by NICOLE DG. SAMSON
THE STORIES of the past spoke of the myths behind these trees. Some are horror stories about a white lady on the road that shares the trees’ name. One tree, in particular, held a generation of stories from the families in the barangay.
The rhythmic tapping of women’s feet thumped with the memories surrounding the tree’s roots. The calls and songs of praise echoed in the air as the people hoped for the earth’s prosperity. Even sacrifices and offerings were left to wither and decay on the base of the tree. The dirt had permanent indents from generations of footsteps that dug into the same patches. In return, the people in the barangay enjoyed the gift of fertility. Though there was an abundance of Balete trees, the eldest became a bridge for the townspeople to speak to their god.
Now, the tree was left with a large gap to bridge all alone.
The place used to be a sea of trees. Balete trees stretched as far as the eye could see. Now, tree stumps and dead branches littered the land. What used to reach for the sky was now left on its last leg. It was eerily silent— birds have long abandoned this home.
Her feet tapped against the ground, though not as rhythmically as the women before her. In her arms were no sacrifices but gifts of reparation. Her steps were careful with respect for this place once home to worship. Pockets of dirt and pebbles fell with each step. A small sapling sat snuggly in a small pot in her arms. The century-old Balete tree towered over the beaten dirt path. She looked up at its leaves, marveling at its full branches. The harsh sun peeked through the leaves as it had for hours now.
The walk had exhausted her, as was the water in her bottles. The heat on her skin only began to cool once she entered the shade of the big Balete tree. She placed the pot down on the ground and sat next to it. She looked straight up at the tree and reached her hand up as high as she could. The leaves, even the lowest branch, were still unreachable for her. The peak of the tree seemed to reach the sun. Though she knew it was far, she wondered if the tree still wanted to try. Now that the day was so long, she wondered if the tree had been trying all day.
The other trees were mere stumps now. While they made for a decent chair, they were soulless stumps nonetheless. The roof of leaves that used to protect the land from the harsh heat was gone, now dry and decaying into the soil. Though sweat still dripped from her brow, she pulled herself up from the ground. She walked only a few steps away from the century-old giant. In front of her feet was a hole, a grave left by a tree that no longer stood.
On that ground, they left a sapling and a wish to bridge the gap between the soil and sky. F