Empty Houses

Photo: Nina Zumel

“When a house is empty for a long time, the enkanto — the fairies — come to live there.”

Dad was warming to our ghost story conversation.

“I know this is true, because it happened to our house in Saraat, during the War.”

He meant World War II. The Philippines was not a happy place, during that war, but my father’s memories of that time are surprisingly pleasant. He was only about eight or nine years old when the Japanese occupation began, the youngest of his siblings, by far — what they call an “afterthought child”. When the Japanese came, I think some of my uncles ran to the mountains, to join the resistance, and much of the town evacuated as well. My grandfather chose to stay.

Dad actually made friends with some of the Japanese soldiers. They taught him Japanese songs, he taught them Filipino songs, and they taught him how to play the flute. His memories of them are fond enough that, years later, he took my mother to Japan, for their honeymoon.

It’s not too surprising, I suppose. Some of those soldiers were probably not much more than boys themselves, homesick and lonely. Maybe some of them had children at home, my father’s age. It wasn’t their war, really — it was the Emperor’s. Why wouldn’t they be kind to him? And why wouldn’t he reciprocate? I can understand it, but I do wonder what my uncles thought about it.

The progress of the war eventually tilted towards the Allies, and General MacArthur returned to re-liberate the Philippines. That was when the Japanese “got mean,” as my father put it. And the guerillas got mean, too, punishing anyone they considered to have been a collaborator. My grandfather and the family finally evacuated to the mountains, abandoning the house in town.

“We left everything there,” Dad told us. “We took nothing but clothes, left all the furniture, all the books, the dishes. We left my father’s two favorite chairs. They sat in the sala [living room], big rocking chairs, the kind you can almost lie down in, like recliners.”

“The house was empty the entire time that we were in the mountains. Once in a while one of our houseboys would sneak down to check on it, make sure that it hadn’t been robbed or vandalized.”

“Once, he actually got trapped at the house, because the Japanese came marching through town when he was checking on the property. He had to climb out the window of my parents’ bedroom, and climb down the tamarind tree to get away. But other than him, no one set foot in that house for, oh, maybe two years.”

Looking at the dates of the war, I suspect it was more like a year, a year and a half. But still, a long time. After the Liberation, in 1945, they returned.

“There were a lot of us in the household, you know, plus other relatives that came to stay with us. At night, we would all sleep together in the same room, on mats on the floor of the sala…

“I remember doing that, too!” Mom said, smiling at the memory. Dad continued.

“I remember one night, not too long after we moved back into the house. It was the middle of the night, and we were all asleep in the sala. I felt my mother tap me on the shoulder. When I turned, she pointed over at one of my father’s rocking chairs. It was rocking, back and forth, back and forth. No one was in it. No one was anywhere near it.”

“What did you do?” I asked. Dad shrugged.

“Went back to sleep. It wasn’t bothering us, why would we bother it?”

“So did you get the house exorcised, or something?”

Dad shook his head.

“This was only after we first moved back. For a while, the chairs would rock, or we heard noises, and things would be moved from where we left them. But eventually it stopped.”

He chuckled.

“I think it got too noisy and crowded for the enkanto. After a while, they moved away.”

3 thoughts on “Empty Houses

  1. How wonderful your parents have these stories to share with you. And thanks for sharing them with us.

    One of my favourite ghost stories comes from AS Byatt’s novel Possession – it’s just a brief aside about a man recounting how, when he was a boy he stayed at an inn, and was kept awake by the trees tapping against the window pane and the shadow of branches on the floor and walls. In the morning, he realised there were no trees. He was then told that there used to be a great oak (I think) planted close to the inn, and that what he had witnessed was the ghost of a tree. I thought that was rather lovely, but this was all the better for being recounted to you.

      1. What a lovely little story the one from Possession is, though! Thanks for the kind comments. I have a few more stories, from my mother this time. They will probably be posted over the next few days or so.

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