It’s a real ugly tree with rough skin shaming the roughest of tree skins. I am to say it has toad skin but toad skin —- warts and all — would be porcelain smooth compared to this tree. This particular Kakawate tree is old and has been across the road from our house as long as I can remember.
Nothing spectacular, really, being a humble Kakawate (Madre de Cacao) bereft of majesty like that of the Narra, the reputation of the Mulawin, and the might of the Kamagong or anything not to mention it’s quite small of its age. Maybe because people burn their trash right under it, scarring, charring its base besides that it gets hacked and pruned for its branches all the time to help the incessant burning underneath it.
So I guess that’s why this tree gets to be this ugly: trunk burnt and crooked in most parts, its bushy crown of leaves that’s a total mess from the wanton cutting, no single significance whatsoever and to top it all its bark looks like unkempt asphalt pavement complete with repulsive blotches here and there.
Still, this tree stands there defiant. No, not proud but is unmindful of the abuses it has to suffer everyday. Aside from whatever weather Mother Nature throws at it: drought, heat, storm and high winds.
And as if these are not bad enough, people nailed painted signs on it like:
‘Tandang Tikang — Expert Kumadrona, Mananawas, Manunuli at Hilot (0915-5856621) Available 24 hrs.
‘Iboto si Tongson para Konsehal’
And recently on top of a 5-layer barbed wire anchored deeply rusting in its woody flesh fencing the property it is standing on:
‘Funenaria Amadeo — Day and Night Service’
There’s also a deep etch on its east side that carves:
‘Tartaro Ligaya Forever 1971’
I almost forgot the nasty burnt scar on the middle of its trunk where lighting struck three years ago. And of course, people and dogs pee at it all the time too.
It’s a rainy, foggy day that I’m left with nothing to do but stare at this Kakawate tree that has been here all these time just standing across the road, watching me when I’m hurt, triumphant, sad, hungry, elated, when I’m afraid, confused, perplexed, when ecstatic and lately when I’m just stoned drunk (and need to pee).
I guess this is now the time for me to return the favor. Watch it stand there and see it endure the lean years, enjoy the good ones, suffer the abuses of the elements and the stupidity of people including mine and plainly continue to be there doing what its good at: growing, staying put and continuing on growing.
The Legacy of Kudarat
Despite the fog and rain I find myself under this ugly tree for hours now and probably have been smiling all the time. Not because of the Kakawate tree but because of the exchange of text messages I had with a friend of mine last night.
She and her husband are expecting a third child and she’s asking me for a name. They already have come up with good ones but I guess my friend wants a piece for me, the honor of having a say in deciding on the name they already have.
I cannot recall exactly what the names she texted except the second part of it is something like Alessandra/Alessandro and even with the missing first name it already sounds perfect.
What makes me smile is the inevitable jackass in me suggesting the name ‘Kudarat’ (as in the Mindanaoan Sultan).
She immediately bucked, expectedly came a barrage of texts following containing fiery arguments insisting why she won’t approve of the name. Finally exasperated, threw me the question:
“Will you name your child that?”
I texted back:
“Why deny a child to live the history of its legacy?”
She remained quiet for a while until she surrendered:
“Ok, no more arguments.”
This is the smile I am wearing under this ugly tree. The smile I get every time I pin somebody down, not to get them to agree with me, but just to get them crazy. I like that when it happens. It gives me a feeling of delight not because I feel superior but because of the high probability of sparking serendipity.
Besides, knowing her, she doesn’t always allow people to get the better of her and whatever reason she has for easily letting me get away with it adds half an inch on my smile. There have been countless occasions I leave people exasperated out of their wits for saying something or doing something — or for not saying or doing something that I cannot remember any of them anymore.
But these episodes are unimportant; neither who is left pissed or jubilant. What is important is that friendships grow whenever times are good or bad, in between and even across each other over distance.
Mang Ben and Nang Beding
I’m smiling still late in the afternoon that the rain has stopped though the overcast remains dark and foreboding, silently sitting and ridiculously alone under this ugly tree, when I notice yellow streaks of light flicker from the inside of Mang Ben’s house across the road besides my home in the less trodden part of Tagaytay.
The streaming light is coming from a single light bulb in Mang Ben’s living room that may have been furious when the light bulb was new but now the color of the light is subdued, a bit dusty but nevertheless still making its presence known.
Peering from my view, through the closed glass window at the other side of the road, Nang Beding is sewing the seams of Mang Ben’s old pair of pants. A second later Mang Ben strolls by handing carefully Nang Beding a steaming hot mug of what appears to be tea.
My smile widens because just yesterday, I overheard Nang Beding, on top of her well practiced lungs, berating Mang Ben because he was dead drunk.
It is very hard to ignore their almost constant domestic discussions: regularly once a week, Nang Beding snaps at Mang Beng when their aging jeep won’t start and it is market day. Sometimes the washing machine conks out all of a sudden in the middle of a wash, chickens ruining the plants, the dogs won’t stop barking and what have we.
Mang Ben, sometimes, retaliates when chance affords him. But this time, this one particular late afternoon under the gloomy fog and impending rain, in the house built on some 35 years of marriage, in the light of a dying yellow incandescent bulb, Nang Beding is sewing Mang Ben’s pants and Mang Ben is serving Nang Beding a loving hot cup of whatever affordable comfort he can muster at the time from an otherwise foul weather.
My cheeks are hurting when Mang Ben sees me and waves with a bemused look asking me what in heaven and earth am I doing under this ugly tree. I wave back at him with my same smile readying myself to walk across the road home; drenched, cold, hungry but inexplicably happy
[Entry 26, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Rey Salita is a desk editor from the GMA News Desk. Previously, he worked for the broadsheet Manila Standard Today. He finished this creative non-fiction story last June just after the rainy season started.