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“Maybe you’ll become an astronaut, algún día,” Amama insisted, stroking my cheek lightly with her delicate, aged fingers. Her loving eyes dug deep into mine, reflecting what once was a vibrant, youthful child but is now nothing but an exhausted and worn skeleton of who she used to be. Who she wishes to still be. Only when she smiles could one see the child in her glow again.
We were talking about my birthmark; the one on my face. My grandmother traced it with her soft fingertips, luring my eyes into hers.
“You’ll fly up in a rocket ship and be the first mujer to set foot on la luna.” Her soothing rhythmic words filled my ears, my eyes, mouth, throat, heart. She had a harp instead of lungs that produced notes too pure for ears to take in. I lay there beside her on the couch, nothing but a six-year-old girl who lived by a beautiful basque name, a language older than the pyramids, more ancient than the Colosseum, almost as antique as the stars in the sky. Basque, a near-extinct language we have to preserve, Amama says, a language we should adopt as our own secret one, she keeps telling me. My eyes listened, but my ears were too distracted by her melodious voice.
Like a red smudge from the corner of my eye down to my lip, my birthmark covers some of my right cheek. “Mancha,” I used to insist, “Stain,” as if I could just wipe it off with a wet towel. “Mancha roja.” But Amama would always correct me: “Lunar, Amaia, lunar precioso.”
“You’ll be la primera to discover the dark side of la luna, la primera who dares to do so.” she continued. Her finger became warm on my cheek, but a pleasant kind of warm. A warmth that I knew radiated from within her frail body.
Like a river that cascades down my face, my birthmark flows from the tear gland of my eye, downwards, to end up feeding my mouth like a tributary. It forms a red moon that curves down my cheekbone and that’s where all these fantasies came from; the red moon.
We were lying on the red couch she’s had for too long with peculiar stains that no one could explain. The t.v. was on but only for the sake of replacing the emptiness of the streets during the hour of la siesta. Amama would pick up the hesitation in my childish eyes. “Pero, te lo digo, Amaia, you have some sort of a connection with the moon.”
I believed her then, that I would go up into the great unknown and make her proud someday. I believed her when she said I would be able to talk with extraterrestrial beings because of the moon on my face. I still believed her when she said I would discover something phenomenal as a groundbreaking scientist someday, a scientist by the beautiful Basque name of my own, but the older I grew, the more these fantasies faded.
“Believe me, yo soy tú Amama y Amamas saben todo.”
Ever since I was little, I had trouble sleeping at night. I hated closing my eyes, afraid to sacrifice myself to the monsters that would chase me and tease me by pulling my long hair or poking me with their elongated, twisted fingers; the same monsters that came up from under my bed and out of my closet after the lights died out and my parents kissed me goodnight.
Unable to sleep, I would slip into my parent’s room, after only ten minutes of struggling with the scary beasts that conquered my imagination, hugging my blanket tightly and dragging it along the floor like a rag.
“No puedo dormir – I can’t sleep,” I would often whimper, standing at the foot of my parents’ king-size bed hoping that they’d protect me from my own thoughts and embrace me like they so often did. ∞
∞ “Mira Amaia,” Amama one day told me. It was one of those Sunday mornings where everyone would just ignore the early sunshine knocking at the door and roll over as if it would go away. It was the plague of the laziness that Sundays cast on the entire family, except for my dad, of course, whom I was convinced was the one who shooed the moon away and reminded the sun to rise in the mornings.
Amama shuffled to the breakfast table, revealing a stunning tangle of threads and leather and feathers and beads that formed something magical called un atrapasueños. Even its name sounded like something found in fairy tales.
“Esto,” she beckoned at the dreamcatcher with her eyes, “Esto es un atrapasueños.” Tempting to touch it, my fingers fiddled with the fine feathers as I continued listening to what my grandmother wanted to tell me. The circular frame was crafted with fragile fingers that were skilled at braiding and intertwining threads. The brown leather that bound the strings and wood together had small imperfections that only critics would be able to pick out.
“Y es algo mágico – And it’s something magical,” she would explain.
Aita, was at the table as well, partially ignoring us, still too early for him to interact with others. I could tell he had been up for hours, despite the fact that it was only seven thirty in the morning. He wore his flimsy glasses that clung to his large nose. The same glasses that he only ever wore when reading a good book or watching a nerve-racking soccer game on television. Glasses that I thought made him look older, but he’d claim older wasn’t the right word, but wiser. It would make him look wiser.
My brothers and mother were still lost in the world of dreams when Amama continued talking about el atrapasueños.
“Viene all the way from el País Vasco,” she stated, pleased to see I was already astonished by this gift.
“If you hang this above your bed, right where your head rests on your pillow, it will collect all those bad dreams of yours and only allow the good ones to get to you,” she spoke in a Latin-derived language I had learned through listening and repeating.
“De verdad?” I would more or less whisper to myself, questioning my wise grandmother’s words. My eyes drew the weblike threading in my head, tracing it with my eyes, over and over again, as if it were a labyrinth with no escape. The plastic beads matched the white thread and brown leather, adorning the gift with a glossy texture alongside the plush feathers. Gingerly, I brought it to my room, laying it on the neatly-made covers I was bound to sleep in that night. ∞
∞ Nightfall took its time, but when it finally arrived with its familiar pale moon and sparkly stars, I hung el atrapasueños carefully above my bed, just as Amama explained. Clad in my space-themed PJs with planets and green aliens, I got into bed all by myself, waiting for my parents to come in and switch off the lights. So they did, and as they kissed me goodnight, I closed my eyes like I did every night but this time allowed the darkness to envelop me without straining myself against it. Knowing the magic of el atrapasueños would shield me, I allowed the darkness to lull me to sleep and tuck me in. At last finding peace with what scared me most, I was finally able to sleep without my childish fears coming to life. ∞
∞ Even to this day, you can still find the same atrapasueños hung above my bed with its stunning tangle of threads and leather and feathers and beads, just the way I got it seven years ago from Amama.
It was one of those summer nights where darkness came too late without an excuse, three hours behind the agreed schedule. The moon was still nowhere to be seen, as if this night forgot to bring it along. The black curtain that was drawn over the sky grew glistening stars, sprinkling the night with glitter that illuminated the dark space it was enclosed by. Down on the earth below, the colors grew dull and blunt as the light vanished with the disappearing sun. In no time, the street lights flickered on emitting a warm yellowness onto the stone cold floors.
The river below bathed in blurry colors that danced to the rhythm of the current, back and forth back and forth like a group of folks dancing Jauziak. Yellow dots floated on the surface, mimicking the glow of streetlights on the sidewalk above. Like fireworks, the colors blended and fused together which made the water take form and come alive as if there was a massive fish, playing in the waves. The coarse stone blocks fought back the playful waves that attempted to climb them as they stood firmly, supervising the river below.
There we were, grandmother and granddaughter, embracing each other with our interlocked arms like two penguins that cuddled for heat. Despite the livelihood of the city around us at this time of night, only the streets echoed the faraway voices of young couples at bars or coworkers inviting each other over for another glass. Before us, a sleepy bridge stretched into the grainy sky, unbothered to even acknowledge us, knowing we were anything but a threat. The suspended cables split the background in fragments like a kaleidoscope, but lacking the figurative color. We were walking across one of the countless bridges found in Bilbao, for the sake of satisfying our sense of savoring the sweet summer air. One of the countless bridges that provided passage for the civilians that needed to cross over a timid river that sliced the landscape in two.
The howling wind licked our faces, leaving droplets of dew from the damp air that lingered around our hometown all year round. With our sweaters hugging our waists, we kept embracing each other, until Amama’s voice interrupted the night’s song.
“No quiero ser vieja, Amaia, I don’t wanna be old,” she sighs. She stopped in her path, finally stilling her worn out legs after a lifetime of non-stop moving. Her eyes glistened, cuddled by her wrinkled skin on her face that stretches out when she smiles. Her mouth was pulled in an awkward grimace that made me wonder whether she was smiling or in pain.
I tried slipping my hand out of hers, but she held on firmly, unwilling to let me go, as if I would just run away or something absurd like that. I could hear the sorrow in her wasted voice as she pronounced those unsteady words that crumbled off her thin lips but penetrated my wobbly heart. The wind kept howling as we stood there, grandmother and granddaughter, but this time facing each other like opponents in a boxing ring.
Unsure how to respond, I just took in the sadness that transmitted through her tight grip, hoping it would ease some of hers. Unable to control my reaction I knew nothing better than to allow my eyes to swell up and form pools of water that blurred my vision of her sorry face. I still don’t know to this day where these tears came from, but all I knew is that I couldn’t bare to see my bright-spirited grandmother’s face intoxicated by misery, a true kind of misery.
Realizing that she’d opened up just a little too much to her naive granddaughter, her gaze apologized instantaneously, hiding her grief behind another mask. She frantically cut off the heartache flowing through our connected fingers and pulled me in for a tight hug. She blinked away a tear or two but none followed after those, settling in the back of her eyes for another day. There we were, grandmother and granddaughter, embracing each other once more on one of the countless bridges found in our hometown, suspended above the timid river that sliced the landscape in two.
“Can I tell you something,” Amama will say out of nowhere while folding clothes or reading a book or even finishing a crossword puzzle. Her dainty glasses would balance on the edge of her pointy nose, praying not to fall off and shatter into millions of pieces.
“Claro,” I’ll respond.
“You know I love you, right? Te quiero más que cualquier cosa en el planeta.” She’ll pause whatever she’s doing, whether it’s the dishes that she’s cleaning or my brushing my luscious hair, she’ll just look up at me with her pleasant smile. She says it often as if it just would come to her mind and she needed to remind me, just in case I would forget.
I’ll just grin, bearing my pearly white teeth in response, once wonky, but now corrected by metal wires and cables, and let out a sigh, “Si, of course I know that, Amama.”
“Bien. Because I’ll love you para siempre.”