My grandmother told
me to believe in dwende
. Experience taught
me to believe. I first met Mota while vacationing at my great-grandparents' little house deep in the Negros countryside. I had been following a little brook that ran quite close to the house, curious where it came from. From where I stood at the beginning of my quest, it looked like the brook eventually disappeared into the brush clustered around the foot of the hill that overshadowed my great grandparents' home. Not too far, i thought. I can be there and back before lunchtime. And off I went.
Along the way, as kids will, I got distracted by this and that: a big-eyed dragonfly with crystal wings, a warty toad that I tried unsuccessfully to croak, a fluff of windflower that blew straight into my face. Before I knew it, the sun had gone behind the hill and I realized I hadn't gone half as far as I had hoped. Eager not to be beaten, I turned to run back home, but as I turned away from the woods, I caught a glimpse of something that should not have been there: a free standing pillar of gleaming white marble.
I wanted to go and investigate, naturally, and turned back to the house where I knew lunch and an irate great-gramma waited. I looked towards the wood again and the pillar had vanished. If I had been torn before - when I first saw the pillar - now, I absolutely had no choice.
All distractions ignored, the little brook forgotten, I rushed pell mell to where I had seen the pillar. Through brush and stinging grass, I struggled forward, always forward, until I reached the edge of the wood. Gasping for breath and sweating like a pig, I looked around for any sign of the pillar and found none. All I saw was a little spring - apparently the source of my brook - bubbling out from the base of a huge earthmound. Punso, I thought to myself. It had to be that.
Muttering the obligatory tabi tabi po, I approached the earthmound and looked it up and down. Made of dark earth, I couldn't have possibly mistaken it for a gleaming white marble pillar. No way. I looked at it from every angle, thinking maybe that the light filtering through the trees had played a trick on me, but the thing never even came close to what I had seen.
In disgust, I turned to leave and tripped on an exposed root. Being a heavyset child, I had always been particularly vulnerable to gravity; that day proved to be no exception. I came crashing down and hit my head on a rock. I didn't even have time to say goodnight.
When I came to, I had this suffocating feeling that I was in deep deep trouble. Then I remembered the knock on my head. A split second later, I remembered that I had fallen to the ground and not on the cushioned bed I currently lay on. I freaked. I jumped to my feet and hit my head on a low ceiling. I fell back on my butt and, for the first time, clearly saw the room I was in.
I'm not a good one for descriptions of spaces and all that, but I was a seated child of about 4'6" and the ceiling was about two handspans away from the top of my head. The bed I was on turned out to be no bed at all but several pushed-together ... quilts it looked like. All around me were things that looked like furniture pushed against the wall, as though to make room for something big in the middle of the room. And then I realized that the big thing had to be me.
That was when i started to cry. I used to pride myself on being a big boy who didn't cry easily. But at that moment, stranded in a place so different - so alien - to me, the tears just came and came and came. I bawled as hard as I could, scared to death. Within seconds, a door that I had not even noticed slammed open. And there stood in the open doorway was a man who, standing up, came up to eyes.
My eyes flew all over him, drinking in my first impressions: Bald; hairless face - not even eyebrows; chubby hairless face; black eyes speckled with silver flecks; fat; dressed in a flowing white robe studded with sparkly things - bits of glass, I thought - gathered up at the shoulder through ring that looked suspiciously like the plastic power rangers ring I lost last week.
"That's mine" I said, not knowing what else to say. I pointed at the ring.
The little man backed off, alarm written all over his face.
Emboldened, I tried to get up and bumped my head on the ceiling again. I fell back onto my butt with a dull thud. The little man tried to suppress a smile and looked up at me. He raised two hands in a placating gesture that I understood to mean sit back. Sit back.
He took the ring off his shoulder and held it out, pointing to me. Then he strutted around with his shoulders squared and made an exaggerated motion of throwing the ring over his shoulder. It landed at his feet. Then he turned around and feigned surprise at finding the ring. He picked it up, looked left and right a couple of times, shrugged and put it back on his shoulder again. I laughed at the little mime show and remembered that I had thrown the ring away after realizing that there hadn't been any kids that I could play with. This little man had apparently seen me throw the ring away and decided that if I didn't want it, well he certainly did.
Seeing me laugh, the man smiled. He pointed his finger at me and made an enquiring sort of noise in his throat. "Paul" I said. I had seen enough movies to know what that noise meant. He nodded his head and with great gravity pointed to himself and - in a voice surprisingly deep -