There are many ways to make it home from the subway station. Everything is very gridded here in the Newyores, or well, the Brooklyn-Newyores, I should say, because Manhattan seems to me more like Bayamón, with all its little, curvy labyrinths moving to the rhythm in Palés Matos’ Tembandumba de la Quimbamba. Instead, I like Brooklyn’s very vanilla grid. I always take the same route to go home from the subway station, since somehow there’s only one path that makes me feel I’ve finally arrived. I emerge from the hole like a Yemayá surging from the underground waters of Brooklyn. I see Rite Aid and recognize I should head that way. Stores, delis, random locales are what teach me about the north and south ends of this city.
That bit of street opposite the park belongs to my sister. I look at it and I see her and her seven-year-old smile. Seven. It’s been seven months since my sister came to visit me here, in the Newyores. Well, or I brought her, with the last 500 bucks left in my savings account.
After having tried to get pregnant for the last couple of years, leaving her wife-beating husband, moving on her own, dropping out of community college and quitting her job at a fast-food chain, my sister decided she’d rather self-medicate a little since the shrink was not likely to know what was going on in her head anyway. That’s certainly true. No one can grasp what’s really taking place in there. And so once she realized she could no longer read the prescription on the bottle because the words had become too blurry, that her monthly pill allowance was gone in a few days, and that there were a few days she was not able to read too clearly, she decided to go to the doctor and perhaps he’d know how to not medicate one self. Congratulations, they said, you’ve done well, but we can’t really tell you how to deeee-self-medicate here since, you see, how can I tell you, we don’t treat pregnant women at this clinic.
Pops always said to save for a rainy day, so… My sister was here, walking next to me, la negrita de casa, towards Rite Aid. Knee-deep in snow, she flaunted her seven-year-old smile and blurted out astonishment at the black-and-white-not-drops-but-frost snow. Opening her mouth, sticking her tongue out like at the doctor’s, a childhood’s “aahhh” echoed in my head as I saw her tasting the white-as-her snow. Next time I heard her, her voice was not a distant echo from my reveries. It was real, the “Aaahhhh, hahahahaha, it’s so cold, and I’m so cold. I can’t believe we’re not turning into ice cubes.” She also said snow was dry and wet at the same time. Me, I couldn’t think straight. The thought bounced around in my head, “What if my baby girl slips in the snow? What kind of mother would I be if I let her trip over and loose her baby?” I tried hard to listen and smile with her, to look back at her baby face without giving away my fear. You see, my sister has never slipped in the snow, doesn’t even know that happens, and unlike me, does not worry about things that have not yet taken place. It was then that for the first time ever, I gushed it out. “I did everything I could to raise you well, but I was a kid too and there were things I did not know how to deal with.” She listened carefully, glanced back, stared, and out of nowhere asked if there’s a chance she could slip in this weather because she’d seen a puddle. She suggested I walk in front of her, “No, better next to me. Hold my hand in case I trip over.” And we walked, side-by-side, holding hands, like that rainy night on which mom died.
After walking towards Rite Aid and past the park, I turn right on Court Street, look at the fish store, the meat store, the shoe store and all the other stores crowding Court Street, until I hit the fruit and veggie one, which ultimately decided to break free from the bunch and named itself the fruit and veggie market. I show my face in there every Tuesday and Thursday evening, and so the cashier knows me more or less, in a fruit-and-veggie-market sort of way. She is from India and knows I’m from some small island in the Caribbean. We kind of hit it off once she dared ask about my punctual visits, and if I went in there right after gym since I was always drenched in sweat. “I come straight from yoga,” I said, and she gave me a skeptical look, replied yoga is practiced in the mornings and is a peaceful activity, sarcastically topping it off with “Do you practice in a sauna?” I laughed and explained, “This yoga is American,” which means, “This yoga is gringo, nena.” We laughed together, Namaste, which means, “the Light in me sees the Light in you,” which means, “the foreigner in me understands the foreigner in you, and the foreigner in us thinks these gringos will never stop reinventing the wheel.”
I always leave the fruit and veggie market with some mangoes in hand. I succumbed to paying for a mango on my sixth year living in the United States. We’d eat mangoes for free all the time as children, would steal them from Don Pepe’s patio. We decided to christen Don Pepe’s son as “Pepe Le Pew,” just like the French skunk in those cartoons. Of course Don Pepe did not like us taking his mangoes, especially because in the process we were very likely to annoy his geese. They’d go stir-crazy and crank it up a notch: quack, quack, qua-qua-qua-quack, and off we went, running for our lives because we thought they’d bite us to pieces. Anyway, I don’t think geese can bite or anything, but try explaining that to a kid darting off from all that qua-qua-quack-quack-quack. One day I was coming back from school and almost passing by Don Pepe’s when, Psst, psst, psst, you girl, hey, look, can you give me a hand getting this from the backseat? A lemon car slowed down, came to a full stop and opened the passenger door. Psst, psst, hey, you girl, look, I can’t reach the backseat. Why don’t you hop in and help me out?
I kept on walking, slowly but surely, hoping that once I made it to Don Pepe’s his geese would come to the rescue. Look at me, Don Pepe, take a look. I’m such a bother to your geese. I sometimes accidentally hit them with stones meant to hit the mangoes. There I stood, by Don Pepe’s front yard. There, the car stood by me. Bite me now, you scaredy pieces of shit, gnaw my leg off, go on. Look, hon’, nothing is going to happen. I’m just asking for some help. Come on in. Yep, not one nibble, not a qua-qua-quack-quack-quack to be heard, no nothing. So I ran. I ran as if the chicken-hearted wusses were about to bite me, until I made it to Jesús Allen’s house, who we used to call Jesujálen, rolling it all into one long name. Jesujálen’s dad was a so-called gringo, although I never heard the son speaking a word of English. I did see him, though, win the track-and-field competition at school every single year. So I thought Jesujálen would be a good aid in making a run for it. Señoraaa, is Jesujálen home? Is Jesujálen there? Jesujálennn, are you there? His mom appeared, Do you want to see Jesus? Is it Jesus you’re looking for? I replied with a ‘yes, yes,’ all full of extra sss as to hide the lack of air in my lungs. The car kept on going, accelerated past me. Yes, Jesus. Jesus, what a scare!
If I walk at a suffocating speed from the fruit and veggie market, it takes three minutes to make it home, four if I get distracted by the roses growing on the front yard of that house on Sackett, or if I pay attention to the new details on that house being renovated on the cross street with Clinton, or if I stop to listen to who I imagine to be a youngster practicing the piano around that same corner; five if I smile to the old, little lady who sits by her garden to watch people pass by.
© Consuleo Martínez-Reyes. Published by permission in Centro Voices on 5 November 2014.