Our house, a colonial building with high ceilings and enormous hardwood doors, had been in my mother’s family since her great-grandparents’ generation, since long before the revolution. It was a fantastic house, with heavy shutters on each window that completely blacked it out at night, and an ornate tiled floor that was deliciously cool to hot and tired bare feet. At the front, looking onto the street, we had two rockers, which also belonged to some ancestor of my mother. Beside the rockers was a small table with a heavy ashtray for my father’s cigar that lived there permanently.
Although we hadn’t always taken boarders, the house had always been partitioned, as though it were purposely built for people to live semi-separately. I imagine, actually, that it had, and at one time our living area was that of servants to the colonial occupants. Our quarters were not uncomfortable, and we were not, of course, confined to them all of the time. During the day, the guests, who were all tourists, mostly left us alone to go to explore the sights or laze at the beach. Then, if there were no visitors in the house, I was permitted to sit in one of the rockers, or eat at the large dining table, whilst my mother cleaned the bedrooms and cleared their breakfast things away. But all of our essentials – my toys, our clothes, and the television,- were kept in what served as my parents’ bedroom, the room adjoining the small kitchen at the back. I slept on the sofa between the two rooms.
I can’t remember quite when we registered our house as a boarding place. I imagine that when my sister, who was a full decade older than me, married and moved out, my parents decided it would be more practical to do so with only one child in the house. Also, in the 90’s, things worsened economically, so that must have had some influence. My sister is actually my half-sister, which is why there is such a gap between us. My mother’s first husband left when she was three years old. He had the opportunity of leaving the country, which was more difficult in those days, and promised to send for his wife and daughter as soon as he could. My mother waited two years, and then, being the practical woman she was, forgot about him and considered her reality. She was still a young woman.
She had known my father nearly all her life, for he was a friend of her younger brother. Before the revolution, my mother’s family had been relatively, though not fantastically, wealthy. They had a little land and farmed and kept horses. I think a little of that superiority was passed down in the genes. My father, on the other hand, came from fishing people, although he himself was not a fisherman; he fixed boats, amongst other things. In different circumstances, I don’t believe they would have selected each other as partners, or, more accurately, my mother would not have accepted him. She was not beautiful exactly, but she had lovely hair, long and sleek, with very dark, serious, distant-looking eyes. She was quite tall for a woman and her body was naturally slender. In her thin face, her largish teeth looked slightly too big in her mouth, which, with the far gaze in her eyes, gave her an almost haunted look.
As I have grown older, I have sometimes wondered whether that gaze was always in her eyes, or whether it set in after my sister’s father disappeared. I never once heard her mention him wistfully, nor caught her looking nostalgically at photographs (for anyway, there were only two), but it was there, that sense that she was sometimes elsewhere. When she accepted my father’s interest, I think it was out of a common-sense instinct not to remain alone, and to choose someone who would be truly kind to her then fatherless daughter. For my father was indeed a kind man, gregarious and jolly by nature and enormously generous of spirit. Physically, he could not have been more her opposite. He was about the same height, but looked smaller because he was very squat-limbed, with plump spatulate hands, and as he grew older, his face and middle grew fat. This suited his nature, and his fat cheeks made his small dark eyes appear more squinted, cheeky almost. An operation he had when I was only young to correct nodules on his throat had made his voice a little strained and high. Nonetheless, it did not stop him from speaking, not even a bit, for he loved to make conversation of any kind. Our house was rarely silent with his continual banter and my mother’s regular, almost mechanical interjections of assent in her lower, huskier voice.
I think it was this love of conversation that meant my father in no way objected to having guests coming and going almost continually. He was genuinely hospitable and enjoyed telling them the history of the town, the country, and our house – even though it was not really his. Equally, he enjoyed asking visitors about their home countries, where they were going on to, what they did for work, and what they did with their lives. Somehow, he even managed to converse with the guests who did not speak Spanish at all. My mother was also always welcoming and hospitable. In fact, many guests came to us after recommendations from their friends about her clean home and wonderful cooking. She cooked well – nothing fancy, just simple, well-flavoured, carefully made home food. However, her hospitality was more functional, asking what guests wanted for their meals and if they wanted to be woken in the morning. Although she enjoyed cooking, I don’t think she relished having people there. She enjoyed the occasional respite we were allowed during quiet periods. In these precious moments, she wore her long hair down, instead of in its usual simple twist into a clip.
Enjoy the rest of this creative, culinary masterpiece by Faye Griffiths in SN9: Fat Tuesday, coming out soon!