To my daughter

by Lucy Bourke


That day I remember a pair of hummingbirds whirring and bobbing through the passionflowers. I watched them closely and felt hypnotised by their shimmering darting movements, by their blue and their green. They took me away from the chaos, if only for a moment.

Buenos Aires and everyone in it was groaning beneath gathering storm clouds. The power was out. It wasn’t your average summer. The summers had been getting hotter and longer for years.

Fire surrounded the city. Protesters had set entire farms alight. The smoke didn’t just linger, it smothered. Swarms of “African” mosquitoes from Patagonia seemed to thrive in this dense atmosphere. People tried to keep their doors and windows shut but the lack of air got to them.

That was the year that ‘Winner’ died. The polar bear at the city zoo. He died of hyperthermia (the hot kind) on Christmas Day. A symbol of our suffering. They buried him in Chacarita, not far from Gardel.

Some people sought refuge in their tower blocks like the gated communities ‘Hollywood 1’ and ‘Hollywood 2’. The mosquitoes couldn’t fly above the first few floors and the smoke wasn’t as thick up there.

It was during that storm that I gave birth to you. That fateful day I remember fixating on those hummingbirds. My contractions grew stronger. I had never breathed as hard as that and there was no air to breathe, only smoke. I worried about how the smoke would affect you but everyone told me not to worry. I worried about the world you were entering.

The contractions were like waves in a storm and my body felt like a fishing boat that had to be steered carefully or else it would be dragged underneath. I was focussed on my breathing but I remember the sounds and the voices of the neighbours. “Vamos La Gallina, vamoooooos!” screamed Kique as he listened to a repeat of a River v Boca match from 10 years ago. The chaos and violence of the last 5 years had seen the football leagues abandoned.

The distorted sounds from a battery radio gave the sense of an approaching shoreline. My boat was nearing dry land and there were people waiting for me, singing to me and encouraging me. Buenos Aires had always been an intoxicating city, but that night, your night it was literally breath taking.

The hummingbirds had gone by nightfall and then it got even hotter. I felt unable to cope. It was all too much. I felt like I was going to die. I told myself that the contractions were not stronger than me. I became my breathing. I exhaled as steadily as I could. I imagined being able to blow the smoke away. I envisioned clearing the passageway and pushing the smoke into the street. I blew the smoke out of our neighbourhood past the abandoned cafes and pizzerias, past the old garages and across the park with its vast tent city. I didn’t stop until the smoke merged with the River Plate, infinite and ochre.

I remember squatting beneath the outside shower. The water was warm but it was still a relief. I could feel you moving down and I felt the urge to push. With all my might I just kept going. People held me as I grabbed the railings and screamed. I looked up. The lightning cut across the purple sky illuminating the figures huddling over me. I felt the pressure drop. You were born in the rain.


About the author:

Lucy Bourke is a writer from Porthcawl. She lived for several years in Buenos Aires, and is now based in Bristol, where she lives with her husband and daughter.