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Latinx Creative Nonfiction

Leticia peeled the ends of her banana slowly, waiting for the glow of yeast rising and the burnt smell of foil wilting through the oven. Brown spots covering the bottom of her banana tapped their soggy fingers with her anxiously, desperately. The oven timer dinged.

“Naomi!” she yells at the top of her lungs, arthritis gripping at her spine as she tries to get up.

A young woman wearing old friendship bracelets and a new university sweater ran from the apartment staircase to grab Leticia. Her mocha thick hair fell messily above the floor as she helped Leticia upright, the bells of a ceramic apple still echoing behind them.

“Mami,” Naomi groans. “What are you doing, cooking for yourself? I told you I'd go to Antonio’s to buy us all tamales de carnitas before I left.”

Leticia stuck out her tongue and slapped the smoky air. “For you. I'm cooking for you, chu chu.” Her wrinkled finger pushed at Naomi’s chest.

The oven timer blared again, and Naomi rushed to turn it off, pushing back loose strands of hair when opening the tiny oven. She bit her finger after realizing she hadn’t put on the oven mitts. The edge of the scorching pan seemed to laugh hysterically, hissing at her as its heat peeled her ruby flesh like banana peels.

“Banana bread?” Naomi squatted to fully see what her mami had decided to roast in the oven. The loaf of bread let off a scent of affirmation. “I haven’t eaten this in forever,” she blurted, still biting her finger.

Leticia rubbed her daughter’s arm, opening her mouth to speak. Then the screen door to the outside balcony sprang open, and Leticia’s mouth closed.

“Oye! Who screamed?!” Zeke screamed from the balcony.

“Are you serious, churrito?!” Naomi screamed back, giving him a quick hug.

She went for her brother’s head, successfully burying him in her armpit before he could retaliate. Laughing, he hit her back, rapping knuckles at each other and going underneath an armpit a couple times. He smiled.

“Oh ey, I’m really hungry. Could you please, please, please cut me some of that banana bread?” He rubbed his stomach, pouting two inches from Leticia. She crossed her arms. “Mami!”

“No more Mami Mami. Help your sister, niño.” Leticia’s wrinkled fist punched at Zeke’s chest, but this time he didn’t smile.

He grunted, grabbing a rose-embellished mitt to keep his skin from peeling like bananas and stuck his hand into the weeping oven. He let the pan hit the wooden table and skid across solemnly, weeping himself.

“You’re so dramatic,” Naomi held a knife in the air.

“Don’t hold it like that, mija.” Leticia looked to Zeke, sitting in a chair and balancing the tip of the silver cross chained around his neck on his lower lip. “Even if you want to.”

“I won’t, Mami,” Naomi sighed, circling the pan of banana-flavored dough. “Just please, let me go to Antonio’s for you.”

“I'll go to Antonio's,” Zeke volunteered, raising his hand askew over his head.

“Eh, why you want to go to Antonio's, Ezekiel? To settle some business?”

“Business?” He acted shocked in front of his mother. “He lives one floor up. How am I supposed to settle any business when you can hear the microwave beep up there?”

Leticia readied her arm and tightened her lips. Something was brewing.

“Mami, no.” Naomi placed a hand on her shoulder and turned to Zeke. “Here’s the order receipt and a twenty. He won't ask for anything more.”

“Nada más? But what if he asks me to get something from the top shelf?”

“Don’t get smart, Zeke; get tamales.”

And with that, he left. The orange door peeling slats of splintered wood groaned quietly as it closed behind him, and the pounding of his grimy chanclas slapped loudly against the outside metal staircase.

“I thought he would never shut up.” Leticia rolled her eyes as Naomi helped her back into her chair.

“Me neither,” she laughed, thinking of what would've happened if he hadn't. “Would you like a slice?”

“No, thank you, mijita.” Leticia tossed her banana peels on the kitchen counter, tearing her naked banana into bite-size pieces. “Naomi, mi amor, you need to always remem-”

Naomi slit the knife through the loaf.

“Hey, is that banana bread I smell?” Ismael came out of the big bedroom on a hoverboard, blankets over his head and green hair bouncing plainly. “I mean, I could always take a break from geometry.”

Leticia looked up to him striding around the apartment electronically, deficit of worry. Something had to be done about that.

“You dyed it again, boy?” She pointed to his curly hair poking out from underneath the chintz blankets with her peeled banana. She gave off a look of disapproval.

He paused. “What, no Spanish for me? Not even a tonto?”

“Ey,” Naomi corrected. “Don’t talk to Mami like that.”

“She’s not my Mami,” he spat out. “She’s Leticia.”

“Ismael!”

“No no, he's right.” Leticia popped a piece of mushy banana into her mouth. “Sit down, boy.”

He hung up the hoverboard on the liquid-stained couch and sat down, taking in whiffs of the banana bread in front of him. Naomi started to cut the bread into slices while he and Leticia watched her attentively.

“What’s that major you’re doing again?” He looked to Naomi, still carefully dividing the bread. “It’s got something to do with the liberal arts, right? You know, where you find ways to keep the world from starving… one man at a time… possibly with banana bread?”

“It’s that good, huh?”

“To the point that it’s kinky.”

“Ismael!”

“What’d I say?” He mimicked Zeke flawlessly, mock shock plastered to his face.

The door burst open before she could answer. As if I really needed to, she thought.

“Wuelita, where’s Zeke? I need him to drive me to the pound in ten minutes.” Amanda came through the front door peeling orange and bruised wood, standing on her tippy toes to slip the door chain back into position.

She went to sit between Ismael and Leticia, waving to Naomi who stood over the banana bread.

“Sir Izzy.” She tipped her newsie cap to her partner in crime and kicked off her combat boots underneath the table.

Ismael took the bundle of blankets off his head. “Like my hair?”

“Ooooh, that's perfect.” She paused, sticking her hand into her backpack. “Actually no, it's missing something.”

“Hm?”

He jerked his head up to see Amanda's hand draw out a butterfly pin, symbolism of her devoted time to save the monarchs and bad hair-dos glimmering proudly.

“There's a butterfly in his head.”

“Mami, get over it.”

Ismael looked to the dirty window ridden by water droplets and unwashed filth to see his reflection. A golden insect made out of rhinestones and a cheap wire winked back, and so did the shirtless guy watering flowers across the street.

“Doesn't really match the green, but I like it.”

He kept the pin tied loosely around his tangled curls and tossed the blankets on the floor next to Amanda's shoes.

“Pick up the bl-”

“Hey! Open the door!” Zeke's voice knocked repeatedly, impatiently on the locked door.

Naomi ran from her small corner between the kitchen table and the balcony doors to let him in, grabbing the foil-wrapped tray as soon as she did so. It smelled like heaven. Behind him, a small boy in a lightning bolt shirt peaked his brown head through the orange door. He tugged at Zeke’s shorts as if he were his dad.

“What are you doing with that boy?” Leticia perked an eyebrow.

“He’s Antonio’s nephew, okay. He wants me to babysit him so he can go to night school.”

“But I need you to drive me to the pound while they’re still open,” Amanda pleaded from behind the tamales’ steam.

“Pues, why don’t get an Uber?”

“Pues, I don’t have any money,” she replied mockingly.

“It's a tough decision, but the doggos will just have to wait another day, Mando.” Zeke spread out his arms.

“Don't hug me. That's what animal abusers do.”

She ran across the living room and leaped over a broken ottoman to crouch behind Ismael's chair.

“If I were straight, this'd be kinky.” He unraveled the foil covering, picking out the plumpest tamale.

“Ismael!” Naomi took the food away from him.

“Naomi, what's a kinky?” Leticia booped her daughter's cheek in mild interest.

Amanda and Ismael snickered, exchanging a quick first bump before the grandmother's hardened stare could decipher their hidden message. Just then, a pair of hamsters scrambled around the wooden floors in squealing giggles. Their mouths were full of a white mush, banana mush.

“Hamster! Hamster! Hamster!” Antonio's four foot tall nephew clamored to catch the runaway rodents sneaking out of the bathroom.

“Dude, it's Katniss!” Amanda slapped Ismael's back.

“Oh my gosh, she's running off with Rue!”

Antonio's nephew fell to the floor, grabbing the hamsters in a single swoop and petted them obnoxiously with pride. Their grey and spotted backs slumping languidly with each relaxing stroke.

“Bring the rats, I have something to tell Naomi, and none of you will keep quiet so everyone has to come.” Leticia called.

Nobody answered, but they all came to the familiar table without question.

“You see that picture on the wall?” She pointed to the lopsided frame hanging by the front door. “You see Naomi in the cap and gown and all of us standing happy together?”

“Everyone but Tía Bianca.” Amanda crossed her arms.

“And my mom,” Ismael chimed in.

Leticia slapped him on the back of his green head. “Everyone important, tonto.”

“I knew you'd say it,” he grinned.

She sighed. “Do you see how we're all smiling and hugging each other, like it was the best thing in the world?”

“Sí... y qué?” Zeke questioned.

“We ate banana bread before that picture happened. It was from a street stand, but we still ate it.” She reached for a plate to serve one of the banana slices. “And you know what that means, Naomi?”

Naomi nodded her head.

“Banana bread will always bring family. Never forget that.”

Leticia stuck a waxen candle in the bread, and Zeke used his lighter to illuminate the darkening kitchen. Amanda and Ismael quieted down and gave the hamsters to Antonio's nephew for safe keeping. A dog howled.

“Happy birthday, Naomi, mija.” They sang.

And she blew out her candle.

April 17, 2021 03:57

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