The weekend is almost over, and as the late afternoon sun has coaxed me into indulging in my favorite weekend activity–the luxury of doing nothing, thinking only of things that I don’t have to think about, my mind spa–I plopped onto the marble garden set. Like a pair of random butterflies, my eyes flitted from one flower to another–hibiscus, ylang-ylang, orchid–until they rested on a spectacle.
There, across the balcony, under the amber glow of the gigantic spotlight, was a Buboi tree, one of the many tenants of my neighbor’s sprawling backyard. A hundred pairs of butterfly wings seemed to flutter from deep within me, stirring nostalgia, lifting my spirit even higher. Laden with green and chocolate brown bulbs which should have weighed its branches down, the tree stood proud, reminding me of an unlit Christmas tree. This thought alone was enough to bring a smile on my lips.
I can recall a tree just like this a couple of decades ago, back when I was still credulous enough to give in to my mom’s threats. One of these was that if I keep on adamantly refusing to lie down and have her pore through every strand of my hair, my very life would be in danger. Apparently, if I had lice, and they went unabated, they would sprout wings, carry me high up in the air, and take advantage of the tangles in my hair to hang me on the topmost branch of the Buboi tree, which was right on the edge of a cliff and across the field from the old house that I spent the first few years of my life in.
When we had moved to the city, I found yet another Buboi tree a hundred meters away from the very balcony where I was reminiscing. It was in the farthest end of a meadow, which was already a rarity even in 1984 and a place that no longer exists. My playmates and I had “discovered” the land, which we so creatively named “Bulakan,” because of a lone Buboi tree and the many varieties of flowers that embellished it. (“Bulak” is Filipino for “cotton” and Hiligaynon for “flower.”) With the wisdom only five-year-old children can have, we believed that the Buboi tree was what gave form to clouds, providing these with small balls of fluffy white sponges with which to absorb and hold what adults call “evaporation.” We had arrived at this conclusion after venturing across the field and finding ourselves face-to-trunk with the Buboi tree. Some of its bulbs had been cracked open by the sun, and out of the shells, wisps of cotton peeked, inspecting us, probably deciding whether smaller people could be trusted or not.
My friends and I, along with my little sister, had proved ourselves worthy of its trust. After all, we had no interest in stuffing our pillows with its fibers, for our dreams were always light, pure, and soft enough to give us many nights of peaceful sleep. So, the Buboi tree allowed us to play around it or use its trunk as “base” for a game of hide-and-seek or “sikyo^” (a Filipino children’s game where two teams attempt to tag as many members of the rival team and guard their own bases at the same time). After some time, there were sandpiles, and we had fun racing up and down them. Then came the concrete pipes, which were good for crawling in.
My reverie was interrupted by a sting. My leg jerked in reflex, dislodging one fat, guilty mosquito. It had gotten dark, and the balcony was no longer a friendly place. The marble stool on which I sat had suddenly grown uninvitingly cold. I could barely make out the outline of the Buboi tree in the distance. I stood up and stretched. A spot on my thigh began to smart and itch, but more biting was the thought that only a hundred meters away from the place that I was leaving, lights were turned on and redundant jingles blared from TV sets inside a hundred homes–daughters and sons of the many sandpiles and concrete pipes that had been our playground. Underneath them, the roots of a lone Buboi tree I used to know still held fast and strong.