|Roger Bonner is Swiss but grew up in Los Angeles, California. He has published poetry and stories in England, the USA and Canada. A collection of his satirical columns about the Swiss entitled “Swiss Me” has been published by Bergli Books (www.bergli.ch). He has just published a mid-grade children’s book: “Adventure in the Swiss Alps – The Secret Cave”, available from Amazon.com. He lives in Basel with his Canadian wife.|
By Roger Bonner
Maricela sits on the porch of her rickety house in a hamlet near Santiago de Cuba, the stench of pigs in her nose. She is waiting for the last customer of the day, and here she comes – Yani wobbling down the rutted dirt road in high heels and a tight red dress.
Maricela arranges the clipper, nail file, tweezers, brushes and different colors of polish on the small wooden table in front of her. One must be professional, even if pigs are grunting in the backyard. Why does Ernesto keep these foul beasts? She is making the money.
“Hola, Maricela,” Yani flops down in the chair and heaves a sigh.
“Hola, Yani. What can I do for you?”
“Give me beautiful nails,” says Yani, wriggling her plump fingers. “Luis is going to propose – I feel it and must be ready when he clasps my hand and slips the ring on my finger!”
“What kind of a pattern would you like?” asks Maricela in a weary voice.
“Something with stars on a blue background – each nail tells a story!”
In the backyard a squeal rends the air. Ernesto has stuck a hog and is about to bleed it. Maricela cringes at the thought of him touching her that night. She wishes she would never have married. And here is Yani desiring to enter this disastre.
“That will cost more.”
“I don’t care,” answers Yani. “Give me the best.”
Maricela picks up the clipper and begins to snip the jagged edges of Yani’s fingernails.
“Have you been chewing on them?”
“Sometimes I am so nervous,” says Yani, “and afraid…”
“Afraid of what?” Maricela carefully files the nails.
“I don’t know. I just want to be happy, like you. You have such a wonderful husband. Ay…you’re hurting me!”
“Sorry, you must hold still.”
Maricela applies a base of blue polish on the nails, very thin, to look like the sky at noon, wispy with clouds. This will be a work of art leading to nothing but disappointment. Luis will probably get her with child and abandon her.
“I will now stick on the stars with a dab of glue. Which finger should I start with?”
“The ring finger,” says Yani, holding up her right hand. “Arrange the stars in the shape of a circle.”
“Please be careful, or you’ll poke out my eye.” Maricela recoils from the wagging digit.
She takes it and with the tweezer starts pasting the tiny stars in the shape of a ring. “Is this right?”
“Beautiful,” exclaims Yani. “Next do the pinkie. That will be the first baby. Put one star on that, then two on the middle finger, three on the index…”
“If we keep this up,” remarks Maricela, “we will run out of stars.”
“I want many children and a house in Santiago,” says Yani. “I want to leave this hole of a place.”
Luis will have to rob a bank, thinks Maricela as she applies the stars, instead of crooning in dives with his miserable band. “And how will your future husband finance all that?” she asks.
“He will sell millions of CDs!” says Yani. “Can you put four stars on the thumb?”
At that moment they hear a clucking sound come from the kitchen. Maricela jumps up. “Out…out…get out…” She grabs a broom and chases the chicken onto the dusty road, where it squawks away in indignation.
“This is what I am going to escape,” says Yani. “We will move into a house and eat steak. I am sick of chicken, black beans and rice.”
Maricela comes back to the table and takes up her work again.
“What about the left hand?” she says. “Where should I paint the steak?”
“Stop joking,” says Yani. “Paint a house on the thumb.”
“That will cost extra,” says Maricela, mentally calculating how many pesos all these worthless dreams will add up to. Then she picks the finest brush and starts to paint a tiny house on Yani’s left thumb.
“That’s it,” cries Yani. “Two floors with a balcony!”
“It is good you have big fingers,” says Maricela as she adds another floor to the house.
“What do you mean, big fingers?” asks Yani, insulted.
“I mean, you have strong hands with much character,” Maricela quickly answers. She need not aggravate a good customer. “What do you wish on the other fingernails?”
Yani thinks for a minute, then says, “L…O…V…E…a letter for each finger, in different colours! Purple for L, pink for O…”
“That will cost extra.”
“I don’t care,” says Yani. “This is the most important moment in my life. Tonight I will show Luis my nails and he will be intoxicated!”
“Isn’t he always intoxicated?” says Maricela as she paints a purple L on the index finger of the left hand.
Yani arches her eyebrows. “Are you saying he is a drunk?”
“Well, he does guzzle his fair share of rum,” says Maricela.
“Luis is an artist,” says Yani. “He needs inspiración. So maybe he does sometimes drink a little too much, but that will change once we are married.”
While Maricela paints the O on the middle finger, she thinks it never changed Ernesto.
“More pink on the O,” says Yani. “Make it glow!”
“I am doing my best, but hold still.”
“I am so excited,” says Yani.
“What color should the V be?” asks Maricela.
“Let me think. We have purple, we have pink. We need green, the color of fertility.”
Also the color of jealousy, thinks Maricela, as she picks the brightest of greens from one of the vials. Luis is known to be a hothead and quick with the knife.
“Yes, that is the right color,” says Yani as she admires the nail. “Now do the E, the last letter.”
“I think it should be in red,” says Maricela.
“Yes.” Yani stretches her hand. “The color of passion!”
“And of blood,” adds Maricela, setting to work.
But Yani does not pay attention and when Maricela puts on the final coat of clear polish on all the nails, Yani stands up and shouts, “Perfecto!”
Crumpled peso bills exchange hands; Yani waddles out onto the road, flapping her hands in the air, like a chicken, yes, like a stupid chicken.
Suddenly a heavy hand grips Maricela’s shoulder.
Ernesto lowers his grizzled head close to her face. “And how much money have we made today?” he asks.