My mother came into the kitchen with a blank face. I was sitting at the table, having a toast with olive oil and cheese and a glass of cold water. “We’re leaving,” she said, and sat on the chair across from me. “We’re going to move in with Ahmad in New York.”
I set my glass of water down and hid a couple of tears. “What?”
“I am tired of Cuba, mi amor. I can’t anymore. I’m tired of going to millions of stores just to get detergent or tomato paste or butter…of waiting months to eat an egg or a piece of cheese. But why are you so surprised? When we first moved here I told you and your sister that it would only be for four years at the most. Weren’t you expecting it?” She crossed her legs and sighed, pausing. “I’ve found a good school for Carla and you in New York. New York is a beautiful city.”
I looked at the closed window.
“We’ll be able to go shopping, we’ll have Internet, we’ll be able to eat what we want when we want. Living here has been an interesting adventure — it has ended now.”
As she spoke I listened to the rest of the city. It was Sunday afternoon; women chatted on their balconies with a coffee and a bizcocho, men played dominó on the sidewalk and yelled at the children kicking a football around in the street. The day was calm, the sky was gray, the ocean was quiet. I listened closer.
“Will we come back?”
“I have to come back in September to finish building the apartment in La Habana Vieja, so that we can start renting it as soon as possible…they’re polishing the floors now, the apartment is almost done. I’ll show you pictures later…I think I took some…If you’re not in school than maybe you can come, mi vida.”
“Why do you have to be so cold about it?”
“I’m not being cold. We have to leave. We have to leave.”
I felt a great chill in my arms as a breeze flung the balcony doors open impatiently. Then the sky burst and little blue bits started pelting the roof, the sidewalk, the trees, the people. Everybody went inside except the stray cats, dogs, and chickens, who hid beneath buildings and bushes. I stood to close the windows and the balcony as the wind swept rain into the living room the way a broom sweeps things like hair and dirt. My mother sat and watched and tilted her head as I closed the white wood planks with the lever.
“Don’t slam the windows,” she said, sitting down at the table and taking a bite out of my bread. “You’ll break them.”
I sat back down at the table and drank the rest of my water, thirsty.
“How do you feel?”
“Like the rain,” I said as the rain came down.
“Did I tell you that I dreamt with Abuelo last night?”
“We were walking in the woods. It was a beautiful place, with flowers and trees and mushrooms, the kind of raw place I wish I could be in all the time. We were strolling and there was nothing to say. The sky was gray and dark and sad and everything was dry, but although it looked like it was about to rain it never would.”
My grandfather, with his gray goatee beard and his old frown, lived in my memory like a balloon. After he died I dreamt of him once, as I was in a sort of restless state; in a black place he lit a candle, and I saw his face behind the yellowness, and then the light faded and so did his face and the dream was gone.
“I asked him: where will we go? And I asked him at least four times, and he looked down at me, somewhat remote, and didn’t say anything. He never says anything when I dream about him.” She sat there thinking about the dream and I was there with her — I saw the dry trees and the flooded sky and the squirrel hide behind a bush with an acorn; I felt the breeze, the rich smells, the silence. I was there.
“He didn’t say anything, he never says anything in my dreams.” She looked back at me. Her eyes were like two black nectarines, standing out among her other features: the shadowy hair, the twisted lips, the elegant neck “And as we walked, I remembered that he was letting me know that he was with me. I remembered, because he always does this. He always comes. I should have expected him — the apartment in La Habana Vieja, the move, the struggles at work — he always comes when everything else comes all at once.” She bit her thumb regretfully and pulled her feet up to the chair, hugging her knees.
“He’s been a great dead father.”
“Yes.” She smiled. “As we walked, he held my hand. When it fell a little loose he squeezed it tighter and looked down at me, and didn’t say anything but squeezed it a little tighter as we walked together in the woods, together, going nowhere. Nowhere, because I can’t remember what was in front of us, behind us, we were going nowhere.”
I got up and served myself more water and drank half of it and then filled the glass again to the top. My mother looked at her feet as she scratched her arm, confused. The unfinished bread sat in the middle of the table.
“Yes,” she said. “He always comes. At first he visited me more often. Then he went away for a while. Last night he came back, he knew he needed to protect me, and he still has nothing to say but he wanted to tell me that he knew.” Outisde, the wind slammed against the windows and the doors, waving the thin rain around — a puppet. “And Abuela, and Tío Roberto, they never dream about him. After he died Abuela never got to see him again and I know that she still goes to bed hoping that he’ll be there when she falls asleep. She never sees him. I see him.”
She nodded. I nodded. I didn’t either.
“‘Where are we going?’ I said to him. He never said anything. He never says anything. I’ve almost forgotten what his voice sounds like.” She paused for a few seconds as a door slammed somewhere in the house, subjected to the wind. “Sometimes, when I was young, when I would sit on the porch with my friends, he would come out and sit with us, drinking his beer, and then he would offer them a beer, and everybody adored him. He was so impatient and hurtful when he was angry but everybody who didn’t know him like I did adored him. I adored him too, sometimes. When I was little, when I was living here in Cuba, in Santa Fé, he used to save the plums especially for me, and he would hide them from everybody else so that I could eat it, because it’s so hard to get plums here. Then he would give them to me and smile as I ate. The memory is so sweet and delicious. He would always smile and the fruit tasted like heaven because in a minute it was gone.”
I drank more water. I knew the stories. I had heard them a thousand times before. My handful of moments with him came to life in my head occasionally, somewhat like music: when he pretended to be a wolf as I hid in the hammock, expecting him; when I showed him how I could write “Abuelo”; when we waited for the train to come, eagerly, and then ran out to the road to see it rush by in ten seconds. After he died, everytime I stayed with my grandmother, everytime I heard the train, I saw him in it, and then the train would go and so would he.
The rain slowed down, tired like the afternoon. The afternoon was never impatient like the rain. I bit my lip.
“What day do we leave?” I said, and then the sky was a great ocean.