Our summer tradition, which was to visit the fiesta carnival every year, ended one starry evening in 1992.
Every year in May, ever since I could remember, a fiesta carnival would cover the vast vacant land at Barrio San Jose behind the local gas station.
Sarah and I went to the carnival every year with all the coins we saved up until after the school year ends every March. We'd use them to buy darts to pop balloons, to get prizes such as stuffed toys or pillows.
My favorite game was the color game, where there were six colors I could choose from to place my bet. There were three dices; each side has a different color. I liked this game because the results were random, and winning was relatively easy.
Traditionally, caterpillar and roller coaster rides would be present, but there would be additional new rides every year. And, of course, the majestic Ferris wheel was a constant affair.
Even from afar, the blinking lights of the carnival were visible. One can never get lost. They were like shining stars guiding the three kings towards it.
We were sixteen in 1992, and our parents permitted us to stay as late as possible because we were entering college the following school year. That's our little token for graduating from high school with pretty good grades.
I wore the jumpsuit I bought for the Christmas of '91, paired with a striped yellow and white T-shirt, while Sarah wore her red floral dress.
'It's Flores de Mayo,' she said as she twirled, which made her look like an upside-down hibiscus.
Her mom watched us from behind. 'Janice, please can you check on Sarah and make sure she behaves?' Her palm suddenly hit Sarah's bum, which probably wasn't painful because she burst out laughing.
'Bye Ma,' Sarah exaggeratedly walked like a model, swaying her hips and waving like a beauty queen. Her mom sighed and rolled her eyes, and motioned her hand to us in a shooing manner.
We both laughed as we hit the road. Sarah gave me cherry balls, the round chewing gum that made our lips so red. That was the only lipstick we were allowed to use back then.
Loud music pounded our ears. Different songs were played on different sides of the carnival, all simultaneously mixed with the background music of the rides.
The aroma of freshly grilled sweet corn on the cob was so inviting, but we settled with caramel popcorn sold by a middle-aged smiley man with his wooden cart. Kids crowded the cotton candy maker.
'Let's take our flight,' I said.
'Aye, aye captain,' Sarah saluted.
That was the traditional conversation when we wanted to head to the Ferris Wheel. The cue was quite long already when we arrived at the booth and waited for about fifteen minutes before we could board.
'You ate all your popcorn already before we even got here,' I said as we boarded the open-air cabin.
'So what? We can eat your popcorn anyway.' She quickly put her hand inside my popcorn bag and took a handful.
'So greedy,' I said and covered my popcorn with one hand.
Unlike any other girls of our age, we don't feel nauseous when we ride the Ferris Wheel. We have always brought popcorn with us, eating it while watching the tiny lights coming from the carnival and nearby Barrios. It's like looking at tiny stars beneath us. We wondered if angels looked at stars that way too, from somewhere higher than the sky.
'It's so dreamy,' Sarah would always say whenever we were up there. It was quiet and solemn at the top, no matter how noisy it was at the bottom with all those loud music and rides, people cheering and screaming, and kids crying. Like the Ferris Wheel was in a different place.
Twenty minutes later, the Ferris Wheel started unloading people, and we were savoring our last moments on top of our world when suddenly, the lights went off. The sound of engines slowing down echoed in the night as all the noise went off. We looked at each other then looked down, checking for any movements. It was pitch dark when I looked down. My heart raced. I've never experienced that before. To be stuck somewhere on top. I usually wasn't scared of heights, but I suddenly felt my stomach turning and my body was light as a feather. My knees trembled.
After few minutes of silent darkness, the lights switched on again, and the rides' engines started again.
'Thank God,' said Sarah as she let go of my hand that I didn't even notice she squeezed.
We left the cabin and passed by the empty booth. I looked around. There wasn't a single soul except mine and Sarah's.
We looked at each other and held hands.
There wasn't any sound except the ride's engines. The carousel rotated and the horses mechanically hopped up and down. Their eyes with curly eyelashes seemed to stare at me while the song plays in the background.
It's a small world after all
It's a small world after all
It's a small world after all
It's a small, small world
There were no passengers, but all the rides kept running. The cotton candy machine was still slowly turning like there was an invisible spider spinning its web.
'Hello!' Sarah screamed. Her voice echoed, but nobody answered. The place was completely abandoned.
My heart was pumping. It was almost popping out. We walked quickly. I felt someone was following, but when I turned around, there wasn't anyone. We ran towards the entrance of the carnival.
'There should be someone at the gasoline station,' I said between catching my breath.
We ran until our legs hurt and then stopped. And there we were again in front of the booth of the Ferris Wheel. All the hair in my body stood up. We silently looked at each other, knowing that we both wanted to scream, but we couldn't. It was like a trap. Like a nightmare where you yell, but no voice comes out.
We ran again until we could not anymore, and when we stopped, we were back to where we started.
We ran again in hopes of getting out but we were back to where we started again.
'Remove your clothes.'
'What?' I asked.
'Remove your clothes.' With trembling hands, I followed Sarah.
'Turn it upside down and wear it again.'
I didn't know what was going on, but I followed her.
When both our clothes were worn on the wrong side, hems visible, she commanded. 'Run!'
We ran endlessly until we could not anymore.
Cold sweat dripped from my forehead, and my palms were icy. I felt the muscles on my left leg starting to cramp.
We stopped running and tried to catch our breath.
'You two ok?'
I looked up and saw a young man in a white polo with the round yellow logo on his breast pocket stood in front of us—an employee of the gasoline station.
Behind him was the local gas station we had been trying to get into for what seemed like an eternity. I fell on my feet and sat on the ground. Sarah did the same.
'Do you need water?' the man asked.
We nodded as we couldn't utter a single word. If I tried to, my heart would come out of my throat first before any word.
After drinking some water, I held my left chest and checked if my heart was still beating inside, and it still was, luckily.
'What happened with you two?' he asked. His face bore a puzzled expression, his eyebrows furrowed.
'You were running around the gasoline station in circles for the last one hour.'
Sarah and I looked at each other.
'And where is the other girl following you around? The girl in the white dress?'
My spine shivered. Once again, I became aware of the noise coming from loudspeakers, engines, and people screaming. The lights from the fiesta carnival flickered like stars in the dark universe. Amidst the noise and madness, one song clearly stood up from the rest and lingered in my head: It's a small world, after all, It's a small, small world.