We arrived in our darkened home with only the headlights of dad’s jeep illuminating our way to the car porch. My aunt Zeny, mom’s youngest sister who lived with us, alighted ahead with the keys to the front door. As soon as my dad turned off the jeep light’s, my aunt gave out a high-pitched cry that pierced the somber silence of the night.
As she opened the door, she was met with the smell of burning candles. “Jimmy is here!” she exclaimed. I ran towards my aunt and stuck close to her. Being a boy of 13, I was easily convinced I had smelled the candles too.
Together, we all went from room to room to turn on all the lights in the house. My mom told us not to be scared, and in fact if indeed Jimmy was there, we should welcome him as he possibly was there to bid us a final farewell.
Nobody else smelled the candles, and our nerves settled down as we prepared for bed. But once again, my excitable aunt broke the silence with another piercing shriek.
This time she was pointing at a big butterfly perched on the bar counter in the living room. We wondered aloud how it entered the house, since all the doors and windows had been closed before we arrived. It has to be Jimmy, my aunt said.
My mom immediately began talking to the butterfly. “Welcome, anak (my child). Rest if you must because you have a long journey ahead,” said mom in a mellow voice as if talking to a child.
The butterfly slowly flapped its wings and flew across the room and entered the bedroom where my brother and I slept. We were already in our pajamas and had just hung up our mosquito nets.
My brother and I kept close to each other as we followed the butterfly as it flew around the room, until it finally rested on the mosquito net over my brother’s bed.
We knew then for certain that it was Jimmy. My younger brother was our cousin’s best friend and playmate.
"Go on, anak, say goodbye to your best friend for the last time," my mom told the butterfly.
She advised us not to be afraid and take it as a blessing that the spirit of our cousin had come to visit with us. She prodded us to talk to the insect as if it was Jimmy.
We huddled together on the bed underneath the butterfly, watching its every movement. The bright light in the room boosted our courage and we took turns talking to it, recalling the times we shared and the games we played with Jimmy, before we drifted into sleep. When we woke up in the morning, the butterfly was gone.
As I grew older, I have always kept in mind the lesson my mother gave us. Ghosts indeed are the spirits of dead people. Rather than being afraid of them, understand that all they want is to see and hear us before they depart to the world beyond.
Pete Sandoval is a nom de plume for someone who prefers to remain anonymous.