She carefully arcs the A, entwines the l and e. The j would hang firm, its tail dangling over the horizontal line. Shame Professor Benitez doubted the lucrative outcome of work as a calligrapher because according to him, this was no place for fancy professions.
A brick flew through the window last night; it caused such a ruckus that the house stayed awake all night, stark fear rumbled.
‘Rosa, Rosa,’ interjected the impregnable shriek from Martina Maria Lopez Diaz, mother, teacher and instiller of punishment. ‘Will you get that pig-headed boyfriend of yours away from my front door and into the street where he belongs?’
This was to become her Saturday routine; Hector would lean against the crumbling wall, cigarette in hand, hip-hop or reggaeton blasting from his unmanned vehicle, as mother would scream from the balcony. Her voice would reverberate through the house for Rosa and perhaps the whole world to hear, reminding the neighbours especially that she disapproved of her daughter’s choices depending on how you looked at it. If you considered the tongue stud or the right arm sleeved tattoo all procured within the last two weeks you might have sympathised with her concerns. This boy had to be the problem.
But the only difference with this Saturday was the offensive outfit Hector sported. She supposed he had picked the rumpled costume from a thrift shop at Calle Santa Cruz.
‘What do you call this outfit?’ Rosa pondered.
‘A suit,’ he mumbled.
‘You have no qualifications to interview for a decent job, so why would you purchase a suit?’ Rosa asked.
‘Shut up and get in the car.’
‘You are such a gentleman.’
He blew smoke into the street as if to avoid the damage it would cause to his wild blue Chrysler, grey doors acquired from a retired vehicle. He showed it such favour, speaking in no uncertain terms about “all the magic that had happened in that back seat.”
These stories grew scarce as the magic had been conducted with mystery personalities from his past and she was perennially uninterested.
‘I think you have scarred my neighbours.’
‘Pardon?’ Hector yelled into the wind.
The engine growls discharging a garish choke.
‘Is this is a motorbike or a car?’ Rosa probed.
‘Your neighbours will be fine.’
‘So you heard me the first time.’
He laughed; she had not seen him properly behind dark aviators one arm around her neck the other on the steering wheel. ‘I like it when you get mad,’ he muttered, biting her ear. She pushes him away.
Now that the novelty had worn off, he was just Hector Caballero, the guy the neighbourhood girls wanted but could not have. Hector was the guy every mother prayed against but found at her doorstep. Rosa cared little for reputations, always believed she could change the man, reboot perceptions.
Now that he had stopped just outside La Cocina de Ernesto she would at once take in the air, the scent of his cheap cologne and the sea metres away.
Struck by the gathering of so many around the cafés; idle beings gawping aimlessly at food behind the concrete walls. They rambled past drunks who were no doubt watched by the moral policemen assessing the damage these men were doing to the reputation of this great nation. They push forward.
‘Excuse me gentleman, thank you for this cooperating,’ Hector heard Rosa say.
‘Since when do you speak English?’
‘Since over a billion people in the world started speaking English,’ she retorts.
‘And when will you use it?’
‘In the example of now, those gentlemen were as kind as to move out of the way when I communicated in their language.’
‘Rosa, there are so many things I don’t know about you.’
‘Hector I am not a mystery.’
He showed her to a seat, ‘so what else do I not know about you Rosa?’
She took it and his generosity, ‘thank you Hector. Did you know that I once slept with a married man?’
‘A married man, you wouldn’t.’
Her delicate hands held the glass, cautious as it met her lips like communion wine, atoning for previous transgressions. He knew he was punching above his weight. This girl, all of her, the long black hair, honey smooth hands. She knew too much. Ranted on about the conquistadors, Marxism and the way Cuba looked to the world. He refused to get sucked into discussions about politics, the last time he misguidedly involved himself in political debate, he was caught in a brawl with suspected nationalists.
‘You have not always been a good girl then.’
‘No. I guess not.’
‘Hector what’s the matter?’
‘If you’ll excuse me?’
His hand slipping through her fingers, he headed for the back of the room. Hector could be everything, yes he shared one tear after watching Titanic but not sensitive.
He returned with his shirt pulled out, rumpled as though he’d had a scuffle with himself in the gentlemen’s.
Rosa reaches for his hand, he baulks.
‘What’s the matter?’ she asked.
‘I have something to ask you.’
What is it, you are not in trouble are you?
‘Then what is it?’
‘Rosa Martina Lopez Diaz, will you marry me?’
He shrunk on one knee presenting a modest ring purchased with his hustle money.
She fell silent.
‘What do you say?’ Hector asked, rousing the attention of the restaurant who were waiting to clap and find conversation in the sweetness of the event.
Her lips motionless, painted golden brown contrary to her skin, a washed ochre. When her eye lids were kohl stained like today, he could not read the messages she delivered. One time he held her face close breathed her in, familiar traces of coconut with hints of orange zest. He swims in the dark brown iris occupied by questions.
‘No,’ Rosa answered.