Mirasol wakes up in the dark before sunrise, carefully nudges Haik’s arm off, and attempts to braid her hip-length cape of hair so she doesn’t get heat stroke.
“Ow.” She picks the snarl apart, but hits another one. “Ow.” She gets halfway down before there’s a third tangle. “Ow, fuck.”
The crocodile-god wakes up and laughs, but gently.
“Shut up.” But she can’t help giggling. “Unlike gods, mortals have to deal with tangles. And this wouldn’t have happened if you gave me five minutes before having sex.”
“Oh, really?” He nestles into her shoulder, breathes deep for the smell of her jasmine shampoo, and starts to braid it for her. It’s looser than she likes, but she gets at least five degrees cooler by the time he ties it off, and she settles back down in gratitude.
“You don’t have to go with me right this minute,” Haik tells her. “And if you don’t want to leave, I’d come home to you instead.”
Home, he says, and a weight comes off her.
She doesn’t know why she’s crying. “Thank you.”
“What do they teach you about gods here?” Haik wonders. “I want a wife, not a slave. There’s a lot of options besides ‘leave now and never come back.’”
“From Filipinos or Americans?”
“We learn about other gods like they’re just neat stories for movie material,” she muses. “And for the Philippines, we learn about Catholicism. Do this, and God will like you. Don’t do it, and he won’t. We kind of learn about the tribes, but it’s in the… ‘Spanish came and saved us from ourselves’ way.”
“And all the good spirits are conveniently named Maria in the Philippines, now.” He smiles, but it’s bittersweet.
“What are baliti trees?” She knows they live farther inland, and the extremely old ones look as thick as the mangrove they got married under--but the English name isn’t coming to her yet.
“Oh, banyans!” She can feel him smile into her shoulder as his arms close on her. “Wait, Mom said she wasn’t allowed to touch them or play too close. The baliti are where the spirits live.”
“Our people used to swear oaths under them. So the diwat would witness, and tell the others.”
“Didn’t you ask me to do a vigil there?” She can’t imagine the diwat being wedding guests, even for a god.
“Marriage is an oath,” he reminds her. “There was a story--where a datu’s daughter married a young datu from another barangay, but he wouldn’t say his oaths under the baliti nearby. Her family was worried, so they told her to swear her own oath without telling him, but she was afraid of making her husband mad. ‘You are a datu’s daughter, too,’ they assured her, ‘and even your husband cannot argue with the spirits.’ When he started abusing her, he wouldn’t leave marks on her face or arms, where people could see. Or more importantly, not where his father could. His mother had died when he was a boy, so he had no sisters who could have helped her. Her own family was two days away, so if she went to them, she knew he’d follow her.”
“Please stop.” This is terribly real.
“But he forgot about the diwatahan, who was only a man on the outside.”
Haik laughs at the look on her face. “The Spaniards made us quit telling this story right quick.”
“We--we had transgender people back then?”
“We always had them, we just didn’t call them LGBT.” He grins.
“You know what I mean.”
“They didn’t like how we let LGBT people go around being shamans and respected,” Haik muses. “We thought they were touched by the gods, to be so different.”
“So…” She does not know whether to laugh or cry--her eyes are watering, but her mouth is curving up. “So what did she do then? The datu’s wife?”
“She went to the diwatahan’s house, what else?” He says. “She went into a private room, stripped down, and showed her all the marks her husband left. She whispered to the datu’s wife, ‘You did not have to do this.’” Haik’s voice is so gentle in her ear that Mirasol feels herself get cut. “And the datu’s wife started crying from relief at her words.”
“You’re using the right pronouns.” Even people today are too lazy or ignorant to do that.
“The story literally hinges on an idiot forgetting transgender people exist.” Haik hugs her. “The diwatahan told her to get some fresh ube, and pay the best cook in the barangay for sweets and festival food. Then she said to visit the baliti for three days, leave some food in the hollow trunk each time, and to hug the tree saying, ‘Ate, I haven’t seen you since I got married--I’ve been too busy.’ She was afraid because average people could not touch a baliti, but the diwatahan told her not to worry.”
“Wait a minute,” Mirasol wonders. “Uh. If your plans for the mangrove were going to be under a baliti tree, that sounds like… a lot of touching.”
“I don’t play that much with the rules,” he chuckles. “Although I didn’t hear you arguing about either type of tree, so I hope I did well?”
“I thought you couldn’t leave the water.” She flushes. “We were about two feet away from the river, but you weren’t in a rush, so I just… went with it?”
“You thought I was like the merfolk?” He laughs again and tweaks her braid. “Oh, lovey. Even you have forgotten so much of me.”
She laughs, but it stings: Of me, not about me. What is the difference between sea-gods and sea-spirits? Some of the merfolk look human, and she bets they’d be as handsome as Haik--that’s how they lure mortals in to eat them.
“And what of your own heart, wife?” He wonders, low and rumbling by her temple. “How was it feeling in our last proper marriage?”
“It was pretty loud once we got going,” she admits, but that’s the wrong answer--for the first time, he’s startled.
“I--I bet so.”
“Did you mean… this heart?” She checks her collarbone, and he shakes his head.
“Never mind.” He pecks her cheek and goes on with the story. “Once she paid for the food, she left an offering in the baliti’s trunk and greeted it as her older sister, but she was afraid to hug the tree. She thought the rest was enough, but on the third day she was about to leave again without doing it, and a beautiful young lady slithered out from the roots, asking, ‘Why are you afraid to hug your sister?’
“The datu’s wife knew this was a diwat, with her long wild hair and tattered clothes, and she said, ‘I’m sorry, Ate, but I must leave soon--my husband only lets me visit because the diwatahan said so.’ The diwat asked, ‘Are you his wife or his slave? Why do you ask permission to leave your home?’ So she cried and begged the diwat to help her--she could not go to her own family, for their village was two days away, and her husband would follow her--”
There’s the dread sting of reality again, and Mirasol latches onto Haik’s shoulder.
She coughs and wipes her eyes. “Just… she keeps saying how she can’t leave.”
“It has a happy ending,” Haik assures. “I’m sorry, though.”
They wait as the sun comes up.
“And as she begged for help,” the crocodile-god resumes, “she stripped down and showed all her bruises, crying, and the diwat grew mad. Her great tree heaved and cracked with her fury--”
“Stop,” Mirasol tells him.
“The datu’s wife begged her not to hurt him--”
“Stop it.” She shakes her head. “Just for a minute, stop. Please.”
He waits again. When she loosens her grip on him, he pecks her temple.
“We didn’t tell this story to young children,” he muses. “They wouldn’t understand why she doesn’t let the diwat kill him. After all, he hurts her. He’s bad.”
“So who did hear the story?”
“Young women, close to marrying age. Who else?” He hugs her. “And young men, too.”
“‘Don’t beat your wife or people will want to kill you?’”
“That, plus: No one is above the law,” Haik adds. “Civil law, spirit law. Physics.”
“Says the god who took forever to tell me he wasn’t chained to the water,” she retorts, and he laughs. "And I don’t think we reached the baliti tree oaths, anyway?"
“Marriage is an oath,” he tells her again. “I called you my wife, and you let me. I sang to the ancestors. My brothers came to witness us. What more do people want? What can they pay for, on a maid or a fisherman’s income? I have been asked by many fishers and sailors if they have been properly married, without any sacred trees or priestesses or fancy celebrations. I have told them what any kind person tells poor people; if you live with someone, call them yours, and others know about it, then you are married.”
"You mostly did all that because I wanted it."
"I wanted to do more," he says. "But it would have been suspicious if a rich newcomer that nobody knew showed up with a sack of gold, to marry someone’s maid in the pagan way."
"Can you... go into a church?"
"Maybe; it’s a building," he says tightly. "But why would I?"
She understands it, though, and runs her fingers through her braid’s tassel. “What happened next? In the story?”
“The diwat grew mad,” he continues, “and her great tree heaved and cracked with her fury. The datu’s wife begged her not to hurt him, so she calmed down and said, ‘You call me your older sister, and so I must be. I will not send you back to a husband who beats you, so you will stay in my home.’ The datu’s wife said no, because the baliti was just outside the village, and he would surely find her before nightfall. But the diwat told her, ‘Do not be afraid.’”
The doorbell rings.
“Oh, motherfucker.” She’s just annoyed, but Haik grabs her when she tries to get up.
“Hey, Mirasol?” Her neighbor Claire calls. “I know it’s early, but are you awake?”
Haik covers her mouth and shakes his head, pressing them both to the wall.
“Mirasol?” Another knock.
They wait. She hears his heart pounding by her temple--this is not a neighborly checkup about leaves or icy streets. She wonders what would have happened if she’d answered.
In a few more moments Claire leaves, and Haik releases her.
“Okay.” He sighs and twists his hands. “Okay, we’ve got three hours until she might do something. She’s still waffling about it.”
“Can you see the future?”
“That’s for Bathala and his children,” Haik says. “I only see patterns.”
“Can you finish the story, then?”
“The datu’s wife stepped into the baliti’s hollow trunk,” Haik says, “but inside it was like any villager’s house--a hearth with a full pot of rice, rugs and baskets and fine pottery. The diwat told her to sleep in her own bed in the other room. The datu’s wife tried, but worried about her husband finding her. When she finally fell asleep, and was woken up for breakfast, the diwat told her to go outside when they finished eating.
“The diwatahan was there, her family, and her husband’s family, and her husband was surrounded by warriors. ‘What have you done since last night?!’ She asked her husband, and her words shocked all but the diwatahan. ‘You’ve been missing for a week!’ Her parents told her. ‘We thought your husband killed you!’ Then the diwatahan told them everything, and they grew mad at the story.”
“Of course.” She laughs, but sadly.
“Her father took his spear and--”
“I thought the datu wasn’t going to die.”
“Don’t worry,” he assures her. “Her father took his spear, slashed her husband across the chest, and said: ‘Your wound will not heal until you repent and change your views, so neither will your tattoos be clear. If you mistreat your family, you will mistreat your people in time, and such a one has no business being chief. When the moon is full next month, find a ship or a horse, and be gone to learn respect. Go back to your village when you are healed, but my daughter is not your wife anymore.’
“The young datu cried bitterly, but soon knew that he was right: The wound on his chest was hardly life-threatening, and yet the scabs refused to fall. When the full moon came and it had not healed, he told the old datu he was sorry, but he said, ‘Have you been beating me, or my daughter? Why do you ask my forgiveness?’”
Mirasol bursts out laughing, but it’s dizzy and shrill. “He’s only sorry that he got caught!”
“The young datu wandered the islands for five years; the first year he went to shamans from all the different tribes, begging to be healed, but they shook their heads and said they could not. The second and third years he did many great deeds, slaying monsters and saving countless people, gaining much praise.
“At the start of the fourth year, a tattoo artist said, ‘Your tattoos show who you are, not who you want to be. We do not tattoo a little girl who has not bled yet, for it is cruel to make a child imagine the pain of birth, but a young woman will bear it as well as she can; we do not tattoo a farmer with a crocodile for sailing trips he will not take, or battles he will not fight; we do not tattoo an artist with a rice-field for crops she will not plant. We do not tattoo a woman with a man’s tattoos, unless her soul does not match her body or the gods have told us to. You were born to royalty, but you do not act like it.’”
“The young datu was angry,” Haik laughs. “He said he had helped many people in the past three years, but the artist asked, ‘Did you help because they needed it, or so you could talk about it? I hear no respect for them in your voice.’ The young datu finally understood what the old datu told him, and he cried in remorse as he told the artist his story. The next morning, he had a dream about a dumugong-puso bird, which he turned loose from a cage--and it turned into a beautiful lady with a scar on her chest.
“So he asked the artist for the dumugo--an unusual design for a man, but the artist knew omens too, and tattooed him so well that it was like the bird rode on his shoulder. The young datu’s scabs fell off as he finished, with his other tattoos as black as if he’d just gotten them. He spent the next two years following a dumugo when he saw one, asking if they had seen his future wife or were kin to her, and eventually they led him back home.”
“What are the dumugo?” She wonders. “‘Bloody chest’--are they robins?”
“No, they’re doves,” Haik says. “They’re called bleeding-hearts in English. The ones from Luzon scare people--they look like they’ve been shot.”
“Oh, it’s the bird with the Catholic myth,” Mirasol muses. “They flew onto Jesus Christ’s chest and got his blood on them two thousand years ago, even though we’ve only been Catholic for four or five hundred years. Is there an indio story for it?”
“Of course.” He tries to laugh, but even his joy at telling her things cannot withstand his fear welling up.
“Can you tell me a really quick version?” She asks, but he shakes his head.
“We have just under three hours. I’d rather finish the story before starting another.”
“Three hours until what?”
“Until something might happen,” he says, and she can hear it in his voice: Whether he knows or only guesses, it won’t be good.
She latches onto him as tight as she can, but she can feel the despair in his heartbeat. He’s already stopped being the whale-rider--if he breaks again, will he stop coming back to her? “Keep going.”
He coughs. “Once he returned to his family, he went to his former wife’s barangay, and asked to see the datu and his daughter. She was heavily pregnant, but she and her father laughed when they saw his wound had healed, and laughed harder when they saw his tattoo of the dumugo. ‘My husband will be back next week,’ she said, and the young datu replied, ‘I did not come to marry you again. My new wife is coming in time.’ He laid down all his weapons, knelt in front of her, and begged her for forgiveness, and she gave it kindly.
“At the end of the year, he came across an injured dumugo and found someone to nurse it; when the villager put it in a cage to recover, he laughed so hard that he cried. ‘I have asked many of your kinsmen about you, my wife!’ He cried, for he knew his dream had come for him. When it recovered, he turned the bird loose from its cage, and as in the dream, it turned into a beautiful lady with a great scar on her chest, and they quickly married. He and his former wife were friends for the rest of their lives, and their barangays flourished together.”
The story’s ending is indeed happy, but Haik is not. The light through Mirasol’s window is a cold, bloody red.
“Can you tell me about the dumugo?” She wonders. “Our story? Not the Catholic one.”
“It’s not happy,” he says.
“I don’t mind.”
“One day…” He coughs. “No. The old days were when the dragons still lived, the crocodile’s ancestors. They carried us across the water, so we did not need ships. The toothed whales had not been betrayed by the sharks yet, and so did not eat meat in vengeance. And so in the old days, the dumugong-puso had not yet grown tired of fighting. His name had a different meaning then--he was as big and grand as the serpent-eagle, who he called his sister, and answered only to the monkey-eater, king of birds. The dumugo was called ‘bloody-chest’ for his skill in battle, as his soul had not been wounded yet.
“One day the serpent-eagle said: ‘Brother, my little sister the guaiabero is looking for a husband. It would be a gift to me if you wed her, for we would be true kin from now on.’ The dumogo laughed and agreed instantly. ‘Why not?’ He said. ‘I am hardly opposed to eating guava every morning.’ It had been years since he last saw the guaiabero, when they were only children, and when the serpent-eagle brought her to meet him, he was pleased to see she had marvelous green feathers set off by all the fine golden jewelry she could wear, and great dark eyes like a horse.
“The guaiabero grew timid and hid behind her sister when she saw him--she thought he was quite handsome, with his feathers like sunlight through water, but had not expected him to be so tall and fierce. He peeked under the serpent-eagle’s wing, asking, ‘So you remember our last meeting, don’t you? There was a monsoon, and we had to sleep under our mothers’ wings.’ She stepped out, laughing, and they hardly parted for a week, telling each other about their lives since childhood. He gave her a gold necklace as a gift, and their wedding was the next month.”
“Is the guaiabero the little parrot?” Mirasol asks.
“Yes, indeed.” He laughs.
“But they don’t have a lot of yellow on them.”
“Not anymore.” Haik rests his head on hers. “They spent three years together, and the guaiabero laid a clutch of eggs. But there came word that the sea-hawks were coming to raid the coast, and it was then that the serpent-eagle and dumugo realized their mistake. As the most decorated warriors in the islands, and the sea-hawks being vicious fighters themselves, they knew one of them had to be called for war. The guaiabero cried and begged them to ask the monkey-eater to stay, for she would not choose between her sister’s and her husband’s death.”
“And they went to him, and he said yes,” Mirasol hopes.
“The monkey-eater felt his soul was torn in half.” Haik says. “He was the king, and if he let both of them stay, soon everyone would ask the same thing. Were this only a flock or two, he would not have to bring them at all--but this was a war-band of a thousand sea-hawks, and he could not pass over anyone. He spent three days without sleep, losing feathers in his worry, and finally said: ‘Serpent-eagle, come with me. I do not like to risk the guaiabero losing her sister, but it would be even worse for her to lose her husband before he has seen his children.’”
“You said the dumugo got tired of fighting,” Mirasol says, picking at a corner of the blanket. “And he’s supposed to get a chest wound.”
Haik sighs. “But the trouble with war is that it does not always stay put. The island birds slew a third of the enemy at first, despite losing many brave fighters, but the rest of the sea-hawks began to move inland, and the monkey-eater sent part of his war-band home with the serpent-eagle to bolster the defense. Her family was glad to see her, and she was happy to see her sister’s eggs had hatched, but the monkey-eater’s instincts were right. Soon after the band arrived home, the sea-hawk raids began, and the serpent-eagle and her men were away to ward them off.
“The dumugo had a dream where the shadows of three hundred sea-hawks darkened the sky, and the serpent-eagle screamed his name over and over, and his wife threw all her jewelry into the sea, crying to the gods, and came back with only the necklace he gave her. He wept when he woke up and told them, for he had not answered his sister-in-law’s cries, and thought he was soon to die.
“He was not afraid of death, of course, but of leaving his family to mourn. ‘Do not weep,’ his wife said. ‘You are one of the greatest fighters among the island birds. The only matches for you are the serpent-eagle, and the monkey-eater himself.’ But in her heart she knew she was only comforting him, for why else would he dream of her making such an offering?”
Mirasol thinks about all the ways that the story can end, but Haik already warned her that it wasn’t a happy story. She digs into the blanket, and Haik’s crocodile scales wrap around her.
“The shadows of the sea-hawks came like a wave upon the earth, but as the dumugo had told the serpent-eagle, she had already prepared for it, and the dumugo joined them despite his aching heart. It was a fierce battle, with bodies from both sides littering the ground. The dumugo got a terrible chest wound from a sea-hawk’s beak, falling to earth, and knew that his dream was coming for him. ‘Oh sister, through friendship and blood!’ he called to the serpent-eagle, ‘Tell our family how I loved them!’
“But though he heard the serpent-eagle crying his name and looking for him, he did not die. A young man found him on the ground, and took him to a shaman. She stitched his chest up and for many weeks she took care of him. But as his wound healed, the feathers above it grew back red as blood. The shaman sorrowed, for she had only healed his body, not his soul. ‘Dumugo,’ she pleaded, ‘take heart that you are alive. Your family is coming to see you.’
But he would not lift his head, and told her only, ‘I am tired of fighting.’
“He rejoiced to see his family, but the guaiabero asked the shaman about the red feathers on his chest, for she had been frightened at first and thought he was still wounded. ‘That is not blood, but his soul,’ the shaman told her. ‘Perhaps going home will make them grow back white again.’
“So they flew home, and he was filled with joy to be with his family. But after a while he tossed and turned at night, for all he dreamed now was of war and bloodshed, and he was tired of fighting. When he had molted his old feathers, the new ones still came in red.
“The guaiabero wept and flew to the sea. ‘Oh gods!’ she cried, throwing her jewelry into the saltwater. ‘It is from here that the sea-hawks came, who broke my husband’s soul! Take all that I have, and give him relief!’
“But a dragon came out of the sea with her last gold necklace in his teeth, which her husband had given her. ‘Do not give up any more, dear one,’ he said as he returned it. ‘His pain will lessen in time, but if it shows so strongly on his body, nothing can heal it completely.’”
“So the bleeding-heart got PTSD?!”
“I told you it wasn’t happy,” Haik apologizes. “When she came back weeping, with all her gold gone but her husband’s necklace, the dumugo cried in both relief and pain, for the last of his dream had finally come for him. They went to the monkey-eater, who wept as they did.
“‘Oh my friend,’ the king of birds said, ‘I will not make you fight again in such misery. Go home and find peace.’ So the dumugo shook out his wings, and his magnificent feathers fell out: He still shone like sunlight through water, but no longer was he fierce, and he became as small as a dove. This is why the dumugo has such a wound on his chest, for even the greatest people may break in soul if not body. And this is why the guaiabero has lost all her jewelry but the necklace from her husband, for she never accepted any more of it.”
What a strange, grand world that she hears in Haik’s voice--but which stories were too late or too damaged to get smuggled onto the crocodile-god’s ship? Blasted through by gunpowder, pasted over with crosses and saints until nobody remembered the real versions?
How much time do they have, safe in her room before the world starts to barge in? Two and a half hours, two and a quarter? Whichever question she asks, she will only have more once he finishes answering.
“Why do the dreams sound alive when you talk?” Mirasol starts. “Like, they wait for someone or they hunt you down.”
“Because they are,” Haik tells her.
“Are all dreams alive?” She wonders. “Did… did you send me the dreams I had, or are they just memories? Did they come to me?”
He won’t answer this time, only shakes his head and clutches her hard in his crocodile-armor.
Mirasol doesn’t know why he’s crying--or not for which reason, at least.
At the end of the three hours, nothing happens.
They get dressed, eat breakfast, flinching at their own shadows and fighting the urge to look past the unopened drapes.
Nothing happens, so they relax just enough to talk in lowered voices.
But Haik will not tell her any more stories (because he knows one of them will lead to another, and another, and another).
When they head back to her room, she tries to kiss him as a distraction. He doesn’t fall for it, and catches her hands before she can get his shirt off.
“I didn’t think it would work,” she admits, eyes burning, and shifts off him to the side of the bed.
“I know.” He hugs her.
“Why didn’t you tell me not to try anything, then?”
“I miss…” He laughs, tired. “I miss not giving up.”
It makes her cry, and this time he kisses her.
She only gets part of what she remembers: The feel of his hands, but not his smile.
A dream comes to her then, timid and full of regret:
She’s at the edge of the pier in her own clothes, so this must be happening soon. There’s a great wild storm off the coast, like the monsoons on the other side of the Pacific. Her hair is about to give up its braid.
“Haik!” She cries. “Who breaks the ships in his teeth!”
The wind yanks at her, and she stumbles into Rahil’s living room. Haik’s thrashing at arm’s length against her grip.
“I’ll come back to you, I swear--”
“You’re not the problem! They won’t let you come back!” She pleads. “They know your name, they know your tattoos--”
“They can’t shut the borders for a brown man with tattoos!” Haik laughs, but it’s as vicious as a croc’s smile. “You’d lose half your sports teams!”
“We can hide you here--” Rahil offers, but he shakes his head.
“If I stay here right now, they’ll kill you!” Haik says. “They’ll kill you or hurt you or make your life a fucking wreck! They always do that! Because of me!”
“Take me with you!” Mirasol begs. “You said you would!”
“Not like this!” He breaks out. “Hiding from the government with a fucking illegal immigrant?! What life is that for you?!”
The wind howls her back to the beach.
“Haik!” She cries. “Son of voyagers!”
Lloyd calls her from his phone, and Haik sits next to her across the kitchen table. “Hey--Mirasol. Are you with Haik?”
“Fucking ICE called me. I told them I didn’t know who he was, but they’re still coming.”
“Fuck.” They both start packing. “Fuck!”
“Don’t take him to my place, they’ll head there in two goddamn seconds. Go to Rahil’s, it’ll take them a little longer since you’re not related--”
He’s cut off by the wind.
Claire is shrinking up in the doorway as Mirasol rages.
“YOU CALLED THE FUCKING ICE DEPARTMENT?! IT WAS YOU?!”
“Well, they called me and--and it’s pretty obvious he’s not Lloyd--”
“You could have at least gotten his name before you snitched on him!” Her tears of rage burn like the Pacific. “What if this was a different brown guy with tattoos?!”
“I’m not racist!” She pleads. “Mirasol, you know me! I was just--”
“WHAT?! WHAT WERE YOU DOING?!”
The storm darkens the sky in Claire’s silence.
“Just following orders,” Haik finishes, bitter. “Is that it?”
And Mirasol’s slammed back onto the pier. “Whale-rider!” He only gets mad at that name now, but it’s worth a shot.
Crocodiles are not bad, the dream assures her as she waits. They are powerful and they protect people. It’s not bad to have someone who loves you, who tells you stories, who always comes back home--
“What good is all that if he’s never happy?!” She’s crying despite the dream’s good intentions, and wonders if this is what Haik felt all these centuries for her, racking up sadness like an old woman’s aches. “HAIK! THE CROCODILE-GOD!”
Because if that’s the name he answers to, she might as well use it.
She rips out the last of her braid, takes a running start, and throws herself into the water.
To her confusion, though, the whales begin to sing.
She wakes up still caught in a whirlpool of whale-song and furious despair, shaking too hard to cry, and Haik sits up and wraps his arms around her.
“Did you see if she snitched on us?”
The tears start coming down like the rain on her window, and he sighs and listens to it.
“She’s going to move up north with her sister in a couple months,” he assures her. “Imelda’s gonna lose her shit when she finds out what she did to you.”
“You’re the one they’re trying to deport.”
“But you’re the one who calls her Ate,” he says. “And unless you have a strange way of saying you hate me, I’m pretty sure you don’t want me to leave.”
“I…” She’s still confused about the end of the dream, not least because it was the start of all the chaos, and breathes in Haik’s saltwater smell. “You left. And I wanted to go with you.”
“Of course you did.” He holds her tighter.
“I kept calling you by the sea. I went through all your names I could remember. And it was raining. Storming. Like the monsoons.”
“Bagyo.” She tests it in her mouth. Bagyo means storm or monsoon, she repeats, so ulan is the softer rain. She wonders if he’ll teach her some Tagalog--she doesn’t want a whole textbook, just the words that aren’t Spanish. “I couldn’t see you, or you wouldn’t come back, so I threw myself into the water. And the whales, I heard them singing.”
“They will not come to me.” He leans against the wall with her.
“Aren’t they your brothers?” She says. “Why would they--”
“They didn’t abandon me,” Haik explains. “It’s just… I’m too far away from them now.”
He does not mean that he’s across the Pacific. The whales are bringers of joy, and Haik hasn’t had any since their first daughter got shot. Not enough to last, at least.
Someone knocks on the back door, rushed and quiet, and her skin jolts through with nerves before she remembers Imelda jumps her fence in emergencies.
“Ate, what are you doing?! It’s fucking midnight!”
“Hey, mija.” She slips inside after Mirasol opens the door. “What the hell happened with ICE a couple days ago? Is it because of the indio guy?”
“How do you know I’m indio?” Haik frowns. “You talked to me for five minutes.”
“You dark, you got tattoos, and your name is Ha-ik,” Imelda points out. “Y’all as indio as fuck, man. I bet Claire did it. Or she will. She gonna sing like a canary if someone asks her about a tatted-up brown guy, she can’t just say ‘I don’t know’ and leave it.”
“Oh my god! Ate!” She tries to be annoyed, but the tears start burning her eyes. “Claire… is… a nice person.” It tears through her throat.
“Y’all saw her snitch on you, ay? Why else is y’all awake?” Imelda presses, even though she doesn’t want to. “Look, Claire is nice, but she soft. She just chugs down all that shit about illegals on the news, she ain’t gonna care about what she did to you two until people start yelling at her.”
She shakes her head, but she cries anyway, and Imelda hugs her.
“If this bro gets deported, you gonna follow him all the way back to the Philippines. I saw you find him, mija. He came out of the sand like a motherfucking god. I saw your face.”
And they all know her dream is coming for them.