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The Language of the River Dwellers by Edsel Engalla Jr.

A boy and his clan once lived next to the river on the outskirts of the village. They

listened to the tide and began to speak the language of the river dwellers. As tradition, the boy’s parents intended to pass it down to their children. The first three learned the tongue, while the boy, the fourth child, did not. One night during the monsoon season, when the boy was barely a year old, the river overflowed and swallowed his family’s wooden hut with their belongings. To escape the torrential jaws of the river, the family migrated into the village, instructing the children to stay away from the river.  The rest of the clan followed and began to tell stories about

the cursed river and its rage. While they never returned, they still spoke the language of the river dwellers. The last son would listen as his family’s tongues meandered past his understanding. He lived in a drought of comprehension for many years, never visiting the river from which they learned to speak. When he was strong and able, he left the village to visit the river and decided to listen to it ebb and flow. Fate had made it so that his visit would fall during the monsoon season. The stream had sung him to sleep until he awoke to the torrential jaws of the river gnawing at his

feet, dragging him into its liquid void. At first, he panicked and wailed his limbs, but the beast meandered around his hands. As it grabbed his throat, he remembered the stories his parents told him and began to believe in the cursed waters. Then, he listened again, heard its currents, felt its the pushes and pulls, and understood its versatility. He learned that to know what it was to speak like a river, he first had to swim in one. So, he swam with its current and learned to speak the language of the river dweller.


Edsel Engalla, Jr. (he/him) is a Filipino American based in his hometown of Jersey City, New Jersey. A recent graduate from Rutgers University with a B.A. in English, he hopes to begin taking action in serving his local community. Identifying as a “sometimes writer,” he writes fiction and poetry that explores the assimilation of Filipinx in the U.S. and its reconciliation with pre-colonial traditions. When he’s not writing, he’s either taking naps with his Shiba Inu, reading a book by a fellow Asian American, or listening to hip-hop.


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