Day 3.

     Today’s weather was getting to me, the Storm Clouds of Doom magnifying a malaise that seemed to materialize instantly with the drop in air pressure, when Gina called.
     I was a little upset that required reading for a women’s literature class I’m taking is Beloved, which I’ve already read four times, twice for courses I’ve taken. Yes, thank you Oprah and thank you Toni for making the book ubiquitous, but enough already! Did they have to assign it the semester the movie’s going to come out when most us, already past discussing the deep, rich themes of it over two years ago, will have to rehash it all for people who can’t get through the (admittedly) dense, perfect text and instead opt for the popcorn-assisted version?
     I holed myself in my dorm after that class, closing the blinds to a dark afternoon and listening to Mazzy Star. Pathetic, I know, but Mazzy makes you feel good because she’s so down. In fact, I think she’s the long-lost 8th dwarf of Snow White fame: Mopey.
     "Hola, Heather," Gina said, sounding bright in spite of the city’s gray blanket of sky and drizzle.
     "Hey, Gina. Can you meet? What are you doing today?"
     "I thought I was working tonight, but they cut back some of my hours without telling me," she said. Gina works at a sandwich shop not far from Texadelphia. This is, she’d told me last night, her fourth job in six months, after unsuccessful stints at Book People ("I kept wanting to read books and poetry instead of helping customers.") and Austin Java Co. ("Too laid back. I felt out of place because I didn’t have an eyebrow ring.")
     "So what are you gonna do?" I asked.
     "I’m taking you somewhere," she said. "Can you go?"
     Gina picked me up in front of the dorm as I stood alone, my plain black umbrella shielding me from the light rain. She drives a sporty red Mazda, maybe six or seven years old. (I know car models and years the way my dad, the very traditional Mr. Yi, knows the Backstreet Boys.)
     I climbed in and Gina drove, occasionally changing radio stations: here there was Celine Dion, switched over to an R&B singer I wasn’t familiar with, over to "The Way" by local pretty boys Fastball, then something in Spanish I didn’t recognize on an AM station.
     We didn’t talk. Gina drove, with a small smile on her face, navigating the slowing traffic as 5 p.m. cars blocked our way. We went south of campus, then east to I-35. Then we were on the east side of town, passing taquerias, bakeries and pawn shops It’s a side of town I don’t see much of.
     Near Cesar Chavez, Gina parked us outside a small house. A plain mailbox said "Sanchez." The house might once have been canary yellow, but time and Texas sun had faded it to the color of a dying sunflower. On the porch, plants of all varieties, some thriving despite the extremes of a scorched-earth summer, and then a heavy storm coming.
     Gina opened a screen door and knocked on the door. A dog inside barked. A few seconds later, a woman, late 50s, heavy set, long strands of gray and black hair pulled back in a ponytail, answered. The woman said, "Gina, mijita!" and hugged her.
     She ushered us in and the two spoke in rapid-fire Spanish. The conversational Spanish courses I’ve taken are a memory, and I couldn’t follow much. But they were happy to see each other, and Gina was reverential, almost shy, in the woman’s presence.
     Gina introduced me and the woman surprised me with a hug. Luisa, the woman, smelled like cinnamon and something sharper, maybe ginger. She wore lots of breads, necklaces, silver rings and wore a long traditional dress I’d never seen worn outside a cultural fair. The woman retreated to another room after she’d seated us on a comfy couch with cushions of all sizes.
     I looked around. The home was cluttered, but comforting. Everywhere, shelves with knickknacks, photos of children and families, clay sculptures of human bodies, dishes made of bright colored glass, brought life to the room. Near a window with a thick fabric of curtain, two large stained-glass hangings with brass frames – one a sun, the other a moon, hung. I imaged in sunlight, they could fill the room with lustrous color.
     The woman returned with an oversized jewelry case. She opened it, revealing bracelets, necklaces, rings and earrings. Most of the bracelets were woven or made of fabric. A few silver pieces showed rough edges. I guessed the woman had made the jewelry herself.
     Some of it was beautiful Among the silver and thread, some pieces were made with stones of amethyst, onyx or amber.
     Gina looked through them for a while, finally settling on a small rope bracelet with black beads woven in. Gina offered Luisa $10 which the woman made a show of refusing. Gina put up an argument, and ended up laying the bill inside the jewelry box. The woman smiled, rolled her eyes, and said, "Pos, bueno."
     Gina said something to her in Spanish, in a serious tone I hadn’t heard before, even when she’d been pontificating about this project the night before. Luisa nodded solemnly, got up, and motioned Gina to a small dining room table laid out with doilies and candles.
     The woman hunted in her kitchen, returning with a jumbo box of wooden matches. She lit two candles between them, sat, and began speaking.
     The two women, perhaps thirty years separating their ages, prayed together. The woman spoke soothingly, her eyes closed. She spoke for three or four minutes while I sat, transfixed, across the room.
     When it was over, Gina repeated, "Amen." A hand of hers that had been engaged in prayer reached up, wiping tears from her eyes. Luisa took her other hand and held it for a moment. Luisa said, "Ahora habla tu mama."
     Gina nodded, smiling now. Luisa looked at Gina warmly, then gave me a a maternal smile as well. I felt warm, despite the coldness the day had instilled in me.
     We left very soon after that. Luisa hugged us both and watched us as we left, waving from the porch, even as the rain seemed to begin again.
     Gina drove us back on slick streets. I asked about her mother as something awful played on the car stereo.
     "She was really sick last month. She’s fine now, but I was really worried about her and that hasn’t gone away," Gina said. "I’m only a few hours away, but what if something bad happens? I’m here, not there. I get worried sometimes, especially when the weather’s like this," she said, pointing past the driver’s side window.
     We reached the dorm and she dropped me off, back to my sterile dorm and my Mazzy Star. When I reached my dorm, I took Mazzy out of the CD player and put on a radio station. It was noise and static and commercials and crap, but it was a live voice coming from Out There Right Now instead of something recorded two years ago in a cold studio.
     Gina drove back in her red car through a gray day, protected, I imagine, by Luisa’s prayer.