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The Case of the Missing Papaya

By Victor J. Abelgas|

There once was a lone papaya tree in front of our house, and according to superstition in my country, it would bring bad luck if it was planted there—which it was. To make it even worse, it was bordering on my neighbor’s lot, and the old man who lived there was even more superstitious than most. He was full of it and everyday he would rant on and on about it while he was blowing smoke and combing his prized roosters. He was insistent that we should take it down before disaster struck us both. I would have, if it was up to me, but it was my father who planted it there.

My father is a very religious person, but unlike the religious folk of old, he did not hold on to any of their superstitions. He was adamant that if God wanted to put you through a test of faith, then that was the Almighty’s work and not brought about by disregarding superstitions. He always had an argument over this with our neighbor. He said that if there was anything bad at all that would happen to people, it would be borne by their ignorance and unrighteousness. He was indignant against all forms of vices, and that includes my neighbor’s love for cockfighting. He even told our neighbor that it was gambling that would bring the old man to his grave.

Our papaya tree was once a seedling, from a papaya fruit that my father brought from one of his travels, in some remote province where our relatives lived. They gave the fruit to him along with some others as a souvenir. It was a very sweet fruit, sun-ripened, and so very unlike the ones you find in the market. We enjoyed it very much, so my father decided to plant its seeds.That’s how our papaya tree came to be. In fact, there were other trees, but none except this tree had the promise of bearing fruit, so they were cut down. There was something that was peculiar about this tree, because it too almost never bore fruit, except for one bud.

My father took care of that budding fruit. He watched it as it grew bigger as the days passed. He always remembered how sweet the fruit it came from was. He told me sayings like how a fruit does not fall far from the tree. He told me this, I think, because he believed that just as no-good as our neighbor was so were the old man’s children, who happened to be my friends. He never really said that in a matter-of-fact way, but it was his observation of things happening. My neighbors were quite a rowdy bunch, I must say. I think it had something to do with how they were brought up. My neighbor, the old man—their father, never really cared for his children as much as he did for his roosters—cocks. He insisted they were cocks not roosters, and that there was a huge difference; well, pardon me for my ignorance.

One lazy Sunday morning, I woke up late, I was awoken by the aroma of chicken stewing in steaming broth, and by the horribly loud noise coming from outside. It was my father who was making a commotion. He was raising hell over with our neighbors; because the one papaya fruit was gone from the one papaya tree that was in front of our house and almost in our neighbor’s lot. The night before at dinner, we were just talking again about the papaya and how delicious it would be for desert when it ripens. We also talked about our neighbor, who went out to join a derby cockfight that night; there were rumors going on that he mortgages his house to have money for his gambling vice. That morning, there was news that he lost, and everyone next door was as quiet as the dead, except for my father who was hell-bent on making them produce the papaya, habeas corpus.

I had an inkling of what was probably going on inside my father’s mind as he went on rampaging like a madman over the missing papaya. First, he must have heard that our neighbor lost in the cockfight, and probably blames the papaya for the misfortune. He also must have thought that the old man took the papaya to spite him, and did it in retaliation for all the verbal exchanges that went between them. The old man was, I think, quietly ignoring my father, or was too dumbfounded to speak at that moment; either because of the loss, or because he had never seen my father take their fight to that level over a papaya. More importantly, both of them must have smelled too that glorious aroma coming from the stewing broth of a chicken that lost in a cockfight—most likely.

We only had the chance to appease my father when it was almost time for lunch. We all sat quietly at our table. I didn’t exactly know if he still had any appetite while thinking about the missing papaya. We were served with Chicken Tinola, a delicious and nutritious native dish that is a favorite among Filipinos and foreigners alike. Would you like me to email you the recipe? 09/07/08