Muslin. From Persia, I said, holding up an old, polyester, off-white piece of cloth.
The audience was appreciative, but quiet. Still not very impressed, I thought.
My new neighbors fascinated me. They had blond hair. In a sea of dark-haired, brown-eyed people much like myself, their hair color was enough to make them interesting. But there were other things. Their huge, antique looking -old things seemed to me so filled with mystery and beauty- house on the top of a hill. Their horses, goats and roosters. Their mother, Paca – she was especially beautiful to me, what with her brusque manner, her thin, angular, muscular body, her black mane, her strong features, and what seemed to be a multitude of blonde children at her command.
My imagination was dominated by Arabian Nights those days. It was my only book, so I read it all day long. My new neighbors, who couldn’t read much, mistook it for a bible. I told them it was the Book of the Dead, found by my (real) dad during an archeological dig.
Technically, I was their new neighbor, not the other way around. I had arrived with my mother, stepfather and baby brother a few weeks before. The setting was a rural Caribbean community-far from the suburban comfort of my grandparents’ house. Our house was small, built in haste next to an equally small stream. We had no running water – so the stream was useful. We had no phone, either – and Mom did not want one. My father’s family was looking for me – to rescue me from the “craziness” of a lifestyle of “poverty by choice” my mother was “condemning” me to. I did not go to school either, probably for the same reason.
Not that I knew or understood any of this at the time. I was lost in Arabian Nights, lost in reading and then lost again in imagining, lost in recreating the scenes and the ambiance with the help of a few props: play-doh to make small humans, their animals, their jewelry; assorted cardboard pieces for make-believe palaces, mosques and gardens; and the occasional sanitary napkin – I stole those from Mom, because they were soft and provided perfect beds for play-doh royalty.
And tiny semi-precious stones. About five of them. Baba, one of our hippie friends, gave those to me between puffs of sweet smelling smoke. To play with, he said. That term, “semi-precious”, stuck in my head for days. Eventually my efficient eight-year old mind got rid of the “semi” part. Didn’t seem that important. I mean, what kind of word is “semi” anyway?
I took them out of a tin box I referred to as a “silver chest”. This one is a ruby, I said. This one, an emerald. These three are different types of sapphire-I grouped all colors I couldn’t associate with a known gem under the “sapphire” category.
And this one is a diamond. Very special. They can cut anything and they last forever.
I had their attention now. Two of them played with me every day – a boy twin and a girl twin, my age. The others were older, except for a baby that Paca carried around on her hip. Mom had told me that the baby was not Paca’s but her daughter’s, but I didn’t believe her. Paca was young, angry, and beautiful. Grandmothers were old, fat, kind, and had short, puffy hair.
The twins did not seem very convinced. A real diamond?
Of course. I am saving it for a ring. An Arabian ring.
They left without saying goodbye. But that was the way they always left. Without goodbye, and giggling in code to each other.
Mom’s voice brought me out of my Arabian Nights trance the next day. Paca was standing next to her, outside our door, a twin’s hand in each of hers. A switch tucked in her armpit.
They took turns receiving the blows. Danced a startled dance with each one. Kind of like the movement horses do when agitated or when they are trying to get rid of their rider. They did not cry with tears, but rather squeaked with what I could have mistaken for delight had they not been so evidently in pain.
I didn’t try to stop it. Nothing could have stopped Paca. She looked more beautiful than ever, a formidable Persian queen, punishing her slaves, whipping her horses, bringing chaos and freedom and smallness and disobedience to their knees, at her feet…
She had no shoes. I had not noticed that before. None of them had shoes on.
Mom was crying without sobbing. Just the wet face. My face felt wet too.