He doesn't open his eyes. Not yet. He doesn't need to open them to know that his day has begun and that Mama is in the kitchen. The coffee aroma in the air tells him what is happening inside his small Cunucu house by the Aruba Sea. Lying on his back, he throws an arm over to her side of the bed and his hand searches for her warmth. With eyes still closed and with a motionless face, his hand finally finds the spot where Mama slept. The lingering warmth is almost gone. It must be 5:30 since Mama always wakes up at 5:00. He picks up the small pillow on her side and brings it to his face. Slowly, Papa inhales her sweet aromas. Much like a falling tree, the arm that still holds the pillow falls back to her side of the bed with a dull thud.
In the kitchen, Mama is washing plates, and with her hands full of soap, she hears his massive arm come down on her side of the bed. Looking down and smiling at her soapy hands, she whispers, “Get up old man.” After carefully pouring hot sugary coffee in to two blue metal coffee mugs, she walks into their bedroom and sits on the edge of the bed by his side. His eyes remain closed. Mama puts her cup on the nightstand by his side of the bed and with her apron wipes the sleep from his eyes. He still keeps his eyes closed but inhales again. Garlic. She has started to prepare dinner already. Ever so gently, she dips one of her fingers in her coffee cup and puts the drop on his lips. She watches as the droplet runs off of his lips and down to his neck. All the while, his eyes remain closed. His eyes remain closed and his moistened lips remain motionless. Putting her cup next to his on the nightstand – she leans her soft wrinkled face to his ears and whispers with a tenderness known only to those who love profoundly, she says, “Get up you fat old fart.” He finally opens one eye and while staring at the ceiling says, “Only if you brush my hair.” This day starts like so many others, wonderfully.
Mumbling and groaning the old man moves to sit on the edge of his bed. His feet barely touching the floor by his bedside - he sits with his head bent and stares at his calloused feet. Once Mama brushes his hair the mumbling and groaning turns to a humming. She is silent in what she does and keeps one hand brushing while the other picks the fallen hair from his shoulders. After a few minutes, she finally tells him his clothes are ready.
Slowly he straightens out his back working out the nights stiffness. A cracking sound can be heard as he starts to roll his stiff neck. Still sitting on the side of the bed, he starts with his regimen of morning questions. Mama is prepared and is ready to answer them all.
“No starch in the underwear?”
“No.” she says
He stares at his feet, ponders and then asks – “Button down or tee-shirt?”
“Tee.” She answers.
While running his hands through his hair, he looks up and is lost in thought. Looking out at the door he asks the one question that he is sure that she could not answer. Slowly and in measured words, he asks “Khaki pants or the others?”
Before he could finish his question, she says “Khaki.”
Mama turns her head to look at his small clothes closet. It is nothing more than an indentation in the thick wall of the small house. None the less, it is an indentation deep enough to hold a wooden bar on which he could hang the few things he had. Towards the top of the closet is a plain wooden shelf. On it lie two pair of black socks, four white boxer underwear, a neatly rolled black belt, a black tie, two bright white Tee-shirts, a silver watch and a shiny pocket knife. His only suit and white shirt hang in the closet. On the closet floor is a place for his shoes, one of which is black and shiny cracked patent leather, while the pair are heavy sandals with the bottom cut out from the rubber of old automobile tires. Mama’s eyes go over the entire inventory. She smiles.
Mama continues to brush his hair, and then turns to him and with her soft voice says “Papa – today you will wear sandals and a fresh pair of khaki pants to protect your legs from the sun. Wear the soft white underwear and a fresh clean t-shirt when you go fishing with the men. It will bring you luck.” She touches his face and continues, “If you bring home one fish for dinner, you get a kiss. If you bring home enough to sell, we make babies.”,
Papa raises one white eyebrow and looks at her smiling. “You know I am not to old for that so prepare the bed tonight Mama and prepare yourself to go sell fish tomorrow.”
They laugh softly and Mama let’s the hair brush fall to the floor. They embrace and roll from side to side on the small bed. No words are spoken, only humming. Finally, like two children that tire of playing, they stop and finish their coffee. She looks at him much like dear old friends look at each other. “Your sandwiches are ready and your friends will arrive soon. Get ready.” With this, the old man rolls out of bed and goes to shower, all the while mumbling through his smile, “Babies at my age! That woman will kill me. I do not have the time to raise them. Babies!” He looks at the ceiling and laughs.
From the shower he yells out, “Holy Jesus – this water is as cold as winter!” In the kitchen, Mama tries to imitate him by making faces and mouthing the words he spoke. She does this perfectly – and it seems as if the words are spoken by the same person. She yells back, “Keep Jesus out of this and you have never left this island so don’t tell me about winter.” She smiles out the window. “Why don’t you get me the water warmer thing like you promised me 25 years ago?” He – in turn – mimes her words as flawlessly as she did his. Not able to see each other and from separate rooms in their small Cunucu house, they each momentarily close their eyes and smile at each other in silent recognition of the love that has taken so many years to grow to this point. Using the thinnest bar of soap, he finishes showering in the same cold water he has used for the past seventy five years. In the meantime, Mama fills his old thermos with coffee and puts it in his fishing box along with his sandwiches. He knows this has happened and also knows that his day cannot continue without the sandwiches and hot coffee in his lunch box.