*#3 of the MANNY GOLOYUGO series. Extract from my Photography blog, Through Frog Eyes. Each month a guest photographer is featured and a short story is woven around a set of photographs. Please click on the link to read the previous stories and the complete version of the story below. 

Elsa leaned back on the bench on the boat and stared out onto the water, mentally casting her exhaustion into the calm waters. The rain clouds were forming in the skies above and she couldn’t help but feel the same heaviness in her eyes, tears ready to burst out like the rain. The desolation and anguish in her heart was beyond anything she had imagined, and nothing close to what people had told her it would feel like. Death was something she dealt with almost on a daily basis working at funeral parlor as an embalmer, but those were all anonymous cadavers to her. This time the loss was personal; and painful. It had barely been a week since she buried her husband of 40 years. They had always known that his chosen profession as a policeman would cost him his life one day, but she took the risk anyway and married him. Before God and all the witnesses present they swore to live each day to the fullest, knowing to expect the unexpected each time he walked out the door to serve the people.

quiapo-churchyard-manila1
Quiapo Churchyard – by Manny Goloyugo

People considered Elsa a strong woman, a community leader with a vision who knew exactly how she wanted things run. They looked up to her, learning early on never to underestimate her small stature and misleading demureness. She was everyone’s aunt, adoptive mother, elder sister, and best friend. Yet, as fate would have it, in spite of her impeccable reputation and model behavior, her six children turned out to be one heartbreak after another. The eldest son and youngest daughter were working in Bangkok as prostitutes, earning good money they claimed, but had sold their souls to the highest bidders. Two other sons were in jail on opposite sides of the country, one in for murder and the other for drug trafficking. Elsa had pinned her hopes on her two daughters who married soldiers, expecting them to make up for their other siblings and care for her in her old age. Alcohol and drugs beat her to it and robbed Elsa of her daughters and grandchildren, leaving her with disgruntled sons-in-law and endless debts.

As she stepped off the boat, Elsa joined the others in prayers as the procession of nuns from the nearby convent carried a crown of thorns on a velvet cushion. It was only then that she realized it was Friday and she was late for her weekly prayer meeting. She was exhausted and in no mood to put on a cheerful face for the young and eager minds of the bible study group, but she was committed to them with the same fervor that they were devoted to her. Visiting her son in prison was never easy and she wasn’t sure how long she would be able to keep it up.

After the procession passed her spot, Elsa turned towards the cemetery, deciding that now was a good a time as any to visit her parents’ graves. The cemetery was full, families scrubbing the tombs of the dearly departed in preparation for All Souls Day. Many had brought their candle offerings as well and were faithfully praying the rosary. Elsa found her parents, placed a hand on the headstone and closed her eyes. She was deep in prayer when she felt a coldness surround her, the daylight suddenly vanishing and all the voices faded into hollow echoes with unintelligible words. Elsa felt two large hands on her shoulders, heavy and firm as they gripped her bones. Movement was impossible and so was screaming, as though her entire being had been paralyzed in a bizarre state of suspended animation. A cold wind blew into her ear and whispered “I have come to take you”. She opened her eyes with great effort and stared at the face she thought she never see again

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