It’s funny how your mind works, how it opens up to the, supposedly, triviality of life. A water pump, per example. Yesterday I wrote about my grandpa’s death and my father’s old water pump came up. It used to sit on a raised concrete platform that later, our housemaids turned into their day bed, a sleeping place large enough for three, topped with a bamboo mat, and overlooking a wall-sized window to a tiny inner courtyard that linked the kitchen and the maid’s quarter. It was an ideal place to take a nap, where your back against the concrete cement was cooled, and the platform itself was always chilled by the deep well below it with ten feet or so of cool air.
The pump was operated on and off during my toddler years. Rat ta ta, rat ta ta it went, like a motorcycle, rat ta ta against the whirring of a foot-pedaled sewing machine, black in color, emblazoned with the word Singer in gold letters. During its busy days the pump was a joy for me to look at. How its leather bell turned. How it shook on its four curved legs, like a hog wanting food. It sat high on the well platform that later was the maids’ bed, then, it turned silent and purposeless, only sputtered to life occasionally when my father wanted to show us how a pump worked. It needed engine oil in one of its hole—dark, sticky oil that looked like molasses.
In my teen years the pump was moved to the floor, next to the maids’ large wooden bed, a bed with wooden slats and larger than any other beds in the house, topped with two frayed bamboo mats. Three maids could sleep comfortably on it, and sometimes with me in their midst, when I wanted to change scenery and experience the life of helping maids. The squarish raised platform, with a squarish wooden lid in its middle, as I mentioned, would be another sleeping place. Now and then I would lift the lid up and looked down into the dark below. I sent my voice into it and heard it echoed back mysteriously, like another person’s answering teasingly, by imitating me, like I used to annoy my little brother, repeating words he said, on and on, until he was fed up and burst into tears. Sometimes I stepped down to the first few rungs of an iron ladder that led straight into the brimming dark surface, but never had enough courage to descend completely, not even dared to let my head disappeared inside the opening. It was this haunting idea: someone might close the lid and I would perish below unbeknownst to anybody else. They would not find me, and when they would, a few days later, I would be floating at the top of the dark surface like the cat I had seen, swollen and ugly.
Even with the well lid close, I could not bring myself to sleep on the platform alone. Somehow I was consumed by this idea that the bottomless hole beneath would one day swallow me live, lid or no lid. A skeleton’s hand would grab me.
“Dearly departed ghosts love to take little girls with them as brides,” my maid used to say. And they said that the ground on which my parents’ property sat used to be a cemetery, although before that it was swampland, with groves of bamboos and roaming cows. A bamboo thicket still remained by the red gate to prove their words. In my wild imagination I saw crosses where the trees stood, and in many moonless nights, the white kite stuck on the tall mango did wave its eyeless head and fleshless arms. And in my ears rang the echoing words from the well bottom, “Helloooo, hell Oooo….”