“When can I weave?” Maimai asked.
She was impatient. Her mother had taught her and her elder sister but she was not permitted to touch the loom on her own. Malina, her older sister, had been weaving for two years now. Maimai was beginning to feel like her mother had changed her mind about her.
Dreamweaving was in their family’s blood. Here, in this little village beside Lake Sebu, the women in her family have been dreamweavers for centuries. Her mother, grandmother, aunts, and now her sister are dreamweavers. It is an ancient art passed down from mother to daughters. But one cannot be a weaver without the god’s blessing. No, dreamweaving was an art different from the other weavers of the province.
“There will be a sign, a dream,” her mother often said but Maimai couldn’t understand what it meant.
The dreamweavers would receive a dream from Fu Dalu, the god of the abaca. He would send a dream that would guide the patterns of the weaver. It was an honor to be visited by the god. One cannot start touching the loom without one. Only when a dream was given can a weaver start her pattern. That was the reason her sister had not begun her latest weave. Her abaca had been stretched on the loom but she could not start yet.
It was the dry season and tourists started to trickle into their small village. Their village was not large but it was popular for keeping their culture alive. Tourists specifically came to see weavers at work. To cater to the tourists, there were shops and establishments in the village square.
It was the men who prepared the abaca and helped string them to the looms. To create a full cloth panel took a team of men and women to harvest the abaca, dye it, and stretch it on the looms. However, only a dreamweaver was permitted to do the actual weaving.
Two looms were set-up: one for her mother and one for her sister. Her mother had already started her weave. She was making a Ye Kumu and was a month into her work. A Ye Kumu is a ceremonial cloth. It is comprised of three complete panels sewn together to create a triptych. The Ye Kumu is only used in ceremonial weddings of important people. Their chieftain’s daughter was to be married next year. Maimai’s mother was chosen to make the Ye Kumu. It took months before she received the dream and it will take months to complete one panel.
Her sister Malina was twelve when she started weaving. Malina, now weaving on her own, had agile fingers. She has created four intricate cloths so far. Two were sold to tourists and it made the family a tidy sum. Her sister specialized in shell-shaped patterns.
Maimai was twelve for months now. She grumbled again about how much she wanted to start weaving. Her mother tsk-ed and left it at that.
It was a hot summer day and Maimai was bored. Her long skirt was plastered against her legs. Soon, she would grow out of these skirts. Her father often commented that she would surpass her sister in height. However, her sister was fairer and far prettier. Maimai, darker in skin, liked to spend her days running in the fields, swimming in the lakes and playing with her friends. Her friends were out in the village, helping their families with the tourist trade. The tourist trade was the only outside money that came to the village. It was important to tend to tourism so that the community had money in the lean months. Her mother was hard at work on her Ye Kumu. The men of the house were busy in the village center. Two buses of tourists were scheduled to visit today.
“Go play outside,” her sister told her. Malina was combing her hair, arranging it to form a bun. She would then decorate it with beads. When the tourists come to see them weave, she wanted to look presentable.
Maimai looked at the sunny yard. “No, thanks!” It was too warm to play. She was different from her sister; she was not vain. As long as she was bathed and clothed, she was fine. She sat in the family room and opened a book. Missionaries have come and taught the children of the village to read and write. The pictures in the books intrigued her so she read the books over and over again.
A little while later, her cousin came. She was out of breath and clearly ran here from her house. Her cousin lived an hour away by foot. She called to Maimai’s mother to come and assist her aunt in a difficult birth.
Maimai’s mother told her sister to come in case she needed an extra hand. They instructed Maimai to stay in the house and wait for them. The two left with her cousin while the little girl was left in her house alone.
Maimai snorted in the monotony of the hot summer day. She was often left at home to stop the chickens or the goats from getting inside the house. Although their house was built on stilts, it was low on the ground. If the little girl was standing on the ground, the house started right about her waist height. They built the house this way so the tourists can see women work the looms that were positioned right in front of the house.
She didn’t know how long she’d been reading or contemplating. The little girl drifted into sleep. In that sleep, she dreamed of walking around the mist, of seeing vines and flowers grow right in front of her. It felt very surreal. She explored the misty dream, walking deeper into the hazy garden. It was not like most of her dreams where the sun was high and the grass was green. This dream had yellow mist with the vines a dull red in color.
There was a figure standing yards from her. Maimai frowned. Somebody seemed to be in the middle of the vines. She approached the figure. It was a man with a brown cloak. His face was obscured in the mist.
“Weaver?” She stopped, confused when she heard him address her.
“Who are you?”
“Weaver, will you weave for me?” He didn’t look at her but was looking at the red flowers and the butterflies that surrounded him.
“I’m not a weaver,” Maimai admitted.
“Weaver, will you weave for me?” he repeated his question.
She noted that his hair was thick but stringy. It was like it was made of a thousand dried abaca strands. He was impossibly tall and broad. Could he be a spirit, a god or an encanto? She was directly in front of him now. “What would you like me to weave, sir?” she found herself saying.
“Weave what you see around you. Weave something different. Weave something special for me.” He still did not face her but she could see that the man was handsome with dark skin and a strong jaw.
A loom appeared right before her. The abaca strands had already been strung and stretched. Mai looked down and saw she was holding a shuttle.
She looked up. The man was now facing her. Later, when she woke from the dream, she would not recall how his face looked like but she would remember his eyes. His eyes were red and like rubies, multi-faceted. She approached and stood in front of the loom.
“Weaver, will you weave for me?”
“Yes, I’ll weave something for you, sir,” Maimai promised and sat in front of the loom but the mist engulfed her before she could start.
“Weaver?” She heard a man speak.
Mai woke up. She had slept in between the two looms. Her mother and sister have not yet returned. Her father and uncles haven’t either. Judging from the sky and the temperature. it was mid-afternoon. The temperature had cooled somewhat. She looked up. It was cloudy.
“Weaver?” She turned to the see somebody at the gate. There was a man standing there. It was a tourist, judging from his clothes and camera around his neck.
“My mother has not yet arrived, sir,” Maimai said. “She might be back in an hour or two.”
The young man didn’t seem to hear or understand her. He approached her and stood in front of the house, looking at her. “Weaver, will you weave for me?”
“I’m not a weaver,” Maimai admitted.
“Weaver, will you weave for me?” he repeated his question.
She frowned and looked at the readied loom. The shuttle seemed to beckon her. She might get in trouble for touching the loom. The man still stood looking at her. Perhaps he was a foreigner and he didn’t quite understand her.
“What would you like me to weave, sir?” she found herself saying.
“Weave what you see around you. Weave something different. Weave something special for me.”
She paused. The words seemed familiar, as if she heard it not long ago. Maimai found herself moving and sitting on the battered pillow. Her hands lifted and fixed the first thread on the shuttle onto the loom. She pushed the shuttle back and forth, pulling the strings of the loom to form a sequence. After a while, a pattern was emerging.
Maimai found the alternating threads and the sequences soothing. Perhaps her sister and mother felt like this, too. Weaving was soothing but it required a certain amount of concentration too. You had to make sure you never forgot your sequence, a feat for one especially since you had to remember this sequence for months until the pattern is complete.
She looked to the tourist who stood still while she worked. He was not taking pictures as tourists often did. The camera on his neck was neglected. He was looking intently at her and her work. Did he forget or was she so unremarkable that he didn’t bother to take photos?
“It is getting late. I shall visit again soon,” he suddenly said.
It was getting dark. The clouds were still covering the sun but it didn’t seem like it was going to rain. “Thank you for stopping by,” Maimai said.
“Good luck, little dreamweaver. We shall see each other again.” He gave a short nod and left.
Maimai frowned. The tourist had red eyes, like shining rubies. He also took a route going to the lake instead of heading back to the center of the village where the bus stop was. Minutes later, her mother and sister returned.
“Did you encounter a lost tourist? He went in the direction of the lake,” Maimai inquired.
Her mother frowned. She would have seen him for the road narrowed at some point. “Nobody was on the road. Why?”
“A tourist was just here then he left but taking the road to the lake instead of going to the bus stop. I thought he might get lost.”
Her sister came to her loom. “What did you do?” Maimai knew she was in trouble. This was her sister’s loom she touched.
“You did this while we were gone?” Her mother inspected her work. She had made two feet of cloth in that one afternoon. Maimai nodded. “It might not be refined as Malina’s but it is a very unique pattern. How did you know to do this?”
Maimai had woven a scrolling pattern with red flowers. She made a border of the vines and flowers converging to a center where there was a circle. “I saw it in a dream.”
“Just now?” Maimai backed away. “From the man with red eyes…” As she spoke his description, she remembered the tourist. His eyes were red as well. Was she visited by the god of the abaca? Fu Dalu was also known as the god of the loom.
Her mother smiled and kissed her on the forehead. “It is time, my little dreamweaver.”
The next day, her father set up another loom for her sister. Maimai and her mother started and ended their day weaving their dreams. In time, Maimai’s patterns became more complex. When she grew up, she was also tasked to make a Ye Kumu like her mother. The god of the loom never visited again but he sent her dreams to weave. But even though he did not appear in person, she could feel his presence. She knew he was watching her.
Maita Rue writes steampunk, paranormal, and historical stories. Author of more than ten books, visit her website at maitarue.com