These are just memories – as remembered – fleeting and lost…
It came as no surprise to the barrio folk that their magnificent tree, an enormous Talisay that stood at least a hundred feet, would be an attraction to the nearby town of Capiz. The tree and its legend could be traced back to the early times before the colonizers came, before Spain and the name Filipinas slid over the tongues of the locals, as such legends became truths that stories of its origins became magical. It was said the tree was ancient and that it grew in the early days when gods walked the earth, when Gugurang, the sun spread his light on brighter days, long before the heretics of the new God pillaged and conquered. It was said that the roots of the tree bore down deep, caressing the heart of the earth, stubbornly tightening its grip, and that it would not let go. By the time the church was built and the friars came about with their conversion of the barrio folk, the name La Grande was baptized of the barrio. But that was not its true name, for also stated in the legend that the tree’s name was lost, and only when it wakes up will it be revealed to the world.
In the town of Capiz rose many myths of the dreaded Aswang: creatures of the night that sucked blood and ate the unborn. But none of these tales were proven, for none had seen an Aswang, and most stories of the creature were fabricated throughout the years. Yet, the legend of the fabled tree of La Grande gave more weight to the fascination of local folklore than any other fantastic story. Its mysterious origin tickled the imagination of children and sparked interest in adults. They could not find any reason for this fascination. Some even thought that the mighty tree was some sort of god, sleeping, and they waited for it to wake. As the war came that brought new invaders, the population of the barrio grew. Where once there were only seven nipa huts that stood around the tree’s enormous roots, several more soon followed, and even though the world was ravaged by a war that saw millions die, La Grande stood unaffected. After the war, the Town of Capiz became bereft of people, as slowly its citizens migrated to the barrio of La Grande, where the folks could marvel at the magnificent tree that seemed to have grown taller over the years. Its leaves could almost touch the sky.
The town of La Grande became a popular tourist attraction. Survivors from the destroyed city of Manila rushed to La Grande as news of its serene disposition against the war, untouched by the chaos, gave hope to a seemingly hopeless group of migrants. Some walked for miles while some hitched rides from American soldiers headed that way. The way was far. Many grew tired and rested and died. They could have stayed where they were and rebuilt their homes, but the pull of La Grande was strong. A picturesque town swirled in their minds – almost heaven-like, and no amount of reasoning could justify them staying at a horrible place, a city that was once a bohemia. You could say that La Grande instituted a place for aspirations and dreams. The mere mention of its name sparked a surge of joy in people’s minds, like a calling card for a company that sold the product of Hope in a Bottle, but that calling card was an idea, and they could drain the free drink to the full.
In the years that followed after the Second World War, the town of La Grande grew yet again. Beneath the enormous tree stood houses built with concrete and steel that replaced the old huts. The place was no longer a backwater community of rural farmers but a thriving neighborhood of migrants who brought their urban sensibilities and infused La Grande with a new way of thinking. Learned folks – people who graduated from the top universities in Manila – taught many things to the uneducated provincial citizenry. Artists and craftspeople, whose skills in the arts used to influence patrons worldwide, now brought their talent to the rural folk, who, in turn, developed their skills for trade over time. Poets and literary masters, whose books influenced many, wrote pieces about the shifting paradigms within the local community. Then there were the musicians, who purposefully wrote songs and melodies of joy to overcome the painful memory of a war they did not want. Over the years, the town of La Grande blossomed in intellect and the arts, and the townsfolk looked up to their mighty tree for inspiration – and inspiration came instantaneously.
The winds blew differently as time passed in La Grande. Once, there was the old life, full of simplistic needs and overflowing with camaraderie amid the toiling of land. As days progressed and life became complicated, progress stirred in the hearts and minds of the once simplistic folks. Industry and modernity grasped the once-dull town. Soon, powerlines connected through electric posts that ran for many miles. Businesses came to supply the needs of the townsfolk. Groceries, a market, and hardware stores supplied everyday necessities, while video rental shops popped up to provide entertainment. There was a cinema and a video game arcade. Townsfolk of La Grande rejoiced as their life became fruitful. There was no hardship. There was only joy. And they looked up at the tree with awe and reverence, realizing that all their luck came from the enormous thing that was the heart of their town.
Soon they realized that the tree was their master – their god – and with unobstructed deference, the townsfolk soon made a church for the tree, and all was good for them from that day on.
Time moved on. Things were forgotten, blown by the wind to forgetfulness…
It was said, that once upon a time, there stood a barrio at the edge of a memory, yet the folks of the city of Manila could never remember what the name of the barrio was – or if it even existed at all. There were legends of it, stories written in some obscure tabloid, but there was no evidence that the barrio ever existed at all. Yet, there were scholars from distinguished universities who studied the lost barrio and delved deeper into the limited information that they had. They found many names of people who once lived in Manila that they could no longer find anywhere else in the country. There was even an article about a migration of survivors from the Battle of Manila who made their way to this mysterious barrio. Soon enough, this mystery spread like wildfire over the internet. Investigators clamored for answers, until a name surface from a social media page – La Grande.
For some reason, the search for this lost barrio became of high regard to many anthropologists and history researchers. Reporters and their crew from prestigious networks teamed up with renowned scientists to uncover its mysteries, and billionaires funded expeditions that scoured the many rumored locations. Now, you might be wondering, why the absurdity with all of this? Why would people go to such lengths to find this barrio when they could not even find Atlantis or figure out what happened to the Mayans? The people did not know either. It was as if they went under a spell. Alas, in one of their research, they found a clue as to where the location of La Grande was. An international effort to solve the mystery of the lost barrio was well on its way. They found the uninhabited town of Capiz where many houses were left to rot. Termites infested the foundations of the wooden houses, untouched even by the past war. They found not only one but many uninhabited towns as they trudged through the provinces, with their crumbling houses eaten by the plant life. They were all dead, and only the ghost of the past lingered in the abandoned streets where children once played. Some thought they heard the laughter of children as they investigated. Some thought they saw things move in the corner of their eyes. Some thought…
One expedition, led by a billionaire who owned a multi-national network of entertainment and news channels, finally found the lost barrio of La Grande well-hidden beyond a thick forest. They looked below as they stood from a ravine and marveled at the enormous Talisay tree in the middle of the town. Around it were crumbling houses that seemed to be untouched for many years. They made their way down and entered the town proper. The group noticed the eerie silence that made the hair on their skin prickle. There were no sounds of birds, no chirping of cicadas, or even the rustle of the wind. The air was still, and the heat urged some of them to remove their jackets. No one greeted them – no one alive, that is. It was as if they entered the realm of the dead, and one of them, an anthropologist, swore that if there were such a place as Hades, this would be it. The silence in the air was broken by the many gasps that came from the group. There they saw, standing like statues around the plaza that encircled the Talisay, the townsfolk staring up with white eyes. Their black pupils were gone. They did not breathe. It was as if they were frozen in time, locked in a pose of reverence to the mighty tree.
Reports came to the different authorities, to the different scientists and institutions of learning, about the discovery of the century that would alter mankind’s perception of the world forever. The Manila International Airport became a busy place where minds from all over the world arrived in abundance, eager to step foot on the ground where La Grande stood. And opportunity opened to the provinces in the Visayas region, and businesses blossomed over a short period of time, where food establishments and stores filled with memorabilia sprung up from almost everywhere. Abandoned towns that lay near La grande became tourist destinations, and stories about its residents and their migration became folklore among the locals. Books were published, speculative fiction, each claiming truth to what really happened. Movies were made about the empty towns, about the La Grande itself and the great discovery. Scientists and explorers became heroes. Behind the scenes, many worked overtime to solve the mystery of the human statues, working overtime, yet failing to find a solution. Cameras were set up in the different parts of the town to monitor the tree and the townsfolk frozen in time.
One day, for no reason at all, the scientists, the researchers, and the soldiers tasked with safeguarding the town were suddenly overwhelmed by a strange urge of delight. They woke up smiling. An air of bliss hung over the town of La Grande. The scientists and researchers dropped what they were doing and proceeded to the plaza. The soldiers dropped their weapons and alighted their war vehicles, patted each other on the back, and made their way to where the tree was. Everyone danced and frolicked, drank, kissed, and made love, and after the orgy, they stopped to look at the tree – that mighty Talisay tree that they finally accepted as their god. They laughed at the townsfolk and called them names. But then, after their revelry, the scientists and the soldiers were overwhelmed with fear. They felt shame upon their nakedness. Some of them fell to the ground crying. Others managed to wear their clothes again. Then all of them regarded the townsfolk as each moved their heads to look at their visitors with empty eyes. Madness then overcame the intruders of La Grande. They laughed and cried and threw curses at the tree. Memories of their lives flashed before their eyes as each individual relived their past in a passing moment. They shook and convulsed and screamed words of regret for their sins. But then a calmness took over, and the chaos within slipped away. Their past was no more. The intruders of La Grande smiled and stood beside the townsfolks as all eyes looked back at the Talisay tree with reverence.
The end draws near. Memories of the past fade in time – lost forever…
The world witnessed what happened at La Grande. The world saw the madness through the many angles of scattered cameras mounted in different locations in the town. The world also witnessed the Talisay tree grow overnight. Its roots expanded and ate everything within a hundred kilometers of La Grande. The sprawling town soon disappeared. The Talisay’s branches touched the clouds. And the world heard a low moan that rumbled throughout the earth. It reached the ears of everyone. It was like something had awakened from a long slumber. The world felt the presence of the tree. Whatever war waged between countries almost immediately stopped upon hearing the moan from the earth and saw the unbelievable videos on the internet. Because of the overwhelming fear, the world’s nations sent their armies to destroy the Talisay tree they thought was a threat. Outlying cities around the island of Panay became staging points for troops from different countries around the world. Fighter planes flew towards La Grande. They carried weapons they thought could befall the mighty tree. The jets did not reach their destination. Before they crashed, the pilots laughed over the radio and cried soon after – the same madness that befell those who saw the tree. Soldiers marched carrying their guns, forward with their tanks, carrying orders to destroy the tree. But even that proved impossible as they suffered the same fate as those who saw the Talisay. It seemed like the process of petrification became faster. Their eyes became white in the end, and all stared up at the tree with deep admiration drawn on their faces.
The world tried to destroy the tree, and for many months they fought, yet they failed, time and time again. Each time there was an attack, the tree grew in size, and many more fell to some form of petrification of distinct subjugation. The will of the tree went through the video feeds and into the minds of those who saw it. Its influence stretched across many countries. Most were affected and succumbed to the lure of the Talisay. Others shut off their feeds. The World Wide Web was taken offline. The virtual world died instantaneously, but the damage had been done, and many were already connected to the tree. The Talisay grew again with its roots that hugged the earth’s core. It borrowed its way to the other side. It emerged in many places across all continents, and from the other end of its roots, it sprouted new trees. Those who survived saw these new trees sprout and grow. There was no turning back. Roots covered the cities, the mountains, and even the deepest parts of the ocean. And the tree slowly ate the memories of all who were left living. Humankind froze in time and stood silently, with their white eyes gazing fondly at the Talisay that became their god. The creatures of the earth flourished under the watchful eye of the great Talisay.
The tree did not stop the world from spinning. Where humankind once stood mightily atop the food chain, then became irrelevant, as the tree became God, and all the creatures of the earth bowed before its might. The earth became the tree, and the tree was the world, with its former masters, the pitiful humans, left standing in their empty shells, admiring the great Talisay, forever.