27 June 2013

The Presence Outside the Priest’s Room

This picture was taken during the very same retreat of this article.
Faculty and staff retreats and recollections are part and parcel of life in a Catholic school. Frequently, these are held during the summer break just before the start of classes, when there are still no students to worry about.

The retreats are pretty standard to Catholic schools and are often held off-campus to enable everyone to detach, at least for a couple of days, from the mundane life in school. It also allows some bonding time for members of the faculty and staff.

This one held at the Capuchin Retreat Centre up in Tagaytay in the latter part of the nineties was really quite routine. Inspirational talks, personal reflection, sharing, prayer. Pretty much off-the-shelf retreat stuff that we could all even be blasé about.

Until nighttime came.


But the moment I opened the door, neither of my feet would budge. I had the same feeling years earlier when I was in an administrators’ workshop in Lian. Back then, the feeling of being watched occurred when I was actually in the washroom taking a pee.
First of all, while the Capuchin Retreat Centre was a rather old structure, it was not really what you would call perfect as location for a horror movie. It was just an old convent, that was all there was to it.

Besides, while a retreat was intended to be a religious experience, it was also by and large a social event for us as well. In other words, we were all unconcerned about the place because break times were all about singing, telling jokes and laughing.

Nobody told spook stories or even thought that the place was spooky.

Then it was time to retire to our rooms. I roomed with Morris Lingao; and everyone who knows the feller knows what to expect. The guy is a walking library of jokes, from the wholesome to the raunchy.

The room we were in was not airconditioned. Still, we were in Tagaytay and an open window let in the cool draft from the outside. The room also had an electric fan.

Whenever I roomed with Morris, he pretty much did most of the talking and I did most of the laughing. This night was no different.

Except that, for some reason, I was increasingly becoming agitated by the open window. It was pitch black outside; and in all honesty there was nothing to see by looking out the window. Still, I could not shake the feeling that there was somebody out there looking in on us.

Normally, I do not spook easily. I do not have the gift of a third eye; and so, I am not able to see ghosts – and thank God for this. I do feel when there is a presence in a place. It is just this hard to describe uncomfortable feeling.

Like I was feeling that night. The feeling was so strong that I felt impelled to ask Morris if he minded if I closed the window. He did not. I closed it but the feeling did not completely go away.

Finally, the lateness of the night caught up with both of us. We went to sleep.

I am the sort of guy, however, who just has to wake up in the middle of the night to pee. This night was no different.

Normally, I just get up and groggily stumble over to the loo. At the retreat centre, the communal washroom was twenty yards down the hall from our room.

I opened the door. The hall was dark; but the washroom lights were on and visible at the end of it. I started to take a step forward in the direction of the washroom, but my feet suddenly stopped as if on their own.

There was something in the dark again. I could not see it; but it was there. The strong feeling earlier that somebody was watching had returned.

I hastily closed the door and went back to my bed. I thought I would just try to sleep on a full bladder. As you all know, that was not a wise thing to do at all. Before long, my full bladder was so uncomfortable that I got up and steeled myself to go to the washroom.

But the moment I opened the door, neither of my feet would budge. I had the same feeling years earlier when I was in an administrators’ workshop in Lian. Back then, the feeling of being watched occurred when I was actually in the washroom taking a pee.

This was worse.

Was I ever so thankful that Coca-Cola came out with the Coke-in-can. And that I had not thrown my can away before going to bed.

The moment I woke up the next morning, I hastily disposed of the can lest Morris mistake it as Mountain Dew in a can of Coke.

Later that day, before we left, I asked one of the resident priests if anyone had died in the convent recently. Yes, as a matter of fact, he said. He gave me the number of the room that the priest used to live in.

It was our room.


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