A transom window is a framework made of wood or metal that is built into a wall just below the roof. In post-colonial Philippine Architecture, a transom has ornamental moldings with holes carved through to allow light passage and proper ventilation. It is usually installed in the living room on the top of a 10-feet tall wall. One needs to use a ladder or can levitate to reach the transom.
I used to rent a space with such post-colonial Philippine Architecture. I shared the space with two other women renters, but I stayed in a separate room. One of the renters was a former secretary who had to stop her work because she was under chemotherapy for kidney cancer. The two women belong to the same Seventh day Adventist Church.
Two weeks into my stay there, a new lady joined us. The owner of the house, herself a breast cancer survivor, needed a new cleaning lady. This cleaning lady looked very interesting. She had thin lips that allowed her big teeth to cover most of her face whenever she managed a smile. Her long black hair matched the deep dark color of her eyes. She was a 5-foot-tall woman in her fifties. Her name was Ate Liling.
Every day, Ate Liling would bring me biko. She said that I needed to eat because I was very thin. But I wasn’t a fan of the food she offered, so I left it to rot. Ate Liling didn’t like this lack of attention so she would visit me every so often just to chat.
Sometimes, Ate Liling would tell me tales about her family. She missed them so much.
Once, I asked where they were. She said they were gone. They died a tragic death. She said that food served from a wak-wak transformed them into such local beasts so the people in her community hunted and burned them to ashes. Ate Liling was a very good storyteller. Often, as she laid down the details of her past, I would find myself wandering into the darkness of her eyes convinced of the madness. As soon as she noticed that I was drawn into her tale, Ate Liling would laugh so hard, her face smothered by her big set of teeth. If I didn’t understand her humor, I would have thought that Ate Liling was deranged. “You know what wak-wak wants?” she would ask,”they want to feed on fresh babies. But sick people are tasty to them, too.” Her stories were wild, so I gathered that she probably had a traumatic childhood.
Ate Liling stayed in the room next to the comfort room. From my room, I had to pass the living area, trying to avoid the eerie view of the transom window just to go to that space. Despite the distance, I always hear Ate Liling humming a familiar lullaby. Though it was meant for sleep, her singing kept me awake as I often worked until dawn. The crickets in the night would seem like an orchestra in their silent chorus; Ate Liling as their lead.
The chill of dawn sent shivers when this happened, one night. I was working on my computer when suddenly I felt the urge to visit the comfort room. It was oddly silent. No loud crickets. No singing. Just a faint humming sound. I walked pass the living room and gathered the courage to look around. No one was there. I went straight to the comfort room and then went out. The night was peaceful. No loud sounds. Just a faint hum.
Then, out of nowhere, a terrified woman’s voice, strange like gnawing ice, called me, “Bam! Bam!” I asked who’s there. The voice called again, “Bam! Bam!” I followed the voice and looked up. That was when I saw Ate Liling peeking through the hole of the transom window. Her face barely making sight. But her black hair, white skin and dark piercing eyes managed to create a view.
I said, “Ate Liling?”
She said, “Bam, don’t sleep on your back! The wak-wak might sip into your stomach.” She was seriously fearful for my life.
“Don’t say that Ate! That is not true,” I replied. My heart was beating. I rushed back to my room, trying to gather my composure.
But it was there in the silence of my space that I realized how impossible it was for Ate Liling to reach the transom window. She was a petite woman, and that window was high!
I could not put myself to sleep after hearing her warning. I gathered my bible, rosary, and turned on the music. I tried to suspend any amount of fear. But the memory of her face on that window overpowered me. The crickets were silent as a sound of steps on the roof emerged. I convince myself that it was just a very large cat passing through.
The next day, my Seventh Adventist neighbors said that they also heard Ate Liling’s hysteria. So, they decided to invite their churchmates to pray over our place. A group of people brought their Bibles and one by one revoked the would be evil in the area. There was no sight of Ate Liling. I was told by the landlady that Ate Liling asked to leave early because of an emergency. But she never came back. No one heard of her after that day.
At night, while I pass through the living room, I still see something blurred from my periphery, a piercing dark eye peeking from the transom window of the house. And sometimes, I would hear her hum.
Glorypearl Dy is a digital storytelling facilitator who also writes for an Australian development work magazine. She owns an innovation hub with her twin and fiance.