The summer before I started grade four in the Philippines, we moved from the haunted house (that's a story for another day) to a government housing unit near what I believed was an enchanted calamansi tree.
Calamansi is a round, quarter-size green citrus fruit that tastes like key lime. This tree was rounded at the top and not very tall. The reason I thought it was enchanted was it stood like a gatekeeper at the edge of a ravine that I had to jump to access sprawling undeveloped land.
I was still mourning our move from a spacious house and yard to a crowded condo situation, where our unit was one of four on the first floor of a four-story building. Our yard was narrow and small, about all that would grow were papaya trees that smelled fragrant when the fruit was ready to harvest. Water usually stood in puddles on the dirt, rife with mosquitoes that feasted on my bare legs when I played house on crates in the back. The next-door neighbor had no indoor plumbing and used their yard as their toilet until someone with authority told them to stop. Another neighbor wasn't all that friendly. The only consolation I had was a stray cat came over often and I could feed it a saucer of milk.
So, for the few remaining weeks of that summer, I escaped to my ravine, the enchanted calamansi tree appearing to me as though it glowed its welcome.
In the tract of land beyond, a river wound its way past huts, water buffaloes knee-deep in mud, and women washing their laundry in aluminum basins. Floating in the water, dark green kangkong plants that resembled spinach grew in profusion. Dragonflies as big as my pinky finger — we called them tutubing kalabaw, after water buffaloes — hovered, then landed on the kangkong leaves. I caught and released them all day.
Then one afternoon, I pulled up short at the ravine with a little gasp. Men in tractors were tearing up the land past my enchanted calamansi tree. Someone had hammered a “No Trespassing” sign into the dirt.
I ran home to my father and demanded an explanation. He said a developer was preparing the land so they could build more houses.
“But it’s our land!” I said, near tears.
He studied me for a moment, then gave me a sad smile. “Unfortunately, it never was."
The ravine seemed wider than ever as my bubble burst and reality set in. It meant I could no longer play in the river, catch dragonflies, nor tiptoe on rocks to cross the water. I could no longer escape to a fantastical world by way of my enchanted calamansi tree.
In a way, though, that tree stayed with me. It’s gone, true. Concrete and houses have taken its place, but something magical took root in me that summer. On quiet afternoons in my office, when I write my novels, I feel like I am leaping over the ravine, past the enchanted calamansi tree and into an imaginary world beyond.
Jewel Allen is an award-winning journalist, author and memoir ghostwriter. Visit her at www.jewelallen.com.