by Roberto Carlos Garcia
Lysander dove into the pool and savored the cool crispness of the water. The deep end of the pool had fewer people in it and he could stretch his full frame out in an underwater glide. At sixteen years old he was six-foot six but still underweight. Presently, he was showing off for two Italian girls. They flirted with the eight-and-a-half-foot deep end of the pool, yet retreated squeamishly to the three-and-a-half-foot side. The two girls were pale but for the slight brown tanned skin on the tops of their shoulders. He missed being able just to walk up and talk to girls. In the Dominican Republic he was considered a player of sorts, but here in Miami Beach things were very different.
For one thing, people acted conspicuously when he walked into a store. And there were strange glances too. Once at the zoo, as he tried to get a closer look at a flamingo, he walked by a woman sitting on a bench. She had placed her purse on the bench beside her, but when she saw him so near it, she clutched it against her breast. He didn’t understand the reaction, but his Uncle Checo had told him about los blanquitos en junited stais.
“Even if they aren’t really white, if they just look white, they try to make dark people feel stupid or bad when they can.” His uncle had said.
He didn’t want to believe his uncle. Lysander thought his Uncle Checo was a head case. Most Dominicans would argue that the rich in their country only discriminated against the poor. However, the majority of the poor were black. Lysander was learning that in America, black is black. It was too much for him to sort out in his sixteen-year-old mind. The only thing he could think about was the plump breasts and protruding butts of the Italian girls. They were wearing tiny Brazilian style bikinis in bright neon colors.
He spread his arms and held on to the edge of the pool. He let his long black legs rise in front of him out of the water, one of the girls came out from the pool. She watched him, plucked the tiny bikini bottom from her butt crack, and jumped back in. He glared at each girl lustily and they returned little frowns. This back and forth went on for half an hour.
His Uncle Checo also told him about European women. That they would show off their breasts at the first opportunity while on vacation, tan them in the raw Caribbean sun, and consider it rude if you stared at them. And that they still had a colonia mentality. Checo swore to Lysander that he’d slept with several married European women while working at the resorts. That the ones he’d met considered sex with the locals part of the package. Oh, and that their European daughters, as soon as they formed any kind of breasts, were immediately issued bikinis.
“It’s the price we pay,” he had said, “for fighting the Spanish and the French to gain our independence, then letting them walk right in and buying half the island anyway.”
He knew the girls were Italian because of the two little boys, probably their siblings, roughhousing near the edge of the pool. Every time a new fellow came close to jumping in the pool, the little boys would stop him and make him answer a question.
“Lei parla Italiano?” they’d ask.
The girls tried to chase them away, but one of the little boys would not cede. Restless and energetic, the little sibling had long golden hair. His head was rather large and his body almost muscular. He could easily be confused for a midget. Lysander thought the boy doomed to a stature of less than four feet. He thought about what his grandmother would say, if you are too smart too soon you won’t grow, you’ll stay short and your head will get bigger and bigger. The two boys carried on in Italian and English intermittently.
Lysander’s relatives were swimming in the shallow end and his younger sisters and cousin were teasing him from afar. One of his sisters, the older of the two, became suddenly quiet and when Lysander followed her stare he saw them. There was no mistaking the swagger, the fancy swimwear, and the loud phonetic Spanish. Cuban boys. Lysander’s admirers focused their attention on the Casanovas. His own sister, ogled those Cuban boys. He knew they wouldn’t look at her. She was too dark for them and part of him wanted to be cruel and tell her.
“Watch out for the Cubans in Florida,” his uncle had said. “They look like white-boys and worse they act like them in public. They will look down on you Lysander, and then try to act like they are proud to be Latinos when it suits them. You either are or you aren’t. You know what I mean?”
He believed this lesson from his sometime loco uncle. Already a Cuban had duped him. Lysander’s aunt had sent him to the grocery store once and the cashier, who was clearly a Spanish speaker refused to speak to him in Spanish. The cashier had a terrible accent and Lysander was nervous about his own English. Standing behind him in line was what he thought to be a tall white guy.
“Can we move this along, please? I am running late.” He said.
However, when Lysander ran into the same tall white guy in the parking lot, the man’s cell phone rang and as Lysander walked away he heard the man answer in clear Spanish:“Que bola, chico?” A quintessential Cuban phrase.
Lysander decided to get out of the pool. His black skin was now a burnt shade from the many hours of swimming. The hot sun strengthened him and he scanned himself covertly. He was proud of his complexion and pleased to see it growing even darker in the Florida sun. Casually, he walked toward the Cuban boys. He was easily a head taller than the tallest one and stopped in front of them, dripping all over their leather moccasins. He shook his arms out as if trying to dry them. Drops of water pelted the Cuban boys’ linen shirts.
“Excuse me.” Lysander said and turned around. His exaggerated movement sent more water at the boys and they retreated, mumbling curses under their breaths.
He heard giggles and saw that he had impressed the Italian girls. He was so delighted that he dove back into the pool and swam underwater all the way towards them. As he rose he realized how desperate this came off, but it was too late. He was face to face with them. Smiling and standing at his full height in the three-foot side of the pool.
He asked, “Hablan Español?”
The girls giggled. “Muy poquito?” One girl answered with a question and an unsure shrug.
Lysander relaxed. “So you mean to tell me you never heard of ‘El baja panties’?”
The giggling told him all he needed to know. He held his breath and dipped his head underwater. Perhaps things weren’t as different in Miami Beach as he thought.
Roberto Carlos Garcia‘s published works include the chapbook, amores gitano (gypsy loves) [Cervena Barva Press, 2013], his poems and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in Entropy, PLUCK!: The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, The Rumpus, 5 AM Magazine, Wilderness House, Connotation Press- An Online Artifact, Poets/Artists, Levure Litteraire, and others. A native New Yorker, Roberto holds an MFA in Poetry and Poetry Translation from Drew University. He is Instructor of English at Union County College and his website is www.robertocarlosgarcia.tumblr.com.
Stories @ Digging Through the Fat: Volume 2, Issue 10
April 22, 2015
Photography by: Gessy Alvarez