Dusts [3]

3

As soon as the clock struck eight, she heard the bell on the door clang.

“This early?” she whispered to herself with a surprised edge to her voice.

She glimpsed forlornly at the battered, engraved door, as if to reluctantly receive an unwanted yet necessary blessing to start her day. The bell clanged again, and she hurried to the common room and gave it a sweeping look to make sure everything was in place before climbing down the elaborately designed flooring of the silong and headed straight for the big wooden tarangkahan.

She looked up at the ceiling and stared at the mirror installed there, meant to spy on whoever was on the other side of the door. It mirrored an upside down reflection of a man.

The mirror then emitted a tiny green dot on its right-hand corner. It meant that the man was no threat to the Bahay.

She lifted the wide wooden beam that served as the tarangkahan’s lock, pulled open the heavy door, and welcomed her first customer with a smile. He wore a grey buttoned shirt under his coat that had seen better days.

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He smiled timidly back and muttered a “Thanks” with his husky yet gentle voice as he stepped in. She led him to the common room and asked him to sit down on one of the antique chairs. He handed her a small bag before he sat down.

“Salamat po. Please fill this up as you wait,” she said as she handed him a glass screen that she got from the pocket of her apron and headed toward the other room at the right wing of the common room. The double door on this wing was widely opened and from the common room, one could see the long workers’ table that had several drawers. It looked weathered yet polished, a striking example of contrasts, much like the Bahay and the purpose it housed.

She stood on the other side of the table—which also had drawers on that side. Facing the common room, she pulled open the right-hand drawer and a pair of worn leather gloves. Beside the gloves was a pair of long thin tweezers, which she picked up as well. She closed the drawer and opened the one under it. She took out an old, rust-free plate that had dents then closed the drawer.

She wore the gloves and opened the small bag. Using the tweezers, she emptied the bag of its contents, carefully placing each item on the plate. When she was quite certain her tweezers could no longer reach for anything other than the bag’s bottom part, she turned it inside out and gently shook the dust that rested there, before putting it back on the table. She eyed the things that she took out from it—a dead, ancient, battered yet precious-looking pocket watch, an intricately designed bottle opener keychain, and a simple yet elegant payneta that looked as old as the workers’ table.

She carefully looked at her male customer, who was still busy fiddling with the glass screen she handed him. She knew him, not personally, but based on the past few transactions she had had with him. Few, yes, but that didn’t mean she could easily forget a face.

He rarely visited this shop, so that meant he either enjoyed the simple life he had or had nothing much to trade anyway, or perhaps both. And when he did visit, he always brought things that would probably not matter much to bigger merchants but still amount to something. And he would only visit if he wished to trade for a gift, either for a child or an adult—both female, perhaps his wife and daughter, she couldn’t say because she never saw a ring. And yet, people these days used varied things to symbolize their being married or engaged to someone.

She returned her gaze to the items on the plate and placed them on a brass scale on the table. She took note of the weight. She then grabbed the plate and turned to the wall which was adorned with old portrait of much older people, and pushed an invisible button to reveal a small opening. She placed the plate inside it; the tiny door sealed itself shut once more.

She replaced the gloves and tweezers in the drawer and retreated to the common room.

As if on cue, the man finished fiddling on the glass screen and looked up at her. He reached out and handed her the glass screen with a smile.

She thanked him and skimmed on the screen quickly. On it were the information about the man, such as his name, age, address, his social security number, and his family—she was right, married with two daughters, and lived on the downtown, too—she assumed she was correct in his simple way of living.

When she skipped to the item to be traded for, she raised her eyebrows in amusement.

“It’s for my eldest, she’s turning seven next week,” he said rather nervously, as if responding to her amused reaction.

She felt herself go slightly red and warm, a bit ashamed when she realized what she might have looked like to the man for him to have felt the need to explain his transaction. But this didn’t seem to bother him; he was still smiling.

“Of course, sir. I understand,” she said, regaining herself. On the glass screen, a word appeared scribbled below the page—it said Approved. “This will be perfect for her,” she added in jest, making the man smile widely. “Very well, if you are ready, sir,” she said, gesturing for him to follow her back to the adjacent room with the long workers’ table.

They went inside the room but did not linger there. On the left was another double door. She pulled it open, ushered the man inside, and sealed it shut.

Dusts [2]

2

In a world where everything was well provided for, what else could one need? What more could a person ask for that she would be willing to forget a part of her life to get what she wanted?

Forget to Get

These words greeted her every single morning as she passed by the Restricted Room. For years, she tried to remove these engraved words on the antique door but failed. It was as if the wood had embraced these written markings as branding or tattoo, meant to mark it different from the rest of the room.

And yet, no matter how repulsive she found these engravings were, she could not for the love of her ancestors bring herself to replace the door. She had a knack for keeping things as they were—a liability, a bane for the superstitious, especially for a merchant like herself, the very person who would receive memories in exchange of luxuries and pleasure. These memories either stored and plucked and powdered out of trinkets or immortalized on paper that were burned, must be disposed of immediately as part of the binding contract of a purchase.

And that was why they did not see her fit for the job, despite her own markings. Because she could not perform the last condition in every transaction she had dealt with. Thus the roomful of jars that housed disintegrated memories that continued to tell their stories and hum their songs and describe their surroundings.

She had a knack for keeping things—most especially memories that did not belong to her.

And in a world where one had everything they needed, it was wrong to keep things that one did not own, especially memories.

She sighed.

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Dusts [1]

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1

glimpses

She only intended to take a quick glance at the jars displayed on the shelves. But once more, she was drawn to the dancing weak light from the small sun roof illuminating the dusty room. She felt a sharp pain in her hand as she realized she was clutching the door handle with all her might. The pain sent her back to her senses. She took a deep breath and reminded herself that she’d only take a glimpse—afraid of whatever rule she was about to break.

The door made a loud creak as she pushed it wider. She instantly looked up at the nearest shelves that housed hundreds of jars. Each jar looked unique. Each differed in shape and size. Yet all of them contained sands and ashes of different colors and quantities. Sands and ashes that danced to the rhythm no one else heard, moving and flowing in their own way, ready to take away anyone who stared and bury them deep in their depthless movement.

She took another deep breath. She noticed that the newer shelves were now almost full of jars. She needed a new set of shelves ordered soon.

She had to force her eyes shut as she closed the dank door, its hinges creaking as if protesting.

***

Her hand ached as she rested her elegant pen on its stand. Her eyes focused on the elaborated details that carved and formed her glass pen. She stretched her fingers to relax her aching hand. These fingers gently creased the folds of the paper that bore her longhand. She picked it up and gave it a thought. With all this technology, she could not understand why hand-written memories costed so much more than the digital ones.

‘They’re just memories, anyway,’ she thought.

And the one she just immortalized through pen and ink was worth—she was certain—more than enough for her to avail another expensive service of physical enhancement.

Feeling sated with how she saw, in her head, her younger-looking self, she threw the paper in her purse and walked out of the room, her expensive heels clicking loudly.

***

He looked at her with his kind eyes which were met by her sweet smile. When he didn’t accept the rusty gold pocket watch she was handing out to him, she shrugged her small shoulders and tossed it carelessly inside his small bag. Then, she rushed outside to her playmates, picking up pieces of fallen leaves and twigs on the ground to use them as pretend ingredients for a sinigang or prito.

He stared after her, now with a kind smile on his face. He felt bad and grateful at the same time. He never thought it was possible to feel two different things altogether, but he was certain that he was experiencing both at that moment. When he saw her laughing merrily with her friends, he tore away his eyes from her and stared at the contents of his small bag. Inside it was the rusted gold pocket watch, an unused bottle opener key chain, and a pretty payneta. These may not seem like they’re worth much, but they’re enough for whatever they’re worth trading for.

He went out of their home, bid the little girl and her playmates farewell, and walked toward the stretch of the road, the trinkets in his bag jingling—muffled yet cheerful.