Once there was a man named Lag-ok who owned a beautiful orchard. He had all kinds of fruit trees. There were mangoes, bananas, durian, rambutan, lanzones and others. But his favorite of all was papaya.
Lag-ok loved his orchard very much that he built a tall bamboo fence around it. That way, no one could take any of the ripe fruits from his trees. He wanted all of them for himself. He would sell the big ones in the market and get plenty of money. He would keep the medium ones for eating, and the small ones, he would allow to rot away on the ground to serve as fertilizer. He shared with no one and he gave nothing away.
One morning, Lag-ok heard a knock on the orchard gate. When he checked who it was, he saw a woman with several children. “What is it you want?” Lag-ok snapped.
“Please sir,” the woman begged. “We are travelers and have come from far way. The children have grown hungry. Will you be so kind as to give us some of your fruits to eat?”
“Woman,” Lag-ok replied, “If you cannot feed your children, why have them?” And he promptly closed the gate with a bang.
Lag-ok felt proud of what he did. It was not unusual for him to turn beggars away. He thought them no better than the worms that fed on the overripe fruits of his orchard. But at least, worms help to fertilize the ground. Beggars give nothing in return.
After a while, Lag-ok harvested some of his ripe papayas and began to eat them. He ate so much that his belly grew round and full. More than satisfied with what he ate, he settled himself on the soft grass under his trees and fell into a deep sleep.
When he woke up, he found himself in a strange place. Everything around him was the color of deep red-orange. It seemed that he was in a huge cavern with smooth, soft walls and floors. Some distance away, he saw some black round things moving about, and decided to approach them.
“Excuse me, where am I?”
“EEEK!” screamed one round thing. “A Worm! A Worm!” Thereupon, the black round things began to huddle together in fright. “How did it get here? Get out! Go away! EEEEK!” they cried.
Lag-ok fell back and shouted. “I’m NOT a worm! And what are you?”
A brave black round thing came rolling from the top of the heap towards him. “We are SEEDS! Morado seeds! And YOU are a WORM!”
Another round thing came forward. “We don’t like worms!”
“Yes!” cried another. “How did you get here anyway?”
Lag-ok swallowed hard. “I…I don’t know. I was sleeping in the orchard and when I woke up, I found myself …..” It was only then that Lag-ok realized he had indeed become a worm. “……here. B….but where…what is HERE?”
“What?” said the brave seed. “A worm who lost his way?” And the other seeds began to laugh. “You are inside a ripe papaya fruit, worm! And it is about to be harvested.”
“Not by that greedy orchard owner, I hope,” said one seed.
Lag-ok gulped. He couldn’t tell them who he really was. “What happens then?”
“Then,” continued the brave and rather knowledgeable seed, “when the fruit is eaten, we are planted on the ground so that we can grow to become new papayas!”
“What….happens to…me?” Lag-ok could not imagine.
“Why,” said a snobbish seed, “worms like you don’t figure in our cycle of life. You are nothing but fodder for the soil, or food for the birds!” And with this the seeds chorused in laughter.
Lag-ok shuddered. Food?
Just then, the cavern began to quake violently, tossing the seeds about while they screamed joyfully. Terrified, Lag-ok buried himself deep in the orange flesh. Presently, a crack appeared on the ceiling and a shaft of light pierced the cavern like a knife. Out fell the cheerful black seeds leaving Lag-ok half buried inside the orange flesh.
When the hubbub was over, Lag-ok started to crawl outside. He crawled and crawled until he was out of the papaya. It was a long crawl for he was very small and it made him very tired. When finally he found himself on the grass, he lay down to rest.
Up above him, he could see gigantic papaya fruits hanging heavily from the trees. “My papayas!” he whispered to himself and remembered how he enjoyed eating the sweet juicy orange flesh. Oh how he loved those fruits! Just the thought of them made his mouth water. But as he was in the middle of these pleasant thoughts, two gigantic fingers picked him up from the grass and in an instant, he was in a dark, cold place.
It was so dark, he could not see a thing. Presently, a pair of eyes appeared in the darkness. Then another, and another, and another, until the whole darkness was full of eyes.
“Wh…where am I?” came Lag-ok’s feeble voice.
“You are not where you are supposed to be!” boomed a voice in the darkness. All eyes suddenly shifted towards the voice. By now, Lag-ok could tell who it was who spoke, as his eyes began to get accustomed to the darkness. It was from a rather fat earthworm with large, drooping eyes. “How did you get here?”
Lag-ok then realized he was inside a can of earthworms. “I…I was thrown in!”
The earthworms squirmed. “Thrown in. I see.” Said the chief worm. “But you are a fruit worm, not an earthworm like us. We have no place for you here. We earthworms are being readied for fish bait by that….that insufferable orchard owner!” Lag-ok gulped again, as he remembered he was planning to go fishing in the lake that afternoon.
“Alas,” the chief worm continued, “our days of fertilizing are over.” And he began to cry. The other worms began to cry too and soon the can grew increasingly slippery.
Lag-ok decided he should make a run for it while he could. So he crawled up towards the mouth of the rusty can. It was a rough climb and he often got caught in the crusts that had formed on its walls. Gathering all his strength, he struggled to climb ever so slowly. Up he crawled, inch after inch, towards the mouth of the can until he could see the light of the sky. Then with the last remaining strength left in his body, he heaved himself up over the top edge, then flung himself on the dusty ground.
Panting, Lag-ok wanted nothing at that moment but to lie on the ground and rest. But just as he was about to, a huge pair of eyes and a beak greeted him. It was a chicken! A monstrous hen looking for worms to feed her chicks. Lag-ok began to tremble as he realized he was about to become a meal. As the yellow beak started to open, Lag-ok darted as quickly as he could to the side, and barely missed the hen’s sharp beak. Suddenly, a flurry of feathers surrounded him, sending a thick cloud of dust flying about as the hungry chicks began to scurry around their mother. Completely covered with dust, Lag-ok used the camouflage to crawl away to a nearby leaf hanging from a low branch. He hurriedly crawled under the leaf hoping to hide from the hungry fowl. But suddenly, a scowling green caterpillar weaving himself a cocoon shouted at him. “Hey you! What are you doing on my leaf?”
“I’m running away from a hungry hen!”
“Run away some place else! Worms like you can’t stay among us butterflies. GET OUT!”
So Lag-ok crawled out again from under the leaf, and on to the thin twig, hoping he could jump from there to the ground below and scuttle away. But suddenly, he heard a rumbling above him. The sky grew dark as the clouds were swept away. Soon the rumble grew louder, and a strong wind whooshed, sending the thin twig rocking to and fro. Instantly, Lag-ok was flung into the air. For a moment, he seemed suspended in flight as the wind surged under his fragile frame. Then down he fell, plummeting straight into the gaping jaws of the mother hen!
“HEEEELLLLPPPP!” Lag-ok screamed, but the rumble of the thunder and the screeching of the wind drowned his screams.
The last thing Lag-ok saw as he looked up were his papayas, heavy with fruits and bending in the wind. But the canopy had become the face of the woman at the gate, the leaves her hair, and the ripe fruits surrounding her body were breasts suckled by the mouths of many children.
“NOOOOOOOO!” he screamed again as the darkness covered him.
Then Lag-ok awoke.
Around him lay piles of fruits. Some had cracked as they hit the ground. Some were still whole. But not a single fruit was left hanging from the orchard trees of Lag-ok. The strong wind had blown them all, making the once grassy ground a carpet of multi-colored fruits, broken branches and worse of all—dead papayas! “Oh, my beautiful orchard!” Lag-ok cried. “Oh, my beautiful fruits!”
Slowly, Lag-ok stood up and surveyed the damage. It must have been a mighty strong wind for it had also broken through the tall bamboo fence. Not a single bamboo pole stood straight, and the thick bamboo corner posts had been uprooted from the ground. The gate was flung open, revealing the winding strip of road to the village.
It would be months before the remaining trees would bear fruits again. Lag-ok looked in dismay at the fruits that lay on the ground. They would soon rot and be fodder for the hungry worms. He shivered. Suddenly, the wind began to blow again and it seemed as if it carried the voices of children. The voices came closer but the wind had not blown harder. The voices grew louder until it seemed they were now at the gate behind him.
Slowly, Lag-ok turned. In horror, he seemed to see the woman with hair of papaya leaves, and breasts of ripe fruits. “AAAHHHHHHHH!!!!” Lag-ok screamed and fainted.
“Sir! Sir! Wake up!”
Lag-ok opened his eyes and quickly turned away in fright. It was the same woman at the gate. “What do you want?”
“Sir, we see that your orchard had been damaged by the strong wind. My children and I would like to help you clean up. You can give us some of your ripe fruits in return for our labor.”
Lag-ok looked at the faces of the hungry children, then at the chaos that surrounded him. He realized he would never be able to clean up by himself. He needed their help.
There was much work to be done. There were ripe fruits to bale, and unripe fruits to pile. There were damaged fruits to throw into the compost pit, and dead leaves for mulching. But there were no bamboo fences to put up anymore. The bamboos will be made into benches around the trees for everyone to sit on, for Lag-ok had decided to share his orchard fruits with others.
From that day on, Lag-ok never had a bad dream again, and he became the most generous man in the village.
Josie Tejada is a published writer, actress, and directress member of the Guild.