An excerpt from the novel The Synchrony Tree:
THE ALIENS TOOK THE MOST COMMON NAME and called her that, to make her an everyday thing but her true name was Mayang Makiling, avatar of the mountain looming over the emerald land which would later be called Laguna, its name and hers lost from racial memory.
Contrary to the way they described her, she was neither lissome nor fair nor wore a long skirt; rather, she was stocky and not too tall, how else would the shrubs have been able to hide her? But this was the way our old stories were revised to fit a slave mindset that made it amenable to conquest. Mayang Makiling was brown-skinned, of that color we call kissed by the sun: golden ochre, as it were.
All she wore was a tapis, a cloth wrapped around the hips, ends knotted, a skirt that never loosened, never needed fixing no matter how much she moved and it was made of the gold hair of the sun and the silver hair of the moon, gathered from twigs and branches where they had gotten entangled, and with the red of hibiscus and the green of ferns running through it so that when Mayang Makiling was still, she could not be discerned against the forest that was her home.
She wore a sickle-moon necklace glittering against her naked breasts; gold bangles from wrist to elbow and around her ankles. Her little fingers and little toes were tattooed with encircling tiny vines of fern. She was born with those tattoos—and all her followers, the wind readers, carried the same mark from birth.
One other thing they never say about Mayang Makiling: her breath misted, like the morning fog gathered at the mountain crest at dawn. When she spoke, her breath was a slight mist, hard to discern in the full strength of the noon sun but visible in the morning and late afternoon, a breath perfumed by wild jasmine flowers. A retinue of wild animals followed her: the civet, now extinct; the wild water buffalo called the tamaraw, now driven from its old haunts, the gold-headed eagle, now extinct, and a dazzling wild rooster called the labuyo, which was expropriated by the aliens and turned into a familiar of a male saint and a favorite of cockpit gamblers.
"When she spoke, her breath was a slight mist,
hard to discern in the full strength of the noon sun
but visible in the morning and late afternoon,
a breath perfumed by wild jasmine flowers."
The tamaraw carried her weapons of war on her back: the machete whose edge never dulled, the spear with its poisoned iron tip, the shield with its runes and cabalistic signs. The labuyo and the eagle were her scouts – one on the ground, the other in the air; the civet was her comrade-in-arms. Where her bare feet touched the soil, plants sprouted and bloomed in frenzy; and she had but to touch a tree trunk to make the whole tree shiver with delight and put forth leaves, flowers, fruits… This was why she was revered and tribal people left her such delicacies as she couldn’t make herself, sweet rice cakes like the sapin-sapin, kalamay, suman and sometimes, in a bamboo tube, ginger tea.
She had a rule about reciprocity and always gave back, occasionally not what the supplicant asked for but what was fair for everyone—her way of teaching her people that even desire had to be considered within the matrix of the tribe. Her home mountain was not desecrated, until the aliens came and laid waste to its thousand-year-old mahogany and teak for their homes, their ships, for tables and chairs and church pews – which, being dead anyway, brought no joy and eventually rotted away in more ways than one.
When Mayang Makiling lost her animals, she wept for a hundred years but the river of tears did not lessen her grief and she could think of no recourse except to curl up in a cave, to sleep, vowing to awaken only at the call of the civet, the tamaraw, the eagle and the labuyo. In her sleep, she weeps and torrents run down the mountain side, flooding rivers and towns, overflowing the lake. Don’t let them tell you it was all about a perfidious young man and romance. Her heart was broken by home’s destruction. We lost her and we will never see one like her again and only the sea will come to take back her home and her broken heart. —#