The Big Announcement by Sophia Altenor

The Big Announcement
Sophia Altenor
5-09-11

Before opening my eyes, I can smell it—the rich mixture of dark coffee, eggs, bacon, rice and beans, and… chicken, where is the chicken? There is always chicken. I take a deep breath. Aahhh—there it is, chicken. Did she put in the sliced onions yet? I take another deep breath because I can usually smell fresh onion being cooked, steamed, or caramelized—in my family we always cook with onions. Right now I can’t smell it, so mom is not done cooking yet. Mom always adds sliced onions to her chicken sauce right before turning off the stove. That way the onion is not quite cooked but steamed. I like steamed onion.

Mom always cooks all her meals at the same time, and she has no concept of lunch and dinner as two separate meals. Therefore, dinner is lunch’s leftover, and supper is dinner’s leftover. No food goes to waste. “Think about the kids in Africa,” she would say. What about the ones back home, in Haïti? I think but never ask. Here in Florida, she is a busy woman—working as a housekeeper Monday through Friday (7am-5pm), and doing any other job that she can find on her days off. And when she is around, she is not particularly nice. Then again, she was never really nice. Once, she made me pick up a cockroach with my bare hands because I was terrified of them; she thought that it would toughen me up—that was not the case. But every once in a while, like today, she surprises us by doing something extremely nice, almost too nice.

“Sophia! Elsie! Nou pap leve jodi a?” Do you plan on staying in bed all day? I can hear her from the kitchen. “Pa fem vin dèyè a!” Don’t make me come back there! My eyes suddenly shot wide open and my heartbeat accelerates. My blurry vision is met with the thundercloud color of my bedroom ceiling and the odd geometrical shape of where my light bulb used to be—now nothing more than cracks and dangling electrical cords.

No, we do not want her to come back here. I know it, and my little sister knows it. In fact, I can still feel the sting of the belt from the last time she woke us up—that day, we did not wash the dishes before going to bed. I stretch, sit up, look at the time (8:01 am), and scan my room for my sandals. Luckily for once, my floor was clear of discarded clothes and shoes. My feet touch the cold floor before finding my sandals slightly tucked under my twin size bed.

“Hey Sious, are you up?” I shout at the wall behind my small nightstand covered with family picture frames, a shirt or two, an oversized lamp, and an old leather belt. Our rooms share that wall, and it’s thin enough that she can hear me even if I had just whispered it.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m up, and don’t call me that.” She hates the name Sious, which is precisely why I call her that. I am not even sure how the name came about—I think I called her Sious by accident one day and she protested. So the name stuck. After all what are older sisters for?

“I am older, so I can call you whatever I want.” I kick her door open. She hates that too. Her room is even more crowded than mine with a queen bed that takes up most of her room and a small dresser facing the door. Everything is covered with clothes. I don’t think that she wants mom to see her room like that—Not that mine is clean or anything, but like I said my floor space is clear, which means less work. I just have to make my bed, clear my nightstand and my dresser.

“What was that!” mom shouts from the kitchen in her accented English.

“Nothing!” I shout back.

“Sophia is trying to break down my door!” Sious chimes in.

“No, I’m not!”

We rustle our way through the small empty corridor to come to a marching band attention at the sight of mom’s glare at the end of the hall. She is a tall, round woman, with a caramel complexion. Her short hair is standing up from the scalp. She has not combed it yet.

“Ki lag nou?” How old are you? —A rhetorical question.

“Fifteen,” I answer with a wide smile showing all my teeth. Mom and I share the same smile, I’ve been told.

“Thirteen and a half,” Sious follows.

At our age, we are still wearing matching pajama bottoms—they are blue with pictures of humongous lilies on all over. As for the top, we decided to change it up a little. I am wearing white a tank top, and Sious is wearing a light grey one. She is slightly taller and than me. I do not like that. I often miss the days when I was still at least three inches taller than her—those days are gone she is now an inch taller than me and two sizes up from me in clothes (I am a size 6), but that does not intimidate me when we go at it like this morning. Catfights have become a daily activity for us and it never ends well. I am not sure why mom even buys us matching clothes, we are nothing alike—if you ask me, I think that part of her wanted twins when she was pregnant with me. I don’t like that idea either.

“Set up the table.”—An order.

Mom returns to her pot of golden colored chicken. We follow. She begins turning them over one by one in the seasoned tomato sauce.

In the kitchen, I was happy to discover that her boyfriend did not spend the night. If he had, he would have definitely been at the table making smart remarks about how Sious and I need to grow up. I still don’t understand why mom even has a boyfriend—she is 43. Is it really ok for moms to have boyfriends?

“Soooo, what’s the occasion?” My curiosity gets the best of me.
Before I receive an answer, I reach around her to get the forks and knives out of the small drawer next to the stove. The kitchen is big enough for three, no space for boyfriends, so we have our routine. Only one person moves at a time around the electronic stove, we had a gas one last year—it broke. It didn’t really surprise me because the apartment is really old. The cream-colored wallpaper is still pealing off from behind the fridge and there are holes in the light blue colored ones on the kitchen floor—two big ones by the entrance and a small one in front of the stove.

But as always, mom is barefoot and she is wearing her piece of African-cloth. Though the only thing holding the cloth up is a knot that she made over her chest, the only visible parts of her body are her shoulders, her arms, and part of her legs. I often thought of what would happen if the windows were open one day and a gush of wind blew her cloth off, because she does not always wear undergarments. She is a very confident and independent woman who honors her African roots though her clothes.

“fòm gen on rezon pou m fè mange kounya?” I need a reason to cook now?

“Non, non, pas du tout,” I end the subject in French, instead of Creole, with a smile that she cannot see.

I know that this morning is special because, since the age of eleven, mom had me cooking on a regular basis on Saturdays. “You learn by doing,” she had said in the very beginning, as she would hand me ingredients with no directions, “and next year, when your sister turns 11, it’ll be her turn, mwen pap vive eternellement,” I won’t live forever you know. It’s not like I didn’t know that, but it was always her reasoning for doing anything. I guess that it is still better than her next favorite response to most of my questions—“Because!” So…really… Why am I not cooking this Saturday? Not that I am complaining or anything.

“So does that mean, you’ll do the same thing next Saturday? That’ll be nice,” I joke, as I reach around her again, this time for a piece of bacon. The salty delight crumbles and almost melts into my mouth. Yummy!

“Hey get me some,” Sious whispers from the other side of the table as she finishes placing the three plastic cups on the placemats.

I reach around mom again. She is not easy person to reach around, and by the time I reach the plate of bacon, my hand is met with the back of the spatula.

“Ow, that hurts,” I exclaim.

Why didn’t Sious get hit with the spatula? We usually get punished together because we hardly ever rat each other out. We are the two musketeers—when we are not fighting. Just like last week when Sious lost the house key and we both ended up sitting outside, in front of the door for three hours for mom to get home. “Who had the key last?” mom asked, no one answered—we are not allowed to watch TV for two months, one month for each accomplice.

“Who said you could touch?”

“It’s all your fault!” I spit at Sious as I settle in the chair perpendicular to her.

I am tempted to kick her under the table, but I don’t. I don’t feel like getting into trouble this morning. I want to know what is going on with mom. The last time that she was so nice to us was when we had to change school for the gazillionth time. We are always moving because when mom gets a better job, she moves closer to it, and that usually means a better neighborhood as well. But that doesn’t change the fact that Sious and I hate moving because we always have to make new friends and get used to a new environment. We don’t tell mom about the bullies at school because we know that she would make a scene.

Mom moves the plate of seasoned fried eggs to the table, followed by the plate of crispy bacon. “nou vle bagels?” ya want bagels?

“Yes,” I answer as I serve myself two more slices of bacon.

“And some Tabasco,” Sious added. She likes spicy food—another difference between us.

As we all sit around the table to eat, with a plastered smile on our faces. I cannot help but think about the past. I think about the last time she had treated us with a delicious meal was indeed when we had to move—and that was a while back. Is she getting softer? Why? My sister and I did not know this kind lovey dovey mom, nor did we expect her to be. That is not normal. She is a warden, which means she gives orders and we follow—no ifs, ands, or buts.

“So really, what’s going on? Why did you cook today?” I bring the subject back up.

“Because, I felt like it,” she answers.

“…et mwen ancint.” And I’m pregnant.

“What, since when? How come?!” the word comes out before I can stop them—at this point, I know perfectly well where babies come from.

How could she? How? Where? Here? With us in the house? Eewww. I glance over at Sious. She says nothing. Her tongue is better trained than mine. We do not question adults, especially mom. I can’t believe she still has sex. Eeewwww. A boyfriend is one thing but sex? Ew.
“I found out couple weeks ago,” she says cautiously.

Was she afraid of what we would think?

“So… kisa nou pense” So what do you think?

My sister and I remain silent. We both hate her boyfriend. He is this short black man with a fro from the 80’s, with a noble air about him—in my term, an ass. He thinks he knows everything about everything. He comes over whenever he feels like it and he likes to make jokes at our expense. For instance, once, in front of everyone, he asked me why my mouth was so big, and mom did nothing about it—she just stared.

I try to forget about him. This is not about him! This is about us! Are we really ready to have a baby among us?

“So, is it a boy or a girl?” I ask clearing my throat.

“A boy.” Mom smiles.

“How do you know?” The air around us seems to clear.

“I can feel it.”

“Right…I bet it’s another girl,” I smile, “I mean look around you, you don’t have the stomach for boys.”

“I am telling you it’s a boy! I am the one carrying it and a mother knows these things,” mom answered circling her belly.

“Girl, girl…girl,” I refute, pushing my boundaries. On the last girl, I was pointing toward her stomach.

“Who knows?” Sious finally finds her tongue.

“We’ll see,” I close my eyes and imagine what it is going to be like to have a baby in the house. A hot mess no doubt. But what shall I name her?
Sonia
She has to be named after someone, so why not meeeee.

“So can I name her?” I ask with the biggest smile that I can muster.

“I think that would be the father’s decision,” mom answer, a bit more relaxed.

“But why?” I pursue her to let me name the baby—after all, I have the perfect name in mind.

“Quit your whining, you big baby,” Sious spit at me as she tries to get the Tabasco out by tapping on the back of it. She is right. I am whining, but she didn’t have to say it out loud. I secretly wish for her to pour the whole bottle of Tabasco on her eggs—that would show her.

Mom digs into her food and ignores us.

Silence fills the air as I pile up my eggs and bacon onto a slice of bagel. I like the taste of everything together. It might be a result of me being the taster of the family, who knows. Will this too change when the baby gets here? In that instance questions seems to be falling from the ceiling and into my head. What is she going to be like? Whose name is she going to learn first? Where will she sleep? I still refuse to think of her as a boy. A BOY! Can you imagine? I can’t imagine it.
“So what do you think of the name Sonia?” I pierce through the heavy silence. I can never seem to be quiet. Maybe that’s what mom was worried about. But nooo, it can’t be. So it is Sious? I don’t think so. Maybe she is just emotional—after all she is pregnant.

“Why Sonia?” Sious asks as she was about to take a sip of her orange juice—which reminds me, where is the coffee? I quickly scan the kitchen counter for the pot of coffee—got it; it’s closer to mom.
“Because,” I brush Sious off, “hey mom, can you pass me the coffee pot please.”

“Sure.” She reaches pass her shoulder to grab it.

“So what do you think, mom, Sonia?”

“I already told you that it’s a boy so case closed”

I love hearing her speak English. Sometimes, she says French word with her perception of an English accent and hopes that it will be the right word. There are many French words in the English language and I started discovering that fact thanks to her because sometimes she would be right, with words like laissez faire or faux pas. But that’s beside the point. I want to know why mom is so nice or even shy, and I want to name the new baby. I never really thought about having a new sister or even worse a new brother. But it’s obviously a girl—so no worries.

“So…”

“Sophia cut it out! I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

I can see Sious smirk from the corner of my eyes. She is done with her food. Damn that was fast. How did she do it?

“Elsie is done, so that means you get to wash the dishes,” mom says. I want to protest, but I can tell that the mom that we knew was back. Sious clears her side of the table and I sit back in my chair.

“Thanks mom,” she says as she makes her ways around me, and heads towards her room.

“De rien,” You’re welcome mom answers in French, “And don’t forget to clean your room. Did you think that I did not see it?”

Yes, mom is definitely back. Did the whole pregnancy conversation really happen or did I imagine it? I guess I will never really understand my mom—but that’s ok. I can’t imagine myself without my little family. Or is it big now?

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