I stare at my dirty toes as they stretch for the floor but they just continue to dangle over the edge of the dining room chair. A porter brings our lunch from my grandmother’s hotel. We always have soup and then salad, rice and beans, with meat and cooked plantains, then dessert.
My feet never reach the floor except when I’m standing or when I sit on our lowest front door step. I’m very bored so I get up, put on my sandals and a sweater, get Dona Elena, our nanny, to open the front door and go outside. The sun is bright and warm and the sky is very blue.
The air smells pretty from all of the flowers in our small yard. My grandmother loves flowers. Ramona lives next door in a house just like ours she rents from my grandmother. No children live there and it’s always very clean. It doesn’t have any holes in its walls dug out by little boys that don’t know it’s wrong to try and pull out the dirt stuffing.
Ramona works at a hospital where sick people go to stay. I know that people also come from hospitals because Ramona told me. I was born in the one she works at. Marina, my little sister, was born at home because she couldn’t wait to get to the hospital.
Ramona says Marina almost died because she was born so young; aren’t we all? Ramona says that Marina was just too stubborn to give up. I’m glad Marina was stubborn then; I just wish she was less stubborn now.
Our little house is very boring except when Dona Elena punishes my sister by locking her up in the dark closet. I almost always manage to sneak her out and escape to my grandmother’s hotel for a while but then they always send us back.
I don’t get punished for rescuing my sister. I think Dona Elena is afraid of my grandmother and my grandmother loves me very much. I enjoy being Marina’s hero except that she wants to hang out with me too much.
Marina isn’t hiding in my shadow for a change. I love her but she’s a pest. It’s embarrassing when I play with other boys and they complain that I’m bringing a girl, especially when I don’t even know she followed me.
Dona Elena doesn’t have much patience for her own daughter either. Blanca is very pretty and I love her but her mother is always talking to her about getting married. Yesterday Blanca yelled back and said she was going to marry the next man she met on the street. Then she slammed the door and left. I guess that means she isn’t going to wait for me anymore. I hope the man turns out to be nice. I also hope Blanca isn’t going to get locked up in the dark closet for being bad.
My dog is gone. My mother told me (before she left) that the coal man stole him. I don’t want a new one, especially after the incident with the angry dog at the candy store. Still, that leaves only my sister to play with now. Marina loves dogs and isn’t afraid of anything. Maybe I could get a cat, or maybe a parrot. I had a little burro but my grandmother sold him. I also had a little calf at my grandmother’s farm but he fell down the mountain and broke his leg. I think we ate him!
I have a stick I use to roll an old bicycle tire. I raced it with other boys, but not anymore. How many times can I guide the tire around the block anyway, especially uphill? We live near the bottom of our hill but not too near the edge. Sometimes I play near the edge and look down at Villa Maria, the village way below. It looks tiny but I’ve been there and know that when you drive there all of the small buildings and people grow to normal sizes.
We don’t drive very often but sometimes I like to push the starter buttons of cars parked on the street near the hotel. I get in big trouble if my grandmother finds out!
Our hill seems to go up forever but I know my grandmother’s hotel is at the top. I remember the time I used the guitar my grandmother had made especially for me, but as a sled, and how it disappeared as I slid. My grandmother said I had been very bad but Sara, the hotel cook, said I was just creative (although not to my grandmother’s face, no one says anything critical to her, especially to her face).
I wish I hadn’t been mean to Luis, Sara’s son! Now he isn’t allowed to play with me. My grandmother won’t let me play with the boys who live in the street either; especially after I played at “begging” with them. I was pretty good too. I got many five cent pieces.
Luis and I used to play all over the hotel, especially at hide and seek. A lot of the time it seemed we were invisible because no one seemed to see us, even when we were right in front of them; especially my grandmother.
Luis was my best friend until we found the razor blade. He dared me to cut him with it and I did. Only a very small, tiny cut, but I got into big trouble. I was very mad at him for telling on me, but sad at the same time, because my grandmother said I couldn’t play with him anymore.
My grandmother gives Luis all my old clothes. Sara, Luis’ mother, is very big and very black, unlike her husband, Jose, who’s skinny and pale. He’s a tailor – when he works. Sara once told me that she was going to feed me guts from chickens she cooked for us. I didn’t know that she was teasing so I stopped eating chicken. I still don’t!
My grandmother fired her for a while but then re-hired her. That happens a lot with the people who work for my grandmother, especially the handy-man. His name is Pedro and he can do almost anything but it’s hard for him to get along with people he works for. My grandmother says he’s very smart but doesn’t have any education so he’s very frustrated. I’m not sure what that means, but I like him.
I spend a lot of time in the hotel. Sometimes I’m allowed to order coca cola in the restaurant. I especially enjoy coca cola with empanadas at the hotel bar but I don’t get to go there very often. My uncle Francisco (we call him “Tio Pacho”) goes to the bar a lot but my grandmother says he’s very bad. He likes rum with his coca cola and the more rum he drinks, the funnier he becomes. He likes beer too. He gave me some one time but it was terrible. Sometimes my sister and I pretend coca cola makes us drunk but my grandmother doesn’t think that’s very funny.
My sister and I always stay at the hotel on Sundays. It’s my favorite day of the week. That’s why I named my lost dog “Domingo.” We play with my two aunts, Carola and Livia, when they’re not away at boarding school. On Sunday nights I sleep with my grandmother in the big bed in her very big room. Aunt Livia says I’m my grandmother’s favorite and makes fun of me. Carola says that’s because she’s jealous. She says Livia was the favorite before I was born. Carola doesn’t seem upset that I took over her little sister’s role as family favorite.
Sometimes Livia cooks for us. I especially love when she fries fresh, soft potato chips. She fries almost everything she makes. We go to the movies every Sunday, either at the beautiful big theater, the “Olympia,” or at the smaller theater by the park, the “Caldas.” My favorite movies are about two funny guys, one fat and the other skinny. They’re different sometimes. Someone told me the skinny one had gotten fat and the fat one had gotten skinny but that they were the same people. I’m not sure about that.
I also like movies that have a lot of fighting. I wonder what they’re saying. Movie people don’t know how to speak proper Spanish. On the walks home my aunts almost always buy us ice cream cones from vendors in the street. I have two best friends, they are Luis-Enrique and Carlos Alberto, twins, but they don’t look very much alike. We go to the movies together and once, we went to the same school. Sometimes we do things we know we shouldn’t and my grandmother gets very mad: like dropping water balloons from the third floor of the hotel, but other times we make kites out of newspapers, which don’t really fly all that well.
A long time ago my sister and I stayed in another hotel, very far away, with a friend of my grandmother’s. She either owned or managed it. That was right after my mom first left. I remember that there was a girls’ school nearby and that at lunch a lot of the girls would come and talk to me. Sometimes their teacher would be with them. She was very nice and very pretty. She also spent time talking with me but she would let me do a lot of talking too and I liked that.
I remember that I forgot to bring my toothbrush when we first went to live in that other hotel and that for a while I used my fingers to brush my teeth. I didn’t care about brushing my teeth at all but I still had to, even without a tooth brush. Then we went to stay at a school for ladies that wanted to become teachers. It was run by Mercedes, another friend of my grandmother. My grandmother had a lot of important friends, mainly women like her who didn’t have husbands anymore.
I remember that one of Mercedes’ daughters asked me whether I wanted to be her friend or her enemy. I didn’t know what “enemy” meant but it sounded pretty cool so I picked that. It was the wrong choice and she avoided me for a while, except when chores had to be done.
I remember there were a lot of open fields where I would usually play by myself. Then we came back to live with my grandmother again, but she was too busy, so we stayed in our own little house with our own nanny (except on Sundays). I heard one of the porters say that they were hiding us from my father, but that doesn’t make sense.
I remember when my mother told me that my father had gone to visit his parents in Venezuela and then, after a long time, when I asked when my father was coming home, she told me he had died from a fever. I don’t think that’s true. Not from the way my grandmother talked to my mother in the taxi when she didn’t think I was listening. But maybe he died and I just don’t understand. I’m not quite sure what being dead is anyway except that everyone always talks about Jesus being dead and then coming back to life in three days. They say Jesus lives in heaven which is on the ceiling someplace. Maybe my father will come back in another three days?
It isn’t raining. It rains almost every day at the same time but my grandmother says there is some kind of a rainy season and it’s ending. I remember a time when it didn’t rain every day but we lived in a colder place, in a large house with a large central courtyard. I remember that we had a car and a chauffeur; and that my father lived with us and built me a little car that really worked. But then my grandmother came and took me and my sister away. And then my mom came to live with us in our little house towards the bottom of the hill.
Then she left to live in the United States, the place where they make all the movies but can’t speak right. She’s been gone a long time. My aunts say she’s looking for a new father for us but I just want my old one back. Even though I’m not sure he’s really dead I pray to him for help sometimes, especially when I’m in trouble.
I stand up and slowly stroll through our small front yard. There’s no sign of Marina and I wonder where she is? I wonder what day it is and how many more days are left until Sunday? I’m still very bored! I wonder when I’ll be grown up? Grown ups aren’t bored. Why is growing up taking so long?
 © Guillermo Calvo Mahé, Ocala, Florida 2000. All rights reserved.