Updated: Mar 7, 2020
This story was originally published in Brilliant Flash Fiction
Amihan was born at the most depressing time of the year, when the radio stations abruptly stop playing Christmas carols and resume a blandly shuffled playlist of Top 40 hits. Her father was preparing to drag the newly undecorated tree out to the curb when her mother’s water broke. The roads were slick with slush, remnants of a white Christmas that had come and gone, so Henry carried his wife to the car.
“Play some Christmas music, Henry,” Fernanda begged. There was a cassette of Bing Crosby hits still loaded into the tape deck, but when Henry pressed “play” all it did was screech, and so he began singing himself. “Silent night, holy night,” crooned Henry in his smooth baritone, continuing to sing as Fernanda panted through her contractions.
Fernanda still was not used to the snow, even after twenty years in America. In Manila, even the rain was warm. The idea that drops of water could freeze and fall and gather on the ground was as abstract as the concept of entropy or the Holy Trinity. The snow was yet another reminder of how far she was from home, even more jarring than the child that she would soon hold in her arms.
All through the agonizing hours of labor, Fernanda thought of Manila. She thought of the palm trees in her yard and the coconuts that would drop from them, rolling down the driveway. She thought of the clinging heat, and the chorus of birds that woke her up each morning. She didn’t know the names of the birds, but she knew their song, so different from the crashing cadences of the birds she heard in America. Fernanda often thought that American birds had been lulled into complacency, or perhaps that they had been so horrified by the commercialism of the country that they dimmed their voices in protest. Manila’s birds were joyfully exuberant, trilling harmoniously with the sunrise.
As Fernanda pushed and screamed her way through the delivery she felt like she was the one being born. She had taken root in this new country and now she was giving birth to a child that would never know the Manila sky. Even if she went home for a visit, this baby would be a foreign thing, a changeling child raised in a faraway land. Her accent and her mestiza features would be a resounding reminder that she was not truly one of them, that she was not an island girl. No, her baby would be a creature made of snow and heartbreak and unfulfilled destiny.
When Fernanda finally held Amihan in her arms, she felt strangely empty, like the shell of balut sucked dry. Here, at last, was a solid link not just to this country but to life itself, a piece of her own flesh and history, but instead of feeling an urge to nurture this new life Fernanda wanted to roll back the years and become a child again herself. She wanted her own nanay, wanted her mother’s arms around her. She wanted to be the one so blissfully unaware of the pain of the world, with nothing on her mind other than being fed and changed.
Some babies are ushered into the world with kisses showered onto their foreheads. Amihan was christened with her mother’s tears. When the nurse asked what she would name the baby, all Fernanda could think was that this being she had brought to life was the first in a new universe, that she was a goddess who would eclipse them all. And so she named her Amihan,for the bird-deity of Filipino mythology, the powerful being who became savior of all humanity.
Her birth certificate read Maria Amihan Celeste Moreno Metzger, but to Henry she was Ami and to Fernanda she was always Amihan. As she grew older, Amihan would hate her name, especially after her classmates began to tease her for it. Her teachers began to call her Ami, too, but Fernanda always refused to budge on the nickname.
“There is power in a name, iha,” she said after Amihan asked her yet again to call her Ami.
“If I do not call you Amihan, how will the stars recognize you as one of their own?”