“Papa, look,” Corazon pointed out to sea.
Soon after, Corazon and her father pulled three kids onto their little fishing boat out from an orange life raft. There were two brothers, and an older girl. The older boy mumbled something about a shipwreck and a bad storm. Corazon took the hint and pressed no further, fetching the plastic bag of cut pineapple from her purse to share with their new passengers.
En route to the mainland and stuffed full of fruit, the kids were still pretty rattled, but Corazon knew just what to do.
“Papa, why don’t you tell a story to pass the time?” They shared a look.
And that was all he needed.
Bagyo: The Storm
“Ah, inday, there was a storm once, many years ago, her name was…
‘Yolanda? Psh, where is she?’ A man sat at the corner table in our karaoke bar with a beer in his hand. ‘The sky is clear! Many typhoons have hit before!’
‘Watch out, she’ll come and get you!’ We laughed. We didn’t know.
Within hours the storm was thick, pounding.
We huddled in the closet: me, my sister, Corazon, my son, his wife, and their three kids.”
Corazon continued: “My Tita held her rosary close in shaking hands and we all prayed with her, starting over every time the noises of the storm made us cry out, for fear.”
“The storm was very rude, interrupting us. We would pray: Our Father who art in heav- ahhh! Our Father wh- ahhh! Our Father who- ah! In h-heaven… ahhh! And go on like that as the wind blew away our walls and shook the ground and left us damp and terrified. The little ones were crying. We all were.”
The three kids in the boat were watching Corazon and her father.
“The storm passed and we left the closet. We looked around. We saw the sky through a hole in the front of the house. My Tita held up a photo album, sadly. It dripped.”
“But the statue of Mama Mary and the Santo Niño was untouched and still standing, not even wet!” Corazon’s father grinned wide, awe in his eyes.
Corazon continued: “We were alive. We went outside, and found a neighbor standing, hands on hips in the road, staring at his house past a gate removed from its hinges. Papa clapped his hand down on a shoulder and laughed loudly, ‘You’ve got no roof!’ They turned to take a look at our house and cracked a grin. ‘You’ve got no roof too!’ They laughed and walked together through the roofing debris and drying clothes in the road looking at all the other houses that Yolanda’s fingers had touched. It’s the Filipino way. When there’s nothing we can do, we laugh and start again.
This is how we recovered.
The Red Cross came a few days later. They brought generators for the hospitals and showed the news on a projector screen. We charged our phones. We contacted family overseas, let them know we were safe. My husband in America told me the government promised us corned beef. We got sardines.
The news headlines: The Strongest Storm to Ever Make Landfall.
Typhoon Haiyan: Thousands Feared Dead in The Philippines.
Those of us who had money couldn’t even buy anything because there was nothing left to buy. We got construction materials through foreign donations. The contractors were busy.
This is how we were able to rebuild.”
The older boy was looking out to the sea.
Corazon continued: “The kids had a much harder time. They were used to the air conditioning and cartoons we no longer had. We were living in a tent in the house set up between the walls still standing, and we had to fan the kids with pay-pays so they’d be cool enough to fall asleep.”
Corazon’s father took over: “At night, we looked at the stars. We gave them their own names and stories. The kids were restless, so I said: ‘You see those three stars up there?’ I pointed. ‘They are holding hands and walking together in heaven. Why do they walk together?’
The First Child’s Star
‘The first star was a little girl who sat and watched the sea from trees, eating the fruit she was supposed to bring down to her mama. Then her mama would call, pshhht! and the girl would gather the fruit into the front of her shirt and climb down the tree to put the fruit into a wheelbarrow. One day the girl’s mama asked, what do you look at up in the trees? and the girl answered, I look out at the sea and think of the salt water slipping through my fingers and the wet sand sticking to my toes. The girl’s mama smiles and pinches the girl’s cheek, and tells her to pick some mangoes from up above. One day, the girl is picking fruit and looking out at the sea when she sees a snake, screams, and drops the fruit. She falls from the tree and breaks her leg. Her mama cradles her in her arms, and sets her bones. Later, the girl asks, mama, can we go to the sea? And so her mama carries her to go see the sea. That’s where the first star is going.’
‘And why does the second star walk with the girl and her mama?’
The Second Child’s Star
”The second star was a swimming boy who never had any fun swimming. He would practice and practice to go faster and faster until he was tired and could not swim anymore. He swam laps in competition by the pier between two boats, and he always won. He never saw the squatting boys fishing with their little hooks on their lines wrapped around their hands. He never saw the sun set or rise even though he swam morning and night. He never saw the bats overhead, leaving and returning to their sanctuary caves. He only saw the water moved by his hands and the boat in front of him. One day he got sick of it and quit. He said he would never go back to the sea because it was no fun. One day, he saw a woman carrying her daughter and he asked, where are you going? and they answered, to the sea! The boy shook his head and asked, why would you want to go to the sea? It’s no fun! The girl responded, but it is! It’s beautiful! I see it from the trees near my home when I gather fruit! The woman added, Come with us and I’ll show you how to have fun in the sea. The boy followed. The woman set her daughter down in the shallows where she cupped the water in her hands and let it slip through her fingers, then began packing sand over her legs. The boy followed the woman into the water until they were waist deep, and then she said, do as I do, and lay back into the water with her arms and legs spread, staring straight up at the sky. The boy did as the woman did, and floated in the water on his back, looking up at the sky. He felt the slight rocking of the waves as he watched clouds pass overhead. He saw a rabbit, a tree; a girl with a broken leg, splashing in the sea. He was at peace with the ocean, he liked the water after all. Ever since then, the boy has walked to the sea with the woman and her daughter to float on his back and look at the clouds.’
‘And why does the third star walk with the woman, her daughter, and the boy?’
The Third Child’s Star
‘The third star was a girl who feared the sea. When she was young, her mama set her in the shallows and went back to get her sunglasses. A big wave came and washed her into the sea and she almost drowned, but her mama came back and saved her. Since then she’s avoided even the smallest waves. She liked to look, but was afraid to touch because they might take her away. She would sit on the edge of the pier and kick her feet, looking out at all the people swimming. One day she sat in the sand, and as high tide rolled in, she would scoot further and further up the beach to avoid even the tips of the waves. A boy saw this, and asked, why do you scoot away from the water? And she told him, I am afraid the waves will take me away and drown me. He nodded, and left. The next day he came back and found the girl sitting on the beach again. He handed her a pair of arm floaties. She stared at them. He said, if you put these on, I’ll teach you how to swim. Then you can swim away when the waves try to drown you. She said yes, and so every day she would walk to the sea with the boy, a woman, and her daughter so she could swim away from drowning.’
And that’s the story of the three stars who walk toward the sea.
We told stories to keep away the boredom. To keep us from fearing what the storm had done to us.
As the days went on, so did we.
Then we started hearing reports of bad men wandering the streets, breaking into homes and stealing or killing.
And so that’s when the monsters came.”
“Monsters?” The younger boy asked.
“Ah yes, the folktales of legend, returned from the past. We were all afraid. Weeks in and we couldn’t help our paranoia. So we turned our fear into stories: they were not murderers, robbers and thieves; they were monsters.
The Pointy Sticks
There rumors started spreading about killers knocking on doors, stealing, raping. Everyone started sharpening bamboo sticks and putting them outside their houses for protection. We kept some pointy sticks inside too, just in case. There was still no electricity at home, little communication, half-built roofs— any knowledge we had came from the hospital and their news projections.
If we heard a rustling nearby, we’d say, ‘there’s a man in the bushes!’ We got suspicious when we saw strangers: ‘Who’s that guy? I don’t know that guy!’ We pointed our sticks. The birds stopped chirping, instead they went WAKWAK! WAKWAK! And we would spit at them and make the sign of the cross.
There was a man on a bus once who was all wet— still pale and dripping. People would say of him, ‘I was sitting next to a ghost!’ As we would stand in line for our food, the Agtas in the trees would laugh down at us, menacingly.”
Corazon added: “They were huge men with long black beards, swaying with mouths full of cigars.”
“And we really had to watch out for the Tiyanak! In crowds it looks like a cute baby, but when you’re alone it turns into a monster and bites your neck!” Corazon’s father leaned forward with his hands as claws and snapped his jaws shut. The kids’ eyes went wide.
“Now, Corazon was pregnant at the time the storm hit, so we really had to look out for the Aswang…
The Aswang and How Corazon’s Son Got His Name
Corazon never took her hands off of her belly for fear of it.”
Corazon explained: “An Aswang is a bat-person. They’re very dangerous to pregnant women. They have these long tongues that they use to dig holes in pregnant bellies so they can steal and eat the babies.”
Corazon’s father continued: “So we were very watchful for the Aswang. Whenever we saw one, Corazon’s brother would take off and chase it down the street with a pointy stick. One time he swung at an Aswang he had cornered but he missed and hit an unstable shack, which came down on him. He lost his leg, but we celebrated because he did not die. When I saw that Aswang again I snuck up behind it and I beat it on the head with a stick. When it got up off the ground it just flew away again.”
Corazon continued: “So we asked an old woman down the street how to kill an Aswang and she told us: ‘The Aswang has two halves,’ she said. ‘The top half wants your baby— a woman covered in oil. It comes off and flies away with its bat wings, leaving the bottom half behind. You must find the bottom half and throw salt on it, or wrap it with a necklace of garlic! It will burn and so when the top half of the Aswang tries to return to its bottom half it can’t become whole again and it dies!'”
The girl asked, “Did you find it!?”
Corazon laughed, “Yes, we did. And I gave birth to my baby boy.” She showed a picture of him on her phone. “His name is Yolando, for the storm.”
The younger boy spoke up, softly: “I have a story.
The Younger Boy’s Story
You know how when God bowls we get thunder and lightning? Well once upon a time God was spinning around in a spinny chair and it made a whirlpool on earth—”
That’s not how it happened!”
“But my version’s better!”
“No! It was like this:
The Older Boy’s Story
“There was a really bad storm and we saw a ship getting closer to our ship and then there was an explosion and we all fell into the water—”
The Girl’s Story
“And then the mermaids came and rescued us from the whirlpool and took us to a little orange raft and pulled us away to safety.” She was holding the younger boy’s hand and glaring at the older boy.
Corazon smiled sadly and took the girl’s other hand. “What did the mermaids look like?”
“They had glittering tails and kind faces.” The girl squeezed Corazon’s hand.
Corazon’s father started up another story:
“We were still recovering from Yolanda but another typhoon was already on its way. Not as strong, but certainly not welcome. Her name was Ruby. When she came, we threw out all our ruby jewelry and spat on the ground!” He spit for emphasis.
The kids laughed.
“See, it’s the Filipino way! Other people, they whine, they complain, they nyehnyehknyenyekne but us? No! We laugh, we move on with it, we bangon, we rise up! Bangon Pilipinas!”
“But we’re not from the Philippines…”
“You are in Filipino waters now so you are temporary Filipino. Bangon mo!”
They kept telling stories into the night.
Corazon woke them at dawn, motioning her chin out to the front of the boat. Softly,
“Look. The shore.”
Corazon and her Papa helped the kids onto the land.
The girl picked at the paint on the side of the boat, red chips falling to the water: Shahrazad.