Dinner is a chicken hamin stew, with rice and boiled-to-brown eggs in the shell. Hummus and pita lighten it up at the end, and the bite of sunny tartness inexplicably reminds Mirasol of the sinigang she made for Haik that first evening--suddenly she doesn’t want anymore.
If Haik changed his mind about his children being gods, can he become human again?
No, the voice in the sky tells her gently, and she finally pins it down to a man’s voice. You cannot take back a god’s gift nor their punishment. And you cannot unmake a god and turn them human, even to return them to their birth state.
Haik thought the gods were all dead until today, she points out.
A dead god is still a god. Does a dead bird become human?
She wants to ask if shapeshifters count, just to be a bitch, but Haik’s laugh jolts her out of it.
“Your eyes are too big for your stomach, ay?” He nudges her shoulder. “You’ve been staring at that for a couple of minutes.”
“Okay, too full.” She had a good helping of the hamin already, so all she has to do is finish her bread to Berura’s cackling. “I think I’ll go to bed now. Haik?”
“Mm-hm.” He finishes the last bite of his egg, tucks his plate under hers, and puts them in the sink. “Me too.”
So Hadassah points them to her room, the second door down the hall. (She’ll sleep on the couch, she tells them.)
Mirasol goes straight to the bed after she changes, curling up under the blanket in a chill of loneliness, but Haik drifts over to the mirror, shed clothes trailing after him.
There is his arm full of crocodile batok and his modern-day sleeve tattoo, so different and yet so at home on his skin. His crocodile back-ridges stretch down until they meet the pe’a. Most of it’s covered by his boxers, but the lines go from his waist to his knees.
“Oy. Tatay,” Haik asks the ceiling, and the sky-voice laughs. “Why did you put them all back?”
Don’t ask me, he chuckles. It’s you.
“These aren’t all of them--you also had face and chest tattoos,” Mirasol says.
“Still.” Haik traces a hand on his modern sleeve, from shoulder to wrist. “I’d think ‘the two biggest tattoos’ are more of a message than ‘a bunch of little ones.’”
There are tattooed bands on his ankles--too thick and heavy for a woman’s anklets, Mirasol remembers from the ones on Filipino women.
She can’t help it--she heads over like a moth to a very dark flame, and he laughs and sits down so she can look. “Did you get the pe’a because your sister married a Samoan?”
“They wanted to,” he chuckles. “I mean, with this right in the open--” his crocodile-arm, what else? “And my cousins’ tattoos, and how we were all dressed--it’s pretty clear the girl who washed up a few months ago was important. But I had to wait till my niece was born.”
More family, Mirasol thinks with a sting of longing. What was his niece’s name? How old was she when Spain arrived? Mirasol hopes she was old enough to remember how things used to be. Would she call Mirasol Auntie, or Tita? What’s the word for aunt in Tagalog?
“Ali,” Haik whispers into her hair. “Or ale, depending on your accent. Uncle is amain.”
“Why did they wait till then?”
“They didn’t wait--I did,” Haik says. “It was a bit more relaxed for Samoa, but in Luzon, you could not get tattoos without blood ties to a community. The Samoans were not my people--they were my sister’s. Why would I demand a tattoo from people who have no blood ties to me? Tattoos are connections to the people and the land, and you cannot pretend to have them, even if they offer the tattoo. At best you were a liar and you’d get humiliated once word got out. At worst you’d get cursed by the gods, or the ancestors of the people you stole your tattoo from.”
“I’m guessing you don’t like the flood of tourists flying to the Philippines to get batok because it’s ‘cool’ and ‘authentic’?”
“Neither do you.” He says it gently, but it still stings like when she first read the articles.
“If rich white people can spend a thousand dollars to go to the Philippines, why can’t they give me a hundred bucks for my own tattoo?” She huffs, curling up under his crocodile-arm. “There’s lots of Fil-Americans in the Bay Area. Someone would know who to ask about batok.”
“If he has all those tattoos already, why won’t he get the pe’a?” Hina’s husband wonders one evening. “He can sail to find his sister for three months, but he can’t get another tattoo?”
“In Luzon, we cannot get tattoos without blood ties,” she explains over the cooking fire. “It’s nice that you’re offering, but--”
“He has a blood tie to Samoa,” he points out. “It’s you.”
“It doesn’t work that way for us,” she says. “Our parents were from… from Ha-vai-i.” She stumbles over it like a little girl; maybe that was the last time she said the name of their homeland. “Our brother tried to kill him, so he rode a humpback whale to Luzon, and I went after him. The Tagalogs called us gods and adopted us as their own. If you gave him a smaller tattoo, it would be fine, but something as big as the pe’a--that’s insulting to our people.”
“Aren’t you gods, Sina? You can do what you want.”
“We’re gods because they called us gods,” Hina sighs. “We are not like our cousins--they were born that way. And even without it--what if the Tagalogs wanted to give him more batok, before he ran off and got a foreigner’s tattoos? Haik might be a giant, but even he’s going to run out of skin at some point.”
“I’m not a foreigner, Sina, I’m his brother-in-law--okay.” Her husband takes a breath. “Okay, we’ll talk more tomorrow.”
“If you want to ask him again, wait about a year.”
“A year? Why?”
“Because that’s about how long it takes to get a blood tie to Samoa.” She grins.
“I can give you a tattoo if you can’t pay an artist,” Haik offers. “Just to start out. I remember the songs, and the basic designs.”
Would he tap them on himself, with the hammer and needle? Has he given tattoos to his other followers, with an increasing lack of human tattoo artists?
But though half of her soul starts yearning for a tattoo that doesn’t cost her the groceries or the bills (she’s not poor, she just doesn’t have spare money), the other half wants to hear the tattooing songs from another person. Get walked through the rituals, so Haik can take a break and watch from the sidelines for once.
(So much singing in the Philippines, she muses. Songs for weddings, for funerals, for magic, songs for getting tattoos.)
“You don’t have to do everything for me,” she says. “There’s at least one batok artist floating around in the Bay Area. And if they don’t have time for it, I can get a tattoo designed and then find a Samoan or Hawaiian to tap it on.”
He laughs. “Samoan designs are closer to batok, but Hawaii has a lot of Pinoys.”
She studies Haik’s anklets to feel better. Are they Filipino tattoos, or Samoan? Does he have relatives in another part of the Pacific? Or are they just a replacement for his anklets like the deep water, since tattoos were like clothes for the Filipinos?
“Plus, it hurt like a bitch when they were happy to give me a tattoo,” Haik adds ruefully. “I wouldn’t want them to hammer away like they’re building a house. Especially once they got to these blokes.” He taps a couple inches below his waistband.
“They tattoo everything?”
He laughs, sheepish--she doesn’t know if he’s answered her or not.
Haik is limping into the tree-shaded sea with the help of the East and West Winds, as his other cousins and Hina’s husband follow along; the upper half of his pe’a is bloody and welted around his plain, undyed loincloth. Once the saltwater touches the ink, he nearly falls over.
“Ohhhhhh no.” He balks, to his cousins’ amusement. “Stop-stop-stop--”
“Don’t let your tattoo get infected!” The East Wind laughs. “Y’all already got the first half finished! Come on!”
“Look, one-two-three and we go deeper, Kuya,” says the West Wind. But his eyes are sparkling with mischief, and the East Wind grins behind Haik’s shoulder.
“Okay.” Haik groans. “Okay, one--”
The twins drag him in all the way up to his chest, and he bellows and thrashes like a shark.
“Is it okay for him to yell so loud that the ancestors hear it?” The South Wind asks, struggling to keep a straight face. “Kuya got his whole arm tattooed after he ate the damn crocodile! He didn’t cry like a twelve-year-old then.”
“We don’t make twelve-year-olds get the pe’a!” Hina’s husband laughs. “That’s just mean! We let them get it when they’re sixteen or seventeen--any younger and it’s gonna get ruined when they grow up.”
“They said rinse it off, you stupid shits, you don’t have to soak me!”
“Anyway--he can cry and cuss us out all he wants, as long as he finishes,” Hina’s husband assures. “If y’all got a problem with how he deals, y’all get the pe’a yourselves. If he gives up, though, the whole family’s gonna get laughed at for the rest of his life.”
“Damn. Kuya, y’all hear that?” Lumawig calls to the struggling Haik. “We gonna drag your giant ass back to the tattoo artist if we have to! Y’all are immortal, you ain’t gonna die unless someone tries to kill you again!”
“Motherfuckers, I hate you!” Haik tries to swim away from the twins, but with the skin on his legs so sore, he can only flail a few feet.
The North Wind is the only one trying not to laugh (he is the oldest, after all), but he’s shaking like a leaf in a storm.
And Haik laughs again to remember this, while Mirasol traces the lines along his knees; some of them seem as thin as the strands of her hair.
“How long did it take?”
“Fifty days if you count the breaks,” Haik says. “Thirty-eight and a half for the tattooing.”
“Thirty-eight and a half?”
“I counted.” He grins. “In theory it would only take two weeks if the artist tattooed me nonstop, but in real life, the artist and the client both need to rest.”
“Aren’t you a god?” She reminds him. “You could heal yourself up overnight, even if the artist still needs a break.”
“I was human once,” Haik says to her. “And even if I wasn’t, enduring pain is the whole point of tattoos for the Philippines and Samoa. If I came home bragging about my pe’a, and the Tagalogs found out I did not wash it in the sea or let the welts go down on their own--well, they’re just going to laugh at me. A god who skips over the messy parts of tattooing? Who leaves the mortal men to suffer alone? That’s as arrogant as getting a foreigner’s tattoo.”
What a tender way of viewing godhood, so heavily tied to honor and community. Do the other gods think like Haik? Not one of his cousins offered to heal him up, and their mother brought the South Wind back to life.
Mapulon healed up our whale-daughter’s legs, Mirasol muses. But then, being shot in the womb is different from getting a tattoo.
“I saw her,” Mirasol says. “Our daughter. In the ship.”
“Our daughter,” she says. “She’s alive. She’s coming to find us, with the others.”
Silence. A few panting, terrified breaths--and then come all his questions, gushing out like blood. “How old is she now? Does she look like you, does she look like me? What was she wearing? What’s her voice like now? Can she walk, is she still hurting? Is she mad at me?”
“She’s not mad.” Where did that come from? “First thing she asked me: ‘Where is Papa?’” She imitates the little-girl tone, but that may have been a mistake.
Haik who made the devilfish, he cries.