About the book
Carnival Fever is a story told through the eyes of Ainhoa, a young girl growing up in the Afro-descendant community of Esmeraldas, Ecuador, in the 1990s. It explores economic hardship, migration, and the spectre of male violence, as well as enormous cultural richness and the resilience of communities of women.
Ainhoa lives a protected life within the walls of her grandmother’s house, surrounded by a gaggle of aunts who love, correct, and teach her. As she narrates moments with them, with her mother, with her father, Ainhoa invokes the powerful presence of music and dance in her daily life – but especially at Carnival – as the expression of Afro-Ecuadorian culture.
The novel touches on serious themes, both historical and current – the dollarisation of the Ecuadorian economy in 2000 and the huge wave of emigration that it provoked, dividing families; environmental racism and the health effects on the Afro-Ecuadorian population of activities such as petroleum refining and African palm and banana growing; drug trafficking; AIDS; and gender-based violence. However, the novel never becomes didactic. Seen through Ainhoa’s innocent eyes, these difficult topics are simply one side of the coin, of the culture she lives in – the other being the joy of music and dance, through which her community regularly “dances it out.”
What our readers say
This project brings to the English-language context a unique and compelling voice from an under-represented community. The scarcity of translations from Afro-descendant communities in Latin America make this book a welcome appearance on the anglophone literary scene. It gives an insight Afro-Ecuadorian culture but also deals with broader themes such as emigration, environmental racism and AIDS, as well as the universal issue of sex-based violence, all carried along by a richness of tone that employs vernacular Spanish, song lyrics and an engaging child narrator whose voice is at once highly believable and while also being very literary.
– Rosalind Harvey
Awards and press
Winner of the 2022 IESS Prize.
Achieving a “feat of distancing itself, in both form and function, from the mould of contemporary Ecuadorian narrative; not only for its setting in a geographic periphery, but also for its poetic force and the powerful tone of its ideas.” – Gabriel Flores, El Comercio
“Thunderously musical writing . . . tension that turns up the volume until your hands shake as you turn each page.” – María Fernanda Ampuero, Primicias
“The best books to gift this Christmas” (The Objective)
“Books recommended for gifting this Christmas” (Vanity Fair Spain)
“The 50 best books of 2022” (Babelia, El País)
“Ten essential books of Ecuadorian literature published in 2022” (Revista Diners).
Carnival Fever by Yuliana Ortiz Ruano
Translation Sample by Madeleine Arenivar
Chapter 1. Leave it all on the floor
Ñaño Jota died, he kick off, my Papi Manuel told me when he came to pick me up from school and take me to the wake. I was nervous all day, could feel the delirium sprouting from the mouth of my stomach up to my tongue, a mass of slime creeping up and down, heralding something heavy. Heavy like the voice of the rag-and-bone men who come up to the neighborhood sometimes, yelling through their hoarse loudspeakers: annnyyyy oollll’ iroooooon, annyyy scrap metal, raaag aaan’ booooone!
Heavy, like my Mami Nela saying that when Ñaña Marilú died, she started up like she’d had a bucket of cold water thrown in her mug. That’s how death shows up, mijita. Something similar was happening in my young body, a mass coming up announcing something that couldn’t be scraped off the tongue and turned into words.
Papi Manuel parked his old Ford close to the curb where I always sit to wait for him. From a long way off I could hear the sound of that beast getting closer, an erratic rumble against a background of Lavoe at full volume. For Papi Manuel, the rumble of that machine, which heralded its own death, wasn’t enough; he had to dampen the roar of that noise with the honeyed voice of Héctor Lavoe, who shared his name, gasping loudly out of the beat-up speaker like a death rattle.
My Papi was loaded. He always likes his whiskeys, but this time he was loaded like people only get at a wake. Yeah, that’s it, Ñaño Jota died, the mass said to me, and it started rising now like a stone rolling uphill along the bones of my chest. My Papi had on a black collared shirt with shiny white buttons, black pants held up with a belt, white canvas sneakers with a brown patch, like shit, on the top near the laces. The older girls who were standing around said Look at that daddy, he so fine. That made me mad and I went over so they wouldn’t mess with him. Mami Nela was right when she said the girls these days come out hot from the factory.
Mijita, your Ñaño Jota… mijita, your Ñañito Jota kick off. Even now, his voice rising up from the depths of his throat, hoarse from the drink, this Papi can’t give the news without a stupid little giggle. Like the giggle of La Lupe in that song that he puts on sometimes on Sunday nights, that song that says that this fever isn’t new. It started a long time ago. And then she laughs out of nowhere, like a crazy person. My Papi Manuel also laughs out of nowhere, just like his idols, always just when he shouldn’t. What’re you laughing for, what’s wrong with you? I pressed myself against his shirt, gagging on a thick cry, and all at once I inhaled the heavy funk of drink, tobacco and perfume of this Papi.
I felt him sob gently behind his brown glasses, and I lifted my head to see tears rolling down his face into his mustache. Papi Manuel’s head looks like an upside-down lightbulb, but with a long-haired afro full of nice, tight curls. Mami Checho doesn’t like Papi Manuel’s hair, but I think it’s pretty.
My Papi Manuel is a skinny guy, so skinny that sometimes you can see the bones poking out under his throat. But he’s strong, strong enough to lift the gas tanks for cooking and to punch out the thieves who tried to make off with the truck that one time. My Mami Checho doesn’t like the truck either, she’s always telling him to sell that old rattle already, that it’s a disgrace. But my Papi adores that truck, he says to her, Mi reina, you can’t fight love.
Like almost everybody in this house, Papi Manuel is known for his good smell. The women in my house smell so good and are so neat that sometimes I look at myself in the mirror over Mami Nela’s dresser and I ask myself if I’m really a woman. I stink, a lot. My Mami Checho, since she birthed me, she always sends me back to wash again even when I’ve just come out of the shower. She scrubs my underarms in a desperate rage, sometimes her and my Papi Manuel together.
The two of them scrubbing away at my underarms so much that after the bath they throb, and even then they start to stink again. Ay and this girl, why she still smell like a pig? She sick or she just don’t know how to wash? They blame themselves for the funk of my body as they scrub me in the cold shower and sometimes I cry. Not because it hurts but from the shame, because Mami Nela always says that women don’t smell bad like that and what’s the matter with the girl?
And I’m still there smelling like rotten onions and cat piss in the middle of the bustle of the gaggle of women who live in Mami Nela’s house – who isn’t my mami who gave birth to me but my grandma. But she hates that word.
My Papi Manuel hoisted me up into the truck to take me to the house where they were holding the wake for Ñaño. I buried myself in the red leather seat, the only thing in this car my Papi had spent any money on. But instead of giving the truck back its dignity, as he claimed, it gave it the look of a cheap whorehouse, ready for the putas to dance. I’d never seen a whorehouse in my life, but that’s what my Mami Nela had screeched when she saw Papi Manuel coming back from the shop, shouting with joy over his souped-up truck.
My Ñaño Jota was beautiful, his black skin shining as if he polished it every day before leaving the house. He had big white teeth like slices of coconut and he had a different tone of voice for everybody, especially for women. He always dressed in white and for that my Mami Nela asked him if he was a pimp or what. But he never cared much what she thought.
Every Saturday morning, while I was waiting to go out to play, I would watch Ñaño Jota come out of the bathroom in the patio of Mami Nela’s house with a white towel tied around his hips. Before he went to get dressed, he would take his white canvas sneakers, drench them with water and sprinkle on soap or detergent, whatever was left there on the laundry sink where the ñañas washed the clothes. He would spread that all over the sneakers and then scrape at them with an old toothbrush; a swish-swish as he hummed some song by Vicente Fernández, waggling his eyebrows at me. When he could see his face in them, he would leave them on the bathroom roof to dry while he went to get dressed. T-shirt printed with flowers, usually red, or black, or tiger stripes, white high-waisted pants with pleats emphasising his package and his ass, and a white belt to hold in the skin of his stomach. Then he would scrape over the fuzz on his head with a tiny little comb like the ones you use to find lice, and go out through the back of the house, through the secret exit, slipping through the fence like a black panther.
I’d never seen a panther in real life either, but that was what I thought when I saw him swing himself through, sucking in his voluptuous body to slip through the barbed wire without a sound. From the branch of the guava tree I would watch, blinded by the whiteness of his sneakers and his pants, spotless. And although I’d have sworn he brushed against the wire, nothing scratched Ñaño Jota, nothing could touch him.
When I was three years old, Ñaño Jota – who wasn’t my brother either but the brother of my Mami Checho – told me that it was time I learned to dance. He took me with his rough, black hands to the centre of the dance floor: the parlour, on any other day, but today with the furniture arranged so that there was space for the whole family. For all the dancers. That year, like every year, Carnival started in December. Because Carnival isn’t only February and the days it says on the calendar, but any party that goes all night long. And in Esmeraldas, where the pounding heat never lets up for a second, a nice spray or bucket of water hit you and you might even give thanks.
Like this: forward, backward, mijita, and your waist,
yes, and the hips,
See… what’s wrong, you shy?
Nuh-uh, don’t be shy, mija,
one and two
and like this
and to the side
and over here
From the big radio sounded the voices of Los Van Van singing ‘Aquí el que baila gana’.
My Ñaño Jota said that dancing is just listening with your hips, mija, nothing more, your feet just move by themselves, look.
It’s not rocket science, mija: let’s go
and two and two
and two and like that.
to the front, mija,
don’t be shy, shyness don’t get you nowhere.
And move that waist, mija, like this,
more, like I do it.
Look, mija, no,
like this and
to the back
and to the front
and eh eh eh eh
One day before Carnival, the ñañas – who aren’t really my sisters but the sisters of my Mami Checho, but how awful the word tía, and anyway they are young and not a bunch of old harpies – did my hair like a cluster of spiders. They made me my Carnival braids sitting around on the wooden chairs from the dining set while I sat in the middle on the wooden floor. I watched the dogs pass by, and the hours, I started to get sleepy, and they still kept on braiding. They doused our hair with water and hair oil, untangled the whole thing before starting to braid and once they started the do they wouldn’t stop for the end of the world.
My Mami Checho doesn’t like them to put colourful balls on the ends of the braids because it looks tacky. Mija, you’re not gonna go around looking like those trashy girls from up the hill in the Guacharaca. So they just tied them up with little black elastics, so the braids wouldn’t unwind. Since my hair is so long and thick sometimes I would fall asleep while they kept braiding. They would always start with a little tuft from the bottom of my head, divide it into three strands and twist it up. All this with breaks for hot cocoa and bread, pineapple juice and water to refresh us, laughing and praising my hair until just after dawn they finished the braiding on the very top of my head.
Mija, there’s nothing like a woman with good hair, I swear. When you grow up you gon’ make a clean sweep. If you ever decide to cut your hair, mija, you give it to me to make an extension. Your hair would look pretty straightened, too, but when you’re bigger, cuz that chemical burns the scalp and you little still.
Nervous, and with my braids all sweaty, I took my first salsa steps to the joy of my Papi and the alarm of my Mami Checho. The whole neighbourhood partied all night. I still couldn’t party all night, but I heard the rumba beat from my room. And as the hours passed, from the hills the music rose up even louder. The song of the moment was ‘La suegra voladora’, by Sayayín, a hard Colombian champeta that brayed out through the neighbourhood, and two songs by La Orquesta Saboreo: ‘La arrechera’ and ‘La vamo a tumbar’. When the chorus of ‘La vamo a tumbar’ started up, the people went crazy and it was jumping and jumping on the wooden floorboards. Leave it all on the floor.
Whenever I heard those lyrics I was possessed by La Lupe’s giggle, because I had never heard anything so ridiculous as that song. How could that singer be happy they were gonna tear his house down? The house he worked so hard for, because in the lyrics it says:
this is the house that I have built
working so very hard.
The song starts with a sound like birds squawking but my Papi Manuel explained to me, laughing, that they were Colombian gaitas and not animals, and then the voice comes in:
this is the house that I have built
working so very hard
it has a floor of guayacán
and walls of chachajo
this is the house of the señor
with love and sacrifice
but the neighbourhood is celebrating
and I’ve invited all my friends.
And then the gaitas come back and surely and firmly he yells in a booming voice that gets right into your backbone:
la vamo a tumbá
we gon’ tear it all down.
And the people would go into some kind of trance, jumping around, the walls vibrating, that house was gonna get torn down to the beat of Saboreo, no matter what. I would sit on the couch and imagine the floorboards collapsing, the frames with pictures of Mama Doma and the knickknacks falling on top of everyone, still continuing their feverish dance under the rubble of that big house, of cement and wood, with twelve bedrooms, a big front yard full of plants and a back patio with mango, guava and chirimoya trees. I imagined the party going on under the rubble, sliding through the gate, beyond the yard and destroying the cistern, the only cistern in the neighbourhood, built by my Papi Chelo – who’s not my Papi who made me but the papi who made my Mami Checho – and supplying the whole neighbourhood with water.
The one who liked that song the most was Ñaña Catucha – who isn’t my ñaña either but the ñaña of my Mami Nela. Ñaña Catucha loves to party. To dance that song she would kick off her sandals and her thick, black feet would sweep over the wooden boards polished with creosote, shining like the colour of her skin. And how the ñañerío jumped, the gaggle of women. Their skirts swung around, and their manes of hair, while the men were all falling off the couches from laughing so hard.
After those days of Carnival when I learned to really dance, to make my bony little body sweat like a wild horse, nobody could stop me. I danced in the bath, to salsa or that song by Sayayín, that song that my Mami Checho hated. My Papi Manuel had taught me to capture the music from the radio on a cassette tape so I could hear it any time I wanted, and whenever I put that cassette on, my Mami would tell me for crying out loud, to turn off that crap, that it made all the hairs on her arms stand on end. And I couldn’t understand why she didn’t like it or even giggle about it a little.
I adored that slow voice slinking out of the speaker and the bom bom, bom bom bom bom, bom bom of the track that my Papi Manuel grumbled the Black Colombians had stolen from the Jamaicans. I liked to see everyone strutting the champeta across the floor. It made me laugh. I loved to see Noris and the other girls who cleaned the house throwing themselves on top of one another, chorusing ya le cogí el maní a la suegra, le cogí el maní ní, ya le cogí el maní a la suegra, le cogí el maní.
Ñaño Jota also loved to see me learn songs by memory: Mija, you have a good ear, let’s hear it, sing something, come over here and sing for me a little. And I would unfurl my shrill little voice to imitate Sayayín:
la propia nubecita
that little flying cloud
I rode it with my mother-in-law
rode her little flying cloud
when she was full up on her champagne
we rode it all the time
and I say
ya le cogí el maní a la suegra
le cogí el maní ní
now I know what makes her tick
I know what makes her tick.
When no one was watching me, I danced through breakfast; I got out of bed in the morning already moving my feet and hips.
Later, when many months had passed and Ñaño Jota suddenly thinned down as if something invisible was sucking his blood, and his cheeks were covered with greyish patches, and his eyes sunk in like two lakes filmed with oil spills, I understood that dancing was also his way of making himself well. A forgetting in which the body sweats so much it’s no longer rickety, bedridden and scrawny. Sweats so much it sweats the sickness out, for a little bit at least, that’s why he had to dance so much and every weekend. And even more on Sundays, to stick the health in the body all week and keep the sickness out.
All the women in the neighbourhood just died for him. They always came looking for him, even once he was married and had kids.
Women came from Pimampiro, from Santa Rosa, Vuelta Larga and even from Quito. Women from Limones and Tumaco. Fat women wearing tight dresses, their eyebrows shaved off and in the empty space of the destroyed brow, a shaky line drawn with a brown or black pencil. Skinny women with big teeth and big-assed women with long tresses who did my hair and brought me presents. Who danced as well as he did in the parties for Carnival, when his wife would go back to her sisters’ neighbourhood.
Even with all the dancing my uncle died young and handsome, although thinner and with those strange patches all over his face and on the roof of his mouth, which I could see because that plague hadn’t taken away any of his height. When his fever didn’t go down no more and he couldn’t get out of bed, I asked my Mami Nela what was wrong with the ñaño, said that I had a right to know. But she pretended not to hear me and just kept on with what she was doing.
I was eight years old when he kicked off and I wasn’t very tall yet. That’s why I could see the roof of his mouth all white, like the inside of the young coconuts that Papi Chelo brings from his ranch up on the hill that has always belonged to the Ruano family. Papi Chelo is pale, tall and sinewy; he stands out against the black flock in this house, even against his daughters, who are not pale but neither are they black, a mixture closer to caramel than to chocolate. But mercy on anyone who tells them they aren’t black. BLACKITY-BLACK, they shout.
Papi Chelo has a nose like a toucan beak that all us women have inherited, as if it had been traced directly onto our mugs. He liked to say, proudly and in his funny accent from the northern islands, closer to Colombia than to Ecuador, that he was the first man of his last name to have made it with a Black. There were always stifled giggles around the dining table after that speech. Papi Chelo is sweet to me, but he didn’t like Ñaño Jota much. Sometimes they yelled at each other and even smacked each other around in the patio. They never let me see but I knew what was going on, I’m not deaf.
All of this was going ‘round in my head as we were driving to the wake, my face pressed into the blindingly red leather seats of the old Ford. I remembered Ñaño Jota talking to the girls from the neighbourhood in the doorway, when they came by, supposedly to get water, but really just to kiss, dance with him, or go down into the cistern together and close the top, as if the cistern were a pool. Sometimes I thought they would come out drowned, but they always came out dripping wet and screeching as if the cistern were the Las Palmas beach.
I started to feel a terrible fear and an endless gratitude, a strange mixture that was eating up my body, like the body of the voice that comes out of kids when they recite the poem ‘Barrio Caliente is burning, burning is Barrio Caliente’. I was burning up just like when that neighbourhood turned to ash, starting at my toenails: the little hairs on my big toe, my socks with the school logo on them, my brown leather shoes, the skin and the long hairs on my shins. My knees boiled and disintegrated. The flames licked up my thighs, my backbone, my coochie, the burning sensation lingering in my hips. I felt the skin covering my muscles melting like chewing gum against the seats, red as the allure of the frigatebirds, of that beast driving me along. Crying curled there in the passenger seat window, I imagined Ñaño Jota dancing a diabolical rumba like the flames of Barrio Caliente in the truck bed.
I gave way to a horrible frenzy that only comes on me when my temperature goes up and I start to run through the whole house like a bitch in heat, raving, Mami Nela teases me. It wasn’t my mouth, but the fever, the fever that didn’t start now but a long time ago, that spoke for me. I told my Papi to stop the car and put on some salsa, some good salsa for dancing, please.
Be serious, mijita.
AIDS, your Ñaño Jota died from AIDS. Mijita, pordiós, you don’t celebrate something like that. And he let out his little giggle, like a drunken rat, which only turned up the heat of my insistence. When my Papi Manuel laughs like that, I know that if I just let loose he’ll do whatever I want. I screamed and begged without stopping for breath, like a guacharaca bird. Finally he gave in.
We parked the truck going up Calle Montúfar, seven blocks from our neighbourhood.
The neighbourhood of Calle Montúfar is always full of dirty kids running around with no shoes on. On the weekends, like in any Esmeraldeñan neighbourhood, the residents bring out their speakers and sit on the curb to sip their whiskey, close the street to play ball dodging the cars, the trucks, and the bus that has already taken more than one little kid. We stopped right next to the corner that takes us to Calle México. My Papi Manuel opened the doors of the truck and took a packet of cigarettes out of the glovebox. I got down in a daze as the cowbell that announces the mythical question of ‘Aquí el que baila gana’ rang out at high volume:
¿Qué lo que pasa aquí, ah?
What’s happening here, eh?
Move it, my boys, but move it like you mean it
move it with flavour but listen to the beat.
And the movement follows
and now we’re holding hands
tell me if you like what they’re playing on the piano.
Dance it well
Here, if you dance you win
cuz you’ll come back
again next week.
Pero bailen bien
aquí el que baila gana
pa’ que vuelvan
la próxima semana.
Move your hips baby
move them down like this
tell me if you like what they’re playing on the bass.
So dance like this,
so spin, don’t stop
but be careful, as the orchestra speeds up.
And what had happened here? My Ñaño Jota had been taken by something called AIDS, and I didn’t know what it meant, like almost everything around me. Opaque to my confused little head. I started dancing right there, in my school uniform and with my eyes shut, listening to my Papi Manuel’s nervous giggles as he blew out smoke from his seat on the passenger’s side, watching me with a crazed look on his face.
People came running over to the Ford to the rhythm of the music, applauding all together like seals, stomping their feet like a bunch of dumb clowns, because any stupid shit is a big event in that neighbourhood where nothing ever happens, other than a kid smashed up, once in a while, by the number 2 line of the Las Palmas bus.
Chapter 3. Skinny pain-in-the-neck
I spend all day perched in the tree in Mami Nela’s patio, talking to the guavas. Really, I’m talking more to the worms that live inside the guavas. I ask them how they got all that way to the dusty pink heart of the fruit, how is it possible there is a life beating inside a guava, with no hole on the outside, no door to enter. As soon as I’m done chatting, I desperately shove a wormy guava in my mouth and it becomes mine. Inside, I imagine the brief life of the worms: a chalky invertebrate life that now becomes part of my bony girl stomach. I stuff myself; sometimes I don’t even want lunch, and then the problems start.
Eat, mija, you look like I could break you in half, mamita. Mija, eat before it gets cold, a skinny woman, too skinny, is a sick woman, mija. Do you want people to call out you rickety in the street? No, mija, then you gotta eat. But I don’t want to eat, I feel sick. I think about the animals with no bones chopped up into little pieces inside my body, running all through me, dissolving into my liquids, my blood. I see them come out of my coochie like when the neighbour Remberto’s dog gave birth near our patio, and perched like always in one or another of the trees, I witnessed the miracle of becoming a dog by splitting open the body of your mother.
The only one that can convince me to eat is my Ñaña Rita, one of the younger sisters of Mami Checho. They call her the skinny pain-in-the-neck, because she’s thin and always in trouble. She has a face out of a black-and-white magazine, eyes too large and a mouth that’s too small. She’s always hot-blooded but not with me; with me she’s all giggles and hairdos with colourful bows and feeding me soup and taking me out to eat with the boys who woo her. There are a lot of them, because Rita is the most beautiful of Mami Nela’s daughters.
They don’t let my Ñaña Rita go out much, because she is too pretty. When my Papi Chelo arrives from the ranch, he’s always looking out for her. Rita, where are you going missy, no, come upstairs now. Rita, heat up my food and set the table. Mijita, you don’t have permission to go down. Rita, come here, I’m talking to you. They shut up in the room and pretty soon Rita starts up with her yelling because they never let her go out and it makes her mad. That’s why she takes me all over, because with me they do let her go out.
She tells me, Ainhoa, let’s go get a drink and a hamburger with a friend at the park, mijita, ok? Go get dressed but don’t say anything, I’ll do the talking. You want to go to the park, right mamita? The baby wants to go, Papi, I’ll take her out to play a little bit and bring her right back. Or, yuyi, mijita, let’s go down to the beach to eat fried shrimp and fish, go get dressed. Ainhoa wants to go to the beach, Papi, I’ll take her to swim and play a bit in the sand and we’ll come right back.
Ñaña Rita doesn’t really like any of her boyfriends. She just wants to go out to eat, see the city, visit the beach, or, as she says to me, take advantage of her youth.
Always when we get home Mami Nela grabs her and tells her to open her mouth, and she smells her. She smells her mouth and her hair and her neck. Always when we get home Mami Nela is sitting in the doorway, on the porch next to all the plants, her nostrils wide. They widen so much that sometimes I can see her brain.
Mami Nela always knows what’s going on. Even though she wasn’t there, she knows which boyfriend Ñaña Rita was with. You smell like man Rita. Nobody gets by me. And she checks her all over. She looks at her legs and presses her fingers against her throat, to see if it throbs – if it throbs too much it’s because it’s been touched by a man. My Mami Nela always smells all my ñañas and checks their throats, because My daughters come down out of this house only to be married, carajo! as she yells when the boyfriends come by asking for one of them, especially the skinny-cat pretty-boned Rita.
She also checks Noris and the other girls who clean house, who are many but always different because Mami Nela throws them out. Sends them back to the campo for being stanky or warm. Heat I take only from my daughters, and that’s cuz I know how to watch ‘em, she chews to herself as she washes clothes in a brown tub on the laundry sink in the patio.
I need to say that my Ñaña Rita is not warm. She’s just too beautiful. She’s so beautiful that sometimes it seems like she’s wrapped in a kind of white gauze, as if there were a strange energy floating around her head. Like a saint. She’s crazy beautiful, and the boys in the neighbourhood bother her so much that it’s better she not go out to do the shopping, because they might seduce my baby away in the street. Ñaña Rita is so pretty that she’s always getting in trouble without trying to. Like that late afternoon she was sent mariachis.
It was the first time we had ever heard those songs live, and we all went out excited to listen and applaud the men with wide hats and skinny black pants that hugged their asses. We all crowded onto the porch, screeching and carrying on, as the blushing redheaded boy with brown freckles slowly walked toward us holding out a bouquet of flowers as red as his hair.
Really tall and really red, with freshly ironed black pants, a blue button-down shirt with white stripes on the sides and a fisherman’s hat that made him look like a bank teller from the neck down and a techno merengue singer from the neck up, as handsome as Sandy & Papo ready to sing.
The sun was going down behind the Guacharaca hill, giving everything an unusual red-orange tinge. We were still screeching when behind the red boy with a strange name, Rolon or Rolin or something, suddenly the sun-browned nose of Papi Chelo appeared, with the sacks of young coconuts, the pineapples, and the men who carry the sacks for five sucres. He looked at all us women with disgust and spat on the ground near the mariachis. Buenas tardes, nice party, he coughed out as he went up the wooden stairs.
Since he didn’t say nothing more we all knew we were even more screwed. This must be the kind of fear of the love of men that Ñaña Rita had talked about. All the boys adored her and pined for her, would do anything to get her attention, stupid stuff and bad stuff too. I have never witnessed it myself but I can sense it, in the fear in the cat-like eyes of my skinny-cat pain-in-the-neck ñaña.
The only thing I’ve seen is Papi Chelo’s excessive love for her. A love that makes Rita turn red and cry, dragging herself along the floor when he shuts her in the bedroom. I get all jumpy but the other ñañas and Mami Nela just turn deaf ears and start their sewing or go prepare for their classes. Still I don’t understand why she cries like that. Sometimes, when Papi Chelo comes from the ranch, Ñaña Rita doesn’t want to come out of her room to see him at all. But he always goes in to take her out, to bring her out before him.
The love of men for their daughters is the most terrible, I soon learned.