We All Look Alike

It’s Saturday night. Mamí unwinds the hot rollers from her hair. She stands in her bra and panties; not the large white ones she wears underneath the matching polyester pant and top set—the clothes she cleans in—but the purple bottoms that disappear between her cheeks and the bra that’s nothing but a little bit of lace. Her stance is wide, her shoulders defined as she pulls out one pin at a time, unfolding each steaming section of hair. I’m on tiptoes balancing on the toilet seat behind her. I can see myself in the mirror when she puts her arms down. I pout and make that noise I make when I don’t like something, like there’s a wind-up toy stuck in my throat.

“Bastante,” she mumbles sternly, a pin between her teeth, brush in midair, as she looks my reflection in the eye. I stop. There’s a pounding from the wall. It’s the Italian woman who shares the duplex with us. It means she’s almost ready. It’s how we communicate since our phones got cut off. Before we know it, she’s let herself in, her two mixed-race boys trudging up the stairs behind her. They are ten and eleven, looking just alike, nappy black hair, black eyes, olive skin.

“Got any food?” the older one asks.

“Their cupboards look just like ours,” she says, swatting the top of his head, “full of nothing.”

Us kids, we all look alike in that we’re not white, we’re poor and hungry, and our mothers are beautiful, and they know how to bring men home from discos, with doggie bags around their wrists at 3 am. We wait for those scraps.

A car waits for them at the curb; its horn sounding three long wails. Mamí has on skin-tight jeans, high heels, and a black t-shirt with white letters, ‘XANADU,’ pulling hard across her chest, red lipstick, hands on her hips. Mamí, you are so beautiful. I wave good-bye.

We wait the whole night on the cement stoop, the door open behind us. I used to have a bike and we would take turns riding it up and down the block. A pink bike with glitter streamers and a bell from the last man Mamí married. But it got stolen last week. It’s gone and so is the man. We can smell the rotten air from Lake Erie not far from here, behind St. Mary’s, the Catholic school where we go for free because we’re poor, but our mothers believe. We play Red- Light-Green-Light, and Simon Says. It’s easy to stay awake when you’re hungry. I don’t tell the brothers that my Mamí is prettier. I don’t say I’ll have more to eat because there is only one of me. That they’ll still be hungry after eating but my belly will be full. Across the street, we watch old Mrs. Daniels, darker than all of us put together, come out in her yellow housedress and call for her cats, Glorious and Blessing. Both of which we’ve never seen, and we’ve lived here for almost a year. When our mothers come home, the men follow them in. They wait on the plastic covered couch looking at their watches and running their hands through their hair, wedding bands gold and shining.

“Mi hija,” Mamí says, “ándale.”

We are shooed into the kitchen as our mothers dump food onto plates. I have stuffed crab. The boys have scraps of steak and a half of a baked potato. Mamí’s zipper is down. The hair around her forehead has begun to recurl itself into its natural kinky shape. She smells like Lake Erie—rotten and wormy. Tonight she will kneel with me beside my bed and we will cross ourselves, kiss our thumbs, and pray. We are sinners, Mamí, who gives herself to men for food and me, her daughter, who eats it.

Jamie Figueroa, Puerto Rican by way of Ohio, is a lover of literature, languages, and lists. At home in Santa Fe since 2007, she majors in creative writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA, Santa Fe, NM). She is an enrolled member of the United Confederation of Taíno People, Boriken.

Figueroa’s work has been published in various literary journals including Split Oak Press and Eklecksographia. Her blog, “With This Pen,” explores race, identity, and relationships in the Santa Fe Reporter’s online edition. Figueroa has presented at the Native American Literary Symposium and the Indigenous Book Festival, as well as in the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts 2010 literary series.

A recipient of the Truman Capote Scholarship, Figueroa has worked with local community nonprofits including El Otro Lado and Little Globe, and has taught children, the elderly, and various age groups in between. She believes story—the act of telling story and listening to story—is the most powerful tool human beings have to enact compassion and change.

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