Marikit and the Ocean of Stars (2024)



Marikit. Filipino. adj. Pretty. Usually attributed to stars, fine ladies, and a small girl with thick, wavy hair, constantly running under the sun in old, remodeled clothes.

Marikit Lakandula was nearly ten and very much certain that shadows didn’t blink. Shadows didn’t have eyes to do so. Shadows only trailed beneath her soles whenever she ran around the dusty, unpaved roads of Barrio Magiting. Yet when she stooped down to survey the sand caught in her rubber slippers, she had to scrub her eyes and pinch her cheeks two times over. It was there. A shadow, swelling with its dim shade, gaping at her with its big, sun-washed yellow eyes before it closed one of its peepers.

She looked around and wondered if the other kids had seen it. Sixteen heads with the scent of the sun and sticky air bobbed in front of her, and twenty-four more behind her occasionally rose on their tiptoes and mumbled, Is it open yet? All of them had been standing in front of a yellow gate that reflected the scorching heat of the cloudless April afternoon. The sun had smothered itself on the tall coconut trees and made shadows of the many leaves, filling the dusty path with many shades of black, under which they took refuge.

It must be the leaves. Marikit slouched down to look closely at the shadows, blacks upon blacks, swaying at the movement of the wind. The only other reason she could think of was that she was Na-engkanto. Enchanted. Spell-casted. Made an unknown spirit angry, and for that she was cursed.

The crowd of yellow-wearing kids let out a scream, and she jolted back—did they see it? But Marikit, upon looking up, only saw two people coming through the yellow gate, carrying a many-tiered yellow cake, passing under a large, yellow banner, on which was written, Welcome to Jana’s Superfabulously Splendid 10th Birthday Party.

Come inside, children, one by one, and don’t push, ordered a lady with shoulder-length permed hair and a yellow gingham dress, waving her manicured hands as she bid the young guests in. One by one, the busy, buzzy crowd followed, stepping over the threshold as the woman examined them before giving them a yellow party hat. Not all came through. Many times, she stopped a child, pushed them back, and turned them away.

Not enough yellow, Mrs. Solomon told a girl with tiny yellow rings on her bright pink dress. Not yellow enough, Mrs. Solomon told a boy who wore a shirt with thin beige stripes. The celebrant’s mother was very particular about the yellow on the garment, and the closer Marikit got to the gate, the more she forgot about the shadow.

What she feared now was to be found out that her dress wasn’t yellow.

If one observed closely, Marikit’s party dress used to be white. The A-line frock was a hand-me-down from her mother, with a Peter Pan collar, droopy lace sleeves, and a fake pearl button. It used to be pretty.

That was what Marikit’s name meant. Pretty.

But like people, things grew old. They shriveled and sulked and cracked their bones and lost their glow. Marikit’s dress did. Rust and moth-dusts had clung to its skirt; spatters of yellow stains sloshed all across its corners. How unfortunate that Marikit had no other yellow clothes!

And so, when it was her turn, Marikit closed her eyes and stepped forward, nervously awaiting her judgment.

Come in, Mrs. Solomon said sharply.

Marikit couldn’t believe her ears. Ma’am?

She opened her eyes. Mrs. Solomon, instead of surveying Marikit from head to toe, was more preoccupied with her own bright-yellow manicure with French tips, whining about one of her nails chipping. The lady took a quick glance at Marikit, turned her head away, and by the grace of Bathala, only beckoned, Next!

Without a second thought, Marikit skipped happily through the gate.

Jana Solomon’s Superfabulously Splendid Tenth Birthday Party was almost entirely yellow. The Solomons’ sprawling garage was decorated with big, yellow balloons that hovered behind yellow-ribboned chairs set around yellow gingham–covered tables, each of them hiding yellow bags that served as party favors. The center table featured a three-tiered birthday cake enveloped in buttercream and drizzled with golden confetti. Beside it was a mouth-watering lechon that had a golden apple underneath its snout. There was a glass barrel of mango juice with real mango bits, a large platter of pancit, different kinds of yellow puto topped with cheese, overflowing spaghetti, two tubs of mango ice cream, and hot dogs on sticks embellished with yellow marshmallows.

Marikit sat at the end of the celebrant’s table, where a wobbly little stool was left empty. Her seatmates, unfortunately, were sharp-eyed, gossipy little guests who took pride in their Actually Yellow outfits: yellow blouses with gold buttons and sequined pockets, tulle skirts with glitters, and yellow corduroy pinafores paired with preppy yellow shirts. Sharp little eyes made it obvious that Marikit didn’t deserve her spot.

Ah, poor Marikit! She felt more out of place when the girls pushed their chairs together, far away from her, leaving her outstanding in her pale, discolored dress.

They’re laughing at me, Marikit thought.

And she was right.

The shadows were always there, blooming in places where there was no light. These shadows didn’t linger under human feet. No, they were remarkably riotous and reckless, going off on their own to make trouble in the dark. They loved feasting on sorrow and dismay, and they found the very girl.

Alone in her corner, Marikit kept her head down as she clutched her rust-tainted skirt. She did not laugh when the yellow-haired clowns bungled their magic onstage. She did not sing when Mrs. Solomon finally instigated the birthday song. She only looked up when Jana Solomon finally appeared, for she heard everyone gasp and say, She looks like a Diwata!

Diwata. A fairy.

Jana walked onto the stage with a shimmering crown on her head. She tiptoed on her two-inch-heel sandals with jewels on the straps. Her sunshine-yellow gown dropped to her ankles, with flowy fairy sleeves and a sweetheart neckline and a flower embroidery that dripped down the layers of the chiffon skirt that billowed from the waist. Now that’s a dress! a girl with a yellow polka-dot shirt said.

Where do you think she bought it? asked one girl with a big, fluffy, yellow headband.

At the mall, of course, answered a girl with a yellow plaid shirt. Every nice thing can be bought at the mall.

Looks beautiful, swooned the girl with the sunflower-patterned dress.

Looks expensive, remarked the girl with the shimmering yellow blouse.

Not like someone else’s dress, hooted the girl with the bright-yellow pants.

All of them passed a hot look at Marikit.

I’m sure hers is old, noted the girl with the gold ruffle skirt.

I’m sure hers smells funny, commented the girl with the yellow cat’s ears.

I’m sure she does, too, mused a girl with lemon prints on her pinafore.

Oh, our dear Marikit! She heard it. She heard it all! She burned with so much rage as she hung her head, letting her dark, wavy hair cover the tears that started to fall down her cheeks. You’ll see, she mumbled quietly behind her teeth. My birthday is coming, and I’m going to look like a Diwata, too.

And so, when the party was over, when the crowd of yellow-wearing children waved goodbye to the celebrant as they carried their yellow packets under their arms, Marikit ran home, her heart thumping with a wild, new thought. She ran on the dusty ground with her equally dusty slippers, past the concrete bungalow homes at Acacia Street, past the swaying bamboo groves at Kawayan Street, and past the boatmakers’ homes at Bangkero Street to reach home: Sampaguita Street.

There, a timeworn brown house, outstandingly cramped in between two similarly shabby properties, gaped into the world with its large, broken capiz windows. While the rest of the neighborhood gurgled with all kinds of noise—mothers gossiping by the doorways; fathers clumped at a table outside their houses, grumbling at a game of cards; children playing wildly in the middle of the street—the house of the Lakandulas was quiet. There was no shouting in it. No laughing. No gossiping. The only sound inside was the prevalent rat-tat-tat-tat that came from the machine set beside the window, manned by a pair of productive hands that wound the wheels and a pair of eyes that occasionally peeped from the frame.

Marikit slowed down as she passed by their window, having a glimpse of those gaunt eyes. They were very much like Marikit’s eyes, except older, more solemn, and they bore less sleep in them. She entered through the door, toed off her rubber slippers, and rose in the steps. Nanay! she shouted with all of her lungs. Nanay!

Aling Anita sat by the old sewing machine, patiently hemming the edges of a flower-printed fabric. She stopped as soon as Marikit entered the door. Nanay! Marikit ran across the wood-slat floor, almost toppling the boat-in-a-glass-bottle perched precariously on the wall. She slid into her mother’s lap and looked up with full eyes. You have not forgotten that my birthday is in June, right?

Aling Anita softly nodded with wonder. How could she forget? She and her daughter had the same birthday, right on the date of the summer solstice.

And it’s been years and years that have passed, and we never celebrate anything. Not a single thing, Marikit reminded her. Remember? Last year, we only had warmed-over pancit. Last-last year, you promised we’d eat at Jollibee, and then we didn’t. Don’t you remember what Tatay always told us? Promises we break will break us.

Aling Anita smoothed Marikit’s sweaty forehead with her callused hands. What is it that you want, anak? Her fingers flickered into a beautiful dance of unspoken words.

Marikit pressed her nanay’s palms with her small, hot fists. A dress. A new dress. A dress unlike any other. A dress so beautiful, I’ll look like a Diwata, on my tenth birthday.

She jumped around so much that the wood-slat floors began to creak. It should have fluttery sleeves. Marikit twirled. A balloon skirt with many, many ruffles. A nice little sash, and a large bow to tie at the back. And it must be blue, Nanay, Marikit added last. Blue! The color of the sky. The color of the sea. The color of Tatay’s bangka. Blue, blue, blue!

All right, dear, Aling Anita gestured. Now let me get back to work.

Promise, Nanay? Marikit pressed on, not taking her eyes off her mother.

Aling Anita gazed at Marikit with a long, lingering stare.

Marikit knew this look. It was a look as if Aling Anita was trapped in the prison of her own hands. She’d move her fingers, but they would only quake and would not make gestures. Marikit would always think it was one of those joint pains, and that her nanay was having a bad spell.

After all, if one only sewed too much, their hands would get tired, too.

Nanay? Marikit asked again, shaking her nanay’s thigh. My dress?

Marikit, perhaps, would never understand the way Aling Anita’s lips quivered. Her teeth blocked a tide of words, words she tried to set free from the tips of her fingers, words that refrained from falling, for it was just like her husband said—Promises we break will break us. Yet, at that moment, as she sat in her chair, Aling Anita gave it all until a worn-out smile appeared on her sad mouth. She lifted her quaking palm, the silver thimble gleaming on her finger as she gestured: Promise.



Nanay. Filipino. n. Mother. Queen of the house who bore no crown, with hands that only knew how to work, hands that only of love spoke.

As far as she could remember, Marikit had only worn clothes her nanay made. Or, more specifically, remade. Like magic, Aling Anita could turn an old paisley nightgown into a twirly sundress, a retired nun’s habit into Marikit’s skirt, a pair of old jeans into a nice denim skirt, and a secondhand silk scarf into a lovely little blouse. Used shirts, no matter how many holes they had, could be turned into sleepwear and blouses and soft tunics that could be tied with tiny belts. Old things still had value in them if one knew how to mend.

The clothes Aling Anita made weren’t so bad. They just weren’t so plain. They always had too many straps or too many pockets or too-thick cuffs hemmed at the folds. (In Aling Anita’s defense, it was because children tended to grow tall at an unexpected rate, and it was too impractical to buy new bottoms every time their legs grew long.) Marikit always got laughed at for her clothes. But those clothes, in some fantastic ways, saved her life.

When she was three, she would have fallen from a tree, had she not dangled by the strap of her suspender, which had been tightly sewn on her bright-green paper-bag shorts. When she was five, she would have drowned in the sea, had she not learned to float with the help of her giant, ruffled, winged sleeves. When she was seven, she almost got hit by a motorcycle swerving down the road, but her extra-long belt got tangled by the sampaguita hedges and kept her safe by the sidewalk.

Her clothes were looking after her when her nanay couldn’t, for she was always running about, always tumbling and skidding and rolling on the ground, coming home with burns and bruises that scarred her young, brown skin. Her family called her Marikit Malikot—restless Marikit—and their neighbors always joked that Marikit must have drained all of Aling Anita’s radiance and energy after she was born.

Aling Anita, they said, was fresh like spring, sprightly like a maya. But Marikit couldn’t see that. All Marikit could see was a tired, middle-aged woman with a pair of thin hands who attended to her needlework all day long.

Whenever someone needed a seamstress, the people in Barrio Magiting always recommended the seamstress of Sampaguita Street. Aling Anita could do anything with threads. She could knit, knot, loom, embroider, and make tidy stitches all by hand. Each year, the teachers at Marikit’s elementary school made a pilgrimage to the Lakandulas’ home to get their uniforms made. Every quarter, the pastor from the next barrio asked for new embroidery for his polo barongs. Most of the neighbors in need of patching a hole or stretching a sleeve made a cordial visit, bringing with them a bundle of eggs or vegetables as a token, relying on Marikit to translate whenever Aling Anita spoke by hands.

Aling Anita’s most favorite thing was her Makinang de Padyak, a vintage sewing machine. She bought it from a secondhand merchant at a low, low price and took it home in the back of an old, rusty tricycle. What a wonder that sewing machine was! The wheels spun like a shotgun and put the small needle to work, mechanically hemming perfect seams on each of Aling Anita’s clothes. All she needed was to move the flywheel and press the metal pedal with her feet. Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat, it resounded. Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat.

Marikit loved watching her nanay work. The sewing machine had small wooden drawers where Aling Anita kept all the colorful threads and bobbins and needles and the cute buttons that looked like gems. Marikit wasn’t allowed to play with them, of course. Once, Aling Anita caught Marikit using her medida as a jump rope. Twice, Aling Anita saw Marikit inserting a thread on several buttons and using them as jewelry. All those times, Marikit got pulled by her ear, and it hurt for quite a while.

Beside Aling Anita’s sewing machine was a large rattan basket where all the scrap fabrics went. There were many of them, heaps and heaps of various colors and prints cut into squares and circles and other shapes Marikit had to learn the names of. Marikit’s job was to help gather the scraps. The scraps went to their clothes, covering the tear on Marikit’s shirts or adding new sleeves on old, reformed blouses. Sometimes, Marikit used those scraps to practice her needlework. And sometimes, which were her favorite times, her nanay taught her more things about sewing.

In those moments, hands were the loudest in the Lakandulas’ house.

There used to be many sounds in their home. Once, it was filled with a boy’s laughter. With the sound of a man’s whistling, calling for the wind to blow gently in their direction. With the rolling and swirling of shells on the sungka board—and then, the sound of victory, usually the boy’s, yelling, I won again! (and then Marikit, sobbing, I always lose to you, Kuya.). There was the running of bare feet across the wooden floors, the sound of loud teasing, and some minutes later, the sound of making up. Breakfasts and lunches came with arguments concerning portions (Kuya Emman took all the bangus belly!), from which there rose the calm voice of a man who gave each equal halves. There was, at times, chiding and crying. But, above all,

Marikit and the Ocean of Stars (2024)


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