*ring*

“Hello, my name is Victoria Gaerlan and I’m calling from Iligan City. I’d like to know if the 3 bedroom house you have advertised on the Bulletin Today is still available?”

“That was last Sunday.”

“Yes, the Bulletin Today last Sunday.”

“Yes, it’s still available. Ilan ba kayong titira?”

“Four adults, one teen-ager, one baby.”

“I’m sorry, we don’t like babies. They cry all the time and the house only has one bathroom and there’s four of you adults. It will be difficult.”

I clicked off trying to absorb the logic of that statement. Multiply this conversation by at least 5 times in several variations in a day and you will have an idea of how difficult it is to find a house long distance.

Da hubby has been redeployed to Manila, and we dutifully will follow. We were looking for houses in the Diliman area, as the head office was in the same location. But we slowly realized that a single detached unit in the UP Village/Sikatuna/Scout area was way beyond our projected budget. After two weeks of calls long distance (buti nalang may promo ang PLDT) and still no results that were making us happy, my dad called from Cebu.

“Kamusta na kayo?”

“Eto, nagpapanic na kasi hindi pa kami nakakahanap ng bahay.”

“Nakahanap na ba kayo ng bahay?”

“Hindi pa po.”

“Kasi ganito . . .”

And he went on to tell me that the family house that we left behind when we moved to Cebu in the mid-70s was to become available again.

He had rented it to a series of intriguing tenants through the years, the latest of which is a backyard kutsinta entrepreneur. But the businesswoman’s contract was running out in mid-April, and would we like to live there, my father wanted to know.

YES!

The house, he said, was far from being pristine, after 30 years of being rented out. I realized that it had been rented out for longer than we had lived there. If there was anyone in Manila that we could ask to look at the house to assess repairs and renovations needed . . .

That would be Alex, my ever dependable brother-in-law, da hubby’s younger brother. After being given all the necessary contact numbers, Alex had quickly arranged a visit with the current tenant. In the meantime, I tried to draw from memory a rough sketch of the floor plan of the house. It stood on 450sqm of land in a subdivision on the fringe of what used to be known as the Manila International Airport. When I was done drawing I showed it to da hubby, and he said

“Looks big.”

“It is big,” I said. I told him which of the three bedrooms had belonged to whom and how part of the driveway was closed off to make an extension of the already expansive sala and of the two doors that led to the back area and the servants quarters. Sometimes it took our yayas more than half an hour to find my brother and me so they could give us a bath, there were so many places to hide in. “Looks big,” he said again, and I didn’t really know if he was referring to the house or my drawing of it. Ok, I said to myself, maybe I am making it out to be big. I last saw the house when I was in elementary school, and children do tend to remember houses and such to be bigger than they actually were.

On the day that Alex was visiting the tenant, he texted us as he was leaving their house in Tayuman. It was a Saturday, and I estimated he should be at our house in less than an hour, and sure enough, he was. He texted, “Andito na ako. Malaki pala.”

Toldja.

He had come armed with a camera and his engaging personality that put the current tenant at ease. The houseowner (my father) was very mabait, she said, and had let them stay on for several months past their end of contract, and didn’t mind too much if they fell behind on the rent once in a while. She told him that the tenant previous to her was undoubtedly a drug dealer or some malfeasant of the same ilk, because he had caused the house, once a sprawling bungalow of a design unique to the 60s, to look like a sealed bodega. She let Alex take his pictures and even offered him a snack, which he politely declined. When he was done and out of the house he gave us his quick assessment.

Several parts of the house needed fixing, windows mostly. The kutsinta factory at the back had produced the equivalent of five years’ residue which will need industrial cleaning. But the core structure was intact and there was no sign of termites anywhere, so it wasn’t as bad as we expected. The pictures he took should tell us the story in detail.

Front View of the houseTwo days later, the pictures arrived. For a minute I stood just staring at the 3-Rs that we laid out on the dining table. This was not the house that I remembered. The front looked like the headquarters of some lost armed detachment, all it needed was a 60 calibre gun mounted on the pagoda-like structure of the pedestrian gate. A rolled out GI sheet covered most of the front wall to the height of the carport roof that had been extended to cover what used to be the front lawn. It was worse inside. Someone had thought to paint the front door as well as the top third parts of the walls a curious shade of red. But the floor was intact (marmolisado, my dad referred to it as) and all the wrought iron bars on the stairs and windows were still in place. It really wasn’t that bad. Then we looked at the shots of the back of the house and agreed it needed chemical cleaning.

The appropriate persons and companies have been alerted and are now on standby. Mid-April is just four weeks away. Time flies like an arrow. (Fruit flies like a banana, Kuya Maui adds. That’s his little joke.) By the end of April I will be back in the house that my father had built for his young family, and we will be working on bringing it back to the way it was. It will be a well-thought out, graduated process, but we’re thinking in a year or two it will look like it did in its heyday. It should be a good house for kids to grow up in.

Moving, on a larger scale

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