After four years washing dishes in various Texas diners and another two lugging bricks and mixing mortar for George Randolph & Company in Little Rock, Arkansas, life back home in Sombra del Gorrión was as close to heaven as Cholo Hernández was likely to ever get. With most of the men still working the fields and kitchens of Gringolandia, the lonely women of Sombra del Gorrión regarded the strapping, young Cholo in much the same way as a hungry coyote might regard a chicken burrito left outside on a patio bench at snout level. Cholo hadn’t been home two days, lolling around his mother’s place at the back of the bodega his grandfather had started before he was born, when María Casamayor stopped by with a plate of a homemade tamales, remarking that she’d bet it had been a long time since he had tasted a genuine Mexican tamale, wrapped with real banana leaves. Cholo thought it best not to mention there were at least half a dozen Mexican-owned restaurants in Little Rock that served tamales wrapped in banana leaves.
María Casamayor sat with her elbows on the table, her chin in her hands, in Cholo’s mother’s kitchen watching Cholo chomp down the tamales. When Cholo looked at her across the table, at her smiling face and glistening brown eyes, his mother’s large wooden crucifix, hanging on the whitewashed wall behind her, seemed to sprout from somewhere between her shoulder blades. Embedded in the crucifix, dead center at the point of intersection, was a hand-painted, blue and white ceramic tile flaunting the words Dios Guarde Esta Casa. A long-necked, earthenware vase stood in the center of the table with a single yellow carnation protruding from the top.
It was mid afternoon and Cholo’s mother had closed the bodega for siesta and gone to Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Church to give thanks for Cholo’s safe return. She would not be back for another hour, and Cholo suspected María Casamayor knew this. After finishing the first tamale, Cholo wiped his mouth and picked up another, and María slid her chair around the corner of the table, putting her adjacent to Cholo and within arm’s reach of his thigh – and there, on the denim cloth of his Levis, her hand arrived before he was halfway through the second tamale.