Mirasol worries about quieting him down, but she doesn’t have to; the saltwater’s wrung out of him like an old dishcloth. So she sets her weight between his hips to pull him to the bed--or try to, anyway--and he dredges himself up after the second try, towing her along in his wake.
It’s always cold up here in the City, but she’s the one shivering in a shirt and sweat-pants under the blanket--Haik doesn’t seem to feel anything.
“It’s cold where I was born,” he says, draping his arms across her chest. “Tewaipounamu. The old name for the South Island.”
“Oh, so the Maori are like East Coasters.” She twists to smile at him. “Or Canadians.”
He doesn’t smile back at her, but he takes out her braid and runs his hands through it; again her hair is free of tangles, and she leans her cheek into his arm.
“What does she look like?” He wonders. “Did she talk to you? How did she get to the others?"
“She was soaking wet. And she said Lumawig fished her out of the sea.”
“Liit-liit,” he breathes. “Liit-liit-na-Langa-an. Fuck, I thought he was dead.”
Smallest of Langa-an, she parses out: The smallest of Langa-an; the smallest child of Langa-an; Lumawig the last-born.
“Did you see him there?” He pleads. “Were his brothers with him? His mother?”
“Yes. He was drumming at the front.”
“Where is my sister?”
She couldn’t see far in the crush of the gods’ giant ship. “I don’t know,” she apologizes. “I was only there for a few minutes. And there were a lot of people; I mostly focused on our daughter.”
“I… I am her father.” He tightens out of pain, and she half-expects his joints to crack around her like an old man’s. “I am her father, and I couldn’t make her come back.”
“It’s not your fault. You tried for centuries.” Mirasol pecks his knuckles.
But tears trickle sluggish in her hair, and with a tired scratchy sigh, Haik feels old beneath his long muscled arms and the vast dark stretch of his skin. When he tips back--so careful--she strains to keep him straight, as if he’s lost his balance. (She won’t be able to get him back up, she fears. She tried a few minutes ago.)
His heartbeat is an old man’s, too, lagging faint behind the muscles in his chest, and it scares her because none of the other gods feel like he does, whether they looked old or young or in-between. Will he wake up tomorrow if he goes to sleep?
He’ll calm down, the sky-voice says.
“Calm down?” She shakes her head. “No, being calm is the problem. He needs to… to get up, and… move, or…”
Is that why he didn’t want to break the pattern? Does he feel too old to take risks?
Haik is an anito now--he cannot die of old age, the sky-voice assures her gently.
“Then why does he feel like it?”
His tattoos are coming back, he explains. He just needs to get used to them again.
What are tattoos to a Filipino god? She wonders. If a god’s name is who they are, and tattoos are like clothing to mortals…
“Tattoos are the words fished up from your souls, anak,” a father says to her. “Even a god can’t tattoo you if you hate him, or if the meaning doesn’t fit. They’re already there; all the artist does is let people see them.”
“If I ask for one of his tattoos and he says yes, will the artist do that?” She wonders.
“You’ll have to ask Haik, not me.” He chuckles. “If you wanted my tattoo or another relative’s, that’s normal--it’s a big jump to asking for one of his.”
“I wouldn’t get crocodile scales all over my arm, or his face tattoos--maybe just a bracelet.”
“What man is she asking about his tattoos?” Her oldest aunt demands. The thudding of her cane approaches the doorway, along with her hunching shadow. “Do you know what that meant when I was your age, Mirasol? Naku--of all people, I would have thought you paid attention to me--”
“It--it’s not what you think, Auntie.” She tries to keep her face composed, but it still burns.
Once her aunt spots her, she laughs.
“I got you!” She crows. “But really, you can’t ask someone for their tattoos without a damn good reason, especially a young man’s. You said he had his face tattooed and crocodile scales? There’s only three men your age with croc-teeth, and they might as well be crocodiles with how long their mouths stay open. Unless they suddenly got good at keeping secrets--”
Her father laughs. “It’s Haik!”
Another raspy laugh from her aunt. “Why are you asking your father and not him, then?”
“Because… what if he gets mad?”
“Does Haik get mad at the fishers and warriors?” Her aunt points out.
“No, but Auntie--crocodiles are for men’s tattoos.”
“Ayyyy, young people. Afraid of everything.” Her aunt shuffles over and drags her out of the house. “The worst he’s going to say is no, and he’ll probably be nice about it, too. Different tattoos are nothing wrong, anak. Bathala gave Laki and Ba-e different tattoos, and Amanikable had different tattoos from them both, but that didn’t stop him from falling in love with Ba-e.”
“Wait--where are we going?”
Mirasol gets distracted at the mention of the other names, and her memory vanishes with the sound of her father’s laughter. “Who’s Aminakable?”
“A-ma-ni-ka-ble.” Haik sounds out.
“What’s he like?”
“He is the god of the bagyo, and the waves that sink the ships,” Haik says. “He was a hunting-god before he fell in love with Ba-e, the first woman Bathala created. She refused because she was married to Laki, the first man, so in his pain Amanikable turned into a great wind, the first storm on the islands--he howled and tried to sink all the land back under the sea. In time Bathala calmed him down, but though his rage cooled and he would often help people later on--he could not stay in Kabunian if he had truly become evil--he swore never to touch earth again, and he never married, god or mortal.”
A shiver of memory goes through her, and the rage of the wind--or is it a man crying?
“Why couldn’t he get over one woman?”
“The first woman,” Haik corrects. “There was nobody before Ba-e and Laki came from the bamboo shoot, besides spirits and animals. There was nobody to have a rebound relationship with after she turned him down. How can he get over her when everyone who came after--everyone in the Philippines, at least--are her children? You all remind him of her.”
“There are other countries with plenty of women,” Mirasol says, but Haik’s laugh is as thin and cold as the air.
“He doesn’t want women from other countries.” But his arms are warm. “Just her.”
“Where’s Kabunian?” He’s never mentioned it before. (But then, he never mentioned his sister or his cousins or his niece.)
“Up there.” His crocodile-arm flicks up. “Where the gods live.”
“Did you live there, too? After you became a god?”
“I visited, but I couldn’t live there,” Haik admits. “Amanikable’s not evil just because he’s easy to rile up--he’s a pretty nice bloke when he’s not mad or stuck on Ba-e again--but he is the bagyo, the typhoon off the sea, and I am the god of sailors. I was the one who calmed down the water when he got pissed off, or I kept too many people from dying if I couldn’t. The wind and the sea, our natures don’t mix.”
“Your cousins are the winds,” she points out.
“They aren’t known to kill people when they’re mad,” he retorts, but he’s amused. “Well, Lumawig killed the sun after he killed Lumawig’s father, but vengeance is a one-time deal.”
“Didn’t Bathala kill the…?” No, she remembers in the space between words, and she shakes her head. There was a fight, but no killing.
Haik smiles into her neck. “He didn’t kill the sun, he just fought him and gouged out an eye.”
What’s it like when a god changes roles, from the hunter on land to the bringer of typhoons? (But then, Haik calls him the typhoon, the first howling bagyo.) Does Amanikable miss the days he spent tracking game in the forest and mountains, or did he just switch deer and wild pigs for marlin and sharks? Does he know about the loophole Haik gave to the devilfish, how he could walk on the shore if not the land? Or does he roam around in a boat even more than Haik does?
“When did you lose track of the other gods?”
“When the Spanish came, why else?” he tells her. “For the first few decades, they just puffed their chests and said they owned the islands, but then they started hunting people down who were pagan, and they murdered them to make the others convert. Who could I ask if they had seen the anito? I would have had to look through the islands just to find where the land-gods were hiding, to say nothing of the sea or the air.”
“You could have asked me.” She doesn’t remember if she was as close to the other gods as to Haik, but they were there. She remembers many, many lifetimes praying to Lakapati for a good harvest and healthy children, how people celebrated when a baby was born hermaphrodite like she was. She remembers lifetimes of losing things--forgetting or misplacing objects, losing husbands, losing children, losing friends and family and homes--and how Lakapati’s daughter Anagolay would sometimes laugh and sometimes cry while she nudged her along the right path.
Anagolay cried so much more after the Spanish came, for some things the Tagalogs lost could not be found in a corner: Heirloom gold melted down for Spanish bullion, books burned and writing smothered, and finally their songs and prayers.
“Do you remember Anagolay?” But Mirasol doesn’t remember what she looks like.
“You can’t get help from the goddess of lost things if she’s the one you lost.” And Haik laughs again, bitterly cold as the first time. “Your master killed a goddess when I told him she’d be born. I wasn’t telling the Spanish that more gods survived for them to blow up.”
“But the other gods are all grown,” she tells him desperately. “I was on the ship and Lakapati--she told our daughter that it’s hard to kill an adult god--”
“And it is hard to murder thousands of people,” Haik says, pulse beating hard. “It’s hard to make them say the words to accept your rule, to at least pretend they believe in a foreigner’s god after they murdered your neighbors in his name. But the Spanish did that. When I was lost in the sea, I sang to the ancestors and a humpback rose up to take me to a bay full of mangroves. I heard him singing once I reached the shore. He spoke a different language, I did not know the words, but--but the feeling? The sound of it? Paalam, kapatid ko!”
“Oh,” she realizes. Language. Haik never said whales could speak any language, much less Tagalog--but her grandparents talk to everything, from trees to their car to the birds outside, and even her mother talks to her plants. Animism, people call it…
Who is Haik the whale-rider?
He who breaks the ships in his teeth?
Where did he live before he came here?
There was no whale-rider before, no crocodile-god
To protect us from the water-demons.
There was no one to calm the dread sea-winds,
To shield us from Amanikable’s ill temper.
Oh! Terrible thought!
Was Haik not born from a woman?
His aunt is the great northeast wind;
Was Haik made from seafoam and coral, for her bird-shifting sons to play with?
Not so: Haik was a chief’s son.
He rode a humpback from the ancestors’ land--
Where the rivers are full of jade--
To our bay where the mangroves live.
It was here he became a god.
How can men harness a whale?
Did the gods see his deed and call him their kin?
The rest of the song is old and limping--she only remembers the content. Haik had a half-brother whose mother was a slave-wife. When their father rebuked him for trying to use Haik’s comb, he grew resentful.
“Fuck, so would I,” Mirasol says. “Why would he yell at him for using the wrong comb? What kind of father was he?”
“It wasn’t an accident,” Haik explains. “And it wasn’t the comb--well, not just the comb. A chief is tapu; you cannot touch him, or his things, or even his clothes without permission. And hair was serious business back then.”
“Your hair’s not long now,” she muses. “Did it get too hard to handle on your voyages?”
“They said I looked Visayan,” he grins. “Bathala cut his hair to make a rope so he could pull the islands up, so Tagalog men cut their hair to honor that. It used to be just his followers that kept their hair short or shaved, but after Muslims came, all the men started doing it.”
“What about the women?” She remembers grainy black-and-white photos of tribal women, and screenshots from period dramas: Wavy black sheets under glittering crowns and bright-patterned headbands, down to their thighs or knees--it makes her own hair feel short, brushing around her hips. “Was it bad to touch their hair?”
“Incredibly bad,” he grins wider. “If you weren’t related or already involved with her, you couldn’t touch a woman’s hair without permission. Some places had you whipped, others just thought you were a dumbfuck.”
“So wait, why was Rahil talking about which of your five hot cousins I should have sex with?” Mirasol realizes. “It’s hard to do that without touching at least a little bit of this.” She flicks a lock at his shoulder.
“Without permission,” he reminds her, laughing. “Pretty sure you’re not worried about social customs while you’re shagging. Unless it’s bad sex, after all.”
He twists her hair around his fingers--and suddenly she’s back on the paraw, in the bay where they got married and the whales came to meet them. He must remember it, too, because he jolts up and scrambles to the other side of the bed.
The sound of the ocean begins around them. He holds his ears.
“Shhhh. It’s okay.”
“Don’t,” he pleads. “Don’t remember so much. I heard it just now. Please--”
“I am the whale-rider--”
Is he crying, or baring his teeth? She is not afraid of him, just that he might hurt himself--
“--son of voyagers, I break the ships in my teeth--”
“It’s okay,” she whispers. The saltwater smell rolls in, like the fog of the City.
“Do you remember me?”
Black spider-webs flicker across his mouth and up from his tattooed ankles; they spiral across his chest from the scales of his crocodile-arm. But he shuts his eyes tight so they can’t settle down, fading back into the depths of his skin.
“Does it hurt?” She wonders.
“Of course it fucking hurts.” But he pulls her closer instead. “It hurt when I took them off, too--they didn’t want to leave.”
Are tattoos alive? “Why won’t you let them come back?”
“Mirasol. I’m undocumented,” he reminds her, desperate. “This fucker on my arm isn’t going anywhere, now the other sleeve and the goddamn pe’a came back. I can’t walk around with all my tattoos anymore! Chest piece, crocodile scales, fucking croc teeth all over my face--if I was still mortal, someone would have killed me by now!”
She pecks his knuckles.
“What are you doing?” He tries to snap, but it’s not very sharp and his crocodile-arm locks around her--she’s braced up tight against his chest.
The smooth-painted wall melts into the tangles of a baliti.
“What are you doing?” His hands are warm and pulsing on her back.
“I don’t know,” she admits. She’s only seen their memories, not relived them. “But if you know what I’m doing, and you don’t like it, you could… take us back to California?”
She doesn’t want to cross Haik’s boundaries. Assuming she could, that is--but the intent to force a god to do something probably counts more than ability, and she already feels guilty about wherever she’s taken them, in time or place or memory.
And he is already fragile from his tattoos and their memories.
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You!” Oh, how he laughs, with such wonder. “You’re afraid of hurting me!”
“I didn’t mean physically.”
“Of course not.” He smiles, even if it’s a small one. “But thank you.”
With his exhale, the walls of Hadassah’s bedroom settle firm around them. She crosses the room to switch off the light.
In the darkness his voice cuts through to her, warm and full of longing. “Mirasol?”
His shape is faint and unsteady. There is more than his own voice traveling through air: Ripples of people, whispering languages she can’t understand.
She stumbles back and trips over one of their bags, but he meets her at the edge of the blanket, intact if stinging. He doesn’t feel old and broken when she rests her chin on his shoulder, but he isn’t quite solid either; his muscles feel as empty as a seashell, rattling fragile like the ghosts around them.
Your tattoos let your ancestors know to take you home, he tells her in those first few days.
But most of his are gone.
How much of himself has he locked away over the centuries? His warrior teeth, the scale-armor on his chest, all the birds she hasn’t seen yet? Is that why dead children so often became demons, since they had no tattoos for their ancestors to find?
“Is that why the other gods can’t find you?” she realizes. “You took your tattoos off?”
“I didn’t mean for that to happen!” he snaps, desperate and red-eyed. “And by the time I realized, it didn’t matter. I tried it, after she died--putting everything back on, all my jewelry and my tattoos. By then everyone believed in God, or the shit the conquistadors told you was God, so I either got thrown in jail for crimes they thought I did, or I got laughed at for being indio. Even people who remembered me--whenever you helped, you all got thrown away by the people who say they love you. ‘We must help the poor and the needy--not the indio, though, he’ll be fine.’ I had to go to Australia--Hawai’i--Samoa--just for people to think I’m normal.”
“Did you go to New Zealand?”
“I cannot go back to my fatherland,” he cries. “Not to stay--it’s been too long. I am Maori, I will always be their son, but I am Tagalog now. When I barely spoke your language, you asked me who my people were, and the first name you recognized was Maui the son of Taranga. You named me Haik-who-came-from-the-east, cousin to Lumawig the son of Langa-an. You called me an anito for riding a whale to Luzon. You gave me your people’s tattoos.”
And now they laugh at him and call him indio.
She puts an ear to the swell of his ribs. But now there’s just the ocean, without a heartbeat, and she clutches him like a lonely piece of driftwood because why can’t she hear it--
“Where’d it go?” The saltwater smell fills her lungs, stinging. “Where’d your heart go? Is it with your tattoos?”
“This happens sometimes,” he tells her. “When my tattoos try to come back. It’s not gone for good, it just gets all… turned around. It misses them.”
We are creatures of the otherworld, the whale-rider told her so long ago, not nearly as solid as earth-dwellers.
She puts a hand to the curve of his cheek, where his crocodile teeth once were, and when he rests his chin on her shoulder, the warmth of him just makes her fear his loss.
“I’m okay, it’ll be back in a day or… or… five,” he admits. “It isn’t my literal heart--”
“That don’t fucking matter!” she cries. “It shouldn’t be leaving at all!”
Haik is still kind despite the constant bouts of heartlessness: He wipes her eyes and runs his hands through her hair, regardless of his lack of tattoos or his pulse. But the ocean in his skin is so fractured and lonely, she’s afraid he’ll become one of the whispering ghosts in the dark.
“Get it back,” she begs him. “Please? How do you make it come back?”
“My heart’s not gone, love, not permanently, it’s just…”
Broken, the ancestors mourn, in at least three other languages.
What makes a god’s heart wail away hurt into the ocean? What if it doesn’t come back like it used to? Can Haik find a new one, or take half of hers? Can she go on a quest to find Haik’s heart, shivering like a kitten in some corner, and coax it back into his chest with food and safety and love?
But I only have two of those now, Mirasol thinks bitterly.
(Is Haik’s heart like Te Fiti’s from Moana, bright green like Luzon in the spring? Or is it rough and many-colored, like the ocean it so often hides in?)
“You cannot fix a god’s heart on your own,” Haik tells her. “Well, you could, but you’d have a fuck-all time. Especially since you’re so small.”
His hands are shaking, so much bigger than hers--she laces her fingers around them, trails her mouth from his wrist to his shoulder, then all the way up to his neck. He tries to respond to the soft brushes on his skin, to her mouth on his, but without his heart he’s tired and terribly heavy.
“I’m sorry.” If he can barely move on his own, she has no chance. And if he had the energy, he’d probably cry in frustration. “Fuck, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” She brings his hand down.
He gets some energy back once their clothes are shed like snakeskin--not enough for what he wants, but he can brace her tight against his chest and settle into a rhythm with his hand. When she’s wet and the shockwaves start building near her spine, she nearly bites his shoulder, then scrambles to find a place on his arms that isn’t covered in ink.
Haik laughs at her concern for him, dark-eyed and open-mouthed. The sound makes her push down on his fingers so hard that the shockwaves run together into a gale through her bones, and she needs a minute to realize she’s hit the bed.
“Are you all right?” He arches down like a dragon’s neck; his forehead is almost to hers.
“I’m… f-fine.” If she tries to match the note ringing so loud in her ears, will the wind go through her again?
She moves back onto his lap and he laughs, softer and shyer. The ocean’s still raging in place of his heart.
But he’s warm, so very warm between her legs.