Under the Mango Tree by Hugh Aaron

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UNDER THE MANGO TREE by Hugh Aaron
ONE would think we were a couple of returning heroes. “Americanos, Americanos,” the naked children shouted, zigzagging like circus clowns in mad circles around us as Billiard Ball and I ambled abreast down the beaten path through the shade of the green canopy. Heavy duffel bags hanging from our shoulders were laden with gifts: bottles of beer, cartons of cigarettes, cans of fruit juice. Repeatedly sweeping past us like zephyrs, each child snatched a bar of sweet chocolate from our extended hands. We were no less boisterous than they, shouting along with them, asking their names, having a good time ourselves, caught up in the infectious joy of their freewheeling abandon. Such was the character of our entry into Lubao time after time.

As we walked down the village street, people waved from their houses repeating our names, people we didn’t recognize from our earlier visit. “Hullo Beelyard Ball,” and “Al. Hullo. Comusta.”
Anita emerged from one of the houses to greet us. “You must both stay with my family,” she said. Then Alejandro appeared and said to Billiard Ball, “I have been waiting all week. Please, if you wouldn’t mind some metaphysical discussion I would be honored to have you as my guest.”

“How can I resist metaphysical discussion?” said Billiard Ball with a smile. As the two walked off, I heard Alejandro say, “And I imagine you have read Man’s Fate in the original French? How lucky! Malraux is right. For our time the answer lies in courageous action.” Had Billiard Ball found himself a revolutionary?

I followed Anita up the ladder to her family’s one-room house, similar in its simplicity to Rosalio’s but larger. Both had the same style cooking hearth near one wall, the split bamboo floor, the same immaculateness. Squatting before the hearth, Anita’s mother, looking in her fifties (but only in her thirties, I learned later), was preparing the noon meal. She acknowledged our entrance with a nod and a warm smile. Sitting cross-legged on a floor mat in a corner, Anita’s wispy maternal grandmother, her skin wrinkled like an elephant’s, grinned, showing toothless black gums. She mumbled something incomprehensible to me in Spanish. Shortly Mr. Quiboloy, wearing a wide-brimmed hat woven of jute, came in from the hot fields. We shook hands warmly. “Thank you for having me, Mr. Quiboloy,” I said.

“You may call me Lucio, now that we are old friends,” he responded. We all sat on the floor in a circle and ate brown rice and chicken from clay bowls while Mr. Quiboloy spoke of their lot in Lubao.

“I am only a small tenant farmer,” he said—to clarify his role, not to complain. “The family in the hacienda on the Bataan highway owns the land.”
“The fancy place we passed on the way?”
“Yes, the fancy place,” he said, and everyone laughed at my odd description. “I keep fifty percent for myself and fifty percent is for the landowner. The incentive is small, but what choice do we have?”

“The Hukbalahaps think we have one, Father,” said Anita.
“How dare you speak of them in our house,” Mr. Quiboloy said in a flash of anger. Turning to me, he explained. “The Huks are radicals, communists; they know only one way: violence.” Then, addressing Anita, he said, “Where do you get such foolish thoughts? Is that what you are learning in school? Is that what Alejandro teaches?”

“Where are the Huks from?” I asked.
“From everywhere,” Lucio replied. “Some dwell within our own barrio, but since I am not a sympathizer, I cannot be sure which ones they are. You see, I believe in Philippine democracy. I believe we should be like America, where everyone has an opportunity to succeed and live well.”

“But that’s not always true. You remember our discussion last weekend?” I said. “Oh, yes, I have not forgotten. Still, you have not had to live through our poverty and pain. You have never had that in America.”

How could I argue? I knew of no pain first-hand. I never saw anyone...
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