It's gone now. All that remains in my memory is how vivid it appeared, and how unafraid I was. Well, almost unafraid. The truth is I was sweating all over before our encounter. It's from not knowing what to expect, I guess. It's from the fear of finding out that my ghastly, ghostly interpretations of how he looks like are true. Surprisingly, he looks so far from how we've conceived him to be.

You see, five years ago, I had an encounter with a tikbalang. That pipe smoking dark creature living mostly in a tree -- portrayed as having a hairy body, a hunchback, with a hoof of a horse, nostrils of a horse, long-haired, etc. Well, our tikbalang wasn't reall all that. He's dark, behairy but not a hunchback. He's piping a cigarette, not a cigar. He's scary because his eyes are not crossed and his teeth dark and stained and he's always salivating. And he has a name. Tikboy Tikbalang.

He used to live in that dark, dreary haunted house (or 'hunted haws' as we kids love to call it) near the public cemetery. After school, we kids would take that corner street even if it's out of our way, scaring ourselves with various ghostly stories, claiming that Tikboy Tikbalang is standing in one of those open windows looking at us, and then on cue, we would dart home as fast as we can, catching our breath, almost dying of laughter making fun of whoever gets home last.

Tikboy Tikbalang, hence, became a part of my youth. He taught us the wonderful world of imagining things and of weaving of stories and of scaring ourselves.

The truth is, he's the katiwala of that 'hunted haws', unmarried, loves cigarettes, and, nobody knows this except me, loves to crack jokes and to make fun of kids. I learned this one day when he caught me sneaking near their fence hoping to have a glimpse of him. I didn't know that he was out and was watching me across the street. I was stooped low among the bushes when I suddenly felt a tapping on my shoulders: sino'ng hinahanap mo? The voice was low-pitched and deep. I knew before I turned my head that it was Tikboy Tikbalang behind me. I thought I'm going to faint before I could turn around and face him, but strangely, he just laughed. Loud and booming laughter. I thought of running away, but my knees were woobling out of fear and I couldn't raise my legs to run.

He said: Tara sa loob. Mag merienda ka.

With what? Human liver, or perhaps a fresh heart? Perhaps, he guessed what I was thinking because before I can raise my eyes on him, he said: Ensaymada.

My favorite!

To cut the story short, Tikboy Tikbalang and I became friends. During the afternoons when I'm free, I would walk by their house and if he's out watering the gardens or perhaps out on errands, he would invite me over so he could ask me series of questions about how I did in school, what tests did I take, whom did I had a fight with, the sort.

It only lasted for a few years because I learned later that he died of something. Nobody told me about it until his absence in that 'hunted haws' became noticeable. When I asked his whereabouts from a neighbor, the reply was plain, simple and matter-of-factly: Patay na s'ya.

I only missed him for a few days. After that, I met many more characters less scarier and less colorful than Tikboy Tikbalang. I hope he realizes, wherever he is now, that someone did remember him (and miss him, too) even if only for a short time.

► Read Nebz's previous articles here.

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