- Fiction, Folio, Reading, Writing

Roots and Routes, by Carmen Bardeguez-Brown

 

Hungry Ghost

“Time flies over us but leaves its shadow behind.”
—Nathaniel Hawthorne

 

It has been so long.

Five hundred years?

I remember it as if it was yesterday. Is so cold in here.

Shango.

Obatala.

Don’t you see my tears?

These heavy chains cutting my flesh.

Strange tongues, like mosquitos buzzing.

I’m drenched in sweat and blood.

This boat.

I can still taste the cod Iya cooked with the yam. It was salty as the ocean the giant river flows into, the river that sometimes splashes in my face when another dead body is thrown away.

I was captured.

I was kidnapped.

I was taken.

Yemaya.

Yemaya.

Why are you silent?

Can’t stand the smell of vomit, of blood, of the constant defecation of all of us cramped in this eternal fear.

Worse than animals. Iya never kept our roosters, chickens, or goats trapped like this.

Never.

Never.

What awaits me?

I saw a woman carrying her dead baby as she jumped from the boat when the three white ghosts took some of us upstairs to see the sun. She dragged a few with her but it was as if they all wanted to be swallowed by the waters of Yemaya.

I saw big worms coming from people’s skins while the white ghosts looked at them with disgust.

One by one walking quickly in silence except for the piercing sound of the heavy metal dragging against the wood floor. Black bodies adorned with worms crawling all over them. How many were thrown into the blue giant river? Nobody said a word.

Orishas, why are you silent?

I am dead.

Yes, I must be dead.

My family will never know what happened to me. They will forget me.

I will become a story to scare the little ones so they will listen to their mothers and fathers. I will become a memory or maybe nothing.

It was just another day.

Iya asked me to get yams for her to bring to our Babalao because she had a bad dream and many people in our village were worried of rumors about white ghosts coming to capture and kill people and then disappear. On my way to get the yams, I saw Alake and Ige, and we played a little.

I remember seeing the ghosts walking fast. Carrying hard sticks that make explosions. Alake fell to the ground, and I could not see Ige.

I ran as fast as I could.

There was so much confusion.

I was awakened by one of the ghosts. Placing two big, round, heavy metal things on my feet, he screamed at me, hellish sounds I don’t understand.

This is my punishment for not listening to Iya.

She told me to get the yams and not waste time playing around.

I am here on this boat.

I must be dead. But no, no!

I need to stay awake.

Stay awake.

Stay awake.

In this world of the dead.

 

Fufu

“All that we are is the result of all that we have thought.”
—Buddha

 

Mami, do you want to eat at the African restaurant?

Which one?

The one on One Hundred Twenty-Fifth and Malcolm X Boulevard.

Ay, mija, African? Why not un plato de arroz con habichuelas y unos platanitos por el lado con una buena ensalada de bacalao?

Well, Mami, that is also African.

You forget you are Puerto Rican.

Puerto Ricans are Africans, too. Versions of the Diaspora.

No, mija. ¿De donde tu sacas tanto disparate? We are Taínos, Spaniards, and—

Yes, Mami, and the Africans the Spaniards enslaved and brought to the Americas after they killed most of the Taínos.

Angelica, por Dios. We are a mixed culture.

Yes, of course, Mami, if nobody mentions the Africans.

Jesus, Maria, y José.

I am very proud of our Puerto Rican heritage including the African—

¿Y tu abuela, donde esta?

Angelica and her mother burst out laughing as they always do when they talk about Puerto Rican culture.

Mami Cuomo said we can eat at restaurants now. And you’re vaccinated so you don’t need a mask.

Yes, I am but you are not. You take so many risks. Last year, going to all those demonstrations right in the middle of the pandemic.

I know this virus is bad, Mami. I mean, Josefa y Miguel.

Ay, si, Josefa esta bien. Yo hablo con ella y me deja comida por la mañana antes de ir a trabajar.

Pero pobre Miguel y tan joven, tan sacrificado. Trabajando todo el tiempo y no se cuidaba de la alta presión. Bueno ahora esta descansando.

A few coworkers got it, too.

Yes, but estan vivos.

I know, Mami, but some are still struggling. Pandemic or no pandemic, the world we knew is done. We need to change. I am not sure how, but we need to change. I am not putting that shit in me. I don’t trust Big Pharma. I will follow sensible health guidelines and hopefully soon this pandemic will be over. Anyway, we need to celebrate.

What are we celebrating? That I am old and fragile?

No, Mami, we are celebrating being together for the first time in over a year! And that I will stay a few days with you.

This is your home, Angelica, and you can stay as long as you want.

Angelica walked toward her mother, who was sitting in the plastic slipcovered recliner her husband bought her shortly before his sudden death. Hugging her, Angela sighed, feeling her mother’s tears on her own face.

 

What Is a Dream?

“Quantum physics teaches us that we can simultaneously exist in many places, under certain conditions.”
—Amit Ray

 

Angelica woke up, sweating. Walking to the kitchen to get a glass of water, she found her mother in the living room doing her daily rosaries.

¿Porque te levantastes?

No se, Mami. Tuve un sueño un poco raro. Why are you doing the rosary so late?

Nunca es tarde para hacer el rosario. Dios siempre escucha nuestras oraciones. Esta abierto twenty-four-seven.

Angelica smiled.

Mami, I thought you threw this away, Angelica said, lifting up a Kente cloth shawl on the sofa.

It’s old, like maybe eight years?

It’s beautiful! You young people throw away everything old. I kept it here to feel closer to you.

Angelica smiled.

Cuéntame, hija.

Well, it’s strange. It’s as if I knew this girl, a beautiful black girl. Her beautiful caoba skin.

Maybe one of your students in Namibia and Nigeria.

Could be, but no, Mami. I don’t know this girl.

¿Que tu quieres decir?

I’ve never seen such an intense stare.

The girl was in a dark place mumbling “Yemaya.” And then, god, Mami, she looked at me, stared at me. I saw myself in her eyes and she saw me in hers! And then I jumped awake. It was intense.

Ay, no me digas que es un trabajo. Mañana llamo a la comadre ella tiene una botanica y sabe de to eso.

The girl, her pain, I could feel it. I could feel her pain.

 

Remembrance

“Quantum physics tell us that no matter how thorough our observation of the present, the (unobserved) past, like the future, is indefinite and exists only as a spectrum of possibilities. The universe, according to quantum physics, has no single past, or history. The fact that the past takes no definite form means that observations you make on a system in the present affect the past.”
—Stephen Hawking
No te vayas sin comer algo, Angelica. ¿Vas a ver a Anacaona?

Si, Mami, Angelica said, rubbing her sunken eyes. I want answers, about my dream.

Dios te Bendiga, mi hija. ¿Que quieres que te cocine hoy?

Tostones y bacalao. I’m late, Mami.

Ah, ahora si.

Jaja, mami, tu si.

Te lo voy a cocinar con aguacate y mucha cebolla como te gusta a ti y a tu papa, que en paz descanse.

Bye, Mami.

Dios te Bendiga.

Angelica walked toward La Marqueta. Anacaona’s small bookstore is right in between just a makeshift store next to the Metro North. She started singing:

Babalu Ache
Orishas bembete
Ay denme la porcion
Orishas swirl Ache
Ay Yemaya
Ay Yemaya
No te olvides de mi
Yemaya
No te olvides de mi
Yemaya

Angelica couldn’t believe what was coming out from her mouth. She felt as if someone was giving her this song. She crossed the quiet street since there weren’t too many cars on the road. It was early and Anacaona asked her to come as early as she could because she had a lot of work to do.

She saw the bright welcome blue sign of Anacaona’s corner bookstore. She knocked on the dilapidated wood door and realized that the door was opened.

Anacaona.

I’m here in the back.

You left the door opened. You need to be careful. I mean things are a little—

Yeah, I know. All the homeless want is food and they know me and know I don’t have any money with me. And I only have books and they don’t want books; they want poison in their veins. So, tell me, what is up with your dream?

Angelica sat down on the floor next to the staircase.

Is this your coffee? From today?

Yes, it’s a little cold.

It’s okay. I need something to keep me awake. I have not slept well since I had that well, you know. Angelica sipped the cold coffee. Attending to the books she had to ship that day, Anacaona attentively listened to Angelica’s narration of her dream.

So, what do you think?

Well, nena, you got yourself a visitation. It doesn’t seem that she is you but that she wants to talk to you. Wow, that is great, Angelica.

Are you kidding, what is so great, to be visited by a ghost?

No. No, she is an ancestor, and she is probably lost. Her pain and anguish probably stopped her from leaving this earthly plane. You know, like a hungry ghost. She needs to find her way home.

A hungry what?

A hungry ghost, I think. I am not sure, but it is obvious that it is related to her traumatic physical death and not being honored as an ancestor.

But why the fuck me?

Well think about it, Angelica. Ever since I met you, you have always fought racism, fought for social justice here and in Puerto Rico and you even spent years teaching in Nigeria. You have a real desire to create a just world, maybe you can help her rest. Our souls are eternal, and her soul seems to be restless and in anguish.

Yes, sure, but why me?

Have you ever wondered why you had such a strong commitment to work toward ending racism and achieving social justice?

I mean, yes. What are you asking me? Look at what is going on! It’s like things change and things stay the same.

My friend, the ultimate freedom is the freedom of the soul to recognize that we are all one and that love is the only thing that unites all of us. We are a long way to reach that point. We need to acknowledge our sins and pay respect to the ancestors that were tragically killed by greedy people. We need to free those haunted souls in order for all of us to be free.

It’s a mystery.

The sins of the past are haunting our present and will hunt our future if we don’t recognize that we are souls navigating a human experience. Love knows no boundaries or time. Love is eternal and only through its physical manifestation will we be able to improve our past present and future life on this mother earth. As Carl Sagan said, we all live or have lived on this pale blue dot. For some reason, you are both connected, and you must help her find peace so she can finally move on her journey.

Okay, Anacaona Yoda.

Now help me put the books over there because I need to ship them out today.

So that’s it.

Yes.

I mean, if you are right, then how do I help her? I can’t believe I’m saying that.

Let me text a few people and see what they say. In the meantime, say prayers and rosaries send her love. Tell your mother, I know Dona Carmen is always doing her rosaries.

Yeah, my mother will love that. By the way, mami, I need you to pray for the ghost of an African girl that needs to find peace.

Anacaona stopped organizing the books and turn to look at Angelica. She couldn’t help but smile at Angelica’s perplexed stare. They look at each other and laugh.

It will all be okay, Angelica. No pienses mucho, is all good.

 

Note: This fiction part of Big Other’s Puerto Rican Writer’s Folio: A Hauntology

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Carmen Bardeguez-Brown is a poet and educator from Puerto Rico. She is the author of Straight from the Drums; Dreaming Rhythms: Despertando Silencios; and Lo que aprendí al otro lado del mundo, a collaboration with Julio César Paz. Her poems are featured in ¡Manteca! An Anthology of Afro-Latin@ Poets, and Musings During a Time of Pandemic: A World Anthology of Poems on COVID-19. Bardeguez-Brown’s work is also featured in Latino Poets in the United States, an award-winning documentary, and has been widely performed and celebrated.

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