by Catherine Batac Walder
One of my city’s twins in the list was Scuro, in Wok.
I was sitting in Trafiko for a quarter of an hour, trying to occupy myself with the advertisements, when this poster listing twin cities caught my eye. Twin towns or cities are pairs to promote human and cultural relations among the places. While the other names sounded familiar, Scuro was clearly amusing.
The ticket queue flashed my number in red, my turn to come up the desk. A nice middle-aged woman said “Hiya!”, and I told her I wanted another monthly transportation pass.
As she filled in the small card that was to be my pass, I couldn’t help but ask.
“Miss, where is Scuro?”
She looked up from the half-filled card and told me as if it were the most normal thing in the world, “Scuro is in Wok.”
“Wok? Do you mean Woking in England?”
“Wok. Balangay boats? The queens and servants? Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of them?” She squinted, eyeing me as if I was strange not to know where Wok was.
I started to laugh. Of course I’d heard of Wok. When I was little I had heard stories about it. “Nice joke. Twinning with a fairy tale city.”
The woman frowned, now looking so annoyed with me. “I’ve been to Scuro a long time ago. Actually, a few of my classmates, as fate had it, were left behind.”
I didn’t want to think there was a nutty woman working at Trafiko who believed Wok was real.
“What are you, lower, upper secondary school student? she asked.
“Upper. I’m actually graduating this year.”
“Oh, don’t worry about Wok then. Come back here before graduation. Then you’ll be in Wok soon enough.” She leaned across me, curling her nose as if to scare, whispering, “Sooner than you can imagine.” She winked as she added, “But remember, when you get there, don’t get carried away with the celebrations.”
I took it as a whole joke at first, but as soon as I got hold of a world map book, I checked out if there was really a Scuro on it. I combed the places from cover to cover but there was no mention of it. I closed the book and thought if it was just a little Trafiko propaganda, and that it was really lame of them to hope to pull such a stunt. They could advertise traveling to an existing place at least, if they wanted for their business to boom.
It was a few months before graduation when I started to worry whether or not I would join Buss. Buss is how secondary school students in our city observe the few weeks leading to graduation. The celebrations are huge, streets are closed and people (who are not part of it) refuse to leave their houses. The clothes. The clothes deserve to be celebrated on their own. They are worn for three weeks without being washed, adorned by every dare a student can accomplish. To carry out dares means belongingness for most students. The highlight of this tradition, and I’m guessing how the name “Buss” came about, is every group has the chance to buy its own bus.
“Why do we need to buy a bus?” we asked the Buss organizers.
“You don’t want to go walking to Scuro, surely?” was their vague answer.
My sister, with whom I was staying at that time, was not too keen on me joining. “You never know what to expect from these high school parties,” she said. Like other older people, she was critical of today’s young people’s way of celebrating Buss, saying it was a bit excessive. I wasn’t too fussed about joining, either, but more because of the money involved.
My good friend Rebecca said, during lunch time, that she would ask her parents to sponsor me, but I said not to worry, I would think of something. Another classmate overheard Rebecca and me talking, and shouted to me, “If you don’t have money to buy a bus, go to Trafiko and they will hire out a bus for you.”
So that was how I came back to Trafiko, and finally believed one could get to Scuro in Wok. But if Wok was the same as it was in the stories, then surely it wasn’t safe to go there. And certainly it was impossible to go there by bus. I guess that was the only reason why I chose to go. To find out how to get to a fairy tale city, by bus.
No one knows how Buss started. Rebecca said even her nan had Buss so it might have been a long, long time since its inception. When I saw off Rebecca just this morning to her bus, I saw theirs was awesome as compared to my Trafiko-rented one. Most of the students in her group wanted everything to be extravagant. They went over the top, choosing the most expensive furniture with the most hi-tech sound system and in the process had to raise a lot of money to buy the best bus. Out of desperation, they negotiated with Dino, the famous porn star, to join their group and film acts in their bus to help raise money. The group even summoned one politician’s help, promising they would back him up in the next elections. That politician was known to be corrupt and could promise you anything just to win – say, for the Metro to come every 10, instead of 15 minutes.
Even after reading the guidebook, we still knew very little about the trip to Scuro. All we knew was it was for the Buss celebrations. As I mentioned, I was really curious how an ordinary bus would take us to Wok so I secured a window seat to get a good view of the areas we would pass.
Sadly, the windows were tinted but I became naughty at one point and started scraping the tint to make a hole big enough to get a good view from where I was sitting. This I did while Miko, a nice chap occupying the seat next to mine, was fast asleep.
Still, with the hole so small, I could not make out what we were passing – the bus traveled as fast as a bullet fired from a Colt 45. My eyes got tired trying to make out what was outside. I saw nothing but a quick succession of different colors – green, gold, white, orange, yellow – so in the end I was left with images of horizontal lines.
That is, not until the figure appeared out of nowhere, eerily clear amidst all those split-second images I got used to when looking out of the window. It was the first of the series of times I would see her.
She was a headless woman wearing a long, white beaded dress. I couldn’t really tell if she was a woman if not for the dress.
She was looking at me, riding whatever it was she sat on with grace, possibly a horse, and at the same time trying to keep up with the speed of our bus. The vision lasted for about a minute or so and after that she disappeared into those horizontal lines that my eyes got used to.
Inside the bus it was different. It felt as though we were not moving at all. The other students walked back and forth in the aisle. They were as relaxed as they would be inside a house. There were boys shouting and singing from the back of the bus.
It must have been half a day’s journey when the bus suddenly stopped. We waited for any announcement from the driver. Miko whispered to me to look to the front. I could see some of the students getting off.
“We’re stopping here for the night,” the driver yelled.
We gathered our things and as we left, I wondered if we were in Wok already. When I stepped out of the bus, the sign read “Clock Town.”
The residents of this town were extraordinary, but at the same time they all looked the same. They had bodies and arms and legs like us humans but they had only clocks as faces. As I looked at each of them, it seemed they were all the same clocks. Nothing was special about the hands of their clocks. (For example, Swiss Railway clocks are deemed special because of the clear and concise design. They have very thick ‘hour’ and ‘minute’ hands, almost rectangular; the ‘second’ hand red in color and round-ended.) I thought it must be difficult to live in a place where you couldn’t distinguish anybody. The clockpeople wore different clothes so that was probably how they recognized which one was which.
“Here! Here!” I turned and saw a clock person was talking to me. It was a clockwoman. She wore a white floral skirt so I knew it was a she. “How much time would you like to borrow?”
I frowned, not understanding what she meant.
“Here,” she handed me what looked like an old scroll. When I unrolled and spread it to look at the contents, I realized it was simply a calendar. I concluded this must be their calendar in Clock Town. However, it was different as they had eight, instead of seven days in a week.
“That is my very own calendar,” clockwoman beamed at me. Seeing I still looked clueless, she continued, “I have lots of time in my hands. Not as much as McNode, he’s very young and has lots of time in his hands, 10 days! When I was younger I had the same.” I was amused at the way the hands on her clockface moved. The hand telling the seconds worked as her mouth and therefore it kept turning as she talked. I tried to follow her lip movement and almost felt dizzy doing so.
“Really looks like a lot of time,” I observed, glancing at her calendar up and down. “How do you make most of it?”
“We lend them to visitors, like you,” she beamed again.
I thought of all of the schoolwork I had to finish before this trip and thought she could have been a lot of use to me that time. I handed her the scroll. The group was now entering the town, almost leaving me behind. I thanked the clockwoman and said I would think about borrowing time.
That evening, after supper, we made a campfire outside our tents and sat around it. I had been looking for Rebecca but noted the only people in this area were those from our bus. Her group must have stopped somewhere else.
We didn’t have anything planned for this brief stop so we just sat in small groups, talking about what we saw during the day. At one point I looked towards the woods and had to give a second glance when, among the trees, appeared the same headless woman I saw from the bus. I patted Miko’s hand to make him look but as soon as craned his neck to the direction I was looking, the headless woman was gone.
“What is it?” Miko asked.
“There was a squirrel. I didn’t think they would have squirrels in Clock Town,” I lied.
One of the boys seated on the other side of the fire started tapping the stainless steel pot he was holding with a spoon. He spoke in a loud voice, addressing everyone. “I learned a few things from one of our clock friends this afternoon. One is the Trafiko Buss Bus makes a stop in this town every year. Our clock friend said he was once a student who went on this journey like us, a few hundred years ago.” Seeing he now had the full attention of everyone, he raised his voice even louder, “Our clock friend came on the last of the Balangay boats.”
There was a murmur of excitement from among the group.
Then one raised his hand, asking the very question every one of us must have been dying to know, “Why do they have clocks for heads?”
The student who started with the story just shrugged. “I didn’t get around to asking him that. But he did warn us to be careful when borrowing time.”
At that he got back to talking to his small group, with the rest of us disappointed not to have heard the end of a rather interesting story that would have told us more about the beginning of Buss traditions in Wok.
We were waiting outside the bus the next day, wondering what it was that was taking our departure such a long time. I regretted that instead of waiting, I could have got back into town to look for clockwoman to arrange to borrow some time.
Some boys were already getting ready to board the bus, with the others irritated now about whatever it was that was keeping us. It appeared we were waiting for one or two boys.
“Let’s just leave them,” somebody joked, and the rest, including the driver, laughed.
This light joking couldn’t in any way prepare us for the next turn of events.
“Here he is,” one of the girls said.
It was Miko. He ran to us and was out of breath as he came closer.
“Nikolas is still there,” he said, pointing back to where he came from. We heard the boy whose name was Nikolas screaming.
“He’s after him!” another girl exclaimed, terror in her voice.
The sun was blazing hot and shining so bright I couldn’t make out what the girl was frightened about. I squinted and saw the boy we were waiting for, a clockman on his heels.
“He borrowed five days from that clockman yesterday. Now it seems the clockman doesn’t want to let him go,” Miko said. He was now crying.
“Go get him, driver,” one of the boys yelled. “Help him!”
“I’m afraid I can’t do anything. These clockpeople aren’t that clear about the payment they wish when you borrow from them.”
“No,” Miko said. “He clearly just wants for Nikolas to stay five more days here but Nikolas told him that wasn’t in their agreement and they started arguing.”
From what I could see from where I was standing, the clockman held on to Nikolas’s hand as if he would never let go. Without any warning, he took the hour hand from his clockface. The hand was shaped like a sword with a very sharp blade.
It was a nightmare.
The girls started running to get into the bus, wailing. Most of the boys were screaming. I gasped as the clockman lifted his hour hand/sword, its blade glinted against the sun. And he struck the back of Nikolas’s neck with it.
I closed my eyes just in time to see blood spurting and Nikolas’s head rolling on the ground.
“He’s replacing Nikolas’s head with a clock, look!” somebody said. I don’t know who it was, I couldn’t think anymore, must have been the same boy last night who told us to be careful when borrowing time. I wanted to throw up. I didn’t want to look and squeezed in among the throngs of people trying to get into the bus.
The tragedy at the previous town changed the atmosphere in the bus. Or so I thought. As I turned around to look at the others, they all seemed… serene to me. The rowdy boys at the back didn’t sing any more songs but you could detect half a smile on their faces. An idea occurred to me, that Nikolas’s fate was all part of the fun, but I brushed the thought away.
Lift, the next town where we would spend the night, boasted of something to offer, possibly more time to borrow, and most likely at an awful price. As soon as we started walking around town, I noticed the rows of shops advertising a product to keep one’s youthful looks for a long time. The shops weren’t very transparent as to what this product was.
I kept up with the driver as we walked. “How far are we from Wok?” I asked.
He turned to me, saying, “My boy, we have been in Wok since yesterday.”
I wasn’t really surprised, as Clock Town certainly looked as if it would be located in Wok. So I asked instead, “How far are we from Scuro then?”
“Five miles, a little bit of turning and whipped cream on top,” was his strange answer. He walked much faster then, leaving me wondering how to convert that in distance according to the language I speak.
I was glued to that spot when, upon turning to my right, who else would it be but that same headless woman. Her body, her dress, everything about her was all clear. But on all counts, the manner in which she appeared and disappeared, brought to my eyes merely a blurry vision, like a dream. She seemed to float as she passed me now, closer than she ever did before. I thought I wasn’t really sure if she was indeed riding a horse. But I could make out a brown pattern around her, which I thought was that of a horse. Was she some Wok princess who was decapitated in Clock Town and died even before getting a clock to replace her head? I thought you could die being decapitated, you know, if the clockman wasn’t quick enough to replace your head with a clock.
I wondered if she also appeared to the others. If not, what did she need from me? What could I give her, I who couldn’t even afford to go on this Buss trip if Trafiko hadn’t rented a bus for us?
As she vanished, all my thoughts returned to the business at hand in Lift. At first, I noted there was nothing extraordinary about the residents of this town. They were dressed and looked like us so I guess they didn’t notice we were strangers.
I took one long look at two women sitting at an outdoor table of a cafeteria and I noticed there was this… greasy look about them. Now understand, it was not a cold day, but it was not sweltering, either (in fact, right after I made this observation it was spitting fine rain in that very place). Such nice, cool weather would make you think people would look fresh. These Lift people looked as if they were all covered in oil. I know some people’s faces are naturally oily, but these people, it was just too much, it was as if there were layers of oil on their faces. Imagine how it is on a cold night and fat solidifies inside a jar, and it becomes so thick and white. That was how the oil on the faces of these women looked to me.
I didn’t mean to be rude, but curiosity got the better of me, so I approached the two women and jabbed a finger into one of their faces to prove my point.
The woman seemed surprised at first but laughed as she saw me looking at the oil that now covered my forefinger. “You should try it on your face, that thing around your finger was mined from Lift’s biggest oil reserve. It will keep you young for several decades.”
“What brought you to this town?” asked the other woman, who, by the look of dry skin on my face, concluded I wasn’t from around Lift.
“I’m on a student trip,” I said.
They seemed to have lost interest and got back to sipping what appeared to me as some sort of oil as well.
“Is this town rich in oil then?” I asked, as dumb as it might sound, in an effort to get back their attention to me.
“Oh, don’t you know?” asked the woman whose face I poked. “Lift has oil reserves not found on any other land in Wok. The oil brought so many jobs to all of Wok. Why, we think we are even richer than Scuro. All of them over there only care about showing off white and gold. No, sir, we don’t care about material things. We take good care of our faces, and that’s it. There’s so much oil that can last constant application for a lifetime, at a very low price,” she raised her cup of oil at me, beaming with pride.
“And that’s why all of us here are young-looking,” the other woman said.
And oily-looking I wanted to add, but I thought they were hospitable enough not to throw me out after I jabbed at one of their faces.
Nothing much could be said about our stay in Lift. Several of us were offered to try putting the oil on our faces but we declined, worried about the repayment (I could bear my face being covered with oil but what if repayment included being enclosed in an oil bubble all my life? That would be dreadful!)
We were finishing our lunch dessert on the bus, strawberry with whipped cream, when the driver announced we were in Scuro already.
“Where is the Wok City? I’d also like to visit it,” said one girl.
“It’s not very far. We’ll see if we can have a wander over there once you survived your Buss celebrations,” cried the bus driver who was far from reassuring as to what awaited us in Scuro.
I looked out of the hole on my window. As we had come to a full stop, I could properly see outside. In between bites of my dessert, I savored the grand city that lay before me.
At first I thought the city was covered in snow. As we got out of the bus I realized what it was. The whole city was painted white. The buildings and pavements were (and allow me to use this description as I am not sure if there ever was such a thing) in varying colors of white. Even the trees and plants were white, and as far as I could tell they were real. People paid for purchases with not gold, but what looked to me like white metal. Men and women wore white suits and dresses. White beads, sequins and other embroidery adorned their clothes. “This is cosplay at its best,” one of the girls from our bus marveled.
Probably the best part about Scuro was that it was an island surrounded by water.
One curious thing, though, was how our bus managed to get to this place. The island was in the middle of the sea and to get to it, our bus must have been transported by boat – something that didn’t happen, and of this I was absolutely certain, even if it was difficult to see anything from the hole on my window. But then, that must be how you get to a place in the middle of the sea by bus – five miles, a little bit of turning and whipped cream on top.
As we walked, we couldn’t help but remark how clean and shiny everything looked. We knew Scuro was a very rich city, and it showed from how the place was presented. I looked up, impressed by the twinkling white lights adorning the magnificent billboards. There were pictures of young people everywhere.
“Self-contained,” Miko, who was walking with me, said. Unlike most of the students in my bus, he looked weary and since that incident in Clock Town, didn’t look pleased to be on this trip. “They do look as if they don’t need anybody. Such a self-contained little city.” He now sounded more annoyed than ever. As we turned around a corner, he pointed at a poster on one wall that looked too out of place. At first I thought someone had vandalized the wall but as we walked along and saw more of the same poster, we concluded they were put on that clean and shiny white tiled wall on purpose.
The poster was of the Alpin, who, as far as my knowledge of Wok stories was concerned, was the current ruler of the Wok City. I had to look twice to check if it was really the Alpin. A big X covered most of the image in the poster.
I was surprised, when on our next turning, I saw a tramp. I thought it snobbish of me not to expect that such a wonderful place would allow a tramp about. I thought Scuro cared so much for appearance that if there was someone such as a tramp wandering its streets, a city as vain-looking as Scuro would have this sorted out as soon as possible.
The tramp called for Miko’s attention. Miko kept walking, ignoring him, so he called to me instead.
I stopped, not out of politeness, but curiosity.
He looked like a happy tramp, laughing as he introduced himself to me: “I’m Gentle Tramp, the first ever resident tramp of Scuro.” Laughter. “Do you know when I came here 10 years ago, there was no tramp in this town?” Laughter, like that of a hyena. “I’ve been honored in some occasions for being the first tramp here. Unfortunately, all the honor came from outside of Scuro. They still couldn’t accept me here, or us, there have been many tramps who arrived since I came. The Scuro people tried so hard to change us, to dress us in fancy white silk, but no, that would mean being a tramp no more so we kept refusing. I’ve had dinners in my honor, in Clock Town, Lift, even in the Wok City. “‘Gentle Tramp, the first ever tramp who settled in Scuro,’ the banners said about me.” Laughter.
I chatted with Gentle Tramp, hoping he could tell me more about Scuro if it was true he has lived here for 10 years “From outside, it looks perfect. People live freely here. The city is rich. Old people are taken care of. There are no crimes… rather, that’s what appears so.”
With this, his expression transformed into that of a grave one. “Scuro is good at concealing its true face by its many riches. Just white glitters, mostly with no substance. Many times I’ve had a taste of what could be done to me if I continue as I am in this town. Only last year, a good tramp friend of mine, Jumping Tramp, became the object of the celebrations. His body was found next to the bus of young students who came to Scuro.”
Gentle Tramp sobbed for a while and I let him be. After a minute or so, he turned that sorrowful expression into a gleeful one as he continued to talk about Scuro, as if telling a fairy tale to a child, and it stunned me to see the quick transformation.
“Five years into his leading the Wok City, the Alpin became very, very unhappy. He didn’t realize what responsibility he took up until he was seated at the throne. The Wok City continued to prosper, the city obedient to his rules, but there were some places, unbeknownst to the Alpin, that remained indomitable.
“Scuro is one of those places. Probably the biggest asset of Scuro is its young people. The young are paid much reverence to and their coming out in society is commemorated like in no other town. It is beyond anybody’s imagination, young people’s freedom in Scuro, it is. They invite people from different places to celebrate with them, from twin cities here and beyond.”
I wouldn’t deny I could understand and sympathize with the Alpin’s misgivings about such merriment which sounded to me like our very own Buss. Before our group came to Scuro, as limited as our resources were (our bus Trafiko-funded and all), the organizers still tried to squeeze things out of us by making us wear all our best clothes and buy the most prohibitive food and drinks for the journey. At first, I wanted to view the Alpin’s attitude from the point of view of someone who was a part of the Buss celebrations. To see us young people as maybe only misunderstood. For people like the Alpin, the tradition had become a venue for flaunting riches, not for the good behavior Buss had promoted ever since its inception.
“These activities came to the knowledge of the Alpin only after the first year of his ruling. He wasn’t happy about the extravagance and the dares, so in the following years he tried to limit the celebrations. This made the Scuro youngsters very angry, insisting that this is the practice, the tradition, and the Alpin had no power to stop this. They warned for him to never set foot on Scuro or they would cause trouble for the Alpin and the residents of the Wok City.”
With that, Gentle Tramp waved his hand at the posters of the rejected Alpin on the wall, ending his story.
He now looked at me again, saying, “You’ll be safer in your bus.”
By now, the students from the other buses had all arrived in Scuro, and most of the students were very excited by what they saw. Some had already changed into eye-catching clothes the locals offered to them. Others ran to the beach, some stripping naked and swimming further. I saw Rebecca. She now also had changed into a pretty long white dress. She was away from the water but was walking barefooted on the sand. She waved to me. Maybe it was the dress, but seeing her wear that dress reminded me of the headless woman I kept encountering.
“The Balangay Queen has returned!” the tramp yelled. I looked at him and saw he was looking at Rebecca.
He got up but almost lost his balance in the process and held on to me. “Save her, save the Queen!”
I didn’t understand what he meant but something just swept all over me. Do you know that feeling, when you suddenly feel as though you’re going to get ill, or maybe that someone you care about is in danger? Those times when you can actually tell? I felt that way. I ran to Rebecca. She was in gay spirits, happy, twirling in her dress, showing it to one of the girls from her bus.
Rebecca turned and turned and when she stopped, she was surprised to see me in front of her. “I’m dizzy now,” she told me, laughing. “I better unturn myself now,” she said as she prepared to turn the other way around. “It never works, does it, unturning yourself,” she added.
Before she turned again I took her hand and pulled her. I started to run and she tried to keep up, one of her hands holding her skirt as she ran. “What are you doing?” she yelled.
I must have run so fast, my shoes soiled from kicking up sand while running, I must have hurt Rebecca with my pulling. In a minute, we were in front of the Trafiko bus, panting.
“Why did we run away?” Rebecca asked, half-smiling. That’s how she was. I couldn’t remember her getting angry even if sometimes I did silly things.
I looked back, noting the air of celebration as all the young people were now heading towards the sea.
Rebecca looked at the whole vista with me. “I’m glad I came,” she said with a sigh.
Young men and women jumped and played in the water. Such a pretty scene it was at first I didn’t notice them tumbling down. The next minute it was all chaos. The ones who were further out to sea kept jumping up and down. It didn’t look good. From where we were standing I couldn’t see what was causing the fall. But whatever it was, the minute those people got in contact with the water seemed like a douse of awakening.
I now turned to Rebecca, her eyes were wide with amazement, then fear. Those who managed to get up came running to their buses. I saw students from my group running towards us. “We better get on the bus, too,” I grabbed Rebecca’s hand, leading her to our bus.
We felt exhausted as we settled in, as several other students swarmed in. Some were crying, others still shouting for the names of their friends. “I’m coming back for Artur!” one boy yelled.
The doors of the bus closed.
“What’s the matter? Don’t close it, some people are still trying to get in,” another boy said, addressing the driver.
“I didn’t,” the driver said. He tried to open the door but with so much difficulty.
There was a blinding force of light and all of a sudden the tint on the bus windows was gone and we could see outside. It was like watching something progress on film as we saw people falling down after being struck by something.
From the bus we could see the City Hall which earlier was the brightest part of the city. Now I could see there were five or six people who were standing in front of the building struggling to move but somehow they remained in their respective places. It was as if each of them had been enclosed in a standing coffin with invisible sides. I could see them groping their way out of the box, as if blinded. I wanted to scream and tell them, “there are no barriers, you are free, just try to get out.” It must have been too bright in that part they had lost their sense of sight.
There were several other images. On one part of the shore I could see naked people, one on top of the other. Under different circumstances I would have concluded the scenario must be part of the celebrations. But as I stared longer I felt certain these bodies were limp, almost lifeless.
These were images so clear, so real that if we ever got out of this alive we wouldn’t forget this nightmare. We couldn’t understand what was going on, of what befell us, worse, of what befell those poor creatures who couldn’t get into their buses. These images came as abrupt and unexplained but their coming was a validation of that feeling of doubt some of us had about the reason why we were in this twin of a place.
Then came the headless woman, appearing as if the daughter of the sea, floating towards our bus in all of her glory.
Floating must be the correct word. She floated on (and now I realized what looked like a horse was in fact) an old Balangay longboat.
As she approached I recalled who she was. She was the same servant written in those Wok stories I enjoyed as a child. She had been decapitated and buried with her queen in a Balangay boat to serve as her companion into the spirit world. She had been decapitated just to be able to tell, if and when their bodies were exhumed, which one was which.
As I looked out I felt myself shaking. It couldn’t be. I could see myself out there in the sea. I was running towards the headless woman, trying to keep her from taking Rebecca. The servant believed Rebecca was her Queen and they should always be together. I saw myself drowning before I could reach Rebecca.
I looked around me and forced myself to believe I didn’t drown. I didn’t. Rebecca and I made it to the bus on time. This bus didn’t merely bring us to the twin city; it also kept us safe. Such a reliable bus, its engine would be worthy of a study, taking us all the way to Scuro. It must have been in the new wheels. The flashy lights, the clean windscreen, the wide, comfortable seats. The smooth way it ran, never screeching to a stop, never hurling us forwards and sticking our noses to the glass up front. Must be a thousand times more costly than those Balangay boats our forefathers had used. But it kept us safe. What a reliable bus this was, letting us honor and continue these rituals and traditions that date back through time.More stories like this by topic: Authors of color, Characters of color, Filipino/a authors, Southeast Asian speculative fiction, Women authors