In the first few weeks that Manny and Ena lived together, Manny discovered that Ena liked to reference a saying or proverb from her village in response to situations, conflicts and screw-ups. Most of them didn’t translate that well into English, so Manny had to struggle to figure out what Ena was trying to convey. For instance, in response to Manny incorrectly guessing the time that the bodega downstairs closed for the night, Ena smiled and shrugged, which Manny took to mean, “oh well”. But the saying from her village “it’s a poor mouse that has only one hole” suggested to Manny that Ena was accusing him of being flaky because he didn’t have a back up plan. Ena didn’t understand the word “flaky” beyond its context in baking, while Manny was left wondering if language was tripping them up or was it the baggage they each carried from their prior lives? Manny’s mother, for instance, scolded him when he came to her with his plans of making a living as a soccer pro, “you’re all bum and parsley”, meaning, that he was a blowhard. All talk, no action.
Then there were the unconscious customs and habits they each adopted as adults that played out in the choice of setting up a home together. They argued about sponges, dental floss and overhead lighting vs. floor lamps. Ena didn’t believe that a mop cleaned the floor adequately. Manny didn’t believe that dirty dishes needed to be washed immediately. He was okay with letting the dirt pile up.
They tried to work out a compromise with each conflict. For awhile, all the cleaning she had to do at night on the job and then during the day at home proved too much and so, Ena stopped cleaning up their home. But that proved too irritating, so Ena quit her cleaning job and applied to be a cashier at the bodega downstairs. The owner had wanted to stay open late, but couldn’t handle the extended hours. Ena, comfortable with the night shift and fluent in Spanish, was a perfect fit. She was hired.
Before he left for his gig, Manny would carry their dinner downstairs to the bodega along with two paper plates, which, thankfully, eliminated half of the dirty dishes. In between customers, Ena and Manny shared a hot dish and always stole a kiss before saying goodbye.
One night, when returning home, his head full of the arguments of the last few weeks, Manny turned the corner to their block and saw three squad cars parked haphazardly in front of the bodega. Their red lights were flashing,. Heart pounding, he ran inside, slipped on thick glass shards, regained his balance, only to lose it again in a puddle milk and beer. His sturdy winter coat, rust colored corduroy pants and fairly clean underwear soaked up the messy brew. Dazed, he tried to regain his footing while avoiding the broken glass and soggy newspapers strewn about. A hand reached down to help him.
It was Ena. She looked radiant. Her hair was wild and her eyes lit up with a fire Manny had never seen before. Standing now, his bum wet and weighed down like he was a child, Manny zeroed in on a young punk in handcuffs being led out the door.
The kid had burst into the bodega and pointed a gun at her. Ena’s voice trailed off as she tried to explain to herself and to Manny why she reacted the way she did, when a Cop intervened. Speaking to Ena in an official voice conveying both urgency and respect, he asked her if she’d come down to the station to file a complaint. Ena, fearing deportation, waved her hand, telling the Cop that the boy was just confused and she was fine to let him go. What exactly happened, Manny demanded. The Cop told him that how brave his girlfriend was, facing a crazed kid with a loaded gun and wrestling him to the ground.
All the misunderstandings, the arguments and petty clashes of the last few weeks melted away as Manny swept Ena up in his arms and held her tight. She hugged him in kind. All the while, her heart pounded with joy as she relived the moment of seizing control of a wild situation.