“Luciana, can you swim?”
Luciana looked down at the coursing water lightly reaching for her feet. “Of course, I can. As the daughter of the best fisherman in the island, swimming is almost like breathing.”
She glanced back at the children she was playing with but they’re already running towards the other side of the beach. Except for her great friend, Tala, the only daughter of the island Leader, and the only girl her age. “You sure know how to boast, Lulu. But we’re living in a place where swimming is like breathing for everyone.”
They weren’t exactly the eldest children there. They’re just at the confusing stage where at one moment the people would tell them that they should be working on becoming adults. And at another, they tell them that they are just children.
Luciana snorted. “Then what’s the point of asking? Besides, I have proven myself faster than your brothers, haven’t I?”
Tala shot her a confused look before pulling her up from the sand. “The sun’s about to set, we should wish your father and the others fortune so the sea goddess may bless us with many fishes.”
She was about to follow her friend when a familiar shell creature rose from the sea, slowly paddling towards the sand and setting herself on one area to look up the sky. She’s here again, Luciana thought. She pulled on Tala’s tattooed arm and pointed at large turtle resting at the beach.
They have been seeing the same turtle for some time now. The reddish brown carapace, stretched neck, and large head disguises it as any other turtle. But it isn’t just any other turtle. No, there was something different about it that separates it from the rest- and that is it’s flippers. The margined edges were golden, as if the sea creature was wearing jewelries. Of course, they’ve seen turtles before and they’re pretty sure they could point out which is normal and which is not.
Both Luciana and Tala couldn’t believe it, at first. It was odd to find something glimmering from a turtle as it reflects the setting sun. It was even odder to almost always find it waiting for the moon to come, to stare at it with a soft expression. Are turtles even allowed to do that? Is being sentimental a trait all turtles have?
“I don’t think she comes here to lay eggs,” Tala told her.
Luciana didn’t answer. She continued gazing at the turtle, wanting to wait beside it. Maybe ask a question on why the moon looked so important. The Island Leader once told them turtles could live for hundreds of years. She didn’t know how he knew that since the man doesn’t look like he’s been living alongside those who had lived that long. How do they know it’s the same one that lived longer than them? After all, all turtles looked the same, don’t they? Until this one.
Thinking about it now, Luciana thought that maybe the shell creature could tell her all kinds of stories. Like how Tala’s grandmamma does to her grandchildren. Luciana’s got lots of questions and if she has a grandmamma of her own, she’ll have answers to them. Like…is the sea the same sea as it was then? Has anyone met the sea goddess, by any chance? Or maybe, the turtle could --
This is terrible, she thought, quite aware of how she wanted for it to speak to her.
“Your father is waiting for us, Lulu,” she turned to Tala and nodded.
The next afternoon, Tala told Luciana and the other children about the story of how a Naga, a half human-half serpent being of the ocean, called Bakunawa tried to eat the seven moons of the island. It was a new tale that Tala’s grandmamma had probably come up with. Tala told her how excited she was to share it with them.
“...but she didn’t get to eat the last moon because the people started banging on their pots. Noise was the Naga’s weakness and she knew, she had to retreat. The moon she wanted watched her crumble in the depths of the ocean, forever lost.”
The younger gaped at Tala. And then, chaos began. Half of them cried that they’ll never touch the water again, while the other half was amused. Even suggesting that they battle the mythical being with seaweeds and coconuts.
“They banged on pots! You can’t bang on seaweeds!”
“If you put the seaweed on a stick, you might!”
The noise of children arguing were behind Luciana’s mind. She also didn’t listen much to her great friend’s story. Was it envy? That Tala, at least, had someone other than the Leader. While Luciana loved her hardworking father very much, she yearned for a mother who she could share her feelings with. Or a grandmamma, like what Tala has, who would tell her stories so vivid it’ll be as if she was the character, travelling beyond the stars and seas.
She looked outside the hut. The sun was, again, about to set. Luciana was quick to hold Tala’s hand. “Shall we wish my father luck, then?” before pulling her outside, almost giddily.
They did wish her father luck. But after that, Luciana dragged the poor girl with her to where the turtle always shows up. The sun disappeared but darkness never swallowed the island. The moon was much brighter that night that when Tala saw what had been waiting for her and Luciana, her jaw dropped. It was a bamboo-made cart.
“Lulu, what are you planning now?” If she was aware that her friend was out of her mind before, this just goes beyond her expectations.
Luciana smiled brightly, “We’re going to take Roa to the moon!”
“Roa. I named her. And like you said, she doesn’t come here to lay eggs- but we noticed her staring at the moon all the time. There must be something she wants from it.”
Tala shook her head. “I cannot- Luciana, this is too much.”
“It’s really simple, believe me. I used my hand to measure up the moon and tonight was much bigger than the others. My fingers are so far apart, look!” Luciana tried showing it to her friend, stretching her palms up to create a circle with her hands. “I also figured that the mountain is the closest we could be to the moon. If we reach the top, we give Roa her dream.”
She looked back at Tala. Her friend looked tired. “Tala…”
“Lulu, this is too much. I just- I think I should ask my father to talk to yours.”
Luciana felt insulted. “You’ll talk to your father to talk to mine? You’re with me now, aren’t you? Whatever you wanted to say, spit it out now.”
The girl sighed in frustration. “I didn’t mean it like that. Just…don’t you think your loneliness has got the better of you? You shouldn’t be obsessing over a turtle but you are. What for? Because of its flippers? You have your father. I’m here, Lulu. I don’t understand why my presence isn’t enough for you.”
“I- please, Tala. Just this once. I wanted answers and I just feel like something might come if I follow whatever crazy idea I’m having today.”
Luciana watched her friend close her eyes, head pointed above. She released a breath. Again and again. Luciana followed what she’s doing, hoping that a simple breathing exercise will help her. Breathe in, out, in and out. Until it was over and Tala said the words Luciana had been wanting to hear. “Fine.”
The two almost-adults-but-not-entirely girls set out on their trip to the island’s mountain. They were aware of the dangers, given that it is dark and cold, and there was only two of them climbing. Add a heavy baggage on the cart- which was a turtle that probably needed a supply of sea water- and it just turned into a poorly chosen path that nobody would want. Luciana wouldn’t admit to Tala that she had been having doubts on herself as well.
Tala wouldn’t tell Luciana how much it was hurting her. They were walking on their feet. The mountain was always open whenever her grandmamma would ask her to get some herbs- but that was at day time. When she’s aware of where she’s stepping at. A twig or two may hurt but she could see it, unlike now. She fears that her feet may be bleeding, she fears that they’re really on their way to doom. But whenever she looked at the determined face of her friend, she decided that she wanted to be brave for her.
After passing many slips, insect bites, secret tears, the cart being destroyed by a coconut-sized rock – they reached the top. They weren’t sure of the time, but they know it was about to be morning. Maybe a few moments left before the sun rises. But it was still dark and stars were still present. The moon was brighter and larger than ever that Luciana’s hand circle measurement would be too small.
The turtle stretched its neck. Luciana noticed that the air became much colder than usual. Still, she continued watching the turtle. How it seemed to smile at the sight of the moon, trying to stretch its neck more, not caring about the limits.
She wanted to be like the creature before her. Finally happy with just a sight of something it’s always wanted since the beginning. Finally…
The air got colder. The turtle didn't stop stretching.
Luciana met Tala’s gaze. She didn't seem happy. She yelled something she couldn’t hear.
The wind blew much harder. The moon’s light was slightly getting dimmer.
“The island! The island, Lulu!” Tala was pointing down. Luciana followed her where she was pointing, and seeing it made her heart beat race. The water level was rising.
Their people were prepared for high tides but…this isn’t normal. It was fast. The water level was rising fast and most are still asleep. The island was sinking.
“What do we do, Lulu?” Tala cried. “We need to tell them!”
She didn’t know. Luciana didn’t even know why it’s happening. She turned to the turtle, despite being least of her worries, but the normal-sized turtle wasn’t there anymore. Instead, it was replaced by a giant, growing monster, shell on its back and neck continuing to stretch towards the moon.
Luciana looked back as another part of the island was submerged in the sea. It was nearing the village. It was nearing the mountain.
Tala insisted on wanting to go back home. On wanting to warn her father, her brothers- on wanting rescue the people they’re leading. She spoke of the children that listens to her story, she spoke of the ladies who takes care of everything in the island. It was breaking Tala’s heart. But Luciana held her hand tightly.
“I remember your story…” she started. She wasn’t entirely listening but there were parts of it that she picked up. “The Naga has a sister.”
Tala looked at her incredulously. “Are we really supposed to be talking about this?”
“Listen to me! The sister was said to have died because whenever she goes on land to lay eggs, water follows her, right?”
“…right. But-“ Luciana pointed at the sky. The giant turtle monster was floating. It circled the moon, hunger on it eyes. “It can’t be. Grandmamma said that the people killed Bakunawa's sister so that water would stop devouring islands. The serpent seek for revenge but the people fought back. It was never seen again. And if that, well, Roa was the sister then…it’s here for justice.”
Luciana nodded. “To eat the last moon that her sister never conquered.”
Tala pulled her hand away from her grasp. “This doesn’t make any sense. This is impossible. I- The water. The roofs were already floating. Lulu! I cannot see people swimming! Why isn’t there anyone swimming?!”
Luciana didn’t know where to look. The moon was going to be swallowed, the village was gone. On top of that, her friend was having a break down. This happened so fast, she couldn’t go back on the exact thing that she did wrong.
The water was coming for the mountain. The moon was being swallowed.
Where did she go wrong?
Everything, she whispered to herself. Everything that I did was wrong. I was selfish
Tala was trembling. Her tears were pouring much harder.
Everything was a mistake and it’s all my fault.
Light was disappearing.
She shouldn’t have trusted herself. Tala shouldn’t have trusted her.
A soft hand was against hers and Luciana looked up to see Tala, face was red and eyes bloodshot. She held on to her tightly muttering the words “Please Lulu…what do we do?”
Luciana’s heart melted. Tala shouldn’t have trusted her but she did. From the very start, she did.
She remembered her conversation with her at the beach, and asked her greatest friend. “Tala, can you swim?” There were a few bamboos left from their destroyed cart, perfect for a raft. Luciana told her to hold on to it. The island continued to sink and the water was almost at their feet. The sky was dark, the air was cold. The moon had already disappeared.
There were no pots to bang but there were sticks, and the bamboo whipped together would be pretty loud. But there was also the water. Luciana pushed Tala on the raft. “Tala, can you swim?” she asked again.
She smiled her final smile to her. “That’s good.” And shoved the raft with full strength, sending it to the vast ocean. Away from her.
She saw how horrified Tala was by her decision.
Luciana held out the bamboo that was left behind and whipped it against each other. Again. And again. The noise worked for the Naga, then it must work for the Giant Turtle, as well. They're, after all, sisters.
The turtle was disturbed.
The water was at her knees.
The light was slowly coming back.
Just a few more moments before the sun comes up.
The turtle was back at the sea. The moon was bright. Was it too late? Maybe. For the island, it is. For the human girl...
“Luciana, can you swim?”