Pregnant with their first baby, Eastern wife with hubby in tow was gifted with the house and lot next to mine which her mom won (the lot) from a mahjong game. She looked like a pregnant teen-ager. After four girls, she finally delivered an heir two years ago and had herself promptly ligated. That was also the time she started being nosy. She would criticize my front yard, house and gate when talking to neighbors but never to my face. In fact, I would see her almost every afternoon on schooldays and we would smile at one another. But no small talk about what she disliked about my residence.
When I had the time and money, I would hire the neighborhood kids to clean my yard and trim the plants and trees so they could have extra allowance for their classes the following week. Three groups of these people would report to me that Eastern wife would come inside my front yard and tell them to chop down this plant or kill this tree as if she owned my residence.
My home may not be much, aesthetics-wise. I had to make do with whatever materials my meager income and savings as a teacher could buy to renovate it. But I was able to plant an Ilang-ilang tree, Dame de noche, palmeras, to complement the sampaguita, guyabano and coconut trees. Later I was able to add Chinese bamboo which was uprooted to make way for a sidewalk downtown, kalachuchi, money trees, camias and fortune plants. Much later, a native guava plant grew from bird/bat droppings. Now a hammock hangs between it and the guyabano.
My home is my sanctuary. It has become my cocoon, my chrysalis. Everyday, I emerge from it bearing the dazzling colors of butterfly wings or the blinding dust of moth wings. Every afternoon, my weariness from the day's labor is lifted by the sweet scent of Ilang-ilang blossoms. As the sun rests, the perfume of the Dama de noche wafts through the air and permeates my home.
Of course, no sanctuary is perfect. From time to time, sieges would be staged against it. From the ground, termites would plunder my library and eat my books leaving only the plastic-covered covers untouched. From the air, the untended coconut tree of the northwest neighbor would bombard my roof with dry coco fruits and leaves dislodging the back gutter. From nowhere, thieves would jump over the front fence and ransack my house (once) and front patio (twice). From the east, the nosy wife and her consort would pester with complaints:
1) The leaves and branches of the Ilang-ilang clogged the rain gutter of their house. The gutter runs parallel to the perimeter wall which I had spent for to be put up between our properties. The house was constructed with a wide front lawn and a little space to hung the laundry at the back. The sunrise used to wake me up every morning. Eastern wife's mother decided to outdo my house in terms of construction materials and location. Aside from making my house look like a shabby shanty beside the mini-mansion (with basement to boot), the house was built with the perimeter walls as its walls, leaving no space at the sides and back (baaaad feng shui, that). This effectively blocked out the rising sun for me making it a necessity to turn on the lights early in the morning. Eastern wife's mother knew there was an Ilang-ilang tree near the perimeter wall, but pushed through with adding several layers of hollow blocks to serve as a wall for the mini-mansion. Anyway, I allowed them to cut the branches encroaching on their property which the tree-cutter proceeded to throw down onto my side. When the gutter was still clogged and having no more reason (branches and leaves) to blame, they hired a mason to knock down portions of the gutter on my side so that when it rained, the water would cascade down my property. It did not bother me at all because the sound of rain and falling water lulled me to sleep but I guessed the water seeped down and flooded their basement prompting them to rehire the mason to cement the knocked-down portions.
2. The Talisay outside my front fence was plagued by large spiny caterpillars (whose feathery spines would cause itches upon skin contact). Their girls were afraid to cross the street (the tree was far from the street) because of it. Could I permit them to have the branches cut? (Me hesitant: Yes). Since we already had the branches cut, could we cut down the tree? (Me exasperated: Sure, why not!) Results: their electrical connection was brought down by one branch. The thieves had no problem climbing the front fence portion which the tree used to block, raided my patio and took away the aquarium lights, aerators and my collection of Justice League action figures. My books were left unmolested!