“The aswang named Gimo lived in this town of Dingle with the rest of his clan.” Jei knew that the clan she spoke of was only a fraction of the real clan. Only those who had moved back onto Visayan land. Talya continued, “And I suppose that’s where the story begins. Gimo’s daughter was, at the time, a college student at a university in the city. She was also an aswang, and pretty as can be. During one of the school breaks, Gimo’s daughter invited two of her college friends to visit her hometown.” Talya smiled grimly. “That hometown was Dingle, Iloilo. Expecting it to be exotic and exciting, her two friends agreed to accompany her home–to meet her family, and to meet Gimo. Of course the girls didn’t know the young woman belonged to a clan of aswang, and being from the city they’d never heard the legends.”
Gimo’s daughter, Jei thought. The dominant bloodline.
Talya stood up. Jei’s eyes following her intently but darkly as she fiddled with the charms hanging from the high ceiling and the shelves along one wall. She drew a box of matches from one shelf and struck it, a flame bursting to life between her fingers. She paused in her story only for a brief moment, lighting a series of candlesticks mounted on the wall.
“There was a great, warm welcome for Gimo’s daughter and her two friends,” Talya said, her face illuminated by candlelight as she walked along the wall, her fingers tracing the shelves. She didn’t bother to look back at Jei, but continued her story almost mindlessly. “It was an impressive party with food to feed an army. Their guests were treated like royalty, really.
“Well, dusk fell and the party eventually died off. The two college students who had returned home with Gimo’s daughter were shown to their friend’s old bedroom, where the three would spend their nights until moving back into the city to continue college. They all settled in sleeping bags together, three in a row spread out on the floor.
“The first, and closest to the door,” Talya said, pivoting toward Jei. She held up one finger in an almost eccentric manner. “Was the older of the two human girls. The second, with one girl on each side, was the younger of the two human girls. The third, in the sleeping bag closest to the window, was the aswang, the daughter of Tenyente Gimo.”
Jei stared mercilessly into Talya’s knowing eyes, his mind burning at the images of the story she told. That aswang, Gimo’s daughter who Gabriel had said died before Jei’s birth, could be the one he searched for.
“Of course you would know,” Talya continued, laughing to herself in an almost unnerving way. “How two human girls have no place among the aswang but as a source of blood.
“The girl lying in the middle sleeping bag woke some time during the night to hear a soft chatter coming from the bottom floor of the house, while her two friends were sleeping.
“‘The one sleeping closest to the window is the aswang,’ claimed the voice of Tenyente Gimo,” Talya said, voicing Jei’s father with a grim tone in her voice. He wondered if she knew that she might as well have been looking into the eyes of Gimo himself when she spoke to Jei. “She could hear the other voices speaking mutedly below them, and then Gimo’s voice again, which she recognized clearly, ‘You can kill the other two. After all, that’s why she brought them home with her.’
“The girl couldn’t ignore those words as a warning, and very quickly she realized the betrayal her friend, who only now she realized was an aswang, had inflicted on her, and the great danger she was in. She could hear the footsteps coming up the stairs. Slowly, as if stalking prey. She tried to wake her sleeping friend, the girl closest to the door, but the footsteps drew closer, and her friend was fast asleep.
“She thought quickly against those threatening footsteps, so she quickly pulled the sleeping bag of the aswang into the middle of the room, taking her own sleeping bag and placing it by the window. She tucked herself into the space near the window where her aswang friend used to be, and just as the footsteps approached the door to their room, she draped a blanket over their faces just enough to shadow their definitive features.
“The aswang, still believing Gimo’s daughter slept at the window, covered the mouths of the two girls sleeping closest to the door and dragged them downstairs.
“It’s said that, in the frenzy, Gimo himself killed his own daughter, thinking her to be the human girl who by chance had overheard.”
Jei’s eyes narrowed, his teeth grinding together in a mix of confusion and anxiety.
It wasn’t her, Jei thought. If Gimo had still been in the Visayas when all of this had happened, Jei would not have been born because Gimo returned to Manila with Jei and never left again. The aswang who died by Gimo’s hand was not the one Jei had been looking for, nor did she share a mother with him.
Talya drifted slowly back to her seat before Jei, striking another match and lighting one of the candles spread out across the table.
“The clan of aswang quickly realized their terrible mistake, but by that time, the girl who tricked them to save her own life had already snuck out the window. The entire clan is said to have searched throughout the remainder of the night, but none of them found her. The legend goes that after that incident, Tenyente Gimo swore to punish the young woman himself. He began hunting her shortly after, and that’s when he disappeared from the Visayas. No one ever heard another word of or about him—or the young girl he hunted for revenge against—ever again.”
The words slowly sunk in through the pores of Jei’s skin, the entire thing piecing itself together in his mind.
“This girl,” Jei said, realizing the next gap in the puzzle that needed to be filled. “This Maria. Where was she from?”
“Where was she from?” Talya repeated in an almost squeaking voice. Her eyes were round with something mixed between surprise and curiosity. “If I remember right…the two girls that Gimo’s daughter brought back…they attended a college together in the south…in Malaybalay, Mindanao.”
Ah, the pieces fall together.