TOMATOES change color, even these store-bought ones. I can eat raw the ripe ones with fried “bolinao (anchovies)” for meal after meal. Waiting for the hard green irregular spheres to turn pliant and mushy, I am aware of not just shunting aside the querulous insistence of appetite or imperative command of hunger.
A subtle exhibitionist, every tomato bides its pace, clinging to its swirls of sunset yellow before suffusing into orange and flaming finally into bright shiny red.
The “tomati” in Nahuatl or Aztec, spoken by the ancients in Mexico, gave birth to the “tomate” of the Spanish colonizers and then the “tomato” of the English imperialists.
Though much co-opted, the tomato dares one to stereotype. Botanists regard the tomato as a fruit; nutritionists, a vegetable. I am grateful that farmers just have the common sense to raise it.
I take after my mother in munching green tomatoes dipped in a little salt. I know Ma will never want to try fried green tomatoes or meet the oddballs in Fanny Flagg’s 1987 novel, “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café”.
Yet, when it is safe to go home, I will bring her my secondhand copy so she can make the acquaintance of Idgie and Ruth, Evelyn and Ninnie. God willing, when Mama turns 81 this year the coronavirus disease will just be another scourge, like the homophobia, racism, and ageism that people take on, dip in a little salt, and lick.
One or two of the best tomatoes I have set aside, dried in the sun, and planted. Summer is best for tomatoes because there is no rain to dislodge the buds and flowers. The most beautiful name for the tomato is given by the Encyclopaedia Britannica: “ripened flower ovary”.
The earth is also an ovary, sex, uterus. We live amongst birds and in their nesting and migrating, their droppings result in seedlings cropping up in odd places. Tomato seeds, like the future sun worshippers that these will become, are germinating in the ash-mixed soil from our compost pile that faces the sun.
Three months ago, the ash wafted from the Taal Volcano eruption made breathing difficult. Freed from the sulfur that evaporated and darkened by rain, decaying leaf, and organic rot, the ash makes the soil richer, better for our small garden.
For now, the seeds in their reused coffee cups of soil are invisible, quarantined in their dark earthy wombs. Soaking up the sun and just enough water, the invisible will have presence one day.
From quarantine to harvest, the tomato holds out this promise.
"Don't give up before the miracle happens," wrote Fanny Flagg.
Ripening. Tomatoes after two weeks of enhanced community quarantine. Silang, 29 March 2020
* First published in SunStar Cebu’s March 29, 2020 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”