It came easily to Nina. She was used to people. She remembered her Miraflores home, a continent away --always full of friends-- friends she left when her father decided he wanted her to go to college in the United States.
He chose San Francisco, because his old friends, the Leiva family, had settled there,
Ellos te van a cuidar, is how he explained his choice to Nina. And the Leivas were eager to open their home to her! A gregarious people, they celebrated birthdays and every holiday of the USA, Perú and many of their own. As supportive as they were of her scholastic activities, they were delighted when the young Peruvian, Etienne, started coming around.
Tan buenmozo. Tan distinguido, tan...tan...tan!!!!
She married him, he also liked people. They rented in-law apartments in the homes of families as friendly as themselves. They bought their own little house and had children and just as fast a traffic accident took him away.
For Nina, LATELY, the voice in her head had become more persistent, reminding her of when the two-bedroom house was too small. When, Mom, traje una amiga, happened all the time. Remember? ¿Recuerdas? Little women hairdos. And the voice added: Make-up. Heart to heart talks. Their smiles.
The teen-age lingo. The long hair. Remember? ¿Recuerdas? The voice woke her
up nights. Nina would look at the clock, 2:30. Would get up, use the
bathroom, back to bed. Darn, she missed them. Remember? ¿Recuerdas? The
barrettes scattered around the house. Not being able to ever stock up enough
nylons or mascara. Remember? ¿Recuerdas? The girls constant, unending
telephone conversations. Nina heard herself saying, Remember? ¿Recuerdas?>> ahead of the voice.
As the girls grew up all they had to do was bring one friend each and the house was filled to capacity. Nina remembered. It had become an obsession. A phone call would make her cry and laugh. A letter would only deepen the pain.
THAT'S WHY TALKING to Liza was like catching a ray of sunshine in the middle of a blizzard. She had the same faraway dreamy look of her girls when talking about the future, about her husband: Has been in the States only ten years. His parents own the Liquor store at Eureka Square. We also bought a deli, in Pacifica, at the little shopping center on Balbina Street.
Stop by soon. Liza had said it with a warm smile. Nina needed no more. She was quick to accept invitations, to return a smile and had a most sonorous, joyous
laugh. People always said: Listen to you. It must be what keeps you young.
Liza and Nina did alright. Liza was saying: My husband talks about going back. Living in the Middle East, I would go. You know? Her tone accentuated the question mark and the shade of fear at the bottom of her eyes. But their ideas, his ideas, are so different. She paused looking for the right words.
Then continued: Men and women in his country don't really live together, he tells me. Little girls are brought up almost exclusively by women. And older women...older women teach the young ones, and she giggled, the boys.
The tone of her voice made Nina search for the meaning of her words. She looked directly into Liza's eyes and found them embarrassed,unwilling to elaborate. Is she talking about sex? Is it about, sex? She thought, and decided better not to ask.
Then, relaxing, but you know, Nina? and bringing her voice to a whisper, she leaned over, They are very careful who they hire as nannies, or house servants. As she went on, her hip inched towards Nina just a bit and her left shoulder lost its angle and caused her hair to fall over to the side like a curtain, drawing them together.
Another day, as they waved from driveway to driveway Liza yelled: my in-laws are visiting, motioning to the elderly couple whom she was helping into her car. My mother-in-law goes to visit relatives, but my father-in-law spends every day at the store with us. Stop by, soon.
A letter from Mariela had arrived that very morning. Nina thought, I'll share it with Liza. Yes, a friendly warm moment of conversation. Just what I need! The thought brightened her day. Nina could hardly wait.
On her way home, Nina made a detour, stopped at the tiny deli on Balbina Street. Got out of her car and...Liza saw her through the store's front window and hastily ran out to meet her. Nina hugged her. Liza, who was facing the store, froze. Nina followed her glance and saw the two men inside the store had positioned themselves near the door. Nina felt awkward; this was so unlike what she had expected. She had imagined being invited in, she had imagined all of them sitting down sharing cool refreshments. Where were these peoples' sense of hospitality?
Liza didn't make any attempt at hospitality. She kept a smile on her lips, as if it were a shield. Nina, puzzled, nervous, disoriented, pulled Mariela's letter out of her pocket. Liza glanced towards the store's glass front out of the corner of her eye, as if she was afraid of those inside, her husband her father-in-law.
Nina lifted her eyes from the letter she was sharing with Liza -- without the joy she had anticipated-- only to find the two men staring at her. She had seen men
standing like that. Once, turning a street corner into an unknown neighborhood before she even knew what was happening, she had seen men looking like that. Standing like that. Standing as if they suspected danger, danger that they might be called to fight off. The men's eyes were full of distrust, a scowl of half
circles around their mouths. Their bodies stiff, firmly planted, legs
solidly spread apart...
Camincha is a pseudonym for a California-based writer.