Christmas Coming of Age Teens & Young Adult

“So he really left you a bird, huh?” Grace says as she enters Katrina’s living room, holding a large plastic bag.

Katrina picks up the birdhouse and hands it to Grace. “Yeah. Justin’s been visiting me almost everyday since break started, but now he’s in Korea to visit relatives. I guess this bird is his replacement.”

Justin had been visiting her since the start of their Christmas break after Katrina had failed to respond to any of his messages. When he came to visit, what he found was a dark house that didn’t look like it had any residents. The fridge and the cupboards were empty, and the trash can held evidence of all of Katrina’s past meals: microwaveable pizza, instant noodles, corn chips.

“What’s going on with you?” Justin had asked her when he came up to her room, stepping over the piles of clothes and school supplies all over Katrina’s floor. He was holding a plastic bag full of turon. “Have you even left the house in the past ten days? Have you even showered?”

Katrina took one and bit into it, feeling the sugar stick to her teeth. She frowned. “I don’t need to answer that.” 

She had done neither of those things. She has been holed up in her bedroom for days, staring at the ceiling or sleeping the day away. It was all she could do to even reheat leftover pizza or go to the bathroom and pee. Anything more than that--even just splashing water on her face--felt like too much effort. She tried very hard not to think about why she was being like this. 

“Is it college?” Justin asked. They both had taken their college entrance exams a few weeks before break started, and Katrina had bombed each and every single one. It was another thing she tried not to think about.

Katrina made a vague shrugging motion: That, among others.

“Where’s your mom?” Justin asked, in that exasperated way that told her he already knew the answer.

A day or two after Katrina’s self-imposed quarantine, she saw a note taped to the refrigerator along with two thousand pesos:

Work trip. Don’t know when I’ll come back. 


That was how her mom signed her notes, like she and Katrina were colleagues. Katrina was used to her mom being gone. Officially, Lucille worked as a hostess at a bar, but more often than not she was on months-long “work trips'' with the newest American soldier who had fallen in love with her. Katrina’s dad was probably the last Filipino Lucille ever dated.

At her silence, Justin gave out a long sigh. “Christ, I hate your mom. I hate your mom so much.”

“Me too,” Katrina said, though in truth she didn’t feel hate towards her mom. She didn’t feel anything for her at all. She was just a stranger who shared her DNA, and Katrina was better off without her anyway, despite what Justin might think.

Now Justin was gone, leaving only this tiny bird in his place. She knows why Justin was doing this, of course. If he could, he would have stayed in the Philippines to make sure Katrina actually stayed alive even if only through the sheer power of turon and his company. With that not being an option, Katrina would need to take care of herself, and Justin knew the only way she would do that is if she was responsible for someone else. 

The problem is, Katrina has no idea how to take care of birds. 

She decided to ask for help even if that meant inviting another person into her messy house and her even messier life. Grace and her family owned a local pet supplies store, so Katrina knew she would at least be able to get a cage and bird seed from her. When she had texted Grace, though, she was more than happy to come over to Katrina’s house to help, insisting she was some kind of bird expert.

She and Grace knew each other by virtue of proximity. They used to play out in the streets together with the other neighborhood kids when they were young. Grace was always nice enough to let Katrina join her team for patintero and hide-and-seek, even if Katrina almost always inevitably made them lose. They still saw each other at school every now and then, but Katrina didn’t have any real friends other than Justin.

Now, Grace coaxes the baby bird from inside the wooden birdhouse. The bird pokes his head out and chirps loudly. Grace picks him up and holds him in her palms.

“Aww, he’s so cute,” Grace coos. “Like those baby chickens we won from that carnival game a couple of years ago. Remember them?”

She’s surprised Grace remembers that, actually. It’s not like they’re still close. “Yeah, but I actually want to keep this bird alive.”

Grace laughs, running a finger down the bird’s head. “He’s probably around three weeks old. You can tell because his feathers are still growing. He also probably doesn’t know how to fly yet, poor thing.”

Katrina stares at her in awe. “Wow, you really know your birds.”

Grace preens at the compliment. With her unoccupied hand, she reaches into the plastic bag and brings out a bunch of toys. Katrina didn’t even know they made toys for birds, but there they were: tiny colorful balls and hoops and bells. Grace puts both the bird and toys down on the floor. The bird comes over to inspect them immediately. 

“Cockatiels are very playful,” Grace explains with the air of an ornithologist. She and Katrina sit down on opposite sides of the bird. “He won’t do well cooped up in a cage all day--he’s going to want to play around!”

Katrina picks up a tiny ball and rolls it over to the bird, who inspects it with his beak. She tentatively runs a finger down the bird’s back, feeling his soft warm body. He was so tiny and fragile. He only had Katrina to rely on. Her. Someone who had trouble even getting out of bed most mornings. Katrina’s chest tightens. Stupid Justin.

Grace takes out some seeds and lines them up in front of the bird. The bird hops around from foot to foot as he pecks at each one.

“He’s adorable,” Grace exclaims. “You have to let me see him again. Oh, you know who would love him even more? My dad. Can we please show him?”

Katrina has known Grace’s dad, Chito, ever since she was a little kid. She remembers him as a mild-mannered man with a jolly laugh and a large belly cultivated from years spent drinking with the other neighborhood dads--Katrina’s father had been one of them before he left almost ten years ago now. Chito had always acted like a surrogate uncle to Katrina and the rest of the neighborhood kids, but she hasn’t seen much of him since then. It’s not like him and Lucille are buddies. Katrina suspects he still holds a grudge against Lucille when she was the reason one of his best buddies left town.

“Are you sure?” Katrina asks. Inviting Grace into her house--and keeping her in the living room, which was significantly less messy than her own room--was one thing, but Katrina going outside and visiting another house was another. For one thing, she would actually have to shower and get dressed in something other than pajamas. She would actually have to start living life like a functional human being again. 

Grace picks up the bird and lets him hop up her wrist, her eyes sparkling. “Please.


That’s how Katrina found herself falling into a routine. As the days passed, Grace always insisted on hanging out with her--presumably to see the bird, though Katrina got a feeling that Grace was also doing it to get Katrina out of the house. Katrina didn’t need to explain that her mom had left--almost everyone in the neighborhood knew just what kind of mother Lucille was. 

They mostly hung out at Grace’s house, watching bad Christmas movies and eating ice cream. Katrina helped Grace’s mom Vangie set up even more Christmas decorations while the bird sat firmly on top of her head. When Chito came home from the pet store, he always greeted both the bird and Katrina by patting them each on their heads. Vangie spoiled her with home-cooked meals that got better and better each day.

It felt nice to get out of the house. It felt nice to be with people who seemed like they enjoyed her company, if only to pet her bird or play with it. She and the bird were almost inseparable now. Because he still couldn’t fly, he normally just stayed on Katrina’s shoulder or on the top of her head, digging his claws into her scalp that Katrina’s gotten used to. 


On the morning of the 24th, Katrina decides to finally put up Christmas decorations. Most of the houses in the neighborhood have been bedecked with Christmas lights and parols since September, but Katrina’s mom had never bothered to decorate before she left.

As she sits on the floor of the living room setting up the tree, the bird half-hops and half-floats towards her from inside his open cage. He’s grown a lot in the past few weeks, the red spots by his eyes growing starker each day. Most of his feathers have grown in, along with the white crest atop his head. He tries to fly up to Katrina’s shoulder but fails halfway, landing softly on Katrina’s lap. She runs a finger down the bird’s back. At least they were both trying.

The Christmas tree looked a lot humbler than Katrina remembered, but it would do. She rummages in the box and pulls out glittery ornaments and garlands and hangs up each one. She looks for the star, but instead finds a little square picture frame that doubled as another ornament, decorated with icy blue and white stripes. 

Katrina runs a finger over the glass to get rid of the dust. Her parents’ young faces smiled up at her. It looked like it was taken before they even had her. They had their arms around each other. Lucille didn’t have the wrinkles nor the dark circles under her eyes that she has now. She still smiled like she meant it, dimpling her left cheek. And Katrina’s father--well, Katrina had almost forgotten what he looked like. He still called her every now and then, but the last time she had seen him had been a decade ago. In the picture, her father was smiling so wide it made his eyes almost disappear. They were so happy.

Katrina reaches up and hangs the frame at the very top, disregarding the star. Perched on her shoulder, the bird chirps its approval.


Katrina arrives at the Abelardos’ house a quarter before midnight to celebrate noche buena with them. She sets down the three containers of leche flan she brought on the table and takes her seat next to Grace. She takes the bird out from her hoodie pocket and perches him up on her shoulder. The Abelardos were dressed in button-up shirts and holiday dresses. Grace was wearing a wine-colored velvet dress that complimented her dark skin. Her curls were arranged in a bun at the base of her neck, and she was wearing makeup.

“You look so pretty,” Katrina says. Grace beams as she helps Vangie set down fancy glass plates with intricate flower designs.

“I’ve never seen these plates before in my life,” Grace says. She and Katrina laugh.

“Well, tonight is special,” Vangie says as she takes her seat at the end of the table. Katrina feels something tighten in her chest. She smiles back at Vangie.

Aside from the leche flan, there was rice, roasted chicken, Christmas ham, lumpia, pancit, macaroni salad, and a frozen mango float. Katrina was amazed at the sheer cooking talent that every Filipino mom seemed to possess--well, except for her own mother. Katrina tries to push all thoughts of her birth family away and just enjoy this noche buena for what it is. 

At exactly midnight, Katrina and the Abelardos cheer and greet each other a merry Christmas. Grace immediately began piling food on her plate. Chito scooped rice for Katrina and Vangie gave her the best-looking chicken leg. Katrina sat back, ate, and listened to everyone’s stories, enjoying the sounds of their voices together more than the actual stories themselves. Grace’s family was the stereotypical Filipino family, the warm and tight-knit kind of family Katrina’s always seen on TV and secretly fantasized after. All of the noche buena celebrations Katrina’s had so far were filled with nothing but silence and takeout food. 

Vangie asks Katrina what she thinks of the pancit

“It’s really good,” Katrina says, swirling the noodles around her plate. “It tastes a lot like the pancit my dad used to make, actually.”

Chito and Vangie share a look across the table. Vangie clucks her tongue and says, “I really am sorry for how your mother has treated you, leaving you alone on Christmas like that. Chito and I agreed not to talk about it, but I just need to say it: you deserve better, dear. You really do. Our home is yours, too, okay?”

Under the table, Grace reaches over and squeezes Katrina’s hand. She hadn’t meant to bring up her dad. She really doesn’t miss him that much anymore--or so she tells herself--but the pancit really did taste exactly how he used to make it.

Katrina smiles shakily. “Thank you.”

A sudden flapping motion makes Katrina jerk her head back. They all watch as the bird hovers a little higher over Katrina’s shoulder than usual. He was flapping his wings furiously, head turned skyward. Katrina holds her breath. She watches the bird flap higher and higher and finally sail across the ceiling, his wings fully unfolded. Katrina gasps. He glides over the table while they clap and cheer. 

“Oh my god,” Katrina whispers. The bird was finally flying. He finally learned to do it. Katrina felt her heart throb as she smiles up at the bird’s swooping form.

“The windows!” Grace says, running to shut the curtains, but before she could do so, the bird had already swooped into the night air and was nowhere to be seen.

“No!” Katrina couldn’t help but shout. She joins Grace by the windowsill, looking out into the night, but it was too dark to see. Her heart drops to her stomach.

“Come back,” she whispers. 

Grace reaches over and puts her hand over Katrina’s. It was unbelievable how much the bird had grown on Katrina. He had accompanied her while she was trying to get her life back together at home, had made her feel just a little less alone in an empty house. Everyday she woke up to his pecking and chirping, and she suspects some of the scratches on her arms would never heal, but she loved him all the same.

Katrina sighs, blinking back tears. Grace squeezes her hand, her head still hanging out the window.

Just as Katrina was about to turn inside, the bird swoops back in and lands uncomfortably on Katrina’s head. A few of its feathers had fallen from the impact. Katrina gasps, walking away from the window and petting the bird with two fingers. Chito and Vangie whoop.

“You came back,” she whispers. Grace closes the window and joins them. She beamed, her hair windswept and her cheeks flushed. She puts an arm around Katrina’s shoulders and leans her head against Katrina’s. Katrina smiles at her. She plucks the bird from the top of her head and holds him in her palms, laughing softly. You came back.


By 2 AM, Katrina was just waiting for Chito to finish a phone call so he could drive her home. She feels happy and content, her unopened gifts tucked under her arm and the bird safely inside her hoodie pocket. She didn’t think taking care of the bird would actually help, but it did. She didn’t think she would get to reconnect with Grace, but she did. She didn’t think she would find herself feeling more at home in a house that wasn’t hers, but she did. 


“I hope you like my gift," Chito says as they pull to a stop in front of Katrina's house. He nods towards it and speeds away before Katrina could ask what he meant. 

She releases the bird from her pocket and lets it fly around as she unlocks the gate and walks in. Was her mom home? Was that who Chito was on the phone with? Katrina isn’t sure if she even wanted to see Lucille. Facing her would mean confronting her and all of her failures as a mother. Katrina knows Chito meant well, but she really doesn’t want to walk in and see her mom inside her house right now. It would literally ruin Christmas for her.

She takes a deep breath and turns the knob. The lights are on; Katrina’s stomach drops. The bird swoops in before her, flying into the living room. As Katrina follows, she notices flickering lights coming from the Christmas tree. Did I even put on the lights?

Someone was putting on Christmas lights, but it wasn't Lucille.

Katrina walks in to see her father by the Christmas tree. His hair was graying at the sides, and his face looked more weathered. But it was him--the same kind eyes, the same strong arms. Her father.

“Dad,” Katrina whispers. The bird comes back to perch on her shoulder. She feels like her heart is about to explode.

“You forgot the lights,” her dad says with a shaky smile. She could see tears forming in his eyes as they both took in the sight of each other. “Merry Christmas, Katkat. Is it okay if you have a second noche buena?”

December 25, 2020 20:21

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Rayhan Hidayat
10:47 Dec 28, 2020

Reedsy really needs to add a “Southeast Asian” tag for Filipino stories (and my Indonesian ones). This is a simple but beautiful story (as usual), especially the ending! The bird maturing is a great plot device. Kudos 😙


Aidrielle R.
17:24 Dec 28, 2020

god ikr!! i was looking for that tag but there's only an "east asian" one :// thank you so much for reading!! haven't written a reedsy story in a while haha


Rayhan Hidayat
08:10 Dec 29, 2020

I’m glad I followed you or I would have missed this story!


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