Once she decided that working on crews with just men wasn’t for her, the only job available to her as an illegal and one that paid enough was night work. In the days leading up to her first night of work, Ena tried sleeping beside Manny, but her heart raced inside her tight chest and her eyes refused to stay closed.
However, once she began work, she discovered she liked it. She liked the freedom of being awake at night while the busy city and her young son Hector, back in Ecuador, slept. She liked getting cranked up on café con leche con azucar, and, simply by staying awake was like a thief, stealing time from the finite years, hours and seconds that remained. Only God knows when you will be called back to him.
Manny liked her new schedule as well. His gigs rarely began before ten and, if he wanted to get anywhere musically speaking, he would have to put in his time after hours. Stumbling home at four or five a.m. became the new norm. Manny and Ena took pride in being an unusual couple of night owls. It gave them an identity and made the job of staying awake all night less lonely.
Despite their growing attachment to one another, Ena didn’t officially move in with Manny until Thanksgiving. Throughout the spring, summer and fall, Ena paid rent to Pablo and sent home what she could to help cover her son Hector’s expenses. In exchange, she received regular pictures of Hector growing at an alarming rate, alarming because she wasn’t there to witness each milestone.
Her first Thanksgiving was marked by two joyous occurrences. First, neither she nor Manny worked Thanksgiving Night. And second, to celebrate the holiday, Manny took Ena to a feast in Staten Island hosted by one of his musician friends. Among his American buddies, Manny seemed to her more virile, looser and confident. He laughed with ease. Told stories with outstretched hands, as if he were squeezing additional significance from the air.
As she lay next to him in bed, satisfied after a sweaty trip to the “Congo”, Ena listened to Manny’s rolling heartbeat, sliding towards a steady thump…thump…thump.
He was telling her a story about his early years in New York, a landscape that was now populated with familiar landmarks — his first gig, first girlfriend, first brush with the criminal element. While recounting his first trip to the ER, he called his first girlfriend by name. Janice, Janice from Jackson Heights, who waited all night with him until the bullet was removed from his arm, payment for having refused to relinquish his instrument to a street thug. Ena then asked her first “girlfriend” question, a question that revealed the faintest trace of jealousy — “where is she now”?
Manny shrugged. He didn’t know. Honestly, he didn’t know. After the divorce, the two lost contact. Ena’s ears perked up. The wound inflicted by Hector’s father abandoning her was, despite the passage of time, still fresh. Who divorced who? “Whom”, Manny corrected her. Ena sat up. Manny, alert to the subtle shifts in Ena’s moods, recognized that she was upset, a breath away from drawing inward to a place that he couldn’t reach. He touched Ena gently, hoping to extend the good feelings generated by the day, explaining that his relationship with Janice was basically a “green card marriage”. Manny was sure that Ena would now relax, lay her head on his chest and slip back into sweet oblivion.
Instead, Ena grabbed his t-shirt and slid out of bed. If Manny had a green card, and she married him, would she qualify for one as well? So many questions. And then there was Hector, Hector. In the shoebox of a child’s bed where the cool winds swept across the floor, Hector like his Mother, was probably awake right now. listening to the frantic sound of the guinea pigs scratching and clawing their way to freedom.