“Why would I leave the house when I have plants to tend?” asked Lola Basyang. She was on her knees, working a trowel through the soil in front of her as placidly as ever. “You need to loosen the soil, you know, so the plant can flourish.”
“Can you please, just once, answer the question that I’m actually asking you?” Kit was gritting her teeth, determined not to be sidetracked into storytelling or True Confessions this time. The renovations were all but done and the wedding was less than a month and a half away. The only obstacle remaining was this crazy lady and her annoyingly effective one-woman passive resistance movement.
“Yes,” said Lola, unperturbed. “Was that the question?”
“No, it was not!” Kit glared. “Don’t get smart with me. How are you getting in and out of this house? The carpenters and the guards have never seen you, but they’ve found adobo and kaldereta waiting for them in the kitchen. How do you get food, or--or seedlings to plant, for God’s sake? Who the hell are you!?”
“I am Lola Basyang,” the woman said calmly. “I do not leave the house I belong to. I lived with another family some time ago, but when there were no more storytellers among the Reyeses, I moved here. I have not left this home since, but I will if you wish me to.”
Kit plopped down on the ground, having technically received responses to her questions, but no answers that she could actually make sense of. She wiped one hand across her face. “Listen, it’s not that I’m throwing you out, but I just don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t mind if you stay, but Ramon wants it to be just the two of us. I’m grasping at straws for a solution here.”
“When you reach out for just anything, you may not like what you get,” Lola said pithily. “I know something about this.”
“Now, wait--” Kit tried, but the old woman overrode her once more, and she soon found herself drawn into the tale despite her best intentions.
“Once,” said Lola Basyang, “there was a young man whose parents were urging him to get married, as they were quite old and wished to see their grandchildren before they died. The young man loved his parents and wanted to do their bidding, but he had already sought out all the young women from all the villages upstream, and had not found one to his liking.”“Okay, I give up,” said Kit, completely unmindful of the soil that was now ground into her designer jeans, “what would my father say the story is about?”
“As he was lying under a tree pondering his problem one day, he noticed an orange hanging from one of the branches, perfectly round and pleasingly bright in hue. He plucked this perfect orange from the tree and took it with him to the nearby river. At the river bank, he held the orange to his lips and whispered to it, ‘Go downstream and find me a girl to love.’ Then he released the orange into the river, where the current quickly lifted it up and bore it away.”
“As the orange floated past many towns and villages, people drinking, washing, or bathing at the river caught sight of it and tried to take hold of it. But the sly fruit always eluded them, dipping and bobbing in the water, and slipping and sliding out of their grasp. Eventually, it came to a village named Maryukan, where there lived a girl so beautiful that her parents would never let her go anywhere without at least one of her cousins as chaperone.”
“It so happened that this girl and one of her female cousins were bathing in the river when the orange came by. Delighted with the little fruit’s perfection, the two girls made a game of trying to catch it, ducking and diving in the water for many long minutes without success. Finally, the lovelier girl, exasperated, said to the orange: ‘Please let me have you so that you may have me too.’ “After this, when the girl extended her hands, the orange floated into them willingly. Nevertheless, she remained wary of losing the fruit again, so when the two girls dressed and went home, she tucked it under her skirt, near her belly.”
“Months later, the girl discovered that she was pregnant. Her parents were very angry when they heard, but the girl told them her story and her cousins testified that she had never even been near any man. Realizing that the orange could only have come from upstream, the girl and her cousin decided to set off on a search for the tree that the wondrous fruit had come from. It was a very long journey, and the lovely girl was close to giving birth by the time they were able to find the only orange tree in the region, which grew in the young man’s backyard.”
“At first, the young man’s parents were doubtful when the girls approached them, but then the young man himself came home and told them of the plan he had set in motion so many months ago. His parents were still not completely convinced, but they saw that their son was very taken by the pregnant girl’s beauty, courage, and charm. So they held the wedding despite their misgivings--and a few weeks later, they were delighted to become the grandparents of a little boy who was the exact image of their beloved son.”
“As for the wonderful orange, it never withered or became spoiled, and the newlyweds kept it in a place of honor in their home, where it was later also cherished by their son and his wife, and their son, and their son’s son.”
“Why look to your father for answers?” Lola smiled enigmatically. “You will find the answers you want when you understand what your question is.”