The pastor spoke of a savior, sins, end of times as they raised their open hands towards the sky with their eyes closed, towards a heaven of clouds and oxygen. I accepted Maeve’s invitation to the Evangelical service that took place every Saturday night in her neighborhood. We both walked from her house to her church while the grasshoppers called a looming night. The church was more the veranda of a small-cemented house with ceramic floors coated by a thin veil of dust. The windows creaked and spilled rust all around us when the pastor closed them. Plastic white chairs filled the room—those very same Dominican men sat on to play dominos inside sweaty colmados. An ailing man knelt at the center wearing a faded blue shirt with holes while the pastor held the crown of his head and cast out his risk of heart attack. The man looked up towards the sky until his eyes became two white stones and his body trembled as if struck by lightning.
In Miramar—Maeve’s neighborhood—families gathered every week to pray and forget for a brief instance about a drug-dealer cousin or refrigerators that bore more fly eggs than food.
Her hand lingered and burned through the fabric on my knee. My eyes remained black and wide as she threw her head back and laughed at the forced joke the pastor had just made.
“Bendito sea tu nombre. Te damos gracias, Señor. Te adoramos.” The pastor raised his voice enough to sound violent.
She was now looking at me, her red lips and teeth hanging loose on my sight. “Te adoramos, Señor.” I chanted too.
After the service, Maeve guided me upstairs to her bedroom while her parents were fast asleep. The room had a tall ceiling with a lonely fan that circled away the hours, a single bed, a desktop computer in the corner with music playing quietly. On her wall, a poster from her favorite Christian band Anberlin hung–the statue of a head being smashed with a cloud of blue sand and flowers. Opposite wall, Anne Hathaway pouted– white and shining–for her parents to see but not to suspect about.
I always waited on her yellow and blue single bed and heard her neighbor’s dog howl, high-pitched and desperate, his cage being rattled by his owner against the ground. She always stood in front of the window that faced the streets and the periphery of her parent’s balcony for a few seconds, letting in the ocean’s salty air, the dog’s cry, the sound of the waves only to shut them all out–rendering us to muted darkness.
She needed a new pair of brown ballet flats for school and I accompanied her and her mother to the store. Her mom wondered to the ladies’ clothes department as Maeve and I pondered her options. I sat tired on the chair meant for trying on the shoes and she stood in front of me, touched my hair, lightly scraping my scalp with her nails.
“Negro azabache. It’s like looking into the night.” She said of my hair while toying with the strands, pulling back the black.
The afternoon drowsed until silent, while the streets in El Malecón became wide open, giant and infinite like a stoneless desert when we drove back from the shops to my house. The motorcycle drivers, mini vans and taxis– the buzzing noise, the heated streets were finally cooling against the Caribbean Sea. Her mother sang mindlessly in the car about salvation and gratefulness but I couldn’t latch onto the words. They seemed out of reach, buried deep under cracked soil.
Maeve extended her arm behind the front passenger’s seat where her mother could not see, and opened her palm awaiting mine.
At the party, she spilled red wine on my peach poplin-collar dress after giving me her favorite ring, a green dirty metallic daisy flower. “It’ll come out.” Her best friend, Arturo drove us back to my house and she walked me to my apartment. In a in between floors, window-less room, we opened our mouths and unfold, dug corners from our lips, agitated and lost. She straddled me while her chestnut hair swam across my face and we wore each other as a fever on bright and flushed skin. By night, I dreamt of drowning bullets into a hushed riverbed with my two hands and pulling out silky pearls, making sure they would not fall into the water.
She tasted perpetually of salt and bedtime prayers. My knees touched the ground when I realized the ocean possessed her and how it crashed my body, drowned all noise, two lungs into electricity, into the slow rhythm of silence.
“Maeve”, I said, “Maeve, I too believe in a God.”
“Can you see it?”
She moved my chin while I played with her crucifix, sitting on her knees so I could see the moon through the dead tree branches. She took the crucifix from my fingers and held it steady with her hands. A whirl of leaves crawled across the dead end of the street.
I saw the light of the moon falling in between crowns of trees, until there it was, rising in the dark.
She whispered, her voice crackling fire. “How about now?”
My head rested against her chest when I heard sparrows fighting to come out of her ribs, twisting and beating erratically almost as they always do before it is about to rain.
“Is it boys, is it girls, is it both?” I asked.
She turned away, while I dragged my finger across her skin hoping to feel feathers.
“Azabache” by Rocio Reyes Mejia is the Nonfiction Winner in Columbia Journal’s 2019 Spring Contest, judged by Kiese Laymon.