Just Before the Hurricane
In Puerto Rico we consider hurricanes sort of a “rite of passage,” in that it’s something every generation has to go through at least once. I mean sure, we’re ALWAYS at risk from hurricanes every year, but nine times out of ten they simply blow away and leave us alone, bringing heavy rain if anything. It’s gotten to the point that most of us simply don’t take them seriously anymore. Course, that doesn’t entirely apply to my family.
My Papa, he was a serious man. Papa was a mechanic who worked at a local garage with a neighbor called Chupi. Chupi was nice enough, I think. Anyway, Papa was the kind of guy who wouldn’t talk much about anything except cars. Talk to him about cars and he won’t stop talking for hours. Talk to him about anything else, he’ll have five or six words for you. Every Friday he’d go have a drink with Chupi and not come back until Saturday.
Mama was a school teacher. She was a nice woman, I think. Always willing to help other people, always wanting to chat, that was Mama. She often took care of me and my little brother, Pepito, because ‘Papa wasn’t one for kids,’ she’d say. Pepito started school on August; in Puerto Rico school always starts at early August. I hate school.
I remember the week before the hurricane. My Papa was watching the news at 6 in the evening when he saw the news talk about the hurricane. He didn’t say anything; didn’t need to. He just had this look in his eyes, a focused look, like he was thinking. The next day (I remember it was a Saturday) he went to the supermarket and bought many cans of little sausages, soups, bottled water, and plenty of beer. That was always his thing, the beer. It cost him a lot of money; I think he spent almost a hundred dollars.
“We can’t afford all this,” said Mama. “You’ll regret this once the hurricane goes away without hitting us.”
“That hurricane’s gonna hit,” said Papa. “You just watch.”
Mama and Papa always fought over money. I guess its because they didn’t have much of it; it didn’t help that Papa always drank a lot of beer. We couldn’t afford cable TV, although Mama always said it’d help with my English. Mama was very worried about my English, saying speaking it helps open doors. I never understood why that worried her so much.
Four days before the hurricane Mama said “it’s never going to hit!” But Papa kept saying it will, it will. He was very insisting that it will hit, so he kept preparing the house. He put wood panels over our house’s windows and tape over the car windows too. He’d call Uncle Guillo, telling him to leave the mountains and stay at home with us.
Two days before the hurricane the TV said it was guaranteed the hurricane was gonna hit. I looked at my Mama and she seemed scared. They said the hurricane was much stronger now.
“Holy Mary, a Category Four?” Mama screamed. “Yesterday it was 2!”
“It’s that damn global warming,” said Papa. “It’s making the water hotter!”
“May God help us all,” said Mama, going to the kitchen to light a candle. This was a special candle, which we call a “velon.” A velon is a candle inside a glass with a picture of Jesus, Mary, or one of the Saints which we use for prayers. Mama always lit a velon when she prayed for our safety.
The hurricane hit on September 20th. It was a scary day, and I remember it too well. I was excited at first because school was out. It was 4 AM, the time I usually wake up for school. I always got up at 4 because we only had one car and Papa always had to be at work by 5 AM, so Mama and I would go to school together. This year Pepito started joining us. Anyway, at 4 AM, I asked Mama if I had to go to school and she said no, that I could go back to sleep if I wanted. I was happy, so I went back to sleep.
Then I woke up at 6:21 AM. The Sun was coming out; or it would have, if it wasn’t so cloudy. Papa told us the hurricane would hit in one hour, that we should all stay inside. Mama was making us sorullos for breakfast, which was fried corn meal rolled up. I love sorullos, as does Pepito. I turned on the TV, but there was no signal. At 6:35, the light went out. It started to rain. Then it started to rain a lot. It got really really windy outside; I could hear the wind.
I wish I could forget that awful wind. It howled, like it was a ghost or something. Every now and then I could hear something from outside breaking; a window, a tree, a light post. The sounds of zinc planks (Many Puerto Rican houses have roofs made out of zinc planks) crashing through the ground, the heavy rain pelting our roof, and that wind. That awful wind. Pepito would not stop crying, no matter how much Mama tried to calm him. I was scared too, and I think so was Papa.
I saw some water leaking in through the front door. Papa looked angry, “dammit, we’re flooding over here!” He tried covering the gap under the front door, and I think that helped a bit. My Papa looked spooked. Mama began to pray, holding onto Pepito, tears in her eyes.
The heavy wind and rain didn’t stop until many hours later. By then Pepito, Mama and I were tired. Papa didn’t dare open the door or the windows. It started getting very hot in our house, but Papa said not to worry about it. He said we should all get some sleep, that we should be glad we’re all still alive.
It was dark; I couldn’t see anything. Papa told us to sleep with him and Mama tonight, so we wouldn’t be so scared. We all slept in their bed together that night, but I had trouble sleeping. A while after everyone had fallen asleep the rain started again. I hugged my sleeping Mama tightly; I was so scared. My hands trembled, my heart was beating a million miles an hour, and I couldn’t even open my eyes! Eventually, I managed to fall asleep; the sound of the wind eventually dying down.