Somewhere in Venezuela: 1

I sat on a plastic lawn chair, edging my arm, my foot, my knee under tarps that subbed as a roof over a part of interconnected brick shacks. I cringed as the equatorial sun burned my gringa skin. I couldn’t tell how long I had been there. Maybe hours. Maybe twenty minutes. Behind me, metaphorically: a young adulthood in a mechanical, rule-filled country. A strong work ethic and a Catholic school education. In front of me, literally: a spread of tarot cards on a table of an upturned bucket. A woman with salt and pepper hair and a placid face dotted with black eyes, a cigar hanging out her mouth, appearing deep in thought and deep in receipt. A bruja.

A person with the ability to move time and converse with spirits: that’s how I’d defined a witch. And there, in front of me, a real one. I clutched my purse tighter into my lap (because I needed something to hold on to) then leaned, wondering Do I have la fuerza?, knowing I did, needing the validation that this woman uniquely gave me. It was a homecoming beyond my body; it was a homecoming for my soul.

The bruja barely lost the momentum of her mouth movement as she gummed the cigar and spat yellow spit out the corner of a curved lip, talked, over-turned the tattered pieces of paper rectangles: “¿Qué más, Anastasia?” What else? The bruja’s question was my invitation to enter into conversation with myself through her.

“Well,” I stumbled, then continued. I confessed to seeing flashes of events before they happened. Knowing a person would screw me over. Sensing and feeling the presence of espiritus. I told the bruja that I was too scared and always doubted my intuition.

Asi es,” said the bruja. She turned a final card, then leaned back. “Aha”–She was the medium. She was the message. She told me to learn to not be afraid. She told me she would help me learn how.

I felt a great sense of relief.

Later that, a Venezuelan friend took me on a round, una vuelta, to buy things: candles, incense, offerings for spirits. We drove somewhere, parked, and my friend said something that translated as, “Wait here while I go buy some rue. It’s not a safe neighborhood for me, but especially not safe for you. Once I get out, lock the car doors. Don’t get out of the car.” My friend was from the area, and I trusted the instructions implicitly, mostly because I would be lost in an instant, gone, and also because in Venezuela I could never exactly remember the way to the places I went, and I could never remember how to get back, and it was easier to let my friend do the work of gathering.

I sat staring into space out the window, sometimes tracing with my eyes the lines of laundry hanging between the one-story concrete houses. Were we far into the barrio? I couldn’t tell. I measured distance through time, knowing that sometimes my friend took twenty minutes to drive to the bruja’s house, and sometimes only 5 minutes if we went on the road that went past the large palm tree. How long did it take to get her? How long had I been waiting? I couldn’t tell. Watching objects outside didn’t help keep time, especially since the action felt like forever and never. Time was relative to the physical place you were in.

The burning sun reached me inside the small 4-door sedan, even though it was evening. Muted catcalls of men started, men shouting “Catira! Catira!,” calling at me, “Blondie! Blondie!,” taunting me, a light-skinned girl with light hair in the sea of brown-skinned, dark haired peoples. I ignored them.

A sudden knock on the car window: a man selling cigarettes. He approached so fast I hadn’t seen him until he was right there. He motioned to me, tipped the box open, slipped one out with a greasy thumb.

No, gracias!” I said, though I knew he couldn’t hear me because I didn’t roll the window down and I had the gozadera music on in the car. I shook my head, then turned straight and ignored him, too. It took a few moments, but he finally walked away.  I wasn’t afraid of the intrusion. I was practicing, like the bruja said, learning how to let some spirits talk to you and how to keep other spirits out. My heart beat faster and faster at the thought of unlocking my force, unleashing the power in me that my natal culture wouldn’t.

I couldn’t stop thinking about how I wanted to turn over some of the tarot cards myself, how I wanted to be the one looking into the world of the spirits, how I reflexively recoiled, let someone else do it, because it was safer to have someone else do the things I needed to do but was afraid to do, but that I was going to learn in that foreign and familiar Caribbean country. In time, in time, I thought. I had to be patient, cultivate the virtue as part of my existence because the farther I got from home, wherever I was, the closer I was to home, and how long it took me to get there didn’t matter.

Venezuela, 2005.

Places as characters are really my jam.

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