Before the Storm
Note: I wrote this during the power outage after Hurricane Irma, while visiting family in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. When I wrote this at the time, I couldn’t have anticipated the devastation that Hurricane María would wreak in just a few short weeks. Still, I felt the need to share my thoughts about what a strange vigil this was, waiting for Hurricane Irma.
We waited. And waited. And waited. And then, we waited some more. Indeed, the hot, humid breeze seemed rife with an anticipation that rivaled that of Noche Buena Christmas Eve.
The neighbors all seemed to prepare for her with the same level of excitement, that same level of camaraderie that one feels just before the biggest holiday of the year. I arrived at this conclusion as I enjoyed my last cafecito break at Panadería Madrid in Bayamón before her arrival.
As my Papi and I sat, and I let my café con leche go cold, biding my time, savoring the moment, I felt it. The energy in the small cafeteria, which has been largely unchanged for the past 20 years or so, was one of excitement, not dread.
Eventually, three male police officers walked in, ordered their cafecitos, and sat down, exchanging occasional pleasantries with the other patrons and panadería’s ever-gallant employees, while they gazed, transfixed, at the single plasma TV screen. The casual mundane conversation seemed to transform into hushed silence at times, as we all watched the Puerto Rico governor address the island at a press conference, offering emergency information.
An elderly gentleman wearing a cap with the word “VETERAN,” who sat at the table next to us, addressed Papi. They began exchanging reminiscences of Hugo and Andrew, two faceless, masculine names that to this day strike fear into the hearts of the proudest and bravest of men.
I smiled as one of the employees, the one who refers to me as “la nena,” walked by. “I guess you’ll be closed tomorrow, eh?” I asked.
“We’ll open in the morning, and close if we need to,” he reassured me.
“Wow, ” I replied, nodding my head in amazement.
No one knew in that moment that the eye of Irma would miss us. No one knew that heavy wind and rain would be the worst of it. I didn’t know it was going to be okay. All I knew, in that moment, was that I was proud of Mi Gente, for their brave attitude, for their nonchalant resilience.
I finished my coffee and thanked them with a smile and a sense of renewed faith. Come what may, we would all live to have another cafecito together.