The night of the firecrackers

by Roberto Ruiz Rebo

Translated by Karlyn Ochoa Skinner MA, Ed / BA, Spanish. From: Adriano, the color of the diaspora

That night, when Adriano and Longina arrived at the Shattuck Way Apartments, the shootings and explosions had escalated. The city was filled with flashes, explosions, and people screaming. From his apartment, gun shots and the sirens of police cars could be heard in a constant wail. At times, the glow of fireworks, the luminosity of blazes and street fires were seen in the sky. Adriano told Longina to be cautious and wait for the right moment to return home.

    —I don’t think you should leave yet with the situation in the streets. I think it’s dangerous. You better get ready to stay here tonight –he suggested, dressed in wide-legged shorts and a tattered sweater with a couple of holes under his arms.  

    ––I wouldn’t dare, Adriano. At home, they are waiting for me to eat, especially Danielle. I don’t want to have any problems with my family. Danielle is very jealous, and she always keeps track of me.

She seemed a little out of sorts. She was all dressed up and had even touched up her makeup, ready to go back home, but the loud noises of the explosions and the howl of the police cars that could be heard even inside his living room apartment, were keeping them on edge.

–Can’t you hear what’s out in the street, dear?

–I’m sure the police are trying like crazy to control the protest, especially those unruly types that want to turn the city upside down.

–Those police have their hands full if the unruly guys are armed.

–Of course, they are armed, and I’m sure that they are also shooting at the police and everyone who’s out there. So, the best thing is for you to stay here tonight.

–No, my love, I don’t want to have any problems with my family.

In that moment, an explosion in the distance could be heard and a glow could be seen above the roof tops of the houses and the buildings as if it were a type of fire. The horns and sirens of the police cars filled the atmosphere again while shots and random shootings could be heard.

–The night is awful, my dear. It would be better for you to stay –he suggested again.

–No, Adriano. I don’t think that’s a good idea –she insisted as the doorbell rang.

When Longina opened the door, she ran into the face of Anne Porter, the neighbor in apartment 203, who was dressed in red sports shorts and a white striped, tightly fitting red blouse. She was holding in her hand a blue leash tied to the neck of an Afghan Hound with vivacious and aristocratic eyes. Upon seeing Longina, the lady was rather surprised as if she had knocked at the wrong door. Nevertheless, she gathered herself and asked for Adriano. Longina invited her in, but the lady continued to doubt.

–Don’t worry. I live in the apartment next door. I only wanted to say hi to Mr. Núñez –the lady said, somewhat disturbed–. I was on my way out, but another neighbor recommended that I stay inside the building.

Upon hearing the conversation, Adriano approached his neighbor to greet her.

–They say that they have since yesterday several detainees and an armed fugitive–Anne Porter said after greeting her neighbor –I was leaving just now with my dog, Josephine, but…. They advised me not to go out to the street –she repeated.

–Yes, we saw the chaos from the car when we were coming back to the apartment and since then the shots and the explosions have not stopped –Adriano said.

–That won’t stop now. Surely, they’re not going to stop until tomorrow –the woman assured –. I only wanted to say hi to you, and later I will bring you a treat that I just made.

After a brief conversation, Anne Porter turned halfway around and left strutting in her tightly fitted clothing. Instinctively, Adriano watched his neighbor strut her way out, followed by her aristocratic hound.

–Dad had already been talking at the house about the renter next door –Longina said after closing the door.

–Yes, she came to meet me one day when your dad was here –the man admitted.

–Well, I should be careful because it seems that she is needy –the woman affirmed with a sarcastic tone in her voice as she walked toward the bedroom.

Adriano entered the kitchen and got ready to prepare two cups of tea so as to appease that moment. She grabbed the phone, and smiling, she walked inside the bedroom. On top of the center table, two sticks of incense placed in an incense holder were releasing a faint column of smoke of an unmistakable smell of sandalwood that invited peacefulness. Adriano brought a tray with two cups of tea, he put it on the table and made himself comfortable on the couch. When Longina returned from the bedroom, her face was lit up and she had changed into a light robe. He was sitting on one of the arm chairs in the living room, across from a ceramic tea pot with the cups of tea that were already steaming on the silver plated tray. It was placed on top of the little table in the center.

–Alright! I’m gonna stay tonight. You’re right –the lady said, and she placed a kiss on his lips.

–Way to go…! What did you say to Alma Rosa?

–She told me that there haven’t been any problems over there, but that they are worried about the shootings. Tomorrow, I have to leave early –she said as she was falling on to the couch with one of the cups of tea in her hand.

–I think that we should resolve this matter. We can’t keep on living in secret –Adriano said, and he got close to her.

–It’ll be better if we’re not in a hurry –she replied –it’s a matter of time.

–Something keeps happening to me with this situation, and whenever I talk to your dad, he recommends that I look for company. That embarrasses me, and you don’t want me to tell him that I already have company, and that company is you. Do you think that he’s going to be ok with that?

–Look, I’m not sure of that. I haven’t even yet settled my marriage situation and I know that my dad is rather strait-laced. Many times, he is very strict. His is also controlling with my sister and with me, more than with Mom.

–But he has to realize that I’m not going to hurt you in any way, and not anyone –Adriano said trying to calm her fears.

So, he wrapped her in his arms, he placed a kiss behind her ears and dragged her to the sofa where he took off her robe, leaving her only in her underwear.

In that moment, Longina’s cell phone rang, and she grabbed it, half naked. She left toward the bedroom, almost trotting, trying to avoid her lover’s presence.

–Yes…Are you ok, my dear…? –it was Danielle, her youngest daughter– Did you already eat…? I’m at a friend’s house…No, don’t worry, I’ll be home early tomorrow morning….Go to bed early…..I love you, too….Good night….Longina blew a kiss in the air, put the cell phone on the little table in the center and returned next to Adriano.

Without wanting to, he overheard Longina’s entire conversation, and he became worried because he felt that they didn’t need to be secretive with each other. He also thought that it was time to take the next step in the relationship, which he felt already had mutually caring, respect and understanding. He was thinking that in the future the relationship would perhaps evolve into more than it had been up to that time.

Now, Longina had returned next to Adriano on the couch, and had covered her breasts with the robe that she had picked up from the floor. He wrapped her in his arm and drew her close to his nude body until their faces met close enough for a kiss.

–It would be good if Ignacio and Alma Rosa knew about our relationship –he proposed in a soft voice.

She said nothing, she looked away and then stared at him. She smiled reservedly and gave him a kiss on the surface of his lips. She unleashed a torrent of words that surged from her soul:

<<I’ve been focusing on everybody else, on the responsibilities of my job, amidst white walls, amidst sick people who expect my best without me being able to expect anything more than their well-being. That made me feel happy and amidst all of that, I have put up with misunderstandings, personal clashes, bribery attempts, and jabs at my own performance. I left Cuba with the idea of returning to help my family, and to see my daughter, Laura Elena, grow up. I left there due to necessity and the lack of a world where life was more kind. I started to feel peace inside myself, in a country that I rejected but later was a peaceful site, my home, my refuge. Andrew Bhagwadin was that oasis where I found oxygen that my life had been crying out for since I was born. He gave me a daughter, he gave me my well-being, he gave me confidence, he gave me the strength to feel that I was able to move forward without asking for permission. With him alongside me, I progressed in my profession, I built my house, I formed a family with wonderful people who had different customs than mine. I added to these wonderful people my roots and my loved ones. They are now part of my life and my story. But I should say that life is unpredictable and that habits are like a malignant virus that wears out, that crumbles and that transforms something beautiful into something without purity. In the last few years, I’ve taken care of my daughters, my grandson, my husband, my patients, and I have forgotten about myself. Everyone else has forgotten about me. In all these years, time has taken small things, those tiny essential things like a smile, like words of love and sex. When I arrived in this country, I was dead, I didn’t know I was dead. I saw you and right away I knew that there was something more than what I had lived through up to that point in time. When I kissed you, I discovered that there was something else, that there was something more than family, more than children, more than Andrew. I don’t know how I’m gonna resolve this dilemma of mine. I don’t know what comes next. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I feel alive, I feel free, I feel like a ship at my leisure. Please, give me time. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m going to be this way until life brings about something else. Please, don’t pressure me, let me live this secret. If what we have is found out now, perhaps everything will become a lot worse.>>

Longina said the last word and remained silent. Nevertheless, she was slightly short of breath. She was afraid of losing that beautiful feeling that she had received from her life and that had rescued her from boredom. Adriano realized that two large tears were rolling down her cheeks and her eyes had become red from all of the emotion. So, he took one of her hands and with her other one, he lifted her chin until they were staring into each other’s eyes.

–My love, take all the time you need –he said–, but at least tell them everything that you have told me. I’m sure that your mom and dad will be your best allies. Oh….and also tell them that I love you.

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