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Sunset in San Juan
Time can be such an insignificant thing to someone who has no need for it, but time can also be a beacon of hope for those who need it the most. Marla Dunham was a person in need of time, and she had never been so happy to see five o’clock in her life. It seemed that time had become an ever wandering thing for her. Sometimes it would slip through her fingers like grains of sand, and other times it would make the shortest moment feel like forever.
For the past four years, Marla had been working the five-to-nine shift at the factory to support herself … since it was only her now. She had never needed to do hard work when her husband, Lloyd, had been alive. Ever since that tragic accident she had to provide for herself with what little skills she did have. Lloyd was a good man, who never made her work and always made enough money for them to live comfortably. She cursed the drunk driver that took her husband away from her. Lloyd was at peace in heaven now, while Marla was left alone on Earth.
“Marla, are you catchin’ the bus wit’ me today?” Clarice wondered.
“Don’t I every day?” Marla replied with a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eyes.
Clarice was one of the few people that seemed to make Marla smile. She always had a joyful spirit that could light up even the darkest places. The two women were both in their forties and trying to make what little money they could. Clarice had been divorced by her cheating husband, but that didn’t stop her from being happy. She was just as jolly and stout as ever. Over time they naturally formed a friendship that seemed to feel like it had been going on since childhood.
The two women walked out of the cold factory into an even colder downtown Chicago. They slipped into the routine that they followed every evening at five o’clock. They patiently waited at the bus stop until Number 9 came to pick them up to carry them the rest of the way home. Clarice boarded first with Marla right behind her as they sat in their usual seat towards the back. Naturally, their conversation began to start as the bus began its journey through the city. However, Marla didn’t feel like talking much that evening, and Clarice quickly picked up on the fact.
Clarice looked over at her friend with motherly concern and asked, “What’s the matter, Marla? You seem a little low today.”
“Oh, it’s nothin’ much. I’m just thinkin’ about Lloyd.” Marla answered.
“I’m sorry, honey. You think you gonna be okay?” Clarice wondered.
“Yeah, Imma be just fine.” Marla replied with a little smile.
Clarice gave a smile back, but she was still concerned. She let the silence help her think of a solution as the bus continued roaming through the streets. The city lights bounced of their dark skin as they travelled through the downtown area. It was a cold and peaceful evening. The kind of evening that makes a person think.
Turning towards Marla, Clarice said excitedly, “I know just the thing that will cheer you up … a vacation!”
“Did you just say ‘a vacation’?” Marla questioned skeptically. With the paycheck that she received there was no way that she could afford a vacation.
“Yeah, girl, you deserve one! And besides it’ll help you take your mind off things.” Clarice said with that sunshine smile of hers.
“I don’t know, Clarice. I just don’t have that type of money to go off somewhere.” Marla replied. “And if I did, where would I go?”
“What about Puerto Rico? Isn’t that where you’re from?” Clarice asked.
“Yeah, that’s where I’m from. But you still haven’t answered my question about the money!” Marla pointed out.
“Oh, don’t worry ‘bout it. I got that covered.” Clarice said through a grin as she reached into her purse and handed Marla a good deal of money.
“I can’t take this from you!” Marla retorted in a whisper as she slowly pushed the money back to her friend; pulling out money on a Chicago bus was not a very wise thing to do.
“Quit makin’ a fuss and go ahead and take this money.” Clarice insisted. “I was gonna give it to you anyway.”
“All right then.” Marla consented and reluctantly took the money. She wasn’t one for accepting handouts.
The bus began to come to a stop as it reached one of its destinations, a shabby yet stable housing project. This was Clarice’s stop, so she gathered her things and began to make her way towards the exit.
“Say ‘Hi’ to your mama for me when you get there!” Clarice exclaimed to Marla as she exited off the bus.
The bus drove off into the encroaching darkness as it made its way towards the Chicago city limits, leaving behind the aging apartment buildings. There were only a few passengers left including Marla. She looked outside the windows as the vehicle made its way through the tangles of asphalt and huddles of icy buildings. All the streetlights were on now, signaling that there was no more natural light left in the day and that florescent light bulbs would have to suffice.
Clarice’s suggestion made Marla think about people and places that she had pushed into the back of her mind a long time ago. She had been born in San Juan, Puerto Rico to Marcus and Lucia Pearson. Her father had met her mother there while he was studying abroad in college. He had always said that it was her mother’s long, curly hair that made him fall for her. Her mother thought her hair was her most beautiful feature, which she had inherited from her mixture of African and Puerto Rican heritage. Marla had her mother’s hair and it was her most beautiful feature as well … until she cut most of it off. She had no use for it now, since Lloyd was no longer there to appreciate it.
The first three years of her life were spent in San Juan, until her family moved to Chicago. Her parents wanted her to grow up in America, so they decided to live in her father’s hometown. Marla could vividly remember the warm, inviting beaches that she and her family used to visit while she lived in San Juan. Her fondest memory was of her and her parents playing on the beach. Thinking of these old memories caused Marla to realize how distant she and her mother had become. She hadn’t seen her mother since her father’s funeral six years ago. Her mother had gone to live back in San Juan after that; she never came to Lloyd’s funeral. Marla hadn’t meant to distance herself; the circumstances at hand were what kept her away.
Finally the bus made it to her humble house on the outskirts of Chicago. It wasn’t much, but it was a lot better than nothing. Marla stepped off and got out her keys to enter the house. There was no one there to greet her when she opened the door. There was only silence and time. She had worked a hard day, and she had thought hard as well. All that thinking made her realize something. Ever since her husband had died she had done nothing but pity herself and deny herself of any happiness. Without Lloyd there with her, she felt like she didn’t deserve to be happy anymore, but now she began to see things differently. She had a good deal of money from Clarice in her purse and some saved money in her bank account. So, she thought about things some more until her brain finally became tired and sent her off to sleep.
Four months had passed since Clarice had mentioned Puerto Rico to Marla, and since then she had saved up a few more dollars for her plane ticket. She made her way on the bus to the O’Hare International Airport where she waited for her early departure to San Juan. She had only been on a plane once before, and she was excited. Marla was not only excited about the plane ride, but also about going back home. She only remembered San Juan from her childhood memories, and she wondered if it would still make her heart feel the same way when she returned.
Marla’s flight arrived at the San Luis Muñoz Martín International Airport in San Juan at 7:45 A.M. As it rose higher in the sky, the bright, Caribbean sun began to fill everything with its warmth. The smell of the tropical flora and ocean breeze mixed in the air to form a sweet and salty aroma. To Marla it was a distant memory that was now becoming a clear reality. She realized why it was called “La Isla del Encanto”, “The Island of Enchantment.”
She managed her way through the bustling metropolis with what little Spanish she remembered. She was thankful that English was also one of the official languages there. Marla had reserved a very small house along the San Juan coast. She wanted to think before she reunited with her mother, and the beach felt like the perfect place to do just that. Marla strolled down the shoreline with the sand squeezing in between her toes and the sun glistening off her burnt copper skin. The trip to Puerto Rico had been impulsive, but now she felt as if she had always belonged there.
The sun that had been sitting high in the sky was becoming a round ruby on the horizon as Marla started for her mother’s small barrio. It was the neighborhood where she had grown up when she was a child. Marla vaguely remembered the directions, but she made it there somehow. Soon she was on the street in front of her childhood home. Some of the houses had changed, and she didn’t recognize any of the nearby faces. However, her old home was still the same. Marla saw a woman next door tending to her small garden. She walked over to the woman in hope of learning if her mother lived in the house next door or not.
“¿Ésa es la casa de Señora Pearson?” Marla asked the woman as she pointed to the house.
“Sí.” The woman replied with a nod.