Kim Vazquez grew up in Puerto Rico and moved to New York to study Dramatic Writing at Tisch School of the Arts, NYU. The lack of representation and diversity in children's books drove her to write a middle-grade Latinx mystery that she is currently querying while she works on another. She's had various articles curated and published on Medium and short stories featured in The Acentos Review, Somos En Escrito, and LatinX Lit Audio Mag.
Tía Angela's Lesson
Ana's heart twists painfully in her chest as she watches the homeless woman crossing the cobblestone street from the ice cream shop window. The woman's hair was matted, and her clothes filthy. Ana shook her head as she took a deep breath. In her ninety-three years of life, she had never gotten used to all the suffering in the world.
"Abuela," her granddaughter called out to her and asked if she still wanted her regular vanilla ice cream. Ana nodded and started digging in her bag for her wallet, but her granddaughter dismissed her with a wave.
When Ana turned back to the window, she sees a police officer talking to the woman. He was pointing down the street, and he looked disgusted and disinterested. Ana wanted to get up and tell him that there were two things you should always be in life, kind and smart. But just by looking at him, she could tell he was neither.
The police officer turned to Ana and smiled slightly, nodding a hello. She nodded back but didn't smile. Instead, she turned away, pretending to be interested in the archways and the exposed brick surrounding her, studying it like she was some tourist fascinated with the colonial architecture of the old city.
She lived in another town now, but she had grown up in Old San Juan just down the block from where she sat waiting for her vanilla ice cream. And she knew the whole city like the back of her hand. There wasn't a street she hadn't walked up and down or a building she hadn't been inside.
Ana nodded and closed her eyes. A smile filled her face as a warm breeze caressed her cheeks. The air was humid and smelled like gardenias like she remembered. She could even hear the piragüero's bell ringing as he made his way down the street selling his flavored ices, just like when she was a kid.
"Nena," she heard someone call out, and she opened her eyes.
Her Tía Angela stood over her. She was wearing a light-yellow linen dress and bright red lipstick. She smiled at Ana, and her eyes sparkled, "Where were you? Lost in your thoughts?"
"Tía Angela," Ana jumped up and looked around.
"Vente," Tía Angela turned and started walking away, "You're thirteen now. It's time you learned a little about the world. Life is hard enough for women. And it's harder for Puerto Rican women."
Ana ran to catch up to her aunt. "¿Como? What do you mean?"
"Vente," her aunt commanded as she made her way down the narrow sidewalk.
Tía Angela stopped in front of a light-yellow building that Ana had walked past many times.
"What are we doing here?" Ana watched as her aunt pulled out a ring full of keys.
"We learn more by listening than we do by talking. Pay attention, and I'll get you that vanilla ice cream I know you're waiting for." Tía Angela winked at her, then found the right key and opened the gate. She led them down a long hallway towards the back of the building.
Ana could hear a tragic ballad playing in one of the apartments, and she could smell sofrito and beans cooking in another. They reminded her of her mother and how sad she had been since Ana's father had died. It was scary without her father, but, gracias a Dios, Tía Angela looked out and cared for them.
Her aunt knocked on a door and called out a buenas tardes. The door opened, and an older frail-looking woman greeted them.
"Doña Angela, how are you?" The lady blushed, and her hands trembled as she waved them in.
The room was small, and it would be completely dark if it weren't for the open window at the back. Another older lady was lying on a bed in the corner. She tried to stand but started coughing, and Tía Angela put her hand on the woman's shoulder to stop her. Then she fluffed the pillow and helped the lady lean back again.
"I know you need the rent money. I'm so embarrassed that we owe you so much," the first lady said. Her thin arms wrapped around her body like she was trying to keep warm.
Tía Angela smiled and lifted a hand as if to say, 'It's okay.'
The lady on the bed assured her, "As soon as I'm better, we'll go back to work and pay you everything we owe you."
"We're eighty-four years old. Who's going to hire us?" the other lady said, and Ana looked from one to the other, realizing that they were twins.
"We'll find someone. We will." The lady in the bed stared up at Tía Angela and nodded.
"I made some food for you to take," the first lady rushed to a small stove on the other side of the room and spooned rice and beans into a container. "Maybe you can take it as a small payment towards what we owe you?"
Ana's eyes filled with tears and her heart felt like it was twisting itself into a knot in her chest. She took a deep breath and tried not to cry as she looked up at her aunt while praying for the ladies. Tía Angela looked down at her with kind eyes, then winked and looked at the expectant sisters.
"We can make cakes, too," the sister in the bed said between coughing fits. "Maybe we can make some and sell them. I just have to get better."
Tía Angela stepped forward and took the food in the container. "Ay! Que rico. It smells wonderful." She handed the container to Ana and turned back to the sisters. "Don't worry. Maybe things will be better next month. If not, then you'll pay me when you can."
The sisters thanked Tía Angela repeatedly as they left. Ana felt her heart relax a little as the door closed.
As they made their way upstairs to another apartment, her aunt placed her hand on Ana's shoulder, saying, "Now I'll let everybody else know that I'm raising their rent."
Ana looked up, confused.
"You should always be kind in life." Her aunt winked. "But you should also always be smart."
Ana smiled, and a warm breeze caressed her cheeks. The smell of gardenias filled the air. Ana closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. When she opened them, her granddaughter was standing in front of her, holding two cups of vanilla ice cream. "¿Abuela?"
"Ay. I was remembering my Tía Angela. She took good care of me." Ana smiled as she took her ice cream.
The homeless woman walked into the shop just as Ana savored her first mouthful of vanilla. Everyone turned to look, and Ana felt her heart twist in pain for the poor woman. She put the spoon down and reached for her wallet so that her granddaughter could give the woman some money. But her granddaughter was already up and on her way to talk to the woman.
A few minutes later, she was back. "I'm going to take her across the street and get her something to eat. I'll be right back."
Ana reached for her wallet again. "Toma." She tried to hand her granddaughter some money.
"So you don't spend all your money."
But her granddaughter waved the money away as she applied her cherry Chapstick.
"Ay! Abuela, you have to be kind in life, but you also have to be smart. You taught me that." Her granddaughter smiled as she smoothed out her light-yellow linen blouse. "I'll get it back, one way or another."
Ana smiled and patted her granddaughter's hand. "Yo se. I know you will. I'm sure of it."