It was a shock, to say the least.
The whole neighborhood was in the bodega when it happened. Nina, was there too. She felt lucky enough to get a chance to see this with everyone she loved. After a stressful year of working, and here she was, with everyone she loved. And Benny right by her side.
Radios were blasting the results, TV’s were on, and everyone gathered to De La Vega’s. Usnavi rarely uses that flat screen for anything, only for special events. Fifa; surprisingly, the Olympics; and previously for those last few debates. There was no doubt in everybody’s mind that he wouldn’t use the TV today.<br />
Almost everyone one of age had a sticker proudly displayed on their chest, like a medal of honor. Those who didn’t, couldn’t. Many have already thanked Nina for registering them.
Flags from all around hung from the fire escapes but one flag appeared the most constant: red, white and blue, donning stars and stripes. And all flown so freely in the soft breeze.
Usnavi and Vanessa were behind the counter busting out change and receipts, from energy drinks and cafe. Tonight was going to be a late one.
Daniela and Carla were in the corner, watching the screen, holding hands. Their hands seemed to be gripping to each others more as the states start to change colors. Some squeezes out of excitement, some out of fear.
Camila and Kevin were standing just outside the bodega. They eyed their little street. Oh, how it has changed, without looking any different day after day, until one day you notice, in retrospect, it’s has changed. It’s grown right before their eyes. And it just made a decision to change the world. They marveled at their street; they marveled at their daughter.
The Piragüero, is also outside the bodega, selling to neighbors walking into the store. Today’s special was, strawberry (red), Coconut (white), or raspberry (blue).
For once, Sonny didn’t have to drag Pete to the polls, they were there first thing in the morning. They were sucking down on one of Sonny’s slushie concoctions, to stay awake.
And then the night went on. People began holding their breath. Candle sales when up. Curses were screamed, prayers were whispered.
By the time the west coast was all counted up, it was late. And it was called.
It was called when Nina stood tall with tears gleaming in her eyes. For the first time in a long time she felt like she let everyone down.
It was called when Benny was holding on behind her, he was the only one to feel her tremble. He was the only one to hear her hold her breath for too long. He reminded her to breathe.
It was called when Carla was sobbing hard into Daniela’s shoulder. A thousand prayers and verses running through her mind. Her hands holding on to Dani more than ever.
It was called when Daniela stood blinking passed the tears in shock, not knowing what to do. What to say. But somehow just knew to take a moment and smell Carla’s hair, like it was her last. It could be her last….
It was called when Camila felt a chill. Her mind was calculating just how much money they had in their accounts, just what they could leave behind in their apartment. It would be the first time she left somewhere with just a suitcase. For a flickering second, she thought of Claudia.
It was called when Kevin suddenly remembered his father’s stinging slap across his face. He could vaguely hear his voice in his ear, “Inútil”.
It was called when the Piragüero had a second thought of selling his piragua in those colors. He had a second thought of being here…
It was called when a curse fell from Pete’s mouth and a drink from Sonny’s hand. Fear rose over their faces, while their faith in humanity also fell.
It was called with every vile thing Vanessa was ever called and yelled at ringing in her ears. And for once, she let it get to her. She felt like she was those slurs. And she broke. She started crying harder than she ever thought she could.
It was called with cringes and curses and tears. It was called with people facing their screens in fear.
It was called. And in an instant, the rushing city was frozen. Usnavi knew every thoughts that ran across everyone’s mind. And then he had to face what was going through his mind. Would he have to sacrifice DR to be American? No matter what he knew he couldn’t. It’s as much of him now presently that it was his past. Would he have to sacrifice New York to be Dominican? How could he? After everything he’s parents gone through, how could he just reverse it? Was he welcomed here? Where any of them welcome here? Was this really home?
He stepped closer to comfort Vanessa, right when her legs gave out. He steadied her. Tears dampened his guayabera, and with every whimper she made he felt a pang of something he can’t even explain. He wrapped his arms tightly around her. There are many things they can take from him, but she’s not one of them.
Nina was right by her side. Vanessa turned to Nina enveloping her in a hug. Nina trying to keep it together for her friend who has always been so strong. But everything is weighing on her. And together they both cried.
Usnavi raised his gaze up high. Maybe to God, or maybe to the TV, maybe both. Just waiting to see the colors on the map change. Just waiting to see the numbers change. Just waiting to see the Ashton Kutcher come out, or something. After a minute of searching, he turned off the screen.
The store filled fell to a hush, with a few whimpers and quiet prayers.
The Nina and Vanessa stood there, shifting back and forth crying until Benny’s hand touched her shoulder. Nina looked up sniffling to see the whole community grieving, working through every emotion they can. She squeezed Vanessa’s hand as a final embrace and she turned to the crowd.
She spoke; Usnavi echoed her in Spanish, “Listen everyone, what just happened,” she pauses to find the best phrasing, “was an American Tragedy. It’s a disgrace to have been the product of a democratic system. Now I know, all of us are frightened for the consequences. Notice, I said consequences. It seems like: when there is a mix up, we pay the price. It seems like: even when we are Americans we are treated still like second class citizens. We are treat like we don’t have the same rights as everyone else.”
Grunts of approval come from the crowd.
“And today we went to the polls to tell them how we felt. How we suffer. And we suffer for simply being. Being the gender we are. For being the race we are. For having our skin be the shade it is. For loving who we love and praying to who we believe in. For just being here. And we are scared. But I know one thing. But we are not alone. And there are more of us, out there, demanding justice. We will exercise our right to protest, but we will do it by showing to the country what we think America is, or at least what it should be. We will show them our colors proudly. We will raise our voices high. We will stick together, with comfort and defense. Because, we are so many things but the most uniting factor is that we are Americans!
Many of us has been through dictators and corrupt governments Maybe, that’s why some of us are here. Let me ask those people: through everything that regime has put your country through… Do you still love that country?”
“Is there still a pride for that country?”
“Is there still a love for that country?”
“Is it still apart of you?”
“Then let this country also be apart of you, because you are apart of it! No one should have to sacrifice one of their identities over another. We should feel comfortable in our own home. We should hold who we are with pride and still be treated as equal. It will take time and will be hard work, but like Abuela said:”
“¡PACIENCIA Y FE!”
“Tomorrow, is going to be surreal. Somehow, the world is going to get up and go on with it’s day. And you are going to wake up and you still are going to be here. And as long as we are here, we can make a difference.”
The bodega burst with applause. People’s tear streaked faces were met with enough confidence to get them through the night. The crowd exited the doors branching off in the street. One branch was lead by José, keys jingling in hand, ready to open his doors; the others went to their homes, minds, still processing what had happened.
The bodega was left quiet and empty. Some cups and wrappers confettied the floor.
Vanessa had joined Daniela and Carla in the corner, hugging and wiping away tears. Carla, all tired out, leaned on Daniela’s shoulder. Daniela stroking her hair, singing Juan Gabriel. With Carla nodding off on her shoulder, she invites Vanessa and Usnavi to sleepover at their place tonight. It was too late and too scary to go back downtown tonight. Vanessa took her up on that offer.
Camila and Kevin had gathered around their shaking daughter, with eyes beaming from pride and wet with fear. They tell her how proud they are of her. They tell her how much they love her. They tell her they will be right by her side.
Sonny got up to pick the abandoned cups. Pete still own the floor, eyes glossy and red. With all of the cups were picked up, Sonny began sweeping. Pete blinked out of his shock and got up, walking over to Sonny, ready to take the broom from him. Sonny didn’t surrender it. Instead, he kissed Pete’s forehead and asks him to sit down again. He wasn’t looking too good.
Usnavi stood there for a second, then did the only thing that seemed natural: count and move inventory. When he struggled to move the shipments of water bottles to the back, Benny stepped in to help. After moving the three shipments they took a rest, using the bulk packaging as a seat. The was a silence in there. Just the sounds of their panting. And then, Usnavi heard a different sound, a quiet sob. He turned to see Benny crying silently, hands hiding his face.
“Benny. Hey, man, we’re going to fine.”
“Are we though? Man, anyone we love can be taken away from us. I see how people look at me when I walk down the street. Almost everywhere in this city, I get side eyes. Stares. You’re probably the only store owner who doesn’t watch me when I’m in here. And it’s cause you know me.”
Usnavi grips his shoulder in solidarity.
“There a lot of things, I’m angry about. And a lot I’m worried about. But most of all, any day it seems like I could taken from Nina. Ever morning when I leave the mattress, I pray I make it home to her. I’m very aware I might just step off the curb at the wrong time, or have a busted tail light, and that could be the end for me. And I know she’s in high places, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a target. And I can’t…. I can’t imagine, what that would do to her. It would destroy her. I can’t leave her. I love her.”
Usnavi brings him in for a hug. And he holds his friend while he cries. There’s a silence in the back that seems allow the sobs echo, Benny felt not quite so alone.
With everyone out of the bodega, Usnavi took a moment to himself. And looked around at the livelihood his parents made. It was still standing. He goes behind the counter, and pulled out a Dominican flag and American flag. He hung them in the window, side by side.
He exited and locked up the door and looked around. Everyone had gone home. Even the Piragüero had gone. Where does he go? Usnavi hoped to see him again.
Pulling down the grate, he was met with Abuela Claudia’s mural and with an idea.
He caught a glimpse of Sonny and Pete walking towards home, just down the street. He rushes over to catch up with them.
“‘Paciencia y Fe’ and ‘No pare, sigue, sigue’!” He calls out.
Pete and Sonny turned around, “What?”
“‘No pare, sigue, sigue’. It means don’t stop keep going and ‘Paciencia y Fe’ means-”
“Yeah, I know what it means, why you telling me?
“Can you write those. If you finish tonight I’ll pay you extra”
“Pete! He has a job for you.”
“Now, I know you’re tired, but, if you can-” Usnavi reacted into his pocket, pulling out his wallet.
“Naw, I can paint tonight.”
“Good. You’re going to need some new cans.”