• Lerah Mae Barcenilla

The Same Old Storm

Updated: Aug 28, 2021

Inspired by "The Datu’s Dispirited Daughter" by Ian Sta. Maria (Salamangka)

London, 2020.

Raindrops knock on the coffeeshop windows like an unwelcome visitor.

Saya stares at the word document on her screen, narrowing her eyes at the blinking

cursor. A few words look back at her indifferently - fragments of a song she tried to write the night before but didn’t finish.

Saya sighs, clicking her fingers against the keyboard without actually typing as she looks

out the windows into the gray London rain.

“Are you finished with that?” a voice gently says next to her.

Saya looks back in surprise and meets the barista’s smiling face. Her eyes dart to the empty cup on Saya’s table and back to Saya’s face.

“Oh, yes,” Saya murmurs, reaching over.

Their fingers brush. The barista pulls back with a gasp, electricity tickling the tips of her fingers. Saya huffs out a laugh, catching the mug before it falls.

“Sorry,” she says, flexing her fingers. “Static.”

The barista giggles and shakes her head. Saya watches her walk away before turning her eyes back to her screen, ignoring the thrumming at the tips of her fingers.

Saya balls her fist over the keyboard. When she unfurls them, the lightning retreats back into

her palms.

Saya begins to type.

Sangbulawan, 1789.

The ground crackles beneath her feet.

The sun smiles down on the small barangay like a guardian, but under the shade of the nipa hut shadows close in.

“Your daughter has been given a gift from the gods,” she hears Inaya say through the thin walls of the hut, exasperation in her voice.

Inaya is their babaylan. It is during this time of day that she retreats to the back of her hut. There, Inaya would offer up gifts to her diwata who lives in the acacia tree. Why she is in the datu’s hut, Saya did not know.

“Why do you deny her this?”

“You do not understand,” the datu replies, almost hissing.

Saya presses her ear against the rough wood of the nipa hut and hears her heart sing. She hears the datu pacing, footsteps heavy against the wood.

“You do not see how our warriors fear her, how the women look at her with disdain - she is different.”

“And is that bad?” Inaya asks. Though her voice remains calm, Saya detects a hint of disbelief. “Is it so terrible that your daughter is different?”

The datu sighs and in the murmuring silence of the barangay, the sound is heavy, tired.

“Yes,” he said softly. “She glowed when she was born and summoned lightning when she turned six. When her eighteenth year arrived she called rain and thunder answered back. Our people admire her powers - but they fear her as a god.”

Inaya is silent for a moment, before saying, “If the gods wanted it, then it shall be so.”

“I’ve lived a pious life!” The datu nearly shouts before he lowers his voice. “I did not want a sorceress for a daughter,” there is a pause before he whispers, “All I wanted was a simple son.”

Saya leans away from the door before she can hear anything else.

Saya walks away and does not look back.

London, 2020.

Saya zips her bag close and slings it across her back. She pushes the door open with one hand and uses another to unfurl her umbrella.

Rain continues to pour down. But it is not the same kind of rain that falls back home. This rain is thin and cold and sings with a shrill voice.

Saya winces when the notes reach a staccato. She never did get used to this.

Saya rushes to the nearest bus stop, hugging her coat closer around her body. The rain falls against the plastic roof of the bus stop. It’s a dull pat, pat, patting sound that Saya tries to ignore but fails. Saya shakes her umbrella, raindrops staining her clothes.

Cars grumble beneath the grey skies. People trod past with their rainbow umbrellas, footsteps quick and impatient, treading water and mud.

Saya looks up just in time to see them still like a photograph catching a moment.

Saya coughs and looks down. She tries to ignore the way the wind sings. She tries to ignore the squirming fabric of the umbrellas clutched in frozen hands.

“Look, there’s a rainbow,” a voice says next to her.

Saya jumps back.

A stranger with sunshine hair smiles at her before nodding towards the sky. Saya follows her eyes and sees it. A line of colours curve behind the leafless trees, staining the grey sky with life.

“Huh,” Saya murmurs, studying the stranger from the corner of her eye. Behind her, the people emerge from their stillness and continue on their way as if they did not just take a pause. “So there is.”

The stranger studies her, a smile playing on her lips.

“The rain sounds sad, doesn’t it,” she says.

Saya doesn’t hear a question. The stranger widens her eyes, waiting for a reply. They glimmer like the sun.

“Yes,” Saya says, looking out into the road, past the grey pavement and the grey houses, toward the grey, grey skies. And beyond, at the rainbow smiling on the horizon. “Yes, it does.”

Sangbulawan, 1790.

The ground crackles beneath her feet.

It has been a long time since rain fell and the ground shrivels up, gasping for breath, for even a drop of water.

Saya traces the cracks, feels their sharp points against the soles of her feet. The heat of the sun wraps their warm fingers on her skin. She looks back and sees the tips of the nipa huts peeking from above the leafless trees.

Saya knows that her people wait for her as much as they wait for rain to fall.

Saya turns toward the empty horizon, the haze of sunlight painting the edges of her vision a pale orange.

She turns toward the sky.

She smiles.

She closes her eyes.

She starts to dance.

She lifts her arms from her sides and moves like running waters.

Her feet trace the cracked ground like winding rivers.

And all this time, Saya keeps her face toward the clear blue skies, smiling and dancing and laughing.

She feels the crackling of lightning at the tips of her fingertips, the taste of rain at the tip of her tongue.

Saya only opens her eyes when the first raindrop falls.

The next time lightning tears through the skies, they tear through the ground.

Saya cowers in her room, hidden in the shadows of the datu’s hut. She can hear the wailing winds sweep through their barangay, she can hear the thunder roar through the fields.

Beneath the shrill sound, she can hear the people.

They scream her name in anger.

They cry her name in fear.

Saya whimpers as another flash of lightning slips through the cracks of the hut, burying her head against her arms.

“Make it stop,” she thinks, but the sky does not listen.

Gentle hands lay on her arms and Saya looks up. Through the haze of unshed tears, she sees Inaya’s smiling face.

“The rain will pass, little lightning,” the babaylan says, tongue curling around the word “kidlat” with a softness that contrasts against the lightning shattering the skies outside.

She sits down next to Saya and leans against the wall. Saya can see strands of white peeking from Inaya’s long black hair.

“The people are fickle. They are always looking for someone to praise, for someone to blame. But that too shall pass.”

“How long will it take?” Saya whispers, tightening her arms around her knees, leaning her chin against her arms. “How long until the rain goes away?”

Inaya looks up at the roof and her eyes twinkle like stars.

“For however long it needs to take,” she says almost wistfully. “You just have to wait. But do you truly want the rain to go away?”

“The rain brings thunder and lightning.”

“The rain also helps our flowers grow,” Inaya says gently, tapping Saya on the nose. “I’ve seen it, Saya,” Inaya whispers, leaning in close as if to share a secret. “One day, you will meet the sun. One day, you will not have to face the thunder alone.”

London, 2020.

The stranger calls herself Ori.

She says it is short for Oriane.

The sun follows Ori, but she has not been able to summon her in the last few months. The British weather is a stubborn one, she says with a pout.

They sit at the bus stop for a while, waiting for the rain to stop falling. But the rain shows no sign of easing.

Saya finds herself not minding so much.

Ori turns to her, the hint of a smile tugging at the corners of her lips.

Saya does not hear what she says, her attention drawn to the skies on her shoulder.

Behind Ori, the sun peeks through the clouds.




Babaylan is the Visayan and most well-known term for the indigenous priestesses, shamans and spiritual leaders of the Philippine ethnic groups before the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century. Their roles are multifold: warrior, healer, priestess, and sage. They serve as mediums between the human and spiritual realms. The babaylan were predominantly women, though there are accounts of trans women and queer men adopting the role. They are also known as balian or katalonan, among other names, in various ethnic groups of the Philippine archipelago.

A barangay is the native Filipino term for a village, district or ward and sometimes referred to by its archaic name “barrio”.

Datu is the title of the rulers and chiefs of numerous indigenous peoples throughout the Philippines. The title is still used today, particularly in Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan, but was used most extensively in early Philippine history.

Diwata: In Philippine mythology, a diwata is a type of deity or spirit that dwells in and are guardians of nature. Diwata is also sometimes known as Anito (a term predominantly used in Luzon) which refers to ancestor spirits, nature spirits, and deities in the indigenous Philippine folk religions from the precolonial age to the present, although the term itself may have other meanings and associations depending on the Filipino ethnic group.

About the author:

Born in Manila, Philippines, writer and poet Lerah Mae Barcenilla grew up in a small province full of magic, tradition and superstition.

Currently based in Birmingham, her work touches on topics of the diaspora, memory, mythology, folklore and the state of duality. She particularly enjoys breaking apart narrative structures and exploring how words exist on and outside of the page.

She is a researcher for Maniwala Movement, an Instagram account sharing resources on the cultures, customs and beliefs of pre-colonial Philippines. Some of her poems recently found homes in The Alchemy Spoon and harana poetry. When she is not searching for homes for her poetry and short stories, she writes fantasy novels inspired by Philippines folklore and mythology.

Keep up to date with Lerah on IG and Twitter

(her IG feed is incredibly aesthetic)

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