"Having somewhere to go is a home.
Having someone to love is a family.
Having both is a blessing."
Alessandro was adamant that we take a taxi (but only from a specific company at a specific location, to avoid being ferried under false pretenses and find ourselves robbed or worse). Being the stinge that I am, miserly as almost always, I emphasized to Daniel that there was strength in numbers (even though 2 is an awfully small number) and insisted that we could make our way on foot to metro station and pay the lessor fare for a subway ticket.
I employed the tricks my father used to mention that can help to sidestep a mugging (avoid being ostentatious or boisterous, walk fast, keep away from alley entranceways and doorways, stick to well-lit streets, clench fists and jaw (makes you look tougher and less approachable), don’t make eye contact, and, if possible, use only well-populated paths (with women and children, if you can)). Turns out, it worked! (Thanks, Dad!!) A slightly scary and surely sketchy hour walk away from the docks and into the city found us buying our metro stubs and taking the subway (a FABULOUSLY air-conditioned train to beat the humid, midsummer heat) and setting out into Tijunca to meet Alessandro.
Custom, honed over the years of holidays, promises an enormous dinner of farofa sprinkled on just about everything in the spread, followed by a gift-giving routine that left me simultaneously enjoying this family’s love and missing the signature love of my own clan back home.
A combination of foods I have seen every Christmas since I was a boy along with new sights and flavors piled onto my plate until I was uncomfortably but happily stuffed. After grandma spent days preparing the feast, grandpa will spend the next several hours cleaning up, all to ensure that their family and guest’s celebration can carry-on carefree and without avoidable interruptions or needless burdens.
But braving the biters was well worth it. Our fabulous hosts (who I quickly decided I wanted for lifelong friends) were reason enough to endure untold swarms of flies.
Leaving the island was a time of both gratitude and sadness. I fell in love with Rafael for his easy smile, his boyish attitude, and his restaurant-quality cooking skills, and I fell in love with Gusti for his selfless giving, his insightful mind, and his wholesome character. It wasn’t easy to watch them disappear in the car’s rearview window, but the thought of seeing them again encouraged and comforted me, and I looked forward to that future more than I longed for the past.
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