by Marion Carlet Pascasio

“Get up, Doy.” 

I heard people screaming outside. I stood up, the bamboo eaves creaking like small  frogs behind me. Needle and colored rope still in hand, I peered outside the door. People were  scampering around, staring at the waveless sea. 

“We have to go, kid.” Dad was on the boat, unloading the fish containers on the sand. Tio Mario, Garding, and Dad were hastily pushing our scraggly pumpboat to sea.  Emsee‘s her name, a rusty-colored bangka with scratches of ugly yellow paint. I ran to help. People were gossiping. The children stopped playing in the sand and began squinting at  the sea. The men were hastily bringing their boats to the water. Radio in my hand, I hopped  aboard. The engines sputtered and roared as Emsee caught up speed.  

“Cargo ship six miles east from Hogonoy is sinking. We need all help available. Over.” The radio blared with static. 

I can’t believe we can become heroes. 

The afternoon sunlight scratched our skin and the salty breeze spat on our faces. It  would be difficult if the sinking happened tonight, and even worse, on this new moon. As Emsee sailed at top speed, we saw a black ooze in the ocean. Dad’s bloodshot eyes  sunk deeper as the black liquid floated calmly atop the water while our little boat cruised by. “Here goes our catch, boy.” he muttered as the black ooze dripped down his palm. “Oil spill.” Tio Mario whispered to me, his breath reeking of tobacco. “This is gonna look  bad for a few months to come.” 

The sea was a calm blue, with waves glowing orange as they raced each other to the  coast. Like a round mirror with a huge black crack weaving across, the bright red-and-yellow  Emsee stood alone in the center. Patches and rows of color danced across my eyes from the  shadow of oil flowing across the water. It was a beautiful sight.

Dad followed the trail of oil to lead us to the ship. Eventually, a black figure appeared on  the eastern horizon. We raced towards the ship – now a pitiful heap of metal bobbing sideways  on the waves. The oil is streaming from a bangka-wide crack by its side. A few men swam to us,  one of them had their white uniform streaked a dusty black. 

“Help!” he swam frantically towards us. The man looked relieved to see us. I threw the  rope at him. The men scampered to take hold of the rope. We started to help them up the boat. A few minutes later, the other boats rolled in for the rescue operation. Totong and his  gang on the fat blue Lady Amarga. Tio Albert and his son on the swift green Ynaguinid, and  even Mr Cong’s commercial boat with a huge net for sardines. 

Hours later, we brought the rescued people back to shore in the town proper where the  hospital people were waiting. Flashes of light came our way. A media truck had pulled up on the  driveway near the sand-drenched stairs that led to the beach. 

We were heroes. 

After everything was settled, our boat headed straight back to our village. A few people  had arrived in a black pickup and brought with them sacks of sawdust. The sunken ship is still  the talk of the little town. 

“Dad, what time are we going fishing later? It’s the new moon.” 

Dad’s wrinkled mouth curled in a small wince. The sun was setting on the west horizon, perching atop the mountains. The tuna-blue blanket of the night was slowly creeping up the  eastern sky, almost as if the oil spill even stained the heavens with color. Rainbow streaks  appeared on the water we waded on, our feet slimy with black oil. 

“We can’t, kid.” he smiled sadly and patted my back. Dad looked at the sea behind us. I  did too, and we saw dead fishes floating atop the water.  

“But those fish…” 

“We won’t be able to sell those.” He said. 

“Why?”

“Because that boat sank and left oil in the water. That oil kills the fish. And we can’t eat  fish with that’s contaminated, can’t we?” 

We returned the boat back to shore. Tio Mario and Garding returned home. I reloaded  the fish containers back to little Emsee and washed my feet at the village pump. I returned  home to my bamboo-weaved chair, rope and needle, and went back to working on my net. 

Even if we became heroes for today… How will we be able to feed ourselves tomorrow? In the kitchen, the frying pan hissed with oil. The scent of fried fish emanated throughout  the house. The living room TV blared and buzzed as the news reported the sunken ship that  afternoon. The stilt house creaked as someone walked closer to the doorway. “Is it because of that boat sinking why Dad won’t fish today?” Selia peered from the door. “Yeah.” 

“Even with the new moon?” 

I nodded. 

“What are we gonna sell for tomorrow, then?” 

“…” 

Selia sighed. She left and I continued working on my net peacefully. It was dark. I looked  out at the sea, now gone of any golden lights, lamps, and ships, and fishermen. Nearby, the  munisipio people were still working on the shore, flashlights in hand. The sea was a cold, black  piece of glass stretching as far as the eye can see. It was full of death. 

I picked up a dead aloy*. The black waves crackled beneath my feet. The fish smelled  like gas, the kind that you smell in petron stations when the tricycle stopped by to refuel. The oil  sheen glowed many colors when I stared at it from different angles. 

This can kill me. 

“Dodoy! Dinner.” Mom called from the house. “We’re having fried aloy today.” I dropped the fish to the sand and walked home. 

Rainbows on glass – they are deadly kind of beautiful.

Aloy* – Mackerel tuna