By Ryan Gerber
Pompey the Great, Professor Duncan continued, was an outsider from the start. He was from Picenum: a provincial land of the Roman Empire. Filipo took down notes in jagged English letters, the capital Rs and As looking like the peaks of mountains, each with a steep decline. Even though he had held no political office, Pompey was able to secure military commands in Spain, Asia Minor, and even Italy itself. ITALY ITSELF, Filipo wrote in large, pointy capital letters as if he wanted his notebook to scream at him when he went over his notes, which he would never do. He enjoyed, rather, seeing the quantity of notes he had taken en masse, organized and consistent, each page laid out in a sort of Cartesian splendor that Filipo took in his outlines. He had never been one of those students who could gaze blankly at the professor or sleep in the middle of class, both immersed in equally distant worlds. He took notes to appear to be working in hopes that he would inch ahead of the other students; maybe a professor would take notice, and would help him get a scholarship to an American university. Filipo thought his dutiful note taking would make him stand out. He absurdly believed that he would be able to attract recognition for his abilities to transcribe lectures word for word.
and so Pompey became very influential in Roman politics whether the senate liked itor not Filipo mindlessly continued writing the black, jagged letters with the dark red pencil labeled American Samoa Community College in gold above the school motto, Saili le Atamai, seek knowledge. Beneath his appearance of work, he was deep in his own world just as much as the other students, who were checking their cell phones below their desks, or dozing off slowly only to have the weight of their heads jerk them back into reality, and so on in a laughably hopeless cycle - like some intoxicated ritual. Filipo was with them. His thoughts were not on Pompey the Great, but on Lavi, the Magnificent. She sat two rows ahead of him and three to the right. Filipo had picked the perfect spot that allowed him to glance up and over to Lavis profile on the side that she parted her hair, revealing her left eye, painted darkly with eye-shadow, and the left portion of her nose: the tip of which shone in the fluorescent lighting like a mound of sunlit earth -- pure, perfect, voluptuous -- sprouting from the soil-colored landscape of her skin. He was about to steal one of these dizzy glances when a kick to the back of his chair interrupted him. Hey the voice whispered from the boy behind him as he slid a piece of folded paper under his elbow. You should check it out, the whisper came again in an eager tone from the heavy-set boy. Sporting a full beard and dark, puffy eyes, he looked too old to be passing notes. Filipo couldnt recall his name. He nodded and smirked at the boy and fell back into his notes, looking up every so often to catch the left half of Lavi until the lecture was finished.
His Tuesday classes were finished and Filipo was sipping taro juice with black tapioca as he walked toward his bus to take him to Pago Pago. One thing did stick with him from history class, and he didnt know why. It was the phrase ITALY ITSELF. It somehow had become embossed on his brain. Why? why....Italy itself? the Mbius band begged and gasped for air. What had happened in ancient Italy that Pompey the Great had to trample all over it? He asked himself, wishing he had paid more attention. The question seemed to tickle his mind uncomfortably as he walked passed students playing volleyball in the sand. Italy itself, how did that happen? And why would I want to know? He asked himself vaguely, already getting bored with trying to trace other details for an historical answer to the reasons Pompey would have fought against his homeland. The only thing that seemed to intrigue him was the phrase Italy itself, and again he wondered. But before he could come up with any answer another, less one-sided and infinite, thought spiked itself into his consciousness: the note.
Filipo read the note on the bus, which jerked up and down the narrow streets that lead into a thick forest of palms. WEDNESDAY 8PM IN THE BASEMENT OF THE GYM: TAGALOA RISES! CULTURAL RENEWAL FESTIVAL! The name Tagaloa stood out to him. He knew he was a god from his grandfathers stories. But what was he the god of? Filipo felt as if he had the wrong half of just about every bit of information. He folded the paper and put it back into his folder. He would go to the festival. The desire to complete the information his grandfather had when he was a child surpassed his desire to make friends at ASCC. It even surpassed his desire for Lavi or at least served as an interesting detour away from his hopeless pining. He squinted as the bus passed out from under the thick palm brush into pure sunlight and bounced onto a recently paved road. Whatever his grandfather said many years ago now seemed to him an important piece of a chaotic, grotesque puzzle. Frustrated, he shook his head and closed his eyes to nap the rest of the way home.
Filipo walked up his driveway, passing his fathers work-van painted sea-blue with giant white letters on the side reading SeaKissed Tuna and a giant dolphin with a monocle and a top hat. Behind the house the palms lightly nodded away in the slight wind that had always reminded him that he was here - at home. He heard his father on the phone as he approached the old screen door with a faded yellow frame that had been splintered over time. NoNO! Seth, Im telling you its notlistenminimum I know, but minimum wage is capped for a reason, any higher and Well, Im telling you arent I? a lot of workers will be out of a job...So let them strike! Well find people to work Filipo sat in the kitchen chair and took out the note. Tagaloa he mouthed as his father put his hand through his hair and kissed him on the top of the head. Then his father gave him a look and pointed to the receiver and mouthed the word asshole then American asshole. Sensing that he might not enjoy where this silent conversation was going, Filipo got up and walked towards the living room where he heard the TV. Walking passed the staircase he saw the picture of his grandfather that had always caught his attention. It was a black and white photo of his grandfather sitting proudly in a woven sarong that covered his lower body up to his chest. He had a large garland made of bones that drooped over his shoulders. He wore a choker necklace with a large, curved bone dangling from the front. Suddenly he remembered the word; it seemed to come out of the darkness: Manua. He hadnt a clue of its significance apart from the name of the island in American Samoa, but the word seemed to fit here into a different context with the other intangible word: Tagaloa. It was a part of his grandfathers story: so present in his memory now after what must have been a decade. The two words seemed to fit together apart from any meaning and yet pregnant with symbols and heavy with emotion -- like a forgotten dream.
Filipos mother was sitting on the orange couch watching the TV and braiding a bracelet. When Filipo walked in she smiled and said how was school little tama? It was good, fae, I had biology and Ancient Rome. O-o-o Julius Caesar! The tyrant! Et tu, little tama? Filipo gave a confused laugh, No, Pompey the Great, I dont think were at um Julian Caesar yet, whos he? The phrase Italy itself came back to mind. Juli-US Caesar, little tama; he beat Pompey and the senators and took control over all of Rome, but then and this is fun -- he was killed by the senate under Pompeys statue! How about that? Theres some Karma! Yeah, I guess so Filipo said with a smile, ashamed about his lack of knowledge. Hina, his mother had studied at USC and received a masters degree in Fine Arts. She never failed to know some object of miscellany whether about history, art, or literature. Filipo took pride in his mothers knowledge, but he had a special admiration for his mothers artwork. Above the couch was a rug that she had woven. It was outlined with a deep red border and in the center was a black square outlined with smaller squares of white and black. They proliferated in a mesmerizing asymmetry. The shapes and colors absorbed Filipo. He would sit sometimes in the old rocking chair, facing it, trying to figure why it was so intriguing, why it was so simple and yet so good.
His father hung up the phone loudly and walked into the living room, God-damn Labor Department goons, he said as he dropped his heavy body onto the couch, eliciting a slight screech from the springs. Are they bullying you again, bay-bee? Tell em to lay off. I cantIm really caught up in it here, Hina. Workers are striking for a wage-hike that I know they deserve hell look at where they live the houses for Gods sake I mean, after seeing what conditions these wretched families have to live in, I start to feel likelike Stalin for chrissakes, over-working the poor and giving them pennies all because some American assholes dont want to sell their tuna at a price higher than their competition. He put his hands on his knees and gripped tightly, sighing heavily, then, lifting his hands and putting his face into his palms, he let out a loud, frustrated grunt. Aw bay-bee, poor bay-bee youre not Stalin! Youre missing one important thing She looked at Filipo mischievously A mustache! You never could grow a big bushy mustache! Removing his hands from his face, Filipos father looked at Hina with flared nostrils. Hina, now isnt the time to be making jokes, do you realize that I could be out of a job in a matter of weeks? We cant live by selling thesethese - he grabbed the bracelet from Hinas hand - fucking souvenirs!
The two then erupted into a chaotic whirl of screaming and objects being thrown. Filipo, retreating up the staircase felt his familiar distance from his parents. Not only when they were fighting. In fact, they had only recently started to fight and it had only widened the great gulf between Filipo and his parents. He felt a difference between him and his parents because they had studied in America. They had all of this knowledge and experience that seemed impossible for Filipo to attain. Filipo felt an additional pang of sadness because he wasnt able to ask about Tagaloa and about his grandfathers story. Staring at his shoes he walked slowly up the stairs to his room in the attic until dinner. He laid in his bed reading the note over and over again trying to connect Manua to Tagaloa, trying to make sense of Italy itself.
After his Wednesday classes, Filipo walked to the beach with his friend Robert. Poor, poor Pompey, eh Filipo? That guy got royallyfucked by royalty he laughed at this to himself. Yeah, poor old pompous Pompeyhey do you wanna go to this tonight? Filipo handed him the note. Tagaloa? Isnt he some old god or some bullshit? I dont know, maybe, I remember my grandfather talking to me about him a long while back and thought I would check out whatever this thing is. Eh, I got mad work tonight, man and besides Im down with the Jesus, thou shalt not praise false items, and all that so Im out. They both looked out at the horizon silently. The beach made a crescent, on the left side there were large jetties absorbing the force of the waves, they were grooved from millennia of fighting with the ocean and shining with dark green seaweed were plastered on their sides. On the other side was the old SeaKissed tuna cannery, the one his father claimed he had grown up in. It made the beach smell of garbage. Filipo became tense, he wouldnt normally get angry with Robert. He knew Robert had been a particularly devout Christian, despite the swearing. The swearing was a kind of defense mechanism, he felt, that gave his god-fearing nature a cool, composed veil. Well Robert said, sensing the awkward moment If I wanna catch the 6:30 bus I better get going. You coming along? No Filipo replied good luck with the work. Thanks man, you still thinking about going to that heathen festival? Yeah, I think Ill enjoy it. Ok, man suit yourself, just remember the commandment and dont get too wrapped up. Ok, Rob, but as a side note: its idols not items you god-damn blasphemer. Robert, stunned for a moment by his own mistake scratched his head and replied: Aw, I guess Ill burn in hell then- -for all eternity Filipo added with a smirk. He sat as Robert walked away, and watched the ancient jetties absorb wave after wave.
On his way back to campus, Filipo came upon the familiar sight of the breadfruit man, the man who sat by the side of the walking path that stretched between the slums and the campus. Embossed white dots lined his gaunt face and bushy, grey eyebrows; his mouth had a deep red vertical line stretching from his chin to the bottom of his nose and around his neck was a garland of bones that drooped over his naked torso. He sat on the side of the road with an elegantly stacked piled and to his right a pan with a blazing fire underneath. He sold fried breadfruit chips, which he laid in small pieces of wax paper. Filipo approached him and bought a greasy handful. When he gave the man the money, the man grasped Filipos arm and said Tui Manua child, you are gracious, safu-ati Manua, travel well, child. Filipo was dumbstruckTui Manua, gracious, safu-ati, good-hearted? he stared at the mans broad purple smile under his small, dark pupils.
The stairwell leading to the basement of the Gymnasium was dimly lit. Filipo could hear echoing voices below. They sounded wild, the echoing laughter made Filipo shiver. What if he wasnt wild enough for the cultural renewal festival? He had always been the quiet-type and he had a remarkable self-awareness that bordered on paranoia. As he descended the stairwell he felt as if he should have ran back up. But to go back towhat? The classroom, where he took notes and learned nothing? His house, where he felt as if he were a stranger? No. He had to go down into the dark. He had do plunge into the echoing wildness.
The room smelled distinctly of marijuana. A thick layer of smoke floated like the ghost of a river wherein six teenagers waded. He recognized the heavy-set boy who had given him the note. He-e-ey Filipo! You came, man! Thats awesome. Hey, Filipo responded guardedly. Im sorry I dont now your- -name? the old-looking boy replied, thats alright man, my names Eloni, it means mountain! He pounded his chest then coughed loudly. I know I know its kind of creepy I know your name right? Right? Trying to hide his disappointment at the turn out of this so-called festival Filipo replied: Not really, no. The rest of the group laughed at this and Eloni said Dont worry man, Im no creep, and this aint the festival either, the festival is in the woods off of the foot-path. I was asked to get you to come with us. Relieved and somewhat taken aback, Filipo echoed Elonis words: You were asked to get me? Why? Beats the shit outta me, man, but you gotta come, its always a helluva time. You smoke? No, sorry- Dont be sorry. Youre a good man Filipo. Inhaling the life out of the joint, Eloni stamped it out on the ground and said Ok, troops, lets roll out! The rest of the group laughed and made their way up the stairs. Filipo followed them up, wrapped in eagerness and dizzy with confusion.
The stars were like white gobs of paint splattered against the dark sky. Filipo followed the group through the brush. Eloni was hacking away a path with a machete. The sounds of shouts and drums became louder and louder as they pressed on. They arrived at a large clearing filled with shirtless men and women after what seemed to be miles. Most of the men had large tattoos encasing their torsos. Filipo recognized a number of Japanese men who worked with his father. They were drinking and dancing around a fire. Drums sounded from the circle of men at the center of the clearing. At the center Filipo saw the familiar painted face of the breadfruit man, only he was wearing the choker with the bone as well as the garland of bones and the large woven sarong that he had seen his grandfathers picture.
The drums stopped, and the men and women looked on in silence as the breadfruit man stood up and shouted:
We are all the children
of the union of heaven
We are the germs, risen
From the earths womb
We share our divinity
With the sun and the stars
The moon and the sea
With the blood of the soil
Our hearts are rock
We are divine
We are earth
Give us unity once again
The sun, The father, rise
impregnate our mother
the soil - our womb
Have it be known
Of our divine rights
Our heavenly lineage
Born from the earth
We celebrate you
The drums began their wild thumping with no particular rhythm. Wild clapping and screaming followed. Filipo couldnt believe the breadfruit mans words. His heart beat excitedly. The men who he had recognized were burying something in the ground and lifting their hands to the moon. A group of painted men who appeared to be of high status, or at least were dressed the most flamboyantly came over to Filipo and asked for him by name and then asked him to follow. The naked torsos of the men were covered in Samoan tatau. They led him to the breadfruit man, who sat at the center of the drum circle, burying something into the ground.
You came, child, brother, you came. His small dark eyes were unchanged from their last exchange but his broad smile seemed more ravenous. He looked like a man possessed: utterly impersonal and threatening. Your grandfather, child, do you know who he was? Filipo, startled by the question, responded: Y-yeah, I knew who he was, but he died when I was 9. Ah, child, it is a surprise to hear so. You are so much akin to him but tell me - do you know who your grandfather was? N-no, sir I suppose I dont know who he was, I was much too y- Your grandfather was one of the last of the Tui Manua. The lineage was cut off and disgraced long ago because of the rise of the white man. We kept it goingin secret of course. Your grandfather died because one of his own family, his own blood, but with a mind filled with white poison stabbed him in the heart. He was the last of the great ancient chiefs of the Tui Manua. Filipo felt his eyes getting wide. The distant dream started coming back. His grandfather would tell him of Tagaloa, of the Tongan rituals that traveled through history from ancient origin. He told Filipo that one day he would be Tui Manua. He remembered vividly his grandfathers serious look, one that closely resembled the breadfruit mans. He could see his eyes, fixed with a steady concentration of slow, powerful darkness.
The men were surrounding Filipo now and the breadfruit man took off his garments and necklaces and placed them on Filipo. He stood there, paralyzed and silent by the surge of emotion and memory coursing through him. The breadfruit man stood up, the drums ceased then silence. He turned Filipo to the crowd. He could see the blinking, glassy eyes of the drunken Japanese men, their SeaKissed uniforms slung around their torsoes. The breadfruit man, naked, began to shout:
We are blessed
From the womb
Of the earth
Tui Manua Filipo
Our new chief
The leader of our uprising
Has made himself known
His divine right has
The glory of our people
The resistance of our people
The Rise of the Tagaloa
The Christian Eclipse is Over
We will be realized!
The crowd formed a circle around Filipo and the other chieftains. Sending shouts up to the sky, they stamped their feet into the earth. A heavy-set chieftan with deep red facepaint laid out a partially charred corpse by Filipos feet. Staring closely he could barely make out the right side of Roberts face. Filipo stood upright, white as Pompeys statue in the Roman Forum and paralyzed with fear.