Nida and Nita. Just the mere mention of these two names such terror in the minds of many of the children in my neighbourhood when we were young. Perhaps it’s the reaction from young impressionable and easily intimidated minds, or then again maybe we did have enough reasons to tremble at the sight of these two women.
They were sisters-in-law, and belonged to the same rich family that owned the Central (formerly called 3 Sisters) Hardware. To this family also belonged Aling Naty, the owner of the hardware, but she was a more down-to-earth, folksy kind of a person, totally different from the unapproachable and seemingly unfriendly demeanor Aling Nida and Aling Nita presented. Were they really as formidable as they seemed to be back then? Or did it only seem that way because they belonged to a different social class altogether, or at least looked as if they did.
Aling Nita owned and operated the Mendoza stationery supplies and gift store with her husband, just kitty-corner from my parents’ own store, and immediately across from my aunt’s own store which sold more or less the exact same things. But there the similarity ended. For while my aunt’s store sold cheaper merchandise, the other one carried better quality goods. You’d never see the Calumpang baylarinas at the Mendoza store buying cheap perfumes and kolorete as I am sure it would have been beneath Aling Nita to even acknowledge their existence. No, the Mendoza store was stocked with quality gift items behind clear glass shelves, exquisite writing paper and even bond paper whose smooth surface your hand glided over; so unlike the rough paper my aunt sold, made even worse by the way she used to handle them while counting the sheets so you always ended up with creased corners. At that time if all you wanted were spiral bound, run-of-the-mill Golden Gate writing notebooks, you went any place, but if you hankered for the more elegant, silky Catleya writing book, then you paid the steep price at the Mendoza store. The one distinct commonality the two stores had was that they both carried local komiks, those weekly serialized pen and ink drawn nobelas: Pinoy Klasiks, Lagim, and the oversized printed word/komiks combinations like Liwayway and Bulaklak magazines and also the more mature-oriented tabloids like Tiktik, reporting murders, homicides and other criminal news items complete with drawn sexy pictures related to the stories.
Aling Nita was always a noticeable sight: fair-skinned with reddish tinted hair, always bright red lipstick and seriously plucked redrawn eyebrows that added to her suplada (snobbish) look. I remember her always dressed in Capri pants and collared shirts, riding the short blocks around the neighbourhood on her motor scooter, a look and style she carried all throughout her life. She had a very quiet, almost non-descript husband who never seemed to say much, and two children around our age who occasionally hung around their parents’ store but never played with us. I am sure the boy, named Boy, would have probably done so if allowed, but the daughter Lorna was strictly cut from the same fabric as the mother: snooty and aloof; when she started university as a pre-med student she paraded around the neighbourhood wearing a stethoscope around her neck fulltime.
Seemingly more formidable, and definitely sharper-tongued, was Aling Nida. By the standards of our neighbourhood then she was rich and she acted like it, and even looked the part: always impeccably dressed in her pleated skirts and pressed blouses, she drove a large car and always wore gloves and sunglasses while doing so.
At that time Aling Nida owned an apartment complex of about a dozen rental units, and eventually she built and rented the first 3-storey building in the neighbourhood, right in front of the older two-storey units. She and her two young boys, along with her elderly mother, Aling Trining, lived in one of the 3-storey apartments right beside my Aunt Ape who rented the one immediately next to them and used the first floor as her tailoring and dressmaking shop.
It just so happened that another uncle and his family lived only a few doors away, and had an access to the rooftop of the building. If you had been to our part of the neighbourhood, you would have noticed how closely each house is built to another, so close that the corrugated metal roof actually touched each other. On good dry summer days, the rooftops became to us kids just another playground, so totally different a landscape than the dry hot pavements to which we were accustomed roaming. I especially remember an old, but still fruit bearing guava tree rising above the rooftop of my uncle’s apartment but otherwise inaccessible from the street level. On many occasions and after feasting on the ripe fruit of this tree, a number of us cousins (many of our extended family rented and lived within Aling Nida’s apartment complex) could be found gingerly walking the hot metal roofs, or else noisily running playing games. I could just imagine the raucous a dozen feet must have created for the people who lived underneath, but no one ever seemed to mind.
That is until we eventually ended up within the confines of Aling Nida’s property, for she would always seem to be there even before we descended from the rooftops, her hands on her hips, eyes blazing even hotter than the afternoon sun, ready to strip a layer off our hides and spoil our fun. She’d always be asking if we lived within her compound: if yes, she would order those to march straight home; otherwise she would berate us for trespassing in her property and then order us to leave. After a while it became just another game to us, taking the chance that she would be there as expected, other times simply getting our jollies from setting off this poor woman that she was practically fuming. I never really understood why we seemed to trigger her so much, especially since on very rare occasions, and quite possibly without her permission, her own older son was up there with us.
As with many, Aling Nita grew mellower with age. Life seemed to have dealt her some serious blows, first with the death of her son at an early age, and then the passing of her husband. I caught a glimpse of her in church one early morning on my frequent visits to see my parents while they themselves were still alive. Physically and from a distance, time seemed to have stood still for her and her looks had not changed at all: she still had the distinctive short and reddish-tinted hair, wearing her Capri pants, which amazingly after over three decades were suddenly back in style. It was heartening to see her still tooling around town on her motor scooter after all those years. But her shop had closed, and it was a couple of years after that I got the news from my sister that Aling Nita had herself passed away.
© October 2007