After a back-breaking scrubbing, sweeping, and washing, Gem and Sef’s place in Lapaz is now squeaky clean, better smelling, and definitely more habitable than the jungle that it used to be. We threw away the decade-old linoleum floor cover, opened the perpetually closed window that gave us a view to the neighbor’s antique window grilles and rusty, obsolete, Korean-made air-conditioning unit, and dusted the ceiling that forced-evicted several colonies of tarantulas and black widow spiders. We had to cover our mouths and noses to keep us from inhaling noxious fumes and fungal spores that have accumulated in the room since the house was built in the 70s.
At first, it appeared to me that Gem and Sef did not have any intention at all to clean their room because both looked contented and happy enduring its familiar gloom and comfortable darkness. But this afternoon, the temperature and humidity soared to impossible levels. The small room, measuring 6 feet by 10 feet, was suddenly transformed into a malfunctioning, overheated sauna. It was the desire to let in more air and light by opening the window that led to this major general-cleaning project.
One thing led to another. First it was the closed windows, then the cobwebs looking too inviting to let go, then the topsy-turvy books on top of the cabinet, then the sad-looking floor, until everything was turned upside-down and it became morally scandalous to return them to where they normally were found without dusting them or washing them.
I told Gem to throw away those useless stuff we accumulated since we all started going to college. I was surprised to find our eldest sister’s photocopies, my high school identification card, the clown costume that my brother next to me used to wear in his part-time job, and other things we thought were long gone or lost.
Although I thought it was a more intelligent idea to set the room on fire and start from nothing, this proved very challenging and eventually dismissed as infeasible since my sibling are only renting the place. My sister brushed this idea off as insane. I thought it was fun and out-of-the-box. My younger brother gave me his full support.
But my sister, who is, by default, the matron of the room, prevailed.
However, because I am the most senior among the three of us, it was not difficult to boss them around and give them irrational orders such as transferring an indoor plant and placing it just outside the windows to add more vitality to our sad room. Only that the smallest indoor plant around is three feet taller than my younger brother and twice as heavy as my sister. This could not be done by them and I did not want to over-exert my muscles for something as commonplace a task as lifting an indoor plant several meter from its original point of origin. We abandoned the plan. Or waxing and scrubbing the floor until it reflects more light than the shard of the mirror I broke but which Gem found a better use of and glued it on the wall rather than wait for me to buy a replacement for the one I accidentally broke. They said this task of polishing the floor was Herculean in difficulty. I said nothing is impossible to determined spirits. Theirs, they told me, are not determined. Case closed. Further counter-argument is unwelcome.
At around 5:30 in the afternoon, the room started to look like a real room of two college students and less like a slaughterhouse. Of course, it was still hot and humid but not anymore as hot and humid as it usually was before we cleaned it.
We were greeted by a gush of fresh air from our neighbor’s air-conditioning exhaust. This was better than nothing at all, our indefatigable spirit told us.
To reward ourselves, and because I am their eldest brother, I felt compelled to go out and buy ourselves something for snack. I crossed the street facing West Visayas State University Medical Center and bought five sticks of banana-Q. We downed this with ice-cold Coke and some hearty conversation and laughter.
I felt good knowing that I’ll be leaving my two younger siblings with a clean, comfortable, and livable room at least for the next five months. This made me truly happy.