- I was a mistake. While vacationing in Acapulco, my freethinking radical parents frolicked in a cheap Mexican hotel room, seven months before I was prematurely born. Mother was busy with a demanding social life, hence, unaware of me until three months after that steamy tequila-soaked night. By then, she was half way through her pregnancy.
Because my parents practically raised Lola, there was little joy for their firstborn. They carried doing what they had before me, attending important social and political meetings in the capital, while Lola raised me in our lower-middle-class subdivision.
Lola fed and dressed me. She cradled and wrapped me in her rebozo for our nightly walks around the community. The traditional time to gather news in the neighbourhood was after dinner, when residents walked past house after house, identical but for the colour, in the cool evening air, commenting on their day’s activities and what they saw or heard. It was how neighbours found out who got a new job and who got fired; who had a baby and who left home; who got engaged and who was looking for a husband.
Tonight, Lola reaches for her silk rebozo and fastens the fringed ends with a complicated knot. She brings the rebozo over her shoulder and tucks one end under her arm to create a pouch on her back. She normally uses this human backpack-style of cradling me when she needs to free her hands—at the market haggling over the price of beans and rice or at the butcher’s deciding which slice of meat to buy. On our nightly walkabouts, she always carries me in front. I don’t like piggy-back style in the dark, but I don’t cry. I’m a good baby.
Before leaving the house, Lola slithers into my parent’s bedroom, sprays Chanel #5 on her neck and in my face. It is a mistake to dodge to avoid the mist, for this leads her to believe I fell asleep in the rebozo. This emboldens Lola.
On the street, her stride quickens and her smile is a mouth-full of enamel and gold. She prefers to wear gold in her mouth than on a finger. She once told mom, “Jewelry and dresses can be lost or stolen. If a man wants to…he can demand his ring back. I make my men pay the dentist to pull one of my teeth and put a solid gold one in. I’m working on my seventh one.”
We make it to the postman’s house faster than ever before.
“Like an Aztec goddess, you and the Canadian baby appear.” Pedro lets us into his shack. Swaddled tightly against Lola’s back, I feel her temperature rise. She ignores the untidy state of the postman’s room. His clothes are on the floor and big burlap sacks full of letters to deliver are scattered in the hut.
Lola’s fidgeting makes me dizzy. “I’m returning your shirt,” she giggles. “I sewed the missing buttons, and I ironed it.” More jiggling giggles.
The postal worker admires his pressed shirt and looks at Lola with fire in his eyes. “You are a good woman. You would make a man like me very happy if you were to be my wife.” He gets closer, putting his arms around her shoulders and me; they are rough and heavy. A sudden thrust against Lola’s pelvis sends me bouncing in the rebozo, bumping my tiny head against the man’s developed arms.
Lola moans, mews, groans and, it gets hotter in the rebozo. I think she tries to say something but, the postman pushes us against the wall. “I can’t Pedro…not now…” Lola whispers.
Stepping back, his dark eyes cavernous, spitting daggers, he challenges, “Show me how you will be my wife.” He grabs Lola’s waist, hoists her skirt up and, in the silk rebozo, I am thrust into a blender of thumping, whooping, swooshing, plunging, quivering and, and…pushing the Richter Scale up a notch…sudden, heavy, sighing before slumping.
Gathering our bearings, Lola smiles and makes sure her newest gold tooth, the center incisor, shines. “Of course I’ll be your wife Pedro! You are a good man.” They kiss, trying to eat each other alive—I shake on her back.
Outside, a street vendor shouts, “Jícama! Jícama!” Judging by Pedro’s reaction, he must be very hungry.
“I love fresh fruit after fucking…I’ll get some jícama for us.” He rushes outside. Lola fixes the rebozo on her back and her golden smile illuminates the hovel.
Lover boy returns carrying a paper-cone full of a white tasteless fruit covered in chili powder and lime juice. Stumbling at the doorway, the top cubes of fruit roll on the floor. He picks them up, returns them to the tip of the heap and sits next to Lola, offering her a piece. He places a piece of jícama into her mouth and her jerky giggles make me nauseous. Pedro puts a cube into his mouth, sucks the lime and chili off and inserts the hard fruit into my toothless mouth. My next mistake is to pretend the revolting cube in my mouth is not sour and spicy because, I am a good baby. I do not cry. I suck on the fruit like a pacifier while Lola and Pedro sweet-talk, eat and tickle each other. I feel sicker by the second.
Having spent too much time with Pedro, Lola must run home before my parents return from the party. I am still on her back and the jumping and thumping make me feel vile. We take air and we plummet, take air and plummet. I vomit but, Lola is so sweaty she does not notice. Around the corner from home, she stops at the public water main to wash the perfume off and splash her face. She does nothing about me swaddling in puke. My parents drive into the garage as we slither through the back door unnoticed.
Lola rushes up to the nursery. Panicked after discovering me swimming in vomit, she dumps the rebozo in a bin with soiled diapers, takes my clothes off and, I vomit again. And again. The world is spinning by the time mother casually enters the room. I hear a panicked scream, far away, then the thump of mom fainting.
A distant voice mumbles, “She’s lucky.” The man stops talking, peeks into the room and moves away. I open my eyes. Long thin needles project from my arm, making me look like a porcupine, and the white cotton gown I wear makes me look like a ghost. Above my crib dangle clear bags with liquid and at the far end of the clinical green room, I see my father fast asleep on a cot. It smells like alcohol.
Although the room is tranquil, the commotion outside indicates urgency. People wearing white caps with red crosses poke me, fiddle with my needles and insert a cold stick down my throat. I hear the man with a moustache, the one poking and examining, say, “She’s a real fighter this one. After such dehydration, most children would not make it.” The short lady with her hair in a bun squeals, “Well done little one! Without your help, we could not have saved you!” An old woman dressed in black, reaches for my tiny hand and prays pronouncing me a creature from Heaven. Then, darkness.
In the fog, I distinguish dad’s muddled whispers, “We can’t blame anybody; there was no way of knowing…jícama washed in contaminated water. Risks infants face…living in foreign places. Her immune system will develop…eating what everybody else does...”
Fuzzy, I open my eyes. I see my parents and Lola standing by the crib, ecstatic that I am awake. Their faces welcome me back into this world with love and gratitude. “I don’t know what I would have done if my baby ever got sick again!” mother cries.
Though they are a motley crew indeed, unmistakably, they are my crew and, I am certain, we will learn to grow happily together.