Lovely grew up in terraced mountains yellow with Christmas sunflowers.
“It’s kinda funny,” Amanda said, as they walked the SM mall together.
“What?” Lovely asked.
“The song,” she said.
Lovely didn’t understand at first. Perhaps it was the timing. Christmas music started in August. Amanda waited until after Thanksgiving before she would play it herself. But then Amanda was American.
“I don’t know,” Amanda said, apologetically. It was hard to know how much Amanda’s awkwardness was her and how much was just being foreign. “It’s just strange. I mean, you don’t even have snow.”
“I didn’t know you knew so much Tagalog,” Lovely said, finally realizing what she was talking about.
“I don’t,” Amanda said, “Just masaraap and Salamat po, that kind of stuff. I’ve been trying to learn Ilocano but I still only know basit-basit lang. Not enough to actually talk. But I know the music of ‘Let It Snow’.”
“You should learn Igorot,” Lovely told her.
“Do you know how hard it is to find anything to help learn just Ilocano?” Amanda asked.
Lovely switched the subject back, “I’d like to see snow someday.”
That was enough to get Amanda gushing. “Oh, I would love to take you to see your first winter! And to see snow! I mean, not everybody likes it, but it’s so beautiful! And you can go sledding, and do snowball fights, make snow angels, and go ice fishing! And oh, at night! When the moon is up and reflected off fresh snow and everything seems so quiet and lovely and clean like the world was made new!”
But that was a long time ago. Amanda had left years ago to attend college in the U.S. They still spoke on Facebook sometimes, but it wasn’t the same as walking together up and down Session Road or studying together in Burnham Park.
Lovely had also gone to college, for nursing. But it didn’t pay well in the Philippines. There were too many nursing students doing their volunteer work. So, she left, joined the legion of Overseas Filipino Workers.
Not to snow or cold, at first. Sand and high rich buildings of the United Arab Emirates. It was good work, paid well. She learned Arabic to help her patients more. But she didn’t want to stay.
She got a U.S. work visa and moved. She learned to drive and got a car. She rented a hardwood house. American apartments had annoying carpet that she could never be confident were completely clean.
Winter was coming.
Her coworkers had talked about it, lamented that they didn’t have the money to retire to Florida. They said she must have been lucky, growing up in a tropical country. She got the feeling they thought she could see the beach from her house. Baguio was cold, she told them, in the rainy season. They asked her how cold and she had to look it up on her phone to convert from Celsius. They laughed when she told them. She was wearing two coats in November when some of them were still going around in short-sleeves.
None of them seemed to have the same wonder and excitement about it that Amanda had long ago. Snow was a nuisance, something that had to be scraped off of windshields, shoveled out of driveways, and be wary of on the roads.
She hoped it wouldn't be that bad. Perhaps, it was a problem with age. Things were different when you were an adult. Only children got snow days off. Adults didn't have time for snowmen or snowball fights.
She did hope there would be snow for Christmas. It was hard enough already, being alone. She didn't have vacation days yet and her mother had not been able to get a visiter's visa. She missed the star-shaped parol lanterns and the children caroling for candy and coins. She missed the house stuffed so full of family that she tripped over them in the living room on the way to the bathroom at night. She even missed the marshmallow and hot dog skewers her aunt used to make.
"Christmas is the hardest time," Amanda said, years ago. It wasn't about snow although Amanda said it was hard that it didn't even look like Christmas with all the greenery. It was the loneliness, the absence of family, and tradition, the loss of home.
You forgot, sometimes, when you were busy, and hospitals were often busy. And it wasn’t all the time. She had fun a lot of the time, and she was sure that Amanda had fun, too. She had gotten several messages about how Amanda missed her and the mountains and she had tried making pancit noodles but it didn’t taste the same without kalamansi. The chicken adobo had turned out better.
Amanda had been terribly disappointed that Lovely didn’t move closer. She had wanted to come and see her but her family was coming in and on a teacher’s salary, she couldn’t quite afford the trip over, “But now I won’t be able to see you experience your first winter and it’s going to be so exciting!”
She didn’t feel excited. She felt tired. Three 12 hour shifts, bed called. She answered.
She woke to gentle white flakes floating outside her window. Amanda was right. It was something serene, and clean, and lovely. Softly, they fell and gathered to cover the ground. She got a cup of coffee and just sat and watched. Slowly, slowly, they fell. The sky was grey, the air was calm.
It was her first winter. That deserved some exploration. She grabbed her thickest pants, doubled her socks, two coats, a scarf, and a hat. Pulled her boots on. She hoped that would be enough.
There was something about being the first to leave prints on the sidewalk. The air was crisp. Her breath came out fluffy. Ice crystals sparkled from naked trees. Her heart was soothed from the beeping of yesterday’s monitors and machines. Her cheeks flushed. Winter was lovely, indeed.