Sunday, May 18, 2008

Favorite Chapters II

Chapter 3 from Best of Two Worlds

Yanira parked her car half a block down the road from Abuela's house, since cars lined both sides of the road and they didn't find an empty place. She left the ignition on and kept nagging him about his life decisions. "Maybe you can work for my father at the gas station."
"I'm not going to work for your father."
She rolled her eyes. "What will you do? You quit school."
"I don't know yet, but I got a card from a sports agent today. He said I could give him a call if I wanted to play in a competitive team."
She looked stunned. "A team? Rancy, sports are for children. You need a real job."
He stared at the dashboard of her brand new Mustang. How could he explain this to her? "I didn't know if I still had the game in me, but maybe if I talk to this agent he can help me get into a professional team. Players make tons of money. My mom always said that's where the millions are."
She rolled her eyes again and pursed her lips. "Only if you're an NFL player. Give it up, Rancy, it's only a dream. There's no money for sports in Puerto Rico. You'll die of hunger. Or worse, you'll be traveling around and sleeping with women while your wife stays at home. That's not the life I want for me."
He didn’t say more because he knew she was right.
She allowed him a peck on her lips. He got out of the car, promised to visit her later and she was gone. She'd just taken off when Tío Luis parked his car down the road. Rancy waited to greet him and his cousins.
"Wepa, muchacho! Como estás, Pai?" his uncle said, rubbing Rancy's hair.
"Todo bien," he replied.
"Rancy!" Merangie called. She was his age. "Votaste? I have reason to believe the results of this referendum will be very interesting." Ever since she started studying journalism, politics had become her favorite subject of conversation.
Rancy had no idea what she meant. According to Alex, they had the same three options: Statehood, Commonweath and Independence. Instead of asking for more details, he took the easy way out. "No, I didn't get a chance to vote, but I might go later."
"We went before mass," Merangie said, "but my uncle, you haven’t met him, he’s my mother's brother. He didn't vote. He's Independentista."
"Rancy," Nadjalie, Merangie's younger sister, came up to them and kissed his check. The sappy sisters, Rancy thought. At least Nadjie wasn't into politics. She was the youngest of his first cousins. When she was a baby her skin looked so translucent and her head so bald the cousins called her Casper, but as her hair grew long and thick it was evident she was going to be a beauty. Now, at eighteen she often got stares and whistles from all of his dirty-minded friends.
"What are you up to these days?" he asked her.
"I signed up for the Miss Puerto Rico pageant."
"Really?" he looked at her. Sure, she was pretty but a pageant? Tío Luis looked annoyed.
"She signed up instead of applying to med school," Merangie explained.
"Will you go see me at the pageant?" Nadjie asked.
Usually he would have jumped at the opportunity of seeing beautiful women in bathing suits, but he cringed at the idea one of those women being his cousin. He couldn't picture her in a tiny piece of fabric which would surely expose the good amount of family genes on her backside. "Let me think about it."
His aunt finally reached them and together they walked down the few steps to the happy little house which had stood through good weather and hurricanes for over fifty years.
"Miren quien llego!" Abuelo called out from the balcony. He was sitting on a rocking chair, with a plate of food on his lap. Rancy's mother and father were sitting on white plastic chairs close to Abuelo, drinking coffee. Anjamely, three of his aunts and uncles and a few cousins were scattered around the marquesina, the open carport, which was now used as a terrace since neither grandparent drove.
He knew Merangie and Natjalie would take their time kissing and hugging every single member of the family, and he was hungry. Instead of waiting he kissed Abuelo's cheek, kissed his mother, waved hello the rest of the family and rushed toward the kitchen to find Abuela.
Abuela cut pieces of white cheese and placed them on a tray with crackers. She had her back to the door as Rancy entered. He caught her off-guard and hugged the tiny strong figure of his grandmother.
She turned around startled. "Hijo!" and then touching Rancy's hair, "Is it raining outside? Estás moja'o."
"No, suda’o. I was playing basket."
She smiled looking at him out of the corner of her eyes. "You boys always with the balls on your hands."
Rancy laughed out loud, caught by surprise at such a joke coming out of the mouth of his very proper, very Catholic grandmother.
"Hungry?" she asked grabbing a plastic plate from the stack over the microwave and serving him spoonfuls of yellow rice.
"Ah, you know exactly what I want," he said and grabbed a fork.
"There's turkey and pork in the oven. Which one you want?"
"Both, I’m hungry. I'll grab it," he said so she wouldn't get burned from the oven.
"You're going to shower before eating?"
He grabbed a dinner roll and ate half in one bite. "Didn't bring any clothes," he said with his mouth full.
"I washed some the other day. Check in Abuelo's dresser."
"I'll shower after I eat. I've have to go back to the school, to vote."
"Ah, yes. Referendum. Your mother took me and your grandfather this morning. Results will start coming out on TV soon," she peaked her head out the door to look into the living room. "Merangie turned the TV on. You can watch."
"I think I'll go sit outside. Thanks, Abuela," he said and kissed her cheek. "Oh, by the way, happy Mother's Day."

He passed by the living room on his way out. Merangie was sitting so close to the TV some of her hair caught by the static. The only other family members joining her in the living room were Tití Monsy and Merangely’s father, Tío Luis. They were arguing as if they were Capulets and Montagues, instead of the loving sister and brother everyone knew they were.
Merangie looked at Rancy with pleading eyes, as if asking him to do something to shut them up. Rancy shrugged, knowing there was nothing he could do. No one interfered with the aunts and uncles when they argued, especially if it was about religion or politics. He felt bad for his cousin after dismissing her earlier.
He looked out the window to the marquesina, where the cousins were singing and applauding the children who danced in the center, where the breeze made the air at least ten degrees cooler than inside the house, but instead of going out he crossed his eyes at Merangie, turned the wall fan on and sat next to her on the reclining chair. Not much seemed to be happening on the news, but Merangie seemed more at ease with his company. She turned back to the TV while Rancy dug into his plate and diverted himself with the argument taking place between his aunt and uncle.
"It's time for independence," Tío Luis argued.
"Independence will bring poverty. Look what happened to Cuba," Tití Monsy shouted back. "The only thing that saved us was the intervention of the United States."
"Their help was needed back in the 40's and 50’s when the depression hit us as hard and we couldn’t recover. Then Governor Luis Muñoz Marín met with President Roosevelt and they decided on the Commonwealth. Muñoz Marín knew the population was poor and hungry. We needed help but now the new generation is educated and can help us get ahead on our own," he gestured toward Merangie and Rancy.
"It's for them Puerto Rico should become a State. They get an education but what jobs will they find if the industries go away? How are the low and middle class students going to get educated without federal scholarships? True, Puerto Rico got ahead with Muñoz Marín, and then Kennedy wanted to make Puerto Rico a State, which would have been great but he didn't live to see the plan carried through. And look what has happened since then. One year a governor from the Statehood party wins and brings prosperity to the Island, and four years later a new governor from the Commonwealth gets elected and destroys everything the previous governor did. We are stuck in a mediocre economy and we are not going to advance until the status gets resolved."
Rancy had heard the argument a thousand times, with some members of the family siding with Tití Monsy, some with Tío Luis but most of them taking the neutral ground and supporting the Commonwealth. Rancy also favored the latter. He didn't mind the relationship with the United States. It had benefits. His scholarship, for once, and traveling back and forth the States, but he wasn't at all like the gringos. His heart was Puerto Rican. Boricua de pura cepa, like the sugar cane.
He finished his meal and put the plate on the side table.
"I can't believe you didn't vote," Merangie said, making him turn to face her.
"I'll go later. Why are you so worked up about it?"
"Well, for one, it decides the future of the Island."
"No, it doesn't. What difference does it make? You've heard your father arguing with Tití Monsy, and it's the same way with everybody else. Forty five percent of the population favors the Commonwealth and forty five percent favor the Statehood party. Only about six percent favors independence, but if it seems the Statehood is going to win, then the Independentistas vote for Commonwealth, so the Commonwealth always wins."
"Not this time," she said and bit her lower lip.
"Okay, tell me. What do you know?"
She smiled and her eyes brightened. "I'm not supposed to talk much about this, but I'll tell you."
Randy sat next to her on the floor in front of the TV. He stared at the TV while she looked at him as she spoke.
"I'm taking this class, Seminar in Journalism, and had to interview politicians for my final paper. My assigned topic was the pollution left by the Marines in Vieques after their removal."
"One more chance for the Independentistas to piss off the Americans," Rancy blurted, though he didn't care either way. It wasn't cool to have the Marines testing bombs in an island inhabited by people, but he wasn't in the Marines and he didn't live in Vieques. Tití Monsy insisted they should have left the Marines stay, because they brought protection to the Island, while Tío Luis argued they were destroying natural resources and killing the town's inhabitants, accident or no accident.
"I interviewed some dignitaries at Fortaleza and a comment escaped one of them regarding the death of the leader of the activist group."
"You mean when the FBI captured the guy who killed the sailors?"
"That's what I think he was talking about, but I wasn't sure because he was hushed by another member of his political party. The attack on the sailors happened before we were born, but the leader of the activists wasn’t captured until the FBI found him a couple of years ago."
"He murdered people. They shot him when he tried to escape."
"Remember, to the Independentistas he was a patriot, a war hero."
"Yeah, I suppose, if you look at it that way."
"Well, I was curious about the comment. I decided to keep on bringing the subject to other Independentistas. People in my family, neighbors, friends from college… and I wrote my final paper based on my theories."
"Which are?"
"The Independentistas claimed they were going to get revenge for the death of the activist leader. We all expected a blood bath, a bomb planted somewhere or something along those lines."
"Right. Mami didn't want me going out that entire week."
"Nothing like that happened, but it seems the Independentistas reached an agreement among themselves, which was not revealed to the press or even to the general public."
"Tell me," Rancy said, his eyes focused on every expression of her face. He wished he had that kind of passion for a 'real' profession.
"I believe they're going to boycott the referendum. Some of them will not vote, while some will vote for the Independent party."
"That's what they should do, anyway. Why is it a boycott?"
"Because the governor in house at the time their leader was murdered was from the Commonwealth."
"Oh, God! You mean…"
"I don't know if he knew, but the Independentistas are still pissed off."
Rancy held his breath. "This is big, isn't it?"
Merangie nodded. "Huge."
"So, what's going to happen?"
"The Commonwealth is on its own this time. From what I've heard it seems the Independentistas want to prove to the Commonwealth they can't keep on winning without them. They also want to prove to the Statehood party even if they win a referendum it doesn't mean the President and Congress will be willing to make Puerto Rico a State. I'm afraid their strategy could backfire. I think you should vote if you get a chance."
"I will."
"But for me," she said smiling, "my professor was impressed by my paper and she offered me a summer internship before I go to graduate school."
"Que cool! Good for you!" He didn't hug her, but she hugged him.
"Yeah, I'm happy. Just don't tell anyone about this. My professor said we have to wait until after the referendum, until we have concrete proof before we can attempt to publish an article like this."
Rancy looked around the living room. The only noise came from the TV, because Tití Monsy and Tío Luis were quietly listening to their conversation. Not only them, Abuela was halfway out of the kitchen. Rancy’s mother was standing by the front door and the cousins sitting on the balcony were talking in hushed voices. Since they all lived in different sections of town, he knew by nightfall the news was going to breach the outskirts of Moca and by next Sunday at mass a perplexed Merangie was going to receive congratulations on her appointment as anchor woman of the evening news.