EVELINA GALANG: PHILIPPINE AMERICAN WRITER

 

THREE STORIES BY M. EVELINA GALANG

 


THE LOOK-ALIKE WOMEN

ecause you are all beautiful -- but in different ways. Your skin’s yellow and light as the moon; and other times you are the color of the earth, of clay from the red rocks, from the mountain; or you are baked golden-brown like the crust of honey bread.

Because you have dark hair, fine like the silk from milkweed, or coarse like hemp and black like a sleeping universe, so black it shines blue. Your hair melts in the wind, strays from the face. A face that's sometimes round like a pearl from the bottom of the sea or angular like the rocks at the edge of that same ocean.


Because you are all exotic. Sensual and mysterious as red silk kimonos. Passionate like volcanoes, Mount Fuji and Pinatubo. Sexy like the girls who
danced in clubs along Olongapo. Fierce like Miss Saigon. Crafty like Mata Hari. Obedient like the Geisha girls from old Japan or the mail order brides, the ones in the glossy catalogues. Because you bear children well and please your husbands -- always your husbands first.


Because you are ladies. Because you've been raised to wait for the man. Wait for him. He will ask you. He will guide you. Protect you. Comfort you. Provide you with everything -- everything except the cooking and the cleaning and the ironing and the children and the bookkeeping and the house and the rest.


Because you are smart, all smart. Book-smart, doctors, lawyers, chemists. Sense-smart wives and daughters. Some of you follow your intuition; some of you follow the rules learned in books, equations of the mind. And still there are those of you who follow lessons you've learned from your mothers. Other wise women. Other sisters. Others.


Because you know the finer arts. Because you are a dancer, a violinist, pianist, a poet, a fabulous cook, a seamstress of fine needlework, a painter, a singer, a movie star, the center of attention.Because you are so well behaved, never speaking out of turn. Never speaking up. Subservient. Obedient. Quiet. Because no one sees you hiding away in the library, surrounded by your stacks of books, or working late at the lab, or typing madly at your computer during all hours of the night, or painting walls inside your house, or shaving wood and sanding old tables and vanities. Because no one sees you carrying stones for your garden, the chairs for the dining room, the sofa, they call you orchid, silk rose, golden butterfly. Because no one bothers to look when you are standing up. When you’re speaking out. Because when they do, you are an anomaly. One of a kind. Wave maker.


Because "different" is not looked upon endearingly. Because friends are hard to find. To keep. Because it's easier to just let them believe what they want to believe. Because even though you look more Chinese than your sister Edna, who looks Spanish like your grandmother, they all say, "I can hardly tell you two apart." Because there seems to be no lines, no walls, between the Japanese, Vietnamese, Koreans, Chinese and the Filipina, even you have come to believe you are no different than the rest. The look alike women, the beautiful women. The women of the Orient.


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MIX LIKE STIR FRY


orn on the very edge of the east coast of the United States of America, you ‘ve lived in many places, known your share of McDonald's and Wendy's lunches, dinners in an assortment of Chinatowns. When you were growing up, there was no place to go for Thai food, Vietnamese food, Korean or Filipino food. There was only Chinese food. And people would say, "Let's go out for Chinese," like they were out to get a China man or woman.


Later,your parents planted you in the heartland, among wheat and corn. You doused your share of grilled cheese sandwiches down with bottles of chocolate milk. You and your brothers watched Leave It to Beaver and I Dream of Jeannie, sometimes before nap time, sometimes after. At dinner you ate several dishes with rice -- beef, pork, chicken -- seasoned with soy sauce, not salt from the girl with the umbrella, but soy sauce from the Asian mart. When you moved to Brookfield, kids at school assumed you were a Chink or a Nip. They did the usual tugging at the corners of their eyes, chanting, "Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees look at these." Of course, you’re not sure how the rest goes, or even if this is how it went, you were too busy running away, or plugging your ears, never really listening.


In high school, you worked hard to fit in, not knowing what else to do. In a cluster of girls, you leaned against green metallic lockers, one leg up, sinking your small chest into books and folders, trading secret-coded notes with Sarah Schaefer, Perrie Olson, and Mary Jo Starr, giggling when the boys drifted past, always giggling. Your favorite thing to do was to strut around in red-tagged Levis, a faded denim shirt and clogs, a Farrah Fawcett perm, your All-American teenage look. You could talk fast like the best of them. So fast that you and Sarah would compete, testing your endurance, speaking run-ons that went two minutes without a breath, so fast you clipped your words, so fast you spoke in initials. I.D.B.I meant I don't believe it. You listened to R.E.O Speedwagon and Foghat . Knew every single word -- every breath -- to Meatloaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Lights." You’d grown into the typical teen, were invited to all the senior parties because you were "in" -- one of them -- a Brookfield girl, a Wisconsin Badger, All-American, and somehow your color was lost, bleached from your face. People said, "You're a minority? Really? Which one?"


Shaped in such a way, you no longer stuck out, weren’t different, you laced your spoken language with "likes" and "ya knows." Cracked gum and traveled in packs of teenagers who spoke at once, never listening, never bothering to check your grammar. You sat at the counters at Mac's, drinkingshakes and eating fries after football games, games you never watched, only attended. You did good, girl. You got letters from your cousins in the Philippines, little works of art, carved in ornate letters and perfect English. They were not hip to your Brookfield slang. You’d write them back with bubble-penmanship, writing that now makes you think of comic book dialog, just to show them how cool you were, how great the States were, how backwards their traditional lives must be. And still, after all that work, something was not right. You were like that piece people jammed into thousand piece puzzles, shoved into the corners of other perfectly fit pieces, regardless of what shape you were. Sure, you blended in pretty well, wore the right colors, did your best to look the part, but you were part of the sleeve, the shoulder of the puzzle and you were placed somewhere in the torso.


And after you moved to the big city, you noticed how brave strangers were, how they didn't think twice about stopping you on the street, pausing at the entrance of the subway, asking, asking, asking, "Are you Japanese? Speak Chinese? Come from Vietnam?" No. No. NO. None of your business, you'd say. Where are you from, you'd ask. Sometimes you ignored them, but more often than not, too irritated to leave it alone, you opened your mouth and the words spilled out. "Brookfield," you'd tell them with a snarl. "I'm from Brookfield, Wisconsin."


Occasionally, you'll meet an American soldier who was stationed on Clark Airforce Base near Mount Pinatubo. Before he even says hello, he's smiling at you, somehow recognizing you and saying, Ano ng pangalan mo? What's your name. Or, Maganda ng babae ka. Like you'd believe any stranger who says you’re a beautiful girl in English, much less Tagalog. You've walked out of restaurants, or parked your car downtown, and sometimes they just yell from across the street. Maganda ng babae ka! Ganda!


Ignore those hecklers the same way you’re deaf to construction workers and frat boys. Think of those women who worked the strip in Olongapo, sliding their bodies around poles, dancing seductively for their rent, for their bastard babies, curling their tiny brown legs against the white pillar thighs of the boys from the States. Wonder why it is these soldiers talk like this, telling you you’re beautiful in a language neither one of you grew up speaking. Know what they're saying and still shake your head, say, "I'm sorry, I don't understand."


Finally, after all the voices, hear your own and know, you are one of a kind. An anomaly. Making waves is what you do best. Take everything you've been told and taught and given and heard and not heard, everything that you are and mix fast like stir-fry. Go about your business, sorting laundry as you go, leafing through your bills, counting ghost crabs on the beach. This is your life. Ignore the voices who want you to explain. You don’t have to. It is enough for you to know, you are not white, you are not from China or Japan or even, you’re not even from the Philippines, the place where your parents are from. You are from the Midwest. You are an American. You’re what they call American-born-Filipina.


Some will look and not recognize you, not see the color of you, will insist, "This world is really black and white, and you are white." While others, brown as you and darker will say you’re nothing without this auburn hue, you are only where you are because you were born a brown girl. They will not hear the music in your voice, see the color of your actions, know the merit of your work. Ignore them. This is your life. Get on with your day -- changing lanes on east coast highways, rubbing Buddhas everywhere, planting basil in milk-box gardens or cracking jokes in your sweet, sweet lover’s bed. Get on with it. Look in the mirror. See. At last, your voice rises above the others and speaks to you, guides you, brings you to this place where you can find your wild American self, a woman who speaks out with nasal twang, drinks beer with brats and rice, and dances when no one’s looking.


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excerpts from
WHAT IS TRIBE


ONE
ade up on black. A sky the texture of crushed velvet. The moon, an eggshell of light. The pitch and echo of white birds. A reluctant sun blossoms. Neither day nor night, this becomes the magic hour. Waves crash upon the East Coast. The sea, reaching for sky, arches pretty as the small of a woman’s back. A line of figures, sleek and secretive as cats, slink along the shore. Neither girls nor women, they are somewhere in-between.

TWO
Between the tunnels that connect the land and the peninsula, girls attach their bodies to the underpass like spiders crawling up a wall. The rumble of trucks, the whir of tires spinning fast on asphalt and the wind float down and drown beneath the underpass, bleed into the bay. In their hands, spray cans omit a fierce red, a cold blue, morning yellow and a white light as the first layer of snow. Each girl works on a section – scales of the fish tail, slope of the hips, brown breasts and nipples dark as chocolate, hair that swims long and black as floating seaweed. Together they tag the underpass in Alibata, in English, in unison – Las Dalagas. Pinay forever. Forever Pinay.

THREE
An alcove of rocks tucked behind the ocean bears the many colors of the crew. A fat white candle burns, emits the scent of vanilla wax. The flame
asts long distorted shadows along the rock walls. They pose like fallen stars. The girls, a gathering of sorrow, lock arms and rest their weary heads on each other’s laps. In unison they breathe to the rise and fall of shoulders. There is moaning. A song. A habit that comes at times like this. The boys scatter about them – planets spinning – one in silence, one shouting against high tide, one weeping in the distance. A fourth boy climbs the rocks, pulls himself up, appears over gang grafitti. His face shines from the surf, his eyes are wide, angry, wet. Dis true, he wants to know. Dis true? Weeping answers him, comes from some place deep within the circle of girls. The wind blows and takes with it the light from the burning candle, extinguishes the shadows.

FOUR
Bass pounds hip-hop against rolled up windows. Wu Tang raps, thuds, rocks. Inside the hatchback, five dalagas ? Lourdes, Mercedes, Marilena, Angel and Ria, fight for the rearview mirror, flip open compacts and sun visors with secret lights and mirrors the width of one pair of eyes. They paint their lips the color of blood, etch their brows thin and high. They line each eye with black liquid and press their lashes into little curls. All the while, they rock to the rap, nod to the beat, pulse and tease their perfectly coifed bobs into brown halos. Five girls crammed into four bucket seats adjust Lycra pants, smooth scoop-neck t-shirts, hoist up miracle bras. Legs kick and squirm, work around a five-speed joystick as they strap up clunky platforms. Toes painted like dark cherries wriggle to the beat, to the beat, to the beat beat beat. Someone’s beeper stutters high pitched electric bells and everybody reaches for a hip, a purse, a pocket. Lourdes fingers the tiny screen, reads upside down numbers as if they are words. She raises an eye to Marilena and nods. The girls slip on shades cool as the deep blue sea. Ready to attack.

FIVE
A long arm rises above the crowd, balancing a camcorder in one hand as a beach full of teens wait. The camera pans the bodies, boys and girls pushed up against one another, straining to see. The camera zooms into a cluster of finely dressed girls, can almost smell the perfume rising up from them. A fist rises, attacks. Then a flurry of balled up fists fly up into the air and down on the girl who is planted at the center of the circle. The crowd whoops and ooos and ahs as if they are at a game, an Olympic event where only the strongest survive. Someone kicks and the rest follow and all the camera picks up is the dull thud of cork and rubber heels against a body soft as a sack of potatoes. There are the muffled cries of the girl pretending there is no such pain. A hand claws at the face. This, the camera cannot see, but something about the way the crowd collectively cringes indicates four long manicured nails have dug little rows along the girl’s cheeks, leave a streak of blood rising there. The girl holds up two arms and curls the legs into her belly. Her hair, wild and tangled disguises this homegirl’s identity, though everyone knows very well who she is. The camera zooms out as the crowd begins to move away from her, leaving her lying still as a tiny bird, just hatching from its egg. The voices melt into the rush of water beating hard against the rocks. Her voice, shrill as the high pitched seagull’s floats above them, wonders why she ever agreed to this

SIX
Back pressed up against a chair, Lourdes folds her arms and stares until a narrow tunnel appears before her. The room blurs and she imagines shooting herself through the long tunnel, out into space. She hears the television in the room below, the neighbor’s dog barking outside and the beating drums in a garage band down the street. Her mother spins about her, casting a long and disagreeable finger into Lourdes’ face. The mother rains words upon her daughter. "Ka ka hiya, naman!" Here is another lecture on ladylike behavior, respecting her elders, and tonight her mother adds a special bonus, her homage to shame and gossip. "Walang hiya!" But the louder the mother’s voice gets, the farther away Lourdes travels, the more distant her face appears, and the colder her hands become. Soon, the mother leans an angry face into hers, but Lourdes sees only the tunnel, black, skinny hallway shooting off like the viewfinder of a telescope. Lourdes hums to a radio down the street, and soon she sings out loud. A love song. "Show me a reason, for being lonely …" When the sting of her mother’s hand crosses her face, Lourdes turns her away. Does not blink.

Dinner time at Angel’s house. She serves her kuyas, her father, her mother and younger sisters more rice. Everyone talks at once. She sits down, and before her father has a chance to notice (that she has forgotten), she gets back up, works her way back around the table, gets him his beer. "Ay salamat, hija," her father says taking the cold glass. "You see," he tells her little sister, "when you grow up, you be like Angel."

Ria closes her bedroom door and locks it, she cranks her CD player. At the end of this day she is a dancer in a music video. No, a singer on MTV. A diva in a silver mini-tank dress, complete with breasts, hips and a full bottom. She has too many homeboys after her to pay attention to any of them. So she sings, and dances and shoos them away like flies. "Neva gonna get it, neva get it." When the pounding on the door begins, she pretends not hear it. Leaning into her boom box, she turns up the volume, belts out even louder, "No, ya neva gonna get it … no, ya neva gonna get it … ah ah ah."

Marilena wraps her arms around her boyfriend’s skinny neck. She parts her lips just a little bit, and leans back as he sinks his body into hers. The stick shift pushes against them, bruises her thigh, but his half open mouth singing something slow and warm into her ear distracts her so that her spirit’s floating high above the car. And just as his kiss begins to work its way down her neck, a light shines through the windshield. "Disgracia!" A fist pounds heavy on glass. "Demonio!"

Mercedes places her twin sisters into the tub and pours plastic cups of water over their four-year-old heads. She sings toMona and Mina and with her hand she wipes water from their eyes.


"Mommy’s brown like Philippines," Mina says.


"Daddy’s white like America," Mona answers.


"And what are we?" Mercedes wants to know.


"Both!" the girls cry at once.


"Mestiza," Mercedes tells them. With her finger, she cleans the snot from
Mona’s little nostrils.


"Yucky," Mercedes tells her.


"White brown," Mina says.


"You mean milk chocolate," Mona says, pretending to eat her sister’s wet arm. "Delicious!"


Mercedes kisses her sisters. A voice calls from the other room. The twins’ laughter echoing against the bathroom tiles makes it nearly impossible to hear, except Mercedes already knows what the yelling is about. It’s the same thing every night. "Naku! What is that noise up there? Quiet anak! Hurry up, Mercedes. You still have the kitchen to clean. Naku naman, ang ingay."

Maya’s bedroom lamp light shines on her bandaged face. She studies eyes as tiny as two quarter moons, swimming in a face full and wide.Her aunties nicknamed her Taba -- fat. And she has learned to laugh everytime they say it, covering up the hurt pinching at her heart. They speak about her in Tagalog at parties and at churches, and at grocery stores. Good thing she understands only a little bit. Ang taba! Kita mo, ng pwit! Naku! Laki ng tiyan. Di ba? Taba! Parang buntis si Maya. Then the aunties squeeze her face, her arms, even slap her on the rump. Siyang, they lament. Too bad. And so she laughs and kisses them just in case they really are just joking around.


She holds her hand to the bandages, tries to still the throbbing. She checks her watch and waits another ten seconds. The popsicle stick is turning pink. Pink like the sun rising, pink like rose petals, pink like pregnancy.

SEVEN
A saw buzzes through a two by four. Marilena and Angel hold wood together, cringing as Ria swings a hammer up and down. "Hold still," she tells them. She steadies another nail with her slender fingers and pounds just inches from their hands.


"Be careful!" Marilena warns her.


"Aray!" cries Angel. Ria stops pounding, gives a look.


"Whatever," she says, "I didn’t even come close."


"It’s getting late!" calls Angel’s mother from the house. "You girls should
wrap it up."


The girls respond at once, a choir of angels calling out, "Opo" "Yes, ma’am" and "Thank, Tita!" Lourdes straddles her legs around a plank of wood and places a manicured hand flat against the crate, measures it’s length: three feet.


"Picture!" Maya says. She holds a thirty-five millimeter camera up to her eye, squints at her sisters. Ria freezes the hammer in mid-air, glares all mean-like into Maya’s lens. Lourdes leans onto the board, arches her back and stares. Marilena and Angel suck on their fingers like they’re victims
of Ria’s hammer. The sky above swirls in brilliant reds and oranges, reflects a golden light on all their faces. Maya holds her breath, checking light, focus, aperture.


"Take it already," Ria says, waving the hammer. Maya presses gently, the shutter blinks and the girls resume their work against the setting sun. Angel’s Kuya Mack slinks out of the house. Hands dug into his jeans two sizes too big, they hear the hem of his pants dragging on the grass. "An – gel! Mommy says to come in for merienda," he tells them. He nods at Ria. "You homegirls too."


"Sup, Kuya Mackie?"


"You know you girls are hungry," he says. "Thass wussup." To Ria he says, "How’s your Ate Tiza? Still cute like you?"


And Ria giggles says, "If you say so."


He runs his hands along the giant box. "What is this anyway," he asks, " a fort?" The girls put their tools away, gather loose nails and pile unused planks of wood. Ria elbows Marilena. "Didn’t know your crew was into wood shop," he says, laughing. He kisses Angel on the top of her head, messes her hair.


"Whatever, Kuya," Angel says, waving him away. "Find your own friends."

EIGHT
The crate nearly fills up the alcove. They have painted the wood royal purple. They have stenciled mermaids spinning in circles, floating and dreaming along the sides of the crate. Each girl has signed the box with black lettering and the Alibata sign for Pinay has been scratched into the wood’s surface and filled with golden paint. A layer of shellac has been washed over the paint so that the purple crate shines. Inside, they have layered the whole thing in plastic to keep the water out. Over the plastic they’ve covered the wood in daisy wallpaper. On top of that they’ve glued pictures of movie stars like Denzel Washington, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Mercedes pastes pages from a magazine along the walls: the Filipino guy who played Prince Charming to Brandi’s Cinderella, the girl band from San Fran, four Pinays singing funky accapella, a crazy Flip comic who jokes about the manongs, the kuyas, lumpia and the Pilipino way. "This wall," Maya laughs, "Is a place of honor." They roll an old rug onto the floor and Angel places oversized pillows against its walls. To get into the crate, the girls must climb in. "We should have made a door," Ria says. "We should have made a roof." Inside, there are shelves to secure things. A rack for their CD players, and hooks for their headsets. Six drink holders. Six mirrors glued onto the walls. "This is dope," Marilena says. She leans her face into one of the tiny mirrors, puckers up and coats her lips in more berry berry red lipshine. "This is hellacool."

NINE
They wait in line against the rocks as Maya holds the camera up and shoots them one by one. Angel holds her arms up above her head, her face turned away from the lens. The t-shirt rising up her back reveals a terrain of muscles, and just left of the spine, bellow the hip hugger jeans, the Alibata for Pinay dancing there, rippling like a mirage in the middle of a brown dessert. Maya zooms in. Clicks.


Medium close up of Ria’s left arm, an array of scratches rising up from her smooth skin. Her body has overhealed, bumpy marred and discolored. It is a sort of Braille.


Close up of Marilena’s right eye. At the corner, where the knife nicked her, tore a little flesh right off her. The cut was not so deep, but the fragile skin, so close to the eye, bled fast and furious, made her think she had gone blind. Now the heavy liner and the shadows – the lavender, the pink, the magenta powders -- make the scar a wild exotic flower. "Shut your eye," Maya tells her. And when the lashes fall against Marilena’s skin like thick black petals, Maya captures the frame.


Maya clicks, rewinds, clicks. Moves in closer with each sister, catches the movement of skin, as they hold themselves in the light. Beyond them, the pelicans are charging the ocean floor for fish. She hears their distant cawing, relaxes.


Extreme close up of Mercedes’ right breast. Not the whole breast, just the crest that peaks over the top of her miracle bra. The sun casts a shadow on the valley that slopes up and over the top of the fabric. The breast, a beautiful globe of brown skin is perfect save the wound. The stitches haunt the flesh, faint as ghosts.


Extreme close up just inside Lourdes’ inner thigh. Teeth marks. A circle of little mountains rising. The lens picks up the cris-cross texture of the skin around the mark. The fine pores, the depth of the scar, a little uneven, a little off.


Maya hands the camera to Lourdes, and facing the sun, she wipes the tears that have begun to blur her vision. "What are you crying for," Lourdes says. "You should be proud."


"Yeah," Angel says. "Dis gonna be hellacool."


"That’s right," Ria says. "Las Dalagas, forever."


Lourdes zooms in, says, "I see the red in your eyes. Do you want that to
show?"


"Doesn’t matter. Just make sure it’s in focus."


Lourdes squints into the viewfinder, searching Maya’s face. She trembles.


"Hold your breath," Maya tells her. "And focus."


Lourdes darts the camera around, tracks the grooves that run the length of Maya’s face: four scabs, long and thick, brown as mud, running parallel to one another, even as rows in a field of rice. Clouds float across the sky and shadow the bright sun, make the air feel cools as rain.

TEN
They are scattered among the rocks, listening to the thunder rolling in from the sea. Now and then, shards of light crack against a starless sky. Half a dozen candles flicker against the crate, shimmering purple and gold like some Pagan altar. The wind teases each flame, threatens to make everything black. Lourdes flicks ashes from her cigarette. She exhales deeply, and releases a long trail of smoke up into the night. She imagines that tunnel, long and narrow opening up. How far can it shoot her soul? So far she never has to return, she wonders. That far? Ria leans on her elbows, reaches out to Angel, who hands her another smoke. The rocks feel jagged and poke her skinny bottom. She lights up, inhales, feels the drug invade her body. She savors the tobacco. Mercedes studies lipstick prints that ring the cigarette so perfectly pink and round. This color is too light, she thinks. She squints one eye shut. She takes a long drag, holds it there inside of her, breathes. The rain has begun just off shore, and hits the ocean surface like a smattering of applause. Marilena buries her head into her lap, closes her eyes, smells the rain. They are waiting for a Hurricane Emilia. The big show. Maya throws down her cigarette and crushes it with her shoe. Not looking up, she waves at her sisters, then leaves.


ELEVEN
Outside the wind moans like a mother grieving. Palm trees sway violently, bending low to the oceanfront skyline. Debris – plastic cups, newspapers, grocery bags – sail across the street as Lourdes and the girls cruise down Pacific Boulevard.


Hurricane season has hit, and every few days the skies grow black and sand, cast by angry winds, assaults their bodies. The air grows cold and numbs their bones. The rest of the world runs into their houses, marking their windows with giant tape marks shaped like the letter "X," taking all the jugs of water from the grocery stores, the plastic bags and candles, stealing matches from bars and local restaurants, withdrawing hundreds of dollars out of cash machines – hurricane money. Las Dalagas carries on. Undaunted by the scare of Hurricanes Amanda, Beatrice, Carly and Daphne. Every time the radio called them, the world went crazy, but the hurricanes never came. "They on Filp time?" Angel joked.


"Doubt it," Marilena answered. Now Tidewater waits for Emilia.


"Whatever," Ria said, "let’s cruise."


The speakers in the car pump hip-hop into Lourdes’ hatchback. The whole car vibrates. Las Dalagas nod and moan, speak every little word and sigh. Despite the lack of sun, each girl wears her dark glasses – looks out onto a street shaded for disaster. Hurricanes bored them. Where were the boys?

TWELVE
They stow their back packs, their bundles of clothing and snacks into the purple crate. Marilena takes her windbreaker and wraps it around her waist
and leaning over she pushes with all her strength. "Come on you guys," she calls to them. Lourdes runs to the front of the crate and pulls. "Maya, Ria, up here," she tells them. Though this is the middle of the day, the skies have grown as dark as dusk in wintertime. The wind tosses sand at their skin, feels like an army of ants biting at their faces, their necks, their bare arms. The girls answer the wind, howling as they push and pull the crate, now loaded with their belongings across the sand.


A used condom hits Mercedes in the forehead. "Fuck," she says holding it in her fingers. She tosses it back to the wind and rolls her feet into the
sand, kicking off her shoes. She feels the earth conform below her, the sand shifting with each step. She continues dragging the crate towards the
water. Their voices are lost now, trailing to the sea without being heard. Hair flings across their faces. "Sure this is a good thing?" she cries out to Lourdes.


But Lourdes can’t hear her. She is focused on the task, peaking over her shoulder as she yanks at the planks of wood. Her hand slips, a nail breaks, a sliver of wood needles its way into her skin. She figures the water is only another few hundred feet away.


Maya leans into her ear and hollers, "Dis is dangerous!"


"I bet we sail with dolphins!" Lourdes calls back. "I hear them out there!" The sky swirls, angry as the historic battle between sky and sea and Lourdes considers how the islands of the Philippines were born. She wonder what Ate Isa will say when she hears how brave they’ve been.


Water falls in heavy sheets, soaking their clothing tight to the skin. Ria shakes her head at Lourdes. "I don’t want to do this!" she yells. But Lourdes only smiles, opens her mouth and drinks the rain. "How dope is this," Lourdes says. "How fuckin dope!" Their feet slip into the sea. Wet sand sticks to their skin, dirties the cuffs of their rolled up jeans. "Get in!" she tells them. Ria shakes her head no. "Don’t be a baby," Lourdes says. "Get in, Dalagas. Do it now!" She climbs into the crate and tells the others to push. Maya locks eyes with her and for a moment there is stillness between them. Maya pulls her body up but cannot lift high enough. The rain weighs her down. Her body resists.


"Again, again," Lourdes tells her. "You can do this."


Maya pushes her body up. Her arms quiver underneath her weight, she rocks herself and tries to flip into the crate. The wind seems to carry her backward, into the white surf. For a moment she’s gone under. Mercedes, Ria and Angel, scream. They wave their hands and calling her, they plunge into the tide after her. When she emerges, she’s weeping and thrashing her arms and legs, pushing them away. "Forget it," she says. "Leave me here." She waves them away. Marilena shivers, feels her lips are turning blue."Let me push the crate a little deeper," Marilena says. "Hold on. Mercedes, help me! Angel!" Together the girls shove the homemade balikbayan box out to sea. Mercedes and Marilena crawl into the crate effortlessly. They call to Angel who only shakes her head at them, wraps her arms around her skinny body.


"I can’t!" she screams. "My parents will kill me!"


The waters churn heavy and white, tossing them like toys in a child’s bath. Everything grows dark. Lourdes sees the tunnel, narrow and spinning east towards the Pacific, towards the islands. She tastes salt. She understands that freedom is near. The fearless boat weaves its way up and down the white caps, in and out of rain. Looking back, she sees Angel, Maya and Ria, three little pins against the expansive beach. Smiling, she raises her brown fist to the sky. Not far from them a family of dolphins fall and rise, guide them through the turbulent waters. The girls release a battle cry so loud so shrill, even sea sirens must cover their ears. Lourdes, Marilena and Mercedes, no longer bound to expectations, to tradition, to tsmis and hiya, egg Hurricane Emilia on. Defy her. The craft spins like a ride at a carnival, and just as Lourdes imagines, the angry hurricane lifts them up and catapults them to the sky.


~END~

WRITER'S BIO: M. EVELINA GALANG is the author of HER WILD AMERICAN SELF, a collection of short fiction from Coffee House Press (1996). She has been widely published in journals such as Quarterly West, American Short Fiction, Bamboo Ridge Press, MS Magazine, Mid American Review and Calyx. Her collection's title story has been short-listed by both BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES and PUSHCART PRIZE. She has been the recipient of numerous awards including the John Gardner Scholar in Fiction at Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Colorado State University Graduate Diversity Educational Fellowship, a Lannan Fellowship, and a grant from the Illinois Arts Council. During the summer of 2000, she served as a reviewer for the National Endowment of the Arts Literature Panel. She has taught in the MFA Writing Programs for the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Goddard College and Old Dominion University. In addition to teaching, she has also worked in the Chicago film industry as a script supervisor since 1987. During the fall of 1999, she joined the creative writing faculty of Iowa State University where she has been at work on her novel, WHAT IS TRIBE, screenplay, DALAGA, an anthology of Asian American Art and Literature called SCREAMING MONKEYS and LOLAS' HOUSE, a book of essays based on the experiences of surviving WWII Comfort Women. She has recently been named a Senior Research Scholar by Fulbright and will continue her research in the Philippines in January of 2002.

 

Copyright 2002 by M. Evelina Galang; all rights reserved.

 

 


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