Under The Century Tree by Enriqueto Tabernilla

Under the century tree

The shed of the thick bough of the century-old narra tree is a good resting place on a hot sunny day. This giant has a huge trunk. Five big male students can embrace it their fingers touching each other. It is beside the school canteen where my classmates buy banana cues con cold soft drinks. Its dark wide shadow offers a cool place conducive to study.
We stay under this bough especially while waiting for our time during classes or exams. We sit on clean big stones around the old trunk. We clean the stone surfaces with used test papers that show our scores on our exams.
There is one particular stone under the tree that I find best for me. From here I can see everything around the campus. From the tree the narrow street stretches to the little guard house on the extreme left. Then turning right I see the Home Economics building at the other end. The whole expanse of the street is lined with banaba trees. The reason why we call it banaba street.
Once in a while outsiders gather banaba leaves, bark, flowers and even roots for their family members who are presumably sick. Old folks concoct any part of the tree to make tea, good for gall stones, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. The kind security guard knowing the benefits of the tree allows them.
Leaning on the trunk of the narra, I can easily see the rice field down south. The donor of the school lets the school use the income from the rice field for its improvement. We sophomore boys tilled this field in our agriculture class during our first months. Many of us don’t know how to till the rice field. Those who actually experienced working in their family rice field do most of the work.
When the palay is golden ripe, our classrooms are tenderly wafted in its aroma. This perhaps lends our classroom the ideal classroom atmosphere. After the harvest however, we don’t know whatever happens.
Busy with the happy thought of our agriculture project, I see Belinda entering the gate. She is with her girl classmates whose loud giggles and laughter reach the farthest neighboring houses outside the campus. I took a seat on one of the clean stones under the tree. Pretending to be reading.
Her girl companions greeted me. I did not like them stopping in front of me. Why can’t they go somewhere else where they cannot disturb anybody? All of us will not be able to study because of their noise.
Belinda is very silent. I think she prefers silence too. Our eyes met. She half smiled as she found a vacant stone to sit. She is four stones away from me. One by one the girls looked for their stones to sit on.
Noisy freshmen students ran around the campus. They concentrated having the round of the main building, an old Gabaldon type that serves as the centerpiece of the campus plan. We are proud of it because only a few functional Gabaldon buildings remain in the country today.
Some of our schoolmates huddle on the concrete stairs of the main building. I see some classrooms with their doors open. Some students review their lessons inside.
“Do you have a copy of our lesson in Science yesterday?” I asked Belinda. “I don’t have the entire lesson because I excused myself for a while? I am afraid I was not able to get the entire lesson. I will not be able to answer the questions if based on the part that I missed.”
Belinda looked at me and smiled. “I have,” she said and she gave her notebook. I smiled as I clasp it. She got back her notebook to look for the page that I needed. She saw I was having difficulty finding it. I read the lesson.
When the bell rang, we got up and proceeded to our classroom. As I gave Belinda her notebook, she asked me to take her home after the class. I felt as if I were in heaven. Imagine we will be walking home together. It’s a million dollar opportunity that is hard to duplicate. I softly said “Okay” combing my hair with my hand.

I carry Belinda’s books on the way home. We walked together not waving at any tricycle passing by. She knew I had no money. I would be embarrassed if I could not pay our fares. But to me it’s better this way. We can be together for quite a long while. We silently walked. I hit an empty sardine can with the tip of my right shoe. It almost hit the back of a female student ahead of us. The girl looked back to see where the can came from.
Belinda just looked at the girl. Looked at her watch. Continued walking. We looked at each other and smiled.
We came to a halt when Belinda silently stopped, her eyes gazing at the wide red rose inside a bamboo fence in somebody’s garden along the way. She smiled and exclaimed, “Very beautiful!”
The house before the garden was close. Its owners must have gone somewhere. It emboldened me to prick the flower for Belinda. Fear in her eyes pierced through me. “The owner might see you!” She whispered.
“No one’s there,” I said softly looking at the windows of the house. I laughed to assuage her fear. Our classmates stopped near us too. We were all silent holding our breath. The others kept distance or the people notice us. Anyway I would ask the owner to give me the flower in case he was home.
Walking a little farther, I gave Belinda the rose. “Thank you, wow.” She scrutinized it, the petal, the color, the smell. Raised it near her nose. Now our classmates gathered courage to laugh in unison. We looked back at the house. The owner would not hear us anymore.
I found myself already joking Belinda because of my crime. She pinched me. Friends nearby teased us. We became the center of everyone’s attention.

Outside her gate, I gave her notebook. She held my arm for a while and said, “Thanks. See you.” She entered the gate. She looked back at me before she entered her house. I waited for her. I nodded and smiled. She smiled back.
I looked around. Now I see everything, her home, the embroidered pink curtains flowing on her capiz windows. I grasped and rubbed the top of her dry bamboo fence.
I saw her mother behind the curtain. Looking at me. Cannot decipher what she’s thinking. Does she approve my taking her daughter home? Is she angry? Will she scold Belinda for allowing me to take her home?
At the moment, I didn’t allow it to destroy my day. I didn’t want to think of any negative thoughts. I am just plain happy.
I went home directly, my heart pounding strong. I am out of breath as if I ran 100 meters during the intramurals. I smile silently. I want to shout but I restrain myself. The people in the house might think I’m queer.
Anyway there is another tomorrow. Let’s see. Tomorrow, I will see her again under the century tree.