I am sitting out on my mother’s mother’s—my Abuelita’s—back patio. Half the house is enclosed, but the back half is exposed to the fresh air of this tiny farming town in southern Mexico. I’ve seen clear skies before, but the stars are brighter here. Peeking through the leaves of papaya trees, I find the constellations that my dad pointed out to me on camping trips when I was seven. I try not to blink and my eyes water up so the lights blur into each other.
It rained today, which is rare for March. The daily dust settled down and everything smells clean, like mud and washed fruit. I smell mango, papaya, lemons, and guayaba. It is illegal to bring guayaba over the border into the States, and since I was small it has been more than a fruit but the essence of Mexico itself. We can get it canned in the U.S., but it’s not the same.
About an hour ago we had eight people sitting around a table: my parents and I, my uncle and aunt, my great-aunt and her son, and my grandmother. We had fish with tortillas and stuffed chiles, followed by hot chocolate and marquezote, a dry cake that we are using to celebrate two upcoming birthdays. My uncle tried to tell us about some sort of bird my dad and I had never seen or tasted, which he said was like a chicken but not, like a turkey but not, like a quail but not. My great aunt spoke over his convoluted explanations, saying that it was really good with a touch—un poquitito—of garlic and salsa.
There is a donkey braying frantically, despite the fact that most of the town’s elderly are asleep. A dog begins to bark, crickets chirp louder, and suddenly every animal in town agrees that something is going on. I listen to my Tio and my dad discussing what they will do when they retire. My Abuelita, Tia, and mom sit in another room, chatting in Spanish but I cannot make out the words. The animals calm down, and the the clacking of my fingers on the keyboard sounds extremely out of place.
My Abuelita’s hands are soft, which I don’t understand. Years of flipping tortillas on a hot comal have ensured that she doesn’t feel the heat anymore, and never gets burned. She’ll come up behind me sometimes, her soft dark hands stroking my long curls and murmuring in Spanish that she thinks my hair is bonito, bonito, bonito. I wonder if this is how it feels to be a ball of dough, pressed between her hands, warmed, and flipped over.