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Yolanda Chronicles: Hungry Bats │

Yolanda Chronicles: Hungry Bats

I did not realize till then that my humble garden trees were feeding the bats too. I looked at the bare hills, the battered grass, the uprooted trees all around me. The levelled homes of humans.

by Merlie Alunan

Three trees were growing in my thumb-size yard, a pomelo from a Davao City scion, and two balimbing trees. The balimbing seedlings came from the hundred-year old (so I’d like to think) tree that overhung the terrace of the poet Victor Sugbo’s hundred-year old house.

The three trees grew in the same spot. When the balimbing trees were small, I twisted their trunks till they twined. I was thinking the weaker tree will soon give way to the stronger. But the three trees flourished despite their cramped situation. I began building my house in 1997 with the assistance of Joe Cadilo, UP Tacloban College’s Chief of Custodial Services.

The trees were planted soon after I started the house and grew as the house took shape. We moved into it in 2006, nine years after I began building. The house was still unfinished. We lived with the raw concrete walls and floors for many months, putting up with the dust and the shabbiness of our surroundings. A year after, however, we got most of the house done, installing refinements by stages, such as tiling the floors and the bathrooms, putting up the ceiling, building closets for the rooms, and finally painting it.

The trees grew along with the house. In the last five years, the trees have been bearing fruit—and this year, the pomelo were especially sweet. The tree is industrious, bearing all year round. Even the fist-size fruits prove sweet and juicy in many instances. The regular-size ones are comparable in quality to the fruit from Davao.

In 2007, Jennibeth Loro, the poet and fictionist of Ormoc City brought me a sanggumay orchid which I attached to the trunk. The orchid  flourished on the pomelo trunk. The pale fragrant lavender blooms appear in the months of April and May. Jennibeth calls it latigo, because the shoots grow to nearly a meter long, looking like a whip, reaching to the ground. The shoot soosn lose their leaves, and then the flowers will soon appear.

Vic Sugbo’s balimbing began fruiting at four years old. Every year since then, the two twining trees burst into profuse bloom at least twice a year. Though few of the flowers turn into fruit, the trees never fail us. We harvest the fruit and give it to the neighborhood kids.  I’ve been planning to experiment on candying the fruit but I’ve never found the time for it.

Just before Yolanda struck, we harvested some twenty pomelos from the tree, sweet luscious globes we relished in gratitude. The balimbing trees had just blossomed and little green fruit buds were just beginning to show. The day before Yolanda struck, we cropped the three trees drastically. We were looking forward to a bumper crop in December, but the unripened fruits all had to go with the branches we lopped off to protect the tree from the storm. We gathered all the fruits, ripe and unripe, into a basket.

As the twilight fell on that first day after Yolanda, we were gathered in the yard sweeping up the leaves.

I started clearing the mangled stems of the plants in the garden, picking up debris blown in by the storm into the garden. It hadn’t fallen dark yet, but two bats flew in, flitted a few times around the cropped trees, as if they were checking out a familiar watering hole. Nothing there now but bare lopped off trunks and branches. They flew away together and never came back.

I did not realize till then that my humble garden trees were feeding the bats too. I looked at the bare hills, the battered grass, the uprooted trees all around me. The levelled homes of humans. And farther beyond the fields and the hills, the city of the drowned. The bats went hungry that night, and for many more nights to come.

(Photo: Abandoned house, destroyed by Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan. By Rogelio Braga, Editor of Location: Baranggay San Jose, Dulag Leyte. Date: December 29, 2013. editorial photo.)

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