Thursday, May 16, 2013

Two little surprises and a mango

by Arianna Kemis 
Las Terrazas, Cuba 

I had been taking pictures of chickens. I could not resist; the chicks were huddled under their mother for bed after pecking around on a tiny, winding staircase next to a hibiscus hedge.

I thought the tech lead had motioned across the miniature valley to beckon the rest of the group over from the coffee shop to where a portion of us had gone to see a local artist.

So, I continued to take pictures. 

When the chicks had all settled underneath the feathers of their mother in the grass, I looked up to see an older man in an old green baseball cap picking the hibiscus flowers off of the bush. He smiled at me and said hello in Spanish. I greeted him in return.
He looked at the hen laying in the grass then back to me and asked if I knew what he was using the flowers for.

“Té?” I guessed, wondering if hibiscus tea was common.

He shook his head.

“No,” he said with a quiet smile. Then, with a handful of bright red petals, he eagerly gestured for me to follow him.

His name was Cirilio, and I rounded the corner of the bushes and walked a few yards with him to where his home stood. Its windows stood open, the interior dark but brightly furnished with handmade chairs and paintings. 

Plants grew in a roughly outlined garden outside the open-air kitchen, which was covered by the stucco roof and a plastic skylight. Inside, Cirilio’s wife was peeling a sink of mangoes. She smiled at me as her husband motioned me toward a large, white bowl sitting on the ground outside the door.

To my elated surprise, inside the bowl wiggled two tiny tortoises. They were no larger than my palm, and they slowly turned their heads up as they explored the bowl in search of their dinner.

Cirilio placed his handful of flowers into the bowl and pushed one of the tortoises into them to begin munching.

I smiled brightly as he picked up one of the little creatures and placed it in my hand.

“…for food?” I asked hesitantly.

“Oh, no!” he assured me as my worried eyes strayed toward the pot of rapidly boiling water on the stove. “They are my pets!”

Relieved and fascinated, I happily looked at the baby tortoise. It tried to move its stocky legs over the ridges of my palm and fingers, peering slowly around at me.

Cirilio had bought them imported from Venezuela when they were a little bit bigger that a quarter.

After I returned the little animal to its porcelain house, Cirilio invited me into his home, where he introduced me to his wife and daughter. Behind the kitchen, he eagerly showed me a beautiful guest bedroom he had built for anyone who needed to stay. It was yet another indicator of the new private business permits that were allowed. 

He danced around in the outdoor shower he had made with lights under the glass tile and bougainvillea cascading down the walls into gardens.

Enchanted by this hidden delight, I thanked him and his family as he handed me one of his own mangoes from the sink as a gift.

Before I left, I asked for a picture of him in front of his home. He proudly stood with the house’s sign.

“When you find a good man, please come back and stay!” he told me as I began to walk. “I will remember you!” 

Smiling brilliantly, I bid him goodbye. 

I am so grateful I almost missed the bus. 

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