“One, two, three!” I was excited at hearing the sound of the objects that fell on the ground at close succession. There were now three of them waiting to be picked up. It was raining outside and the strong winds rattled on the window where I was standing at.
I turned and saw my sister placed two plates of smoking white rice on the table. Beside them were mugs of black rice coffee to warm our stomach. That was a rainy afternoon sometime during my childhood and our mother was out in the neighborhood to carry out some errands.
“Stay here,” my sister said, “don’t go outside.”
I watched her dart in the rain and under the tree, she picked up the three ripe mangoes on the wet ground. The mango tree at the side of our house bore fruits that were sour, but they were surprisingly very sweet when ripe. During that gloomy, rainy afternoon, nature provided something to add to the humble food that we had for lunch.
In summer, the shady area under the mango tree served as our open playground. Children who lived in the neighborhood came to our place and we would play the traditional Filipino games that used materials improvised from our surroundings. My favorites were tumbang preso and moro-moro because I was a fast runner. We also used to climb the tree and tag one another as we cling to the branches like Tarzan. (Read also: Where is Dan, Jim, and Mita?)
As a child, I often heard elders persistently tell us to sleep in the afternoon so we could grow up faster. There would be a slatted bamboo bed placed under the tree or a hammock tied to the branches where we could sleep during afternoons. The cool air, the dancing branches, the fanning leaves, and the chirping birds were things I remembered before my eyelids become heavy to a sound sleep. At night, cicadas made the tree their home as they break the silence of the night with the serenading sound of their unanimous singing.
From elementary to high school, the mango tree was a quiet witness to my joys and sorrows, to my success and failures. It saw me smile when I come home from school proudly holding my report card that had high grades written on it. It heard me cry over the pressures of academic requirements, problems with financial resources, broken friendships, and envy of not having what others of my age were supposed to be enjoying. The tree saw me awake by the wooden window during those sleepless nights, musing, listening to the songs of my heart, and doing school assignments. The mango tree was a patient listener to the conversations I had with my ambitious self about the dreams that I would be chasing when I grow up.
Life has become busier when I entered college. I stayed away from my family and lived near the university where I studied a course that was not part of my preconceived dream. In 2008, I graduated and moved to the city to work. I have forgotten about the mango tree and during those years of oblivion, I was blind to the many sufferings that it endured as part of inevitable change.
Like an old man who was retiring to the twilight of his life, the mango tree weakened. It stopped bearing those beautiful flowers that prelude the beginning of the rainy season. It ceased on producing those fleshy fruits that once helped alleviate my hunger.
The mango tree provided comfort to people who have come and gone, but most of them failed to reciprocate. The tree needed care, but no one responded to its voiceless clamor. The tree was taken for granted.
Soon, the decaying branches were cut off. I saw the once vibrant tree reduced to its main trunk with promising offshoots. But the landscape around it has slowly changed over the years. Then, the tree was no longer where it used to be; there was no more sign of it.
The mango tree succumbed to the passing time.
I dream of an environment where people and trees stand stronger together. Let us know how trees have touched your lives. Share the nostalgic story under your favorite tree.