Childish giggles and soft gasps of awe filled the hushed quiet of the morning and my aching heart. Wide blue eyes gaped up at me, framed by lashes so thick even a mare would be jealous.
“Can I plant the seed Mamá?”
I smiled down at her, tousling those silky blonde curls that glinted molten gold in the morning sun. “Por supuesto puede, mi amor.”
Isabella patted the damp soil with chubby fingers, flattening and smoothing it until it was what she deemed perfect. With a giggle at her dirty hands, she grinned up at me. “What now Mamá?”
I knelt to her height, tucking one arm around her and gesturing at the barren garden bed. “We poke holes for the seeds to sleep in, so they can grow big and strong. Just like you.” I tapped her nose gently, causing giggles to erupt once more.
My heart ached with nostalgia, longing for youthful innocence and the childhood I never had. The childhood I promised I would give my hija.
Songbirds chirped and whistled, their voices sweet and melodic beyond the leafy fronds of the Pouteria Zapota tree. This garden gives me peace. It’s our sweet slice of paradise amidst the chaos around us, the place our little familia resorts to when the world seems against us.
I gently unfurled Isabella’s fingers, her lips parted as I placed a single avocado seed in her hand. Small green shoots had already started to grow from the seed. Isabella stared in fascination, her small fingers caressing the smooth brown surface before she placed it in the hole.
“¿Nosotras estamos terminadas?” she asked, carefully pronouncing each word.
“Sí, and now we wait.”
Those big blue eyes peered up at me, then glanced at the seed and back to me. “For how long?”
I laughed, “Paciencia, quierida.” I inhaled deeply, drawing in the fragrant scent of damp soil, Mexican sunflowers and freshly mown lawn. I felt the tension ease from my body, a blessed calm enveloped me as my face lifted to the sun.
“Can we do one more?” Isabella asked, her expression as hopeful as a perro begging for a treat.
“Why not two more.” I suggested, cupping her soft cheek in my hand. A smile lit her face, the twinkle in her eye reflecting back in mine.
Together we planted the seeds, the sun rising high in the sky before we went inside to make quesadillas and wait for mi esposo’s return from work. That afternoon was spent with glee-filled laughter, splashing water and dirt-stained skin. There was nothing about that day I would have changed.
Rain pattered on the windowpane as la tormenta rolled in. Cumulonimbus clouds billowed and boiled above, the dark grey of the sky seeping throughout el pueblo de Cosalá as the heavens split open. But here inside, where warmth hugged us tight, the mood was infectious. Isabella skipped down the wooden staircase, each step now scuffed and scratched with age. A smile stretched her cheeks wide, the blue and white pinstripes of her uniform starched to perfection.
I flipped an omelet, the savory aroma seeping throughout the warm kitchen with the most delectable tang. She rushed to me, wrapping her arms tightly around my waist, a gesture that could never grow old.
“First day of school huh,” I smiled, tugging one of her creamy brown braids. Over time her hair colour had changed, from the softest golden blonde to a chocolate brown. She grinned up at me, the gap-toothed smile seeming almost as brilliant as the sun that cowered behind those churning grey clouds.
“Sí, Mamá. Estoy muy emocionada!”
She slid onto a tall wooden stool, her elbows leaning on the counter with her chin resting in her hands. She watched as I scooped the omelet onto a plate and pushed the steaming food towards her.
I turned back to the stove, the heat of the gas burner warming my face as whisps of cool air slipped through the narrow gap below the patio doors. Isabella began to sing, her voice soft as she sung the lyrics to some Spanish song I didn’t know. Alejandro used to sing. Tears pricked at my eyelids, the sudden rush of emotion lodging a lump in my throat. My gaze turned to look out the rain-streaked window. The raging wind tossed leaves to the sky, tree limbs bowed to and fro as the gale intensified. But there it stood, like a beacon of light on a swirling sea, was the avocado tree. I felt a connection to that tree, standing alone in a patch of soil beside the graves that once would have been its companions. No fruit had grown on that beautiful tree, but its limbs grew strong and sinewy.
“I want to dance in the rain Mamá.” Isabella said, rinsing her dishes and placing them back in the cupboard. “Like we did with Papá.” She stood beside me, those deep blue eyes pleading with mine. The very same eyes as that of the man who stole my heart.
Pain crinkled around my heart, the innocent words jarring buried memories from their place. And suddenly I was back.
Rain drops splashed against shallow puddles on the sidewalk, the lush scent of damp soil and hibiscus lingered in the cool air. Laughter echoed around the narrow calle, the joyful sound echoing off sturdy brick walls and towering oak trees. Alejandro swung Isabella in circles, their voices a melodic harmony that rung in my ears. The rain came down, soaking into my yellow polka-dot sundress. The particles of water pooled on my brown skin, clustering together before trailing in streaks down my arms. Water flecked on my lashes, tinting the world in a slight blur as we danced.
The sky was alive. We were alive. And that moment tingled with an ecstaticity that beat in time with the rhythm of my heart. I felt podorosa, like nothing could take away my happiness.
Her voice cut through the vision, but it didn’t bring me back to the present, instead it set me further in the past.
“She looks just like you!” his voice was like mellow butter, soft and deep, and somehow still sent my heart aflutter. The arm tucked around my waist was firm and warm, I felt safe, loved and blissfully serene.
“Ah, but those eyes. Those are yours.” I smiled, my heart so full I half expected it to burst.
Tiny Isabella blinked up at us, the flecks of gold in her deep blue irises glinting in the gentle rays of the morning sun. Her soft blonde hair curling thick over her forehead. Her skin was a honeyed brown, paler than mine but darker than her fathers. Small fingers curled around Alejandro’s larger one, her grip tight as she gazed at us.
Alejandro tugged me closer, his warmth seeping through my skin and into my heart. He pressed a kiss to my forehead as I nestled into his embrace.
In my mind, that moment was frozen in time, relived more times than the average human can count.
“Madre!” the word was uttered with a hint of panic. The memories that clouded my mind dissipated as fast as they had come. And there she was, the light of my life, standing before me. Her eyes deepened with concern, turning them an almost navy blue.
“Lo siento, mi amor.” My voice shook like the leaves on the avocado tree. I felt fragile and vulnerable, but for my hija I must be strong.
“Are you alright?” she asked, a hand on my arm as she peered up at me. Oh, this girl was so strong. Her soul was so pure, despite the pain we had been through. Sometimes I envy her joy, the way she views life through rose-tinted glasses, her eager smile and that twinkle that rarely leaves her eyes. She is my inspiration, the one that keeps me going. Mi todo.
I smiled down at her, brushing a stray crumb from her cheek, “Yes Isa. Now come, let us ready you for school.”
I bent, softly pecking a kiss to her cheek. That smile slipped across her face again, her eyes brightening as I pulled her in. The ache in my heart lessened the longer we stood there, clinging to one another as if somehow together we were the remedy to our pain. Sometimes the pain faded and other times I felt as though my heart might give out. I wonder if the pain will ever truly disappear.
The sun was bright and warm, soft rays reflected off a small lily pond. Golden koi fish swum below the surface, their feathery tails sending ripples slicing through the fresh water.
“It’s been 10 years Mamá.” Isabella said, her eyes closed as she swung gently in a beige hammock that hung below a tall oak tree. One foot touched the ground, keeping the hammock swaying slightly. An open book rested spine-up on her chest, half-forgotten as the sun and the song of nature tried to lull her to sleep.
I knelt by a garden bed; my knees cushioned by soft grass as I weeded. “¿Perdón?”
Her head turned to look at me. Her skin was darker now, almost as dark as mine, tinted by hours spent in the garden. This place was a haven, for us and for the birds and buzzing bees. Over the years it had grown, transformed into a place filled with almost every plant and flower you could dream of. Laelia Orchids and Mexican honeysuckle clustered together beside terracotta pots of green succulents and scrawny cactuses. Lines of rose bushes stood tall beside a decorative trellis of Mexican Flame vines, the flowers deep orange and vibrant this time of year.
Isabella propped herself up on an elbow, her long brown hair tumbling over her shoulder. “Papá.” She said, her voice soft, “It’s been 10 years since he died.”
My gaze flicked to the avocado tree, its leaves wide and its trunk sturdy. A single avocado hung from a stalk, its skin a light olive green. I smiled at that tree, “Sí, it really has been.”
She slipped from the hammock, coming to kneel beside me, in front of the avocado tree. “I wish Papá could have seen this avocado.” She whispered, her fingertips trailing across the fruit’s wrinkled skin.
“Perhaps he has seen it.” I turned my gaze to the sky. Soft white clouds danced across the vast blue spanse, pulled along on the invisible strings of the warm summer breeze. “De el Cielo.”
“Sometimes I can feel him, Mamá.” Tears welled in those cobalt blue eyes, “He’s watching over us,” she sniffed, scooting closer to me, “I feel him when I’m here, en el jardín.”
I brought her close, wrapping my arms around her wiry frame. Tears sprung into my dark brown eyes, but they weren’t sorrowful, no, these were happy tears. Tears of acceptance and tears of love. I know that where life takes us, Alejandro and avocadoes will never be far away.