Authors: Sandra Cisneros
I’ve already made up my mind to be a German when Keeks swoops past again, this time yelling, “I’m Flash Gordon. You’re Ming the Merciless and the Mud People.” I don’t mind being Ming the Merciless, but I don’t like being the Mud People. Something wants to come out of the corners of my eyes, but I don’t let it. Crying is what
I leave Keeks running around in circles—“I’m the Lone Ranger, you’re Tonto.” I leave Junior squatting on his ankles and go look for the awful grandmother.
Why do churches smell like the inside of an ear? Like incense and the dark and candles in blue glass? And why does holy water smell of tears? The awful grandmother makes me kneel and fold my hands. The ceiling high and everyone’s prayers bumping up there like balloons.
If I stare at the eyes of the saints long enough, they move and wink at me, which makes me a sort of saint too. When I get tired of winking saints, I count the awful grandmother’s mustache hairs while she prays for Uncle Old, sick from the worm, and Auntie Cuca, suffering from a life of troubles that left half her face crooked and the other half sad.
There must be a long, long list of relatives who haven’t gone to church. The awful grandmother knits the names of the dead and the living into one long prayer fringed with the grandchildren born in that barbaric country with its barbarian ways.
I put my weight on one knee, then the other, and when they both grow fat as a mattress of pins, I slap them each awake.
Micaela, you may wait outside with Alfredito and Enrique
. The awful grandmother says it all in Spanish, which I understand when I’m paying attention. “What?” I say, though it’s neither proper nor polite. “What?” which the awful grandmother hears as
But she only gives me a look and shoves me toward the door.
After all that dust and dark, the light from the plaza makes me squinch my eyes like if I just came out of the movies. My brother
Keeks is drawing squiggly lines on the concrete with a wedge of glass and the heel of his shoe. My brother Junior squatting against the entrance, talking to a lady and man.
They’re not from here. Ladies don’t come to church dressed in pants. And everybody knows men aren’t supposed to wear shorts.
the lady asks in a Spanish too big for her mouth.
The lady gives him a whole handful of gum for free, little cellophane cubes of Chiclets, cinnamon and aqua and the white ones that don’t taste like anything but are good for pretend buck teeth.
says the lady.
pointing to her camera.
She’s so busy taking Junior’s picture, she doesn’t notice me and Keeks.
“Hey, Michele, Keeks. You guys want gum?”
“But you speak English!”
“Yeah,” my brother says, “we’re Mericans.”
We’re Mericans, we’re Mericans, and inside the awful grandmother prays.
When the sky of Tepeyac opens its first thin stars and the dark comes down in an ink of Japanese blue above the bell towers of La Basílica de Nuestra Señora, above the plaza photographers and their souvenir backdrops of La Virgen de Guadalupe, above the balloon vendors and their balloons wearing paper hats, above the red-canopied thrones of the shoeshine stands, above the wooden booths of the women frying lunch in vats of oil, above the
on the corner of Misterios and Cinco de Mayo, when the photographers have toted up their tripods and big box cameras, have rolled away the wooden ponies I don’t know where, when the balloon men have sold all but the ugliest balloons and herded these last few home, when the shoeshine men have grown tired of squatting on their little wooden boxes, and the women frying lunch have finished packing dishes, tablecloth, pots, in the big straw basket in which they came, then Abuelito tells the boy with dusty hair,
Arturo, we are closed
, and in crooked shoes and purple elbows Arturo pulls down with a pole the corrugated metal curtains—first the one on
Misterios, then the other on Cinco de Mayo—like an eyelid over each door, before Abuelito tells him he can go.
This is when I arrive, one shoe and then the next, over the sagging door stone, worn smooth in the middle from the huaraches of those who have come for tins of glue and to have their scissors sharpened, who have asked for candles and cans of boot polish, a half-kilo sack of nails, turpentine, blue-specked spoons, paintbrushes, photographic paper, a spool of picture wire, lamp oil, and string.
Abuelito under a bald light bulb, under a ceiling dusty with flies, puffs his cigar and counts money soft and wrinkled as old Kleenex, money earned by the plaza women serving lunch on flat tin plates, by the souvenir photographers and their canvas Recuerdo de Tepeyac backdrops, by the shoeshine men sheltered beneath their fringed and canopied kingdoms, by the blessed vendors of the holy cards, rosaries, scapulars, little plastic altars, by the good sisters who live in the convent across the street, counts and recounts in a whisper and puts the money in a paper sack we carry home.
I take Abuelito’s hand, fat and dimpled in the center like a valentine, and we walk past the basilica, where each Sunday the Abuela lights the candles for the soul of Abuelito. Past the very same spot where long ago Juan Diego brought down from the
the miracle that has drawn everyone, except my Abuelito, on their knees, down the avenue one block past the bright lights of the
of Señor Guzmán who is still at work at his sewing machine, past the candy store where I buy my milk-and-raisin gelatins, past La Providencia
where every afternoon Luz María and I are sent for the basket of lunchtime tortillas, past the house of the widow Márquez whose husband died last winter of a tumor the size of her little white fist, past La Muñeca’s mother watering her famous dahlias with a pink rubber hose and a skinny string of water, to the house on La Fortuna, number 12, that has always
been our house. Green iron gates that arabesque and scroll like the initials of my name, familiar whine and clang, familiar lace-work of ivy growing over and between except for one small clean square for the hand of the postman whose face I have never seen, up the twenty-two steps we count out loud together—
uno, dos, tres
—to the supper of
sopa de fideo
carne guisada—cuatro, cinco, seis
—the glass of
café con leche—siete, ocho, nueve
—shut the door against the mad parrot voice of the Abuela—
diez, once, doce
—fall asleep as we always do, with the television mumbling—
trece, catorce, quince
—the Abuelito snoring—
dieciséis, diecisiete, dieciocho
—the grandchild, the one who will leave soon for that borrowed country—
diecinueve, veinte, veintiuno
—the one he will not remember, the one he is least familiar with—
veintidós, veintitrés, veinticuatro
—years later when the house on La Fortuna, number 12, is sold, when the
, corner of Misterios and Cinco de Mayo, changes owners, when the courtyard gate of arabesques and scrolls is taken off its hinges and replaced with a corrugated sheet metal door instead, when the widow Márquez and La Muñeca’s mother move away, when Abuelito falls asleep one last time—
Veinticinco, veintiséis, veintisiete
—years afterward when I return to the shop on the corner of Misterios and Cinco de Mayo, repainted and redone as a pharmacy, to the basilica that is crumbling and closed, to the plaza photographers, the balloon vendors and shoeshine thrones, the women whose faces I do not recognize serving lunch in the wooden booths, to the house on La Fortuna, number 12, smaller and darker than when we lived there, with the rooms boarded shut and rented to strangers, the street suddenly dizzy with automobiles and diesel fumes, the house fronts scuffed and the gardens frayed, the children who played kickball all grown and moved away.
Who would’ve guessed, after all this time, it is me who will remember when everything else is forgotten, you who took with you to your stone bed something irretrievable, without a name.
Me importas tú, y tú, y tú
y nadie más que tú
About the truth, if you give it to a person, then he has power over you. And if someone gives it to you, then they have made themselves your slave. It is a strong magic. You can never take it back
He said his name was Chaq. Chaq Uxmal Paloquín. That’s what he told me. He was of an ancient line of Mayan kings. Here, he said, making a map with the heel of his boot, this is where I come from, the Yucatán, the ancient cities. This is what Boy Baby said.
It’s been eighteen weeks since Abuelita chased him away with the broom, and what I’m telling you I never told nobody, except Rachel and Lourdes, who know everything. He said he would love me like a revolution, like a religion. Abuelita burned the pushcart and sent me here, miles from home, in this town of dust, with one wrinkled witch woman who rubs my belly with jade, and sixteen nosy cousins.
I don’t know how many girls have gone bad from selling cucumbers.
I know I’m not the first. My mother took the crooked walk too, I’m told, and I’m sure my Abuelita has her own story, but it’s not my place to ask.
Abuelita says it’s Uncle Lalo’s fault because he’s the man of the family and if he had come home on time like he was supposed to and worked the pushcart on the days he was told to and watched over his goddaughter, who is too foolish to look after herself, nothing would’ve happened, and I wouldn’t have to be sent to Mexico. But Uncle Lalo says if they had never left Mexico in the first place, shame enough would have kept a girl from doing devil things.
I’m not saying I’m not bad. I’m not saying I’m special. But I’m not like the Allport Street girls, who stand in doorways and go with men into alleys.
All I know is I didn’t want it like that. Not against the bricks or hunkering in somebody’s car. I wanted it come undone like gold thread, like a tent full of birds. The way it’s supposed to be, the way I knew it would be when I met Boy Baby.
But you must know, I was no girl back then. And Boy Baby was no boy. Chaq Uxmal Paloquín. Boy Baby was a man. When I asked him how old he was he said he didn’t know. The past and the future are the same thing. So he seemed boy and baby and man all at once, and the way he looked at me, how do I explain?
I’d park the pushcart in front of the Jewel food store Saturdays. He bought a mango on a stick the first time. Paid for it with a new twenty. Next Saturday he was back. Two mangoes, lime juice, and chili powder, keep the change. The third Saturday he asked for a cucumber spear and ate it slow. I didn’t see him after that till the day he brought me Kool-Aid in a plastic cup. Then I knew what I felt for him.