10288 words (41 minute read)

Part 8.

Rahil offers to let them stay longer, but they get ready to head across the Bay instead; Haik is undocumented, Mirasol is uncooperative, and they don’t want to find out what happens with a Muslim in the mix.

 

“One of my friends lives in SF,” Rahil tells them at breakfast. “Hadassah Oreb.”

 

“The one who looks like Wonder Woman?” Mirasol knows her name and they’re probably Facebook friends, but she can’t remember her face aside from black curls framing a deep-red mouth--most people’s faces get blurry if they’re more than a head taller than herself. She remembers an accent, though.

 

“Yeah.” A fleeting chuckle. “She’ll let you stay at her place if you want.”

 

So Rahil must have asked her last night. Mirasol’s eyes water. “Thank you.”

 

“You didn’t have to do that.” Haik hugs her.

 

“Yes I did. I’m Muslim.” She smiles, but it’s bitter. “Are you going to take BART?”

 

“The ferry,” Mirasol says. “Should I get Hadassah’s number?”

 

“Nah, you two are eye-catching even without the tattoos. Filipino giant, plus Filipino hobbit.” She pokes at Haik’s suspiciously plain hoodie, and he tries to smile. “I’ll text her now while we finish breakfast. Let me know when you’re on the boat.”

 

As they head out, Mirasol stops at the door and puts an arm around Rahil’s neck for the ungngo.

 

Rahil thinks it’s a hug--her hands rise on both sides--but the voice from the sky whispers a long and comforting shhhhhhh, so she stops and closes her eyes.

 

They hold it as long as they can, breathing in-to-out and out-to-in.

 

“Bye,” she finally whispers.

 

“Bye.” And Mirasol lets go.

 

---

Haik and Mirasol go to the beach, where it’s as empty as when she found him. He takes her hand, firm but gentle, then steps into the water with her.

 

The waves surge up to their ankles. Haik puts his free hand to his mouth and gives a long, echoing whistle that makes the sand pulse hard.

 

For a moment Mirasol can’t see anything, but then the paraw’s crab-claw sails blink like stars upon the horizon. She touches down on the sand and Haik gives her a thump, like a dutiful horse.

 

“Wait.” Mirasol reels back: The paraw is so dark, the crocodile-head so green, and she hasn’t even given the sails a good look yet. “We’re gonna get everyone’s attention if we show up in a damn paraw, with--with outriggers and painted sails--”

 

“She knows what modern boats look like,” he assures her. “We’ll go to the docks and follow the ferry--text Rahil when we’re behind it.”

 

And it’s not just the hint of magic that reassures her, but how he talks about the paraw. So Mirasol steps up to the boat: “Can she talk?”

 

“Not in words,” Haik says.

 

The paraw digs a few inches into the sand, with one of her painted eyes brushing Mirasol’s forehead. There is a wash of content and safety, with something that feels like home, though Mirasol’s already worried about what’s happening to hers.

 

She climbs in, and Haik pushes the boat until he’s knee-deep in the water.

 

“Do we need some time to get the disguise up?” Mirasol wonders. It’s not that far to the docks, and she can already see some other boats’ shadows in the distance.

 

“She knows what modern boats look like,” Haik repeats, and he shunts the sail around before he takes the paddle up. “We wouldn’t last long if we didn’t adapt--otherwise I wouldn’t be speaking English. I’m not a dinosaur, you know.”

 

“Says the crocodile god, with crocodile tattoos, on a crocodile boat,” she grins.

 

“Be careful mocking a god, tiny mortal,” Haik jokes. “Especially in his element. And on his boat, for she is the prettiest in the whole world, and will definitely take his side in an argument.”

 

The paraw’s rigging swishes in approval, with a purring sound deep within the mast.

 

“Yeah. Your kitty-boat is so frightening.” She pokes him. “How are you going to punish my insult to your power, mighty sea-god?”

 

Haik pitches Mirasol against the mast, laughing, and though she winces out of instinct, there’s no bump or jolting--his hands are already pillowed behind her scalp as he kisses her.

 

And for a split-second she wants to stay here. Steal back home for supplies, tell Rahil to reschedule the plan with Hadassah, set out from the beach again and just… stay here, away from everyone else, for one or two days.

 

Would their whale-daughter come to greet them on the sea? Would their dragon-daughter? Where is their son, and the other gods?

 

She wants to see the gods most of all, their mothership shining and the colors all running together, she wants to hear their victory-roar like a dragon and the sea-creatures cresting the waves. Haik keeps saying he has no followers left but her, but he’s so careful about words--what about the other gods’ followers?

If Haik sees the mothership blasting up from the horizon, all his saltwater kinsmen that he couldn’t reach out to, will he--

 

But then they reach the blue-water. She feels the shift in the waves, from memory or instinct or both, and she breaks off from Haik to see the shoreline vanish into the horizon.

 

She feels her eyes start to sting already, and she reaches in a panic for the land.

 

I want to go home, the thought rattles desperately in her chest. I want to go home, I want to get tattoos and go voyaging like the ancestors, I want Haik to come home with me, I want him to not be a fucking fugitive just for living here without dumbass pieces of paper--

 

Haik’s arms close around her as she cries. “Shhhh.”

 

“Fuck, did I say it out loud?”

 

“Your thoughts are loud enough. They’re going stir-crazy.” And Haik who breaks the ships in his teeth, he pecks her temple and her mouth and that ever-shifting spot where her neck joins her shoulder, and makes all of them settle down.

 

He is so terribly gentle, for a god with such fearsome names. (But he said crocodiles protected them from the river-demons--what demons? The man-eating Pinoy mermaids? She knows that the word “demon” in a lot of Asia doesn’t have the Christian meaning of “evil spirit,” and a lot of them sound more like the pre-Christian fairies in European folktales.)

 

He leans against the mast with her. “If you’d known the future,” he asks, “all the shit that keeps happening--would you have married me?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Why?”

 

She presses against his shirt. “Shit happens all the time. I ain’t gonna be alone when it happens.”

 

He laughs, but it hurts. “You don’t have to be my wife to be my follower. I have loved all our people in all the different ways.”

 

“And now all our people are gone.” Isn’t he the one who keeps saying that?

 

“It’s not your fault.”

 

“It’s not yours, either.”

 

He bursts out laughing, but there’s saltwater on his face and he’s shaking hard.

 

“You thought the other gods were dead until I saw them.” She tightens her grip. “Why?”

 

“Why else?” He puts his forehead to hers, gentle but grim:

 

It is a lifetime or two before their whale-daughter will die: The Spanish are attempting to claim the islands, but still rely on native allies--not only for more men, but because it’s easier for the Filipinos to learn Spanish than for the Spanish to learn so many other languages: Tagalog for southern Luzon, and Ilokano north of Mount Pulag, and Hokkien and Punjabi and Arabic for all the different markets and ports.

 

(Assuming the Spaniards care to learn, that is.)

 

She’s sixteen, and people still remember Haik, who rode a humpback from the east to Luzon.

 

Her barangay is at the south edge of Manila’s mangrove-walled bay, chased by the Spaniards. They’re armored and overconfident--most Spanish are--but while there’s only fifty Spanish to her barangay’s hundred fighters, there’s not enough bowmen to flood arrows on them properly, and clubbing them to death with sword-hilts or eskrima sticks takes too much time and energy.

 

So when they arrive, the warriors hold them off while their shaman goes to the sea with a cluster of other villagers, and she sings to the gods for help.

 

Into the bay of mangroves, Haik rides the leader of a pack of killer whales. He still has all his tattoos, so early into the Spanish conquest--saw-like teeth across his cheekbones, his arm and chest covered in crocodile scales, and his back lined with thick black zigzag ridges.

 

His loincloth is sunset-red, with soft touches of gold embroidery and beading; this must have been what he was wearing when Mirasol found him last month.

 

And now he has jewelry, too: Deep colors bloom against his bronze-toned skin. Thick golden cuffs on his wrists and biceps, two gold-veined lapis lazuli anklets, and a necklace of dark mottled jade and crocodile teeth rattles as he jumps onto the sand.

 

(How beautiful he is in a shirt and jeans, with most of his tattoos gone, she muses in 2017. What happened to them all?)

 

Then he points with his crocodile arm, so his brothers lunge onto shore, snapping at the Spaniards bearing down on them--a few of them get eaten, armor torn apart with teeth-itching rips, and the strange, primal sight makes them break ranks and run.

 

The Tagalogs retreat to the mangroves--or most of them do.

 

Mirasol stays back, but not as far as the trees--it’s one thing to know her father’s tales of the vengeful black whales like land-wolves, how they beach themselves to hunt prey on the shore, and another to see it herself. This is not “beaching” at all--that’s when whales get stranded and helpless after low tides. The sea-wolves here burst onto land, white eye-marks blank behind hungry gaping teeth, and they writhe back into the water with their struggling prey.

 

Most of them curve in from the sides, she observes, so they can’t go too far inland.

 

“Haik!” She takes a step forward, but her father and Lloyd grab her.

 

“Don’t!” Her father begs. “The sea-wolves are full of vengeance--they’ll eat you, too!”

 

But they do not go after the Tagalogs, nor do they chase the fleeing Spaniards: When the last dozen men have screeched away to the forest, the sea-wolves sling back into the water with a practiced, warlike grace. Their back fins cut through the water like sharks.

 

Haik the whale-rider is as quiet as a statue while the Tagalogs kneel before him.

 

“I won’t be able to help all the time,” he says. “The whales are my brothers, not my pets. They have their own lives. And, well--you aren’t the only ones who need me.”

 

But still they give him offerings in gratitude, for they are seeing less of their gods since Spain arrived. And at least he’s honest about it.

 

Haik heals all the people he can; her uncle is too far gone, and he only presses their foreheads together in mourning. Her grandmother’s shot leg is restored, though she still needs to recover from her blood loss. The datu’s son wakes up after two days of sleep, as if nothing happened.

 

Haik stops by each house, dark and handsome and glittering, and accepts only offerings from the homes without injured people.

 

The shaman sings all night to Lakapati and her husband Mapulon, while Rahil and the midwife take care of physical healing. Lakapati and Mapulon are harvest deities, but Mapulon is a healer and Lakapati is the goddess of the door-between-the-worlds, and the people at the threshold--men who marry men and women who marry women, people whose souls do not match their bodies, or the ones whose bodies are both man’s and woman’s like hers.

 

But Haik keeps walking through the night from house to house to house, painfully and obviously alone. At dawn comes the mourning keen, rising from thirty houses--nearly half the village.

 

Mirasol and Lloyd bring a sack of rice to the shaman’s house, but only her wife is inside.

 

“Where is Lakapati?” Mirasol asks. “The Spaniards don’t like her--they say she’s a man who only acts like a woman--”

 

Somewhere the shaman wails outside, wild and lonely like a lost dog.

 

“She’s never taken deaths well.” The shaman’s wife probably spotted the look on her face, and hugs her. “She’ll recover in time for the funerals. She just needs to get all the pain out.”

 

“Is Lakapati mad at us?” She wonders. “Or is she dead or gone? She always came before, but now we don’t have enough food for her. And her books are all burned.”

 

“She wouldn’t be mad at her own people for what foreigners did,” the shaman’s wife assures. “Gods are like humans; they grieve and lose their temper, and they run off to be alone. She’ll come back soon enough. We can make more offerings to her and write new books. Lots of people fear the gods have left after something terrible happens, but the Spaniards are just another tribe, looking for gold or food or slaves.”

 

“They want your souls, too.” Haik’s shadow appears in the doorway.

 

They don’t know what that means (not for a few centuries), but Mirasol shivers instinctively, and Lloyd puts an arm around her. The shaman comes in, red-eyed and pale like a ghost.

 

“Do the Spaniards eat their enemies?” Mirasol wonders. “How will they take our souls?”

 

“They want us to abandon our gods and take their own,” the shaman tells her. “It is beginning with Lakapati, she at the door-between-the-worlds. The Spaniards fear her and those she’s marked as her own.”

 

“Well, why don’t we just lock them up with about twenty of her shamans?” Lloyd wonders. “If they’re so afraid of them?”

 

“A fearful creature is worse than an angry one,” Haik shakes his head. “Anger is predictable.”

 

---

In 2017, Haik touches her shoulder as they reach the docks by the ferry to San Francisco. People are filing on board. “Get your credit card. We’ll need tickets to get out of the terminal.”

 

She digs in her bag for her wallet, but wonders: “Aren’t people going to wonder about the mystery passengers who never got on the ferry?”

 

“You’re assuming someone took mugshots of all two hundred people in line,” he chuckles. “Or that two Filipinos heading to San Francisco are a strange sight.”

 

“Good point.” She exhales and can’t help wincing as the screen lights up--but then there’s her name on the two tickets filing out of the machine, and she hands one of them to Haik to keep their cover. “Where did you get these? Did you take them from someone?”

 

“Why would I steal tickets? There’s plenty of room, and we’re not even late.”

 

So says Haik, son of voyagers.

 

Mirasol texts Rahil to let them know they’re “boarding the ferry,” and back in the paraw she gets the reply that Hadassah is heading to the ferry’s parking lot.

 

“You can go back home after we meet her,” Haik offers. “They’re looking for me, not you.”

 

Home, he says, and it makes her heart hurt. She’s been away from home on vacation, but this is not the same.

 

How do you go back home after meeting your people’s sea-god? How will she explain all her sudden knowledge of Filipino culture? She could say she got it online or from books, but how does she explain the things that can’t be found anymore? All those stories Haik told her, tight against his chest? Will she say she got inspired to write them--which is technically true, if she leaves out how she’s just writing them down--and hope that Haik follows her paper-trail of bestseller lists and critic reviews?

 

Will she get the tattoos of her ancestors? Try to get better at Tagalog? Learn to sail the old way? Visit the islands and the other Polynesian countries, while Haik crosses the Pacific yet again?

 

They want your souls, too, Haik says to her--and she knows all too well what that means now.

 

She curls up under his crocodile scales, and he makes that painful noise of an attempted laugh.

 

This time Mirasol puts her forehead to his, and tries to go back to the interrupted memory. It’s not quite right--she’s a few months too late.

 

---

She turned seventeen last month, and Lloyd walks into the house as she drinks a cup of tea. “Hey, what did Auntie make?”

 

“She didn’t make anything, I just… I bought some tea.” That’s technically true--she just didn’t say she bought it from the midwife.

 

“Cool, can I have a sip?”

 

“No!” She hunches over it. “Uh--uh--they ran out, so this is the only cup I have.”

 

“What?” Lloyd grins. “It’s not like I, a man, can’t drink the tea that you, my female cousin, are drinking. After the datu’s brother got married and the whole barangay had a party. And you vanished for half the night with one of his new wife’s young, sexy, muscled, not-from-around-here bodyguards with a whole lot of tattoos--”

 

Damn it. “Okay, fine. It’s no-baby tea.”

 

He laughs hard, and Mirasol can’t help giggling. “What are you so worried about? Half the village ran off after they got a few drinks in, it’s not like you did anything wrong.”

 

“I’m not worried, I just… need to…” She tries to find the words. Everything’s still swirling around in her head.

 

“Need to settle down?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

---

“Let’s try again,” Mirasol breaks contact with Haik.

 

“Don’t,” he pleads.

 

Something is pulling her soul sideways--Haik?--but she wrangles forward instead, and there are only fleeting sounds and images:

 

---

Her father’s laughing at the sight of the muscled young man sitting next to her. “Is this the one you snuck off with? God, he’s huge!”

 

“Don’t embarrass her!” Her mother tugs at his arm, but she can’t help laughing--

 

---

She leans on the fence and watches him train with the rest of the datu’s men, their dragon-tongued swords flashing like the sun on water. His sparring partner spots her and grins at him.

 

“Hey, you got a visitor!”

 

“Hi!” She heads to the gate, and the other guard has to look again at her.

 

“Fuck, I thought she was just sitting down!” The other man laughs. “She’s so tiny!”

 

“Shut up.” She pecks her fiancé’s cheek--he has to bend down about a foot--and gets more laughter from the other guards.

 

---

The monsoons started too hard, and now half the barangay’s rice paddies are knee-deep in mud. Her father’s wailing echoes back to the house as he slogs through the field. Her mother sits inside with Mirasol and her fiancé.

 

“Next year,” her mother says, wiping her face. “Next year we’ll be back to normal, and then you can get married. I’m sorry.”

 

“We’re not mad at you for what the monsoons did.” It still hurts, though.

 

Her fiancé holds her, tight to his chest--

 

---

“Please,” Haik tilts away from her. “Please don’t keep going--”

 

---

Her fiancé holds her, tight to his chest, but he has to let go so Rahil can drag her behind him.

 

Their village isn’t burning like the other one did, but a platoon of forty Spaniards are loading up their horses with grain, along with coins and jewelry from the richer families.

 

She can walk, but it hurts.

 

A shadow comes to the edge of their vision, and his dragon-headed sword whips out--but there’s a shriek and a familiar pair of gray-streaked braids.

 

“Grandma!” Mirasol reaches instinctively and nearly falls over.

 

Her fiancé sheaths his sword immediately. “Where’s the datu?”

 

“In the clearing by the pastures.” She takes Mirasol’s other arm to help Rahil. “We need to take the long way, or they’re going to see us.”

 

Most of the village is cloistered in the forest, or on their way to the main group--she spots Lloyd and his mother, her parents, her grandfather, and her eyes sting with relief--but there is the midwife, with a cluster of women and a pot of tea.

 

---

A week later, a group of Spaniards come to her parents’ house--a handful of men in armor (their lieutenant and his colonel is here, the memory tells her), and an islander with tattoos from the far north. The translator asks her father to speak, and her fiancé sits with her to the side.

 

“My men lost control of themselves,” the colonel apologizes (through the translator, but Mirasol understands it in 2017). “We weren’t supposed to be heading this far south. One of them forced themselves on your daughter, and we ask for your forgiveness.”

 

The lieutenant holds out a small but solid pouch of silver, at which her father bristles and glares.

 

“Excuse me? She’s not a prostitute. And even if she was, why the fuck aren’t you paying her?”

 

The northerner winces and turns. “Senor--he thinks you’re treating his daughter like a prostitute. After all, one of the men had sex with her and… well, you’re giving him money.”

 

The colonel coughs and murmurs to the translator: “We didn’t mean to offend you. In Spain, when a woman is dishonored, our custom is for him to pay a fine--it’s compensation for her injuries, it doesn’t mean she’s a prostitute.”

 

“Well, it’s a lot nicer than our custom.” Her fiancé stands, with his sword hilt glinting, and the Spaniards are startled by his bulk. “We call the whole barangay up, tell everyone what they did, and whip them till they can’t walk for a few days. If she’s noble, we also exile them.”

 

Another wince from the translator. “Senor, he said the punishment for raping a woman in these parts is, um… whipping.

 

Three of the Spaniards turn waxy, and both the lieutenant and colonel are seething as the lieutenant rounds on his men.

 

“This is why we can’t get anywhere with the indios,” he hisses. “We aren’t immortal just because we have guns and armor! The village we’re supposed to restock at won’t let any Spaniards in, so the colonel found out that someone looted their neighbors--and you all said to my face that it was you!

 

He drops the money by the door and heads out. “Take it, throw it away, melt it down if you want,” he says. “I’ve done my duty, and I leave your datu to deal with my men.”

 

“Sir--” Someone grabs the lieutenant, despite his glare. “Sir, you can’t just--”

 

“I’m not actually leaving, idiot!” He snaps. “I’m just not stopping them from punishing you!”

 

“Magellan claimed the islands for Spain! We answer to our king!”

 

“What good is his word right now?” The colonel points out. “Can he return to life and scold the datu into letting you go? Or do you think the datu will wait for our king to sail for months to this barangay? If he’s even bothered to hear out such a basic case of banditry?”

 

“We aren’t bandits!”

 

“Wonderful! You must be protecting some other Spaniards who looted their village and raped their women!” The lieutenant laughs, bitterly. “Did you tell the truth because you thought you’d only answer to me?”

 

So they’re brought to the datu’s house, and he orders them tied to a length of the pasture fence, where her fiancé stands among the dozen of the datu’s guards gleefully waiting to punish them. But with the bulk of the men responsible, the datu himself holds a whip and they also need villagers to fill the ranks--so the sailors and fishermen volunteer, tattooed from neck to waist, and some even down to their ankles with crocodile scales. And then come the muscled carabao herders, with their own bullwhips.

 

She can see their fingers itching as the datu announces their crimes.

 

“Twenty families were looted, and thirteen women got raped,” the datu proclaims in Spanish. “In my barangay, we give five strokes for single crimes and one for group crimes, so you’d get thirty-three lashes. If my father were still chief, he would have whipped you and been done with it--but I understand that you are foreigners, unaccustomed to Tagalog ways. So I will reduce your punishment.”

 

Some of them twist to look at him, but the datu is grinning and the lieutenant winces:

 

“Thirty lashes.”

 

The men start flailing and bellowing like cattle, some in fear but many in rage. “YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO US, INDIO! The king of Spain owns these islands!”

 

“And where is your goddamn king?!” He reminds them. “Has he plowed the soil? Married his children to ours? Has he even been to this place, that you keep ranting he owns? I am chief of this barangay! Your commander left your punishment to me! And if armed men attack my people, steal our food, and act like pirates, then I will fucking whip them like they’re pirates!”

 

And he raises his hand for the count:

 

“ONE!”

 

---

She flees back to Haik’s paraw before the whips can crack down.

 

He gives a long weary exhale, and hugs her to quell the shaking. “I told you not to keep going.”

 

“We whipped people for stealing?”

 

“Looting,” he corrects her. “Average thieves just got locked up for a week or two, or fined in other places. But the lines were pretty fuzzy--if you stole something important, or from someone important, you’d get some lashes anyway.”

 

“And what makes looting different?”

 

“If only a few families get their food stolen, it’s not hard for the rest of the village to help until the next harvest, or a trader comes along with supplies. Twenty, though? That’s a nice old-fashioned pillaging,” he remarks. “At least sixty people have no food, if they’re very small families with two parents and one child. Twenty families for realistic places, with siblings and aunts and grandparents? That’s close to a hundred, if it isn’t more. Can you justify stealing from that many people?”

 

Of course not. “If the datu only took off three lashes, why bother making a big speech like that?”

 

“To humiliate them,” he says. “You can say ‘Spain owns these islands’ all you like, but how did you prove it in the early days? They were on the datu’s land, treating his people like shit--and he knew everyone who got attacked. You were not just people who worked for him, you were also his friends and neighbors. Feudalism and all its cousins, they run more like gangs than high society. Lots of turf wars, lots of bosses butting heads and doing damage control. Game of Thrones is pretty exaggerated, but the spirit is close to home.”

 

She trails both hands in the water, as if she’s a twelve-year-old trying to catch a fish. The North Pacific is a darker, stonier blue than the south, and the fog of SF is very particular. But the saltwater smells the same, like Haik, and she wraps her arms around his waist.

 

“Fuck--” he shivers and laughs as the saltwater drips down his shirt hem. “Warn me when you do that! Or at least wipe your hands off!” He takes her wrists.

 

“Aren’t you a sea-god?” She grins.

 

“We’re a little far from the islands,” he reminds her, smiling back.

 

As he’s moving her hands off, his shirt rides up and she catches sight of them: Twin loops of dark ink rounding the bones in his hips. “Haik!”

 

“What?” He pulls his shirt and hoodie up, straining to see in the fog. “What’s wrong?”

 

“You have new tattoos!” She definitely would have spotted them before--they’re heavy and thick like brocade, almost grazing his ribs. A nearly-worn memory flickers through her head:

 

After he heard how the eel-god had molested his older sister, Haik flew into a rage and turned into a great roaring dragon to eat his flesh in vengeance, and his bones turned into swarms of eels. His tail split into mottled eels, his fins and body became Indian eels, and his gnashing teeth turned into the great marbled eels. But ay! Such a terrible sight frightened the poor woman, and she ran to the shore and jumped into the sea. Yet the waves knew she was one of the water-people, and they carried her southeast--

 

“Oh.” Haik runs his fingers along them. “This isn’t new. I just haven’t seen it for a while.”

 

“You have more tattoos?”

 

Haik already had so many before Spain came along, and tattoos are tied to people’s souls--did he lose them somehow? Is this is why he’s so sad all the time?

 

“Did you… get rid of them or something?”

 

“You can’t get rid of tattoos,” Haik says. “You’d have to cut your skin off or get inked over.”

 

“Why did they only show up now, then?”

 

“Tattoos are important spiritual expressions, yes, but they weren’t all this woo-woo, untouchable thing. They were like clothing, too.” He checks both his wrists: His crocodile-scales are there as usual, but now his other arm has a sleeve as well--suspiciously modern, with realistic figures and English writing. “Most people in the States wear a shirt and trousers and shoes. Most people in the islands had one or two tattoos, unless you were a child or another Asian settler. The higher-ranking you were, the more tattoos you had.”

 

“Rich people could pay for more tattoos.” She smiles.

 

“Yes,” he laughs. “And they had the spare time, too. Farmers and servants couldn’t take off a week to get fancy chest-pieces.”

 

“Well…” The pieces she’s seen along his waist are already so big and intricate. “What happened to your other tattoos? You didn’t get rid of them, so… what, you took them off?”

 

“Yes.” He holds her. “I took them off.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Why else?” He sighs. “The Spaniards told the tribes to stop tattooing. Some of you did, some of you just scaled things down so you could hide it better.”

 

“Did the gods get mad when we stopped?”

 

“Why would we be mad at you? The Spanish made you stop.” he tells her. “They put all the dark-skinned, tattooed people to hard labor, or threw them away to the mountains and slums and far reaches. If someone holds a gun to your head and tells you to stop doing something, why do you stop? Because you don’t want to die.”

 

The next morning, Haik wept as he sang to the ancestors, and turned his boat’s prow to the bloody rising sun. A hundred days he sought his sister, with the help of his cousins Lumawig and the Four Winds, the sons of Langa-an, the North Wind. They found her on Salapai in the south.

 

So the South Wind is his cousin, Mirasol remembers from his song. “You have a sister? How did she get to Luzon?”

 

“She left New Zealand after our brother tried to kill me,” he says. “There was a storm and half the crew died; the rest would have, too, if Apolaki hadn’t seen them.”

 

Apolaki is the sun-god, she remembers, and she holds him tighter. “What kind of tattoo is that? On your hips?”

 

“The pe’a,” Haik tells her. “From Samoa. That was where the ocean took her.”

 

And then comes one of his own memories:

 

Haik and five other young men are in his paraw, wearing loincloths with gold and silver jewelry. Haik and the Four Winds are on a sliding scale of early-to-mid-twenties, but Lumawig is emphatically the youngest, with how he roams around the boat and how he dresses.

 

Lumawig’s loincloth is purple adorned with a flock of silver-thread birds, shining like mirrors in the sun. He’s handsome and curly-haired, more typically Tagalog since he’s lighter in build and skin-tone than Haik (though that isn’t hard, Mirasol muses). His arms and neck and ankles are decked out with raw turquoise, like he snatched them all out of the high-noon sky, and a feather headdress is nested in his hair, bright and untouched by the sea.

 

A sharp bony fishhook dangles on a cord by Lumawig’s wrist, almost hidden by his gold bangles, and his chest-piece is a massive M-shaped bird tattoo, its head crested like a crown, with thick dark lines of feathers to contrast the empty space of its chest.

 

The monkey-eater was Lumawig’s foster-father, she remembers instinctively as the real bird booms through her head, a shaggy and white-chested giant.

 

The North Wind is the oldest of Haik’s cousins: Long-faced and copper-skinned, with silky black hair all the way down his back. His clothes and jewelry are frosted with silver and white, and the lean silhouette of a frigatebird is on his back.

 

The East and West Winds atop the outriggers are nearly-black twins with wavy hair, covered in island deep-greens and gemstone flowers and bright neon chunks of jade. Their tattoos are two halves of a scene: The East has thick dark monsoon clouds, sweeping hungry across the island of Luzon and its huddled people, but the West’s Luzon is covered in coconut palms and tattooed flowers as joyous dancers reach to the sun.

 

The South Wind is in red and gold, curly-haired like Lumawig--but he’s white like he’s frozen, and it almost startles her out of the memory.

 

On his chest is Mount Pulag, where a child lies limp under pouring rain. The North Wind’s frigatebird is flying above him, and two larger figures--his parents--walk away. On his back, the gigantic North Wind is shaking their house with his hands, mouth raging open; the couple cowers in the cringing way of guilt, and in a dark forest, the child weeps as a woman holds him.

 

But oh, they are all so beautiful.

 

“Don’t get distracted by my sexy young cousins, now,” Haik jokes, but gently--he has to wipe the saltwater off Mirasol’s face.

 

“I never saw that before.” She presses against his shoulder. “Nobody ever told me--if our history doesn’t start with Spain waltzing in and civilizing us, it’s just this fucking footnote. ‘Oh, the tribes were running around half-naked with tattoos, and THEN Spain came and civilized us.’”

 

“We didn’t think we were naked,” Haik reminds her. “Tattoos were part of our clothing.”

 

--but Langa-an’s eldest son, who inherited the North Wind from her, had found him shortly after. She bid him to find the boy’s parents while she recovered his soul, for children need special guidance to the afterlife and often get lost. She returned it to his body before he became a demon from misery, and sheltered and fed him while her eldest sought his parents. But far from mourning, the North Wind found them cooking dinner and sweeping the house, as if they’d never even had a child, much less lost one. He howled and shook their house with his hands, for the North is the oldest and strongest of--

 

She tries to remember, but the rest is patchy.

 

--their fifth boy was born too early. Langa-an and her husband wept to see his arms and legs like needles. She cut all her beautiful hair in grief, wrapped the ailing boy in it, and threw him into the sea as she sang the mourning songs. A merman found the babe tangled in kelp and would have eaten him, but he saw how Lumawig had been wrapped in his mother’s long black hair, and how he slept as if the water was air. He brought Lumawig to his wife and said, “It would be dreadful for such a godling to become a demon. We will foster him a while and then send him to find his parents--”

 

--the East and West Winds were jealous of how their father gave him fine clothes and bid the servants to serve Lumawig even before him, while Langa-an would not discipline him for all the mischief he wrought upon people and other gods, for he was so much like herself. The North Wind chided them: “You were patient when you were boys and I brought the South Wind home, after his parents abandoned him,” he reminded them, “but now that you are almost men and our blood-brother has returned to us, you forget how our parents grieved over him.”

 

--Langa-an and her husband soon began to worry, for their other sons were due to inherit the rest of the winds when grown, and there was nothing left now for Lumawig. When the monkey-eating eagle visited, he laughed when he heard their concern, saying, “Is he not one of the sky-people, Langa-an? I will take him in and teach him to fly.”

 

--the South Wind grew up strong and handsome like his brothers, but as he had died from the mountain’s dread winds and rain, he would always have deathly white skin.

 

“Where’s all your jewelry?” Mirasol asks. “Did you lose it when you got shipwrecked?”

 

“I took it off,” Haik repeats with a sigh. “A long time ago.”

 

They touch land, where a young woman and man are already standing. The woman has Filipino tattoos on her arm and new welted bands down her legs; the man has a pe’a, with thicker lines stretching up from his knees to lower back.

 

They smile.

 

Lumawig crows with glee like a rooster. “Bruh, what did I tell you?! The sea ain’t gonna kill a sea-god’s sister!”

 

“What?! He didn’t say that!” But Mirasol has to fight off the laughter.

 

“He said the ancient Tagalog equivalent,” Haik assures her. “Lumawig isn’t one for formality.”

 

Haik tries to laugh with the saltwater coming down his face. He’s shaking as he walks. “Did they tell you I was coming?” He asks. “The gods, or the ancestors?”

 

“My wife’s brother,” says the man. “The crocodile-god.”

 

Haik makes a small grieving sound, something between love and heartache, and he rushes up to lift her off the sand.

 

The paraw speeds up until she’s twenty or thirty feet behind the ferry; Mirasol’s nervous at first, but nobody on the ferry notices them, and the other boats cruise around them with a placid tweaking of their courses. They’re delivered a quick walk away from the terminal’s gate, and again Haik does the ungngo with the paraw before she departs, vanishing against the horizon.

 

“What’s her name?” Mirasol wonders.

 

“I keep trying to give her one, but she always finds some excuse to get rid of it. Stubborn boat.” Haik laughs as they exit the docks hand-in-hand. He’s trailing soft behind her, like she is the goddess who smuggled them passage, and he the mortal.

 

(But he told her how once, he was human.)

 

And then another memory blasts through her head:

 

The Maori captain is laughing. “Your sea-god has another piece of Maui!”

 

Mirasol shakes her head, grinning. “Don’t tell me Maui’s sister got molested by an eel.”

 

“Sometimes she’s his wife, but the eel--”

 

“What’s her name?” Mirasol asks. “Your sister?”

 

He tries to say it--his mouth works open like it’s rusted--but through his crocodile-arm she can feel his heart beat wild and frantic, and he crunches it back with his teeth. Shakes his head.

 

Is that exhale the first H-sound of her name, trying to escape, or is it just a noise of loneliness?

 

What happened to his ship? His crocodile-tooth necklace, and all the rest of his jewelry? He says he took them off like his tattoos, but where did he put them?

 

“Of course Lumawig goes sailing in all that jewelry and chief’s feathers--his parents never told him no or smacked him,” Rahil says to Mirasol as they thin out the new shoots in her father’s rice-paddy. “He’s the baby of the family and the miracle-child, after all.”

 

“Well, he’s a god,” she reasons. “He doesn’t have to be practical.” She always feels bad about digging the wayward seedlings out, but there won’t be enough room for every single stalk; and at least they’re good treats for the livestock, or compost if nothing else.

 

“Gods can still be stupid, though,” Rahil’s sister grins. “Mirasol, if you absolutely have to sleep with a hot stranger who showed up out of nowhere, make sure it’s Haik or one of Lumawig’s brothers. They aren’t spoiled like he is.”

 

“There’s this thing called no-baby tea,” she points out.

 

“Yeah, but you got too much land in you,” Rahil says. “You’re gonna get attached if he stays too long. The last time Lumawig married a land-woman, they argued so much that he stole her face. The sea-people like Haik, the water-people, they live right over there.” She motions left, where the watering-channels for the rice paddies cut through the green around the river.

 

---

Mirasol once knew this designation of the elements: Land-or-metal-or-stone, fire, sky, fresh-or-salt-water, and all the relationships between them. Most people had a good balance and some had too much of one thing, like her. But really, they were more guidelines.

 

“Ay.” Haik nods when she asks about it, grinning. He winds them through a gap in the crowd of murmuring people so they can reach a bench. “Lumawig’s brothers are sky-men, but they weren’t spoiled rotten. Therefore, nobody warned their easily-heartbroken friends to stay away.”

 

“While conveniently advising people to sleep with you, as another of Lumawig’s non-spoiled relatives.” She sits with him. “Wasn’t it… blasphemous or something, to talk about gods like they’re celebrities?”

 

Very blasphemous.” He winks. “We hated when people talked about how beautiful and famous we were. We’d punish them by pretending to be mysterious, sexy travelers, showing up in the middle of the night, and asking if we could stay. Mayari-who-is-the-moon especially hated when young men spent the night gazing up at her and singing love songs.”

 

She laughs. “I think I saw her. In the dream. She had an eye-patch and moon tattoos.”

 

“Did she see you?”

 

“Yes.” She shivers to remember how fast Mayari-who-is-the-moon turned, like a wolf scenting prey. “She looked right at me, through her eye-patch, and she got me onto the ship somehow.”

 

“Did she see me?”

 

She doesn’t want to answer, but he’ll probably hear it in her thoughts anyway. Maybe he sees it right now, on her face. “She… she asked if you were with me.”

 

“Better than nothing.” But Haik the son of voyagers is lonely again, cold and yearning despite the sea of voices around them.

 

“Did I… leave, somehow? When she got me on the ship?”

 

“Your soul did,” Haik says. “But it’s always leaving, just to stretch or walk around--it’s too big for that little shape of yours. It wasn’t a problem before Spain, when you knew how to handle it or you could ask someone to help. Maybe that’s why you’re always open.”

 

What do Filipino souls look like? Are all of them the same size, ill-fitting if someone’s too big or small? Or do they grow in their vessels and you need to prune them, before they run wild like an untended garden?

 

But then Mirasol’s phone buzzes with a call. “Hey, Rahil?”

 

“Hey,” she says. “Hadassah’s a little late, but she’ll be there soon.”

 

“Don’t worry, it’s San Francisco. Everyone’s late.” She tries to laugh and hangs up.

 

In the conversations of the people around them, offset by the boats’ horns and the rush of lapping water, Haik whispers: “Hina.”

 

“Do you want to move somewhere quiet?”

 

“My sister,” he says. “Hina who follows the moon. That’s her name.”

 

And the sound of it now, how it makes the threads of memories-prayers-dreams blow around the small hot core of Mirasol’s chest, it makes her want to cry--how long has Haik thought she and their cousins and all the other gods were dead? Did he lose them all in one huge crush of looting and burning, or did they disappear in twos or threes over the centuries?

 

“If Haik is the sea-god, why is his sister named for being soft?”

 

“We don’t call her Hina because she’s weak,” says her uncle. “In the old tongue that the ancestors used, ‘hina’ just means ‘falling.’ She is a moon-goddess who fell into the sea.”

 

How long has it been since he’s said any of their names?

 

“Isn’t Mayari a moon-goddess?”

 

“No, she’s the moon.” He chuckles. “The Tagalog Mayari is only a hundred or so years old, but time is different for gods than for mortals.”

 

“There’s another Mayari?”

 

“The older Mayari is from Pampanga,” he says. “She and Apolaki were not always siblings, or called by those names--but it makes sense for the moon and the sun to be related. They must have called something deep down in the Fil-Americans, after you heard their story. And if you worship these gods, why would they tell you, ‘Do not feed me as your own family?’ ‘Find someone else to give your love and prayers to?’ Besides, Americans are not the same as Tagalogs and Kapampangans from the islands--you are so much closer to the indios, after all.”

 

“Why is that?”

 

“Because American women fight,” Haik laughs. “You are not content to be like the little Catholic Marias, gentle and patient and obedient. It was easy for Mayari to go across the sea and give you a piece of her--this woman who fought her brother to rule the world. She grew like a weed when she got here. It’s not to say the islander women don’t fight, but... America is kinder to them here.”

 

He presses his cheek into her hair.

 

“Mirasol?”

 

“Oh, Hadassah?”

 

And there’s the local Wonder Woman: Dark curls and dark eyes over a red mouth, she towers in her business suit and laughs when Haik stands up--even he’s a couple inches below her. “Yes, you’re the right ones.”

 

Mirasol can’t place her accent, but it’s extremely Middle Eastern as opposed to the Yiddish accent she’s used to.

 

“How are you taller than him?” She wonders.

 

“Because she’s cheating,” Haik laughs, with a nod to her heels. “I’m Haik.”

 

“Hadassah.” She shakes his hand. “Were you waiting a long time?”

 

“Don’t worry, we got here a few minutes ago.” Mirasol takes Haik’s arm on the way to the car.

 

“How was the ferry?”

 

“All right,” Mirasol says. “It was a nice ride, we just had to avoid wasting money on the food.”

 

Hadassah chuckles as she unlocks the doors, but it’s only for show: Once the doors close, the three of them go quiet.

 

---

Berura is white-haired with leathery skin and glasses, but she waves from the top of the steps as Hadassah’s car enters the driveway.

 

“Hello, Bubbeh,” Hadassah greets her after they’re all inside. “This is Mirasol and Haik. They’re the ones Rahil talked to me about.”

 

“Oh, Ha-ik? Not a Spanish name?” Berura wonders. Her voice is surprisingly graveled and deep, for someone who looks so harmless.

 

“Nope, I’m extremely Tagalog,” Haik laughs. “Technically my name is Malaysian, but my parents traveled a lot.”

 

 “Well, come along,” Berura waves for them. “I’ll start getting dinner ready at seven.”

 

In the living room, things are quiet again. Hadassah shuttles glasses of water to Mirasol and Haik, while Berura pours herself a glass of whiskey.

 

“You didn’t have to do this,” Haik says.

 

“Oh, honey, I’m Jewish,” Berura says. “We all spotted the signs once Trump started running for election. It was only a matter of when.”

 

Haik sighs as he gets his hoodie off, and to their surprise, Berura’s face lights up at how his arm is covered from shoulder to wrist in crocodile scales: “Good god, what are those?”

 

He laughs. “They’re my tattoos. I get this a lot.”

 

“Are you part Polynesian, then? I figured you were too giant for a full Filipino,” Berura says. “Look at that one over there.”

 

And Haik laughs with the rest of them.

 

“I’m Tagalog, I’m just a freak of nature,” Haik jokes. “But Filipino culture, before we became Catholic--we were very close to Polynesian. Our tattoos were like clothing, but they were also sacred,” he explains. “They tell people who you are, and where you come from. The artist needs to pray for a while before they start tattooing, and you don’t really tell them what kind of design you want, unless it’s something important to you. The gods and the ancestors talk to the artist about specifics.”

 

“Oh, really?” Berura steps up and peers at his crocodile-arm through her glasses. “They must have been talking an awful long time about you.

 

“Not for every single line.” And he chuckles. “These are crocodile scales; ancient Filipinos called them dragons, so sailors and fishers would get crocodile tattoos for protection. In old times, the warriors would get their faces tattooed with croc teeth, too.”

 

“How beautiful.” She chugs the rest of her glass. “I only have one, and it’s not much to look at.”

 

She pushes her sleeve up and taps her forearm: There, a set of numbers lie in faded blue.

 

“Oh,” Hadassah spots the looks on their faces. “Bubbeh.”

 

“That’s not a tattoo,” Haik tells her gently. “That’s a prison name.”

Next Chapter: Part 9.