The following story is fiction. I made it up. However, it is based upon a real-life set of people. I met these two people seven or eight years ago. I had my boat on land storage and was working on it and the two came up for conversation. Based on the conversation I learned a few facts. Eventually, they understood that I knew their secret. But I assured them nothing would go further than right where I was at. So, I’m fictionalizing everything that you’re about to read. It’s just based on the conversation that I had with them.
A Two Sailor Family
Batanes is an archipelagic province in the Philippine Islands, administratively, part of the Cagayan Valley region. It is the northernmost province in the country, and also the smallest, both in population and land area. Its capital is Basco located on the island of Batan. The majority of the people there speak Ivatan but they also understand Tagalog. Ivatan was beyond Gabriel Alexander language skills, and his ability to speak Tagalog was rather limited. So the Islanders had to speak very slow and then struggle through his pronunciation in Tagalog. Nevertheless, he dropped anchor off the coast of one of Batanes’ islands called Sabtang Island and motored his inflatable to a lengthy, white-sable sand beach. He didn’t know much about the island other than the lighthouse that was there but he was told that, of the thousand people that lived there, they were very faithful to old traditions especially in the administration of justice by vendetta and murder. So, Gabriel made sure that none of his plans included stepping on anybody’s toes for any reason.
He had also been told that, in spite of the fact that they were just those 1000 people who lived there, it was supposed to be a pretty busy area with fishing and the occasional tour boat tourist invasion. The Ivatan people of Batanes are one of the most egalitarian societies in the Philippines. The prime motivator of the cultural values of the Ivatans is imbibed in their pre-colonial belief systems of respecting nature and all people. The Ivatans, both the older and younger generations, have one of the highest incidences of social acceptance to minority groups in the country. The Ivatans also have a high respect for the elderly and the prowess of natural phenomena such as waves, sea breeze, lightning, thunder, earthquakes, and wildlife congregations. Discriminating someone based on skin color, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, and traditions on nature is unacceptable in Ivatan values.
Gabriel considered himself elderly because, of course, he was elderly. He had retired early though, because of his frustration with the Canadian import-export world. It had been a long difficult struggle to get his portfolio above $10 million Canadian. And of course, with that kind of money, it was easy to retire early. So he did. And, in addition to the tolerance of the elderly, there was another of their cultural values that he had hoped would be well-established. The Islanders just plain did not discriminate against anybody with an unpopular sexual orientation. Gabriel lived with an unpopular sexual orientation. He was what is called a “minor-attracted person”. Minor, in this case, is someone that is below the legal age of majority. To cut to the confusion here, Gabriel like little girls. That was his very secretive sexual orientation. The key word there is orientation. He had never done anything inappropriate with anybody. But it was one of the prime reasons why he was divorced. He and his wife were just not sexually compatible. So, he led a solitary life and was happy with it.
The decision to retire hit him one day when he had made a business trip to Igoumenitsa in Greece. Things had gone sour and Gabriel had lost quite a bit of money. He had been walking about town trying to cool his fierce temper and walked into the nearby Igoumenitsa Marina and began staring at all of the huge motor yachts and sailboats there. A week later, he was the proud owner of a 35 foot Hallberg Rassy Sloop packed with enough canned food and supplies to get him well underway on a voyage back to Vancouver. He had eventually transited the Suez Canal and, after several stops, ended up at the north end of the Philippine Islands on that white sand beach.
It had been early morning, about an hour after sunrise. The wind was warm to the touch and strong enough to get his unbuttoned shirt flapping at his side. Gabriel was walking along the isolated stretch of beach, enjoying the antics of the local seagull population as they fought for the occasional food morsel when he heard a sound that he hadn’t heard since his days in Vietnam. Maybe it wasn’t gunfire, he thought to himself. But it sure did sound like it. Of course, he had gotten past all his nightmares from the distant years of military service. But this sound seemed to be rather realistic. Nevertheless, he ignored it and continued his walk.
After about an hour’s saunter along the beach, he turned around and headed back towards his beached inflatable dinghy. It was getting close to lunchtime and he didn’t really want to motor back out to the boat, so he headed into the nearby village to see if he could buy something that a Canadian could eat.
The streets were empty, if you could call them streets. There were several surprisingly sturdy, rectangular, single-floor buildings that you would probably call stone huts and one of them looked like it might be a place he could get something to eat and drink. There was a tattered but open door, so he poked his head into the small room beyond only to find it deserted, as well. Where was everybody?
And then it happened again. This time, it was unambiguous. There was no doubt that it was gunfire. What the hell? Gabriel looked around but could not see not a soul moving. It was Wednesday, not a Sunday, but maybe everybody was at church. So he walked up to the stone and concrete Chavayan Church which did have a sturdy door. He opened it and found it empty as well. Closer now, the gunfire erupted once more. Another single shot. It was coming from the Northeast. The flora of the area reminded him of the beautiful, abundant vegetation that Vietnam was famous for, but this islands also dragged up violent and unwanted memories. And reactions. And a mindset. Gabriel had to take to the bush as the military calls it, and do some reconnaissance again. It was a reaction. He soon drew near what he knew was a curve in the road and he saw two young boys anxiously creeping away from where Gabriel was headed. Yes, he thought to himself; it was definitely not a good idea to get into a firefight without any weapons. But he had to know.
After he taking great pains to work his way deeper into the jumble greenery, he came to the edge of a clearing. Like a rerun from his past, he saw about 20 people sitting at the side of a parked tourist truck festooned with frilly, pink-canvas awnings. There were five men dressed in black, military fatigues armed with likewise black assault rifles. They stood motionless in front of unarmed, crying people while three other men were dragging dead bodies to the north. Time to egress, thought Gabriel.
Back near the church, to the northwest, was another typical stone hut with a thatched roofed off to one side and a sign that read, “Gabaldon Homestay Sabtang”. A hotel. Underneath the thatched roof, peeking out of a doorway, were two women and a young boy. No weapons.
Gabriel went up to them with his hands open and to his sides. He called to them, “Kaibigan ako Canada”, which translates to “I am a Canadian friend”. One of the women, quite elderly, motioned for to him to come in.
I’m not going to cloud the story with a bunch of translations and details, but basically, the Katorga Armed Acquisition Group had assaulted the islands six months prior, and, after forcing the Philippine military to withdraw, had control over the entire island group. The Ivatan population went from 1000 to about 400. The Katorgan invasion population was near 10,000 if he understood the spoken number.
The old woman spoke clearly, slowly, with tears in her eyes. She pulled Gabriel down the hallway to a doorless hotel room. Inside was an half naked woman covered in blood lying on the bed. Next to her was a 10-year-old Ivatan girl, likewise covered in blood. The woman on the bed was struggling desperately to breathe. He could see below the ribs on her right side a sight that he had seen many, many times. A bullet impact hole. The bullet that had made it obviously had done some damage to her lung, but it had probably done an actual lethal amount of damage to her liver. Gabriel had asked about a doctor. There was none. He turned to examine the little girl only to find out that the blood covering her had belonged to her mother.
The old woman asked how he had gotten to her island and he told her about his inflatable and his sailboat. The old woman asked if Gabriel could help three or four of them to escape by taking them into his boat. Gabriel illustrated using hand gestures that there wasn’t really very much room. Nevertheless, he agreed to take just one person. The old woman would have to decide who.
She gathered her few friends and what ensued was a heated discussion while Gabriel waited. She finally walked over to him and pointed to the little girl. He shook his head no and pointed to a young woman several feet away. The old woman asked why. Gabriel just replied that he didn’t like the little girl. The old woman translated his reason to everybody who began chattering in earnest. The question was then demanded, why didn’t he like a little girl?
Eventually, he broke down and attempted to describe his sexual orientation. Apparently, the islanders didn’t understand the problem. It took about three or four minutes of trying different Tagalog words that would translate to just what his sexual orientation was towards her. Anger arose in all of them and they began pushing Gabriel towards the door and towards the beach. He could understand their rage, considering what he had just explained to them. As he led them to his inflatable, he began to push it deeper into the diminutive surf and climbed in. The teenage boy grabbed the little girl and tossed her into the inflatable and pulled out his little knife aggressively. He yelled, angrily at Gabriel, telling him to leave and take care of the little girl. He did so in clear but accented English.
Gabriel's intention was to take her to the Philippine port of Aparri, a little over 100 miles to the south on the actual Philippine mainland. In the light winds, it would take a couple of days. However, about 30 miles south of Sabtang Island, he picked up a Philippine Navy destroyer on VHF radio. He called his mayday and got a reply. He explained the situation and, in the course of the radio communications, he gathered basic information about the military organization that he had just escaped from. He was directed by the Philippine Navy to return the little girl back to Sabtang Island, because legally, Gabriel had kidnapped her. He argued that he would not return to a war zone whether he had a kidnapped person or not. He was admonished to avoid any Katorga vessels in the area and to not enter into Philippine waters with the girl on board. Doing so would violate the cease-fire treaty that had been precariously obtained.
Gabriel and the girl headed east. Destination? The marina at Piti on the island of Guam. It was American, of course, and surely they would be able to deal with the little girl.
Her name was Diwata, meaning ‘goddess.’ The name Diwata is firmly rooted in Philippine mythology. To the Islanders, Diwata is a figure similar to nymphs and fairies. She is said to be the guardian spirit of nature. D, as Gabriel began calling her, had short thick hair down to just below her ears. She was a skinny little girl with dark eyebrows, dark brown eyes that sparkled as she struggled to figure out what Gabriel was trying to say to her. She had on a dingy yellow T-shirt with holes here and there, but had been soaked in blood and, as a consequence, had turned reddish-brown. Gabriel removed it and toss it over the side. Her short cut-off pants followed. Down below, he pulled out one of his shirts and draped it over her naked body. He took a pair of scissors and cut the sleeves short so that they wouldn’t droop a foot or two beyond her hands. The shirt was big enough to act not only as a shirt and but a skirt as well. He took a pair of his underwear briefs and began trimming them down to what he thought would fit her for some underpants. She tried them on only to see that they were still too big. Gabriel trimmed some more, sewed some more, cursed some more, but got it into something that he thought would fit her. It still tended to droop a bit, so he took some narrow diameter rope and braided it to fashion a small belt for her.
Everything that he prepared for her to eat, she devoured hungrily. Gabriel thought to himself, it was plain to see why she was skinny. As the two sailed eastward in the light winds away from her ravaged home and family, the sun began to set as the two of them worked out sleeping arrangements. D could sleep in the V-berth that was being used for food storage and Gabriel could sleep in the quarter berth that he had been using all along. Both areas were rather crowded with supplies and safety equipment. Gabriel, of course, was used to it. D, on the other hand, was not. Twice, she had climbed down from the V-berth to try and sleep on the cabin sole, what you would call the floor. Gabriel would help her back up into the V-berth and admonished her to stay there. Finally, D gave up and went up topside to sleep in the cockpit. Gabriel went up to the cockpit to be with her.
D was crying and Gabriel knew why. D asked him if her mom was dying. Gabriel replied that, yes, she was. As the sailboat glided through the dark waters, and the brief speckle of clouds near the horizon lost their red tinge, D stood up and faced the side of the safety railing. She thanked Gabriel for taking her away from the bad men. She then said goodbye. Before Gabriel’s horrified eyes, she jumped overboard.
He instantly launched the man overboard pole and life ring, struck the sails, started the diesel auxiliary motor, and headed back to where she undoubtedly had to be close to where the man overboard pole was.
Gabriel yelled, “What the hell are you trying to do?” As the boat slowly approached her, he cut off the engine, grabbed the life ring safety line, and jumped in to swim towards her. After a brief claiming struggle, they were both were back on board the sailboat and the safety equipment was recovered.
In Tagalog, he asked D if she was Catholic. She replied that she was.
“You know that Catholics are firmly against suicide!”
She just stared at him. Then he realized it was useless to say so in English. So, slowly, he translated it into Tagalog.
She cried, rapidly firing Tagalog words at him. He knew how she felt. But he also knew that suicide was not the answer. He reached to her and grabbed her hand lightly and softly pulled her towards him. She climbed into his lap, buried her head into his chest, and cried inconsolably. In his Southeast Asia past, he had seen many children lose their parents. And he knew that they eventually got over it. But he could only imagine the intense grief that a human being could feel. And he knew she was feeling it.
Eventually, the sobs subsided. She went back to her side of the boat and tried to get comfortable in the cockpit seat enough to sleep. Gabriel went down below and took most of the stores that had been crowding his quarter berth and stuffed it up into the V berth. Now the quarter berth could be expanded to allow for two people. Before he went back up to the cockpit to invite D to sleep with him, he sat on the edge of the quarter berth to consider his situation. While she had been temporarily naked, he knew the attraction to her would be strong. And now, with the situation forcing her to sleep with him, he could not do anything sexual with her without it actually being him taking advantage of her in her time of distress? It had to be a chaste sleeping arrangement no matter how much difficulty it was going to be for him. He resigned himself to simply suffer until he can get rid of her in Guam.
It took just under a month to get to the American Overseas Territory of Guam. And when he entered into one of the the ports there port, he flew the orange maple leaf of Canada the stern of the boat and, on the mast’s spreader, United States courtesy flag and the yellow quarantine flag. The sailboat was therefore met by the harbormaster as a foreign visiting vessel.
Gabriel had planned to fabricate a story believable enough that once he got back to Vancouver, D would not be repatriated to the Philippines or to whatever her island home’s name would be changed to by its new owners. It was a difficult decision to make, but he threw the ship’s papers, his passport, and driver’s license, and several weeks’ worth of food and water overboard. The Genoa jib also went overboard leaving just the storm jib as a headsail. He cut one of the halyards, the rope used to pull any sale up the mast, and let it fly to the top of the mastering cut the bottom of it so that the loose halyards would flail in the light winds. The boat had to look like it had been through hell. So the two sailors went about making it looks serious human though it was not. Everything that was done could be replaced with a little bit of money.
He explained to the harbormaster that they had been in a storm, had taken on a lot of water, and had almost foundered. In the desperate fight to survive, he had lost D’s mother who he had married, along with food and some important papers. He asked that the Canadian Consulate stateside be notified of the near disaster and lack of proper identification. D gave her real mother’s name who was the woman lost at sea.
Miraculously, he suddenly found his credit card. After resupplying food and water for two people, after purchasing a new Genoa sail and climbing the mast to replace the cut halyard, D and Gabriel began their long journey to Hawaii.
Once in Hawaii, he made a phone call to the Citizenship and Immigration Canada office in Vancouver to notify them of his lack of documentation predicament and gave them his social insurance number, his home address, his business address and incorporation details, and his bank branch. He couldn’t recite his driver’s license number because like everybody he knew, who had memorizes their drivers license number? Apparently, the Canadian officials did their homework, and realize that he was, in fact, Gabriel Alexander. When asked about D, he replied that he had been married in Vietnam but lost his wife at sea. Vancouver accepted this story but said that Gabriel would have to sponsor Diwata once he got back. It was but a formality, but there shouldn’t be any problem.
After almost 3 weeks at sea, father and daughter sailed past Victoria, British Columbia, slowly past the San Juan Islands, triumphantly underneath the Lions Gate Bridge, and into Vancouver harbor. D found Gabriel’s condominium on Strathmore Mews to be a bit intimidating. She had never seen an elevator before. And nobody spoke Tagalog. She had only been able to pick up about 20 words in English on the voyage across the Pacific; it was just enough to get her point across. And in this huge city with all the tall buildings and cars going everywhere, there were just were so many people. But it was a new life and she was embracing it the best that she could.
She did have a room of her own. Gabriel had purchased a beautiful four-post canopy bed for her, a powerful laptop computer, and some squishy toys, but she never used the canopy bed. Diwata Alexander slept with the man who was, officially, her father.