TINIKLING—DOUBLE DUTCH FILIPINX STYLE
Don’t believe anyone who tells you that death comes quick and painless. That’s bullshit. Dying hurts like fuck-all everything; you can feel all the pains, the hurts, the joys, the cries of all the world. There’s no numbing dope, no dick wows, no kitty kitty yum yum, just a floodlight on all the world’s needs. Death is a dump. You see it all: kids, parents, teachers, the rats under the street that run through the sewers, suck suck squeak squeak, the pigeons that shit everywhere, the throwaways nobody else wants, the thugs, the queers, the hoes, the junkies, the brats, the fuck-ups, the killers. Let me get this straight, the way I’m telling you any of this: I’m Aswang. And I know about the slow agonies of death because this body belonged to one of the throwaways—an eighteen-year-old girl named Marina—who wound up murdered on a pig farm in a place called Port Coquitlam.
* * *
Before I finished the tinikling, before I jumped into her body, before Marina found Willie on the corner of Main and Hastings, before the track marks on the insides of her knees and elbows, she lived a cleaner life. Before the late-night diner trips, where she saw, before falling into sleep, her mother’s face (a face took up with large dark eyes reflecting the suspicion of others), she still hoped to be a pure spirit. Marina used to be twelve; she used to live in a group home named for trees. Five in a cottage, out in the Valley, she had the bottom bunk, and Alex on top—too close to the popcorn ceiling plastered with CK One ads torn out of fashion magazines. She used to look into people’s dining rooms as she walked down the street. She put herself at one of those tables, with roasted chicken and vegetables picked from a garden, not mashed potatoes poured, flakey, out of a box, like her ma used to make, not Carnation powdered milk mixed with water (though she did like to pick out the congealed lumps and feel them separate like pudding on her tongue). She used to do graffiti on government-issued desks, waiting for her name to be called. Marina used to stand around with teenage boys on the street corner, waiting for the light to change. She used to hitch rides through the Valley and give strange men hand jobs for twenty bucks. Marina used to worry about gonorrhea and feel like she was the worst piece of living pakshet. And before all that, Marina used to be five. She used to lie on her tummy, a thumb plunked in her mouth, index finger curled around her nose, and sometimes Mutya would come in and rub her back and tell her a story of a time long long before. Marina used to leave a small music box outside in the rain, hoping to attract fairies. She used to practice kissing girls on the back of her hand or her own shoulder just to see what her skin tasted like. She used to get all squirmy and thrilled watching whodunits with her ma. She used to long for the ordinary.
She used to live with just Ma, and they might’ve been poor, but they had a good time. Their homemade games were sometimes Reena running out to the garage behind the apartment building and picking up the water hose. She’d learned how to spray the water so it swooshed up toward the sky and back down like her own private waterfall. Then she ran around the apartment shouting bam be bi bo bu. A pillowcase, her white wings, tied around her neck. Her childlike chatter so candid and fresh, and right then, she figured she was the luckiest girl alive.
* * *
This man who strangled Marina was a pakshet trick who didn’t know how to be a trick—always fell in love with the wrong girl. Pure PoCo trash, drove around Vancouver in his van loaded with possibilities. To him, women like Marina were nothing but a reminder of all his failings.
There in that room, leaning above her, his closed smile turned into a full-on cheese. There were his rotted teeth, his puffy gray gums. And for a split moment, for the final time in her throwaway life, she felt her mithiin. That exquisite pain of Want. Desire. But Want is for the living, and by that dark barely morning hour, Marina was already near dead.
As he throttled her, she felt her own muffled sounds push into the part of her that had been sleeping, cut off a long time ago. Her screams clung to that hollowed-out part, to her guts, to the trailer walls, then zipped along the hot gas of the cosmos as the dark stone sky settled over the farm.
The moment she was dying, Marina prayed. First, she prayed an invocation. Something she’d heard her lola say over and over again. Let light stream forth into the minds of men. Let love stream forth into the hearts of men. Let purpose guide the little wills of men. Let the Plan of Love and Light work out. And may it seal the door where evil dwells.
She thought of her lola’s cool hands on her burning forehead when she was stuck home sick.
Mounted on the wall above them was the head of a golden horse. Marina stared deep into the dark nostrils of the horse. Her murderer straddled her on top of the bed, his hands clasped around her neck. The face he showed her, the face that was breathing hard, placed no more than a foot from her own, was stuck in a tight grin. The face of an oink-oink baboy. The pigs he farmed. Both of them drenched in the toxic effect of all the sorrow coursing from his hands to her neck. From her neck to his hands.
The smudges of smoke on the walls, the dark corners of the ceiling. A wisp of spider’s web in the corner. Of the nostril. Of the head. Of the horse.
Her lola’s prayer wasn’t working. Lola belonged to a generation of obedience and atonement; Marina’s was a generation of don’t-give-a-fucks. So she made a special kind of prayer: Marina imagined hipon wrapped in taro leaves, stewed in chilés and coconut milk. She imagined a small loaf of sticky rice with mango. Flyswatters, brown rubber discs used to open jars, large wooden utensils hanging from a kitchen wall, bamboo mats painted with anthuriums. The mats that she slept on in her lola’s ranch house in Seaside, California. She thought of Alex, the love of her life, and her perfect eyeliner, how it made her look elegant, like the flawless face of a calculating wife.
This prayer didn’t work either, if working means saving her from death. But the prayer did work, if working means turning her into me, into something powerful, into Aswang. The truth in the prayer summons the aswang first by bringing up her ancestral bloodline. And then the key, to tying me to her? Unfinished business. Marina was murdered midquest. She chanted this mantra in her mind over and over, pulling me out of the ether and down into her body. Merging with the powers that carry me across time into generations of her family. The words spread out around her, invaded her ears, her mouth, until the sound of her scream became me.
* * *
A parade of poplar fluff floats by, silent and weightless as air. The light weaves its way through the branches, makes the shape of a small bird, then an owl, then a crane, and then comes apart again. The trees against the dark sky look like veins.
Marina fell through the crack between the world you know and the worlds you do not know. Then it became my turn to tinikling. I dove in, skimmed across the bottom surface, the moon making a diamond-shaped pattern that danced across the floor, I pushed up and permeated Marina’s howl. The noise of our scream so thick in what were newly my ears that I couldn’t even hear it. The scream started in my stomach, and then rose up to my chest, throat, banged against my teeth, the trees, and tops of buildings. It grew louder and flew into the atmosphere. It grew and grew and grew, the intensity bursting like a dark shrill rainbow. Other cries joined mine—an orchestra of screams—until I no longer felt like a dying person. I was beside a plane in the sky. The moon above, then vultures, then sky. It felt like erupting from a safe, dark place into the unknown. Leaving a matinee, the anonymous dark comfort of the sinehan on a summer afternoon, unclasping a lola’s hand at the gates of school, the cloth book offered by the social worker at the county hospital being torn away. Booted out of a mother’s womb—the source of nourishment and life, buhay, a soft string of molecules, the final small cord that keeps you tethered and rooted to the only other world you knew. The scraping on my now skin, like a thousand angry gnats.
I passed through the doorway and stepped into Marina’s life.
* * *
The body of a woman Marina saw a half a dozen times walking the ho-track had been thrown across what was formerly Marina’s back, now mine, facedown, the woman’s head resting on my shoulder. Another woman’s body was across my legs, her breast pushing into my feet—I felt someone’s thick Tootsie Roll nipple against my toes. Worms sliding beside my cheeks, my mouth, my legs, my hair. Darkness closed around us; nearby, I heard pig snorts.
This was the pig trough, where Willie stored the bodies, fed them off to the pigs before he took the final remains to the Waste Redux, a plant that sorts through and repurposes waste. Animal parts ground up, moved into deep fat fryers and cooked until the grease could be separated. The mud on the ground below us was rich and cold. I slithered out from between the bodies. I crouched low—careful not to disturb a nearby gang of pigs, the largest one in a deep sleep, looking as if she were running a race, rocking back and forth, spewing out barking farting um-otot noises. I crawled my way into the forest that emerged behind Willie’s house.
At first, it seemed I was surrounded by fireflies; tiny lights danced in and around my face. Then I had that sketchy masamang feeling of being watched, and the sky darkened. The dancing lights took on the shapes of women. The forest next to Willie’s farm in PoCo filled with them, all around me, a kutra of spirits, not just his women but all of the women who have gone missing, throwaway women, murdered women. I recognized one of them—a junkie whose face was plastered all around the WISH Drop-In Centre. There, her junkie face looked wet and warbling like a poached egg, and now here her face was fresh like one of those ladies on a soap commercial. She looked at me before she closed her winter-colored eyes, and she was so palaisip, so wistful; to look at her made me feel like I swallowed all the broken windows.
The faces of these women, these spirits turned to trees, their hands to leaves, their arms to branches. And it’s here in this too-late time, where, as trees grow all janky and twisted—we aswang know—they aren’t destroyed by grief but are made special by it. It’s the story they tell.
* * *
I see the inside of the body, mind, and spirit of the woman who was once called Marina. I am filled with visions of joy and beauty, happiness, a piece of throbbing thunderous music like the sea, growing louder and louder and louder. Something bounced up and down and flitted against my insides. I did not recognize it, though it reminded me of many sensations I have stopped feeling. That constant achy itch to use drugs, the desire to eat or pee or sleep. I do not feel these. But this sensation in my belly creates an aggravating hunger, a tiny ringing noise, Popsicles on front teeth, nails on chalkboards, then blossoms into something all-consuming, a torn Achilles’ tendon, maggots in ears, a traveling itch—a Need. I thought of every small thing, everything this body had experienced, felt, smelled, everything Marina might be hungry for. But none of them appealed. Then a glimmer. I need to close my jaw around his neck. I need to sink my teeth into his skin. I need to taste that raunchy yellow man who killed Marina. I can think of nothing more than filling my belly with his cowering body, to swallow all the parts of him, his toes, his feet, his thighs, his dwindling dingle dangle buto. This is not a hunger Marina ever felt. I am not Marina Salles anymore, no Blackapina foster girl. I am Aswang. And this is a hunger only we vengeful feel.
Pulsing through the trees, I heard their voices: Anita killed by Willie’s bare hands; Jordan strangled with a belt around her neck; and Elaine, her final breath on a slaughtering hook. Together they whispered plots and plans. You could get him in his sleep. You could get him on the road. You could pluck off his toenails, carve off his eyelids, make him watch, make him cry, make him beg. You could get him on the farm, with the pigs, with his brother, with the motorcycle guys, with a hammer, with a knife, with a needle, an infected needle, left to always wonder. Getimgetimgetim, a schoolyard chant, pushing me on all sides.
I turned and looked back to the farm, to where we all came from. I saw a pile of missing women’s parts. What Willie thinks is Marina’s hand, some other throwaway’s black fingernails, muddied cuticles, the putrid smell of rot, the hair, the flesh, then meat, then bone. The flow of blood, our blood, the missing women, thickened, oozing down the sides of trees, a vicious sap.
I hear an echo from Lola Virgie’s kitchen … Lola sitting at a doily-covered table, marmalade on her cheek, holding court with all the other lolas. They appear like twelve girls dressed in white, with crowns of flowers, their hair in curls, their faces bright. They seem like little genies of light. Across the table, they clutch pan de sals like the bright blue ribbons tied to the Virgin’s cart. Atop the table are colored glass jars of various local fruit preserves. On the patio outside the window, chicks peep, hens cluck, pigs grunt. We are in the middling place, the stranger, the foreigner, the friend, the enemy, the Filipino, the Spaniard, the pauper, the rich man, their place of prayer, where there’s still the possibility, where they can merge happy and satisfied.
All the lolas have a different story about the aswang. Jasmine’s lola, like most grandmothers, connects it all back to The Man. She said when The Man first came to the Philippines, he did not know what to make of the independence of a Filipina woman. He didn’t understand that she could take several lovers or none. That she could be the provider in the household. That she had all the healing powers. She said the story of the aswang starts with a woman who feels a strong passion, usually for a pakshet man, and who is brokenhearted. This passion is like Hudas. God knows Hudas does not pay. The pain is so strong it actually tears her in two: the lower half of her body on the ground, her torso and head free to float about and ravage the city.
Ligaya’s lola said the aswang was half pig, half woman. She could be hiding in any living thing—able to read a child’s thoughts, live in the bodies of animals, the shapeshifter, steal away your spirit at night. An aswang is all things, she used to say. Her people are from the western side of the Visayan province of Panay, where if you ask children what an aswang looks like, they will twist and quake and wrench themselves into strange positions as they walk. They are imitating a brown-skinned man, with bones poking against his skin, and hollowed cheeks, who once wobbled about nearby. He had a disease that makes men twist and turn with uncontrollable fits. The only time his muscles relaxed was when he was sleeping. The only time he felt relief was in his dreams.
Nelly’s lola said to beware of older women who live alone. She herself was an older woman who lived alone. She said if a woman has a large mole or keeps too much to herself, she is likely aswang. Basically, any woman who was having too much fun without the responsibility of other people, especially if she was luka-luka, occasionally her eyes rolling every which wild way.
Marina’s lola told a story of fraternal twins, a beautiful young girl and a strong boy, who were living with their auntie in a village where all the farm animals were being hunted by the aswang. The villagers knew it was just a matter of time before the aswang would get hungry enough to eat the little children. Especially a young girl as maganda as the sister; Lola warned pretty girls are always in danger. Whenever someone called Marina maganda, a smile on their face, their voice pitched up in admiration, stroking her curls, she’d hear the echo of this story. The boy disobeyed the aunt and snuck away from home so he could hunt the aswang. The boy knew he should watch out for the aswang coming disguised as a large rat, where he would see his own reflection upside down in the rat’s eyes. One day he did find that rat and stabbed it in the leg with his ginunting sword and ran home. The next morning, their auntie appeared in the kitchen, and a slip of her robe revealed a bloodied mangled arm.
Kitoy’s lola reported the aswang was an old woman, and then other times, they thought she looked like a big boar with the back shiny like a June bug. Victor’s lola reported that the aswang appeared as a perfect young child, cheeks sticky with sweet milk, to lure the other children.
The only one who got it right was the espiritista.
Copyright © 2022 by Melissa Chadburn