Yet another chapter from my novel. I took a big risk with this piece by using spanish. This story contrasts the arrival of an american player with a spanish player. I think there’s a great story here. Would love to hear what you think. As usual, this story is copyright protected. Enjoy!
I lowered my eyes, took a deep breath and tried one more time. “A que hora sale mi vuelo?” The attendant’s eyes grew wide and her lips curled in the center making a circle. She pinched one eye half closed trying to understand me. I stood silent.
While I was on the flight to Charlotte the pilot addressed the passengers in English and Spanish. I knew it was going to be tough once I landed, but I didn’t think it was going to be this difficult this quick. I reached into my pocket for my boarding pass and placed it on the counter for her to read. Holding out hope, I watched her unfold the paper and tap the keyboard. I felt my heart beating in my chest the way it did after an inning ending double play. Except, the inning wasn’t over.
“Gate A,” said the woman. For a moment she almost looked as nervous and confused as I was. The noises around me were distracting. I couldn’t focus on what she was saying. Her mouth moved but my anxiety arrested my senses. She repeated it again, and again. I felt dizzy but, refused to lose my cool.
She turned around to a janitor cleaning out the waste bin. The line behind me spilled out onto the concourse of the terminal. Sighs and gasps bounced off the cold floors and high ceilings of Terminal J. I didn’t need to understand English to sense the impatience radiating behind me.
The Janitor had a mocha complexion and his nametag read Alberto.
“Excuse me, do you speak Spanish?” asked the woman.
“Si,” replied Alberto.
“I have a gentleman here who speaks Spanish and I can’t understand him. Would you mind taking a minute to help me?” Someone chewing gum behind me snapped a bubble loudly and sighed.
“No problem,” said Alberto, rolling the r.
“Tell him that his flight leaves from Gate A in forty-five minutes,” directed the woman.
“Te vas de la puerta A, en cuarenta y cinco minutos. Mal dar unpaseo.” My body began to relax. The beautiful cadence of my native language sang to me off of Alberto’s tongue. The sounds hugged my buzzing nerves easing my adrenaline rush. I nodded my head, took my new and old boarding pass from the woman, and popped my backpack into a more comfortable position on my right shoulder.
“Espera alli” said Alberto.
I stepped out of line to wait for Alberto. An agitated woman brushed me roughly aside in a huff before I could avoid her wrath. I stood by a wall trying not to draw attention to myself as I waited for Alberto to bring the shuttle for me. Maybe if I stood still enough I wouldn’t feel like the outcast I already was. There was a white wall behind me that I tried to blend in with. A foolish impossibility with my dark skin tone. I turned my palms up and flipped them over recognizing the difference in color.
Painted on the wall behind me was a map of the United States. Each major airport that American Airlines flew into was denoted by a small circle. Just above my head was Charlotte International airport. Long lines extended out from the small dot to all parts of the country. I clasped my hands in front of me just below my belt buckle. I wore an old brown, red and yellow striped polo shirt tucked into straight leg jeans dirtied from the dust blown baseball fields of Santo Domingo. The sweat dried on my forehead but residual anxiety still flushed through my veins. The same feeling I got every time I walked out to the mound to pitch. There was no speaking on the mound. I let my pitches do the talking. I feel separated from society when I’m not on a baseball field.
“Vamonos,” yelled Alberto. I peeled myself from the wall, picked up my duffle bag and laid it on the back seat of the golf cart.
“Me di cuenta por su acento esta en la Republica Dominicana,” Alberto correctly sensed my Dominican dialect.
“Si,” I replied.
“Por que estas aqui?”
Alberto’s expression was stoic. The lines on his face were the only fragments of the easy smiles of his youth. Patches of discoloration below Alberto’s forehead were burned into his skin from years in the sun. It was obvious to me that baseball was his bittersweet lover.
“Estoy aqui para jugar al beisbol,” I said with a smile peeking out of the corner of my mouth.
“Ah, que equipo estas jugando para?” asked Alberto.
“Medias Blancas,” I proudly answered, inflating my chest a hair more.
“White Sox,” admonished Alberto. “Usted va a tener que aprender a decir en ingles, si quieres sobrevivir en el beisbol profesional y America.” I shook my head in affirmation and responded, “Yes,” in English. “I…learn…English.”
“De donde eres?” I asked.
“Corocito,” replied Alberto. I smiled at my fellow countryman.
“Por que dejo?” I asked making sure Alberto left the Dominican for baseball. The cart weaved smoothly between people walking on the concourse.
“Para perseguir el mismo sueno que es ahora. He jugado el cuadro interior de los cardenales durante cinco anos. Me dejaron en libertad hace treinta anos manana.” Alberto drifted into a melancholy haze remembering his years with the Cardinals. He played with Stan Musial, Curt Flood, and Bob Gibson. They became mythological figures in the baseball pantheon just after Alberto was hit in the head with a pitch in a minor league game. After his release, he flew into Charlotte international airport on his way back to the Dominican Republic, missed his flight and never left.
Alberto pulled the up to the gate just as the flight started boarding. “Buena Suerte a mi amigo,” said Alberto and slapped me on the back.
“Gracias senor,” I replied. I lifted my bloated duffle bag from the back seat and winced. Before Alberto left he said, “Haga que su pais se sienta orgulloso,” wishing great fortune and protection in a place more foreign than the moon.
I hitched up my bags and slinked to the attendant at the gate. “Good afternoon sir. Have a nice flight.” English still sounded like gibberish. It was ugly. There was no rhythm or romance. It lacked passion.
The jet way sloped down and to the left, sliding me towards the airplane. My own inertia flushed me right past another attendant greeting passengers.
“A cuatro. No! A fower,” I whispered to myself. I found my seat, stowed my duffel bag in the overhead compartment and sat down. No one had claimed the seat next to me yet. Staring out the window, a blanket of warmth spread over my body thinking about home. I started to count in English, “wan, two, tree…”
An older woman with an accent of her own sat down next to me and said, “Hailo there. Hoopefully this flat leaves on tam.” I nodded in absently. Quickly, I turned my eyes back out the window and wished the woman away.
“This shoodent be a long flat,” the woman continued. “My name’s Cathy. What’s yours?” I knew the woman was talking to me but I didn’t understand her and resisted the polite temptation to acknowledge her introduction.
“I guess we all can’t have the southern sensibility,” the woman muttered under her breath after a long silence from me.
I felt the adrenaline rush back through my body after the woman’s utterance. The stale air in the plane became muggy. I hated myself for wearing such silly clothes. My brother’s hand-me-down polo shirt felt moist under my arms. The pilot’s voice sounded over the intercom.
“Goooood afternoon ladies and gentleman. We’re preparing for departure to Tri-Cities, Tennessee. It should be an easy flight with low headwinds and clear skies. While the crew prepares the cabin for departure please take a look at the safety booklet located in the pocket of the seat in front of you. I’m captain Bob and we look forward to delivering you safely to your final destination.”
The plane backed away from the jet way and began to taxi towards the runway. The beating in my chest became more and more rapid. It felt like my ribs exploded with every pounding beat. The pilot hit the throttle, the passengers sank into their seats and I closed my eyes. As the wheels left the ground the cabin calmed. I closed my eyes. My chest rose and sank quickly.
“Respiraciones profundas,” I whispered controlling my breaths.
After a while, I slipped back to the sandlot where I threw my first pitch. The infield dirt was light and lifted off the ground with an easy kick. Each base was dirty and tattered from being left out in the weather. I didn’t care though. In my dream I brushed away the loose dirt to toe the rubber. Twisting my left toe into the dirt I dug in for a challenge I wasn’t afraid to face.