Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Siren Stories

By Katinka Angela Visitacion | The Sillimanian Magazine

When I received the offer, I was sitting idly somewhere in Cape Cod, rendered too languid from watching the piping plovers peck away at what they could from the gravel before evading the crashing tide, and too boozed out from convenience store wine to so much as pick up the phone at the email ping. 

The old thing was sandwiched between my notes left long ignored; blaring the wannabe vintage stylings of an asinine band an old colleague recommended from back when I worked corporate in Manila to get through my Master’s. A plover tittered daringly by my feet. 

It was only through the forager bird’s display of bravery that I found my pedantic self inspired. Check the email—it could be all of two things, both particularly devoid of joy; another angry missive from the big guy funding my Massachusetts rendezvous to hurry up on my reports, or the subscription to Esquire I never brought myself to cancel from back when the only things in my inbox were cobwebs and dashed postgraduate school dreams.

It was only when I read the subject that I booked the closest flight back home I could.

“I didn’t know you could just drop out of field studies like that,” the younger Chavez furrowed his brow exactly the way the older did. I averted my gaze to keep from reeling at their likeness.

“You can’t,” I shrugged, “they took me off the job before I could get in a word.” 

We sat in silence for a while. I was unaffected, but he twisted and picked away at the skin of his fingers. I waited for him to give, and after ten more seconds he resorted to breaking the quiet with an unsure: “You knew dad, right?”

“He and I knew every damn grain of sand in Silliman Beach,” I replied, half-joking, “you two are more similar than you’d think.”

“Really?”

“Except he didn’t start physical altercations with professors in the middle of Chizstik,” he was my student, yes—but I had to nip the hope budding in his face lest he look too much like Jan, “normally cases like this would earn you a season pass into suspension, but I asked to see you first.” 

“You were his best friend,” the little Jan—his name was something incredibly inane, and something incredibly like his father to name a child, but it evaded me still—argued, “you would have done the same thing.”

“No, I would have not. You punched a fresh graduate in the ribs.”

“My father was not disturbed,” he insisted, “my father—”

“Was a cryptozoologist, or whatever name he wanted to call it, I know. I was the first person he told.” I said, turning to finally face him. 

I met Jan Chavez in 2006. I was an aspiring marine biologist, and Jan Chavez cared not for much except for the fact that he had just bleached the tips of his hair. The ironic thing was that I came into Silliman Beach pallid and gaunt, and he looked as if his birth was a collaborative effort between the sun, the sand, and the seafoam. We were freshmen then, barely seventeen. We became unlikely friends after Jan pulled me from my boarding house solitary confinement and out to drink with our other cohort, which resulted in me pulling him away from throwing himself into the crashing, gray waves of the boulevard, half-wailing-half-roaring about a girl he left behind in Siquijor. I nursed him back to sanity at his apartment, and when his bleary eyes fluttered open to meet my own glare: a friendship was born. 

The year was freshly 2009 when the news broke out. Jan and I waited out the rest of the lingering rain from the storm two days ago in the comfort of his living room before our phones went off in a myriad of noises to ask all of us the same thing: mermaid on campus???

After exchanging flurries of texts between classmates asking for clarification, it was at the insistence of Jan that we be the students that braved the adventure. He practically ushered me into his unmistakable lime green minivan, driving us to Silliman Beach, where a crowd of clamoring people had come for either an opportunity to leer at the supposed mermaid, or to protest her captivity, and that the torrential downpour was her mother’s wrath for her child taken. 

Jan, who was the designated talker between the both of us, sauntered up to the gate and flashed his ID, gesturing for the me to awkwardly squeeze through the throng of people—the same sea of people that parted just for him, might I add—and do the same. We were in.

We spotted our professors discussing amongst themselves by the museum, and before they could warily turn to where we stood to look derisively at the assemblage, I can’t recall how, but I can remember being tugged along by the shirt collar and the blur of the rush. Before I knew it, we were by the door and out of their line of sight.  

“I’ll stay,” I whispered, “I’ll watch out for you. Besides, it’s probably a dugong.”

“A dugong,” he repeated, incredulously.

“Columbus?” I retorted. He scoffed, checked around for anyone else looking our way, and crossed a line that we both didn’t know would change him forever. 

When Jan came out, he came out flushed like I had never seen him before. Absolutely taken. I asked him about the mermaid. He told me it was a dugong. I didn’t believe him for a second, going so far as to tell him as much, but he doubled down. It was a dugong. His smile was far away. Dugong.

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