Our Trinidadian babysitter conveniently lived just a few floors below us. A great-grandma, she was our guardian until she was out sick one day. It turned out she would be out sick forever. On the elevator my parents had met an Argentinian lady, newly installed in what the adults dubbed a “luxurious unit” in the sprawl of our government housing. Awaiting full-time work, she cleaned apartments and made time for the last-minute likes of us.
My brother and I hadn’t yet eaten breakfast when we appeared in her hallway that early morning. My parents filled her tiny kitchen as she poured Nescafé and dumped white sugar like a champ into brown ceramic mugs that defined the 1980’s. Two sips into these niceties and my dad told my mom we didn’t have time, he had to drop her off. My mom practically scalded her tongue and throat tossing a few more gulps of precious elixir down. Offering a quick “Cuidase, mi niños,” she bent over giving us each a pucker, whilst rummaging through my brother’s hair. I drifted in and out, buckling on rubbery five-year-old legs. My mom shuffled me over to the living room, telling me to lay down on the sofa.
“Por favor, solamente Cream of Wheat o Farina—nada mas,” instructed dad as my brother and I exchanged glances, wilting. Two boring dad-approved kinds of cereals. No strawberry Nesquik like when our mom makes us breakfast. For a while, I rubbed at the sleep fogging my brown eyes.
A slight tickle along the back of my hand rousted me gently. My brother. I tried to shake him off, each time more violently, eyes blissfully closed. Saliva stuck to my cheek as I sighed, wriggling to reclaim my comfort. The tickling insisted. My eyes flew open, retaliation burning.
A cockroach. No one around. One thin, crooked leg at a time, he sauntered along my forearm, antennae searching. Two thousand lenses comprising his eyes, watched multiple versions of my face open in baby-faced shock; stared as my hysterical toddler-tears burst forth; noted my brother and babysitter, as they ran into the room shouting.
© March 2019, by Isabel Alvear