“Philomena, Kuya Bongbong of Magsaysay Street” by L.M.S.P. Burns

Katrina, Edgar, and Vicente had the “Purple Man and his disciples” at the Kam Shopping Center. We—Gerlie, Totoy, and Baby—had Philomena on Magsaysay Street. Philomena talked to herself, swatted insects with powers of invisibility flying around her head. Though she did not come to Red Cross every day, where my mother worked, she came regularly enough for us to wonder every other week if anyone has seen Philomena. Whereas Jesus of Kam Shopping Center (as christened by Edgar) rushes to a corner, curls himself up into a ball, and shrieks at the shoppers entering and exiting the automatic doors of Star Market or Longs Drugs, Philomena taps three times to the left and three times to the right before crossing any entryway. Ninang, anong trip ni Philomena? We would ask Auntie Annie. She would say anong anong trip? Ano bang alam ninyo sa trip trip? Dismissing us, saying what the hell do we know about drug trips. Sometimes, Philomena can be heard, screaming, and seen bending to one side or another, as if she’s scolding someone short next to her. One of the nurse interns at the Red Cross explained that Philomena is so smart, all her knowledge got confused in her brain.

I raise Katrina’s, Edgar’s, and Vicente’s “The Exorcist Lady” with one Kuya Bongbong. Kuya was here then he was gone. He came back but he seemed still gone. Some afternoons he was left with us, for us to him to keep him company; kami daw ang magbantay sa kanya. Baby, my youngest sister once whispered to me—we are younger than him, how can we watch over him? Most of the time he sat quietly, eerily quiet. He looked like he was listening intently. We only noticed this when he would turn his head suddenly, as if following a sound. We were tasked to make sure he didn’t wander off to follow the voices he heard with his bionic ear. We didn’t try to talk to him because it just seemed like we would be interrupting, we would pull him out of his reality. Once in a while we heard a murmur. None of us was brave enough to ask him if he needed something. But the least bravest was the first one to bolt, to tell one of the grown ups in the office that we think Kuya is trying to say something. Whoever was smart enough to go first was complimented for carefully looking after Kuya Bongbong and for expressing concern. And the other two who stayed made sure Kuya is fine.

One afternoon, my brother, sister, and I were playing a game “Guess who I am.” Totoy got up, walked over to the door, tapped the left side of the entry way three times then the right side. It was my turn, I stood on my tip toes, clasped my hands, took a deep breath to make myself taller and skinnier, pulled my head forward, jutted out my chin. I turned my head to the left suddenly, bird-like, as if following a sound my left ear heard. Without moving my head, I looked side to side with just my eyes. My sister and brother began to giggle but quickly stopped. Just then, Auntie Annie’s palm hits the back of my head. We asked Ninang, What is Kuya’s trip? Iyan talaga ang nagtri-trip. Ganyan ang mangyayari sa inyo pagka-mag-do-droga kayo. Matutuyo ang utak ninyo. Like the kids in the alley snorting glue, that is what will happen to you and your brain if you do drugs. Ang bastos ninyo. Hindi ba kayo naaawa sa kanya? Tinatawanan pa ninyo. What is so funny about having a fried brain from drugs?

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