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[Fiction] Together as One






Crash! Bang! Crash! Bang!

Hurricane María whipped the island. Through a gap in the storm shutter, Julia saw the wind spit out a palm tree, like a toothpick. A roof hurtled toward the beach. Time to hurry to Julia’s school, which was being used as an emergency shelter.

They drove through the pounding rain in tense silence. The curtain of rain hid the top of the hill where Don Alonso lived. This wind could easily blow away his tiny house—and him!

"Did somebody take Don Alonso to the shelter?" Julia already knew the answer: Don Alonso would never abandon his house.

All around them, branches cracked. BANG! Julia watched as a huge quenepa tree crashed down onto a tienda.

At the school, Julia was glad to see her guaraguao tree still standing. But . . . ¡Ay, bendito! In the music room, the cuatros were shattered. Julia would no longer get to play her favorite dance song, the seis chorreao.

The gym was hot and loud with babies crying, children running around, their parents chasing them.

“Leida!” Julia hugged her friend. “Where are your puppies?”

“I had to leave Sato and Sata behind.”

The wind roared like the Air Force jets that had shaken Julia’s house as they flew overhead gathering information about the weather. So, she had to yell, “Don’t worry, Leida, we’ll find them!”

The drivers behind him stepped out of their cars. Julia feared that they were angry because Papi wasn’t moving. But no. They pushed Papi’s car all the way to the pump.

Julia folded a piece of paper into a fan. Soon everyone in the shelter was making paper fans. Battery-powered radios blasted the news: the airport was flooded, mudslides had buried cars, dead iguanas blocked the roads. Julia tried to distract herself by showing Leida how to make an origami crane. ¡Uy! Hurricane, go away!

The hurricane roared all day and night before it finally got tired and drifted away, like the Air Force jets. The next morning, Panchito, the school custodian, opened the front doors.

Julia’s guaraguao tree! Knocked down!

“No tears,” Panchito said, as Julia and her parents left the school. “We’ll put the wood to good use.”

Señor Medina, the school principal, directed traffic at the intersection. Julia waved to him as they went by. She closed her eyes and saw mud. She opened her eyes and saw mud. They came to a car that was stuck. It was Leida and her parents!

“The road is blocked,” Leida’s father said. “How will we get through?”

Don Raúl came with a machete. He chopped through the thick branches. Everybody slogged away behind him, hauling branches, clearing palm fronds, and tossing avocados from the path.

When Leida’s father opened their front door, a surge of water spilled out. Leida’s mother wrung her hands. “We’ve lost everything!”

“Sato! Sata!” Leida called.

Julia waded in with a lantern. They searched everywhere: the muddy sofa, Leida’s soggy bed, the murky water. Had the dogs been swept out to sea? Suddenly, Julia heard a whimper. Standing on their back legs in the bathtub, two small dogs wagged their tails excitedly.

“Sato! Sata!” The puppies covered Julia and Leida with kisses.

For days, there was no power, no running water, no school. Julia and Leida helped Leida’s abuelita wash clothes in the river. “Like the good old days!” said Abuelita.

Good? Julia frowned. Having no power meant no TV, no video games, no cell phones, no refrigerator. But then Julia saw something good. A guaraguao sapling had survived! She knew exactly where to replant it.

Julia and Leida helped Miss Medina clean up the school. When it rained, they took desks outside and washed them. When it was sunny, they carried school books outside to dry.

On the way to the gasolinera, Papi’s car ran out of gas in the middle of a long line of traffic. The drivers behind him stepped out of their cars. Julia feared that they were angry because Papi wasn’t moving. But no. They pushed Papi’s car all the way to the pump.

In the meantime, Julia and Mami stood in line under a scorching sun to get drinking water. Watching the piraguero scrape a block of ice made Julia thirstier.

“Don Alonso’s creek had turned into a river, flooding his road,” he told them. “Chief Enrique braved the hill to check on him. Don Alonso is safe. He just needs batteries for his lantern, but everyone has run out of batteries.”

“I have extra batteries!” Julia said, taking them out of her backpack and giving them to the piraguero.

He didn’t thank her. Instead he scooped ice into a paper cone, drizzled it with raspberry and tamarind syrups, and handed her the piragua. It was hers, for free!

That evening, over on the hill, Don Alonso swung his lit lantern, signaling his thanks.

The next day, Julia ferried plates from the beachfront restaurant to the volunteers. “Can we feed them all?”

Doña Luisa flipped red snappers on the grill. “We’ll feed everyone until there’s nothing left.”

They fed teenagers hammering blue tarps to roofs.

They fed carpenters repairing walls.

They fed electricians trying to restore power.

They fed the fisherman who offered his catch.

One day, as Julia worked in the restaurant, she heard a loud sound. It was a sound they had not heard for a long time. Hummmmmm.

“The refrigerator! Wepa! The electricity is back!” Julia clapped. Everybody dashed to the beach to celebrate.

Panchito handed Julia the shiniest cuatro she had seen. “Your very own cuatro, made from the wood of your old guaraguao tree.”

Julia hugged Panchito around his waist. Then everyone listened as she played a seis chorreao.



-



Author's Note



On September 20, 2017, Hurricane María attacked Puerto Rico. And I was there!

For thirty long hours, the winds roared like war jets, snapped tree after tree, splintered windows, and ripped away traffic signs and zinc roofs. If the deafening wind was terrifying, the hurricane’s aftermath was worse. The whole island was incommunicable, without drinking water, and without power.

“Together as One,” read a tattered Puerto Rican flag. We had to be!

“Puerto Ricans need to do more,” President Trump tweeted in the days after the disaster.

Politicians failed Puerto Rico, but the US public didn’t.

My cousin and his wife live a block away from the beach. They sheltered in town and returned to find their house flooded. They lost everything!

My family and friends took up a serrucho, a money collection. At an Oregon conference of the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), attendees also contributed to the serrucho.

“With this money,” my cousin said, “I’ll buy a mattress, but the rest will go to others who are less fortunate.”

The day I returned to Oregon, on the way to the airport, I met sixty-three electricians who wore T-shirts painted with the Puerto Rican flag, and a lineman climbing a pole.

For months they had worked hard to restore some of the power to the island. Not an easy task. The terrain in the mountains is steep and risky. Many roads had turned into raging rivers. Others were blocked by downed trees, and even dead iguanas.

These electricians showed me photos of red snappers that Puerto Rican families had caught and cooked for them. They were full of gratitude for those home-cooked meals.

Those photos, and my cousin’s selflessness, bear witness to the Puerto Rican spirit, and testify to the importance of working together as one.




About the Author

Carmen T. Bernier-Grand is the Puerto Rican author of eleven books for children and young adults. Her children's book biographies, César: Yes, We Can! / ¡Sí, se suede!, Diego: Bigger Than Life, and Frida: ¡Viva la vida! / Long Live Life received Pura Belpré Author Honor Awards. In 2008, the Oregon Library Association’s Children’s Division awarded Carmen the Evelyn Sibley Lampman Award for her significant contributions to the children of Oregon in the field of children’s literature. Ten years later, Oregon Literary Arts awarded her the Walt Morey Young Readers Literary Legacy Award. She lives with her husband and bilingual Maltese dog, Lily, in Portland Oregon. Her next bilingual picture-book is scheduled for publication in 2021. Visit her on Twitter: @GrandBernier, Facebook: @carmen.berniergrand, and on the web at www.carmenberniergrand.com.




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About Anansesem

Anansesem is an online magazine of Caribbean children's and young adult literature by adults and children. We strive to bring you the best in news, reviews and creative content from the world of Caribbean children's publishing.
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