. But I never really hated him for it. We’re just different, that’s all. And we’ve always had different goals in life. I want to be a lawyer. He wants to be a gynecologist, although he’s really a professional basketball player (the former choice of profession is for solely perverted reasons). We thank the old house’s caretaker and board his red Mazda.
“Hasn’t changed much, eh?” he reflects as he drives through the old subdivision.
“Nah, there’s not a single tree in sight anymore.” I look outside the window by the passenger’s seat.
As we glide through the deserted roads of the quiet subdivision, I see it towering from a distance: Old Carding’s house—still the oldest, biggest house in the neighborhood.
Kuya seems to read my mind as he says, “Seems like it just happened yesterday, doesn’t it?”
I don’t want to remember any of it, really. At 21, it still scares me to think about that day—that day I found the courage to take a dare for the first time. Since then, I haven’t been bold enough to take risks. Law school is a sort of risk, I know. But I’m only doing it because of Nanay and Tatay. I worked in the call center because I wanted to spend more time with Cynthia, my girlfriend of two years, who happened to work there, too. I’m moving to Makati not because I can afford it but because my brother already owns a place in the area. Everyone else’s dictated how my life should go, one way or another. No single decision ever comes out of me anymore. Since that day.
It was a pretty stupid dare, actually. Paolo—the rich kid who lived a few blocks from us—just had his birthday then, and we were playing outside his house.
“Hey, Tommy! If you’re not such a wuss, why don’t you go up to Old Carding’s house and say hi to him?” he said in his usual lord-ish way of talking to us younger boys.
“Wha—no way. That’s crazy!” I was trying to be logical, even at eight.
“Ha! You are a wuss, no doubt about it!” he replied, taunting me.
“Yeah, Little Tommy’s scared! Little Tommy’s a little wuss!” the other boys sucked up to Paolo. He happened to have the most number of toys and he was older. He was definitely the star back then—we called him “Peter Pan” when we played make-believe that we were “the Lost Boys in Neverland.” He was “Leonidas” when we were “Spartans” and “Megatron” when we were “Decepticons.” I was a small kid—the smallest, in fact. And maybe because of that, I was always the underdog. I did the roles of the most insignificant characters, and I always had to justify that I was “okay enough” to play “Agawan-Base” with them. Maybe I just got so sick and fed up of being “the loser” that day.
“I’ll do it!” I said, mustering enough guts to say it in my deepest sounding voice.
What happened next was like a dream. The boys were all half-egging me on, half-taunting me, as we all made our way to Old Carding’s house. When I finally slipped into his yard, they all ran laughing, leaving me in that old, seemingly deserted place with its long, unkempt grass and tall, terrifying trees.
Inspite of the scenario that seemed to be ripped off from a random horror flick, I still went in for the dare. I was not a wuss, and perhaps I was all too willing to prove that. I managed to get in the kitchen door—which was suspiciously unlocked—and I was exploring the entire house like a nervous little thief. Now that I remember it, I was planning on stealing something: the old man’s lost eye. How I ever got to thinking that it still existed, what with his left eye patch and all, has always been beyond my own understanding of self. It was a stupid, stupid thing to take a dare from an arrogant bigshot in the first place.
The next images shift in and out of my consciousness like a bad movie. Old man with the eye patch. Head suspended by a rope tied to the ceiling. Blood dripping from the arms. Bare feet dangling. Tongue drooping, pointing down to the floor on which there was the old man’s last attempt at communicating to the world which he eluded: “Bury me with YOU,” all written in red.
“I was such an idiot,” I think aloud, more to myself than to Kuya.
“Hey, you were only eight.” Yeah, as if that comforts me.
The car slowly drives past Old Carding’s house as dark memories from that bright summer day haunt me and threaten to haunt me for as long as memory permits them. It really is funny how things never change even as you do.