Copyright © 2010 by Antonio Enriquez Digital, Philippines Dance a White Horse to Sleep & Other Stories, Asia-Pacific Series

, UQP, Queensland, Australia, 1977 Reprinted, Giraffe Books

The Hummingbird by Antonio Enriquez

When everyone is taking his siesta, an afternoon nap, Nonoy slips out of his room and goes down to the vacant lot. Instead of the shortcut through the fence, he takes the long way to the street, going down the foot-worn path flanked by an old barbed-wire fence, with holes here and there, along each side of it, made by stray dogs and pigs. He goes along the footpath so that when he comes to the vacant lot he will come up from above the neighborhood kids instead of from behind. His slippers lift puffs of dust in the vacant lot, as he quietly approaches them. Their shoulders hunched stiffly forward, Maria and two kids, who came from the cocalan (coconut lot) neighborhood are huddled together, squatting, on their heels. Nonoy says to the neighborhood kids: What is you doing?

Maria looks up. She says, We is burying the tansí « hummingbird. Then asks Nonoy, Why is you burying it? Esta muerto? « Is it dead? O, o, esta muerto ya, say the two neighborhood cocalan kids in the Chabacano dialect. It¶s dead already. Toward the newcomer, the two boys crane up their grimy faces, with no mark of greeting, but full of excitement for the tansí. Then the pair bends down over the small hole, between them and the girl, on the ground. Inside the hole is a hummingbird, its feathers ruffled and dusty, lying on its side. Over the breast its feet are drawn up. Nonoy looks into the hole. He says, You is hurting it.. Is you dumb? ...Un bobo? says the girl Maria. It¶s already dead, and nothing hurts it anymore. But it¶s still alive ...Vivo pa gáne, says Nonoy, and the girl says, Aaiieeee, it¶s very much dead, says the girl. He has seen its eyes, dark and limpid, in their sockets when he looked into the hole. Its eyes is still alive, says Nonoy. It¶s not dead yet. Mira! Look, Maria, its eyes is very bright ... it is still very much alive. Está muerto por largo tiempo ya, Maria goes on stubbornly. It has been dead a long time already.

But she too looks down into the hole, which they had dug earlier for the bird¶s grave. Over the two boys¶ and Maria¶s shoulders and heads, Nonoy smelling the sun in their hair peers at the hummingbird. Set to one side of his shoulder, in a sharp angle, is his head, so he can better see the eyes of the tansi bird. They¶s still alive, he thinks. It is not dead yet. At this point, they start to bury the hummingbird in the hole. Using their fingers, the two cocalan kids sift loose earth from a mound to cover it, then patting the loose earth gently with the palms of their hands. Nonoy notices that the pair shapes it just like the abandoned graves he saw at the Gusu Cemetery, where his grandmother was buried in one of its tombs. Off to a clump of banana trees the girl goes, and a minute later comes back with a cross made from a soft, fresh banana bark. She sticks the bananacross into the mound, and over it places red bougainvillea flowers she has picked by the fence earlier. While the two cocalan kids hunch over the hummingbird¶s grave, pretending to say prayers for the dead bird, Nonoy turns and walks off the vacant lot. At the garden in front of their house, he turns left and steps before a faucet braced by a rusty wire against a fence post. He turns it on, and washes off the dust on his shanks and feet. He does not want his mother to see his legs so dirty. A small pool forms under the faucet, as Nonoy, legs apart, stands beside it. Dirt water flows freely down his legs onto his slippers and directly into a smallish pool under the faucet. After turning off the faucet, he goes

over to the lawn in front of the house, and on its thick patch of grass scrapes off the mud from the soles of his slippers. From the lawn one can see the window of his parents¶ room. Through the window he can tell she is in the house, lying in her bed, weak and sick. He crosses the lawn, goes up the wooden steps, past the door he had left ajar when he slipped out unnoticed earlier that afternoon. He takes off his wet slippers, splashing water on his shanks onto the hard wooden floor, and walks on tiptoe toward the door of her room. At the door, he hesitates a while before slowly turning the knob. Then he pushes the door in a little, peering through the crack to his mother¶s sick bed, and slides sideways into her room. He stands in the middle of the room, without saying a word, gazing at his mother¶s immobile form lying asleep in her sick bed. While gazing, quiet and intense, he notices that her eyelids are clamped shut, and that a water bag set over her head looks just like an up-turned mushroom, which he and the cocalan kids discovered among rotten coconut trunks some time ago. On the big pillow, her face, sallow and small, seems buried and crushed. Clinging to her dress and skin is the rancid smell of ether and hospital, which weeks of care by the family doctor has somehow smudged and left intensely alienable. He hates the hospital smell. She had just come home earlier that day from the hospital in Zamboanga City. She came home very hopeful, bright, for her doctors had told her that the operation had gone quite well.

Indeed, she did not have ever to worry again, they said, her cancer would not spread through her breasts. Nonoy scrapes off the remaining dirt film on the soles of his bare feet onto the wooden planks of the floor, making a flat, swishing sound, which stirs his mother, Mila Fuentes, from her tortuous nap. Slowly, fluttering, her heavy eyelids open; but her hands, small and veined, lie beside her, as quiet and immobile as those of a corpse¶s. Over her eyes a gossamer of sleep lingers still, and drawn in like a rubber mask is her flayed face. She looks very tired, though calm, and he stands there so long a while, on his bare feet, before he sees a light in her eyes that focuses on him the second their eyelids draws back touching him but flittingly. He forces a smile through his lips, calling her Mama. Then her hands moves, slightly, over the newly laundered bed sheets to the bed¶s edge, where she taps her fingers. He comes over and sits beside his mother, who looks up straight into his face, her eyes round and dark, a film of light hovering but desperately clinging to him²they are, he notices, frighteningly like a pair of half-shiny marbles set close together at each side of a rather sharp, narrow nose. Also, he notices they are not unlike the limpid, dark eyes of the tansí bird Nonoy had seen the neighborhood cocalan kids bury in the vacant lot. For a moment he imagines seeing horrible tiny things crawling all over her breasts, which the doctor had explained to his father how her cancer is spreading.

Then blinking Nonoy says, Is your chest bothering you still, Mama? No ... but I¶ve this horrible headache, the mother replies. As if my head is splitting in the middle, in half. She tries to reach out to him with her eyes, without success, until she feels tired and hard to breath normally. But with her last strength she hangs on desperately, breathing unnaturally, as a drowning person clings to a stalk of reed as his last hope. How urgently, frantically, she craves to hold him in her arms! A tiny spot of water frames about his wet feet. He says, We buried un tansí, Mama ... a hummingbird. Frowning, the mother says, O-o. Did you shoot the poor hummingbird with your slingshot? Nonoy answers, No-no, Mama. I didn¶t shoot it with my slingshot. The boys from the cocalan found it in a bush. They said it was already wounded, someone must have shot it. Then they buried the bird while it was still alive .... He looks down into his mother¶s eyes, at the dark, translucent pair of marbles deep-set in their sockets. Only with great effort could she keep them alive and burning, for she did not wish her son to see them fading into dullness. In fact, her son Nonoy is thinking, Her eyes is like the tansí bird¶s ... Mama¶s eyes is the eyes of the hummingbird. Mila Fuentes says to her son, What a terrible thing to do, to one of the Lord¶s, most beautiful tiniest creatures.

It was Maria and the two cocalan boys who buried it, says Nonoy. Malditos. Wicked boys! she cries. Even then she cannot get angry, really angry with anyone. Where did they bury the bird, hijo? Out there, Mama, in the vacant lot, says Nonoy. Maria placed a cross, you know, Mama, and also bougainvillea flowers on its grave. Mila Fuentes wishes to forget the hummingbird, and think only of pleasant, nice things. The talk about the hummingbird has only made her headache more painful. She asks him to come closer and places a hand gently over his, as she looks up into his face with eyes by great effort have somehow turned limpid and a bit brighter. They cling to him fiercely and hold him in her gaze in a sort of a gentle grip, to which he gives in willingly. Kneel down, Nonoy, please, she says, and pray for mama. So, Nonoy moves away from the side of the bed, kneels down on his knees, and prays for his mother. Afterwards, he leaves the sick room and is sure her eyes are following him to the door and beyond it. He tries to shake them off but in vain, for they follow him out of the house into the garden and everywhere he goes²the whole afternoon. And they are with him still, dark and limpid, as he goes to bed that night. Lying there in bed, he says to himself: I wasn¶t listening. For when I came in my father was already speaking, and Aunt

Meding was nodding her head, as though she agreed everything Papa was saying. She does not know it yet, said the father; but she may go any time, mañana, o segurro entre dos a tres meses .... Aunt Meding stood by the kitchen sink. She is not so tall as my father, and I could see only her head above Papa's shoulders. Should we tell her, Amado? she said. No, she must not know, said Papa. It¶s better this way ... her not knowing. But it¶s horrible, Amado, for her to look so calm, relaxed, said Aunt Meding, my father's elder sister. Even then, I told myself that I was not, really, listening, and when aunt Meding spoke again I was looking at father¶s neck, narrow and sharp, which was turned toward the kitchen door. Indeed, Papa is quite tall. And the boy ... ah, should we not tell him? The boy²said the father, as if he had not been talking to his elder sister at all. Ah, si, of course ... what about Nonoy? Well, should we not tell him? said Aunt Meding. He is so attached to his mother. More than other kids usually are attached, I think. Still I was not really listening: I was just standing at the door, not really listening. Whatever I heard it was not on purpose, as I only happened to be there.

I believe he should know, I heard Aunt Meding say, tell him that his mother .... And, suddenly, she stopped, because Papa said, Wait. Espera un ratito«Wait a moment. I was not really listening still; not the way father said, later on, that I was listening to them all the time they were talking, nono, not that way. Sshhhh, said Papa to his sister, Meding. A moment, Meding. Then I saw Father turn around, his shoulders first, and then his head. He said, Have you been listening, Nonoy? No, I was not listening, Papa. Because really I was not listening; it was just accidental, if ever, I had listened at all to either Papa or Aunt Meding. Because when I came into the kitchen, my father was already speaking, and I was not, really, listening at all²I tells myself, lying in bed there.

The next morning, Nonoy is awake a long time before he gets up from bed. He enjoys and loves to daydream of adventurous travels and heroic deeds first, first thing upon waking in the morning, indeed playing the great hero in his exciting, adventurebrimming imaginary life. He however has not completely forgotten his mother¶s dark, limpid eyes, lingering, unaware they have crawled frightfully into his daydreams in the first light of wakefulness.

Moments later, he hears muffled voices in the house, and opening the door slightly, peers through its crack. Low voices are floating coming out from his mother¶s room, and, bolting out through the door, he runs across the sala toward his mother's room. A white-uniformed big nurse, the same one who had attended his mother yesterday morning, with her flat, broad hips, blocks the door and stops him from entering the room. I want to see Mama! shouts Nonoy. I want to see her. Aahhhh. Standing just inside the door, a doctor bends down toward Nonoy. With barely a wisp of hair on his bald dome, but hairy about his ears, the doctor's eyes behind steel-rimmed glasses turns owlish and rolls in their sockets. He looks down at the boy, for the doctor is as tall as his father, and his balding head nearly brushes the icon of the Crucified Christ on the wall in the room. Nonoy looks past the doctor (his back is turned away slightly from the bed), there toward where his Mama lies in her bed² quiet, unresponsive, dumb to everything around her. Still looking at the boy, the doctor asks, Is this her boy? The big nurse has not turned around, her broad hips anchored there in the door; when the doctor addresses her, she keeps a watchful penetrating eye on the boy still. Yes, doctor, she says. Then, to the boy, You doesn¶t come in here, 'noy. Stay there only, there outside your mama's room.

I want to see my mama, cries Nonoy. You ... Mama, Mama! The white-uniformed, broad-hipped nurse grasps the boy just under his armpits, with her strong hands, and they hurt him. Afraid he was gong to cry he bites his underlip and it stops his tears from flowing. He says, Let me go! Por favor, let me go! The owlish-eyed doctor says to the big nurse, Ah, never mind him. Leave the boy alone, nurse. So, she releases her grip, and Nonoy ducks and shoots out from under her arms into his mother¶s room like he is a missile. He halts before her bed, and searches for her dark eyes just as he had of the hummingbird¶s at the empty lot. On the bed, Mila Fuentes in her pink silk dress lies with her veined small hands drawn quiet and immobile by her flanks. However, her dark eyes deep in their sockets are strangely limpid, almost shiny and translucent, and wide open, as if she is awake. Upon her flat and small frame covered with newly changed white bed sheets, the sunlight from the open window falls mercilessly hard and white, shrouding her in a dazzling carpet of white light. Mama¶s eyes is alive, thinks Nonoy. Like the eyes of the tansí bird in the vacant lot. And my Mama is a bird. (Mama es un pajaro!) On the hard floor Nonoy stands as though transfixed there, his eyes riveted on his mother¶s limpid, dark eyes. The doctor steps up beside him, consoling him, saying he is a poor little kid. He pretends to listen, but his mind drifts away.

His father is sitting in a chair, Nonoy notices, which he has pulled up sharply close to his wife's bed. Mrs. Fuentes lies flat and small there, so she is always within his sight. Now, Nonoy turns to leave the room, the big nurse glaring at him still, and goes past his father. He does not seem to see him. After he has gone past the door, he turns his head back toward the room, and sees his father leaning forward in his chair, shoulders hunched, and his hands motionless cupped on each knee. How dumb and speechless, he thinks, his father looks, staring there toward Mama's death bed! But not dead²not dead, not dead, not dead! He steps out of the house into the sun, goes on through the garden, and halts beside the water faucet. He cups one hand over the mouth of the garden faucet, which stands against the fence, choked with creeping vines, and drinks the water from his cupped hands. Through his throat, just like a ball of lead, the water passes before it comes down, smooth and hard, into the pit of his stomach. He straightens up stiffly and glares into the sun, its rays spear his eyes, make flashes of blinding light in the vacant air. He starts down the path toward the vacant lot. My mother is a bird, he thinks aloud. Not Maria¶s ... not Tia Meding¶s ... or, but my own mother « es un pajaro! No one in the lot when he gets there, not Maria or even the two cocalan boys. He has assumed that they will return that morning to visit the hummingbird¶s grave, but they are nowhere to be seen. It will be too early for them to have left already if they had been there earlier, so he walks up to where they had buried the

hummingbird yesterday. In the mound, the banana cross was perched still, and he kneels beside it. He brushes aside the bougainvillea flowers, which had faded and wilted, from the mound, and with his bare knees in the dust still, pulls out the banana cross and drops it onto the edge of the mound. On his bare knees still, smudged with dust, and with his bare hands, he starts to dig out the hummingbird from its earthen grave. Like dog¶s paws digging up a bone, his hands quickly claw out the padded earth from the mound. He feels his fingers touch something not-soft, not-hard, either. He ceases pawing, but seconds later commences to dig again, slowly and carefully, as one does something fragile and easily broken. He parts the soil along the edges of the hole, and around the bird¶s head, and scoops out all the padded earth from the top of the grave. Then, he draws back his hands, and stomach braced and soured, recoils back in nausea and vomits. Because his hands has touched the soft, decaying body of the humming bird. For a moment he does not even move but just kneels there. With the cap of his knees caked over with dirt, his head swirls again, and he clutches his thighs with his soiled hands. His head clears, and in the hole he sees the tansí bird lying on its side, just as it had lain there before. But now red ants are crawling all over it. Its eyes are gone! Set close in its head, the empty sockets, cave-like, are swarming with red ants. They creep and jerk about, going in and out of them empty eye-socket.

Through the dust-soiled and ruffled feathers, the flesh showed like old, loose crumbs. Nonoy pushes the soil back, refilling the hole. With his dirty hands, he pads the earth gently over the mound, as one does with great love. He straightens again the cross, and rearranges the bougainvillea flowers around it, though dry and wilted. Now, he feels it coming again, the wanting to cry more than ever, and when the tears come they rush from his eyes like rivulets of water, flowing onto his cheeks and down his chin. I hates them, says Nonoy aloud. I hates them all. He stands up from kneeling, and walks out of the vacant lot. When he reaches the old, barbed-wire fence at the edge of it, he bends low, crouching, holding up the rusty wire in one hand to keep it from springing back on him. As he creeps through, a barb still caught the back of his shirt, and he hears the sharp familiar rrriiippptttt! one makes tearing a sheet of cloth in half. He rises to his feet from crouching, and runs down along the fringe of the orchard toward the house. At the gate, he meets the parish priest and stands aside to let him pass, but watches him going down the road to the corner for a public utility car. Then, he himself goes through the gate, and, turning back to close it, sees that the priest has halted on the shoulder of the road, looking back at him, under his lifted eyebrows, with something of curiosity, before turning away. When Nonoy goes into the house, there are already some men and women sitting in the chairs for mourners, set against the

walls of the sala. Those arriving go directly into the room, while those who had come in earlier leave it either dabbing their eyes with kerchiefs or with chins lowered on their chests. A couple, who has just paid their respect to the dead, shakes their heads vigorously, saying they cannot believe Mila Fuentes is dead and is now with her Creator. Though Nonoy has not once gazed into the room, he feels her lying there, and once again the feeling of nausea rushes at him²as he recalls the red ants crawling all over the hummingbird in its grave. Although Nonoy stands before his Aunt Meding, he keeps his back toward her. He does not want that she will see his torn shirt. But she does not have to look close to see that his clothes are soiled. Where have you been Nonoy? she asks. Come, let¶s change your clothes. You is so dirty. He walks beside her to his own room, and feels the mourners¶ eyes follow him, as he goes through the sala. Many of the mourners he has never seen before. As he and his aunt enter the room, she picks out a clean shirt from a cabinet and tells him to put it on. He refuses, and looks down at the floor instead, eyes tracing the cracks and knots on the wooden plank, either pale or dark brown. She says how pitiful is the poor boy Nonoy, and in a sudden burst of emotion, presses him against her breasts. Nonoy smells her warm, sweaty clothes under the armpit, and feels the

coarseness against his cheek. He braces himself against her by putting up his forearms and swiveling his head away. Aahhh ... por favor, Aunt, he pleads. I¶ll change my own clothes. Let me ... he stops abruptly, his voice muffled and smothered against her breasts. She releases him, looking about her, confused and defeated. Then she turns and goes out of the room, dabbing her eyes with her kerchief as she leaves it. And so, three days later, they bury Mila Fuentes at the Gusu Cemetery beside the tomb of Nonoy¶s grandmother. They bury her in the afternoon, when it was hot and the shimmering heat rising from the gravel graveyard makes the mourners sweat and fan themselves madly. Beads of sweat stand on their foreheads and round their noses. When they lower Mila Fuentes into her grave, lowering her in a coffin with a Manila hemp rope, Aunt Meding as expected of close relatives swoons and faints. Amado and two other family relatives carry her away, dead heavy in their arms, to a jeep parked inside the cemetery. When they drive Aunt Meding home, they take Nonoy with them; but Amado remains behind with the other mourners. An uncle comes along to hold Aunt Meding¶s head from bumping the backseat, and a woman to fan her face and restore her from faintness. Nonoy sits in back of the jeep, and as they go down the road toward home. He can smell the pungent odor of ammonia coming from a wad of cotton with which his aunt had unconsciously sniffed.

Minutes later when Nonoy looks up, the jeep stopping before the gate, he sees their house, and it fixed in his mind, like rivets on a metal surface. Aunt Meding comes out of her faintness, and the uncle and the woman with the fan walk her to the house, moving slowly like in a slow-motion picture. Along the uneven, cropped rows of violeta hedges, on each side of the path, their shadows rise and fall in the afternoon sun. By and by, Aunt Meding is more or less conscious of herself and her surroundings. His uncle asks her, Are you all right, Meding? Can you walk by yourself now? O, o. I think I¶m fine now. Says the woman with the fan, You must not think so hard about it, Meding. Try not to think about it. In her sorrow, Meding says: It¶s just that she wanted to live a few more years for the little boy ... did not want him, while yet so young, to be without a mother. Even when she was already very sick she wouldn¶t have others look after him. The two of them, the boy¶s uncle and the woman, are walking by Meding now, flanking her on either side; the woman fanning her face feverishly still. Abruptly, Meding¶s face turns white, her legs to rubber, and the uncle sprints close and grasps her arm; while the woman fans her face heatedly, more than once striking her cheeks with her fan. With grim finality, the uncle says: That¶s enough, Meding. Justo ya ... it is the will of God.

Nonoy does not go up with his uncle and Aunt Meding into the house. Instead, he goes over to the vacant lot, and walks along the pathway, worn smooth by countless interminable feet. When Nonoy reaches the place where they had buried the tansí bird, he notices that there is no trace of the grave. He looks all over the spot where he believes he had last seen the mound or the banana cross stuck in it. But the ground is as flat and smooth as though someone has scoured it in exacting precision with a flat iron. A wind comes down and blows the dust twirling around his shanks, sweeping up from where he stood, and then blows it across the vacant lot like a derelict cloud. So, he goes up to the orchard beyond the vacant lot, with the wind blowing gently behind his back. It is cool walking under the star-apple trees, the leaf-carpet in the orchard swishing underneath his feet. He finds it very pleasant, and even a little spell-binding, walking alone in the coolness of the orchard. After going up the incline and down the other side of the hillock, he comes on to the savanna, dotted with scrubby shrubs and clumps of stunted thickets and carpeted with cogon grass undulating in the wind. Above the scrubby shrubs, underneath which flourished star-shaped wild flowers, red and yellow, which had no odor, fluttered some mottled-green little butterflies. And beyond, at the fringe of the savanna, are the broad-leafed calopong brambles, whose leaves, he knows, give a very strong, nauseating smell when bruised or crushed. He walks on, the huya-huya thorny brush

closing their tiny leaves under his slippered feet, so he circles around them and watches a moment the leaf open again and turn green. He looks up, curious at the hour, and sees more clouds being driven swiftly by the wind across the sky. As he gazes up the cloud-laden sky, the mat of grass sponge-like under his feet, an image begins to form in his mind: first the limpid, dark eyes, and then the painful, ruffled wings² until the picture of the hummingbird is formed. He can see the image now very clearly, fluttering before him, wings whirring in blinding speed, and so real that a great longing overcomes him, and he, unconsciously, chases it, the structured image, running across the savanna, his tongue becoming dry in his mouth until he thinks that his heart will burst in his chest. But the tansí, flying away, swift-winged still, whirs ahead of him. Then he stops, abruptly, knowing that no matter how fast he runs he will never catch it, and so he turns around, slowly, resolutely, and starts to walk back toward the house.

End

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