You can say I saw it coming. More like I felt it. The week of the car accident I kept on getting messages. I needed to be protected. I didn’t get a clear picture like cars rushing by, mine swerving. I didn’t hear the tires screech or the air bag bursting. I just kept on hearing, call your spiritual teacher and ask him to teach you prayers of protection. I don’t know any except for the words, God, please protect me.
I’ve been asked if I do rituals in my home. Yes. I’ve been asked if I see clearly in people what they don’t want to see. Yes. I’ve been told that they teach me these things. My ancestors. I’ve been told that I come from a strong line of diviners and healers. I am the first born in a city. I sing songs in languages I don’t know. I somehow know what each word means.
I sacrificed a rooster once. Picked him up in Chinatown in San Francisco. Talked to him the whole ride home in the car. He clucked. He must of been uncomfortable in the paper bag they put him in. I brought a big box. More room but this was not freedom. I put him in my bathroom and he was quiet. I talked to him and told him he was making a big sacrifice. Not just for me but for the world.
I got to my spiritual teacher’s house rooster and Eleggua in hand. We sat at the table and talked and I cried about the rooster. I have killed. Roaches, mosquitos and ants. Those seem more acceptable. I eat chicken. Sometimes forgetting that the meat comes from what was once a breathing being. It seems easier to eat something that has been killed by other hands or perhaps a machine. My teacher told me there are alternatives to sacrifice. He showed me the palm oil. I have. He told me about the crushed black eyed peas. I didn’t know. He told me that cats go there sometimes wanting to sacrifice a rooster every week. We’re not killers, he says. I am the first born in a city. First from a line of country people.
It was hot outside. Cuba hot minus the humidity. The sun beat down. Sweat lined our faces. He sang, knife in hand, asked me to hold the rooster’s head. I did. Bent down and cried the whole time. Blood dripping from his neck. He didn’t fight. He already knew his purpose. The sacrifice accepted. I took the rooster home. Boiled him in a big pot and plucked his feathers. Small kitchen in Oakland smelling of freshly killed chicken. I was the first born in a city. Not just any city, New York City. There are palm trees outside my window. Not royal palms like in Cuba. Tall ones that I am not sure what their name is. This is what happens when you are forced to move from place to place, from continent to island to continent: your offsprings born in cities brought up on MickeyD’s and White Castle feel that plucking a rooster for the first time is familiar.
I’ve was told I am going to move. Not once but three times. Three different people. For the first I said, I just moved. A big move. Brooklyn to Oakland. I was told I will move again. I’ve been told I need to live in a house. A house? I can’t afford a house. I was told I should at least try to rent one. I need more room. My living room is full of altares. My boveda for my ancestors and spirits. One for Yemaya with the print of her given to me when I was a baby, the doll as well. A shelf for Obatala. A shelf for everything else. One altar for Oshun. My lover says he likes how they are all color coded. Never saying that it is idolatry. Once just calling them statues. I correct him and say altars. Except for my boveda, sometimes it just feels like I created art installations in my home. He prays in my living room. I stay in the kitchen or bedroom, quiet. I pray as well. Not like him but still, words kept inside. Sometimes I let him interrupt me. He doesn’t know. Probably thinks my eyes are just closed.
He’s never seen or heard how I really pray. He’s never been here on a Friday evening when I clean the house. Prepare a pail of water. Pluck white flower petals. Pray. Pour florida water, cascarilla. He’s never seen me pour it on me. Hasn’t seen how the light shines in the bathtub. How the petals fall unto my shoulders, nipples, tummy and feet. He has not seen me dressed all in white, head covered. Doesn’t hear me play my favorite song of his, three times. I sing to be called while changing the water. He doesn’t see me light candles, burn incense, pour coffee, spit out rum. He doesn’t see me smoke a cigar and dance.
My mami doesn’t want me to have so many altares in the living room. She says my closet is big enough that they should go in there. I have nothing to hide. We were forced to hide for hundreds of years. No curtains, no doors in my house. it has to be out there in the open. Then why have I never asked him to come on a Friday night?
I came into this world knowing and not knowing. A sad looking baby in pictures. I had already seen too much. It’s been three years that I have lived in Oakland. Three years on the week of fullest moon of the year. Rebirth, renewal they say. Everything coming to full circle.
My brother tells me that my car accident was a big cleansing. I knew it was coming but I didn’t know it would be like that. I knew just before the accident. I knew the day before. I had a bad feeling inside and I thought it was just because I was on my period. A woman bumped me the day before the big accident. Just a small tap. I knew she would do it. She didn’t stop in time. In my head I knew that the next one would be bigger. I went to Marin the night before the big one. I really didn’t feel like it but I wanted to see him. I wanted to eat food with him, sleep next to him. Feel his breath. Next morning we woke up early for a hike. We walked to the beach. It was foggy. Before we got to it there was a lagoon. Oshun. A small black bird with red. Eleggua. The ocean. Fierce. Yemaya. We went all the way to the left. Nestled underneath huge rocks. I sang softly to Yemaya. Instantly. He went to the next rock. I stood there enclosed by thousands of years of rock formation, tears dropping. I cry when I feel closest to God. I cry by the ocean. I am home. I have wanted to go with him to the ocean for a long time. Wanted to look out and see the vastness with him. My love as deep and vast as the ocean I once wrote.
A vulture flew ahead of us. By the trail. We saw it on our way out. A vulture. He has never seen one. Big, black, majestic. I told him a pataki about Oshun. I told him how beautiful I thought they were. How I was surprised I was when I noticed their beauty at a beach in Baja California. I learned vultures were also Oshun. Both peacock and vulture. The pretty, the ugly. The complex.
In the early days of the world, and of Ilé Ifé the orishas became tired of serving Olodumare. They began to resist the Lord of Heaven’s edicts and to even plot the overthrow of Olodumare’s kingdom in heaven and earth. They felt they didn’t need Olodumare and that as the Lord of Heaven was so distant anyway, they could merely divide the aché or powers among themselves and that things would go much better that way.
When Olodumare caught wind of this attitude and their plots, the Lord of Heaven acted simply and decisively: Olodumare simply withheld the rain from the earth. Soon the world was encompassed by a staggering draught, the ground became parched and cracked, the plants withered and died without water. And it wasn’t long before all on earth, orishas and their chidren alike began to starve.
After a short time, growling bellies and sallow faces began to speak louder than their pride and rebelliousness. They unanimously decided to go to Olodumare and beg for forgiveness in hopes that this would bring rain back to the world. But they had a problem: none of them could reach the distant home of Olodumare. They sent all the birds one by one to attempt the journey but each and every one of them failed, tiring long before reaching the palace of the Lord of Heaven. It began to appear that all hope was lost.
Then one day, the peacock, who was in reality Oshún herself, came to offer her services to save the world from this draught. Once again there was general upheaval and laughter as the orishas contemplated the idea of this vain and pampered bird undertaking such a journey. “You might break a nail”, said one. But the little peacock persisted and as they had nothing to lose, they agreed to let her try.
So the little peacock flew off towards the sun and the palace of Olodumare. She soon tired of the journey, but she kept flying ever higher, determined to reach the Lord of Heaven and to save the world. Going yet higher, her feathers began to become scraggly and black from the withering heat of the sun, and all the feathers were burned from her head, but she kept flying. Finally, through sheer will and determination she arrived at the gates of Olodumare’s palace.
When Olodumare came upon her she was a pathetic sight, she had lost much of her feathers and the ones that remained were black and scraggly. Her once beautiful form was hunchbacked and her head was bald and covered with burns from flying so close to the sun. The Lord of Heaven took pity on her and brought her to the Palace where she was fed and given water, and her wounds were treated. He asked her why she had made such a perilous journey. She explained the state on earth and went on to tell Olodumare that she had come at risk of her own life so that her children (humanity) might live.
When Olodumare looked to the world and to Oshún’s plaintive look, it was obvious that everything she had said was true. The Lord of Heaven then turned to the peacock who was now what we call a vulture, saying that her children would be spared from this draught and ordered the rain to begin again. Then Olodumare looked deeply into Oshún’s eyes and into her heart, then announced that for all eternity she would be the Messenger of the House of Olodumare and that all would have to respect her as such. From that day forward in this path she became known as Ikolé, the messenger of the House of Olodumare. Ikolé also is the name for the vulture in Lucumí. And from that day the path of Oshún known as Ibú Ikolé was revered and became associated with her bird, the vulture.
The vulture then returned to earth, bringing with her the rain, where she met with great rejoicing. As befits a queen or Iyalodde, she graciously refrained from reminding them of their jibes and abuses as she could see the shame on their faces.
I am a child of both Yemaya and Oshun. Sometimes I feel one stronger than the other. I worry sometimes about being too much like Oshun. Although she is beautiful, although she is loved, although she gives messages from God sometimes she feels alone. Alone after many lovers, alone after giving so much. I am up on a hill and I fight with my spirits. I tell them I want flesh and bones but when I have flesh and bones in front of me, when I can feel it, breathe it I am not sure what to do. I chanted last night in a room full of people. I didn’t think to sit with my friends. I sat in the middle of two strangers and I saw myself dancing in big skirts. I saw myself in white in the jungle. I saw myself dancing with him.
The car accident was a cleansing my brother says. I was on 580 in the fast lane. I hate the fast lane. I hate it after the MacArthur exit. I hate the curve. I tried not to be on it but I couldn’t move. Cars moved too fast. I was moving too fast. I saw the divider indented. Car accident awhile back. I looked at it as I drove. I slowed down, too fast. I looked at my rearview mirror car behind me. I looked at the side mirror I even looked back. I was clear to merge, no more fast lane. Two exits away and there she was. Merged from the right. Silver car, white lady, glasses, in her fifties. We both looked at each other. I didn’t want us to hit I tried to go back to my lane. I swerved. I tried to control it. I swerved. It was too fast. I swerved, and swerved and swerved until I spun and spun. This is it. I am going over. This is it, we finally got to go to the ocean. This is it. I crashed, I crashed. My air bag is pink. I was alive. Bismalah ar Rahman ar Rahim. I was alive. Maybe I should have said Alhumdililah. But who knows what to say when you thought two seconds before that you were going to die. I got out of the car and I cried. I was only bruised. My car was totaled. I swerved and spun and crashed but it was only me. I thought that they were telling me not to be with him. That they didn’t want me to be with him. That a car accident was my warning. I was coming from his house. Of course I would think this. Of course this was a sign.
Up on the hill I was alone. In shock. My friends not thinking to call me. Just texts. I hate the impersonalness of technology. I alone up on the hill I didn’t want to talk to my spirits. I didn’t want them in my house. I snickered passing my boveda. I am what you call malcriada. Forgetting that I was protected because I was still alive, only bruised, heart broken but alive. He doesn’t like to talk on the phone. I have learned this watching him ignore calls and then hearing messages days later. I have learned how to communicate with him even if it’s not how I would like to communicate. I have learned that when I can’t see him face to face and I have to let it all out I can do this over IM. I hate the impersonalness of technology. My friends are surprised when I tell them I am still shy around him. They are surprised when I tell them I can’t look him in the eyes when I tell him I love him. That it took me almost a year to say it. Mami kept on asking me if he called and I said, no. He hasn’t checked his messages, mami said having more hope then me. I even asked my best friend to call him. Mami asked me to send him a message through the computer but I was too hurt to do that. I finally did at 1 in the morning. Wrote him quick details of the accident. He calls at 8am right after he reads it full of I’m sorrys. I didn’t check my messages since you left the house, he said. He comes over that night in between this and that. Rushing, fitting it all in. I have to ask him to hold my hand. We lay in bed watching two separate computer screens. He’s at work mine is on Richard Pryor. Before he leaves I have to ask him to hold me. He touched the small of my back the part that was most in pain. His finger pressed on my spine. It heals.
The day after the accident I called my spiritual teacher. Cried to him that I could have prevented it. I could have called him and told him that I needed extra protection. You got distracted, he said. He comforted me the way I needed my papi to comfort me. My family thousands of miles away doesn’t know what it is like for me to live alone up on a hill. My teacher asked when it happened. He calculated it all in his head. Relavations over the phone. Yep, if you would have called I would have explained to you what was happening. It was a bad week for me, he said. You were right on time. Don’t take it personally. It has nothing to do with you. I sighed knowing then it wasn’t a sign.
No sign but signal. Lights flashing. Green, yellow, red. But I like it more in reverse. It’s been red for too long. My heart red, only beating because it has to. Needs some yellow shimmering like gold until it is ready for green like leaves giving me breathe. My brother says this accident was a cleansing. A cleansing. I am the first one born in a city. A cleansing. No more bruises. Heart pieced back together. I can look over to my boveda now. I know what they tell me.