Hadassah is the one who was shaking her, though Mirasol needs a few blinks to get her bearings. Itak watches the guard at the door, though he just swings it open and waves them all out.
Outside their cells, different iron bars and plainer doors start getting opened down the hallway; The three of them try to keep together in the horde of people, but there comes a wave of three panicked teenaged boys and Mirasol is swept off along with their cries.
“Hey!” Hadassah reaches for her, but the hall’s been too quickly filled; her hand flung out is too late. “Mirasol!”
“Quit that!” A sour-faced guard shoves through the crowd and steers Mirasol back to her group, then yanks the boys back to where they were. “Fucking kids--it’s not like we’re hurting them.”
It doesn’t matter how “nice” you are, Mirasol seethes, though she does grab Hadassah’s elbow. You’re working for the government.
DON’T WORRY TOO MUCH, the Great Turtle says to her. THEY HAVE TO TAKE YOU BACK TO SHORE FIRST TO GET EVERYONE RECORDED. AND HALF OF THESE ARE MY PEOPLE--WE MAY GO SOUTH FIRST.
They have computers, don’t they? Mirasol wonders. The officers took her phone, so they must have taken one from everyone else who had them, too.
THE SHIP’S COMPUTER GOT FRIED, the Turtle laughs. THAT FIREFIGHT OUTSIDE THE CONTROL ROOM WASN’T A GOOD IDEA. STUPID GRINGOS.
Yes, terribly stupid. Mirasol remembers the wave of bullets, wondering if she should laugh. Turtle, do you know where Haik is? She asks, unable to see above the others.
YOUR INDIO MAN WILL BE FINE, SIRENITA, the Turtle says. HE’LL MEET BACK UP WITH YOU SOON.
‘Little mermaid?’ Mirasol wonders, squeezing through a particularly thick crowd.
IT’S A PET NAME. BOYS USE IT FOR THEIR GIRLFRIENDS, the Turtle explains. YOUR HUSBAND IS A SEA-GOD, AFTER ALL.
Filipino mermaids are cannibals, Mirasol muses. They look beautiful, but they drown you and eat you. Or they sacrifice you to the water-gods.
AY, THEY SOUND LIKE RIVER-DOLPHINS. EVEN BETTER, the Turtle chuckles, and the ripple of her laughter is hardly felt under the waves of people.
That’s the most common lore, but Mirasol’s older relatives shy away from deep water; they can’t swim like they used to, and fear that merfolk will drag their aged bodies into the abyss. Some fret that a sea-storm or a flooded river, especially one that drowned people, is from a rogue sirena--for while most became “tame” after hearing the Bible, content with hunting fish and the animals who can’t speak, there are some holdouts who do not curb their appetites. It seems that the people-of-the-water are a scapegoat for any water-related misfortune, like the diwat are why people go missing in the forests or have accidents on lonely, rural roads.
But as they file out in a passing attempt at order, Mirasol does not see Haik or Banog.
They’re crammed with a few dozen more people into a room with a handful of computers, but no chairs. Mirasol thinks that this isn’t too bad after getting her prints, name, and age filed off--at least until she sees the guns on all the ICE officers’ hips.
When they’re safely in the hallway, Hadassah and Itak share a look with her.
“Maybe they want someone to start arguing,” Hadassah whispers, ill at ease.
Mirasol wants Haik here; she thinks she could do that, if he was there to fret about her.
Back on the ship, their cell has been packed with many more people--where were they all before? But now in the corner are Haik and Banog, and Haik finally comes alive again.
His head whips to spot her, almost like a dog catching scent, and through the crowd Haik surges. When he clinches the gap between them, lifts her off the floor to get his neck, she feels like they’re on the spirit-world’s beach again.
Around them, there are other reunions: Snippets of myriad languages, names, brothers and aunties and grandfathers.
But others call out, and get no answer.
But this time he’s got a hoodie on, with the last vestiges of laundry-soap scent clinging to soft bumpy cotton, and now there’s Lloyd’s cologne to remind Mirasol of her mother, her aunt and uncle, and all her other cousins and relatives.
She wants to dig into it like sea-creatures into the sand, but she also has a conflicting instinct to claw through--as much as she misses them, the modern smells and memories have buried Haik’s sea-salt smell and tattoos, along with their disintegrating pasts.
If she takes it off him, or pushes his sleeves up so his tattoos and his scent can get past, will it be easier for him to stay with her?
He looks fine in modern clothes, she thinks helplessly, nails digging tight into his shoulders, and doesn’t know why she’s so distracted. You can tie a tapis like… like fancy board-shorts. A shirt is just a short tunic--
--but the corvette finally lurches into motion. The people around them stir and cry out in fear.
They are going out to sea.
She remembers what Turtle Island said to her, but it doesn’t matter if they’re not literally going to the Philippines--they are moving, they’re trapped in the government’s cells, and Mirasol doesn’t know how any of them are going to get back home. Even if Haik’s paraw could find them, a sailboat for five or ten people can’t take a whole ship’s passengers--
Hadassah’s arm links into hers--Mirasol can hear the despairing wails of women and children already beginning, and there is something mournful in the deep water that cries with them.
She shakes already.
“Don’t be afraid.” Haik’s crocodile-arm winds around her neck. “All right? Don’t be afraid.”
But soon after the wails and cries settle down, too cramped to stay loud in such a small area, a different voice comes out from the water.
“Mama?” Cries the whale-goddess. “What’s wrong?”
“We’re getting deported,” Mirasol tells her, scanning the floor and the walls in a daze. “Fuck, we need to find someone--”
“Do you want me to help?”
“Neneng, wait!” Tala the morning-star cries. “You need your cane and different clothes!”
“TALA-SA-UMAGA-AT-GABI.” Haik’s gains the sudden and painful vastness of the Turtle’s, though his mouth doesn’t move--his voice rings in the back of Mirasol’s head.
“Papa!” The whale-goddess pushes up through the water and the floor, determined as a child digging in the yard--
--and she breaks through into the mortal world, aquamarine silk and white whale-teeth gleaming against flushed ochre skin and curly black hair. She’s dripping wet as always, with the green and blue lights of the deep ocean filtering around her.
Without glossing over her godhood as her siblings have, the people crush away from her brightness in fear, dragging Haik along by mistake.
“Haik?!” Mirasol calls, reaching for him--
And the world freezes.
“Oh my god, Ate!” Banog calls as he threads through the crowd with Itak. “You can’t do this shit all of a sudden!”
“Really?” The whale-goddess picks at a corner of lace. “But I heard Mama and she’s upset.”
“Yes, she’s upset,” Itak says, “but you shouldn’t run off to the mortal realm as soon as you hear people in trouble, especially not dressed like that.”
“Mama!” The whale-goddess stumbles over to Mirasol. “I found you again!”
“Hello,” Mirasol wheezes, but not because her grip is too tight: Right under the whale-goddess’ skin is an ocean like Haik’s, but not empty or lonely at all. She wants to float in it, let the sun’s warmth trickle down into her chest.
Mirasol lurches, and falls into a memory of the beginning of the world:
The young man on this long stretch of grass cannot be more than twenty. He is lean and wiry, with curly black hair and an unfaded burning mountain on his chest. The grass singes away from his bare feet, and then glass crunches down when he reaches the sand.
Another young man waits farther down shore, with a bolo machete at his waist. His hair grazes chin-length, uneven and starkly chopped. A coconut tree looms in the dim morning light.
The volcano-god thumps the tree. “How did you make a big thing like this?” He cranes his neck up. “I’ve been trying after you called up the islands--nothing grows here except grass. Grass isn’t too finicky, but it doesn’t like saltwater or sand.”
“I killed a dragon,” says Bathala Maykapal. “And then my friend died. Ulilang Kaluluwa. He and the dragon were sky-people, so he asked me to bury him here. This grew from their corpses. Its name is Niyog.” He tosses a coconut over. “You want to try it? It’s good.”
“‘Niyog.’” The volcano-god turns it over in his hands. “I hope you like eating something besides people, Niyog. The sky-tribe will get mad if we have to kill all their men.”
He blows steam onto it, warm and wet. She expects it to burn at least a little, and most likely he does, too--but there is a small green cry of joy from inside the coconut, and the husk turns chalky white and cracks open. Long leaves and a net of threadlike roots push out through his fingers.
“Awesome! It likes being warm!” He laughs, digging into the sand so the new coconut tree can take root, as soft and gentle as Haik.
“Ay,” Lola arrives with a scraping of scales, breaking through the memory. “The volcano-god was much kinder when we were young, neneng. But some land-people, they hate too much change, especially when they get to our age. It’s good that your heart is a mangrove, and not one of the inland trees.”
“Didn’t you say it was being too stubborn?” She puts a hand on Lola’s shoulder.
“Any tree is less stubborn than a mountain.” Lola ducks her head so Mirasol can swing up onto her neck. “Maybe Haik got all that sadness from him. Haik has always loved you land-people more than most sea-folk, after all.”
“He wasn’t very sad when Haik fought him.” She holds onto the shining neck ridges, trying to get used to the swaying of a sea-dragon’s stride. “He was mad that humans didn’t respect him.”
“Sad or mad,” Lola muses. “When we were your age, neneng, we didn’t have room for too much sadness. We grew up when most gods were as beasts, or the wind, or the trees. All we knew was that people fed us, and could kill us, and that we could kill humans and each other. You could mourn people or be upset for a few days--we weren’t unfeeling--but if you stayed too long in that state, you would die without someone to protect you. Perhaps he thought his time was coming, and his grandsons would kill him. If I had been closer by, I could have told him he was being stupid--but we were born before people could give us proper names. We are not bound to answer those who might call us, but neither are they bound to us. That is our strength and our weakness.”
“I call you Lola, though,” Mirasol offers. “Haik and Itak call you Ina, too.”
“That’s not having a name, that’s being polite,” Lola says with a chuckle. “Your name isn’t neneng, ay? There are many sea-gods and many crocodile-gods, but if you do not call Haik, your husband--then another man might answer, and he may not be half as kind.”
Turtle Island said Haik looks like a ‘Zipacna,’ Mirasol shivers, and then there’s Sobek of Egypt. And the volcano-god isn’t Mount Pulag. Can he move between summits like people with apartments? Is that why Mount Pulag is cold now?
All this new (old?) knowledge pricks at her skin, of the old gods and the older gods and their clashes with mortals and each other. Are the Philippines full of spirits like Lola? Nameless and unbound creatures, barely removed from the natural world, who survive without worship even if they don’t like it? Lola does miss people, but she’s nowhere near as traumatized as Mirasol’s once-human Haik…
She has to think about something she can grasp: “You only had days to get over things?”
“Ay,” Lola says. “You don’t have to worry too much, neneng. We didn’t force people to stop mourning after so many days, make you smile or joke, but we had to at least function properly. That is what we’re used to.”
It makes her think about the volcano-god’s taunting of Haik, and whether he was sad about his lost followers or afraid of his own family; and how her friends will not tell their older relatives about things like depression or anxiety because they know they’ll get told to toughen up, or that it’s all in their heads.
It makes her think about many Americans’ workplaces, when grief and hardships shake things up: People go to someone’s funeral, or cannot go because it’s too far or expensive--and the only time they get after that depends on how much sick leave they have, or how much money they saved up, or how nice their boss is. And then they go back to their nearest shift and keep smiling for the customers, keep cleaning things up, keep doing paperwork as if everything is fine now--but even the old gods didn’t expect to be fine.
She winces as Lola crouches and leaps for the takeoff, scales clashing against the ground and each other. But unlike the great wing-beats of a Western dragon, her flight is a long wavy track through the air, more like a sea-krait than a crocodile, as the corvette comes back into view.
Where is the volcano-god now? She wonders as they breeze through sheets of metal, back to the frozen Hadassah and the anxiously-waiting Banog.
“We gotta teach you how to get back on your own, Mom,” he says as he hugs her.
“Don’t worry!” The whale-goddess assures, and in spite of her shaky legs, she lifts Mirasol a good few inches off the floor. “We just need to call someone to get her! We did that all the time! For the little kids who didn’t know what they’re doing, and the people who didn’t know they had powers, and the ones whose souls wandered off too long--”
“There’s not enough spirits for that anymore, neneng,” Lola cautions her. “If we just had a human priestess, she could--”
“Oh.” Twisting between people’s shoulders and ducking under their arms, Haik has returned from the forest of people. Mirasol wonders at his gentleness, for the most he does is shift people aside, only missing an “excuse me;” he could have knocked everyone over and excused it with the tossing of the ship, or set them back upright if he had time.
But he said ‘You are not things,’ she remembers.
“Ohhhh, anak,” he whispers. “Is that you?”
“Papa!” She runs laughing for him, joyful but unsteady as a toddler, and Mirasol starts feeling unsettled; such childlike wonder spilling from her oldest daughter is strange and ill-fitting.
Haik’s already crying when his arms close around her, and his chin digs into her black curls; in his chest they hear his heart, rattling all over his ribcage in joy. When he puts their foreheads together for the halok, there comes the gentle shyness from Mirasol’s first few lives, as if he thinks he’s going to break her.
There is a pulse of warmth that ripples out from the two of them--not the terrible melting heat of Haik’s instability or from his grandfather in old age, but the welcoming kind from a blanket.
You are not things, she remembers again. It is so rare to hear that from men in Western societies; and still she wonders if it is rare for the anito as well, with all the unspoken shades of humans and gods and those who change between.
You can do what you want, Hina’s husband told her--but Hina said that they could not, she and Haik, for they were not born immortal like the Four Winds.
“We’re gods because they called us gods.”
What’s the difference between a god and a god-who-was-human? Haik told her that he was human once, and the kraken and the sky-voice worry a lot about him; the whale-goddess stayed a goddess even after death, while her siblings have never been full gods; Lola and Haik’s grandfather were born before names; and Haik’s grandfather called Bathala and the newer gods soft, but some woman must have liked him enough for Haik’s mother and aunt to be born.
Itak and Banog wait with Mirasol, arms out as if warding away those around them; but in a few moments, the world struggles back into its snail-paced surprise.
“We have to explain this soon,” Itak says. “Papa?”
Haik breathes out. “All right.” But he’s smiling as he steps away.
So Banog touches the whale-goddess’ shoulder: Her clothes smooth out into a modern sundress, soft sleeveless cotton and linen, though the glowing blue tones and soft white lace are still stark against her forearm tattoos.
Her whale-teeth circlet refuses to leave, though he taps it a good two times.
“Come on, Ate, tone it down,” Banog pleads. “The circlet is too indio.”
“But I need the whale-teeth to talk to the others!”
“We can change it into a necklace instead, Ate,” Itak offers, and this mollifies her.
“Okay!” She holds it out to Banog now, and he touches it a third time; it becomes a delicate version of Haik’s croc-teeth necklace, the coral and whale-teeth wrapped with gold wire and hung from a doubled-up chain.
Then Banog joins Mirasol. “All right, Mom, time to get back to normal.”
“Where’s Hadassah?” She has to squint, now that the whale-goddess’ light has dimmed to normal. Lucky for her, Hadassah’s only moved a few feet.
“Come on, Ate.” Itak takes her older sister up to the door. She pulls it open first, and then at the air: A guard ripples hastily into the hallway, on the other side. “Oh no, don’t you need a cane?”
“It’s okay!” she says. “It looks worse than it feels!”
How small and unsteady she is, Mirasol can’t help thinking. How is she so happy after what she’s been through?
“Well…” Itak holds the door, but the guard makes syrupy movements to open it. “Well--it’s not like they’ll care about a girl who can’t walk. They’re already letting kids die.”
Banog hunts around with Mirasol for Hadassah, and Haik walks beside them.
“Have you seen her, anak?” Haik wonders. “You don’t seem much surprised with all this.”
“We talked to her all the time back at home, Papa,” Banog reminds him.
“But she was always sad then,” Haik counters.
And they were always mad about her dying, comes Mirasol’s unbidden thoughts.
Banog shifts suddenly, like a teenager about to disclose sensitive-but-necessary information. “She asked me one day. ‘Why are you still mad, Totoy?’ And I went, ‘You know why, Ate, it’s because you got shot by the Spaniard and Papa won’t let us be gods anymore.’”
“Did you want to be gods to avenge her and your mum?” Haik wonders. “Bringing monsoons, telling the crocodiles to eat as many Spaniards as they could? This is why I changed my mind.”
“You didn’t change your mind,” Banog retorts. “The Spaniard made you take it back.”
“I couldn’t risk more of my family getting hurt, anak,” Haik apologizes. “What was I supposed to do? Laugh at him before I ate him? Tell him, ‘No, son of a bitch, they’ll be gods anyway’? I couldn’t find the other anito. Nobody sang to me anymore, or asked me for help.”
Mirasol can feel something unwelcome coming next, like ‘I’m too old to laugh in people’s faces anymore’ or ‘There’s nothing left of me now’--and she latches onto him, despite the growing noise of the world resuming normal speed. “Don’t. Haik, whatever you’re saying, don’t.”
He laughs, though his eyes are watery. “Your soul is so big up here, lovey.” He pecks her cheek.
“Come on, Mom,” Banog tugs his parents back to Hadassah. “We gotta get Ate inside and just… just figure shit out until we can get off this damn boat. Fuck, Ate, what’s your name?!” He calls.
“I don’t need one!”
“You can’t say that to mortals right now, Ate! Papa already has no last name--they’re gonna go nuts again!” Banog struggles back over through the crowd, Mirasol can see his mouth open to spit out any fake name that comes up, but Itak finally loses her grip on time.
The door swings open. The whale-goddess stumbles inside, shaky knees and still unnamed.
“Ate!” Itak wades over to her. “They found you, too?!”
Time to improvise, Mirasol thinks bitterly, as the people by the whale-goddess put their hands out for her.