It was eons ago and night time was just an empty black sky. The sky and the sea were united in the dark and where people could not tell them apart. They thought that the sky could have fallen on the sea or the sea might have risen to the sky.
Fishermen fished at dawn. In order to be able to see in the midst of blinding darkness, they adorned their boats with lamps. They put them high above the deck, on their mast so that the light would reach farther than the prow. The heat from the lamps were warm enough to equal the midday sun and the people desperately wished to the deities living in the world above to dispel the sweltering winds. At predawn, the lamps flared in fiery yellow and orange illuminating the pathless voyage.
The lamps were as if paving the way for the coming of the sun, their torches mimicking its light as if its day, but instead of one, there are several little blazing suns at the middle of the sea in half-darkness.
The smooth surface of the black sea reflected the lights of the boats. The flickering show of lights was as if made for the little children who were still charmed with luminous things. The ones who just woke up came out of their houses on rafts to witness the spectacle. There in the black water, they touched the reflected glowing fire. There in the water, they changed the course and shape of the burning light when they tried to catch it with their hands. There in the water, they saw a threshold for a world that was not theirs, a mirage they would wish to dive.
That dawn, in a village beside the sea, a loud bellow of a baby was heard. Her wails were so strong it woke up the nearby houses. Seraya was the name that waited for her, a name long treasure by her mother, Agata. Her hands were clutched like a young mango fruit. And her small feet kept thrashing in the air. The deities above heard the people after all.
Among the powder blue sky small flickering lights slowly appeared in the empty black sky, one by one. As if enthralling welcome to a fated birth. In no time, they were scattered beyond what eyes could reach. In the midst of the wondrous show, a big ball of pearl dangled above, glowing brighter than the little ones, which were twinkling to a beat of a song of praise for its brightness that the people could not hear.
When the midwife came out of Seraya’s house for fresh air after attending to Agata, the sight of twinkling lights surprised her. She rushed back inside the house. “Marvelous lights came out from the sky. It’s unbelievable!”
The midwife told Agata that lights appeared just after she gave birth. She assisted labour for many years but that was the first time something strange and beautiful happened.
“What are those lights for,” the new mother asked. “Why did those lights appear after I gave birth?”
“Your daughter must be one of those twinkling lights above. She perhaps lost her way, ending up in your arms, Agata.”
The fishermen who sailed the sea that time forgot that they were fishing. They just sat in their boats with their mouths wide open. The plain sky was as if poked with big needles that created holes for lights to spring. They also wondered how a pearl was pulled out from the depths of the sea to the sky. Some of them thought those lights would fall on them, either softly as rain or burning hot like coals. One of them pondered more on what direction would the biggest pearl they ever saw would fall. One fisherman raised his small bucket above his head to catch the lights if ever they would fall. He doubted if the big pearl would fit in his bucket so he would just aimed for the smaller lights. Some fishermen retreated back to the island out of fear.
Every child that was up that time enjoyed the new spectacle. The children blew their candles and lamps off. When the smoke cleared, more specks of lights came out. They loved the twinkling lights more than the even though big but only glowing pearl above. For them, the view of the twinkling lights outshined the parade of boats that they used to see.
The father of Seraya, Yago, entered their house. He approached his wife to check on her and their daughter. Agata was still awake.
“Our daughter is beautiful like the small lights above.” Yago told his wife.
“The midwife said that our daughter must be one of those lights above,” the new mother said.
“If that was true then we have so many children. And if they are our daughter’s brothers and sisters they will surely watch after her.”
Seraya wailed again in her mother’s arms. She wailed very loud as if ordering everyone to bear her commands. Her wails were so loud it reached the other neighboring houses and woke the people up. It was loud enough that darkness left the village beside the sea and called in the morning to come.
The sky then pulled up the sun, its light sprang different colors everywhere appear; green trees on white sand, silver and gray fishes, orange and peach corals under the sea. The sea stood out above all the colors everywhere. Tinge of blues and greens painted the sea and glittered everywhere when sunbeams hit the surface.
Their village beside the sea housed twenty floating houses on rafts neatly aligned to prevent themselves from bumping each other. The houses were several strides away from each other. Under the rafts were the clear blue water swaying gently. The women nearby excitedly visited Seraya specially the children who went to see her first thing in the morning.
Seraya slept soundly in her mother’s arms. Other mothers of the village beside the sea were excited to hold Seraya. They couldn’t believe Seraya’s beauty, bright brown eyes, curly lashes, soft and deep concavities on her both cheeks, and her small lips. They advised Agata with everything they know. They helped her around the house while she was still weak from giving birth. They did all these just to see and admire the dainty Seraya sleeping in her mother’s arms.
Aside from the excitement that Seraya brought, everyone was also excited to see if the sky would be decorated again at night, which they couldn’t wait for.
The night did come with all its wonders; fine small jewels and a pearl. The fishermen didn’t need to adorn their boats with too many lamps anymore except for one or two as a force of habit. The sea became clearer. Colder winds wrapped the fishermen and their families in comfortable sleep none the heat of artificial lights.
The village beside the sea grew and more floating houses joined after a year. The fishermen learned some new ways to fish. With the bigger demand for fish due to the growing population of the village beside the sea they needed to catch more.
While Seraya learned to walk, she also learned to swim the sea.
Seraya’s mother Agata was talking to their guest who joined them fishing that day. Seraya crawled and toppled all over the boat. When she stumbled, she would sit up like nothing happened. She crawled until she reached the border edge of the boat. The prow that pointed to the sky caught her interest. Seraya stretched her hand to touch the prow’s pointy end, but she couldn’t reach it. She stood slowly on her feet and leaned her weight to the body of the prow.
“Um,” Seraya uttered before she fell on the water.
“Seraya!” her mother shouted.
Agata ran immediately for her, but when she saw that Seraya was comfortably paddling in the emerald green water, she clamed down. Seraya flipped her body to face the sky and to get some air. She floated in the water effortlessly. Since that day on, Agata knew that Seraya would have a deep connection with the sea.
Seraya was a very lively, loud, and cheeky girl at seven. She always woke up early to help her father light a few lamps before they sailed away from the village beside the sea to go fishing.
“Father! Teach me how to fish!”
“You should sleep more, Seraya.”
“All right. But don’t tell your mother I let you play instead of telling you to sleep.”
She learned fishing at an early age. In no time, she could already catch fish the shallow and clear waters with a spear.
Seraya also helped her mother with the house chores. She helped her mother cook, swept the floor, wash the dishes, and smoke their house to get rid of insects.
“I’m not afraid of cockroach.” Agata smiled at her.
The children on their village wanted to play with and befriend the pretty Seraya, but she couldn’t be found anywhere in their island most of the time. Seraya was more interested of the sea at that age. She didn’t want to play. She wanted to feel the cold breeze of the wind in the middle of the sea, to catch fish, and look at the beautiful sky at night instead.
Seraya turned thirteen. She still had her beauty that equaled the beauty of the thousand lights above. She was tall for her age and her lean and muscular physique revealed how a great swimmer she was. She loved swimming just as much as she loved fishing. For Seraya, the sea was a friend that opened itself, its mysteries and secrets, to her curious mind.
Seraya wanted to know every little thing about the sea that she grew up with. She found out about the other wonders that the sea kept inside it. Just like their village beside the sea, fishes live together. For Seraya, the corals were the houses and fishes were its occupants. Turtles were like the fishermen who sailed in a steady course. There were smaller fishes following the mother fishes. They looked like the children in their village beside the sea tailing their mother everywhere they she go. The big school of fishes curling like a ball underwater was like the huge hoisted sails of their boats enduring strong currents of winds. There were big whales who drifted in their village beside the sea. Their songs was Seraya’s favorite song. And once in every year, when the corals spawned and the sea would be filled with its pollen, Seraya would hold her breath for the longest time to witness the whole thing happen. The sight of corals spewing millions of pollen and from that small spores colorful cosmos of corals would live overwhelmed Seraya that she almost forgot she was not breathing. And as to her surprise, the sea shivered sometimes.
The sky at night was another thing that Seraya loved to marvel at. She even memorized the different patterns and shapes of the twinkling lights.
“You can draw with these lights. You can draw any shape of animals or things with it if you connected it light after light. I named some of the patterns I made.”
Seraya talked about the lights above to some of the villagers and fisherfolks in their place, but no one of them seemed to listen to her. Seraya noticed that the villager’s eyes were fixed at her face and her every movement. The people watched her like how they kept an eye for movements of fish in the water. Her words seemed to evaporate the moment it came out of her mouth before it even reached the ears of the villagers. The villagers could hear her but they chose to memorize her beauty instead so they could bring a bit of her even if only in their minds. Some of them couldn’t help but compare the dimples in Seraya’s cheek that surfaces everytime she pressed her lips together to the dangling round pearl in the night sky.
“Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Still, no one answered her.
Seraya was afraid and confused. It was as if the people around her turned into vacated shells, inanimate and hollow inside. She ran away from the villagers. While running, she realized why it was always better when she was alone by herself.
Seraya didn’t want people’s attention. She dreaded the idea that she had to be what the people expected her to be. Since she was a child expectations were given to her by the villagers and many of them were strangers to her. She was embarrassed and not shy. She couldn’t help but be conscious about herself when she heard remarks that the people say about her. Anxiety build-up inside her and to set herself free, she sought for solitude and shunned people away of her life most of the time. The elders reprimanded her for having her won world, but she didn’t care anymore.
She couldn’t understand people unlike the sea and the sky. She knew exactly when it was going to rain just by looking at the sky. She knew exactly when the sea was in distraught because of the water’s temperature. But she couldn’t comprehend why she couldn’t get along with other people. She went home with a frown on her face.
“What happened Seraya? Why do you look so down?”
“People don’t listen to me, Mother. I’m not invisible but voiceless. I don’t know what’s worst? I feel stupid.”
Her father just arrived and saw that she was sad. “You seems so dim, Seraya.”
“It’s just that the sea is much better than people, Father. The sea listens, so as the sky. But people don’t.”
“Then, tell father about it. I will listen.”
Seraya told her father about the markers she made in the sky. She told her father Yago how the patterns of lights above have an appointed places below.
“Could you help me find this island I am looking for Seraya?”
“Sure father. We leave when the lights appeared in the sky.”
The night came and the twinkling lights appeared. Their boat gently sailed away to avoid disturbing the other floating houses. When they reached a fair distance from their village beside the sea, Seraya’s father woke her. Seraya went outside the house and looked above. It was as if she was reading the sky before she looked at her father and told him, “The way to your island, father, is to follow the landmark of the pana. The pana are three stars that can easily be seen because they are too close to each other. Look! There they are.”
Yago followed his daughter’s advice and sailed for hours until a faint light started to seep in the horizon between the sea and the sky already. Sunrise was about to ensue. In Yago’s disbelief, they really reached the fishing locus he was looking for. She woke her wife and daughter up.
“Look we made it. We reached the fishing locus! Seraya you are right! My daughter can read the lights above!”
They were the only boat on that spot that day. Her father caught a huge amount of fish, more than enough to feed their whole village beside the sea. The baskets were filled with different kinds of fishes to the brim.
Seraya’s family shared the location to their neighbors. The people easily believed Seraya’s capability to read the stars after they saw their basket filled with fishes. Some of them asked for Seraya’s other patterns. Some thought it was a miracle brought by Seraya. But Seraya knew that finding fishing locus was not a work of miracle, it was her own undertaking.
Seraya couldn’t understand why people couldn’t hear her and see what she really was. She noticed her worth was being diminished into something beautiful like the lights above. She wanted to be away from that place. She didn’t want to stay there anymore.
Seraya would observe the big pearl above when she was in the village beside the sea instead of swimming. She became fascinated with how the pearl changes its shape; it was like a glowing ball sometimes and through the days it slowly turned to a hollowed bowl. Seraya sometimes believed that it was the sky who took a bite from the big pearl, when it was hungry, or if the sky wanted to feed the swelling waves with big pearl’s crumbs.
Seraya began to observe that every time the sky took a bite from the pearl above a particular part of the sea was abundant with fish. When she finally understood how the sky, sea, and the big pearl worked together she told her father about her yet another discovery.
Seraya told Yago about the changing amount of fish based on the shape of the pearl above. Her father and mother listened. Seraya told them that the sky was taking a part of the big pearl to feed the fishes at a particular place in the sea. Then, that place would then become abundant with fat fishes. Every time the pearl above waxed and waned, its shape changed as if it was a big hand above telling the direction of islands where there would be plenty of fishes.
Clarisse Paronda recently graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines Mindanao with a degree of Bachelor of Arts in English major in Creative Writing. She now lives in Bulacan.