In between “Caya Di Nos Libertador Betico Croes” (the Aorta of our Oranjestad down town) to another important street called Whilhelminastraat (which is a parallel street about two streets to the South – and also happens to be the stomping grounds of my youth) – there are adjoining streets. For the moment, let’s call them the veins and arteries that connect this Aorta to Whilhelminastraat. And off to the sides of these connecting veins and arteries are the smaller and much more interesting capillaries. Some do not have names. They are small little alleys that over the years have been paved for some reason or the other. Where once the back end of a garage or storage facility was, you now can find a door and windows. These new/old dwellings within these capillaries form the most humble of living environments - open to the world yet so hidden. And for the strangest of reasons, it is in these doorways and windows of our islands main town – tucked away in the middle of a troubled township – where the FOR RENT signs outnumber names of establishments – it is precisely here that the warmest and nicest smiles reside. All you have to do is look.
Many of these smiles are, in the purest sense of the term, immigrant smiles. Glad to have landed on our pebble of an island and to have left whatever horror housed them before. They all apply for small lots on which to build their new homesteads and most know it will never come to pass, yet they hold fast to that hope and review the land application from time to time to make sure that all the information is correct. These are alleyways or better yet, capillaries of hope and of dreams. A dream come true or hopes for a different future. And from door to door and window to window, the one thing in common is the smiles. It is a smile that is attached to a gentle nod. These tilted heads are careful that the ‘nod’ is never subservient while being hopelessly reckless with the smiles. Children’s eyes look up and you know that behind them lies the strength that mixture brings. When it comes to survival in humans, it seems that a good mix wins over a pure race. Odd.
They – tucked in these capillaries of our town - represent the new Aruba, or at least an ingredient of what will make it up. They are the future of this island and it is something that is difficult to come to grips with. I would imagine that the North American Indians felt the same as I did when (only a few hours ago) I saw these foreign faces and it dawned on me – they are us. Once – our grandfathers and their parents had clarity in their ancestry – or did they? Was it so pure to be Dutch? After all – what cocktail or blend made them? It is as confusing as it is fascinating. Opaque old photos of my forefathers that lived in a world captured in the light and dark brown colors of their cameras – now give way to digital realities of what it is we are and where we are headed.
O.K. – O.K. – I admit – I did it ….
I lingered in front of one particular doorway and let my mid-day-hot-as-hell-in-the-sun-sweating “hello” last just a bit longer - and then waited. She was perfect. About 90 and her cheeks hinted at a toothless grin. The light “coffee colored” skin on her face was at the same time wrinkled and smooth in between the wrinkles. She graced the inexpensive dress she wore with a certain something – don’t know what but it was there. She smiled and looked at me and said “Con Ta - Bai Meneer? Bon Dia pabo.” - “How are you Sir – Have a nice day”. Behind this perfect toothless salutation was that hint of Spanish. Junior – of course – took this as an invitation to enter the doorway and she apparently understood the same thing. We entered and my 4 year old (going on 400) Junior became peaceful. He sat on my lap and wrapped an arm around my neck and stared. He stared at the figurines of Mary and the candles that burned and at the black Flamenco Dancing doll on the small plastic covered sofa. But mostly, he stared at the lady. Better yet, he paid close attention. There is a connection that happens between the more elderly and the young that is hard to interfere with. And to try and be a part of that is to interfere. So... I just watched this mental ballet between the two of them. After a few moments, Junior asked me if we could go now. She nodded to let me know I could leave and we did. As we headed for the small door, my son indicated I should carry him. Not because he was tired but because he needed to have a continuum of the intimacy he had just experienced. Once at the door I stopped to say good bye. Not able to find words I grabbed my sons’ hand and waved it at this gem of a person.
From her comes what? Is she the one to have borne the one that will bear the leader of tomorrow? I don’t have a clue.
With a slight tilt of the head she looked at my son and then slowly closed the door - and – I am very sure that a wordless conversation that is profound beyond my understanding took place.
The sun grabbed us once again and the capillary turned into the vein that led us to the parking lot on Whilhelminastraat and we entered our car and drove home. All the while my son looked out the window and said absolutely nothing.