THE AGING narra tree in Lourdes’ garden sported a vibrant new mane. Lemon-colored flowers bloomed amidst its leaves. “Summer is here,” it seemed to convey, as it eagerly displayed its beauty under the May sun, as it had for more than a hundred summers.

For twenty of these summers, its elderly caretaker found herself in a peaceful siesta on an antique rocking chair beneath its branches. But on this day, a car horn had broken her slumber, and she willed her arthritic legs up the stone steps back to the house, towards the living room and on to the front door.

She was greeted by a man in his forties, whose ragged jaw reminded her of her late husband.

“Mother!” he said.

“Conrado!” she replied, putting her arms around him, prompting him to do the same. Before she could release him, a disgruntled child’s voice caught her attention.

“I don’t want to stay here! I want to eat some pizza!” the child said.

Lourdes paused and examined the child—her hazelnut eyes, rosy cheeks. She realized that five summers ago, she had rocked this child’s cradle as she sang her to sleep with a lullaby.

“Pia, try not to get on your Lola Lourdes’ nerves. Okay?” Conrado said, but the little girl responded only with a pout, clutching her doll closer and stomping her feet. Lourdes raised an eyebrow and slowly stretched out her arm, holding her hand towards Pia’s forehead, expecting a soft, sweet “mano po.”

The girl brushed her off and stormed into the living room. She maintained her sour expression as she threw her backpack on the bamboo sofa and took out her tablet, her eyes now glued firmly to the screen.

“I’ll be back to pick her up later, Ma. I have to go meet someone near the Barasoain Church.” Conrado said. “By the way, have you ever thought about getting rid of all these wooden statues?” he continued, pointing to the wooden figurines which decorated her living room—tikbalang wielding spears, duwende and leprechaun mounds, and a sigbin standing on its hind legs.

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“You and your father used to love collecting these when you were young,” she rebutted. “I remember when we used to go to the market to buy these after we went to church.”

Conrado merely nodded and gave his mother a kiss on the cheek as he returned to his car, and set off on the unpaved road back to town. Lourdes felt a gentle tug on her skirt.

“I’m hungry,” she said. “Do you have any cookies?”

“No, but we have some laing under the table. It is covered by—,” Lourdes said before she was cut off.

“I don’t like vegetables!” Pia yelled.

Lourdes frowned a little, but she decided to ignore her. She proceeded to the kitchen and began preparing some biscuits and hot chocolate. Midway to the living room, she heard a loud thud reverberating through the wooden floor.

She briskly made her way to the living room. She arrived to discover that the wooden statuette of the winged lady had been knocked off the coffee table.

Pia gazed at Lourdes, bowing her head and holding her doll close to her. Lourdes placed the tray on the coffee table. She picked up her cane from the rack beside the sofa, and carefully bent down towards the floor, her old bones cracking as she struggled back to her feet. She returned the winged lady to her perch on the coffee table, as Pia returned to tapping the tablet screen.

Lourdes gave a loud huff, while Pia studiously paid no mind to her grandmother struggling to her feet.

Lourdes began to realize why she didn’t hear the “mano po” she expected earlier, as she straightened her body and observed Pia with a disgruntled look. The fairy doll soon caught her attention.

“What’s her name?” she asked.

“Susie. She’s a princess,” Pia replied.

“Mine is named Maria. Maria Sinukuan. Would you like to hear her story?” she asked.

To her surprise, Pia nodded with enthusiasm and gave her grandmother an inquisitive look. Lourdes turned to her grandchild.

“When I was your age,” she began, and not once for the hours that passed did Pia move from her spot, as Lourdes told her of the legends she grew up with as a child. She recalled back then how she thought that a sneaky tikbalang would come at night and steal some flowers from the narra tree and give it to his bride. Every night, she would look out her window and try to catch it in the act, only to fall asleep and discover in the morning that some of the flowers had somehow disappeared.

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She remembered how she imagined that beneath its giant roots was an ancient city of duendes. As she played along and hopped over the roots, she frequently exclaimed, “Tabi-tabi po.”

But her fondest memories were the times she went “diwata hunting” in the late afternoons under the shade of the narra tree, armed with a small butterfly net. Scouring through the garden, she searched tirelessly for winged ladies fluttering in the bushes and thickets.

On one eventful afternoon a pair of blue wings caught her attention. She chased it around the narra tree, ducking and weaving around its trunk and hopping over its roots. Finally, trapping it in her net, she reached into it and picked the little insect by its wings.

Suddenly, she remembered her mother’s story of Maria Sinukuan, the diwata who supposedly took care of the forests and trees by controlling the blooming of the flowers and in the process disguising herself as a butterfly to hide from the humans.

“If I keep you, who would take care of the flowers for the tikbalang to give to his bride?” she thought sadly. Gently parting her fingers, the young Lourdes released the butterfly’s wings, and watched it fly back into the underbrush. Suddenly, a piece of green fruit dropped in front of her. Then she remembered hearing the leaves rustle, and a low rumbling sound coming from the trunk.

“Salamat po,” she thought she heard a soft, feminine voice say. Lourdes scurried home, both frightened and curious as to what had happened.

“Is that true? Did the tree really talk to you?” Pia asked.

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Lourdes remained silent and simply smiled. Outside, the leaves of the narra rustled, as the summer breeze passed through the branches and flowers. Pia gawked askance from her grandmother to the tree.

Lourdes looked out the window, as if caught in deep thought. A car horn once again broke the silence. Pia quickly packed up her things and walked to the back door. She opened the door and almost went through the threshold before peering back at her grandmother.

Lourdes smiled, and Pia smiled back. She continued her walk outside to take one last look at the tree, while Lourdes lumbered towards the car to greet Conrado.

She stood where Lourdes once stood: beneath its rustling leaves and in front of its massive trunk. She gazed up at the colossal wooden tower. In her periphery, a pair of gleaming, bright blue wings caught her attention. In the bushes nearby, a butterfly struggled to free itself from a spider’s web. She picked up a twig and reached out for it, letting the tiny insect’s legs latch on, as she pulled it close to her. The butterfly flapped its wings and freed itself from the strands of web that entangled it, silently flying off into the brush.

A rustling sound emanated from the canopy and a green, disc-shaped fruit shortly fell in front of her. Puzzled, she looked up and stared at the canopy.

“Salamat po,” a voice echoed back, seemingly from the tree and similar to her grandmother’s.

Surprised, she looked around and saw Lourdes talking to Conrado, who waved his hand and beckoned Pia to the car. She leaned down, picked up the fruit and rushed up the steps, back through the living room and out the front door into the waiting vehicle. Peeking out the car window, she held the fruit tightly, taking one last look of awe at her grandmother and the tree as the engine propelled the car back onto the dirt road.



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