ANTON Salazar—a 74-year-old recluse who only goes out for walks downtown to get his copy of the newspaper every day before daybreak with only his cane as companion—has been renting an apartment that belonged to Moreene’s family for three years. But by next week he plans to move out. His lung disease is not getting any better. He would return to his province in the south where he could probably meet death in peace.

Mr. Salazar was once a famous folk musician whom Moreene’s mother used to listen to as a child. The child had learned this after she goaded her mother to tell her stories about the mysterious man.

“He used to play at local pubs your dad and I used to go to back when we were just dating. All the girls were in love with him.”

Still, he remains a mystery to Moreene. Although barely twelve, Moreene already has a knack for prying into people’s lives and in fact she was the one who found out about their neighbor’s new mistress. So when the old man moved into their apartment, his mystique piqued her curiosity very well. But the man has kept to himself too much, double-locking the door and shutting off the lights as soon as he had his dinner. He never speaks to them except when he is paying his rent. Her curiosity has been aroused even more.

She has always wanted to become a writer. At an early age she drowned herself in books: from encyclopedias to classical literature and history books, anything she could lay her hands on. Her grandfather used to read her parables from the Bible before she went to sleep. She remembers most especially the “Parable of the Lost Son” for some reason she does not quite understand.

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Every morning, after Mr. Salazar has picked up his morning paper, Moreene would hide in the staircase and would stalk the old man from there. But he could not get anything from him. She makes an effort to wake up early and meet him in the hallway before going out to greet him. But she only gets a disgruntled grunt from him, which she thinks was the lung disease talking.

On a rainy Saturday afternoon Moreene finds it odd that the old man is not in his apartment. She has been waiting for an hour by the stairs but she does not see any sign of him. At around 6 in the evening she hears someone coming up the stairs. She hides behind a broken laundry machine and is surprised to see that in Mr. Salazar’s hands are freshly picked white roses. She spends all night thinking about the old man.

It is not anymore curiosity that moves her to take a closer look at the old man’s life but rather a remembrance of his late grandfather whom Mr. Salazar resembles in many ways. But what particular remembrance she does not know. All she knows is that her grandfather lived alone as a widowed man for more than a decade before moving in with them. She sees his grandfather in Mr. Salazar through his dark, deep-seated eyes.

While waiting outside of the man’s room during on her usual sleuthing, she finds Mr. Salazar’s door ajar. Thinking nobody is inside, she takes a peek and enters silently with the stealth of a ballet dancer. It is dark inside, save for the slant of lights pouring through the cracks of the blinds. As she walks across the room, she trips herself over the clutter on the floor and falls flat.

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“Who’s there?!”

“It’s Mo-Moreene, your next-door neighbor.”

“What are you doing here? Don’t you realize you’re trespassing?”

She holds her breath and picks herself up. She can see the old man now sitting in his easy chair, propped up by a pillow. She can not make out his face in the silhouette outlined by the light outside. He doesn’t move a muscle. She hears her heart racing and it’s the only thing she can hear in the dark room.

Then she is startled when Mr. Salazar moves his head to his right. He seems to be looking at something, something only he can see. She follows his gaze and sees a glint of light captured in the edge of a picture frame. She squints hard to get a better picture of it.

“You are lucky, you know. You have everything.”


“Can’t you see it? You have everything. A good house, a good family, everything a little girl could ask for.”

“I guess. Who is she?”

There is heavy breathing in the room. She steps back, trying to feel her way out of the room. She could run out while she has the chance. She gathers her courage and tries to figure where the door has gone. She could not find it.

“My mother. She is dead now though.”

The silence makes the air thick. She could not breathe.

“I’ve got two reasons for leaving: pride and ambition. They could kill you, girl, let me tell you.”

There is something she sees in his eyes barely illuminated by the moon, something ominous. He was a proud man. He left home when he was nineteen to live out his dreams as a musician. He has never come home since then. He had met a few women in his life but all of them left him when they could no longer stand his arrogance. He never really made it big. And at 30, he had spent all of his money in women and drugs and alcohol. He could not afford a ticket back home. And besides, he was too proud to ever come back.

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“Her birthday is tomorrow. Such pity I never said goodbye to her.”

“You must now have a good reason to come home,” Moreene forces the words out of her dry throat. He gives her a noncommittal shrug.

She walks out of the room, closes the door and climbs down the stair. She remembers she has forgotten to bid Mr. Salazar goodbye. Under the dry light of the moon she remembers the parable her grandfather used to tell her every night before going to bed about the prodigal son. And with this she figures everything will be all right, she supposes. ALILIANA MARGARETTE T. UYAO


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