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Adventures in a rented house

By BARBARA GONZALEZ- VENTURA, The Philippine STAR Published May 23, 2021 5:00 am

This morning as I was working on rosaries my eyes fell on an old scar on my left hand — the trademark of my being a hobbyist. It’s where your thumb ends, an inch and a quarter long, and stops about two inches above where I would cut myself if I were committing suicide.

I got it when I was 27 years old and highly ignorant. My children and I lived in a rented house then. I thought it was a charming house. The first thing that happened was my landlord died in a plane crash.

One morning, I was talking to him about some repairs that had to be done. He said he was flying that day but would attend to my request as soon as he returned. His small plane crashed and he never returned.

Once I went to dine with friends. One of them gave me a big basket of live crabs that he had brought home. I never learned how to drive. I have instead sworn to earn enough money to afford having a driver. I asked my driver to bring the basket home, leave it in the kitchen sink, then come back for me at the restaurant.

When I got home I heard a clatter as soon as I walked in the door. The crabs were walking around the house. My driver and I had to pick them up. I used tongs and did a lot of screaming.

Suddenly my toes were wet. I wondered why. I looked up at the ceiling to see if there was a leak. There was none. I looked down on the floor and saw my toes covered with blood.

The house came with a phone. One day the city’s mayor died suddenly of a heart attack. That phone rang so many times. People asked what happened to him. I couldn’t say, “I’m sorry, you have the wrong number.” I had to say, “I’m sorry I don’t know. This isn’t his number anymore.” Then they would ask for his new number. So then I had to say, “I’m sorry but I don’t know him.” This went on intensely for longer than you can imagine.

It was after that mayor’s death that I got interested in papier-mâché. I took lessons, learned that if you want to duplicate a clay pot you first apply an oily cream to make sure your paper doesn’t stick. Then you tear up paper and soak in a mixture of water and glue. Then you apply the soaked paper around the pot and, when finished, you let it dry. 

Then you use a very sharp knife, one with blades you can change, and you cut off the dry papier-mâché from the mold. It was around eight at night. I changed the blade of my knife then cut my work to unmold. Ooops, the knife slipped. I continued to work, concentrating on my unmolding.

Suddenly my toes were wet. I wondered why. I looked up at the ceiling to see if there was a leak. There was none. I looked down on the floor and saw my toes covered with blood. I was standing in a pool of blood! I looked at my hand and it was spurting blood. I had cut myself when the knife slipped. I ran to the bathroom, put my hand under the sink. Blood was spurting out of my cut.

When I remember it now, I remember that night as a turning point in my life. Much has happened since. Time marched endlessly on.

I called up a neighbor who picked me up and rushed me to the hospital where she knew a doctor who was on duty.

“He will sew you up pretty well,” she said. That doctor was Dr. Efren Vasquez, assistant to Dr. Constantino Manahan, a gynecologist. Boy Vasquez sewed me up and took out the stitches when the wound had mended. He did a wonderful job. We became good friends, and later I asked him to be godfather to my only son. And much later still he retired and now owns Café Juanita.

That night marked the end of papier-mâché as my hobby. I was not going to risk standing in a pool of my own blood ever again.

When I remember it now, I remember that night as a turning point in my life. Much has happened since. Time marched endlessly on.

I also made my way to another hobby — the making of batiks. I bet you don’t even remember what batik is, except printed material purchased in Zamboanga. Let me tell you, it’s an art. It takes a long time to learn and a long time to do, but at least it doesn’t make you stand in a pool of your own blood.

I remember one more thing about that lovely house. There was a heavy typhoon, one of those rainy nights so wonderful to sleep to. I woke up very early in the morning, while it was still dark, got out of bed and found myself standing ankle-deep in water.

My lovely bedroom that I had just had covered with a lavender carpet was flooded. That was the turning point. That day I just had to start looking for another house.