So we start cycling, and I wonder whether I should start a conversation to try and fill in the time while we get to wherever it is we’re going to. I wonder how far we’ll be going. Is Doña Pantalla rich? Hm, probably. I am getting escorted, after all. Does she have one of those really expensive houses? Oh god, I bet she doesn’t have any smart devices. She doesn’t, does she? Why would you, if you could afford it? I could try having this conversation out loud, but I feel like I’d be pestering this person with all these questions that she might not even be allowed to answer. It’s too many questions, anyway. I’d be a bother, too nosy.
We cycle down, around, and up hills. Between the tree cover and the slight breeze, the ride isn’t so bad. We hug the edge of the road closest to the mountain, just in case a car comes speeding around the bend. I try again to think of a way to break the silence.
“So uh, what’s for dinner?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” she responds.
Ok, fair. Maybe that wasn’t the right question to start with. “Where are we going, exactly? How much further?”
“About ten more minutes”
Sigh, that’s what I get for trying to ask two questions at once. Alright, I’ll try one more time. “So, who is Doña Pantalla?”
“Wait, you don’t know who she is?” she asks, surprised.
“Nope, no idea. Never heard of her.”
“Oh.” she’s quiet for a moment before continuing. “I think it’d be best if I allow her to introduce herself. I’m sorry for not talking much,” she adds, “I just have some things on my mind right now.”
“Ok, no problem.” Stuck in your own thoughts too, huh? I wonder what it could be.
We cycle along some more until the lady in the suit stops. “We’re here,” she says. We are? I was expecting to be passing through the richer part of town, or at least a gated neighborhood or something. I look around. On my right there’s a pea green and white home. Pretty normal, just like any other home you’d see around here. Flat top boxy concrete home with bright colors, steel window shades, and caramel brown ornate gating for the door and the fence. The only thing that makes this one different from the rest are the various tables and chairs placed around outside, laid out like an outdoor cafe. The furniture was more practical than anything. Heavy enough to stay put and not likely to be damaged by rain. A small sign off to the side of the front door has marked the place as “closed”. The lady in the suit parked the bicycle and opened the fence door, gesturing me in. As I walk to the front door, I notice the planter surrounding the house. It looks like an herb garden, including plants for ajíes dulces. Locally sourced ingredients indeed.
As I walk in the house, I’m welcomed with the delicious smell of home cooked food. The smell is unmistakable: Pasteles. Really? How very curious. Did she make them herself? Before I’m able to think about it further, a friendly voice asks, “¡Ah, bendición! You’ve made it. Thank you for coming on such short notice. Would you like anything to drink? ¿Café? ¿Coca Cola?”
“Uh, Coca Cola, thank you.”
The interior is also modestly decorated, but liberally decorated with house plants. I pass the receiving room and am met with what I assume is a front desk. The lady in the suit opens the way past it. An older lady in a sun dress sporting that low maintenance permed hair-do middle-aged ladies love to have walked in through the hallway. Her dark skin, combined with her amber hair color and the contrast that her bright yellow dress brought to it all made her look effortlessly stunning, yet casual. The white sandals indicated she felt very at home, and saw no need to impress me.
“Hello!” she smiled. “My name is Doña Pantalla. Laura recommended I speak with you. I’m sure you’re hungry, so let’s talk more in the dining room.”
“Yes, thank you for inviting me,” I quickly add, but she already started towards the back of the house. A family size table with some wooden chairs are decorated with plates of rice and beans, as well as pasteles. I haven’t had pasteles in quite a long time. They’re so much work to make. They’re essentially ground beef encased in cassava and plantains and wrapped up in banana leaves, seasoned with sofrito, adobo, olives, achiote, garlic, and whatever additional seasonings a family likes to add. The room itself is simple: tile floor, more house plants, a book shelf, and a wide window to a back patio. By the plate facing away from the window is a glass of water. By the other, facing the window, a can of Pepsi.
“Have a seat,” says Doña Pantalla. “Araceli, would you mind waiting outside? I’ve prepared a plate for you as well, so you can grab that on your way out.”
“As you wish Doña, thank you.” Araceli bows out and leaves the room. I lift my hand a bit and instinctively want to ask her to stay so that I’m not alone, but she’s already gone before I can muster up the courage to speak up. I sit down.