Author’s Note: Diwa’s mild basophobia, which I’d hinted at previously, is actually based on my own. I’m not afraid of heights but get a weak feeling of nervousness and vertigo if I’m too close to the edge of high-up open places, giving me a slight fear of falling. A few years back I learned from my eye doctor that my version might be due to prism issues (my eyes are fine, just that they don’t always align when focusing on a narrow point). More to the point, the issue slightly messes with my sense of heights: my brain is well aware of the altitude, but my eyes think it’s not that far at all, and that disconnect is disorienting. Diwa’s description of the issue below — including the comment about City Hall (in my case, the one in downtown Springfield MA when I was six) — comes directly from my own experiences and resolutions to conquer it.
Diwa toweled his hair dry as he stepped into his bedroom. The long and scalding shower had thankfully removed the stink of the fertilizer he’d been elbow deep in all morning…he’d gotten an earful from Maricel as soon as he’d come back, threatening to lock him out of the house if he didn’t get rid of the smell immediately. But he was clean once more, and no one in the house was complaining. He put on fresh clothes, threw the dirty ones in the washing machine and started it, and headed down the hallway.
It was still early in the afternoon, so it came as a bit of a surprise that he could hear his father down the hall. Samuel had told him just this morning that they’d be working on the back office tomorrow. Maybe he’d finally caught the cleaning bug and wanted to keep it going? Diwa shrugged off a momentary feeling of being left out. The sooner they got this room under control the better, with or without him.
The door was open when he approached it, and there was soft music playing. When did he buy a radio for this room…? “Pop?” he called out. “You in here?”
“Hey, Diwa,” he responded from near the back window. Samuel popped his head up from a waist-high line of file boxes and recycling bins that stretched across the room. “Come on in!”
“Ai!” he heard from the same area, followed by a rustle of wings and a scuffle of feet. Anna-Nassi popped up from behind the wall and gave him a toothy smile. She brushed her hands and vaulted over the boxes. “Diwa!” she sang. “I ran into Samuel earlier today while you were still in the garden and thought I’d help him do some moving. I hope you don’t mind?”
“Uh, s-sure,” he said, surprised by her presence. “Sorry, I didn’t know you were here.”
“She’s been a big help today,” Samuel said, climbing over the wall of boxes. “Now that we have more room, I thought it would make more sense to do a bit of arranging as we go to make the sorting process go by quicker. Thanks again, Annie!”
She smiled and waved to Samuel as she headed towards the door. “Anytime, mani,” she said. She turned to Diwa, her expression changed to a worried concern, and prodded him on the arm. “Eiyah,” she said, leveling her eyes. “Come on, you. We need to talk.”
She left Samuel’s office and headed straight for Diwa’s bedroom. He blinked and stared at her for a moment before following. She’d been here countless times before, mainly for school study sessions or just hanging out, but it was a rarity for her to walk through his house as if she too lived here. There was a quickness in her steps as well; he double-timed it to catch up. “What do we need to talk about?” he asked as they entered his room. He cleaned and straightened his bed covers the best he could and offered her a seat. She hopped on, sitting on her hinds and leaning back on the knuckles of her wings.
“You and Kaffi, of course,” she said, flashing her fangs again in a forced smile. “The reason I was here wasn’t just to help your father. He’d pulled me aside because he had a few concerns about your potential flights with Kaffi.”
Diwa’s heart skipped a beat. His father knew…? Oh, this was not good, not good at all! “Concerns? What kind of concerns? And why isn’t he talking with me directly?”
“Oh, he is, or will be. I just wanted to talk to you as well.” She reached out and laid a gentle hand on his. “You see…he confirmed something that’s been bothering me for a while. He knows about your…what is it, basophobia? Is that the right word?”
“Ai…” he groaned and buried his face in his palm, more annoyed than embarrassed. This was supposed to be a secret! And now Pop was telling everyone within earshot that he couldn’t handle a simple thing like tintrite flight! He did not want Kaffi to hear of this. Not like this, anyway. Eiyah…he’d have to act sooner than he’d like. “Nakakaloka ‘to…it’s not…it’s…” He stuttered to a stop, shaking his head. “It’s stupid, Annie. I’m not mad at you for asking. One of you would have figured it out sooner or later. It’s minor. It’s not a fear. It’s just nervousness. I can handle it. What did he tell you?”
Anna-Nassi hummed and squeezed his hand. “It’s okay, Dee. He didn’t tell me anything embarrassing. He’s just concerned. He wants you to fly. I want you to fly! And of course Kaffi has been waiting forever to fly with you, so that’s where I come in.”
He raised an eyebrow at her. “Umm…?”
She giggled and chittered her fangs quickly, fluttering her wings at him. “Not me, silly! I might be big and have wings, but I’m not built for that sort of thing.” And just like that, all lightness and cheer vanished, replaced by a deep scowl and a finger, waving at him. “But! I need to coach you. Right now the two of you are a disaster waiting to happen, and it’s up to me and Cole to minimize the damage! You both need training toot sweet! I want you to be the best pilot, Diwa!” The scowl wilted just a bit. “Umm…co-pilot? Driver? Rider? What’s the best term here?”
“Ride,” he said between pursed lips, holding back his amusement.
“Ride, then!” she said happily, jumping right back on track, ticking off each point with her fingers. “So! Cole is working out a new schedule at the community center so you two lovey-doveys have more time together. Samuel already gave me the go-ahead for that, and your mother only requests that you join her for a few hours baking on the weekends. Maricel agreed only if you don’t slack off your daily chores at home, and I concur. No laziness there, Diwa! Meanwhile, Kaffi will still be flight training for most of the summer with Graymar and he’ll be doing some tenancy committee work with Shahney as well – oh, and that leaves Iliah, who will be joining Dee and Dari in the kitchen – which leaves me a few months to get you ready. Whew! So! My main plan, then, is when you two finally start flying, it will be like you’ve been flying for years. Neh?”
He stared at her for a few moments, equally shocked and impressed by the level of detail in her outline. He saw the determination and excitement in her eyes…ai, how could he possibly say no to Annie? “What will this entail?”
“Well, we will see when we get to it,” she said, and patted his hand one last time. “All I ask is that you trust me.”
“You know I do,” he said.
“Ut!” She quickly held up her hand. “This is different! I will push you. I will push you hard. I will do stupid things to make you learn! I will make you mad and annoyed! I will make you do things that will make you question my sanity!”
“More so than usual?”
“More so than usual! But this is to help you, Dee. Because I believe in the two of you.”
He couldn’t help but smile at her. She may be a handful, but she was unfalteringly loyal. “Oh, stop it with that!”
“But I do!” she said, giggling again. She prodded him once and then pulled him into a hug. “You’re my ahpé, Dee. I know you can do this. I want you to do this.”
“Okay, okay…!” he said, squirming in her arms. “You win!”
“Come on, let’s go to the roof and talk some more.”
“You say this fear is mild and not acute?” she asked. They stood side by side on the roof of Palm, leaning up against the outer railing, past the roof patio. Standing next to the edge like this was second nature to her, so she found it hard imagining how Diwa felt. Then again, she was the one with gliding wings if she fell…Diwa was a human with no flight appendages at all. She watched him as they talked, and on the surface everything was normal. He didn’t give any hits that he might be nervous right now.
That is, until he pushed off the railing and started pacing a short distance from the edge, only a few minutes after they’d come up here. He’d done this in the past, too…so now she wondered how long he’d been hiding it, fighting it, for the sake of others. He distracted himself temporarily by glancing at the roof of Building C across the way, where Graymar and Kaffi stood side by side, looking out over the green. Annie felt the minute change in mood; for a moment, the nervousness disappeared as soon as he locked his eyes on them. He saw them as safe, as visual anchors.
That could be the perfect answer Annie was looking for!
“That’s right,” he said eventually, his hands jammed the pockets of his jacket. “I don’t get too dizzy or freeze up with fear or anything. I just…” He scratched the back of his head, looking away but not frowning. He was uncomfortable, but he was willing to share with her. “I just get nervous. Like a very weak sense of vertigo, or I feel like my sense of balance goes a bit off.” He sighed with worry and turned back to her. “Annie, do we—”
“Yes!” she said, waving both her arms and wings at him. “Dee, this is your future we’re talking about. Now, next question: you’ve been on rollercoasters, yeah? I’ve seen you ride the one at Wesley Park. That’s a crazy ride, even I rarely go on it, but I’ve seen you on that one every time we visit. Multiple times! Those heights don’t bother you, do they?”
“Just the first climb and drop,” he said, amused by the question. “But that bothers everyone.”
“The jostling? The twists and sharp turns?”
“I’m fine. No less than anyone else. I love those, actually.”
“Hmm.” She tapped a finger against her chin. “Do you know where this fear comes from?”
He nodded, slowing his pace again and came closer again, though stopping a few feet from the railing. “I think I do,” he said. “I had a prism issue with my eyes as a kid, and still do to some extent. My eyes don’t always have pinpoint focus, even though my vision is otherwise normal. But as a kid, when I went to bed at night and closed my eyes, sometimes they’d cross. Don’t ask me why, they just did. The eye strain would make me dizzy, and that would give me nightmares. They were usually about falling from a height, like a tower or something. It never bothered me during the day until this one time when my Pop brought us to the city once when I was maybe six, and brought us up to City Hall tower to check out the view. My brain equated the height with the nightmares and scared the hell out of me.”
He exhaled and faced her, his focus strong. “I know where it’s from, Annie. This is why I see it as a lingering anxiety rather than a paralyzing fear. It still kicks in when I’m in open high places, regardless of how safe I actually am. I’ve felt it on Mount Laimora once or twice on a clear day, even, and that has such calm slopes! When I got older, I figured out that it’s a combination of not being able to accurately judge visual distances and sensing the pull of gravity to keep myself stable. Doctors call it a deficiency in postural control. I’ve never been able to completely shake it.”
Anna-Nassi tilted her head and slowly raised her brow. “That’s…huh.”
“I know,” he said, blushing. “It’s dumb and I hate it. It’s why I push through and deal with it.” He walked up to the railing again and leaned up against it. He even peeked over the side and gave the ground below a quick glance. “See? I’m not freezing up. I’m not terrified. Nervous, yes. But that’s it.”
“No, no,” she said quickly, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Not dumb at all. This is good! It’s really good, Dee! You face your fears and learn to understand them instead of running away from them. That is your strength! It also makes my job easier.”
“Your job?” he said, turning to her. “I thought your job was to cure me, or at least get my mind straight so I won’t freak out when I’m flying with Kaffi.”
“That’s what I’m talking about, Dee,” she said, giving him a wide grin. “I don’t know if I can cure you, but I can certainly help you find a way to make you strong. And you already know I wouldn’t throw you off this roof, that would just be mean.”
Diwa snorted. “Yes, it would!”
“What I see here, Dee, is this: You’re leaning up against this railing, slightly nervous but otherwise fine. And I think it’s because you’re familiar with these surroundings, these angles of the estate, and you trust them. What we need to do, then, is find you some high points where you can enjoy the view the way we mandossi and tintrite do.”
“Annie, I doubt you have access to every single tower in the community…” he laughed.
“No, but I do have access to certain ones thanks to my near-infinite number of relatives living around here! I think I know a way to help you get used to this.”
Diwa exhaled and looked out over the estate. A slow smile crept across his face. “Okay. I’m game,” he said. Then, after a moment, he turned back to her. “Why are you doing this, Annie? Why go so far out of your way to help me?”
The question surprised her, and she felt herself blushing, and her wings fluttered just a bit. “Me? I already told you. I love you and Kaffi, you know. I want the two of you to make it work, yeah?” She hummed and turned away. “I’m jealous of the two of you sometimes. But never in a bad way, though.”
“Jealous?” he said.
She nodded and fluttered her wings again. “I would love a connection like the two of you have.”
“You’ll find it soon enough,” he said, giving her a playful nudge. “I’m sure of it.”
She grinned and punched him lightly on the arm. “Yeah, sure. Loudmouth mandossi like me?”
“Especially a loudmouth mandossi like you,” he said, took her hand, and squeezed it.
“Nakakaloka ‘to…” — (Tagalog) “This is stupid…”