Daughters of Mindanao

Image
Photo by MARYGRACE on Adobe Stock
Synopsis
In 1984, Filipino-American archeologist Morgan Macabuac makes the discovery of the century while living in the Philippines but soon learns that a deadly typhoon is about to hit the island and separate Morgan from her newborn daughter. Haunted by her grandparents’ harrowing loss of their firstborn in 1897, Morgan relentlessly searches for her infant to ensure their fate is not hers while also struggling to keep her life from unraveling.
PROLOGUE: October 11th, 1897

The water level rose to the floor of their hut despite it being a few feet off the ground. Nimuel rushed around their home, gathering everything he could carry while Ligaya got herself and their newborn together. She moved slowly, still sore from giving birth only hours before.

Their neighbors had wanted to wait for them, but they both insisted they go on and they would catch up shortly.

They descended the stairs hastily, and the water was to their waist when their feet hit the ground.

Nimuel lifted the pack above his head and ensured his wife and child were alright before heading in the direction they saw the rest of the village go.

“They told us to meet them at the cave just up the mountain.”

The forest was usually green and sometimes pink in the spring, but a dismal gray hue surrounded everything as they ran through it that night. Ligaya wondered how high up they would have to travel before they were no longer treading through water.

They stopped every few yards and strained their hearing, trying to figure out which path the others took because there were so many downed trees. But the heavy rainfall drowned out every sound.

Their sleeping newborn was awakened when her mother fell on her.

Nimual stopped suddenly as the rain quieted down.

“I think I hear them. This way!” He shouted as he pulled his wife’s free arm.

He ran off to the left, and Ligaya was doing her best to follow him, relieved at the thought of finding the others from their village, before something in her peripheral caught her eye. She turned slowly, and her breath caught in her throat as her heart thrashed against her chest.

Nimuel noticed she had stopped and went back to her.

“Ligaya! What’s wrong? Are you alright? Is it the baby?” he said as he pulled back the bundle to examine the infant.

Ligaya opened her mouth to speak but was unable to answer. Nimuel followed her gaze and finally saw it. The black wall of water, at least six times higher than either of them stood, rushed toward them.

CHAPTER 1: January 12th, 1984

Time is not always kind, especially to those caught in its waves of repetition.

Morgan Macabuac was the first in three generations to return to Mindanao, where her grandparents had lost their firstborn daughter decades before on the night she was born. Morgan was moving to the northern part of the island for the next year to complete her research on indigenous tribes to satisfy her requirements for her last year of graduate school at San Francisco University. She wanted to be a successful archeologist and persuade the university to add a Philippine studies program. Morgan was sure that she could accomplish both goals during her time there.

The problem right now was her stomach. Morgan was determined not to throw up, or at least not on the plane again. The day before, she had felt lightheaded and queasy because she had forgotten to eat, and it hadn’t been made any better by the junk she’d loaded up on at the airport and motion sickness from reading. But as Morgan leaned back in her seat, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath, she could feel the contents of her stomach rising in her throat once more. She got up slowly but ran the rest of the way down the aisle when she realized she might not make it to the bathroom. Morgan would be mortified if she threw up anywhere outside the bathroom on an eighteen-hour flight.

Afterward, Morgan splashed water on her face, patted it down, and gripped either side of the bathroom sink. She looked up at herself in the mirror. She calculated that it would be fifteen hours before they reached Singapore. Then, a four-hour flight to Manila. Then, finally, the two-hour flight to Davao. She groaned. Morgan convinced herself that it would not be too bad if she took a nap like the rest of the passengers were doing. Turbulence had her stumbling back to her seat, which made her stomach lurch again.

When the small plane finally landed in Davao with Morgan and a handful of others, she didn’t make it off the stairs before throwing up again. One of the women was sympathetic and gave Morgan an embroidered handkerchief when the pilot came down the stairs.

“Wow, miss. I didn’t think my landing was that rough,” he joked.

Morgan tried to wipe her mouth and smile, but it didn’t help that she had humiliated herself. Not the best way to start the trip, she thought. But when she looked up, what she saw beyond the small airport could only be described as paradise. The forest stretched all the way to the most prominent mountains Morgan had ever seen. She knew if she got lost in the encompassing greenery before her, she would die happy.

Morgan hauled her luggage, following the others inside to the terminal. She let out a sigh of relief as the cold air hit her. As she walked through the sliding doors, she could hear many dialects being spoken. Morgan had learned Cebuano and a little Tagalog growing up, but the lesser-known dialects, especially those used by the indigenous tribes, she would need to pick up fast. Her grandmother had forgotten most of her mother tongue and the dialect of her grandfather’s tribe by the time Morgan came to live with her.

“It’s difficult to remember when you have no one to speak to,” she would say.

Morgan made her way to the main entrance, surprised that this airport and the one in Singapore looked similar to San Francisco International. The only difference really was the language on the signs.

“Miss Macabuac! Over here.” A man shouted by the entrance doors. He held a piece of paper that read Morgan Macabuac in neat handwriting.

She quickly made her way over to the man. “Please, you can call me Morgan. Francisco?” Morgan smiled.

“Yes, Francisco dela Cruz, but you can call me Kiko. It’s great to finally meet you in person.”

Kiko helped Morgan with her bags, and as they stepped through the front doors, she saw that though Davao was a developed metropolitan city, she still couldn’t get over the scenery surrounding it. The only view you could get in San Francisco was of the water. If you wanted to see trees or a forest, you had to travel farther north to one of the national or state parks.

After driving for a while, the main streets and highways became smaller, and buildings were farther apart. Trees became more frequent, and Morgan stuck her head out the window to get as much fresh air as possible. The air was thick with humidity, making her hair stick to the sweat on her face. Kiko and Morgan chatted the entire way, and she was thankful for their previous communication before she arrived. She now learned about him and his family, and Morgan told him about her grandparents, where they were from, Manilatown in San Francisco, and what she hoped to accomplish during her time here. The birds, insects, and whatever else in the forest sang together harmoniously, making rainforest cassettes sound like a cheap imitation by comparison.

Eventually, Kiko turned down a dirt road, and not long after, the ocean appeared on the other side of the trees. On the opposite side of the road, Morgan could hear a small waterfall, and Kiko explained that it was the village’s primary water source. As they approached the coast, Morgan finally saw the village where she would live for the next year of her life. The Badjao lived in bamboo houses hovering over the water, supported by tall stilts. Neat pathways twisted around the quaint boxes, connecting the front doors to each other and leading them back to shore.

The water was as blue as the sky, and the gentle sound of wooden boats knocked against the dock they were tied to. It was a picturesque scene that someone might only get the chance to see on a calendar in their lifetime. But Morgan felt lucky to not only see it firsthand but to be able to live in it, too. Her fear of what would happen if she never wanted to leave slowly shifted to the thought that she could be pregnant in the country with the strictest abortion laws on the planet.

About the Author

Nikki Stinson

Nikki Stinson is an author and writing professor from Riverside, California. She is currently getting a master's in genocide studies at Stockton University (Galloway, NJ), has an MFA in Creative Writing from Drexel University (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), and a BA in English from California Baptist University (Riverside, California). On The Run Fiction recently published her short story, "Where I Have Been." Nikki lives in the Philadelphia suburbs with her husband and their three sons.