Long Beach Pa’ la Niña

Now that the last bouts of autumn heat have surrendered to this winter’s dusk’s deepening cool breath, I begin to think I can warm up to Long Beach. And because I’m from South El Monte –believe me, this is no small thing to say.

From the shadows cast by the furniture in the house I’m staying at for now and that is not mine and still new to me, I can tell it is near sunset. A loud call from down the street confirms the hour.

Tamales calientitos champurrado!

Para la cena, of course.

Sonorous, la señora tamalera makes her rounds down the streets of this Long Beach neighborhood. A car follows very slowly behind her, a rust-red hatchback exposing a two giant silvery ollas de tamales y champurrado. It reminds me of the call of the eloteros that once honked down every street of my neighborhood, joining the broken-music-box dissonance of ice cream truck It’s a Small World and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star remixes. I realize just now that you don’t hear the eloteros anymore and the ice cream jams are occasional, except in the summer. I’m not sure why.

As the evening progresses, darkening and hushing, I begin to notice that the piercing screams of a baby in tantrum or pain have not stopped. Somehow, I find this endearing. Through the flurry of sobs, I begin to discern a rich sing songy voice,
The voice, -at first I can’t tell the language of its song -undulates in the night, traverses backyard fences, iron window bars and grows corpulent as the baby gradually ceases its cries. It is a man’s voice, I imagine by his timbre, not too old.

Ay que chula que linda esta niña mas preciosa del mundo esta niña mas preciosa mia.

Before long, the baby is silent.

Cinco cinco cinco, cinco los deditos..

The man continues, now inventing new songs about little fingers,

Una una una, una narizita

And little noses

And muchos muchos muchos, doggies and gatitos

The baby begins to squeal intermittently, responding to the song perhaps an improvised dance or new tactile choreography. I think la niña is laughing, with her father, both still warm from the day in their home, something cooking perhaps in a pot in the kitchen. Que niña mas linda, mas preciosa.

La niña continues to squeal. And squeal. And scream. And cry and scream again. The father continues to invent songs about no llores no llores porque porque llora la niña porque. The nina, of course, no déjà de llorar.

The sweetness of the moment is over. I’m ready for the kid to stop crying.

But for once, I begin, just barely, to think that I could find something familiar enough to be comforting and homelike in a place that is not my home. I think that perhaps, it’s in the intimacy of language and familiarity of sound, the simple assonance of a song that I can recognize glimpses of a life I think I remember. Certainly one I can imagine having.


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