Heights Ateneo — The Official Literary and Artistic Publication and Organization of the Ateneo de Manila University
Love is the Deep, Dark Woods
Isagani and Elena THERE were once two children named Isagani and Elena, and their love began with a broken balete tree. First, there was a storm: surging from off the coast, it grew from a few ominous specks on the horizon into a maelstrom that in moments enveloped the whole sky, too fast for the children—playing in the forest surrounding their village—to return home, to do anything but hide under the cover of the ancient tree and grip each other’s bodies with taut, silent fear.
The roots of the tree went deep, and so did the village’s memory. And yet no resident of Barangay Valentina, living or dead, had experienced anything that could compare to the fear they faced that day when the sky in one great heave retched its demons—and neither had they experienced anything that could compare to the wonder that lit their hearts in the gloom of the morning after, when they found Isagani and Elena still locked in embrace under the wreckage of the uprooted tree, sleeping soundly, completely unharmed.
They were inseparable from that day on. Their romance was the substance of legend; old couples looked at them and sighed for long lost days (if they truly ever existed) and the little boys and girls, amidst all their jeering and fighting, knew in the recesses of their hearts that what Isagani and Elena had, they wanted for themselves (maybe someday, maybe someday). Life had always offered plenty to the residents of Barangay Valentina, but from the moment they coupled there was never a day of fishing where Barangay Valentina’s boats didn’t return to shore with fish all but bursting out of the seams, and even the animals in the forest surrounding the village seemed to dance right into hunters. The sound of Isagani’s guitar strings became part of the fabric of the night, and when Elena would join in
his singing, the moon seemed to inch a little closer to better hear the sound. Everyone was convinced, no one more than the two of them, that the magic that the uprooted balete tree had unleashed that fateful day of the storm was the substance of dreams. But there came a time when the people of Barangay Valentina wondered whether that was as true as they thought—and no one, no one more than Isagani and Elena. Just what happened between the two of them in the darkness of Barangay Valentina’s great balete tree grove would be passed on, puzzled, debated, eventually adapted into a New York Timesbestselling romance novelization by a Fil-Am writer, and otherwise, lost to time’s roiling waters—but even now, there are still fragments to be found, truths honed like river rock, in the memories of Barangay Valentina’s descendants.
- Barangay Valentina
This is how the story of Barangay Valentina’s founding begins: one day, a man fell in love with a crocodile.
The man was a Spanish commander named Gustavo Enriquez Garcia, and he’d come to the Philippines—like most young nobles afraid that all great acts of pageantry to be accomplished back home had already been long accomplished and reduced to tedium—for glory. In Gustavo’s dreams, his name and destiny lay teeming in the Philippines’ forests like the sweltering heat; everywhere in Spain there was talk of dark and mysterious forces lurking at the edge of the world. Upon arrival, Gustavo was single-minded in his search for those very terrors—and eventually, after months of exploration, he found something he was convinced could cement his name in the annals of heroes.
Within the forests surrounding the coastal area that would eventually cradle Barangay Valentina, natives had whispered in hushed tones about a crocodile so massive that a half-dozen men lain prostrate on the ground couldn’t match its length from head to tail. After much pressure, as the heathen natives believed the crocodile
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