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ATTITUDE 13A Daughter of Guam's Collection of Short Stories
By Tanya Chargualaf Taimanglo
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Tanya Chargualaf Taimanglo
All right reserved.
I drew the warm air into my mouth, and it left a cool trail to my lungs. It wasn't painful to breathe again, but I sat on the moist sand and thought about each breath for some time. How long had I been in the ocean?
My wish had been granted, to be among those who walk the land. I thought I returned to the spot I walked out on my former life, but the shores of my home looked so different. I wanted to run to my home by the river, but my legs felt heavy. It was like I was in a dream. I clawed at the sand; it was dawn on Guam. I didn't realize that my hair had grown so long, like black seaweed that nearly reached my feet. Remnants of my former shape were still visible on my legs.
There was an occasional roar behind me and I was not frightened. I had encountered very scary creatures in the ocean, amongst all the beauty. I just wanted to see my mother and godmother one more time.
I realized my nakedness and I looked around for some form of cover. That's when I saw towering white cliffs in the dim morning light. These weren't like any cliffs I had ever scene. Bright lights shone through a line of holes. The lines on these cliffs were straight. Some of the structures were higher than the others and I saw movement in them. Were these caves?
I then heard footsteps coming towards me, quick and rhythmic. I pulled my hair forward and it served as a blanket over my body. The last of the shiny scales disappeared from my legs. I did not move. I did not want whoever was approaching to see me. I kept my eyes on the sparkling ebony water and wondered if I had made a mistake in wishing to come home. King, my ocean father, said I could always return if I submerged myself in the water and swim back to the trench. He warned that it would be the last time he would grant me the wish to return to the shore. The change would be permanent.
The clomping feet slowed and I heard heavy breathing. A crackling sound made me shift towards the person and I heard the woman's fear in her high-pitched squeal.
"Oh my God!" There was a clattering of sounds as she dropped her brown bag of things. "Miss? Are you okay?"
I did not understand her words as I pushed my damp hair off my face. It didn't sound like the language I knew. Something in me told me she was friendly. I tried to speak, but my words could not escape. I cleared my throat and then the flood of sounds exploded forth. It was a cluster of odd notes and from the look on the pretty woman's face, I could tell she was frightened. She stumbled back and I decided not to move. She had her hands over her ears and a pained look on her face.
"I can't understand. Is your throat hurt? Damn, you can shatter glass with that voice."
I cleared my throat again, rubbing my hands on my neck. The slits on the side of my neck were nearly smoothed out. I tried again. "Guahu si Raina."
"Oh, I don't speak Chamorro. Well, I took it in high school, but I don't remember much. Siñot Benavente would kill me." The woman spoke quickly in her language. She smiled and I was thankful for her kindness. "Guahu, hmm. You are Raina?"
"Hunggan! Guahu si Raina!" I said.
"Guahu si Maia."
"Maia. Hafa tatamanu hao?"
"Todu maolek." Maia jumped up and down. "Awesome. I totally remember that!"
"Taotao Hagåtña yo'."
"You are from Agana, I mean Hagåtña? This is Tumon." Maia pointed to the ground. "Where's your house? I mean, these are all hotels here."
"Hoh-tels. Este, hotels?"
"Raina, you are totally naked. Here." Maia gave me her white garment, too short to be a dress. It barely covered my bottom. Maia turned away so I could dress. I slid my arms into the clothing and waited. Maia turned around and gasped.
"Oh, Raina, you need to zip the hoodie up, then no one will see your susu."
"Susu!" I smiled and placed my hands on my chest. She said another word I understood.
"You are too funny, and wow. You are incredibly beautiful. Bunita. Maybe I should call the police." Maia pulled on a shiny sliver and it enveloped me in the soft white clothing, covering my chest. "You only speak Chamorro, huh? Are you from Rota or Saipan?"
I didn't understand her once again. A man ran past us and Maia stood in front of me protectively. I smiled at him and he began running backwards. He smiled back at me and nearly stumbled.
"Keep moving, pervert!" Maia yelled at him. She pushed my long hair behind my shoulders and smiled. "What are we going to do with you? Guma? Where, um, mangge guma or is it, manu guma?"
I smiled and looked around. The rising sun revealed my surroundings. I didn't recognize anything. I pointed to the ground again and said, "Tomhom?"
"Yes. This is Tomhom."
I looked to the water and recognized the cliff I used to swim to as a child. I wondered how long I was with King in the ocean. I was nearly as tall as Maia. She looked old enough to be with a man, and old enough to be a mother. I must be that old too, if not older.
I walked towards the cliff I recognized. My home should be close, but I wasn't very sure. There were so many white cliffs, hotels, that I wondered if mama would still be living in our house. Maia followed behind me and offered a strange, red item from her bag. It was filled with liquid which looked like blood. She opened the top and let me smell the juice. It smelled sweet, but I didn't want to drink blood. Maia drank and placed the object under my nose again. "Try it. Drink. Um, chagi? Ga-tor-ade."
I grasped the object and smelled it again. I stuck my tongue into the hole and let the taste settle in my mouth. It was delicious. Sweet. It was like mango or papaya, but nothing I've ever tried. I tilted the object and let all the sweet juice empty into my mouth. I didn't realize I was so hungry. I returned the empty container to Maia. I drank all the juice and I felt ashamed. "Dispensa yo'."
"It's okay. You must be hungry. I'll follow you to your guma, then I'll be on my way. I have classes later." Maia smiled. "I don't know why I even bother, you can't understand English. Are you sure you're not from like Tinian or somewhere?"
I followed closely behind Maia. The ground switched from sand to rock to a black sheet of hardness. My feet had not been used in so long my grunts of pain did not go unnoticed by Maia. We reached a large shiny box. It was red too. The round black objects holding the red box up were as tall as my waist.
"This is my Jeep. I think I have an extra pair of zori for you." Maia opened a door and pointed to a chair. "Get in. Um, siya."
I pulled myself up. It was like climbing a tree. Maia giggled as I'm sure my dagan was in her view. "Wait!" She ran to the back of this Jeep. "Here. Put these shorts on and these zoris." She grabbed my legs and placed it in the garment, pulling it up and dressing me like I was a child. She then helped me into the Jeep.
The glorious sunshine unveiled the rest of the island. I did not recognize anything except for coconut trees and latte stones, which must have shrunk since I was last here. I wondered if this was even Guam. Did King bring me to the correct shore?
Maia hopped into the chair next to me and smiled. She placed a tiny object into a hole and twisted it. The loud roar of this thing she called a Jeep startled me. I grasped the chair and stuck my head out of the window.
"No! Raina. I'm sorry. It's just the Jeep. It's a loud one. Please, sit down." The ground was so far from my perch, I did what I was told. Raina grabbed a stick by a large black circle and pulled it. The Jeep moved backwards and I held onto the door. This time I stifled my scream. As the Jeep moved forward the breeze helped me relax. Raina pointed to a group of silver and black circles. "Music?"
I shrugged my shoulders and pointed to the circles too. "Mu-zic."
Maia pushed a black circle and a loud blaring and pounding started. "Oh, crap! Sorry." With a twist of her wrist, the pounding lowered in volume and a beautiful female voice began singing in the language Maia spoke.
We continued on a path and the trees and hotels blurred from the speed. When we stopped, I saw other colorful boxes of different sizes around me. People, different types of people looked up at me. I smiled and they smiled in return. Why was Guam so different? It looked different and smelled different. Maia didn't even speak Chamorro. My chest tightened as I thought of the possibility of my mama being dead. Would my nina be gone too?
"We're in Hagåtña now. Where do I go? I don't know of any homes around here. Maybe you meant Hagåtña Heights?"
I saw the shoreline and smelled the rich ocean air. Nothing was familiar. The green I was used to was replaced by squares and large structures that looked like the hotels. Then something caught my eye. It was a fish girl like me.
"Maia!" I pointed to a green clearing and a bridge.
"What? Do you see your house?" I placed my arm on Maia's shoulder and pointed to the fish girl I saw. Within a few moments, Maia rotated her Jeep and stopped. I started to climb out the small window, but Maia pulled me back, reached over me and then the door swung open.
I jumped out and began running, the hot ground was hard under my feet, but it didn't hurt with the zori on. I stumbled a few times and then I saw her. She was frozen. Unmoving. A fish girl not in the water. I reached out slowly and touched her tail. Hard and warm. Was she real? Was she made of stone? Did someone turn her into stone? Her skin was one color, as dark as the night. Her hair covered one susu and she was looking to the sky. Her fish tail was covered in scales larger than I had.
"Listen, Raina. Don't go off running like that." Maia was breathing hard.
"Hayi?" I pointed to the fish girl.
"That's Sirena. She's our mermaid legend. You know girl and fish? Palao'an yan guihan?" I looked at her again. The fine features of her stone face did not look like mine. Why didn't she move? I walked around her. I pushed on her hard back. Nothing. Maia began to giggle. "What ever are you doing, Raina? Hafa?"
I shook my head and said, "Palao'an yan guihan." This was not the home I wanted to return to. Nobody here was like me. Nothing made sense. I looked across a path of gray with traveling shiny boxes and saw the ocean. I tugged on the little shiny tab on the white garment Maia let me wear. I handed the clothing to Maia. I looked at the statue again and pulled my hair over my chest to cover my susu. I wiggled out of the other clothing and kicked off the zoris.
"What are you doing, Raina? You're going to cause an accident!" I began to walk to the water, the only thing I knew now. I looked back to Maia and waved. She stood with her mouth open, but did not move. My feet padded over a patch of grass, then more hard, gray trails. When I reached the sand, Maia was gone. Her red Jeep was in motion. I stood at the shore's edge and let the warm water lick my toes. I turned around to find a few people watching me now. As I looked at the rising cliffs beyond the motionless fish girl, I saw a landscape I vaguely remembered. This was not my home. I had been gone too long and now everyone I loved must be gone. When I became a creature of the sea, I left at this location and mama and nina were on the shore. But, the place my house should have been was overtaken by these hotels.
I saw Maia stop her Jeep and run towards me. "Raina! Where are you going? Wait. My auntie's coming. You can tell her where your home is, she speaks Chamorro. Please." I smiled at Maia, the girl who clothed me and greeted me and was protective. I waved and turned to the ocean. My feet began to tingle and I knew my retransformation was beginning. I walked towards the horizon until the warm water was deep enough. I dove in and swam parallel to the shore. Maia ran and kept up with me. My legs locked together and the bones became soft. My change did not hurt like the first time. I knew what to expect. I ran my fingers along my waist and felt the scales. I emerged from the water to see Maia again, this time she was waist high in the warm ocean water. I wanted her to know what I was and I didn't want her to think I was a girl lost.
I swam up to her quietly and swiftly under water. I peeked my head up from the blue. She was startled still looking out to the spot she watched me submerge. "Raina, I can help you. Please." She held her hand out to me. I took it.
"Si Yu'os Ma'ase, Maia. Guahu si Raina. Guahu Palao'an yan guihan." I released her hand and swam away from her. I dove and waved my fins above water. My revelation had the effect I wanted. Maia had the same surprised face my mama had once. She looked around to see if anyone else might be witness to what she was seeing. The few people walking continued on their paths. As the distance increased between us, I plunged into the deep and propelled myself out of the water. The air was cool as I floated to the clouds. I waved my tail one last time and broke my return to the warm water with my hands. I raced to the trench, ready for the second time in my life to be one with the ocean.
BY ANY OTHER NAME
"Grandma's dead, Toni." Roque said over the phone.
Good! I thought. "That's terrible," I said.
"Can you make it home for the funeral? It's in ten days, since dad's waiting for Auntie Checha to fly out from Virginia, Space A." My brother asked like I had a choice in the matter.
It's just like grandma to die during my finals week. I thought. "I'll start checking flights on-line," I said.
* * *
My brother's call lit a fuse in me. Anger tried to find space in my head, where stress was the current tenant. I had two final exams tackled and three to go, and now this crap about grandma dying. My dad's mom was the last of the quartet of grandparents to go. My least favorite one, not only because I was bestowed with her antiquated name, but because she was a mean bitch. I have the welt marks on my butt and thighs to prove it. The scars on my forearms, barely visible to others, but permanent with the memories of her thick nails pinching me in church or at her ranch only allowed resentment to fester in my soul. I was the only grandchild of ten to be awarded such treatment.
"Toni!" My pseudo boyfriend called from outside my apartment building.
I took my time reaching the window; the air was still cool even though the Hawaiian sun blazed high in the sky. I traded off a college education on Guam for another island paradise where I could still wear shorts and tanks and zoris comfortably. It was also good to be freed from my parent's controlling clutches. The first day I arrived in Hawaii, I treated myself to a tattoo on my right hip. A Yin and Yang meant rebellion lying beneath my clothes.
"Toni! Get down here."
"God, Tyler! Can't you just text me or call like a normal person?"
"Isn't this more romantic? I'm beckoning while your heaving breast hang over your balcony. Toni-punzel, let down your hair! Want me to sing?" It took all my self-control not to hurl my potted sunflower at him.
"Please don't! I'll be down soon." I grabbed my keys and headed for the stairs as a tone deaf Tyler began a serenade.
Tyler was as third generation Japanese-American in Hawaii. His physique caught my attention first. His long surfer boy hair was a surefire way to piss off my dad. Tyler's face was easy to look at, but it was his overall lack of fire that left me wanting more.
My dad let it slip to grandma that I was dating him and I could imagine her muyo' and the disapproving click of her tongue. The first thing she asked was if I was "shacking up with the Jap." Grandma was a survivor of the Japanese occupation on Guam and she found it ironic that our island was now being sustained by Japanese tourism. Part of me knew that I continued to date Tyler because it irked my grandma. I wondered what would become of our relationship now that she was dead.
Excerpted from ATTITUDE 13 by Tanya Chargualaf Taimanglo Copyright © 2010 by Tanya Chargualaf Taimanglo. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
By Any Other Name....................9
Yes, I Am....................45
Chirika's Pepper Plant*....................67
Skin Tag You're It....................81
The Tigress Club....................85
Chamorro Word/Phrase KEY....................103