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My uncle Nefta’s eyes are big black globes around which his face orbits in thick folds of skin sunken in by the sun, lack of food and a grin that has filled his entire face since I was a child. At times it is a seven-year-old child gazing into the banana fincas of Media Luna and other times it’s the emptiness of confusion that makes me wonder if somehow he knows that he has schizophrenia. I stare at his eyes hard across mi tia’s dining room table in Chiquimula trying to understand what he feels as he is speaking to his son (in Pennsylvania) and his daughter (in LA) over two separate Skype video chats on Christmas eve. He touches the screen carefully and looks over at me and then back at his son waiting on the screen waiting for him to say something. “Marlon, why does your image move so quickly on this thing? Are you ok?” He chuckles and gets closer to the camera.
I sit next to him and press his arm to reassure him. For the next hour he talks to his eldest son who he hasn’t talked to since his son was a teenager, meets his son’s wife, asks him about his work, his life in Pennsylvania, almost makes logical conversation and then goes off on tangents regarding electricity and how it affects his head and liver.
“¿Mama, coma esta su higado?” he asked my grandmother when we picked him up from the Media Luna finca. Media Luna is where he worked as a 12-year-old boy picking bananas and playing the father role for the family before he even finished fourth grade. It’s the last finca once you enter the Hopy 1 and Hopy 2 finca on the way to Honduras from Puerto Barrios. Its unpaved road for 20 kilometers and home to dozens of water buffalo brought in from Asia to haul huge loads of bananas. They still graze along the muddy stretch filled with gaping potholes filled with water and deep enough to swallow your entire car tire. It’s here that my uncle Santos whom I’ve never met lives with his extensive family consisting of 16 children living in two cinder block homes surrounded by a moat that is a public health hazard I try to block out of my mind that rolls off the water-borne diseases: encephalitis, malaria, cholera, Hep A, the list continues.
When we drive into town we are the event which brings everyone out onto the street, faces curious to see who the visitors are with the Tule on the Honda with California plates, asking for this man that many call poporopo or popcorn. I know mi tio is near so I get out of the car anxious to meet Santos and track him down. Santos leads us to two stores and then finally he and I go by foot ready to cross fields. Before we enter our first field someone yells “Aye Santos!” at us and we turn around. A smile crossed Santos face and he says “Nefta, your family is looking for you.” I try to distinguish him from the two men sitting under a white awning, small and thin with long white hair covering his head, eyebrows and beard and a Dr. Seuss hat trick consisting of three hats stacked on top of one another. “Tio,” I say as I walk towards him, “it’s such a pleasure to see you.” He called me by my mother’s name and then I tell him it’s me and I resort to an old tone of voice I had with him when I was a child and would do my homework at his dinner table and confuse me with her. Things have changed, but they haven’t.
At my aunt’s house he complains of chest pains when he gets up from his video chat with his children. I ask him where it hurts.
“It’s right here,” he says pointing to his heart, “it’s like my ribs are breaking, my lungs are bursting and my heart is cracked. It might be the wires from the telephone poles because they impact not just our heads.” I give him a hug and tell him that’s what he’s supposed to feel. As he walks out towards the pila I see a few tears in his eyes that he wipes away with his shirt. Brad walks up to the dining room and asks if he’s been on a Skype call that entire time. Yes, I tell him, that’s right. “That’s a good use of saldo. Are you ready for cuetes?” It’s almost midnight and all of Chiquimula is about to explode in fireworks.
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