For this essay, I tried to do what I hate to do the most, and open up in this essay. I tried to let the reader into my mind and how far I’ve come. I’m proud of being able to complete this and give insight into my life and the people who influence it. By the time I write my next paper, I want to expand on reflections rather than spend so much time on descriptions.
Eliana Alfaro-Allah Air Stream 9/20/19
The cold air nipped at me from all sides as I stared out at the river. The sun had already set, but the light hadn’t left the sky. It was no longer orange; it had become a dim sky blue that hung above our heads. Two small brothers laughed joyously as one of them happily tugged a kite along the riverside, the small amount of sand squeezing in between their toes.
I got bored as soon as I sat down. I looked around for entertainment, and cast my eyes down toward the ground. I immediately spotted a small rock, its reds and oranges shining past the dreary and dull greys of the pebbles it laid among. I picked it up, grimacing at the dirt on my fingers but hurriedly cleaned it off. I smiled down at the treasure, admiring it with joy.
“You know-” my aunt’s thick accented voice interrupted my spacing out as I turned up to look at her. Her long, chestnut-colored braid dangled with a flower at the end like a pendulum as she sat down beside me. “If you want to take anything from nature, you have to ask permission first.”
I blinked, utterly confused by the statement. I looked back down at the rock, smoothing it out in my fingertips before looking up at Zafra. “How do I know if they say yes or not?”
Zafra snorted, the sound turning into a chorus of delighted giggles. She wrapped her arms around my shoulders before pulling me flush against her, resting her cheek on top of my head. “You’ll just know, I suppose.”
Zafra was always insightful. She had frequent revelations and nuggets of wisdom, always on hand. When I went to Chile for the first time, I had no idea what to think. I hadn’t even left the United States, and I hadn’t spoken Spanish in a long time, and now I was going somewhere completely new where the only person I knew was my grandmother. My grandmother had a bad habit of withholding information from me, so I didn’t exactly know where we were going until the cab from the airport took us to a small apartment on the corner of Lota and Hernando de Aguirre. I was lacking any sort of guiding motion in my life at that point. My mother worked so much that I hardly saw her, and while one of my sisters had moved back in with us, she was hastily learning a trade, so I barely saw her either. Nobody to ground me or show me they understood. I had gotten accustomed to it until I met Zafra.
She was a kind and gentle soul, a psychologist who had a wholesome faith in humanity. And toward the beginning, as much as she tried to get me to open up, I wouldn’t budge. Her profession made me wary, reminding me of some sort of talented robot. Of course she pretended to be interested in my life. She lived to learn. The classic ‘good doctor’, just wanting to fix.
But she never gave up. She was always eager to greet me in the mornings, all the way down to tending to my last need at night. She brought me copious amounts of sweets and gifts. I took the acts as ones of bribery. But she had me cornered in the kitchen one day. She had been fixing me tea, and had asked if I liked Chile. I told her that it was a dream. What wasn’t there to love? Great food, nice views, everything’s cheap, I wished I could live there. Zafra was pleased with my answer, but followed it up by asking that if that was true, why was I silent so often?
I didn’t know how to respond. This woman, my aunt, was so sweet and kind, if I wasn’t honest, it would take such a toll on me. So I told her. I keep to myself usually, but it’s just that I hadn’t spoken Spanish in a while, and sometimes it came out like jagged, broken shards of a glass vase. She turned to me, and said the words that I had been meaning to hear for so long. “I understand you.”
I wouldn’t be so emotional over it had it been for the fact that we both knew she wasn’t just talking about language. My facade can take the form of many things. In America, I played the smiling fool, airheaded and dopey to bring a light atmosphere to heavy undertones of my life. In Chile, I could be the shy and pensive girl, only people in America knew that I hated people like that with a passion and I wasn’t shy so much as I just disliked people. But Zafra looked straight through me and told me that she understood all of it.
She took me to a fair close to the end of the trip. After a day of fun, we waited at the bus stop in anticipation to be taken back to Santiago when Zafra nudged me, giving me a glance of the bundle of paper in her hands. She unraveled a set of churros, that we all began to wolf down. I told her that it reminded me of funnel cake.
She tilted her head in confusion. “Funnel cake? What kind of cake is that?”
I hummed, tapping my chin and picking at a loose thread of my cargo pants. “It’s not really… cake. It’s strips of batter like this, fried with powdered sugar. It’s basically the same as churros, just… spaghetti.”
“Hmm…” Zafra nodded, closing her eyes and thinking. “I understand you. And you eat that on what occasions?”
I smiled, finishing the last bite of mine before brushing off my white-speckled hands on my pants. “Fairs, like this. They had a county fair in my other grandma’s town every summer when we went to visit her.”
Zafra looked down at me, her lips curling up in a small smile. “Do you miss her?”
I yawned. “I’m supposed to.”
And she understood. Zafra, while I hated to open myself up in the moment, let me become a softer version of myself under her guise. She helped me to become more trusting, less hateful, and my friends especially can see it. She saw me for what I wanted to be, not what I emulated, and treated me kindly and caringly. I take every conversation, every story over tea, every story and chunk of love she gave me and carry it with me and try to share it with others. Even if I can’t help anyone hurting, or erase what made them so bitter, I can do what Zafra taught me. I can understand.