Did I Expect Angels? is told by two protagonists, Jennifer and Henry. This is an excerpt from Henry's story.

Henry is an immigrant from Costa Rica, who moved to the United States forty years ago with his wife, Alma, and son, Oscar to begin a new life.


HENRY

Alma grow up in one of the good neighborhoods, El Roble. It is much better than Juanito Mora. She have a real family, one father always. A house of cement, windows of glass, a ceiling under the roof of tin, water, light that was not trap from the house of another. It went straight to her house, and they pay for it, vieras. Look at that.

We meet for the first time in the féria, the outdoor market of the farmers, on a Saturday. I had decide to buy a piña for my family, a big treat for my mami. She love them, and almost never we eat them, so I feel proud as I stop at the table. But I did not see the frutas, le digo. I see Alma.

Vieras, right then my world change. Alma stand at the table, looking through the pile in front of her. The man hand her a piña, she smell it and put it back, and he hand her another one. The others at his table have to get their own. Alma have a basket over her arm with chayotes and some garlics and a bag of blackberry. I remember her red dress and sandals of wood, her hair that was black and long and so beautiful. She look so happy. There was a light that come from Alma that day.

I buy my piña right there so I can stand next to her. I ask her to go with me to a soda, a little restaurant. She smile at me but say no, her family wait for her and she need to finish her buying. I take her basket and say I will carry it for her. This was such a brazen thing, I cannot believe myself. She only nod her head and walk to the next table of onions, and then she choose maybe ten to put in the basket. I follow her to the cantaloupes, and she pick up three. Then two guanábanas--they are large and heavy also. Then she put in plátanos and oranges and then two papayas, very large. There was not no more space in the basket, which was good because I cannot carry no more. But she smile at me.

"Vieras," she say. "I need watermelons." I did not follow. I only look at the basket and worry. She put in one and the handle break in half.

I fall to the ground to pick up the fruit. What panic. She will consider me an idiot. "Lo siento mucho," I say, but I look up and Alma is laughing so much she cannot stand straight. For just a moment I feel that she insult me, but she look so happy. It was a spell, le digo, and I fall in it.

After all the fruits were back, Alma smile up at me. "And you are here still?" she say. She only want to buy the piña, one watermelon, one cantaloupe, and the oranges and plátanos. I pick up the basket and carry it in both arms, not by the handle this time.

She agree to go to the soda with me, and there we talk so much. I tell her everything of my life, and nothing I say bother her. We talk during the rain and long after it stop, until we realize it will get dark soon and the family of Alma will ask where she is.

As we walk home my head fill with dreams of a marriage and many children and a house of cement. But when we arrive at her home, I see her papi. He was sat on the porch, listening to the music and waiting for her. The light come from their house enough that he can see me through the bars, the portones. He look like one of my papis, Ronaldo, the one who hit me the most. Alma present me to him, and he say, "Huele de perros." It smell of dogs. Alma did not know why he say that--and then she realize and put her hand to her mouth. He open the door of the portones and tell her to come in.

I cannot stay back at my house. I set our piña on our cabinet and did not even tell Oscar, and walk back to El Roble and the house of Alma. I wait in the shadows, in the middle of the puddles, until I see her come outside to sweep the porch. I whisper to her, "I can see you tomorrow?" She walk to the portones.

"We will go to the church tomorrow. My papi too," she say. "And then we take the bus to visit my grandmother in San Ramón. We will not return until the Thursday or Friday." I hear a noise from inside, and Alma hear it too because she quickly step away and motion for me to go.

"I go only if I can see you again," I say. "I stay here until you tell me that I can." "And if I do not say that?"

"Then I will sing the Guaro Song very loud for your papi to hear." The Guaro Song celebrate the worst and most cheap liquor of Costa Rica.

"You will look like a drunk fool," she say. But she laugh and tell me to meet her the next week by the table full of pi&as again, and I was so happy I forget to ask her for a time.

On Saturday the féria open at six of the morning, so I get there at six thirty to wait. I stand there all day. When the rain come at mediodía I hide under the table of the guanábanas to wait, porque the man of the piñas will not let me under his. After the rain end, the sun shine much more hot than before. I get hot, and I sweat so much I feel dizzy. I did not dare leave to buy a fresco because I know that is when she will come.

The féria close when it get dark at six of the night. I watch the vendors take down their tents and pack their fruits into bags and trucks, and then I am the only person there. I march to the home of Alma and clang on her portones with a rock, angry until her father open the door. Then I feel scare. Before I can say anything, he smile.

"Alma is with her grandmother," he say.

"And where is that?" Vieras, Jennifer, the nerve I have!

"In San Ramón. She will be there for a long time. Now you go. I do not want that my porch smell of dogs." And he close the door.

I did not see Alma for three weeks. Each Saturday I go to the féria, and two Saturdays I return home sad. The third I feel a panic. I go to my friend José-Maria to complain.

"I must do a different work now," I say. "I am only a man of garbage. I must have a better job." Alma did not say this to me, but I feel it. Perhaps if I have a job more worthy, her papi will give me a place with her family.

"Sabe que there is a new hotel in Puntarenas," he say. "They will need new workers."

I hesitate porque I think it will not be enough for the papi of Alma. But it is more digno than my job with the dogs. When I think on that I ask José-Maria if I can use his servicio and bathe myself tomorrow.

The next morning I run to the new hotel. It is a big resort now, but back then, before Costa Rica have a hotel on every corner of every beach, it was a small building with ten rooms and a pool to swim and hamacas between the trees. The owner of the hotel did not look at me as I walk into his office. He read his newspaper at his desk. I know I am only someone who retrieve garbage and dogs, but I think on Alma and I begin to speak.

I say, "Yo soy un hombre trabajador--I am a man who work hard--and I want that you give me a job. I do whatever you ask of me. I will clean. I will care for your rooms or the ground or the pool or anything else. I will drive your car around. I will cook."

He did not let me finish, although his face look a little more nice. He only say, "I do not have nothing for you now." And I think, this mean he will have something for me tomorrow.

The next morning, again I run to the hotel. The man look up at me as I walk into his office this time, and he smile, which was wonderful until he speak. "I am sorry, pero I do not have nothing for you."

This happen the third day, and the fourth. Each day I was more late to my job to get the dogs, and starting on the second day my boss was angry. The third day he yell at me. The fourth day he tell me, very quiet, this cannot happen again.

My mami say I cannot go back to the hotel. "We will not eat if you lose your job," she say.

The next day, the Friday, I wake up at five of the morning instead of six. I run to the hotel and hope that the man will be already in his office. I am suppose to be at my job at six thirty. But the man was not there. I did not have a watch, claro, and I wait more and more time. I watch the sun get more high in the sky and feel the heat grow, and finally I decide I must go to my job. I run out of the gate of the hotel, and I collide into the hotel man. He smile at me again and say, "I ask myself if you will come today." His janitor quit the night before. Un milagro, le digo. A miracle.

The next Saturday I take the bus to San Ramón. It wind through the mountain, up and up and up, and by the time I get off the bus in three hours, I want to be sick. And I did not feel better when I get there. The town is high in the mountains, so the air is cold compare to Puntarenas. I shake when I get off the bus, I feel so much cold. And I did not know where to go.

San Ramón is a town more pretty than Puntarenas. The houses are more big, and many in the centro do not share walls; each house stand alone. They have their portones, of course, to keep out thieves, but it did not look like the same country. They have a giant cathedral instead of small capillas, and real streets and sidewalks, not small walks of cement with grass where a street need to be.

I stand in this town so clean and modern and did not know where to go. I need to find Alma.

I see people with large baskets of fruit, and I realize San Ramón too must have a féria. I walk in the direction the people come, and when I get there, quickly I see another table of piñas. I stand there and wait.

I was there two hours before she arrive, and I will always remember her smile when she see me. She was a prisoner, send from home as a punishment. I think this make her like me more. She did not say one word, just kiss my cheek and hand me her basket. This time she only put in the fruits she buy.

I take her back to the house of her grandmother in an hour, so abuela will not know nothing is wrong. I was smart this time. I will not even go to her door. I stop before we get to her house and tell her I will go. Alma open her arms to take the basket from me, but instead I try to kiss her. I had never kiss no one before, ni ella tampoco--she had not neither--and she move her face so I kiss her nose instead. My face become red, and Alma run away. I follow her to the house of her grandmother and set the fruits outside the portones. I also put inside the basket a toy I have carve, a little chupacabra with a face more nice than usual, with legs and arms and a mouth and whiskers that move, the toy the most fine I have made. I spend hours to carve and paint it. I hand it to her, and then I have to go to the bus.

All week as I clean at the hotel, I can only think on her, and I go again to San Ramón the next Saturday. I meet her at the table of piñas again. She look nervous to see me, and again kiss me on the cheek. She did not say nothing about the toy. We do everything the same as the other week, except that when we stop, many houses before the portones of her grandmother, she quickly take the basket and step back and wave her finger at me and say no, today no. And vieras, this was not to be funny. Suddenly she look scare. But she tell me to come back the next Saturday. She do the same for the next two weeks, and I tell you, I start to get angry.

On the next Saturday, when we get close to the house, she step back again. I tell her that I will not make the trip anymore if she do not like me enough even to let me kiss her.

At the bus stop, I sit on the bench to wait and feel sad for myself. I hear something behind me, and there she stand. Alma smile and say, "Ah, pobrecito, I never even say thank you for the chupacabra," and step forward. I aim better this time.

For another month, each Saturday we meet at the féria in San Ramón. Every week was full of the same kind of waiting. How I daydream all day, every day, her hair and her skin and ... well, I think on everything. Every day.

Por fin her papi decide she must have forget me, and bring her home. It was a Thursday, and she give a note to a chiquito from the neighborhood to take to me at the hotel when she arrive. She did not tell her papi nothing, and I know I cannot come to their house.

For two weeks, I did not see her, not even at the féria, and I think I will die. I write notes to her and have the chiquito take them, and she did not respond.

One morning as I chop the hotel grass with the machete, I look up and see a vision in a white dress. Alma say she has watch me for ten minutes, and I did not notice. I want to kiss her, but I was cover of sweat. She tell me now she has a job there: she is a cook in their restaurant, and she clean the rooms. I did not let my sweat bother me then, le digo.

Now I see her every day. We lunch together outside when it did not rain, and in the kitchen when it did, and vieras, how many excuses I make to go in the kitchen the rest of the day. Sometimes I get brave and go to see her in the rooms she clean, and I like this better because no one watch us or hear her give me a scolding.

Finally Alma decide she will not sneak around no more. She tell her father she is going to bring me home to dinner so we can have an introduction that is proper. I can imagine his surprise to hear my name again. He tell her no, but she did not mention that to me.

He was silent during the dinner. He did not look at me. Her mami and brothers did not want to make him angry, so they did not talk to me tampoco. Oh, how awkward was that evening. After the dinner her father take me to the door.

"Alma need to do her work for the night," he say. That is what he say loud for Alma to hear. When we get to their porch and outside their portones he say, "You are to leave my daughter alone. She come from a family that is good, and she will not lower to the level of someone like you."

"Sir, I know I am a humble man," I say.

"You are less than humble."

"But I have dreams, and I will be worthy."

"Will your dreams give your family food?"

"I know how to make toys the most fine. The children of the neighborhood love them. I make chupacabras for years now. I know very well how to carve the wood, and I paint them and give them to the chiquitos of the neighborhood. I will sell so many of these toys, we will live very well."

"There is no way to make that business here," he say. "Tal vez en San José. But not in Puntarenas."

"Then I will go to San José."

"You do not have the money to do even that. Banks will not talk to you. They do not want to risk to give their money to someone who has no education, who cannot even read."

"I can read, sir," I say.

"You will not see Alma again. I will send her to Guápiles."

This is near the Caribe, the other side of the country, not so easy for me to visit. He lead me off the porch and close the door of the portones.

She come outside to tell me good-bye. "It will not be so bad," she whisper.

"Alma, he will send you to Guápiles."

"He will not do that. I have an aunt there, but he does not like her."

We hear him shout for her from inside, and she motion her hands for me to go. I kiss her good-bye, and her papi throw a rock that hit my arm.

"Despídense," he say. "Say good-bye. She will go to Guápiles tomorrow. And she will not come back so quickly this time."

 
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