This moment could have been the ending to my great-grandmother’s ninety-three years on this earth, but I hoped it wasn’t. I wanted her to open her eyes so badly, just to prove to me that she was still there. I stared out the window to find where the loudest noise on the street was coming from until I stopped at the construction site across the street from the hospital.
I couldn’t see much of what those construction workers were doing because the 1 train station was covering the other side of the street. I squinted my eyes for a better view, but all I could see were Timberland boots on the pavement next to orange cones. I looked over to the right of the window and saw an empty tennis court, and then wondered why no one was there. It was a nice spring day and I expected a few Columbia students to be out enjoying their field, but then again it was a nice day out and I was at a window watching it.
I was so focused on the life out of the window that I didn’t hear my name until I saw my mother’s reflection in the window. I turned to face her.
“Did she wake up?” she asked. I shook my head and slowly turned my head to see Mamia still sleeping with her mouth opened, breathing louder than I was. My mom walked back into the hallway to talk on the phone and closed the door on her way out. It was just me in the room, and I hoped Mamia was in there too. I walked over to the other side of the bed until I saw a picture of my dad, my uncle, my great-grandmother and my grandfather. I bent down and blew away the dust on the glass. I didn’t know how long ago that frame was put there, but I assumed that my grandfather brought it to the hospital.
I was behind the camera when that picture was taken on December 31, 1999. I had walked back inside the living room from the balcony. The Christmas tree was still in place with all of our gifts, anxiously waiting to be opened, and the radio speakers were blasting Salsa. The room felt like a Cuban restaurant, with the smell of the boiling black beans and lasagna racing through my nostrils. Two seconds after the camera flashed, my uncle and my father picked up their half empty bottles of beer and strolled back to the couch. My grandfather walked over to the radio to get ready for the dance the kids were going to perform and Mamia was still smiling as though she was ready for another picture. My two sisters and my stepsister all ran over to find their positions. But instead of finding my spot, I walked away and sneaked into my grandfather’s room before anyone spotted me.
Once I walked into the room, the song started playing and my hip popped with the beat. It was the song “Quimbara,” but a remix of Celia Cruz’s version by a group named DLG. I turned to the mirror and watched myself dance all the moves I had rehearsed with my sisters, only this time, I was too nervous to dance in front of everyone. I lifted up my arms and twisted my wrists as my hips continued to move from left to right, and when it was the part of the song where I was supposed to turn, I turned halfway. As I attempted to turn, I made eye contact with my uncle, who was smiling at the door with his head slightly leaning on the doorway.
“And you can’t do that out here?” he smirked as my shoulders rose two inches then fell down heavily. He then grabbed my hand to walk me to the living room and when I looked over to the girls dancing, I saw Mamia dancing, too. She was trying really hard to follow my sisters’ moves and stood where I was supposed to be standing. I looked up to my uncle and smiled back. Mamia didn’t stop smiling that night, regardless of her clumsy dance moves, and I danced along with her.
I found the courage to take a step closer to her bed and look over her, rather than looking at her from a distance. It was the fourth day in a row that I had gone to the hospital and she was in the same position, and I had never seen anyone sleep that long. I hesitated as my right hand reached for her right hand and held her palm as I stared at the eight beauty marks on her thumb. I looked up at her face and saw her eyelids trembling as her breathing turned into snores. Her hair was white with a few black hairs growing from different areas of her scalp. She had so many hair color phases when I was younger, so it was weird to see her natural color. I reached with my left hand for her hair and combed it with my fingers. Her hair was much shorter than how it had been when she would babysit my sisters and me.
That one time she babysat us in my father’s house, I was seven and Barbie’s biggest fan. Daddy had bought us a Barbie house with an elevator in it, and I was dressing up my Barbie with her pajamas. My little sister was playing with me while Mamia was with my older sister in the living room. Mamia was my older sister’s Barbie for the day, and so my sister was brushing my grandmother’s light pink hair. I had to use the bathroom; When I finished, I washed my hands and then stopped at the doorknob. Daddy always told me not to lock the door when I was in there, but because he wasn’t home, I had the perfect opportunity to lock it without getting into trouble. I played with the button on the doorknob and turned the knob to watch the button jump. I pressed the button one more time and walked out of the bathroom to go back to my room.
My little sister was walking out of the room as I walked into it, then I heard a door close once I sat on the floor. I didn’t pay any mind to it, but once my little sister came back into the room, she complained, “Ash-a-ley, I have to pee.” I walked her to the bathroom, but when I reached for the knob, the door was locked. No, I thought to myself. I’m going to be in so much trouble. I ran to my grandfather’s room to find his tool box under his bed. I then opened it and took out anything that might fit into the little hole on the doorknob. I ran back to the bathroom door and tried to open the door with a silver screw, then a screw driver, but they didn’t work. I also pulled out a bobby pin from my hair, but nothing was working. Because I couldn’t fix the problem myself, I had no choice but to tell Mamia. So I walked over to the living room.
Mamia was focused on her soap opera as I dragged my feet through my slippers to get to her. After mumbling a few things to not make the situation look as bad, I finally told her that the door to the bathroom didn’t want to open. As she tried to open the door, she kept asking how it had happened or who had done it, but I kept shrugging my shoulders. Whenever anyone else asked, I didn’t know.
I should have told her. I let go of her hand and stopped playing with her hair. She probably wouldn’t remember this incident if I tried to tell her now, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t remember the guilt of not saying anything. I walked back to the window. I saw the baseball field with no one there either, and I thought about how I was missing the Yankee game that night. CC Sabathia was going to be the starting pitcher for the night and he always kept me on the edge of my seat every time I watched him play. The game was moving along without me, even though time didn’t seem to exist in the hospital.
The sun was about to set and I watched it begin to make orange patterns in the sky. I turned around to look back at Mamia when I noticed she wasn’t snoring anymore. She wasn’t asleep and was tugging on her white blanket. I didn’t even turn away to get confirmation because I didn’t want that moment to be a figment of my imagination. All I knew was that two bright blue eyes were staring back at mine, and they looked well rested.
“Hola, preciosa.” Hello, beautiful. She had been sleeping for days and the first thing she wanted to say was, “Hello, beautiful”? I forgot to do my hair that day and I was in my high school uniform, so I know I looked pretty bad. But I didn’t know what to be more shocked at: the fact that she was finally awake or being skeptical about why she had called me beautiful. I couldn’t get a word across the smile I had on my face. After a few seconds, I forced two words out, “Hola, Mamia.” She asked me how I was doing and how my father was. We continued with our conversation until my mother was done on the phone. My mother looked at me and thought I was talking to myself. When she walked closer to the bed, Mamia turned her direction and smiled, exposing her toothless gums.
As I walked out of the hospital, I couldn’t stop thinking about Mamia’s facial expression once she woke up. There must have been a reason why my great grandmother was named Esperanza, which translates as “hope.” Throughout the week, I kept wishing she would still be there for the next day I would visit her. The moment I saw her looking back at me was the moment my hope for her to get better. But then I lost myself in the confusion of my thoughts. What if she fell asleep for that long again and she didn’t come back? Whether she came back the next time or not, she would live through our photographs and the lessons I had learned from her. The memories that didn’t seem like much before meant everything at that moment, and if her time came, those memories would keep her alive forever.