If you must know, The Feud began because of the mango tree, the mango tree that stood between our house and the Lopezes’ house. Well, not quite in between. You see, if old lady Mameris — from whom we had bought the houses — had only planted the tree right smack along the property line, then there might not have been any trouble to begin with. I think that might have been her plan. As things turned out, the tree took root a few feet inside the Lopezes’ garden.
Now, if it weren’t for the tree, our properties would have been perfect twins. Mrs. Mameris had built the houses for her children, and so they looked exactly alike, only built in reverse, as in a mirror: a spacious garden; a two-car garage; dining room, living room, and hobby room on the ground floor; four bedrooms on the second floor; exterior painted darkwood and teal. Sadly, the Mameris children preferred life in Canada, and so their widowed mother had no choice but to sell, and a good bargain we got for them, too.
Come to think of it, like the houses we lived in, the Lopezes and my family also mirrored each other in uncanny ways. Henry Lopez and I both worked as area managers (I in softdrinks, Henry in detergents); his Sally and my Diane had put their careers on hold to be stay-at-home wives; and their Westley and our Bridget had both just entered the third grade. We bought our houses within weeks of each other. While no one could say that we were close, we maintained friendly relations with each other. Friendly, that is, until the Feud.
The trouble began when the mangoes bloomed in late summer. Too tempting for eight year olds and their yayas, Bridget and Dindin poked at the fruits with a stick. Young Westley didn’t take kindly to that and, after his protests went ignored, ran off to tell his Daddy. Henry didn’t quite berate Bridget then (and thank goodness, because that would have ended in a fistfight), but a week later, the Lopezes had put up a white picket fence between our property and theirs. And to make their point clear, a handpainted sign nailed to the trunk of the tree: “DO NOT PICK THE FRUITS.”
Was I ticked? Somewhat. But I laughed off the whole incident. The mangoes tasted too sour to be worth the trouble. Diane, though, fretted and fumed. What do they think we are, she grumbled.
When the Lopezes bought a refrigerator, Diane simply had to get a bigger one. We argued as to whether we really needed it, but when she threatened to dip into her own savings, I relented. Diane made sure they made the delivery when the Lopezes were around.
Anyone might have chalked up the near-simultaneous purchases to coincidence. Young upscale families buy appliances all the time, right? But the exchange began in earnest when I got a 48-inch LCD TV and Henry bought a 60-incher not long after that.
Of such acts are bad cliches made: we bought a lawn swing, they bought a lawn playground; they bought a new dining room set, we bought a dining room and living room set; we bought a Fortuner, they bought a Montero. It began to hurt me where it mattered, and I’m sure it hurt Henry, too; but what can you do? When you’re in the heat of things you’re in the heat of things. No retreat, no surrender.
And slowly our twin houses stopped looking like twins. All those big-ticket purchases took their toll: old stuff displaced by the new overflowed from the two-car garage and into the garden (and then it became a race to see whose garbage was newer than whose). Months into the Feud, we wanted to be as different from each other as we could and so we both embarked on major outdoor renovations: we painted our house blue, and the Lopezes painted theirs green.
Who knows where all this foolishness would have ended? Our families had become the subject of sniggering smiles throughout the village, but We. Just. Could. Not. Stop.
In the end, I think it was the Flood that saved us all.
Blame it, I suppose, on unscrupulous developers, but our village had always been flood-prone. That’s what happens when you build on land below the water line. Since old lady Mameris had foresight to build the houses on slightly elevated foundations, the floods never really bothered us all that much.
The Flood, though, went beyond what you’d call an ordinarily flood. Might as well have called it the Deluge Part II.
It happened in early October, as unseasonal a month for heavy rains as you would think. But fall the rains did that Saturday morning, in fat streaking torrents that curtained the horizon. No wind, no thunder, no lightning, just rain that beat on the ground like a mad drummer on shabu.
Already the electricity had gone out. As soon as the waterline hit the edge of our porch, I knew we were in trouble. My thoughts flew to my home entertainment system in the living room. I unbolted the gear, called the maids, and made ready to evacuate the electronics to the second floor. Lifting a 48-inch TV up the stairs would be a delicate chore, but I snickered thinking how much harder Henry would have it bringing up his 60-inch. Diane, meanwhile, busied herself with the foodstuffs from the refrigerator, seeing as how there was no way we could bring the fridge up with us.
We had only gotten the TV up the middle landing when the water broke through the doors and flowed into the living room. Already we were knee-deep in the flood — inside our house — and the water rose still, inches in minutes.
“Our furniture! Our fridge! Our kitchenware!” Diane screeched.
“Never mind that!” Mameng, our majordoma cried out. “Where’s Bridget and Dindin?”
I nearly jumped out of my skin. Preoccupied as we were with our things, we had forgotten all about our daughter. The LCD made a clattering sound on the landing where I dropped it. I waded out the house, Diane following behind me. “Bridget! Bridget!” we cried.
Outside the rain poured on relentlessly. By instinct, I brought an umbrella, but it bent and collapsed under the weight of the falling water. The rain came down so hard it felt like pebbles hurled against
“Bridget! Dindin!” I hollered, though unsure if my voice would carry above the roar. Already the water came up to my waist; for Bridget it would be chest deep.
Through the curtain of rain I saw a moving shadow, child-sized, struggling against the water. I struggled forward, shouting my daughter’s name all the while.
“Bridget!” I cried as I reached out and caught an arm. But it wasn’t Bridget. It was Westley.
“Westley! What are you doing here? Have you seen Bridget?”
In response, Westley could only howl in fear.
My heart collapsed. Where could Bridget be? Lost out in the rain and rising waters? God forbid: drowned? It was too terrible to think of. But in my arms I had a frightened eight-year old boy who was in as much danger as my daughter.
“Is it her?” I heard Diane ask.
“No, it’s Westley!” I dragged him up our driveway. “Take him up! I’ll go on looking.” Reluctantly, my wife took Westley in.
How much longer I stayed out in the rain I don’t know. Already the water was neck deep. If Bridget was still out there, the water would be well above her head, but I did not want to give up. I shouted myself hoarse calling out my daughter’s name.
Finally, in reply, I heard my name, not from out the street but from behind me and above me.
“Jack! Jack! Up here!”
It was Diane. I turned around, looked up, and saw figures clambering onto the roof. For the rain, I could not tell who was who. I could just barely make out shadows clinging to window sills and storm drains. Someone was on the roof, pulling up a child-sized figure through the window.
“We found her! Come up!”
My spirits picked up. I swam and kicked through the accumulated debris of past possessions. I saw the remnants of books, chairs, tables, stereos, and tires float by but I didn’t care. My daughter was safe!
I made my way up the stairs, almost injuring my foot on the broken glass of my big screen TV. I clambered up the roof. Everyone was there: Diane, Westley, Mameng, Yoly…but not Bridget nor Dindin.
“Where is she?” I screamed.
Diane pointed across, in the direction of the Lopez house. Like us, they too had taken refuge on the roof. I saw their maids, and with them, Henry and Sally, and wrapped in Sally’s arms was my Bridget.
“Henry! Sally! We have Westley!” Diane shouted.
“Bridget’s fine!” Sally shouted back. Hearing that, all my strength left me and I collapsed on the corrugated sheet of our roof, laughing and crying at the same time.
The rain lasted several more hours. We were already wading ankle deep in the floodwaters — on the roof of the second floor of our house. All the while we huddled for warmth, shivering all the same from the rain and the cold. Nothing to do but wave and shout encouragement from time to time at our daughter and neighbors across the water.
I saw the waters go up and up and up, and I prayed it would stop. I used the mango tree as guide, saw the waters swallow it up. When the rain stopped, the mango tree lay completely underwater, so that not even the top branches could be seen.
What else is there to say? We found rescue some twelve hours after our ordeal, thanks to some strangers on a makeshift raft. We reunited with Bridget, and the Lopezes reunited with Westley. I wanted to shake Henry’s hand, but he took me up in a bear hug instead.
When the waters finally subsided two days later, I saw that the flood had swept away everything we owned: furniture, TVs, stereos, even the cars. In their place, mud, nothing but mud. Indeed, gone were the blue paint of our house, and the green of the Lopezes’ house; in their place, a dirty chocolate brown all throughout.
At that I had to laugh, because our houses were twins again.