Velvet Apple (English), Camagón (Spanish), Kamagong (Tagalog)
The whole forest burned with the heat of a forge, of hell, even if the sun had hidden itself and the thicket lay enveloped in very dense shades and darkness.
From time to time, the flash of lightning shook the clouds like a crack of a whip. And after an instant the thunder rumbled in the distance harshly.
The beautiful birds of spring had sought refuge anywhere they could. The big red, yellow and white flowers, withered over their bent stems, fell. A swift wind, hot and cutting like the vapor of a crate, carpeted everything with petals and shattered leaves.
The green pine tree, trembling and frightened, spoke:
“Old kamagon, are you not afraid?”
The kamagon smiled: “Afraid? Of what?...”
“Of the storm that is coming.”
The kamagon continued smiling:
“Bah!... My friend; not everything has to be enchantment, light , flowers, and kisses… In the happiest life, there are many days of storm like this; I have seen so many, so many that now it is all the same to me whether it’s the fire of sunlight or the gentle and white light of the full moon that illumines the forest. Furthermore, the storm passes away, like all things do; youth, love and glory itself.”
“Yes, but the storm returns…”
“And who tells you that youth, glory, and love do not return?”
The atmosphere was becoming darker, the lightning each time sharper and almost without interruption, the thunder rumbled nearby; and some great drops of rain started falling indistinctly, raising a rustle of whiplashes.
In the agitated forest one could hear the hissing of the reptiles, the screech of the kalaws, and the groans of the injured trees. A strong windstorm rose destroying everything in its way, throwing down nests and tearing down branches… Suddenly a red flame set the forest on fire, and it was followed by an infernal noise which stirred up the depths of the earth. Then the first thunderbolt fell, coiling itself like a snake of crackling embers around the beautiful and proud ilang-ilang, which slowly fell into pieces.
When the devastating roar passed, the kamagon looked at the pine tree with pity. He had been stripped of all his arrogance, of all his stupid pride, and he seemed harassed and tremulous, prey of a terror that corroded even the sap of his deepest roots. Covered by his graceful branches which the rain mercilessly lashed, he seemed to be crying, shedding all the drops of water that were blown through his leaves. The kamagon, feeling sorry for the pine tree, spoke to him then over the tremulous sound of the wild elements.
“Do not tremble, do not cry, this will pass”
“Oh, grandfather, I am afraid to die!”
“You will not die. You are still young; but if it is written that today you will stop existing, what difference does that make? Sooner of later it has to happen. All of us go the same way. It is only a question of some years more or less.”
The echo of another thunder drowned his voice. Another infernal blaze blinded them, and both listened as at their very back a poor ilang-ilang tree scorched by the thunderbolt dryly plunged to the ground…
The pine tree even more terrified, rose in a cry of desperate protest.
“No, he did not want, could not, should not die, and die just like that, split by a thunderbolt. He was still young, and hardly had he enjoyed the divine sweetness of April. Why for black fetid death’s sake tear him away from his silvery nights that smell of flowers and dreams, from his golden days full of wings and rosy dawns?”
Suddenly he kept silent, shuddered, shaken by a horrible death rattle, bending the ideal treetop that a thunderbolt now streaked with its blue, red, green, and yellow phosphorescence, like a long necklace of turquoises, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires hanging over its dead trunk. The poor pine tree was yet another dream which was falling, and immense dream of grandeur lost in the grandeur of the universe!
After a year, during another bright April morning, some woodcutters invaded the forest.
And among the trunks and fresh branches of the trees which they hacked down with bolos and axes, they brought with them the withered remains of the green pine tree and the back kamagon.
And it happened that while the people of the village needed firewood, the priest of the town needed a big cross for his church. And that was why he took the trunk of the old kamagon so he could entrust it to a skilled sculptor.
And in that same night, while shattered into a thousand pieces, the pine became ashes in the rustic home-made stoves of the village; the kamagon, converted into a divine cross and adored, was raise over the holy and humble thrill of prayers.
There it was humble, black, affectionate, serving as a support for a God who on top of him was dying and died of love…
Meanwhile the priest over the pulpit began to speak, and his words penetrated the simple souls of the multitude like stars, like spikenards…
“Blessed are the meek…”
Manila (May 1941)
Translated to English by Pilar E. Mariño