A flat tire and other inefficiencies had delayed our morning in Numancia. I was anxious to get to Kalibo - to the bank, the internet cafe, get some errands done. It was coming up on noon. Pedro said, first we must eat.
When we entered his home, the food was already on the table - plates turned upside down covering the utensils, rice and fish in covered pots. Just the two of us eating this day.
Out of the blue, Pedro says "That Sheila - Auntie's niece - she was at home alone with her baby and she was visited by a witch. The witch, you know, can turn into a bat." "She saw a bat?", I asked, intrigued. I've seen bats - perhaps one of them had been a witch.
Pedro is in his seventies. He's well read and works as the chief librarian at the Numancia Municipal Library. He's worked as a teacher, a school principal, and a writer. He's also a talented artist.
"Yes," replied Pedro. "A bat as big as a human was flying around in the house." Sheila was scared - for herself and for her baby. She shouted at the witch, "I know you!".
Sometimes your neighbor can be a witch. They look like regular people. "Do you know who is a witch?", I asked Pedro. "Sometimes I know," he said. "My friend married a woman who is a witch and so now he turned into a witch."
Pedro had another story. This one about an herbal doctor that he knows. When the doctor was a young boy he was snatched by a witch in the form of a large bird. The bird grabbed him and flew above the rice fields. The boy had his scythe and so he started swinging it upward and hitting the bird. The bird deposited the boy atop a tall palm tree.
A man with a carabao happened to come by and the boy yelled from his perch up in the tree. The man looked up aghast. "How did he get down?, I asked. A group gathered and improvised a ladder.
* * * * *
That night at dinner, back at the Gomez's house where I stay, Mrs G offered me the liver and onions. I had to admit that I don't go in for liver. Mr G chimed in saying "witches like this". Until today I had never heard any mention of witches here. "Why do you bring up witches?," I asked Mr G. He laughed. "Witches," he said. "That's just hearsay."
* * * * *
After dinner I was out in front of the house in the darkness of the barrio. I needed to make a call and my cell phone doesn't receive signal in the house. I found myself wondering if the seeming correlation between belief in spirits and less developed places is due at least in part to the relative absence of artificial light - our ability in the developed world to transform the mysterious darkness.