My Name Is Shamir

Christian Niedan

He remembers a red pacific sun slowly rising up into a hazy blue morning sky, shining down warmth on the rice and vegetables growing from the soggy soil of his family’s small farm on Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines. It was early December, 1941 and the mild warm weather warmed the skin of 10-year old Fernando, sitting shirtless atop the wide brown back of a horned carabao, the local breed of water buffalo. His left hand gripped one of the beast’s large curved horns, while his right hand carried a thin long stick, lazily tapping the carabao’s flank as it casually wandered about the far side of the farm’s largest field. Fernando yawned a smile, enjoying the ride, as the two drifted toward a thick stand of swamp trees that bordered the farm, stretching back into a grey bog that Fernando often played in, and was now an expert at nimbly negotiating its many treacherous sink holes and mud ponds. Those same hazzards had captured the thick hooved feet of the buffalo he rode now, almost drowning it. The desperate efforts of the whole family were needed, along with several ropes and chains, to pull the thrashing carabao from the deep black swirl of water and dirt that seemed to come alive, striving to consume hundreds of pounds of carabao bone and muscle that pulled every important piece of field equipment on the farm. Now it was Fernando’s job to keep an eye on the wayward draught animal, and he made sure to keep its horned head mostly pointed at the open field. The red sun rose higher, warming into yellow, and the buzz of insects buzzed louder, and Fernando began to doze, his eyes finally dropping shut. The world was now dark and warm and and solid beneath his body, and a low comforting voice crossed over the void and brought a word to his mind, almost like a mantra: “Shamir. Shamir.” The word pulsed bright and then dark. Bright and then dark again. The carabao continued to wander, its head changing direction toward the bog that had tried to kill it. In the distance, beyond the comforting darkness in Fernando’s mind, a distant crackle found its way to his ears, and a moment later, the zip of some quickly passing insect. The buzzing returned, stronger now. Then, two more distant crackles — a moment, a moment — then two insects crashed into carabao’s flank. The beast groaned and immediately staggered, and Fernando’s eyes flashed open. His chin was on his chest, so his view instantly focused on two grisly red stains growing out of the carabao’s short brown hair, mere inches from Fernando’s dangling leg. Another crackle, and some awakened instinct seized the boy, flinging his body away from the sound. Falling. Falling. His body hit the ground in a painful heap, just as carabao was struck in the neck. It tried to bolt toward the beckoning swamp, but its legs would not obey, and hundreds of pounds of bone and muscle crashed onto buckling knees, and toppled to one side, the flank rapidly rising and falling, sweat erupting to mix with a torrent of dark blood. Two carabao eyes searching the trees for the black water and dirt to snatch its legs once again and pull it away from this pain. This unknown pain. Fernando watched the dying carabao, his own body shaking, and then turned his head across the open field. There, beside the farm’s low barn, stood a small group of men in tan outfits and helmets, all looking his way. Two of the distant figures had dropped to one knee, pointing long dark things at him. They rose now, and joined a few others who left the group and began crossing the field toward him. As he watched them advance, the buzzing insects raised their calls, uniting to speak as one. “Shamir. Shamir! Shamir, takbo!” “Run,” in Filipino, I learned later. The boy pushed his feet into the soggy soil, forcing his body back away from his distant home, and the strange men surrounding it.He could hear the ones approaching calling out to him in a strange language. Not English. He knew what that sounded like, though he did not understand it. “Shamir, takbo!” The insects cry pulled his mind into focus. He jammed his stick in the dirt, using it as a crutch. He put the whole of his wait on it, gaining his feet, just as the small limb snapped, nearly causing him to topple again. Instead, he pivoted around, keeping low, and sprinted into the trees. His eyes dropped to grass, and dirt, and water, and he hopped left and right over sink holes and mud ponds that waited for him to stumble and fall, and always forward. He barely noticed the sound of bullets cracking against the trunks of the swamp trees behind him. Then they quieted, and only his soggy footfalls came to his ears. In his mind, he pushed himself on, calling himself by name. His true name. “It was God saving me,” he told me 50 years later. “He said, your name is Shamir. So, my name is Shamir. And I survive.”

My Name Is Shamir