Part 1: Labor
I felt the wind change on my skin.
I opened my eyes and saw that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. Up on a tree branch of an alatiris tree. Sweet fragrant wind in my long black hair. Sweat on my meztiza cheeks. Sunlight in my small almond shaped eyes. A big red Spanish-style mansion in the distance. A dream of someplace in the past.
It was a welcome change, and I wasn’t at all eager to wake up just yet.
“Bata!” a call from a small high-pitched voice below.
I looked down. A scrawny meztiza child was beckoning for me to come down the tree, giving me a glimpse of my own scrawny child’s body.
This was definitely a dream. I pat my chest, poked my cheek, and rubbed my hands together to prove that I was dreaming. I felt my skin warm with sunlight and damp with the slight sleek of sweat. This can’t be real…
“Hoy! Bata!” the little girl below called out again. She must be my own age in this dream.
“What?” I answered her.
She smiled up at me and pointed at the ripe alatiris fruit around me. She picked up the edges of her dress for a makeshift basket.
“Can you throw some of those ripe alatiris here?” she said.
I looked around me for the nearest alatiris, which were still green. I threw a few of them into her skirt.
“This aren’t ripe yet!” she complained, picking up an orangey-green one and putting it into her mouth. “Give me some of the ripe ones.”
I looked around me again, but the ones I can reach with my shorter arms were only the green ones. “They’re all so far! I might fall!”
She shook her head. “Fine! I’m coming up!” she said. “Move over so I can sit next to you.”
I scooched over to my right to give her room to sit as she climbed up the tree. From where I sat, the floor looked far, but based on how quickly she was able to climb, it mustn’t be that far at all. Finally, she stood on the space I made for her and reached up to the higher branches for the redder alatiris fruits.
When she sat down again, her hand was full of the red fruit. She offered some to me. I reluctantly took one from her haul and looked at it as an ant crawled on the surface.
“What’s the matter? Never tried alatiris before?” she asked, brushing the ant off the tiny fruit that I was looking at with curiousity. “It’s sweet. It’ll be like the sugar candy from the plaza.”
I looked at her, and she nodded at me. I put it in her mouth. It melted on her tongue like a sugar cube thrown into freshly brewed tea. It was sweet and earthy. And I thought, this must be what summer tasted like.
“See? It’s good! Have some more!” the girl said, offering more of the alatiris.
I took one more and hurriedly put it in my mouth, the fruit popped inside and the taste instantly spread all over. It pulled up the corners of my mouth. A disturbing thought came to me: Can you taste food in dreams?
“What are you doing up here?” the girl suddenly asked, waking her up from her reverie. “Where’s your mother?”
Probably in the room next to mine. I remembered where I was before I woke up to this. “Where’s your mother? What’s your name, bata?”
“My mother’s probably in the plaza. She sells hot empanadas near the church,” she began. “She should be coming home soon. It’s almost dusk anyway.”
My mouth watered at the mention of empanada. My Lola Amor had always said that empanada was her specialty. The smell of salty longganisa—even the cheap grocery store knockoffs—always reminded me afternoons with her as she droned about how her own mother once made the best empanadas in all of Vigan. I would watch her wrinkly hands with the mole in her palm fold the orange wrapper over the meat and vegetables and eggs.
“What’s your name, bata?” the girl asked, as she popped another red alatiris in her mouth. Some of the the sweet nectarine juice slid out of the corner of her lips. She wiped it up with her forearm.
“I asked you first,” I answered, taking another alatiris from her hand.
“I’m Amor,” she said with a smile as she popped the last alatiris into her mouth. My eyes widened at that. She had the same eyes as her lola. The same smile. The high-pitched voice. I looked at her hand, and there it was. The mole in the middle of her palm.
“No more alatiris, bata,” she said, looking up at the higher branches. “Your turn to go up. Try reaching up for those alatiris.” She pointed to a branch near me. It was barely reachable by short arms. I stood up next to her, and she held my hand to keep me steady.
“That’s it. You almost got it!” she said. I stood on my tiptoes and reached for the tree branch, but the tree branch cracked at the base. I slipped and fell, taking Amor with me to the ground. I felt a sharp cut on the side of my cheek when I hit the ground.
I pushed myself up and saw a rock with splatters of blood. Sweat dripped down my face, slipping over a part that stung with pain. I touched it and saw blood on my fingers.
“Bata naman, my dress is dirty,” Amor said, pushing herself up as well. “My mother will kill me!”
Amor stood upright and plastered a grin on her face. I looked up at her and then turned to look at what scared her.
“Where have you been all day? I told you to help me out at the plaza!” the woman said, walking up to them. When she saw how dirty her clothes were, she ran. “What happened to you two?” She looked her daughter over with a worried expression on her face. When she was satisfied with Amor, she turned to look at me. A stunned expression fell on her kayumanggi face and then a look of recognition fell in her large dark brown eyes.
“Do I know you?” she asked, then shook her head. She took out a panyolita from her pocket and wiped at the side of my cheek. “Take better care of yourself, okay?” she said in her motherly way. “You have to. For your baby.” She smiled.
I felt a slight dizziness come to me, and then darkness.
I woke up to the pain between my thighs and at the base of my swollen abdomen. My clothes were damp, and my face was dripping with sweat. I was breathing heavily to catch my breath.
I looked at my hands. They weren’t the hands of the child. They were the hands of a woman on the last term of her pregnancy. Longganisa-like. I touched my cheeks to feel the sting of the cut, and I sat up when it felt moist on my fingertips. I looked down at it. There was blood.
The sudden movement woke my mother up, and she looked at me with a worried look on her face.
“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” she asked, her voice husky with sleep. She rubbed the sleep off her almond shaped eyes. Even in the room lit only by a small nightlight, her mother’s skin showed a slight yellow tinge. She felt for my swollen stomach and pulled the covers off my body. She gasped, stood to turn on the lights, and opened the door.
“Ma! Eve’s water has broken,” she yelled out as she got dressed and began packing the bag she had prepared on the side of the door.
The space between my legs was wet, and in the light, I could see spots of blood amid the moisture.
The sound of someone scrambling erupted next door, and her Lola Amor emerged in the darkness, fully dressed and handing the car keys to her daughter.
“Go start the car, Grace. I’ll get Eve ready,” she said, taking the bag from her daughter.
It unnerved me that they were so calm about my going into labor. My mother looked to me one last time. She approached me and kissed my forehead.
“You’ll be alright, anak. Your lola and I are here,” she said before going out the door.
Lola Amor came to me and helped me get out of my night dress and into more presentable clothes. The pain between my thighs echoed throughout my body, and I moaned in pain. I sat back on the bed as Lola Amor packed my phone into her handbag.
“Lola, I need my phone,” I told her. “We should tell John.”
She tried to smile, which came out as a half-hearted smirk, but she handed me my phone anyway. I typed up a quick message to the father of my child.
“Water broke. Going to hospital now.”
I looked at the screen on my phone, hoping that he’d seen my message. I felt searing pain rise up from my womb. Lola took my phone away from me and put it in her bag. She took out a panyolita from it.
“Not a lot of time to waste for that lazy bastard,” Lola said, pulling me up on my feet and helping me walk out the door.
I looked away from her in shame. What happened between John and I was supposed to be just a one-night stand. He wasn’t supposed to stay in my life this long. And he knew that. He has chosen to shirk off all responsibility for my child—but not without suggesting that I try to get rid of it. Like it was a toy broken down by years of mindless play.
Not that I needed him to provide for me. I can very well provide for myself like I have done so for my mother and lola.
Lola stopped at the doorway and looked me in the eyes.
“Remember, anak, you are strong. You are brave. You are loved,” she said, wiping the blood on my cheek. I caught a glimpse of the mole in her palm. “You are your mother’s daughter like she is mine. Like I am my mother’s. You are not alone. You will never be alone.”
I felt tears sting at the corners of my eyes, and Lola hugged me tight. “I love you, Lola.”
“I love you, too, anak,” she said. “Thank you.”
I looked up at her, the spell broken by her last words, but she was already rushing me into the back of the parked car on the driveway of our house. Lola sat next to me in the back. My mother looked at me from the rearview mirror, smiled, nodded, and mouthed the words, “I love you, anak.” Eve said it back.
Lola Amor didn’t let go of my hand until I fell asleep again.