In the late afternoon we lay on her bed and looked at the ceiling. The ceiling was white and boring but I tried to see beasts in the paint cracks, the way I used to do with the clouds; in the meantime the rain drowned the city and the Malecón faded into the sea as water crashed over the wall, onto the street, onto the occasional car. The air was sweet and cool and it reminded me of something far away.
“Are you thinking about him?”
“Are you?” Salma sat up on the matress and leaned against the wall and took another sip of the chocolate milk. “I hate the little chunks of powder in the milk. They make me want to vomit. Yaneya didn’t strain it right.”
I stared at mine, mixing the powdery chunks with the spoon and watching as they dissolved.
“All they’re selling now is the powdered one. When will the good milk come back in stock? I think I would just rather not drink any.” She set the cup aside.
“Milk is good for you.”
“Do you want to drink my cup? I won’t have it.”
“No.” The rain pounded like horse hooves and then I feared the roof would fall over us. The wood planks on the window were flipped open a bit and specks of rain flung silently through the cracks as we sat there. I rubbed my arms where the raindrops had pricked me.
“Should I close the windows?” She kneeled and reached for the knob to close them.
“No don’t close them. I like the smell of the wind and the rain. It brings back a memory.”
“What memory?” She laughed and sat back down against the corner wall, bringing the sheets over her lap. The sheets were tangled in legs and pillows. They did not do much for the cold. “Do I have a fever?”
I reached over and touched the back of my hand to her forehead and cheeks. “A fever?”
“I just have been feeling horrible since yesterday. I feel like vomitting, and my eyes sting. I must have a fever.”
“I don’t think so. Didn’t you have a fever last week?”
“No, but I had a cold…I must be getting the fever now.”
“Do you have any movies?”
“Alejandro took the hard drive to his friend’s house. Are you upset about something? You seem moody today.”
“No. Do you have any on your computer?”
“No. But I have a backgammon set.”
“I don’t know how to play. Why don’t you make me something to eat?”
“Ay mija I don’t want to…tell Yaneya.”
“Didn’t she leave early because of the rain?”
“All right I’ll make it. I’m hungry too.” We went to the kitchen and I sat on a chair by the small table in the corner as she cooked. In the refrigerator there were at least twenty eggs tossed in the bottom left compartment; she took out four and turned a stove on with a match and poured vegetable oil on the pan. While waiting for the oil to sizzle she cut an onion and a tomato. When she cracked the eggs she cracked each one first into a separate bowl before adding it to the larger one with the rest of the eggs. The third egg was rotten and she had to throw it out and get another one. Then she mixed the onion and tomato together and added the eggs. As Salma cooked a breeze pushed the door open several times, and everytime she slammed it closed but it always opened again. The breeze was refreshing and I thought it would taste good with the food.
“You are a very good cook,” I said, taking the first bite.
“Yes but I don’t like to cook for others.”
She laughed and we ate.
“On the bus?”
“No I didn’t mean that. I’m leaving Cuba. Next month, to the United States. I have two aunts who live in Boston and my mother is sending me to live with them.”
“They want me to study in an American university and it’s the only way.”
“And I need to leave next week. By the way, will you go on Saturday to the party at Sofia’s house? Everyone is going and I don’t know when I will see all of you together again.”
“Ay mi vida don’t even try to convince me.”
“You have to go, I’m leaving next week.”
“Are you blackmailing me?” She laughed and I laughed. “You know it is not about you. We will see each other another day. Do you want more eggs? I think I’m full.”
“No.” I turned around in my seat to look at myself in the glass reflection of the cabinet and ruffled my hair a bit with my fingers so that the knots would loosen. The last time I had washed my hair had been almost a week before; I had found no need to look good around the house. The summer had been long and boring, just like the day.
“I wish I had your eyes,” she said, looking at herself in the mirror. “How did you get blue eyes?”
“My grandmother is Russian.”
“I always forget that. You’re not very Russian. I wish I had blue eyes. Then every time I looked in a mirror I would the sea.”
“The sea is in front of your house. Do you have a hair tie?”
“Yes but leave your hair down. I like it loose and curly like it is now.”
“It’s awful.” I brushed it some more, which only made it worse. “Do you want to go out to walk in the rain?”
“The sky is practically falling. I wouldn’t want to get a fever. I’m already feeling sick.”
I hid my hair behind my shoulders and turned back around in my seat.
“I really do detest my eyes,” she said.
“I like them. They are like almonds. Don’t you like almonds?”
“I detest almonds.”
“Once my cousin visited from the United States and brought almonds. They tasted very good.”
“I’ve tried them and I didn’t like them.”
“I like them.” The breeze shoved the door in again but she did not get up that time. I caught a glimpse of the sky as the door creaked open. The sun had run away somewhere and it was difficult to tell whether or not it had already set. Salma was empty and as I sat there restlessly I searched for the end of the sky and the start of the ocean. In that moment the rain was light, calm, and sweet; the sea had died down and the city was gray. “I should go.”
“Don’t go yet. Don’t rush. I can try to call you a taxi in a little bit.”
“I don’t have that much money. I’ll get a bus on Línea.” I stood and stretched and adjusted the straps on my blue dress.
“My parents are thinking of sending me to Spain for university but they’re not sure.” She ate another bite of her eggs. “If not then I will study here.”
“I would love to go to Spain.”
“I’ll take pictures for you. If I go, of course. What are you thinking about? You are so distracted today. Is it him again?”
“I have to go. I’m worried the rain will start again and I have to get a bus.”
“Do you want me to call a taxi?”
“No mi amor.”
I went to the room and looked for my bag and then she walked me to the door.
“Do you have to go already?”
“Yes,” I said. “Will you walk me down?”
“Ay mi vida it’s raining and I told you I don’t feel well. We’ll see each other before you go. I love you.”
We kissed cheeks and then I left. There was no need to get a bus; I walked along the Malecón and let my skin drink the rain as the clouds grumbled somewhere in the distance. There were no cars or pedestrians but the city was not quiet. I thought about something remote and the breeze stirred my thoughts; then the walk was shorter and so would be the night.
-- Tula Singer