In a fit of blogging uninspiredness—not for lack of deliciously wonderful achingly joyful moments spent of late with family and friends—I’ve decided to begin a new “series” of sorts (whether or not this will the be the first, and last, or one of a string of such posts is tbd). What could be more inspiring than the people we’ve come across in our lives, some ever so briefly, others for a longer period of time? Most of them live in my little head, unknown to those who surround me. It thought I’d try to paint a picture with words of some of those who live in my memories, give them a bit of fresh air for it is a bit close tucked in there all the time…
~~~~ Luisa ~~~~
I think her name was Luisa, although I don’t remember, or perhaps I never knew. It sounds right, though, the way it slides over my tongue and from my lips, sweet and gentle.
I greeted her not with words but with kisses on each cheek, her skin powdery soft and fragrant with lilacs and soap. I yearned to remain there forever, or at least a moment longer than was necessary.
We spoke in Spanish always, for she did not speak a word of English, her accent educated yet softly toned with age, her words fading in and out, her gestures slow and graceful. I loved to speak with her, to listen to her, and savored our visits.
She arrived one day at my door accompanying her daughter, who was caring for children down the block. “Can you keep Mamá for awhile?” she asked, the heat and chaos of small children too much for the now elderly woman. I smiled widely and moved aside, beckoning the small woman in and reaching with my arm to help her up the stairs.
I was alone that long hot summer afternoon, my children across the ocean with their father, save the last one, who filled my belly and kept me from sleeping during the long nights of my unaccustomed solitude. I’d slipped out early from work, and was delighted to join her in the shade of my back yard, leaning close as she swung in her seat under the maple, listening to her tales as we shared sips of limonada and the click-click-click of her knitting needles shared the rhythm of her words.
At first I was aware of her physical presence–the long perfectly formed silver braid which snaked around her neck and down one side of her shoulder, the flowered dress which covered her small body and the sweater which she wore despite the heat. I noticed the swelling of her ankles and looked to my own, the pregnancy and the heat making them heavy and thick.
She was lovely, and I was mesmerized. Hers was a beauty that only deepened with age, guarding an exquisiteness of feature and expression that made one certain that as a young woman she had drawn many an eye. She had a certain gaity, a teasing insouciance about her, that recalled, no doubt, the spirited youth she had been. Her voice was soft and frail until she began to tell me of her past, the life coming into her eyes like mercury pools, sparkling and drawing me in until soon I was there with her, in that small village in Peru.
She was a young girl, a good girl, studious and obedient. In a few years she would become a teacher, then a principal of a school for girls where she served devotedly until her retirement. But most of all now, at the time she described to me, she was in love. It had been a terrible passionate love such that one can know only when one is equally full of innocence and desire.
He was her age, from the village, and their chaste courtship was brief and intense, correct on the surface but wild and passionate within. Even though they saw one another each day, they exchanged letters which etched their desire on paper, fragrant and pressed secretly inside their school books. When she was with him she felt dizzy and when she found him waiting for her in the alley on her way home from school she could not help but slip her hand in his and walk the rest of the way with her body tucked against his. But this could not be. Prohibido this love, she was forbidden from seeing him, for no reason other than that her parents had another man in mind, and soon she was married to him.
The one they’d chosen for her, the father of her two daughters, was—she said with a sneer, her eyes darkening and her expression growing uncharacteristically hard—a sinvergüenza, a man with no shame who drank and spent the little money he had. A man who never loved her and whom she never loved.
Being the obedient girl she was, she bore the burden of her husband’s antics, his drunken rages, his lack of tenderness, dedicating herself to her children and her school, until one day when she was told that her love, the one she still dreamed of each night as she lay alongside her snoring husband, had died. It was as if she’d been stuck with a thousand needles, she told me, the longest one spearing her heart. She held up the knitting needle as if to stab herself in the chest and I nearly reached for it to stop her.
The sadness, she told me, her voice now low and sombre, was unbearable, inaguantable. To think that he was no longer there robbed from her any hope, however faint, of ever knowing happiness again.
Until one day.
Alone in the library of the school, she was standing on a wooden ladder which rested against a tall bookshelf. Lost in her thoughts of the books she held in her hands, of the tasks she had ahead of her, out of nowhere she heard him, heard his voice as he called her name. “Luisa… Luisa…” She knew at once that it was him, and twisted around quickly, fully expecting him to be there, but as she did her foot slipped on the thin rung of the rusticly carved ladder and she fell backwards, tumbling down from her high perch.
“I felt his arms, his hands warm and strong and wrapped around my waist as he caught me and held me and eased me to my feet.” She tossed her head back with abandon, sighing deeply and I the two of us remained there, suspended, our hearts pounding in unison. She called my name, and leaned forward, reaching for my hands and looking me intently in the eye. “Estaba allí…He was there.”
He. Was. There.
The next day she made a ceviche for me, making a special trip to bring it, and it was the most delicious thing I’d ever tasted, prepared with love. I sat alone under the tree eating it and remembering her tale, saddened by the fact that she’d been separated from him yet enraptured by the magic which reunited them.
She went back to Peru soon after and then I too traveled, never to see her again. Years later I heard that she’d died, after a long and difficult period spent suffering with illness and sadness. Que en paz descanse...
I remember her face and her twinkling eyes and I can almost feel myself tumbling back in the void, his grasp around my own waist, warm and firm, secure. Surely she is in his embrace, reunited en amor eterno.