Saturday, January 9, 2016

Tortilla de Harina

I had an odd morning today. I went to a translation appointment for a job I forgot I had. In El Paso, most people can get by with a little of either Spanish of English, it's hard not to, those who don't, well, I think they're just lazy, but...I'm drifting. I got a call yesterday to translate what I thought was a doctor's appointment. I didn't want to. I declined forgetting they had my info. "Please!" the woman on the other line pleaded, "There's no one else who can do it". I begrudgingly agreed. Although anyone who knows me, knows my Spanish is hit or miss. Shhh... don't tell them.

So, this morning I got up and let GPS lead me to a house in the lower valley off Delta. I was confused. The only other time I had taken an appointment, it had been at a doctor's office. I stayed in my car and called the number provided. I was, in fact, there to help a home insurance adjuster with a roof claim. SHIT! 

My mind scrambled to think of all and any of the Spanish words I knew associated with roofs and home insurance. Where was my husband when I needed him? Long story short. I pulled it off and only had to use Google Translate once. The meeting was recorded. I hope no one who speaks Spanish hears me, even I heard my voice waver between certainty and uncertainty with some of the insurance speak. After, I shook the adjuster's hand, I shook the homeowners hand, and left. The homeowners and their leaky roof lingered in my mind as I drove away.

I didn't often find myself in the lower valley. I don't know much about it. Delta, North Loop, Alameda, are all streets I know of, but don't know about. But, suddenly, my stomach wanted a real Mexican breakfast. Not the imitation stuff I could get at Village Inn, I wanted food that tasted like an abuelita's hands.

I ended up at The Lunchbox off Carolina. The parking lot was full. I'd never visited this location and had only recently visited their location on Montana because of a work thing. I walked in and the restaurant was full. The older hostess greeted my with an "Hola, mija. Pa' quantos?" I told her it was just me and followed her poofy curly hair to a row of singles tables along the wall. I sat. Immediately my waitress, another older woman, came over and called me mija. I order coffee and water and looked at the menu. An older man seated behind me came to my table.

 "Mija, you're sitting with the viudos."

"What?" I asked. I didn't know what viudos meant.

"You're sitting with the viudos. The widowers, mija. You shouldn't be sitting here."

I looked up and saw his gummy smile, most of his front teeth were missing, and laughed.

"Oh!" I said and looked in front of me to see a row of grey haired heads. I was in the viejito section! I pointed at my book.

He nodded and smiled. My waitress walked up.

"¿Que le estas diciendo?" she asked.

He leaned in.

"Dijo que estoy sentada con los viudos!" I replied.

She laughed. "Ay, si, mija. Es por que aqui se sientan los viejitos que vienen segido."

The man waved and left. She took my order. I looked around and drank from my steamy white mug.

I Instagrammed a photo of the book I'd brought with me. Before the End, After the Beginning by Dagoberto Gilb. I do a #bookstravel series and try to take pics of whatever I'm reading where ever I am. I opened it, pulled my President Obama bookmark out, a souvenir from a visit to D.C., and began reading a short story titled "Uncle Rock". It began with a kid having an American breakfast of sausage and eggs. I laughed. I'd just order a Mexican breakfast of chile verde, con huevos, y frijoles. On my Instagram post, I'd joke that Dago had brought me to The Lunchbox. Maybe I wasn't kidding?

I read until my food arrived minutes later. In front of me she placed a tortilla de harina. I've always been more of a corn tortilla lover, but today I wanted harina. I wanted to be called mija. I ripped the warm softness into a triangle and looked up at a woman openly staring at me. I looked down at my plate. Then up again. She still stared. Then she got up and came over to me. "Ay, mija..." she explained, she liked my hair. "Provecho" she said walking away after I thanked her.

I held the tortilla de harina in my hand and thought how strange that it too seemed to be part of the experience of mija. I scooped a little beans, then chile verde, and yellow of egg yolk onto its warmth. I bit. It tasted like abuelita hands. I tasted the like the old man concerned I was eating alone. It tasted like the waitress who asked me, "¿Todo bien, mija?" It tasted like the women unembarrassed to come interrupt my breakfast to talk about haircuts. It tasted like home.

Each bite I took after, I saw strangers smiling at one another. A man stopped a mother and son to tell them something that made them laugh. A viejita was seated behind me and nodded as she walked past. After I was done, I pushed the plate away and reached for Dago. He seemed the perfect companion for this mija morning.

"¿Mas, café, mija?"

"Sí, por favor."

I slid back into my chair. sipped the sweet warmth, and continued with "Uncle Rock".

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