“Oh! This is a good one! Kaibigan.”
Marco points at the word on the page and then to its translation. Mina’s eyes light up with understanding and he says, “It means friends.”
Mina points to herself and then to him. “Ka..ibi..gan?” she asks him playfully, her pronunciation curious and awkward but firm. Marco laughs at the way she wiggles her eyebrows at him and nods, a blush forming on his cheeks. “Yes.” He points to himself and then to her. “Kaibigan,” he assures her.
They were an unlikely pair the two of them. No one really remembers how the two met, especially in times like these with a raging war as the backdrop to their lives. Mina’s parents were doctors who somehow ended up on the small island along with a bunch of other refugees, and Marco’s parents were teachers. Marco and Mina were beginning to wonder why many adults in their small conservative town would stare at them, especially at Mina. They would often with disapproval say, “those children came from two very worlds and should never have met.” But they didn’t change one bit. All they knew was that they were friends and they liked to have fun together. And for two 12-year-olds, that was all that really mattered.
Life of a 12-year-old is mostly chores, but a teacher’s life and a doctor’s life have points in common. Marco and Mina would come across each other during the day while running errands and took rides together. One warm summer afternoon they are riding a small pedicab. Marco wants to show her his favorite place in the world. They are getting to know each other and on the way, they tease and laugh while practicing their enunciation. They bring up new words every day in hope that one day they can talk to each other, and tell the other what’s on their mind, and in their heart.
They reach the ocean and it’s big and awesome, deep and blue, and doesn’t seem to end. Marco loves the sea and hopes one day to be a captain. He is going to tell Mina about it and runs to catch up. He follows her down the seawall. The day is clear and sunny and they’re the only ones there.
“You’ll never catch me!” She yells as she hops on top of the ledge of the wall and runs along it, her slippers hitting the concrete with heavy rubbery slaps. The jetty separates a grassy area of land from a large gulf that opens out into a wide blue ocean. She hears Marco’s slippers jumping on the ledge too as he runs after her, yelling at her with annoyance and delight. Eventually he catches up to her and she grabs his shirt and yanks him towards her. They laugh and Marco thinks to himself, how perfect this moment is. Watching her eyes twinkle as she giggles at his defeat.
Then all of a sudden Mina stops laughing. Her eyes widen as she stares at something on the ocean behind him. The fear in her eyes is clear and sharp as the day. A cold dread slowly seeps into his veins as he asks, “What’s wrong?” She doesn’t respond. He turns to look and he freezes.
Marco in a flash becomes aware he’s no longer too young to know about the world. He now knows enough to recognize the entire scene before him as a dark omen of death and suffering – a harbinger of war. The dark metal ships before him look huge even from far away. They tower over the sea like the ancient serpent dragons from his Lola’s old storybooks. Marco’s spine stiffens as he begins to recognize them from the daily newspapers. His father has been showing him pictures like them. “It’s an entire fleet of battleships and it’s heading mercilessly towards us,” he had told him that morning.
Mina grabs his hands and shakes him. She frantically points in the direction of the local military camp a few minutes away and says something Marco can’t understand. She shapes her fingers into guns and points them at his chest shooting, meaning to warn him of the danger these ships bring to him and the island. He stares into her frantic eyes and realizes she’s telling him to run and warn the soldiers at the camp that the enemy is here. Deep down he knows he should start moving; he should start yelling at the top of his lungs and warn everyone on his way, that they are here. And yet he hesitates.
“They… won’t allow us to be friends anymore after this,” he tells her. “I know I should go warn them but…” He looks down at their intertwined hands. “Everything’s going to change,” he whispers.
Seeing the pain in his eyes, Mina lets go of his hands and grips his shoulders tightly. She tries to give him a reassuring smile and then she pulls him into a tight hug. He hugs her back, feeling the weight of his decision grow heavier with every passing second. “Kaibigan,” she says into his ear. She rubs his back and whispers something else, her syllables steady and reassuring.
And somehow Marco understands.
A few moments pass and Mina gently unwraps herself from the hug. She points towards the direction of the military camp again and motions for him to run. He nods, sure and determined this time with his decision to warn them despite all of his fears of what’s about to come. Mina is sure it’s the best thing to do and he trusts her. That’s what friends do; they trust each other. Fearing for her safety, he points towards the direction of their town and says, “you go home and warn them.” She nods back at him.
He jumps down from the ledge and helps Mina do the same. Just when he’s about to turn and run, Mina gently places a hand on his shoulder. He sees her extend her pinky towards him. She says, “Promise me you’ll be okay.” He takes her pinky with his own and says, “Don’t worry about me. Just go home and tell everyone.” That seemed to be enough. Mina smiles at him one last time and lets go.
Marco runs to the military camp.
Adapted by: Eugenio Zorrilla.
Produced: Eugenio Zorrilla.
This is a work of fiction.