Toña spooks me now and then in the middle of the night. It’s almost as if she is here. Like she never died. Like all that nonsense she told me would happen. The way she knew I would fall for it, and all the tricks she loved playing on my mind.
It’s been, uff, more years than I can remember…that last time I saw her before she passed on with her trenzas she pretended hid her secret stashes of treasure. The ones she would say kept her hair from dragging behind her on the floor. You know, her hair she swore – y te lo juraba con palabra de Dios – had never in her entire life felt the sharpness of scissors.
And now she comes to bug me in the middle of the night knowing how that frightens me, even when I say I don’t believe in it. She likes that her stroke on my left arm can get me to praying 40, that’s right, 40 Hail Mary’s.
Pero you wouldn’t even believe me if I tell you I don’t even believe so much in the Santisima Virgen Guadalupana. I pray those 40 Hail Mary’s because my instincts tell me to respect the old Indita. Uh, the dead old Indita.
I don’t call her it in a callous way. She is dead. And old, well, that’s what she called herself. “¡Ay!, esta indita tuya. Esta india vieja.” If she called herself that, well then, it was okay by her book. Toña didn’t seem to mind.
Her relationship to me is still mysterious. But somehow, she’s related. And somewhere along the line, she became so close to my mother’s side of the family that she became a part of them. That is how Toña the old indita ended up being my abuelita.
Her presence shaped my world. She became my never-ending book with stories I had never heard of. A breathing novel and a dancing radio of Mexican corridos. Dancing to whatever songs we requested. Sometimes La Cucaracha, sometimes La Del Moño Colora’o.
In turn, I became her annoying know it all who asked way too many. She was a chatterbox. But I was more so a preguntona.
“But why do I have to pray so much?” I asked her once.
“¡Aiii! niña malinche. It is to prepare you for the other side. You have to be prepared.”
Maybe I didn’t understand what she was speaking of. How could I actually know what she meant, when religion was anything but a part of our family traditions? All I knew was the other side was a scary place I wanted to be prepared for.
By morning, I was chirping ‘el gallo’ into her ear, hungry for her atole de arroz. By night she was grinding a billion prayers into my head. I could fall asleep when I couldn’t help myself any longer. But before long, there she was nudging my left arm to finish praying my 40 Hail Mary’s.
And off I went with the Santa Maria’s until it became a tongue twister I mumbled through. Possibly, I would be rewarded with a cuento once we were done with all that praying. You know, those cuentos that make a kid get soothed back to sleep. That is how I came to be a superstitious nut.
There was La Llorona, El Cucuy del Sur, Las Lechusas, and La Mano Pachona, amongst her collection of legends. You know, those myths which contradict all that praying we might’a just finished repeating over and over. Prayers to the santitos y luego leyendas de los cucuys.
She’d tell me there would never be a time when she would actually stop checking up on me. And I believed her. I believe all that even now when I am old enough to know it is almost impossible for her to come back from the dead.
But,chinelas, I don’t know. Everything I know I don’t believe gets mixed up with promises she made. And because of my superstitious side, I know that stroke on my left arm is from her. My old Indita is preparing me for something.
Maybe that other side she is in requires a ticket of prayers.
Maybe it is just my imagination.
But let’s not take a risk. If Toña is to be my never-ending book, there has to be more to death than I want to let myself imagine. There has to be an end to my old indita’s praying.