Machete swinging, back bent over logs twice as tall as me.

Feet the kind of dirty that sinks into my skin, sap stains from the wood stand out, darker still, on my ankles.

Skin fair, pale in comparison to the millions around me, I stand out in the streets. Whistles I ignore. I meet the curious, sometime apprehensive gazes of the women, the children. Smile, nod, wave, sometimes.

Spanish the soundtrack of my days, I’m aware, attentive to language barriers around me. Listening for new words, phrases, I translate for those who speak less than I do, spend the hours mentally reviewing my own mistakes, cataloguing ways I can improve yet more.

Ladle in hand, I scoop black beans into bowl after bowl. Tens, sometimes hundreds of children pass the table, dark fingers offering me their dishes; I greet them, pausing a moment as the savory beans settle into their dishes. I meet their eyes, trade words like handshakes, repetitive yet unique, and then they move on.


The air is calm as I walk home, and I sink, a little relieved, into the anonymity of one among diversity. Yet I’ve traded the excuse to cordiality in exchange for this ability to blend, and nearly alone on a wide, quiet street, I pass others almost awkwardly; I don’t know where to look, and here we don’t greet.

There’s English, of course, but I catch myself creating Spanish responses in my mind, feeling mildly unsettled, paranoid that I might forget what I know, that I might lose words that rarely grace my tongue.

There are buildings all around, tracing the backbone of the lake. The clouds feel higher, my own vantage point lower, less like a bird, more like a mouse.

That’s Chicago.

Tomorrow, it’s another plane. Another ascent, rising higher, far beyond the flat underbelly of fat white clouds. Another descent, the rush of the plane roaring down the runway, brakes heavily engaged, in the fleeting moments after landing.

Tomorrow, it’ll be mountains once more, this time Californian peaks forming a green ring around Lake Tahoe.

And there will be cousins, aunts, uncle, grandparents. Beach days on the hot sun, alongside brilliant blue, toe-chilling water.

That’ll be Tahoe.

And it’s 2am on the one day spent between two other worlds, and the thread I find, the thread I pull and hold fast to, pulling it like a uniting line between Guatemala, Chicago, Tahoe, is the bunkbed I occupy every night.

Guatemala, Chicago, California: we eat and we live and we sleep. And all these places, all these worlds, I climb, late, into the top bunk, pulling blankets to my shoulders. And my ear pressed to the mattress, I imagine I can hear- or maybe I really do- the breathing of the ones beneath me, the ones living, sleeping, around me.



2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. myislandjourneys
    Jul 26, 2014 @ 01:00:40

    Love this, Natalie :) I find myself thinking of Indonesian replies when I’m in Chicago, just like you do with Spanish.


  2. Grandma S.
    Jul 26, 2014 @ 08:45:38

    Very nicely put, Natalie. Have a great time in CA!


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