In the whole neighborhood there was only one tree, the Macopa tree that we had at the side of our house. Actually, there were two within the neighborhood, the second one was the Aratiles tree that grew beside the open sewer canal at the end of the eskinita that was Maria Cristina. I suppose the Aratiles did not count as a tree as it was inaccessible to most of us kids and besides it lacked the stature of a real tree being a small and scraggly outgrowth in the banks of a filthy and fetid open sewer canal.
My tree, the Macopa, was the tallest natural living structure in my little world. The highest perch I could manage atop the tree was at about roof level of our house where I would have a good view of the apartment across our house. From my perch I could go to the roof of the adjacent house. I sometimes do this during kite season but always without my mom’s knowledge as she would never allow me to go out on a limb literally. It was fun doing and it always added to the pleasure when done surreptitiously.
Ownership of the Macopa tree gave me privileges that other kids didn’t have. Trees were a special treat to children especially in Sampaloc.. The other kids would curry my favor so that I would allow them to play in its shade, climb the lower branches and when in season, with my consent, pick a plump and bright red ripe Macopa fruit from a low lying branch.
There was one boy in the neighborhood, a real difficult kid, a wild one who did what he wanted with out any regard nor respect for other peoples’ property. While he seemed intractable, the things that he did seemed so natural coming from the innocence that his mien exuded. He would be the kid whom you will find in somebody else’s kitchen helping himself with the cookie jar or a taking a bite of a fruit that was left on the kitchen counter. He was also the one kid who would climb the Macopa tree at any time it pleased him.
One time, when I looked out of the window fronting the tree I was surprised to see him atop the highest branch, my private perch, and was munching Macopa some of which were still unripe. While it irked me that my tree, my precious private domain has been trespassed, I could not show that much anger with the interloper since he was hardly six years old, about four years younger than I was. Instead of a show of displeasure I shouted the caution that he might fall from the branches and hurt himself together with the threat to tell on him to his mom when she came home from work. Those threats did not stop him at all. He brazenly ignored all these and even defiantly made faces at me from my perch as I watched helplessly from the window. When he had his fill and his pockets full of the Macopa fruit he clambered down from the tree, scaled the wall and ran home. His interloping happens at least twice a month and more frequent when the fruit is in season.
A day in the month of April, the Macopa tree was radiant as it showed off its bright red fruits like Yule balls in a Christmas tree. Now this little boy who was named Binggoy was on the street beside the wall of our house and was looking at the marvelous display of the Macopa tree. You could almost guess what was going through the mind of this little brat. I knew that the moment I turn my back Binggoy would no sooner be clambering up the wall and scaling the branches of the Macopa tree and busy himself with harvesting the fruits taking as much as he could fill in his pockets and in his tucked in t-shirt. I was looking at him from our balcony. I had prepared for this event and was picturing in my mind how the grease that I dabbed on the barred gate would smear on his clothes and how his hands would find difficulty in grasping the bars made slippery by the grease. If the obstacles do not discourage him his greasy hands will be a challenge when climbing the tree. The day before I went to the jeepney parking lot at the end of the eskinita with an empty pomade bottle and paid twenty centavos for a pat of used grease to the mechanic. Binggoy knew that I was watching his every move and so he feigned disinterest on the tree and played with marbles at our cemented sidewalk. This went on for several minutes. He must have sensed that some thing was afoot. Normally he would just climb up the wall unmindful of my presence. He remained in the cemented sidewalk bouncing the marbles on the wall with monotonous cadence. Bounce and catch, bounce and catch, bounce and catch…in unerring rhythm at the countless times of bouncing and catching. My impatience was now getting into me. In my mind I was egging him to move on… “Let’s go kid…scale that wall…go, go, go!” Still he wouldn’t stop bouncing and catching as if saying “…no, I won’t give you the satisfaction of seeing me play along with whatever devilish scheme you have in store for me.”
It occurred to me that if I turned away he might just go and do what he has been meaning to do, but no, I wanted to see him fail. I wanted him to be frustrated by his futile effort at climbing up my tree. A whole half hour had elapsed and each one’s strong resolve has resulted into an unbreakable stalemate until I heard my Mom call from the kitchen. I reluctantly turned around to leave the balcony in response to Mom’s call. A few seconds after I left the balcony I thought I heard a faint clang of the gate. I knew then that he had made a dash for the tree. This was followed by a loud sickening thud. It was unmistakably a sound made by a high fall on the ground. There was commotion outside the gate. I could hear frantic shouts of the children in front of our house and the loud creaking of the iron gate as it was hurriedly opened.
Not daring to go back to the balcony I ran to my room and stayed there for a long time feeling sorry for what has happened and afraid of being blamed for the incident. It was only at the call for Angelus that made me leave the room. There wasn’t any news about what had happened. Nobody came at our door to tell us of the incident at the Macopa tree.
I saw Binggoy the following day with a swollen and bruised forearm but looking spritely and impish as before. He was again in front of the Macopa tree eying the low hanging red fruit with much interest. It was a relief seeing him that way. I had worst fears about his fall from the tree. To help assuage my guilt as well as being thankful for the relief, I went down and handed him four big luscious red Macopa fruits which I had asked our maid to pick early that morning. He seemed surprise at such generosity but hurriedly took the red bunch and ran home.