I’m going to be selfish in this post. I should be forgiven because I have terrible flu as I write this. I could just be delirious.
Everybody has a birthday. Almost everybody remembers birthday parties as a kid. Almost everybody. I can’t remember any of mine. Perhaps one. I had one visitor, a school friend called – no kidding, it was really her name – Mona Lisa.
I don’t know if my memory is playing tricks on me, but I remember her wearing a yellow dress back then. I was probably seven or eight. It was midsummer, very likely Easter.
My birthday often fell around that time, which is why I don’t have many memories of birthday parties. In a predominantly Catholic country (at least back then), Easter meant trips to churches, prayers, more prayers, and week long silences. I should also mention self-flagellation among certain members of the faith. Things that go against birthday parties.
This one birthday was an exception. The moment I looked out the dusty window I knew it was her standing outside our metal gate with a gap on the bottom. We didn’t have a doorbell and I don’t know how long she’d been standing there, her white shoes and white ruffled socks showing in the gap.
I ran to the gate but hesitated for a moment before struggling with the big metal bolt (almost everything is big when you are seven or eight). There was thick grease on the bolt. Care was necessary, or you get the grease all over you. I had to lift the handle up and down as I pushed the bolt to the right. The gate groaned. Bits of rust and dirt fell on the ground.
Perhaps her dress wasn’t yellow at all, and that I only wanted to remember it that way. I don’t remember balloons – I am almost sure I never had them – or cakes. No mad children running around to the dismay of grown-ups. No loud music. No grand gifts in bright wrapping paper waiting to be ripped apart. No party really.
My memory stops there. Letting Mona Lisa in. Beads of sweat in the gap of skin between her nose and her lips. Curls in her black hair. Brief moments that stare time in the eye.
Fistfuls of dust blew outside where the new highway was being built, the highway that was going to force my family away from that place I knew as home. I always thought it interesting that it was called Marcos Highway, and that some kilometers further down it was to intersect with Imelda Avenue.
Perhaps it wasn’t even my birthday. Fever can mess with your memory.