I read somewhere how the Philippine government was trying to figure out what to do with 10 million mangoes produced in excess due to the warmer weather.
Mango float, mango shake, mango graham, mango juice, mango jam… the list went on in my head. But the list quickly turned into memories of long, languid, hot summer afternoons, and falling mangoes.
There was an abundance of mango trees in Area 1. It was a neighbourhood of faculty homes in the fringes of our university. The paved roads had become dusty from continuous plumbing repairs by Manila Water but it was still lush with overgrown plants and trees. There were mostly fruit trees, star apple, santol, mango trees and maybe a few gemelina and mahogany. In the summer, there would often be an excess of ripened mangoes which residents had no interest of harvesting. Those from the neighbouring baranggays would come by with their contraption of connected bamboo poles to harvest the ripened fruit trees. Nobody minded. There were enough fruits to go around. There were even more fruits rotting on the ground. The path from our driveway all the way to the main road were lined with these. And every once in awhile a mango fruit would fall as I walked.
“Life is one long stretch of weddings, funerals, falling mangoes, and dead spiders.”
I wrote that on the 12th of June 2017. It wasn’t just the falling mangoes that reminded me of summer, it was also the funerals. Another article I read was about how summer was a time of lonely deaths in Japan. I had just attended another funeral. The second one for my second year back in Manila. The second funeral was for my grandmother’s brother who had been a chancellor at the university. The first one was for my grandfather’s brother. My grandfather was the only remaining sibling now. I figured the saying was true – “masamang damo, hindi madaling mamatay.” I had no affection for my father’s father.
When I was seventeen I had breakfast with him and his mistress at a hotel in Cebu. He boasted about the architectural buildings he built, the magazines he founded, the places he travelled and the photographs he took. His mistress boasted about how her child got into the University of the Philippines. That same child who claimed my grandmother’s home was her “crib” on a Facebook Album.
Later, after we had met up with them, my kind, forgiving aunt explained in an almost patronizing way why they must have felt the need to talk big. Academic achievement was the currency in our family. Getting into UP was the norm. The more intellectual and academic you were, the higher you ranked in family hierarchy. My grandfather didn’t graduate from the same university as my grandmother though. The mistress, who had gone to a different school must have felt slighted in her early years as well. I do not think she was acknowledged by my grandfather’s side of the family either.
At the funeral, my grandfather asked my aunt who I was, after I dutifully took his hand for a mano. He did not know his eldest son’s children, nor did he remember. It was to be expected, he had after all abandoned his first family and moved his illegitimate family into my grandmother’s home less than 24 hours after she passed away. When he dies, there will be no love lost among his grandchildren. That would be his legacy. Not the buildings nor the photographs or the magazines, not even his daughter who got into UP. No, just that he was a horrible old man, even in death.
Weddings. That same summer, I had proxied for my sister as a bridesmaid to her bestfriend’s wedding. The Bride and Groom were childhood friends. When I was thirteen and they were sixteen I thought they were meant for each other even as they dated other people. The Bride had gone to a coed elementary school while the Groom went to an all boy’s school. But we all met in the same co-ed Catholic Highschool. Ten years later their wedding was presided by Father P, their high school teacher.
In the summer of my freshman year, Father P asked my sister if my first love and I were still together. He was in the same graduating batch as my sister and her friends. We were best friends.
The Groom’s mother, Mrs. D was my accounting teacher when I was a senior. Her youngest son Bee*, was a sophomore. I had a crush on Bee and would be teased mercilessly even by Mrs. D as I stood in front struggling to answer board work. I could not understand debit or credit in an accounting context. Wasn’t credit a loan? Why would it be an asset? Oh, it was a different credit. I always needed context to work with. My skewed understanding of credit did me well later in life though. I have become furiously responsible with my credit cards.
Bee and I were introduced to each other beneath a staircase. My friend Julia was dating Dundie, a sophomore. The two matchmakers hoped introductions could escalate into double dates. Dundie and Bee were basketball teammates. Bee and I didn’t look each other in the eye while mumbling our hellos and that was that. At the end of the school year Bee told me he had a crush on me. I was already dating someone else.
That someone else was my classmate X. At the time of the wedding X and I had already broken up for awhile. He mentioned he was invited to that same wedding with his girlfriend. I asked him why he didn’t show up. He said there was school etc. etc. I wondered if they knew I’d be there. The wedding invitations must have said so. I tried not to think that my presence could cause someone’s discomfort. Wouldn’t that be narcissistic of me? But then again, I try to be honest in my writing, and the thought did enter my mind.
At the wedding the next table was filled with our highschool teachers. X and I had dated for a very long time and seeing both of us in one event could spark assumptions.
Small town webs. The Bride’s brother, Vinnie, who was also a former classmate, came up to me and told me how Mrs. A was looking for me.
Mrs. A was X’s boss when he was a college student assistant. She was also my Science labmate’s mother. My labmate, Ram and I had formed a closeknit lab group with two other guys. A bond which the ex-boyfriend tried to infiltrate while in pursuit of me. In college, Ram introduced X to the student assistant job. X once got mad at Ram and my labmates when I hung out with them during a friend’s birthday buffet celebration. I thought at the time that we had all become friends.
Before leaving for Canada I gave Ram a puppy. X didn’t want one saying no one could care for it. He was also afraid of dogs anyway. The puppy became a much loved member of Ram’s family. Bertolt was also my favourite puppy and they had kept his nickname, calling him Berty. Mrs. A was glad to see me and told me all about Berty. Before I said my goodbye, she asked where X was. I must have told her he was based in another city.
X admitted he had wanted to go and said he would have liked to see what could have happened. He was “curious.” I hid a smirk and a quick eyeroll. Would it have mattered if he were there? Whatever intertwined histories and stories we had would lie beneath the surface. The intricacies of growing up in a small town would only be noticed by the few who paid as much attention as we both did to these details. Besides, what was there to be curious about? The possibility of drama?
Before the wedding march, Mrs. D asked me if Bee had already seen me. I shook my head and smiled. At the reception I forgot who introduced who to each other, only that Vinni, Bee, and I started chitchatting, drinking and dancing. There were no more mumbling or awkwardness. We were catching up on each other’s lives. Years have gone. We were all friends enjoying the night. There was no drama. People who treated each other well had no need of that.
Dead Spiders. There must have been many dead spiders during the summer, or maybe my narrow cramped room housed a few. I thought about the webs we weaved throughout our lives and the ones disconnected and abandoned. Some webs look like they’ve disappeared but then reveal themselves in the sunlight. Shimmering, silver thread made obvious by weddings and funerals. The spiders however, remain dead.
*Some names have been changed just because.