Chapter 8

Outside the room in the House of the Jesuits, the day grew long and the night approached, both on legs that lagged with languid loudness. There were breezes that stirred the trees, made them dance as though they were in a ballet with an orchestra of strings and woodwinds, made them rustle as though they had been caught in the net of Time and were hardly struggling to escape. There were birds that cawed or squawked, as they hopped from branch to branch, as they fed their young or avoided the sunlight or sprang through the afternoon coolness or came home to roost. There were footsteps on the grounds below, where students and seminarians walked and chatted, where the talk steered inevitably to the next week, when the Pope would visit and beatify the man who would later be the first Filipino saint.

The world outside was cold, but never forbidding or biting; it still had the gentle touch of Christmas, the spring of the New Year. And yet, there was an icy undercurrent, something that reminded everyone that there was more darkness to come, if only they would ignore the illusion of enlightenment. It was a cold that crept into the room on the upper floor in the House of the Jesuits, where Fr. Romy listened to Matteo’s confession.

Sometimes, the boy stopped, caught his breath, looked at the ceiling, tried to steady his breathing. He would blink a few times, in a rhythm whose origin only he seemed to know; and then he would reach out his hand, the way he did when he was a baby, this time to catch a golden light in the air that signaled that his guardian angel had not left him behind.

The confession took hours, for Fr. Romy asked Matteo to tell him everything, to describe what he had seen, what he felt, what happened, what he had heard, where he had been in the week that had passed. He asked for details, right down to the ranks of angels that peopled the armies that faced the demons, to the eyes that the demons blazed forth as they rallied into the fight. It might have appeared like a fresh assault on Matteo’s memories, but the boy understood; he had to set the images free, or he would ponder on them needlessly, the way that he would dwell on his thoughts and emotions when they seemed to overwhelm him in both substance and volume.

And when the confession was over, Fr. Romy stood up and dialed a phone on the bedside table. He called the kitchen for an early dinner to be brought.

“Thank you for telling me everything, Matteo,” Fr. Romy said, quietly, taking his seat next to the boy’s bed once again, “I am so sorry that I asked you to repeat everything, but I am glad that you were honest and detailed. And I am glad that you learned the lesson early.”

“I’m so sorry, Father,” Matteo spoke up, almost in interruption, “I shouldn’t have hurried. I was just so scared for Ate.”

Fr. Romy nodded once, sighed, bowed his head. Matteo had known the priest long enough to understand what he was doing: the man was trying not to alarm his ward, and was hiding his face, so that the boy would not ask questions too soon, too eagerly.

“We’ll talk later about what happened, Matteo,” Fr. Romy cleared his throat, then lowered his voice as a knock came to the door, “I just need to tell you that I might have to ask you to repeat everything later to my brother-exorcists. You are right to confess, and God is a being of infinite mercy – I think you knew that very well when you were given such a multi-layered vision of what mess we’re in as a country, because you were spared the pain of having to witness the angels in their greatest and fullest glory. You were spared of an actual demonic attack, an actual wound on your soul, which exorcists carry all the time. You were not ready for it.”

“Maybe I’ll be ready someday,” Matteo found himself saying, beneath his breath, as a younger Jesuit arrived with a cart bearing two trays: One had a bowl of porridge, while the other had a plate of what looked like pizza.

“Porridge is all yours,” Fr. Romy took the plate of pizza, way out of Matteo’s reach, as soon as the younger Jesuit had left, “Do you think you can feed yourself?”

The last hour had been enough to both tax Matteo, and yet strengthen him, as he found his voice, as his throat moved after a week spent in silence. He nodded, sat up, and felt his heart thump against his chest, as though to reassure him that it was still there, that there was no hollow caved out of his body from which his organs had been taken.

For the next few minutes, Matteo and Fr. Romy ate, quiet, save for when Fr. Romy talked about how pizza was always his comfort food after a long session or anything that took away his energy. Fr. Genio reportedly liked adobo or paella (“But only the good kind!”), Fr. Jun would eat steak, Fr. Levi loved a good glass of Chianti, and of course, Fr. Exo loved chocolates. The last two phrases, though bright, were sadder than usual, and Fr. Romy’s eyes glistened as he ate the last of his pizza, returned the plate to the tray, and looked out the window in silence.

Matteo had long learned not to press Fr. Romy for anything, even when the priest had always been the most talkative of the five exorcists, and the closest to Matteo. The boy had always loved Fr. Romy, with the man’s slowly deepening wrinkles, the thinning crop of hair, the ordinary face that lit up with a smile when Matteo spoke of something out of the ordinary, or something incubated from a long discernment. On that afternoon, Matteo noticed, Fr. Romy’s wrinkles looked like they had even smaller furrows branching out from their ends, and his hair looked almost transparent in the light reflected from the trees, and his face seemed as though it were tired of smiling, so tired that even his smile seemed to be looking for another face to inhabit.

Matteo had been so deep in thought, that he did not notice that he had finished the entire bowl of porridge.

“I’m glad that you ate your meal, young man, and on your own,” Fr. Romy mused, as the younger Jesuit came again to take away the meal things, “You’ve been eating well these last few days, so we have no worries about your nutrition. But now you have to be strong, and I’ll help you. The brothers will help you.”

The heart that had thumped so eagerly but minutes before sank to the pit of Matteo’s stomach. Fr. Romy kept his head bowed, as he propped Matteo up with another pillow to the boy’s back, as the clock ticked a hand onto 5 PM, as a variety of doors closed and opened in the other floors of the House of the Jesuits.

Again, Matteo’s heart sank further, as though it could hear the music that the day made, and heard none but a dirge.

“Matteo,” Fr. Romy began, pouring the boy and him a glass of water each, “What’s the last thing you remember seeing, when you were awake, right before the vision?”

Matteo breathed deep, trying to call his heart back into his chest, “I was trying to stop worrying, Father,” he began, feeling his throat soothed by the ginger in the porridge, feeling his guardian angel send him a warm sweep of air to his cheek, “I was just sitting in my room, when I heard something at the gate, so I went to the window. I saw the battle.”

“And nothing else?”

“I also saw Ferdie running to the end of the street. But that was it.”

Matteo had already told Fr. Romy about what he had seen of Ferdie, and he chose not to repeat it; merely saying the boy’s name made Matteo shudder.

“I’ve already heard about this part, and from your confession,” Fr. Romy took up a pen from the bedside table, then opened the drawer. Matteo saw him pull out a pile of paper, with typewritten notes, with black words embossed on the white standing out against the afternoon sun. Matteo might have been slow and discerning, but he spotted words immediately, and he saw his sister’s and parents’ names on the sheets.

“Is that – did my – is everyone -” Matteo could not control the words sputtering out of him.

“Please don’t get too excited, Matteo,” Fr. Romy spoke, bringing the sheets closer, out of Matteo’s reach, “I can’t risk you getting sick again. I will tell you what I have heard, and slowly, but I ask that you reserve your questions for later.”

Matteo nodded, felt himself tremble, as though he were being thrust into the battle once again. He did as he had been trained: breathed, blinked, brought rhythm into his world, made every step in his mind deliberate as he called for his guardian angel to help him. He could sense that she was by his side, indeed, the way that she had accompanied him in the week that he had been lost inside himself (and had apparently helped his body recover by helping him eat, even if he did not remember obeying the summons himself). And yet she, too, was in her everywhere and everywhen, her anywhere and anywhen, as she spoke with other angels, drew her weapons in other skirmishes, spoke to Heaven and received orders from God and the Son and the Holy Ghost.

“Are you ready, Matteo?” Fr. Romy handed the boy a notebook and a pen, “I’ll read from our recordings of our interviews with your family, so if you have questions, then you have to write them down for now.”

“They’re ok?” Matteo felt his smile blossom free from his throat.

Fr. Romy could only shake his head, but in disbelief, “Instructions in minutes, disobedience in moments,” he gestured toward the notebook, “Write your questions down.”

The priest’s voice sounded as though it were tiptoeing on icy streets, with each word trying so hard to bring warmth and jest. Matteo leaned back on his pillows, cradled the pen and notebook in his hand, felt his guardian angel cradle him – and felt someone else cradle him, someone greater, far above his angel, at the level of Master.

The touch was comforting. Matteo did not dare assume who it was, only hoped that he deserved the embrace.

“What I’m holding here is a transcript that’s been fitted into a timeline of events,” Fr. Romy began, not holding the papers up, and simply pointing to them, “We usually do this when we have to put a case together as exorcists. It helps us see what happened to whom, and it can help us see the origin of a case. We do interviews with as many people as we can gather. For this, I interviewed your family and Yaya.”

Matteo began to write questions down, but felt his writing slacken, as though his hands had been tired after not writing anything for too long.

“Let’s begin on the Thursday, exactly one week ago. This was the last day of your exams. It was also the day you had the vision. Let’s begin in the morning.

“Johanna had a faculty meeting then, on campus. You rode together in your father’s car. She didn’t talk to you because she knew you were still studying, and she had much to think about. What she didn’t tell you was that as you were driving down the avenue, she saw Ferdie come out of a car – a police car, and it was parked right next to the campus. It was also right next to your car as your father drove down the avenue.

“There was a bit of traffic. She was in the back seat then, with her files, so she sat low to hide herself, and to check if it was really Ferdie. She confirmed it; she saw him with a box of cookies, and saw him joking with the police officers like they were old friends. The whole sight frightened her, because she had just talked about how the Philippine Constabulary was an unjust and abusive institution the day before in class, and he agreed with her. He looked so different, so happy when he was with the police officers, like they were planning something.

“She was suddenly very afraid for herself, and for you, and for your entire family.

“But she also saw something strange. She saw him look straight at your car, and then jump back, like something scared him. She thought that maybe he saw your father, because they knew each other, and he was scared of being recognized; but this was different. It was like something frightened him. He was very pale, and he needed a police officer to catch him.”

Matteo tried to remember the ride that morning. Nothing came to mind, only that he was trying to study, and that his father was praying a prayer that he had learned from Fr. Jun. Mr. Castroverde hardly ever said prayers out loud, but when he did, it was usually in the car while he drove through the busier highways, and it was usually Matteo who heard him.

“Your car moved past and Ferdie did not see Johanna,” Fr. Romy went on, “When she got to her office, the secretary said that someone had called her on the phone and had asked if she was already on campus. Johanna knew that nobody ever called or checked on her, and nobody would do that without leaving a name.

“So, she called up Fr. Levi and asked if anyone had placed a call. Fr. Levi got nervous and called up campus security and asked if there was anyone on campus who looked suspicious. The security officers said there were police cars on the avenue all morning, just making the rounds, sometimes stopping in front of the gates to park and look around.

“Fr. Levi and Fr. Jun had to plan something quickly, so they told your sister to take the back door out of her department, which is not too far from here. They told her to wait in the forest, to stay out of sight of the main road, and they would come and get her.”

Matteo felt his heart grow cold. His memories registered noontime, when the police sirens had come into campus, had silenced the boys who had been so deep in their studies and so immured in their work. He dreaded the words that would follow, and felt his grip on the pen slacken.

Fr. Romy’s tone was low, slow. “Your sister came out the back door, but that was also exactly where Ferdie was waiting.” He waited for Matteo to look at him, for the boy had sat back against the pillows, and pushed his gaze down to his fingers, “She remembered seeing police cars coming from the main street and down the road, and seeing some security cars from campus chasing them down. She knew they were there without permission.

“And she saw a very different kind of Ferdie. He was angry, or triumphant, or – she couldn’t say. He looked like he had a whole other spirit inside him. She remembered you. She said she prayed to her guardian angel. And then she ran into the trees.”

The frost in Matteo’s heart began to spread icy blades across his veins, mangled his insides with what felt like sharp snow, made his spine feel as though it were both swimming with rivers of frozen blood and boiling tar. He grasped the pen in his hand, until his fingernails dug into his palm.

“He ran after her. There were police cars all around them, all around the highways, even here, on the doorstep of the House of the Jesuits. We had security from campus, police – and they all stopped each other and started arguing. It was quite a sight, because Fr. Jun and Fr. Levi were already ready to go to the forest and look for Johanna, but they were stopped first by campus security, then police officers, and then – well, arguments. People were shouting at each other, saying that the state had authority to take over a private institution if there were suspected terrorists, or saying that the private institution had the right to demand coordination and even a warrant of arrest detailing the charges that actually warranted the arrest.

“The police eventually left because they couldn’t show proof of coordination. But all the same, it took an hour, and we were all worried. We couldn’t tell the rest of the House what was going on because we would waste precious time in having to explain everything – which meant that we’d have to talk about you.

“But – we still used that hour well. Fr. Levi and Fr. Jun worked on another plan. Fr. Levi was going to sneak out to the forest to look for Johanna. Fr. Jun called up Yaya and told her to pack all of your sister’s things – every single thing, every notebook, every piece of clothing, everything. We told her to just do it because we thought that Johanna was in danger, but we also told her not to tell anybody else.

“She proposed that if she had to do any packing, she’d go with Johanna, too, because Johanna needed help. We couldn’t say no. So – she packed all her things. We told her not to tell you anything when you got home. The fewer the people who knew the details of the plan, the better.”

Matteo felt his heart jump; much of the talk was about the plan. There was little said about where Johanna actually was. He had to write something down to keep himself from trembling.

“We asked Yaya to wait for our call,” Fr. Romy continued, “And I drove over, all around your subdivision, up and down your street for hours, just to be sure that there was nobody watching your house, or that nobody was sneaking in and bugging your phones. Yaya already said that she was at your house all day and nobody had called up, and no strangers had come. I didn’t see any repairmen touching your phone lines, so we were very sure that you were safe.

“And of course, if you have Fr. Exo always checking the phones in the House of the Jesuits, and when you have good campus security, you know that you have specific and secure phone lines over here, too.

“The plan was that I would pick Yaya up with all her things and Johanna’s things, then drive her to the House of the Jesuits using back roads and avoiding checkpoints. She just had to wait for Fr. Jun’s call, to signal that Fr. Levi had found Johanna; then she had to wave a yellow ribbon at the gate and then we would leave.”

Matteo was tempted to laugh. The plan sounded like an adventure, where Jedi knights were sneaking in and out of planets, eluding their enemies. He wasn’t as big a fan of Star Wars as his classmates were, but he loved the chases, fights, the wins of good over evil.

“I was just driving around, because I was quite sure that Fr. Levi would take a long while to get Johanna from the forest, bring her back, call your house,” Fr. Romy was grave now, and far less relishing of what Matteo thought was an escapade, “I was driving around and right in the wooded area in your street, when suddenly, there was Johanna.”

Matteo gasped, felt his trembling ease, felt his heart warm. He swallowed down what felt like a ball of thorns in his throat.

Fr. Romy paused, as though asking Matteo to steel himself. “Your sister ran out of the trees, and – she wasn’t in a good state, Matteo.” The words came slowly, as though Fr. Romy no longer had the vocabulary to support what his thoughts wished to say, “There were cuts on her arms, and there was this big cut with dried blood on one side of her head, under her hair. Her blouse was missing buttons, her skirt was torn at the hems, and she kept pushing it down. She looked like she wanted to cry but was too scared to make a sound. It’s the worst that I’ve seen Johanna, and she grew up here, with you, with all of us.”

The priest bowed his head, bit his lip. He had been reading from his skimming of the transcripts up until that moment; when he began speaking of Johanna, his eyes glazed with tears, and he breathed deep, allowing the air around him to cool.

“I drove up to her, and thank God, she recognized me immediately,” Fr. Romy was gazing at a spot on the wall above the bedside table, “I put her in the backseat and covered her up with a blanket, and I didn’t ask her anything. And your sister just cried. She just cried and cried, and I had to tell her to be quiet because – because as I was driving to your house, I saw a boy running down your street, to your gate.”

Matteo felt himself thrown back into his bedroom on the afternoon after his examinations. There was a boy, back turned, feet crunching concrete, fleeing the winds and clouds of a celestial battle. There was a street, filled with the forces of both Heaven and Hell, placed so thick upon reality that he could not see where his visions ended, and the world began. There were images of the recent past all over the world, images of the uneasy present, all coming forth in a storm both grand and menacing, all drawing a backdrop against which the war could be placed.

“I didn’t bring the car any nearer, but I could see him clearly,” Fr. Romy continued, voice still low, eyes still on the wall, “He looked like he’d run through the mud himself, and he looked like he was suddenly this old, wicked man controlled by something evil. He looked old and mad. He banged a few times on your gate and called your sister out, then he stepped back and looked up, and then he ran back down the street. I wasn’t sure where he went, but I could see a car speeding away.

“I drove my car nearer and looked – and I saw you.

“He was running away from you.”

Matteo shook his head. He had already been incubating an idea ever since he had heard that Ferdie had come out of a police car on his last day of examinations, “I think he was running from angels, Fr. Romy,” his words drew Fr. Romy’s eyes to his, “I was praying a lot then, and I didn’t tell you this, but I think I saw seraphim.”

Fr. Romy’s mouth fell open, “Wait – seraphs?” he began taking notes on the transcript, “How did you know they were seraphs?”

Matteo shrugged, “I thought I saw six pairs of wings,” he felt as though his memories were blurred and his vocabulary was poor, “But I also saw that many of the angels near me bowed to them. And they looked like they were also really big and tall, and bright – like they were the highest ranked officers or something.”

Fr. Romy nodded as he went on writing, “Did they say anything to you?”

Matteo had to think of his answer. He knew that he had bid the angels goodbye too suddenly, and he knew that his visions didn’t last long in his mind before they seemed to wipe themselves away clean in his memory. But what, indeed, had they said, when the angels saluted them, when they fought in the battle, when they shone resplendent amongst the lines of beings that stormed through the flood of darkness?

“I only remember being so surprised that they were there at all, Fr. Romy,” Matteo breathed his answer out after what seemed to be endless plodding through the mess that the images now made, “Do you think Ferdie was possessed? Was he running away from Seraphim?”

“Or his possession was so deep it required reinforcements from the highest ranked angels,” Fr. Romy was still writing on the files he held, “We cannot tell. I never got to speak to him, let alone interview the boy. But – Johanna said much later that he growled at her when they were running in the forest. She couldn’t recognize his voice; she felt like she was running away from this anger that she had never seen in anyone before, like it was alive and he was sending it after her.

“He – caught up with her, Matteo. There is no other way to say this, but he beat her. Ferdie tried to beat her into submission – he tried to rape her.”

The sentence had come too fast for Matteo. He felt a sob gurgling in his chest, tearing up his lungs, rising through his throat, stinging his eyes. Fr. Romy gave him a piece of cloth just in time, for the boy covered his face in it, hid himself until he could hear only the echoes of his sobs, pushed himself into darkness where only he and his guardian angel listened to each other’s stories.

Fr. Romy did not speak for a long while. His words had indeed been deliberate: “tried to” had been added to the sentence, for he knew that Matteo looked up to his fiery sister, had been raised in his gift through her efforts, and, of late, had been her protector.

“She escaped, Matteo, so please don’t worry,” Fr. Romy patted the boy on the head, so that Matteo’s curls set themselves in further disarray, “She kicked him every chance she got until he gave up. Johanna kicked as hard as she could. He hit his head against a tree, and she just ran. She ran until she got to the highway, down the hill, where there were no police officers. She saw a friend from the State University, and the friend somehow understood. He helped your sister get into a cab and even paid her fare to get herself home, but she didn’t go to your house because she knew you’d be there and she’d put you in danger if she was followed. So, she had herself dropped off on another street, made her way through the woods, and that’s where I found her. But she was ok, Matteo, nothing happened; much was tried but nothing came of it. She was beaten, she had wounds that had to be stitched, but nothing came of it.”

Matteo felt the sobs ease, the tears dry out. He wiped his face, patted his cheeks dry, and nodded. It was the only thing he could do to signal Fr. Romy that the priest had to go on telling the story.

“She’s ok, Matteo,” Fr. Romy repeated, giving the boy another pat on his dark curls. The words, though reassuring, were sad, smoky with worry, as though the near-rape of Johanna was the least of the priest’s worries, “I waited for a quarter of an hour in the car, with Johanna in the back seat, before I pulled up to your house and brought your sister out. I couldn’t leave her, and I couldn’t leave Yaya, so I had to come up with my own plan at the last minute.

“I had to get both Yaya and Johanna out. We wanted to get you, too, until the phone started ringing.”

Matteo heard his memories once again: the phone, his sister’s whispering voice, the crowd of angels battling for space in the limited reality that any one human could witness. A part of him wished he had heard the arrival of Fr. Romy, had left off his visions, had for once been uncurious and truly discerning.

“Yaya picked up the call,” Fr. Romy was staring at the transcript, but not reading, “She repeated everything she heard out loud, for Johanna and me to hear. The call was supposedly from your father, asking for your sister.

“I had to hold Johanna back, because she nearly dove for the phone. God bless Yaya for standing her ground and cooking up a reply. She was very calm: she really talked to the caller as though she were talking to your father, and said that Johanna wasn’t home yet, that maybe Johanna was at work. And she repeated what the person was saying, acting like someone who didn’t understand things so quickly – she later said that it wasn’t how she would talk to Mr. Castroverde ordinarily, and she knew he would reprimand her if she was behaving strangely. The caller did no such thing.

“I held Johanna back while Yaya echoed everything. The person had already called the university and Johanna wasn’t there. No, he did not want to leave a message, but he needed to talk to Johanna. Johanna was fighting at first, but she also slowly realized that this wasn’t her father. Your father never called the house so late in the day when he would be coming home anyway. And he didn’t know her number at the office.”

Matteo could almost see his sister as Fr. Romy spoke. She might have been the fiery, combative professional unafraid to speak up, but she had a tender spot, indeed, for the man whose own possession she had seen while she was negotiating for her own career. In the years following the possession, Mr. Castroverde would grumble, but he was proud of his daughter – so proud that he showed her off to a client, whose son was a monster.

“Yaya then did something that she thought quite clever, but its results frightened us that night,” Fr. Romy finally looked at Matteo, an apology seemingly hanging at the end of his sentences, “She asked if he was coming home for dinner soon. She said she needed time to heat up the food.

“The caller said he would be home in a few minutes. He answered the question plainly. No references to Mrs. Castroverde, or to dinner, or even a goodbye. He dropped the call. It was not how your father would behave, but it was very frightening.

“I am so sorry Matteo. We wanted to take you with us, but we took the warning seriously. We had to leave as soon as we could.”

The idea that he had been left behind might have occurred to Matteo, but he brushed it off with a shake of his head; he did smile, however, as he imagined the mousy Yaya now standing up with the strength of resolve and maturity. He wished he had been there to see her, or to see Johanna proud of how her lessons had made his once bashful nanny a warrior at the level of Fr. Romy’s cunning.

“You didn’t have to take me with you, Father,” Matteo felt the words scrape out of his throat.

The priest handed him a glass of water, “Yes we did, but I also had to save your sister,” he said pointedly, “The best we could do was to call your mother at her office. Yaya spoke in the fewest words possible. She told your mother there was an emergency, you needed help, and you needed her. Then she dropped the call and ran out the door with us. I can see that it was a wise move to have left you. Even in your older years, Yaya is still your nanny.”

Matteo laughed low as he took a sip of water. He had never considered Yaya anything otherwise, even when she had become their housekeeper and was more preoccupied with keeping the household running rather than ensuring that Matteo was not meeting up with demons in the backyard.

“We were out of the subdivision in seconds,” Fr. Romy continued, “I drove out into the back roads, to all the single-lane streets, to the university. It was a great risk, but it was a risk I had to take to save two people. Johanna cried in the backseat the entire time. Yaya was always on the lookout for whoever followed us.”

The pause that followed was not one that invited Matteo to ask questions, but one that asked him to wait, to breathe, to understand that there was yet another apology forthcoming.

“When we got to the House of the Jesuits, there were several things happening all at once,” here, Fr. Romy’s voice became firmer, and he met the boy’s eyes, “I need you to be calm now, Matteo, because what I am about to say might alarm you.

“Fr. Genio had to talk to the senior Jesuits about your family while I was away, because he sensed that we might have to hide Johanna, or even you. And Fr. Genio therefore had to mention you and your case, because there was no other way for the seniors to understand the gravity of your situation.

“I am so sorry that I couldn’t ask your permission sooner. I didn’t mean for you to suddenly have to explain yourself or even demonstrate your gifts in front of people whom you barely know. I already gave them a summary of all my notes, and Fr. Genio and I reasoned that exorcists were in the best position to help children whose gifts could be gateways, but whose gifts had to also be honed and used for the good of all.

“Don’t worry about the senior Jesuits. You’ll meet them when you’re better. They’re very understanding, although they did feel a bit sad because they thought they should have been consulted much sooner. But all is well.”

Fr. Romy’s smile, though encouraging, looked lopsided, as though it were fighting to rise through a flood of tears.

“I still need you to be calm, Matteo,” he went on, tone broken through with light sobs that seemed to gurgle in his throat, “When we came back, we also found some of the younger seminarians trying to restrain Fr. Levi. We couldn’t call the House of the Jesuits ahead, so he didn’t know that we found your sister. He was so worried and so afraid for Johanna, that he – he just hasn’t been well, and he was trying to throw a tantrum.

“Fr. Levi is – I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Fr. Levi hasn’t been as sharp as he used to. Dr. Santos says it’s too early to tell, but he might have a brain disorder. He just hasn’t seen a specialist. And you know Fr. Levi. He won’t stop working, and he’ll do his best to do something especially when it’s for Johanna. She’s the daughter he never had. He was suddenly her father then, on the day that he couldn’t find her. The only time he calmed down was when he finally saw Johanna and she told him the story.

“Oh Matteo, I’ve never heard or seen Levitico so angry. He was sobbing, he was crying, he was speaking in Italian that even the other Italian priests couldn’t understand. It was like he was a child again, like he was so mad, so frustrated, and he didn’t know what to do with his own body. He took a few days to recover, but on that first night, we had to sedate him.”

Matteo felt his heart thump once against his chest, as though to break itself. He could only imagine Fr. Levi, in panic, so unlike the Fr. Levi who joked with him and lent him books, and tried to help his sister understand the grades she received on her essays. Fr. Levi had always been his teacher, and Matteo felt the shards of his broken heart cut into his ribcage, making his skin sore.

“And – Matteo,” Fr. Romy’s voice was even lower now, as though there were no possible apology for what was next, “There is more – but – to tell you about it, I have to talk about what happened while we were here and explaining your case.

“Your parents arrived at your house perhaps half an hour after we’d left. The police were waiting outside your gate. I avoided them in mere seconds, thanks be to all the saints. But your mother found you, and your father carried you out into the garden, and they said that you were asleep and breathing, but you were so soft and alive. They knew you were not dead, they knew you had no seizure or any sickness, they knew you were all right. They just couldn’t guess what was wrong.

“Thankfully, your father remembered all his prayers, and he said that he just pressed Levi’s crucifix on your chest while he tried to push all the policemen away. And thankfully, your mother called Dr. Santos. Her husband was already here, so she had the good sense to tell your parents to take you to the House of the Jesuits.”

Matteo felt his heart catch in his throat. He remembered hearing the conversations between his parents and the officers – he had already confessed as much to Fr. Romy – and he remembered feeling the metal cross on his heart, the grass under his body, his father’s embrace, his mother’s breath on his face. And he recalled the feeling of being watched by officers who were at the center of their own storms of battles, for whose souls the angels and demons waged whole wars or stalked whole fortresses.

“I do remember what you said, about what you heard,” Fr. Romy perhaps saw how pale Matteo had become, and his voice gained both roundness and lightness once again, “Everything matches with what your parents later said in their interview. Perhaps you don’t remember this, and you were probably already very deep in sleep, but they put you in their car and drove you to the House of the Jesuits.

“Your father doesn’t remember what he told the officers, only that the best hospital at that point was here, where your doctor said we should take you. So they simply followed and tailed your car the entire time, as an escort because of the curfew.

“Strangely, the police were pulling up only a few meters away, far from our driveway, when they all stopped. They just didn’t move forward. They stopped, someone waved to your father’s car to move ahead, and they all drove away, faster than they arrived.”

Fr. Romy laughed low, both disbelieving and triumphant. Matteo felt his heart return to its place, and his memories come back as images: the demons watching his house like thumping shadows that crunched gravel with hooves, the angels that stood like gossamer fences between him and the street, the tiny battles that went on for the souls of the officers. There was no surprise, at all, in their rush to avoid the House of the Jesuits.

“I can only speculate on the connection of your visions to what occurred,” Fr. Romy continued, smile wider now, “But I also wonder at that great grace of God that allowed the policemen to leave without even inspecting the House. I also wonder what great grace was given us to allow us to sleep so soundly that night after everything that occurred.

“When your parents arrived, Horacio was at the Infirmary, and Anita just arrived. She examined you, watched over you as the tests were done, looked at the results even when it was early morning and she was so tired. But you were normal, in every sense of the word: nothing was new in your blood, nothing was broken in your bones, there were bruises but they were old, and you were even obeying the order to eat!”

Fr. Romy’s smile graduated to the lightest of laughs, yet his gaze remained on the wall, telling Matteo that the levity would not last long.

“There is a lot to share, and I shall go through everything little by little, because I am jumping ahead to where things were happy,” Fr. Romy was sober, but there was a joy still spread beneath his skin, as though he could see gladness everywhere even when the world was falling into shadow, “Let’s start at the beginning again. Horacio was already here that night because of Fr. Levi. And of course, Anita came just a few minutes before you did, and she said that something had happened to you, and that she had told your parents to take you to the House of the Jesuits. So we had two doctors on site, ready to help.

“But when your car pulled up, and all the police cars were behind you, some of the priests just stared out at all the lights. I think we were all scared, and maybe we were waiting for them to come to the building, and who knows what we’d do. Barricade the rooms, maybe? We couldn’t call anyone for help.

“It was only Fr. Exo who did anything. He carried you to this room, he gave all these instructions to the younger priests on what to bring, he even started praying from the Roman Ritual while Horacio and Anita were examining you.

“And – Exodo – oh, Matteo. He was crying. I don’t know if he knew what had happened to you, the way you confessed it to me just now. But right after Anita said you were stable, he – Exodo had another heart attack.”

Matteo’s sobs came once again, choking him, breaking whatever voice he wanted to use, clinging to his mouth, so that he could not help burying his face in the cloth and crying once again. And again, Fr. Romy laid his hand on the boy’s curls, patted them, murmured a prayer.

“He’s all right, Matteo,” Fr. Romy cleared his throat, and wiped his cheeks with the back of his hand, “He’s resting, and sometimes he wakes up and talks to Genio and me. He’s asleep most of the time, thankfully. Between Levitico and Exodo, Horacio has his hands full, and you know the good doctor; he’s soft but he won’t tolerate disobedience. He even wrote to our provincial. Exodo can’t work in the exorcism ministry anymore, and Levitico has to go back to Italy and retire.

“I don’t know when he’ll come back, or if he ever will. I do envy him. I miss Rome, and I want to see what it’s like now that the war is over. A return to familiar things will do him a lot of good.”

Matteo felt the relief in Fr. Romy’s voice, and yet it was the kind of relief that seemed to hang back, to wait for more fragments of a story to appear lest it be felt in vain. And once again, the boy felt his heart break.

“We’ll take you to see Exodo when you’re stronger,” Fr. Romy almost mumbled the words, as though he were afraid that either his brother Jesuit or Matteo would not last long enough to see each other again, “Let him rest. He’s been teaching and ministering for the longest time, and I doubt that he would refuse the chance to sleep, even if he tells you otherwise. And whatever you do, when you meet him, don’t give him chocolates. He’s been asking, so don’t give in.

“Now, let’s talk about your parents.

“They stayed here for a few days. Sometimes they would come to see you whenever Fr. Jun had to move your legs and help you exercise. They would sit here, in the same room, hoping that their voices would wake you up. It took a long time for them to stop crying. The only time your mother laughed was when she finally saw how Fr. Genio fed you.”

Matteo smiled as he remembered how his mother laughed. She was not the sort to throw her head back and holler; hers was a gentle laugh, a loving laugh, as though she were amazed at what she saw and was a convent-bred schoolgirl once again.

“Johanna wanted to see you,” Fr. Romy cleared his throat before he spoke, then drew a shallow breath as his eyes moved from the wall to Matteo, “She couldn’t on the first night. She had to be treated for all her scratches and wounds. But – Matteo, I am so sorry, we had to move her almost immediately. We had to move her first, and then we had to move your parents separately.”

“Move,” Matteo repeated, tone low, question mark excluded. He knew what the word meant, and yet it rested on his tongue, avoided his brain.

Fr. Romy took a deeper breath this time, and did not allow his gaze to wander to the wall, “The seminarians reported that there were more policemen outside the campus, and that some cars were being inspected because they said that security had to be perfect for the pope’s arrival,” the man’s lip twitched, but he pursed his mouth and held any sobs back, “We couldn’t risk being discovered, so we had to move Johanna first, right after Martial Law was lifted. We also moved Yaya because she wouldn’t leave your sister.

“Your parents were against it at first, but we had to move them, too, because your father – your father was angry enough to kill Ferdie. And Ferdie’s father would have asked your father about Johanna. Your father would have been taken away and interrogated. So – the Jesuits pulled a few strings, and – we helped them disappear.”

Matteo shook with a single sob.

“They’re in hiding, Matteo,” Fr. Romy spoke, every word low, his free hand on Matteo’s shoulder and steadying the boy, “They have to hide for your safety, for their safety.”
“What?” Matteo felt the single word choke him, tremble in his throat. He had hitherto been half in his bed, half in the garden with his guardian angel; half in the shelter of the room, half under the shade of trees in his imagination. In what felt like a moment spread out across centuries, both worlds felt as though they had exploded into fragments and were raining down glass around him.

And yet his guardian angel was still there, holding him, as he shook with sobs and tears, and as he accepted the embrace from Fr. Romy.

“I am so sorry, Matteo,” Fr. Romy’s arms held Matteo forcibly in, for the boy did appear as though he were about to explode into fragments himself, “We wanted to keep you together as a family longer, but everyone was in a lot of danger. If they had discovered your family here, then the entire House would be in jeopardy. So we moved them first – and we were already about to move you with them, but right when we were able to move your father, more police cars and checkpoints came up outside. They haven’t been removed yet, even with Martial Law lifted; and they won’t be moved until the Pope leaves.

“I am so sorry. I am so, so sorry.”

The boy wept, with a howl escaping through his gasp, with sobs that were loud and gurgling through his stomach, with a high-pitched question that barely made its way out of the circle that enclosed his trembling body.

“They’re at the Apostolic Nunciature in Manila, with Fr. Levi,” Fr. Romy replied, “It’s the safest place now. An advance regiment of Swiss Guards came a week ago, and they’re keeping out the police and the army. They’re safe there, Matteo.”

“Please let me see them,” Matteo spoke through his tears, and yet the words were nearly lost, for he was shaking, through no fault of his own. He felt as though there was another being inside him, gurgling and trembling, chained in his gut, trying to tear its way out of his insides. It took all his effort to even draw breath and form words, “Please let me see them, Fr. Romy.”


“Please, Father! Please!”

“I’m so sorry, Matteo,” Fr. Romy replied, slowly, grip tighter around the boy, “We can’t let the police see you, we can’t put you in danger, we can’t put the Swiss Guards and the Vatican City in any position to engage in diplomatic negotiations. And – Matteo – the safest way is for them to escape with the Holy Father to Italy.”

Matteo wept, trembled, no longer minded any previous admonitions of boys holding in their grief, or young men refraining from showing their tears. He mumbled what sounded like garbled sentences, but Fr. Romy seemed to understand them, and simply nodded, allowed the boy his space to release the anger, and rage, and fear, and – the loneliness. The loneliness that had hounded the boy all his life, as a child who struggled with a frightening gift, as an adolescent who now had no sister to tell him stories or nanny to keep him away from the shadows or parents to simply watch him grow.

“You’ll see them one day, Matteo,” was the reassuring, though weak sentence from Fr. Romy, “When this is all over, you will see them. When it is safe, you will see them. I will take you to Italy myself. For now, you will live with us. We’ll help you pack your things, we’ll help you through school, we’ll be your fathers – if you’ll take a Spanish cook, a Filipino lecturer, a Filipino scholar, and an American addicted to chocolates, then they’ll take you as their son.”

The jest, howsoever well meant, was not well taken, was perhaps even unheard. Matteo would not stop weeping, would not stop shaking, would not stop muttering a smattering of syllables that sounded like a downpour beating into pavement. Fr. Romy no longer spoke his apologies; he prayed, the way that he did when Matteo was a child, when the boy saw nothing but demons in a garden consecrated to the Virgin.

“This will all end one day,” Fr. Romy’s voice finally re-entered the room, after Matteo’s sobs began to recede, “Have hope. You will see them again.”

Something mumbled from the depths of the embrace. It sounded like Matteo was trying to articulate his questions, but was sputtering out a random string of syllables that swam madly through a sea of oil.

“Stay here, Matteo,” Fr. Romy’s response to the words was both pointed and gentle, “It is not safe for you out there. We need to find a way for you to control your visions again, in a way that will keep you safe from these attacks. Because that was an attack, Matteo; what you did was reckless and dangerous, and it could have killed you. I still do not understand how it was possible, or why it was even made possible, but you need to control the visions again, or they will control you.”

The sobbing eased, but there seemed to be an air of reticence in the boy, as though he were exhausted and were simply waiting for another time to raise his questions.

“You will be safe here, in school, Matteo,” Fr. Romy spoke, as the boy wheezed through his breaths, “We’ll watch over you, and help you. You might not have your family, but you are not alone. I only ask that you hold on to whatever hope you have, because things will change one day. Don’t despair. Keep hoping. The nightmare will end.

“You will see them again.”

There was no answer to the encouragement except a cry long, keening, and drowned in tears.

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