Los Sures, Part 16: Duerme Con Los Angeles

¡De noche, a la luz del alma!

That night we stayed at Papi’s parents’ farm. Mami and Evie slept in one room, Papi and my brother and I were in the room next to them. Although there were no doors. There were no screens in the windows and mosquitoes were everywhere. Papi showed us a big piece of material tied above the bed — he said this net would protect us from the mosquitoes. He told us to get under it quickly and not let any mosquitoes inside, or else they would bother us all night. It was hot and uncomfortable in the room, under that net, and some mosquitoes had gotten in with us. They attacked me, biting one arm after the other, then my face, then my legs, and my toes.

Even though I was being attacked, I was happy to see my father sleeping. Because he did not live with us, I had never seen Papi sleeping before.

The coquis kept singing, and it was like an old, old song. I finally went to sleep. And had no bad dreams. Then in the middle of the night I woke up because I had to pee.

I tried to make it go away. I was scared Papi would get angry is I opened the net and let in more mosquitoes but then I thought he would get more angry if I wet the bed. So I waited and waited. And then I had to go really really really bad.

Papi had taken the outside edge of the bed. So I had to climb over him. I moved slowly, crawling over his belly, and he did not react. I slid out of the net. And then they attacked me.

I walked as fast as I could in the dark to the bathroom. When I came out, Papi’s mother was standing outside. She said something in Spanish I didn’t understand then smacked me on the head and pointed back to the room. I heard her spit behind me.

When I got back to bed, Papi was awake. He got out of the net and opened it for me. “C’mon, the mosquitoes are going to get you,” he said. He did not seem angry, so I was happy and got back under the net as fast as I could.

That night, for the rest of that night, we all slept in the same house for the first time, like a family on TV. In the morning, Papi drove us back to Ponce, then he flew back to New York by himself.

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Los Sures, Part 15: Canción Amarga

It's not easy being brown.

After dinner, Papi took us for a walk. “I want to show you something,” he said. “Where my father used to take us to this creek to fish.”

The Sun had gone away, and it wasn’t as hot as before. We walked behind Papi and we knew he was drunk because he wobbled when he walked and his words came out funny. Only my sister Evie could hold his hand because in his other hand he held a plastic cup with his drink.

There were no streetlamps, no carlights. There was a little moonlight passing through the trees. Still, I wanted to see the creek where Papi used to play.

Not knowing  what a creek was, I expected a rio like the one Mami told us was a pool. But instead of that there was a tiny stream of water, even less water than when the Johnny Pump is on in the summer and water rushes all along the gutter down the street. There were tiny fish in Papi’s stream. The fish in my fish tank at home were bigger.

Papi said it used to be a deep stream. He said he used to go fishing there. “So much has changed.”

Then Papi said, “Do you hear that?”

Around us were these weird sounds, like a whistle,  like a cricket, like a bird, like a whistle, repeated again and again.

Fever said, “Those are crickets, right?”

“No,” Papi said. “That’s the coqui. Listen, you hear it? ‘Co-qui. Co-qui.’”

“Is it an parrot?” I said.

“No. It’s a frog.”

“Where is it?”

“There’re all around, everywhere. You can’t see them.”

We stopped. Around us the coquis sang and sang.

“Nature is amazing,” Papi said. “The coqui won’t sing anywhere else. They take them to Florida, to Mexico, and they live but they don’t sing. They only sing in Puerto Rico.”

Papi walked around the side into a clearing. Even with the moonlight, we could barely see the cows standing there. They were quiet and still, asleep on their legs.

“They’re just going to stand there all night?” Evie said. “Outside?”

The clearing was on a hill and hard to walk on. Suddenly, Papi slipped and disappeared into the dark.

“Papi!” my sister screamed.

For all of us, for a moment it was like our father had rolled off the edge of the world and had disappeared forever.

Evie told my brother to run get help, but then Papi popped up. His plastic cup was now empty but he still  held on to it. We tried to help him. “I’m all right. I’m all right,” he said, sounding upset and brushing the dirt off himself.

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Los Sures, Part 14: In a Mountain Finca

“Death is the same for the weak and for the strong, for the poor and for the rich."

The next day we drove up a mountain. Papi’s parents had a finca way up at the top of the mountain. We drove up a long road that went around and around and up and up and was surrounded on one side by mountain and on the other side by trees and trees and even more trees. Sometimes, we got close to the edge of the side of the road, and you could see all the way down—I was worried we would fly off the side and fall into the trees and get eaten by tree people. I was really, really worried.

But what happened was all the car movement made my sister and me carsick. Papi had to stop the car three times—first, for me, then for Evie, then for me again to throw up on the side of the road. During the last stop, my brother had to go. So Mami gave him tissues and told him to go into the woods but not to fall off.

In the car Mami told us that when she was a little girl in P.R. and had to go to the bathroom, her and her 12 brothers and sisters would use corn to clean themselves.

“Corn!” “Oh my god.” “That’s disgusting.”

“Sometimes we use banana leaves.”

“Eeeee-www.”

Finally, the road turned to a dirt road and we got to a place that was lined with trees filled with bananas and mangoes. At the end of the road was a small cement farmhouse. Chickens clucked around. There was a goat—a real, live goat. And not too far away cows—real cows!

Fever and I said, “Wow.” I bet Fever and I said, “Wow” fifty times.

We did rush to touch the animals. We just watched them, like we would watch them on TV, waiting to get brave enough to go to them. But anyway we had to meet our grandparents for the first time.

My abuelos walked up from the house, one smoking a cigar, the other wearing a straw hat. Both of them were wrinkled like raisins and dark from the Sun. Our grandfather didn’t say anything. Our grandmother—the one with the cigar—talked to us in Spanish. She pointed at me, then spit on the ground.

Papi started showing us around, pointing out the banana trees heavy with fruit right by the car. We took a few steps—and that was when I stepped in cow manure. It went all the way past my ankle.

My brother and sister bent over laughing. Even Papi laughed. “It’s good luck,” Mami said. She led me back to the house, where Papi’s mother poured water on my foot and sandal until I was clean. She was shaking her head the whole time.

After that, we wanted to walk around some more, but it was time for lunch.

In the backyard, our grandmother was still talking when she stooped down and picked up a chicken. It clucked and tried to fly in her hand. Without stopping, she turned, put the chicken on a big table made of wood, took a big knife, and chopped off its head. Then she turned around, picked up another chicken, and did the same thing. As she tossed the chicken heads away, she saw the look on my face. She turned and spit. Then she said something in Spanish to Mami and they both laughed.

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Los Sures, Part 13: Rio Grande, Mi Manantial

Everything looked like chocolate back then.

When Papi appeared from the dark of the inside of the airport I knew it was him by his walk and the shape of his head first. It was like his face was the face of a stranger for a second, and then it turned into my father’s face. My sister and me yelled “Papi! Papi!” but Fever didn’t say anything.

I think Papi was happy to be home. He shook Poco Loco’s hand and kissed Titi and Mami on the cheek. He never did that at home.

The Skipper went with Titi and Tio to their car. Mami came with us as Papi drove up in a small red rented car. For us, it was like we got a whole brand new car, different from the station wagon our father drove in Brooklyn. And all of us were together in it. It was like a whole new life.

My brother and sister and I were squeezed in the back. Evie in the middle tried to scooch forward to understand Mami and Papi’s conversation with the Skipper in Spanish. She tried to tell him about the lizard we saw, but he kept talking in Spanish. My brother smiled, I think because he liked the new car.

Papi followed Tio Poco Loco to a restaurant on the side of the road. When we got out, we saw that the restaurant was on the edge of a cliff high over a chocolate-colored river. The adults got drinks and talked to each other in Spanish. They gave us juice and soda. Fever and I found a window where we could look down and see the river. The river was way, way down, and I thought about jumping down into it but I was afraid of the water. Even though it looked like chocolate.

Even though I wanted the watch the water like I want to watch cartoons, I still kept turning turning around to look at Papi, to make sure he was really there. Evie seemed to have the same idea, because she never walked more than five feet from our father the entire time. Though I did not think he saw her there.

My brother said the river would be nice to swim in. He said he bet the fish down there were bigger than the ones in the river Mami said was a pool. He said there was probably sharks in there and crocodiles. We wanted to ask Papi because he would know. But he was busy. Fever said he wondered how far down it really was, and if he could dive off and live.

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Los Sures, Part 12: A Nuyorican in Ponce

Tiny dinosaurs

We were playing in a bar next to the airport, waiting for Papi’s plane. Mami, Titi Evelyn, Tio Poco Loco, and the Skipper were drinking beer and rum and coke. The little, little planes that flew to Ponce kept flying over our heads but none of them with Papi yet.

It was really hot and there was nothing to do but wait and wait and wait. My sister Evie was the first to see the lizard. “Look!”

It was a real, alive lizard, shiny green, walking on the clay floor.

“Don’t let it get away!,” Fever said and ran to the bar and got a plastic cup.

Unlike back home in Brooklyn, PR was filled with amazing animals and insects. You didn’t see any nice insects in Brooklyn. We only had cockroaches.

“What are you gonna do?” Evie said.

“I’m going to catch it.”

“You think we can take it home?”

Fever put the cup over the lizard but the cup was too small. He picked it up, and we all saw that he had cut off most of the lizard’s tail.

“You killed it!,” I said.

“But it’s not bleeding.”

“He doesn’t look hurt.”

“It’s gonna die,” I said.

“It’s not gonna die. The tail’ll grow back.”

“Really?”

“I think so.”

“Ask Mami.”

Like nothing, the lizard started walking again, leaving its tail behind.

“Wowwwww,” we all said.

And then Mami said that Papi’s plane was coming in.

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Los Sures, Part 11: Welcome to La Jungla

Supernature

Every day we were in PR, Mami promised to take us to a pool. And every day, we would go to a someone else in our family’s house and sit and watch TV in Spanish and not understand what was going on. I was so bored my ankles were itching me.

One morning Mami told us once again we were going to a pool.

“You always say that,” my brother Fever said.

“Yeah, you always say that” I said.

“You see,” she said.

The car was hot and sticky, and Tio Poco Loco drove. We liked it better when Titi Evelyn drove because she had what Papi called “a lead foot.” And since the breeze coming through the window was the only way to get cool, the ride was better when she drove.

So we were suffering two times. Because we were so hot and there was no breeze going to come. And because we knew we were never going to see no pool.

All of a sudden Tio stopped the car on the side of the road underneath a lot of trees. Then Mami said: “Here’s the pool, kids.”

We got out of the car. All we could see was trees and a road. Where was the sign for the pool? Where were the lockers?

“Where’s the pool, Mami?,” “Mami, I don’t see no pool,” “Mami’s lying,” we said.

Mami told us to take off our t-shirts. Our cousin the Skipper—we called him that because he always wore a hat like the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island—and Tio Poco Loco took a cooler from the trunk and walked right into the woods on the side of the road. Mami made us follow.

I heard it before I saw it.

We passed through the trees, and there, making a giant rushing round, was a stream with clear, cool water.

“This ain’t no pool,” Evie said.

“This is a lake,” I said.

“It’s a river, stupid,” Fever said.

“This is better than a pool,” Mami said. “Let’s go.”

We had to walk over slippery rocks to get to the water. It was hurting my feet.

“But what if there’s fishes?,” I said.

“They could eat you,” my brother said.

“Mami!” I yelled.

“Cut it out,” Mami told Fever.

“There’re fishes,” my sister squealed. “Look. Look.”

She was right. In the clear water that surrounded us, small fish swam all around. And did not bite.

Mami and Tio and the Skipper sat on the rocks, dangling their feet in, drinking beer. There were other people there, with a radio playing Spanish music.

“Isn’t this fun?” Mami said.

“Look, mami.” My brother dunked himself into the water past his head. “I can see the fishes swimming underneath!”

I walked through the water to Mami and told her I had to pee.

“Go ahead,” she said, lighting a cigarette. “Do it right there.”

So I did.

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Los Sures, Part 10: How Do You Say, “Smorgasbord” in Spanish?

Boared in Ponce

We ran back with the camera in her hand and tried to get the giant pig to come closer. “C’mon, Wilbur,” she said to it. But it stayed in a dark corner.

Fever said that the pig was boring and left. “Evie,” I said. “Look at this one.” A pig in the next stall had its snout pressed against the slats. Ever brave, he touched its nose. “Oh wow, it’s wet.”

I touched it too, but quickly. “Oh wow.”

“That’s snot,” Fever said. He was right behind us.

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is. Yes, it is.”

Evie said, “Let me take a picture of you.”

She took pictures of us and the pigs, and then Mami called.

We ran back to see Mami and Titi talking to the thin man. He was smoking a cigaret, and hanging from a hook in front of him was something weird. It was long and pink and something dark and red was coming out of it. We didn’t recognize at first.

“It’s a pig!,” my sister screamed.

It was much smaller than the ones we’d seen. Its little front hooves were bound. We could see its eyes still open and its mouth curled open to show its small bloody teeth. A stream of blood trickled from a hole in its neck. Without taking the cigarette from his mouth, the man cut open the pig’s belly in one, long cut.

“He’s killing the pig,” my brother said.

“Is it dead?” my sister said.

My mother took the camera from her and snapped a few pictures of the pig. You could see its skeleton inside. “C’mon, kids,” Mami said.

On the ride back, we were quiet. Evie just looked outside the car. “Poor little pig,” she said.

“Yeah,” Fever said. “But you like pork chops.”

“So?”

I said, “Leave her alone.”

“Pork chops is pigs, you know.”

“Leave him alone,” Evie said.

Back at Titi’s house, they roasted the little pig over a barrel. The smell of it filled the backyard. That night Mami tried to get us to eat it. “C’mon, you like this.” She turned to my sister. “Evie, mira, it’s food.”

But Evie said, “No,” and so did I, even though I was very hungry. The grownups, their faces and fingers shiny with grease, laughed at us. My brother ate a big plate of pork with rachi rachi and rice and beans on the side. Later, my mother brought salami and cheese on buttered bread to me and my sister.

Evie said, “I wish Papi was here.”

“Me, too,” I said.

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