Ang Balay sa Buang

There was a buang in the old house on Mahogany Street.

They whisper that the young woman, Carolina, had gone mad due to mysterious circumstances, and now prowled her grandmother’s house to recover from her madness. Amboy heard his friends tell him so, and as with all gossip spoken to an impressionable child of sixteen, he had declared it gospel and was firmly convinced it was true.

“They say she tried to jump off the boat on the way here!”

“They say she took off her clothes and took a dump in the middle of the public fountain!”

“They say she failed her classes, and she went loka-loka!

The rumors were rampant. Sometimes Amboy would question the validity of the hearsay, but as they were repeated with increasing fervor and malice, he recanted his doubts and declared that yes, indeed, the buang who lived in the old house on Mahogany street looked especially crazy. Even though he had not, technically, met her yet, and had only gotten a glimpse of her from afar.

Secretly, though, he did not think that. He had seen the rumored buang before— her name was Carolina, and she was a girl just a few years older than him. She did not really look like a crazy person. Maybe her hair was a little wild, but Amboy had once entertained the thought that her long, pale neck was rather pretty, and her deep eyes had depth. He had heard once, before all these rumors came to light, that she had gone to a prestigious university and was just now back for vacation, staying with her Lola in the old, dilapidated house.

His mind was set, however. That girl was crazy, and everyone should know about it. That night he relished in sharing the news to his own parents, but they took it with surprising light-heartedness and tolerance: “So she’s a little crazy,” said his father in his usual jovial manner, pronouncing the word crazy with an American accent, “But aren’t we all?”

“But they said—“

“You shouldn’t speak of such things,” scolded his mother as she forcefully served him more rice, “It’s not nice to badmouth sick people.”

“But Ma!” Amboy whined, “They’re saying the craziest things about her! Like how she tried to pull up grass and eat them!”

“Hush! I won’t have you speak about the ill like that in this house, do you hear me, John Louie? Now, finish your food! There are starving children in Africa, and you’re just sitting there, letting all that food go to waste!”

There was no arguing with his Mama when she used his first names like that. Petulant, and disinclined to stop talking about a topic that fascinated him so, Amboy leaned back in his chair and complained, “Why? If I eat all my food, will the starving children in Africa get any?”

He was sent to bed early that night.

The next day, when he met up with his friends again, they were similarly disinterested in the topic which they had so eagerly discussed the day before. Amboy wanted to talk more about the buang, but it seemed that his friends wanted to talk about everything else instead, about boring things like what he was doing for the rest of the summer, or if his family had any plans on going out of town. They were topics not nearly as interesting as the buang who lived in the old house across the basketball court on Mahogany Street. But his friends, seemingly growing their own backbones overnight, would not budge on the issue. They were as tight-lipped as they were malicious the day before.

Finally, Amboy casually suggested to his friends that they play some b-ball. His real aim, of course, was to catch a glimpse of Carolina (and see some abnormal activity from her), but his friends were unlike their usual selves. It was as if they hadn’t talked about the buang at all yesterday. They were avoiding the topic. He asked them why.

“Well, it was all just a joke, really,” said one of his friends, unable to look him in the eye, “There must be some truth to it, of course, but my Mama said she was taking medication or something,” said one of his friends. Another told him that, “Honestly, I feel sorry for her. She had so much potential.” A quote which Amboy thought, upon reflection, was taken verbatim from another well-meaning Mama.

  And that was that. None of his friends broached the topic anymore. They were all silent as they played basketball that day, the buang’s house so temptingly close, just begging to be stared at. Amboy held himself back with reasonable restraint, in respect to his friends’ attitudes, who were oddly respectful of the old house. They seemed a bit guilty about saying all that crap about Carolina yesterday. For sure they, too, had heard of her. For some of them, the buang was even their upperclassmen in high school and had gone to school with her before she left for university.

Amboy, however, could not let it go.

The day after he went back to playing ball on the court, and he alone this time, his friends scattered to the high winds. This time, without his friends to herd him, Amboy’s fascination with the house of the buang was unrestrained. He stared at the old house for hours, wondering at its rotting frame, its aged windows, its dark atmosphere, imagining it to be just the sort of house that would breed someone like Carolina, who wound up crazy. All the while, he kept craning his neck for a glimpse of her. The ball in his hands had become a prop— an object to be held as he beheld his true obsession.

The buang, however, might as well not have lived there. There was practically no activity coming from the house. Its windows remained closed, and Amboy could not hear a sound from it. Desperate to see action, any action at all, Amboy started to yell, hoping to incite Carolina’s wrath: “Buang! Buang!”

Silence. His heart pounding, Amboy felt as if he had released gospel truth out into the world, the last echoes of the word reverberating in the quiet of the basketball court around him, even in the air itself. The word seemed to escape from the deepest parts of his soul, and he swallowed as he felt the conviction of the word vibrate within him. That woman was crazy, a buang, and it was the truth! It was fascinating, and in his fascination, Amboy felt all his focus turn razor-sharp and obsessive. He could not contain himself. He must see more of the phenomenon, lest his curiosity consume him.

But the old house was still.

“Buang!” Amboy yelled again, extending the ‘a’s and speaking louder, “Buaaaaaang!”

Finally, one of the old windows opened a crack, and Amboy thought he glimpsed soulful brown eyes, a long, neck, and wild hair before it closed a moment later with a soft ‘snap.’

Success. Amboy felt elated in his victory. He had gotten a glimpse of her! He had seen the buang! He couldn’t wait to tell people about how crazy she had looked, in those precious few seconds, about how her eye had an especially insane quality to them, how her hair must have been Medusa-like in its unbound state, how she must have raved within the walls of her old home, stark-raving mad at him, about how he had dared to call her out…

That night, when Amboy proudly told his parents about his accomplishment, that did not seem particularly pleased.

Unsa?!” yelled his Mama. Her pupils looked small against the white in her eyes. Her nostrils flared in her fury, “What did you do?!”

Confused, Amboy repeated his exploits, and his Mama’s reaction seemed to swell along with his recounting of the story. She seemed unable to breathe due to her rage when finally, she lectured: “How dare you! What a thoughtlessly cruel thing to do! Have I raised a delinquent? What possessed you to do those things, John Louie?!” And on and on she went, until Amboy’s appetite completely depleted itself, and he just sat there silently at the dinner table, staring at his utensils and untouched food, until his Mama ran out of steam and he excused himself.

Alone and hungry in his bedroom, he contemplated the events of the day, and Carolina, the buang, wondering what crazy antics she must be up to, still unable to see what was wrong with what he did. His father entered his room in the middle of his musings, and Amboy welcomed him into his room. His father entered with a small frown on his face and sat heavily on the edge of Amboy’s bed. He was silent for a while before he started speaking, and his light-hearted tones were replaced with a strange somberness that was alien to him, “Amboy,” began his father, “Why did you do that?” he asked.

Amboy explained that he was just curious, really, which seemed a grave underestimation of how obsessed he had gotten with the whole affair, but fathers were not interested in that sort of talk, and preferred brief, concise answers, and so Amboy figured that saying, “I was just curious about her,” seemed sufficient an answer.

“Doing what you did,” explained his father, “Was wrong,” he said, “It was cruel of you, anak, to yell insults right in front of their house.”

Amboy was silent. He did not think he was insulting her at all but simply calling her what she was. “What if you got really sick,” said his father, “And one of our neighbors started yelling outside our house about your illness, hm?”

That stumped Amboy– because he knew his father had a point, and when he left his room, Amboy had a lot of things to think about.

Still, his fascination with the buang remained, and his thoughts revolved around Carolina the whole night. It was not so much Carolina herself that fascinated him—it was her insanity, her illness, the fact that she was insane and was buang—these things were a siren call to Amboy’s mind, and he obsessed over it, and he wondered what she could possibly be doing, what quirk or eccentricity she had that crossed the line and made her what she was. What made Carolina buang?

The next day dawned bright and brilliant, the sky a peerless blue, the weather in the peak of summer, and still Amboy’s thoughts clung to the buang in the old house on Mahogany street. Like a man possessed, he ate breakfast and did his ablutions by rote, and without his completely being aware of it, his feet were leading him to the basketball court. He wanted to catch a glimpse of the buang again. He needed to.

On his way to the court, he passed by a couple of his neighbors, overhearing them talking about Carolina. One of them, an old, matronly woman was frowning heavily, saying, “The girl should be placed somewhere safer, not that rotting excuse of a bungalow! Like a hospital. It will be best for her health.”

“What are you talking about, Ma?” said the other woman, younger, but still middle-aged, “You know there are no mental hospitals around these parts!”

And something inside Amboy rebelled at that, because if they put Carolina away, how else will he get to watch her? The old house will become nothing but that—an old house, with nothing particularly spectacular inside, a corpse of uninteresting things that belong to an era long past. Without Carolina, the old house on Mahogany street might as well cease to exist to Amboy, bereft as it is of anything truly interesting.

When he reached the basketball court, other children were there. Their small, waifish figures looked comical next to their oversized slippers, and the rusted basketball ring was too tall for them to reach, but their efforts to score a point were to be admired. Amboy barely noticed them as he made a perch on the long kawayan bench lining the court and facing the old house. As he sat down, he steeled himself for an uncomfortable wait on the bamboo seats. His ball lay on his feet, unnoticed and merely decorative. His true purpose lay in front of him, and Amboy felt the creeping claw of obsession rake at him. The old house remained singular. It captured his attention like nothing else, and he began to ruminate on it. Several minutes pass before the children playing around him approach him to borrow his ball. He spared a second to glance at them and notice their pathetically deflated ball before he acquiesced without a fuss, returning his focus on the house.

In the background, Amboy heard the yells and jubilant cries of the children as they raced around the court with his ball, but he seemed to exist in a vacuum: there was no air, there was no grass on his feet, no bench beneath him. There was no sun, there were no trees and no shade above him, there was only the old house, the house of Carolina, ang balay sa buang.

And time seemed to stretch infinitely as Amboy beheld the house: his eyes meticulously traced the windows, its replaced shingles, the grain of the dark wood, the rot around the base, the moss that seemed liable to consume it, trailing upwards from the ground, its wide, unreliable-looking door, the shape of its roof. Amboy wondered if it would leak inside and how much rain entered it, and imagined what Carolina was doing within it.

Eventually, Amboy tired of just staring at the house, he wanted to see Carolina. He wanted to see the buang. He started to yell again, unblinkingly, at the old, wonderful house, “BUANG!”

His cry echoed eerily in the area. The sound of the children playing behind him ceased to a halt. “BUANG!” Amboy yelled again, and: “BUANG! GAWAS!”

Time seemed to move forward again when the children behind him, thinking it was a game, started yelling with him, too. Soon, cries to the buang to exit her home and perform for them echoed around the area. Amboy was mindless to all of this, tunnel-visioning at the house, willing Carolina to race out of the house and perform some insane act for him. Amboy was relentless, tireless in his cries to demand the buang show herself, before—

“HOI MARYOSEP NA UNSA MAN KA?!” screamed a familiar voice. Amboy turned and— his mother was right there, red in the face. She started dragging him away.

That night during dinner, Amboy’s Mama was practically incandescent in her rage. She screamed at him until she became hoarse. Amboy imagined that she was one breath away from a truly spectacular, fiery explosion, but she continued on and on, her spittle flying everywhere, her hair in disarray, her responsibilities put on hold until she said all she wanted to Amboy. No dinner had been set on the table, for his mother had berated and yelled and shook furiously at him the entire afternoon, and even now in the early evening, when his father had gotten home from work, her tirade was growing strong. Amboy’s father was a silent, stony figure behind his mother, seated rigidly at the table, still in his work clothes, frowning at him and breathing heavily, also furious with him.

That night, sent to his room without dinner, Amboy was manic. None of his mother’s words had penetrated. His mind still revolved around the house— that glorious, eerie, stupendous house— and to Carolina, whose name had become synonymous to crazy, to insane, to buang, and that word itself, and how the bu would be dropped heavily in his mind, and the ang would leave echoes inside his head, like ripples on a calm lake that become large waves at the end. Yes, he decided. Buang. He liked that word, he thought. Buang. Buang. Buang.

Hours passed, yet Amboy, still embroiled in his thoughts about Carolina and the old house, could not sleep. He was obsessed, consumed. Carolina was buang. He was buang. He was buang.

He was buang!

And with a gasp, Amboy sat up in his bed and started laughing, exuberant with his brilliant idea! Because of course! Of course! Of course, he was buang, too! He had discovered a gospel truth! He was Galileo, and his bed was his bathtub, and he had to scream that he was buang like Galileo screamed Eureka— so gripped as he was with his discovery! He was buang and this was the truth!

Laughing, laughing, laughing, Amboy burst out of his room, into the sala, where his parents had gone out of their own room, still in their night clothes, staring at him in horror. He needed to tell the world! He needed to!

Amboy pushed past his flabbergasted parents into the street, yelling, laughing, screaming. He was inspired! He was luminescent and he burned bright bright bright like a lightbulb Amboy was a genius he was a genius—

And like true north, Amboy knew, he just knew where the buang’s house was, and he blindly ran there, his parents at his heels, begging him to come back inside. But they did not understand! His house was the old house on Mahogany Street, and everyone’s house was the same. He was Carolina, and everyone else was, too. They were all buang! And like a broken record, Amboy screamed what his father told him at dinner nights and nights ago, and what Amboy brilliantly discovered earlier, when he finally, finally, understood. Laughing in carefree abandonment, because he now knew the truth, Amboy yelled at the top of his lungs to all the people in the world, “Buang tang tanan! Buang tang tanan! Buang tang tanan!”

This story was a failed submission to the 2018 NAGMAC Writer’s Workshop.

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