A guard squints at Haik: He’s folded up neatly, one arm linked to Mirasol’s through the bars.
Haik lets go.
But she catches him again. “What’s up?” She asks the guard. “Is he too pretty for you?”
“Did you get out earlier?” He asks her. “There were some prisoners in the control room.”
“Um… no?” Mirasol gestures to the cell door, locked again. “You’re the ones who locked us in, bro. If they got that far, they must have had help.”
“Who would help a bunch of illegals?”
Turtle Island would, she thinks.
“I don’t know, bruh,” she muses. “Maybe some of the crew’s doing their job, but not liking it.” She’s put in mind of what Haik said about the corvette: He thought he’d be keeping an eye on real criminals, not children and civilians. Did the ship tell him that? Or was it a feeling Haik could pick up on, like Mirasol catches from the paraw?
“Hmm.” And the guard leaves.
Banog laughs. “Does he expect the guys who got loose to tell the truth? ‘Yes, it was I who tried to escape. Please punish me MORE, while you’re already deporting my ass.’”
“It can’t hurt to be thorough,” Hadassah chuckles. “What are your names? I’m Hadassah Oreb.”
“Itak Buwaya,” she answers, shaking hands. “That’s my little brother.”
“Mirasol Gonzalez,” she introduces herself. “This is Haik.”
“Gonzalez?” Banog reaches for Haik’s free hand, since the other is preoccupied with Mirasol.
“No.” Haik tries to lean into Mirasol’s arm, and his hoodie’s sleeve gets pushed up by the bars; his crocodile scales gleam in the dusty light. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Come on.” Banog jostles Haik’s shoulder, and chuckles when it takes some effort to make him budge. “Everyone’s got a last name. Unless you’re literally from one of the tribes.”
“Did he ever tell us?” Hadassah wonders, and Mirasol swallows.
“Oh boy,” Banog laughs. “You’re really undocumented now.”
“It doesn’t matter what my last name is,” Haik pleads. “You won’t see me again.”
He isn’t looking at Mirasol, but she feels very much like he’s accepting--or hoping for--the return of their reincarnation patterns. (Although she’d rather be deported with him than be stuck waiting again.) “Doesn’t buwaya mean crocodile?” She says to Itak.
“Yeah, but it’s not a good fit,” Itak says. “If anyone should have ‘Buwaya’ for a last name, it’s him.” She motions to Haik’s tattoos.
He sighs and tugs his sleeve back down.
“Does the Filipino surname mean you were nobles?” Hadassah asks. “I heard that Spanish names were usually for commoners, but they let the royalty keep their names.”
“Not necessarily--most likely, we just lived near the water and some Spanish dude told us to pick a name in five minutes,” Itak muses. “Buwaya used to mean ‘dragon,’ too. But most Filipinos say crocodiles are dirty cops.”
“Or politicians,” Mirasol adds bitterly.
“You never told me that,” Hadassah says to Haik, but it’s gentle. “With your crocodile scales.”
“Well, tattooing’s been around a long time before dirty cops or politicians.” He has to decide between letting go of Mirasol again or simply turning his head, and does the latter. “I’m going to sleep now. Wake me up if we’re in trouble, lovey.”
“Come on, Papa.” Banog pokes him, but Haik doesn’t take the bait.
“Really? He’s… thirty.” Mirasol has to guess at it--as young as Haik stays, he’s got far too much muscle (and sadness) to be in his early twenties.
Haik finally glances back at her and gives her hand a squeeze. “Twenty-nine.”
“He acts like our dad, though,” Banog says. “I don’t know how Mom married him. He’s always grumpy and worrying about shit.” He imitates one of Haik’s sighs. “‘That costs too much! That’s dangerous! I ain’t telling you my full name, y’all ain’t gonna see me again.’”
“I bet having kids is what made him start worrying,” Haik drawls, but he’s starting to smile as he slips into Tagalog: “Lalo na salbahe sa inyo, ay?”
“See, Papa? Now you really sound like Dad.”
They laugh, but now the conversation’s run out, and their tentative morale sinks with it.
In the long stretches of silence punctuated by Itak and Hadassah’s hushed voices, Mirasol finds herself drifting off to sleep again.
“Fuck.” She straightens. “Sorry, I can’t tell what time it is.” She checks the window--the light’s going red, so in fall, it’s probably five or six o’clock.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Hadassah reminds her wryly.
“So, how’d you meet your grouchy boy, Mom?” Banog wonders on Haik’s side. “Did they catch you trying to pull a green-card marriage?”
“Nah,” she chuckles. “I found him on the beach after he lost his boat. Took him to the hospital. They couldn’t find his records. Oops.”
She feels a little better the next time her eyes close.
Haik’s crocodile-arm holds her tighter, warm but tense and brittle.
The bars shake as she stands up--and her soul falls out of her body again.
“Do you know how to do it on purpose, Mom?” Banog picks her up.
“I can’t teach her the human way to travel,” Haik says ruefully. “I haven’t been human for… how long.”
But she puts an ear to the swell of his ribs: There’s his heartbeat curled up tight, in the center of the center of his massive chest.
“Stay with Haik,” she whispers to it. “Please. He doesn’t want to go find you again.”
It quakes, but a pearly corner threads through Haik’s ribs to meet the curve of her cheek, like a shelter’s kitten carefully reaching out.
“You have such a soft heart for such a big-ass dude, Papa.” Banog laughs, but gently. “You need to switch with Mom or something--hers is a damn tree.”
“It wasn’t like this before Spain,” Itak reminds him. “I hear stories from Ina about him and Kuya Lumawig. They’d go on adventures all the time.”
“It’s not all from Spain,” Haik says. “I could do just about anything when I was a young god. Kill demons, kill other gods, steal back fire from my granddad, rescue pretty girls, sail to the land of the dead. But now I’m old, and so is my heart. Ay.”
“You’re not old, Papa,” Banog tells him before Mirasol can, jostling his father’s shoulder.
It gives her the energy to think about other things: “You said Lumawig was the fire-bringer.”
“Oh,” he laughs wearily. “There goes my memory, lovey--all the myths start to run together after this long. But it was a team effort, so I wasn’t wrong.”
She puts her forehead to his, and their children gather around. He pulls away, but not before they see it:
Haik, fully tattooed with endless jewelry, he strides into a steamy cavern with a little stream of lava in the far side. There’s a sleeping man with thick muscles and the tattoo of a burning mountain on his chest, lodged high up in the rocky wall, but his white hair gives away his age.
A pile of strange items is jumbled on a ledge above the lava-pool: Old metal scraps and empty braziers, lumps of unshaped clay, unlit torches. Mirasol spots the bone fishhook dangling from Haik’s wrist, instead of Lumawig’s; and there are two dragon-tongued swords on his belt.
(That was Mount Pulag, the ancestors whisper to her. Before it went cold.)
Haik digs the hook’s tip into a forearm and lets the blood fall on a nearby torch. “Ama,” he says. “We are your grandsons. I am Haik-who-came-from-the-east. This is Lumawig Liit-liit, the lastborn of Langa-an.”
The volcano-god wakes and so do the torches, all of them snarling with surprise.
Braziers glow with sudden embers, while invisible hands mold clay; metal sparks and turns cherry-red as it’s hammered by unseen tools.
“Ama.” Haik kneels with Lumawig amidst the heat. “Please. We need you to teach us how to make fire again--”
“YOU COME HERE AND ASK FOR MY PROPERTY, APO?” His voice hurts like the Turtle’s. “YET YOU BRING ME NO FOOD OR GIFTS? NAKO, YOUNG PEOPLE! ALWAYS ASKING AND NEVER GIVING!”
“No, Ama, we don’t want to take anything from you,” Haik begs him, and he sounds so young. “You can keep all of this, it’s fine! We just want to make more fire!”
“MAKING FIRE!” The old man laughs. “THAT’S MINE, TOO, APO! HOY: LIIT-LIIT!” He turns to face Lumawig with a crackle of rock. “YOU’RE ONE OF THE SKY-PEOPLE, AY? GO INTO A STORM AND CATCH SOME LIGHTNING! THEY’RE AS WILD AS THE DIWAT IN THE FOREST, BUT THEY RESPECT YOU IF THEY CAN’T KILL YOU! A GOOD SCARE WILL TEACH YOUR COUSIN MANNERS!”
Mirasol already hates him--Haik has been nothing but polite to his grandfather, ever since he stepped into the volcano. Her family has never hurt her, lack of action now aside, but she hears stories from friends: Aunties or parents or grandparents, who rarely give anything (especially not support), and always complain about the young folks, in a way that cuts deeper into the skin than Lola’s toothless jokes.
Lumawig has not said a word, only nodding in the trademark distant way of a boy half-listening to a parent’s ranting.
“Our people are miserable, Ama,” Haik tells him. “They can’t cook, they can’t make anything that needs heat. They get hunted by forest beasts and demons at night--”
“NAPAKA BUWISIT! LET THEM BE MISERABLE!” His mouth is dripping with fire, and his eyes are as red as the coals. “YOU YOUNG GODS ARE TOO SOFT UNDER BATHALA MAYKAPAL! THAT’S WHY MORTALS DO WHATEVER THEY WANT NOW!”
“THEY FORGOT I GAVE THEM FIRE!” And the cavern booms with his rage.
Mirasol flinches, even though she can’t feel the heat--
“I told you,” the current Haik says to her.
The volcano-god steams, tearing himself out of the melting rock as Haik unsheathes his swords--but Lumawig turns into a monkey-eating eagle and blasts off for the ledge that holds fire, his claws gripping one of the metal braziers--
“OWOWOWOWOW!” It hisses on contact with his skin, and he’s forced to drop it into the lava. “Kuya, keep him busy! I need to find something that doesn’t burn!”
But as Haik sets his weight against the volcano-god’s advance, his swords collapse and sizzle into puddles of red. “Shit--” He jumps aside and switches to a grappling stance. “Ama, I don’t want to fight you--”
“WRESTLING!” The volcano-god grins. “YOU THINK I’M TOO OLD FOR THAT, APO? YOUNG MEN THINK BEING BIG AND HEAVY IS ALL THAT MATTERS!”
“I killed a crocodile when I was mortal! I killed the eel-god later on!” Haik finally snaps. “I sailed to the afterlife and I beat Manggagaway when she kidnapped Ikapati the-grain-bringer!”
“TWO, AY? THAT’S A GOOD START!” And the volcano-god laughs at the look on Haik’s face. “WE HAD GODS FOR EVERYTHING WHEN I WAS YOUNG, APO! GODS IN THE FORESTS, THE WHALES, THE BOAR AND DEER AND MOUNTAINS, GODS IN ALL THE RIVERS AND LAKES! ASK HOW MANY I KILLED!”
So he lifts his grandson by the torso and slams him into the ground, perilously close to the lava--Haik bellows as his crocodile-arm snaps on impact.
The eagle-Lumawig strains towards the cone’s opening glimmer, with a torch in his claws.
Haik’s heart is fit to burst at the memory, straining towards the heat and the terrible reds of the lava, but Haik takes them all back to the ship.
“Aw, we were almost done!” Banog protests, but Itak sets him down near his body. “Ate! Tell him to go back!”
“Sorry, Papa.” And Itak vanishes dutifully back into the real world.
Banog squirms for a moment, uncertain on whether to keep asking, but then he sighs and vanishes in turn.
Haik laughs weakly, and then buries his face into Mirasol’s shoulder.
“Who’s Ikapati?” Mirasol asks.
“She’s dead,” Haik tells her in the flat, unthinking way of someone who does not hope anymore. “Her and Mapulon. After Spain burned as much of her books as they could, people started mixing her up with Lakapati. They’re both harvest-deities, with kind of similar names. After the elders and priestesses all got killed, and anyone with new gifts hiding out with their families--who could tell them Ikapati was a different person, and not just a different name for Lakapati?”
Now she wonders when her memory of the sea-wolves happened, with Lakapati’s books being burned, and her vision of the gods becomes shot through with worry. How long does it take for people to forget about the gods? Ten years? Twenty? She didn’t recognize anyone on the ship besides the whale-goddess, so which of the grain-women did she see?
“But it’s not a bad thing, love, to have different versions of gods,” Haik continues. “One face for one god, that’s never been how anything worked. Mayari got adopted very quickly by the Tagalogs; either we have our own version of the Pampangan Mayari, or Bathala must have found a Pampangan wife. Luzon told a lot of stories about me, back in the day. I came to Luzon across the sea, and your people started calling me Langa-an’s nephew so they could keep me here. Sometimes I used to be Lumawig, not just his cousin. And sometimes he became Haik, when he got older. Amanikable was a hunting-god when the world was new, but people started calling him the storm-bringer a couple generations ago, so we ran with it.”
“You…” She tries to follow his--their people’s?--logic. “You told me the myths already.”
“But not how they got that way,” he retorts into her shoulder, almost a nuzzle.
“If the whole ‘Amanikable became the monsoons’ thing was made up, why wouldn’t he say something about it?” Mirasol wonders. “Can he talk to people anymore?”
“People are only wrong about gods if we don’t like it,” Haik says. “A love triangle at the start of the world? Two gods fighting with storms and typhoons? We’re Filipino, lovey, we like some chismis now and then. So Ikapati died, but Lakapati remembers her. We all do, of course, but they were great friends.”
“I don’t understand.” Her eyes sting, for a reason she can’t quite name. He speaks so casually in the dark of the Otherworld, like the gods are a large and drama-prone family.
Haik is not a liar, the ancestors assure her. But he has trouble remembering things--
“If Ikapati died, don’t you care about her anymore?” Does he have to ration his heartache now, in teaspoons’ or cups’ worth? His wife and children, versus his cousins, versus his friends? How many people does he remember? How many years will it be before he speaks to her again of Ikapati, of his sister, of his niece and brother-in-law again?
“Death is a place for us, lovey,” he reminds her. “We cross the sea when this world wears us out, but we can come back if we’re determined. And preferably with some help.”
Will Haik be more upset if Ikapati, who he once rescued, is still dead after all this time?
Haik’s always rescuing people, Mirasol thinks mournfully. His sister, the grain-goddess, me.
Mapulon, the ancestors remind her. His name!
“Mapulon isn’t dead,” she whispers into his collarbone. “He healed our daughter.”
His chest rises sharp and there comes a hot, terrible wave, pulsing through her and through the ship and into the distant water.
We are creatures of the otherworld, she remembers he said, not nearly as solid as earth-dwellers--and Haik starts to waver again, in and out of visibility.
“Haik.” Mirasol feels like he’ll melt through the steel and seep down into the ocean, despite both their wishes to stay together--she grips his chest in spite of the heat and hopes he can take her along, or maybe their children can help her find him-- “No, stay with me, please--”
“It’s okay.” He doesn’t sound okay, but his eyes screw shut as he concentrates. “I’m okay.” He kisses her jawline--she tilts his face in the right direction. “Don’t worry, lovey. I’m not dying.”
Without her phone or the sun and moon, she has no idea how long this takes, but she stays with him until the god-heat subsides into regular, comforting body-temperature. She’s tired when he finally grows solid underneath her, a bone-deep weariness that doesn’t match however-long-they-spent just trying to stay where they are, and drowsily wonders why.
Without having to worry about Haik’s solidness, she realizes her appearance in the Otherworld is much the same as her regular one. Even the whale-goddess looked average-height.
“Haik, isn’t my soul supposed to be too big for my body?” She wonders. “I don’t… look very big. I guess my heart’s a tree, though.”
“A big soul isn’t what you look like,” he says. “Most people, if they haven’t been taught to travel--or forgot how to, in your case--they wander around, or they keep wanting to get back to their bodies. You, on the other hand, found a god’s heart. You can hear the ancestors, and Turtle Island, and the kids.”
“I still didn’t do that much, though. Not intentionally.”
“Doing stuff. That’s not how spirits work, lovey. At least not all the time.” He wraps tighter around her. “You’re always calling me, always open, but most other things need training.”
He’s tired, too, unmoving except for the rise of his chest.
“Don’t go,” she pleads. “Please don’t go away. Why aren’t you fighting harder?”
“It’s been too long, lovey.” And he shakes his head. “I can’t do what I used to.”
“You’re not old.”
Ay, naku. The sky-voice comes back mournfully, though it’s muffled and full of static. I--come help you, anak--soon.
“You’re older than me, Tatay,” he points out. “None of the gods have enough followers, or people would have asked me about them. The anito’s stories are for children and libraries and tribesmen now, not for civilized people. The Tagalogs do not see themselves as a tribe anymore; half of them go around acting like the Spanish, and they try to get rid of the other half--”
“You’re not old,” she cuts through Haik’s old-man speech. “Neither of you are old. You all are gods, so stop acting like--”
“You think that because I still look young,” Haik says, a soft laugh breezing past her temple, and he tweaks her braid. “Would it be easier if my skin turned to leather and my hair was gray?”
“Ay, walang hiya. You’re always talking back to the gods.” Lola’s scales scrape the floor, startling Mirasol. “One day, the conquistadors executed many of our priestesses, and they fed all their bodies to the crocodiles. The dragons born that day were hurting, vengeful creatures, even for crocodiles. Perhaps you were eaten, perhaps you saw it.”
“Why?” She buries her face in Haik’s crocodile scales, and he tightens around her. “Why would they do that?”
“You can’t follow the gods with no priestesses,” Lola grumbles. “And it was too much trouble to keep killing whole villages; the conquistadors needed some converts, after all. It was a grieving time for the spirits, neneng. Even the diwat and the mermaids rarely kill so many, not without reason. Their tempers run wild, yes. They ruin crops after a woman’s been jilted, they bring plagues and storms and earthquakes because children were playing and stepped on a goblin’s anthill. They get angry if you forget to leave offerings, or to say tabi-po when you go through the wild places. But to kill someone for an oath they never took? That was the conquistadors.”
“Mirasol!” Someone’s shaking her body, and already the spirit-world starts dissolving. The ship’s engines boom underneath them. “Mirasol, they’re moving us!”
It’s not because ICE finally decided to recognize her citizenship, she knows with a sinking feeling. They’re just going to the real deportation ship now…
She does not care that Lola’s head is a few feet away; she wraps both arms around Haik’s neck, clamps her mouth onto his as tight as she can. But even though he welcomes it, with his hands soft and steady on her back, there is no more urgency in them.
“Time to go home, Ina,” he finally says, bitter as the saltwater--and Lola, with no more jabs to pretend she isn’t tired, just sags down and coils like a lonely dog around his legs.