Salt to ward off enemies and unclean thoughts. It’s a binding, earthly element, one of the few compounds that cleanse without needing to burn. A white tea candle for purification and peace. Abuelita once told me that other candles probably can be used, but the ones at the restaurant are white and they usually go on tables, so improvisation is key. And, if Aleah looked hard enough, cornmeal, thinly lining the doorway, an offering to the petty resident god whose protection I invoke, though of course nobody looks down at their feet when they enter a door. That’s just not how people operate. I know. I’ve spent my whole life studying them.
But how many times do people cast a blind eye to a salt shaker and a lit candle? Many, if that’s a surprise, though for me it isn’t. People have the unique ability to see only what they want to see. We turn the other way when we get tired of trying to figure out a puzzle that doesn’t agree with us. Nobody asks why apartment numbers skip around, or why there is never a thirteenth floor, or what that bump in the dark of the night was. They just roll over and fall back asleep.
I was still thinking of Aleah while closing up. Jared heaved the barrel back into the restaurant, his eyes glazing over the candle and saltshaker as though they weren’t there, before sliding a key into the door and locking it.
‘Good work today,’ he said, walking back over to the register to count the till. ‘Just try not to spend so much time chatting, you know? We do have a job to do.’
Again, I force myself to bite my tongue. I could stand there and argue that the whole point of our job was to converse with people, to make them feel welcome, to help them out, to serve them, to take care of them, to make them feel wanted and cared for…but I decide against it. Rough morning, maybe. Another day to live and fight.
The bike ride home is about half an hour but the route I took was closer to about forty-five minutes. I was still getting used to navigating the arteries and veins of the city, having grown unaccustomed to the streets of my own hometown, my head filled with maps and subway lines and freeways of different cities altogether. Not just New York, either; my spirit of adventure, guided by perpetually chasing after the blowing and changing wind, has taken me to different places, different highs, worlds apart. Ah, the memories I cherish, the experiences I’ve had. People often remark that it seems that I’m running away from things. Fleeing. I’ve always hated that word.
I don’t think I’m fleeing at all. I’m not running away from something, I’m running towards it. And who can blame me, after the last six years of a manic depressive, euphoric, sometimes painful and distressing journey guided by that wind, the strong wind, the good wind, El Viento, Juracan, as Abuelita would say. The God of lightning and rain and fire. The God of the changing storms. Nobody can blame me. Not after my life choices. Baking croissants in Paris, teaching English in Rome, bungee jumping in Whistler, working on a freight ship along the Alaskan coast sliming fish, serving coffee and sandwiches in San Francisco, being one with the cornfields in Idaho, leaving X’s on the tomb of Marie Laveau in New Orleans’s French Quarter, layovers in Sochi and Frankfurt, roaming the Yucatan peninsula on a motorcycle for weeks. I’d marched with the native Iroquois and Cherokee of Oklahoma and New York, been invited to their homes and paying respects to the spirit animals and their guardians and the rain, worked in three star acclaimed restaurants in New York, served as a production assistant on HBO, became a tour guide in Boston, interned at a bank in Montreal.
I met many people along the way like Chris who let me stay with him when my hitchhiker only got me so far in Idaho only if I promised to help shear the corn on his field, or the wonderful Studeli family, Patrizia and Jorg, and their three boys Raphael, Emmanuel and Almiro, who welcomed me into their home in Kusnacht for a weekend because I had helped them when they stayed at the youth hostel I worked at in New York. I met Xochicalpa who eagerly guided me through the jungles to visit Chichen Itza, Tom who I’d met at Chicago O’Hare after randomly bumping into him in line at a Starbucks and who showed me his hometown of St. Louis, Rodrigo who showed me the wonders of the Mission District even though I was underage and couldn’t legally consume alcohol, Emiliano whose bike I rode on through the quiet streets of Milan at midnight. I’d fallen in love, many times, with Ariel in Portland, Amr in Cairo, Denis in Moscow, Amanda in Puerto Rico, Collin in Brooklyn, Tommy in Kansas, Emma in Rome. Many people, many faces, many smiles.
But the wind always kept me going.
When I came back to Playa de Oro, I knew I would only be here temporarily, though how long ‘temporarily’ meant, I wasn’t sure. I told myself I would wait and see. And I intend to do exactly that.
Mother was in the garage when I got back from work, nursing an Arnold Palmer with a lemon wedge in it while sitting on a metal fold-out chair staring out into the horizon. We live on the side of a hill, and from outside our garage, on a clear day like today, we can see a glimpse of the seemingly blue sea just a few miles away and the terminal islands that float in it. Mother smiled when she saw me pull up on my bike. I hopped off it and walked over to her.
‘How was your first day?’ she asked, offering me a glass.
‘Good,’ I reply, setting my bike along the garage wall and taking the glass she offered. ‘Busy. I think this will be a good fit for me.’
‘For how long?’
I shrug. ‘I’m not sure.’ Then, I turn to look at her. ‘Why are you out?’ Mother gets sick when out in intense heat; when she was younger she was diagnosed with early onset lupus, but through careful medical check-ups and regular doctor’s visits, she has been able to maintain it relatively well. But still, the last thing I want is for her to incur more medical problems.
She doesn’t look at me, but pauses, before she speaks. ‘I had this…feeling.’
I take a sip, the tanginess of the lemonade balanced by the bitter flavor of iced earl grey tea is enough to send a refreshing tingle through my body, like a cool breeze sweeping past me.
‘I knew it,’ I hear Mother say. ‘I knew the wind would change.’
I open my eyes to realize that she was right. I hadn’t imagined the wind pick up, it was real. Finally, something to break the heat wave. A burst of fresh air.
‘That’s what I was waiting for.’
I glance over at Mother, wondering what she means, and study her face. From her, I have inherited her long, thick, black curly mane of hair, and whereas she mostly wears her hair down and loose, I have mine constantly tied up (comes with the territory of working in a restaurant), the shape of her almond brown eyes, and her wide, gaping mouth, the mouth of storytelling and smiles. She’s exhausted, I can tell. Her eyes are droopy and her cheeks are flushed pink.
‘Do you want to go inside?’
‘In a bit,’ she tells me, staring at the horizon. ‘I want to feel the wind for a few more moments.’
I sit with her those next few moments, staring at the sea and the dying sun. I wanted to ask Mother what she meant about waiting for the wind and what she expected, but I hesitated, and in the end, chose not to. I felt what she was talking about. The wind was different. It was as though lightning had struck; hairs were standing on end, clothing stuck to bodies, and as the wind picked up and grew stronger, it was as though it was trying to whisper something. I close my eyes and can almost hear its words…
Auckland. Nadi. Luxor. Montreal. A signal, an omen, a sign, a song, something so familiar and sweet and wonderful to the ears that I almost don’t want it to be over. A guide telling me that my time here is over, and off to a new place I go. But something is different about this wind. It feels…cautionary. Like a warning. A trumpet sounding the dark clouds gathering, signaling a certain impending storm…
‘I know,’ says Mother, her wide eyes staring at the horizon. ‘I feel it too.’
The eye of the Juracan approaches. I give it a day or two until it’s here. And then, who knows? We will see what the Juracan brings.