In a freshly pressed, buttoned-down white collar shirt barely visible underneath a green blazer, I walked down the four flights of chipped marble stairs out into the beaming sun. The wind usually blew my green checkered skirt into the air but I was always good at not letting it expose my ivory stockings. Careful not to step on the red and blue crack tops with my polished black loafers that held a shiny, copper penny, I would make my way past the eerie funeral home underneath our building and down the deserted street.
On these brisk winter mornings, the streets were often quiet and my walks to school pretty uneventful. Using the change that was my allowance, I often stopped at the corner bodega. I would duck past the half-open aluminum gate stained with graffiti, past the platanos, onions, and yuca hugging the aisles and sneak into the small space with junk food spilling out of the racks. Knowing well that I would choose the same Linden chocolate chip and crunchy Cheez Doodles, I would still spend too much time glancing up and down the rack, as if it held something that was not there the day before. With my usual selection and two quarters in hand, I would tiptoe to reach the counter. Machepa, the owner, would greet me, “dime, pa donde va – pa le escuela?” Not giving me a chance to respond, he’ll start giving me advice on staying in school and not falling off track. Never a shy kid, I would engage him in conversation and then remember that I didn’t need another late slip in my life. I would scurry off to make it before the school doors closed, jump past the water blasting from the hose in 204 and half-shimmy, half-sway up the stairs to homeroom.
That quiet morning rhythm did not normally last past dismissal. The streets would then be lined with neighbors carrying bags of groceries, moms and pops zigzagging their way through the crowds of gente making their way home, chamaquitos running away from their abuelas, and addicts making their way to the jodedores stuffed in down jackets on the stoops.