Was it the embarrassing blunders she committed that made her unattractive to Tad? Was it her mysterious asthma attacks? What successful man would want a fiancee who’d, all of a sudden, flail her hands, fall, roll, and writhe on the street? Maybe his interest waned during the faculty acquaintance night when she spilled red wine on her jade cocktail dress. Everybody has forgotten that dress, but not her clumsiness.
Farrah knew better than to feel glum over a series of unfortunate blunders. She knew something was behind these. It was Rahu. For ten years, Rahu showed her that he existed in her life. First, by giving her breathing difficulties that puzzled doctors. No diagnosis so far had shown what it was and what caused it. She was sure Rahu was behind every embarrassing moment she had on the street, onstage, in front of her class, and when she’s with respectable professors and experts and people connected to her fiance. Her life sailed smoothly until her Rahu Mahadasha. Sure, everybody goes through that trying life period, the long Rahu dasha, and don’t even it is happening. But she could not give that as explanation every time. People, including Tad, would find that ridiculous. They’d call her delusional. Insane, even. And the one man that could understand her predicament has disappeared.
Lolo Samuel had always been her advocate and mentor. That is, mentor in secret. When the family did not approve of her studying astrology saying she has an aptitude better than that, she obeyed them and went to the university. To make a statement, however, she took a rather useless, obscure course—Ancient Studies—from its undergraduate up to its Ph.D. degree. Her practical cousins, aunts, and uncles wondered about what she’d do for a living after graduation. Whatever. She sped through her courses, thanks to astrology’s good timing indicators.
Unknown to her parents, she’d go to Lolo Samuel’s house to ask his help in getting good timing for scholarships, grant money, submission of requirements, thesis defense, dissertation completion, field work, and on and on until she graduated with a useless doctoral degree.
Farrah was quiet about what, for ten years, was making her the queen of embarrassing bloopers on campus but also in the grocery or in church or in Tad’s friend’s cousin’s grandmother’s 97th birthday party where she accidentally spilled a large bandehado of ‘long life” pancit; the equivalent of the wedding cake in the context of that party. Because of the old woman’s failing short-term memory, the abuela couldn’t remember what happened two hours after the special pancit was all over the dance floor. But the guests and grandma’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will talk about Farrah’s sin in the next hundred years. She apologized again and again and the next day even gifted the abuela two items from the bucket list– picked the old woman up, went to a well-known salon and had the abuela’s hair dyed pink. The happy little old head of pink also received a box of Cuban cigars from Farrah.
Farrah was the incarnate big fish in a toy pond when she began teaching in the local college. Co-teachers respected her. Students, whether ladies or young men, admired her. Her uncle was also the college’s Liberal Arts dean. Farrah accepted his offer out of respect, and her uncle offered her the job out of sympathy, knowing that his sister’s dysfunctional daughter will have a hard time looking for a job; a plight that none of his children will ever suffer. Farrah liked the interaction with her students, she’s satisfied in her comfort zone where she could simply walk to work early in the morning, past the bakery and its line of hot pan de sal buyers, past the elementary school where she went as a kid, and past the church. She liked her walk back home when the sun’s coming down and the sea breeze would play with her hair.
Until that particular morning, at sunrise, while she walked to the college…
She could see from the corner of her eyes students and staff whispering. She was the juicy topic, of course. She could feel the stares. She could hear tones of derision, tones of sympathy. She felt encouraged by the few who admired her. The girl coeds especially began looking up to her as somebody to emulate in trying times like this.
“Of course I stopped on my track that day. I felt my stomach sinking to the abyss and my heart was pounding. I didn’t think of making a scene that day. I said ‘hi’ to them and went on my way. I got a class at seven.”
“Farrah, what do you think they’re doing in front of Hotel Ascott early in the morning, looking as if they just showered? Surely, they were not meditating in there all night,” said one of the friends who cared.
“We’re here if you need us. You’ve been cheated. Sooner or later, after you’re done with grief, you will feel angry,” said the other friend.
“I don’t have the energy for revenge, ” Farrah told them.
Little was known of how she almost crawled to the church’s confessional. That’s where she spent a moment dealing with her mysterious, embarrassing illness. She kept her gasps and the struggle to get air into her lungs as quiet as possible so as not disturb the early morning churchgoers.
There. Finally, Tad got tired of her and her invisible torturer. Farah wondered if he somehow sensed Rahu. If he could, maybe he was jealous too. Farrah spent more time wrestling with Rahu, understanding his temper, and at the back of her mind, planning to seize him by the scruff of his neck. In short, she spent more time with Rahu than with Tad. That’s why he’s with Monica, the lovely young fastfood chain heiress who delighted in the attention showered on her by being a grad student in this tiny local college.
Farrah closed her eyes as if wincing; wishing for this to go away. Many times she’s been tempted to resort to remedies as relief from Rahu’s effects, but she knew it could make things worse.
“Remedies for the negative effects of Rahu are easy to get. There’s wearing gomed or cat’s eye crystal. There’s black sesame. There’s the mantra. Personally however, I’d rather endure Rahu’s effect. It’s an act of cleansing. Of getting out of the karmic wheel. Then only afterwards shall I be free to create my own destiny. I am convinced that this is a very human act. No other entity, not even the devas, have the freedom to do this; that’s why they envy human beings.”
That was from Lolo Samuel’s diary of astrological ruminations. Now he’s nowhere to be found…
She should be home before the lunar eclipse tonight. She was in the library archives, plodding through old microfilms of a newspaper that covered the 70’s and 80’s. She needed it for Monica’s thesis defense. The Liberal Arts department rubbed salt on her wounds without intending it by having her in the thesis examination committee. Of course that was Rahu’s doing. She gritted her teeth and smiled and said,
“Okay Rahu, wanna play?” She half-laughed at her own daring dialogue.
Close to 10 pm, while she was packing up, the longest, most painful bouts of asphyxiation came. She tried exhaling and inhaling in rhythm now, but each time she inhaled it felt as if water entered her lungs. Even so, she opened her eyes because she smelled smoke. If the archives was burning, she’s got to crawl out of here. Her stiff, weakened hands were unreliable. She kicked instead, as if swimming, moving her legs and thighs in an effort to creep and crawl towards the door.
“Stop creeping and crawling. You are insulting half of me,” a hoarse, breathy voice said. It was Rahu. He towered over her, in spite of the absence of legs. In their stead, was a snake’s body, attached to a human torso with four arms. A veil of blue-black smoke came and went, as the apparition stood there. Farrah closed her eyes. She saw Rahu in the darkness. She opened her eyes. Still Rahu was standing there.
“Finally, I could see you,” she said. She was surprised by how steady her voice was. As if this was an appointment written on her messy calendar. “So this is how an ‘eyeball’ meeting feels like. I learned that from my students.”
“You were a hard one to contend with,” Rahu said, ignoring her casual air. “You kept dodging my efforts.”
“I was not happy with the kind of attention you gave me,” he said.
“Look, for 10 years I’ve been trying to understand how you work, why you do what you do, and who you are, Rahu of the Asuras,” she said. “How come you’re not happy?”
“I expect to be appeased, to be worshipped and feared.”
“Well, I have a different–”
Then there was a deafening boom and more blue-black smoke than a New Year’s supply of Super Lolo fire crackers.
“This is what you wanted to see, isn’t it?” He sounded majestic and vicious at the same time.
Just like in the movies, he presented to her a scene, which she strangely knew was a past life she has lived. She saw herself standing on a riverbank, staring at a hand from another human, another physical body, which was frantically waving in the middle of gushing waters. It was Monica.
“You could have saved her, for you were a strong swimmer, but you did not. You stood there and watched the river take her to the underworld. Because you wanted her beloved for yourself. You wanted Tad.”
She found herself standing, facing up to her crime. She nodded. Now she understood why she suffered those breathless episodes. Karma. She opened her arms to it. Blue-black smoke enveloped her and choked her. This time she did not resist it. Not a bit. In fact, she felt a kind of joyful acceptance of this agony. She felt the river cleansing her as part of her lay dying.
Then she found it. After ten years, she found it. She walked towards an opening and held on to that which she she has been looking for. Tightly. Not letting go, no matter what. That’s when fresh air, as in the cleanest ocean breeze, brushed her hot brows and nourished her lungs.
“Go no farther!” Rahu exclaimed.
“It was my choice if I want to hold on to this,” Farrah said and she wouldn’t let go of that which Rahu feared. “I have chosen this.”
“We can negotiate,” Rahu said. “I will give you a good position in a well-respected internationally known university, instead of this measly small-town college. I can give you excellence in academic achievements in the smoothest, easiest ways… no more blunders. I can make them raise your salary to amounts you cannot imagine. You will have the power to take revenge against those who have wronged you. I can give you Tad. Again. Just let go of that portal.”
“For 10 years I’ve been circumspecting you, Rahu,” she said still holding on to what she found. “You knew what I wanted. You kept presenting me the undesirables because that will make me gravitate towards the attractive stuff that a human mind thinks it desires. In my struggles to sidestep you however, do you know that I also uncovered your deepest longing?
“You were were the cursed one; the head from the beheaded Svarbhanu of the Asuras. I know what you wanted. Because I am human, I have the freedom to fulfill it.”
Farrah stopped. Everything was quiet. Even the blue-black smoke, though rising, was silent. Then she felt the ground hissing as steam rose up. Tears dropped on the ground. It came from the eyes that belonged to the head that was severed from the sub-human entity. What she said was enough to make the blue-black smoke dissipate and with it, the apparition.
“Thank you,” Rahu, the shadow planet, said as he dissolved into his realm.
The next day, she received a note from the college’s higher people.
“The faculty came to a conclusion after weeks of decision-making. We are inviting you to submit your qualifications for deanship in the social sciences department,” the note said.
“No, thank you,” she said. She made her way to the auditorium to serve in the examination committee of theses presentors.
Monica’s oral defense went smoothly. Farrah did not ask a lot. The one time that she did, it was in a playful, encouraging way and it made the day lighter for everyone in the room, including tense-filled Monica.
It happened again in the closing of the day; the last of those that Farrah will remember in the future.
“Rahu, you pick a good time and a good audience,” Farrah said, even though she was gasping for air. Students, faculty, Monica, and Tad who came to show support to Monica, surrounded her.
“Give her space!” she heard one of them.
“Get the fan closer to her,” commanded another.
“Shall we call the ambulance?”
“No,” they heard Farrah say. And they watched opened-mouthed as she gasped for air. This time her arms were no longer stiff and struggling. They were graceful, as if in a dance. As if… making love to the unseen. She smiled at one time and followed it with a gasp. Then it was over.
Farrah opened her eyes and got up.
“Thank you for your concern,” she said to the perplexed crowd. Then with light steps, she walked out of the building, out of the campus never to return again, out into the street, looking at the gathering stars at dusk.