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A Bench in San Juan
I could see worry in my mom’s eyes as we sat in the bus en route to the airport. Something was wrong with the engine. It was sweaty and hot among the densely packed people on the bus. A majority of the passengers were pasty white Americans with sun glasses on ready to go back home. My mother and I had a flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Hartford that afternoon. My mom was anxious; fiddling with a shell that we had found on the beach, almost looking into it for answers. Finally the bus driver was able to get the engine fixed. We started moving again and my mother looked down at me. “Keep your fingers crossed”. Our flight was at three o’ clock and there was little time to spare now. Once the bus arrived at the airport we scrambled towards customer service, but large lines had already formed. The airport had air conditioning, which made it almost like home while we waited anxiously. Half an hour later we finally made it up to the clerk, but it was too late. My mom tried to reason with the woman at the desk but the flight was already leaving.
“I’m sorry Miss, but you will have to wait until our next flight tomorrow morning” she said condescendingly, but still with a smile on her face.
My mother responded with desperation, “Well where are my son and I going to sleep?”
“There are plenty of hotels in the city, why don’t you go find one of them.”
My mom looked at me and then back at the clerk, “But I don’t have any money, what am I going to do?”
With a blank face she said, “I’m sorry Miss, but I can’t help you.” My mother glared at her and then looked at me with a sigh. She grabbed my hand tightly and we walked away.
My mother and I had been visiting Puerto Rico on vacation. My grandmother was living there at the time, deep in the mountains. The tropical island was beautiful; it was nothing like my home in Vermont. There weren’t clouds for miles and the trees bore fruit that you could pick at your desire. Trees surrounded every part of the city and gave the impression of vacations to Mexico or the Caribbean on TV where you see amazing beaches and tropical sunsets. My mother had sacrificed our apartment to go on this vacation. She had left a notice for the landlord that she wouldn’t be paying rent anymore. We would have to live with my dad when we got back (they were separated). She loved Puerto Rico and wouldn’t let anything stop her from letting both of us see it. I was only six and all I noticed was that we were on vacation. The day we decided to leave San Juan my mom had called my dad to make sure he would be waiting at the Bradley airport in Hartford, Connecticut. Unfortunately, he didn’t need to worry about that until the next day.
After walking away from the clerk we waited around for a couple hours. We found a bench near one of the many entrances to the airport. My mom paced while the sun fell below the mountains making her shine through the windows as a divine creature. Once the sun was gone she no longer looked divine but instead, worried and tired. I asked her what we were going to do and all she did was smile back at me. It was great at first (her smile was voted the best in her high school). but I could still see fear in her eyes. Eventually one of the employees said that we couldn’t stay in the building all night, we had to leave. My mom paused for a second and then in the softest voice she said, “C’mon honey, let’s go outside.”
We were in Puerto Rico, so naturally it wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t hot either. My mom and I were sitting on a bench right outside the double sliding doors to the airport. Across from us was another with bench an old lady sitting right in the middle. I was scared; I’d never been in this situation before, in the dark, outside with no bed to rest on. Thirty minutes passed and I was beginning to get hungry. I had asked my mom if we could get something to eat. She said no, we didn’t have the money; not one dollar. After she said no all I could feel was the deep pit in my stomach getting bigger and bigger. But then I watched my mom build up the courage to go over and talk to the old lady. “Excuse me, my son is hungry and I don’t have any money, can you lend me a dollar?” The woman glared at my mom with a bewildered look and then glanced at me, wrapped in a blanket, half asleep. With worry in her voice she said, “Sure, here you go.” She must have thought that we were homeless and we were going to mug her. She handed my mom the dollar and gave a little smile. When I saw that we had gotten money I immediately popped up with excitement. My mom then walked over to me and nudged my shoulder, “C’mon sweetie, were gonna get you some dinner. Grab your stuff let’s go.” I grabbed the one small bag I had and we found a vending machine nearby. I got a small bag of Doritos. They were delicious; the tangy spicy flavor overwhelmed my mouth with each crunch.
For the rest of the night I slept on the bench with a hand-made blanket wrapped around me while my mom sat beside me with her hand on my back. The women had left and it was just us for the rest of the night. It was dead silent; I couldn’t even here the crickets. We were left alone, no one to help on the sidewalk of the San Juan airport. As I tried to sleep on the bench all I could see were the palm trees along the street swaying back and forth through the light breeze. All I could think of was my soft bed in my room. My mom sat next to me on the bench comforting me to sleep. Hours went by as my eye lids eventually closed in the late hours of the night on the wooden bench outside the airport. The last thing I saw before I fell asleep was my mom, still awake, staring into the night.
When morning came we waited eagerly to get on the plane and fly back to Hartford, where my dad was waiting for us. This time we didn’t miss the flight. During the trip back I definitely enjoyed the small luxuries that it had. I ate horrible food that tasted delicious and fell asleep in a soft airplane seat watching an old film with no sound. We had endured a night of homelessness and we were thankful we had made it back.
Now, whenever I see someone sleeping on the street out in the cold, I go back to that memory of the bench in San Juan. It gets more blurry as I get older, but I still remember. I remember the burning heat of the afternoon, the cool hard wood bench, and my bag of Doritos. I remember how strong my mom was, how she handled the situation. I know she remembers the airport bench, too. It was a place that both of us never want to visit again, but a place that both of us will always remember.