In the forest, where the foliage was thickest, I met Salayan one last time. No other creature or spirit I could see crossed my path, though I soon sensed someone shadowing my steps, flitting between the trees.
I stopped and planted the walking stick on the nearest patch of soft ground and raised my voice. “May the sun brighten your path this day, danang.”
“You ceased coming to the forest,” her voice arrived before she did, foliage suddenly growing eyes, then a face and neck, then arms. I had never seen this dress on her before: an abundance of verdure from curling mango leaves to coconut fronds to dark green banana leaves to rice plants bearing clusters of grains. These wavered and rustled and twined with her hair and arms and framed her face so that it seemed as if she were peeking from behind a green mass that was one with her and she with it.
She was standing at a distance from me, and just like a fawn, ready to bolt at the slightest provocation, it seemed. As if I would ever want to hurt her, or have the power to do so.
“Forgive me,” I put a hand over my breast and inclined my head. “I thought myself unworthy of your company after all these years.”
“Who are you to deem who is worthy of my company?” Salayan’s hiss knotted up my muscles into balls of tension. “And now, you are leaving–without even thinking to take leave of me, it would seem! Are you an ingrate too, Saha? Are you humans so short of memory that you forget who exactly rules these mountains?”
Frightening words for anyone who didn’t know Salayan the way I did, but I did know her and I detected petulance. I’d heard it so many times from her before, and over matters such as the incessant stream of prayers from her devotees all over the mountains, or perhaps the leanness of an offering of carabao. I still couldn’t believe I was hearing it now, though. After all this time, did that mean she was going to miss me? I smiled to myself and felt my fears melt into nothing. “Again, my sincerest apologies, danang. You are right, of course.”
It was the correct choice of words. Salayan huffed at me and crossed her arms over her chest. The wildness of her dress thinned a little. Beetles and caterpillars began to stalk the leaves and overhead, a few dragonflies appeared. “What am I to do with your apologies? Eat them?”