Johan Alexander's work has received support from Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, and he was a member of the Periplus Collective cohort in 2022. His writing appears in LatineLit Summer '22, Unstamatic, and Roi Faineant Press, and is forthcoming from the Periplus Anthology and Eunoia Review. Born in Medellín, Colombia, he currently lives in Portland, Maine.
insta @ johaxander
The Good Fry
Sometimes Mami and I take trips to Cartagena to visit her older sister Lorena. The trip is long from the beaches of Playa Blanca. We walk for a while, then ride for a while, then walk some more, or so it seems.
Lorena lives in a barrio without a name. Wait. That’s a lie: That Hella Noisy Place, that’s what we call it. It’s like we leave the noisy beach to visit even more noise, more crowd, more commotion, squeezing our souls through those zigzag streets. And let me just say it right now: zero waves, zero playa. But I guess it’s bearable.
We get to see Lorena. And I love going with my mother and my aunt to the fry stand at the end of the street, across from the two churches, those plaster tissue boxes: Las iglesias Reconciliación y Casa de Oración. Cradling all those soon-to-be-crumpled prayers, staunch behind those elegant fences. Devotions cluster like little nebulas of mosquitos, cobwebbing the fronds of drab palms, shading the fry stand where an old lady sells the most delicious empanadas and arepas de huevo. Una abuela súper gorda, esa abuelita re-gordita, basking in the glow of her sacred golden snacks steaming, steaming, steaming.
You must get there re-early because she will soon sell out. But Lorena has a secret: el ticket dorado the personal phone number of the little abuelita re-gordita. My best memories of Cartagena are encompassed within humid visions of my mother as she chomps down upon a fry. Lorena always calls ahead to have the best set aside (I’ll be down in cinco, diez minutos, gracias mi amor. Set aside tres arepas, fresh, fresh, fresh: mi hermana está in town with her kid). Oil drips over Mami’s chin and she grabs a napkin from the stand. Qué sabroso, she mutters, eyes clamped shut and jaw sprinting a marathon. I tell you, that flavor. Está sabrosísimo. Her shoulders go up in guttural joy and she flicks a bead of sweat from her earlobe, then wipes her forehead with that used napkin.
The fervor of it all. People fight in the street over the last of those arepas de huevo. Blood has been shed over those arepas de huevo. Noses and marriages have been broken over those malditas arepas de huevo. And then little abuelita re-gordita takes all her money and comes to the beach. We see her fanning her face, loving life under the cabanas. Eating her delicious fry from a container that she carries on those rickety double-decker buses, from that barrio without a name in Cartagena to Playa Blanca and the beach, back home, over there.