Dos Gardenias del Campo
By Camila Bonilla
Sitting in the Dominican countryside, known as El Campo, Agustina plays the guitar with her grandfather. She reflects on her time spent on the island and her anxiety surrounding her soon departure.
In El Campo, the acoustics rang better than when played from the fire escape in a bustling city. The jungle behind croaked its own harmony in tune with the strings, while the cars below crashed into each note, leaving fragmented dissonance in its wake. Agustina felt at peace, here in El Campo, plucking metal twine for her grandfather, who sat across from her, a cigar in his yellow fingers, tobacco rolled tight in the factories miles away in Santo Domingo.
Agustina came to a stop, fingers resting on top of the frets instead of pressing into the board.
“Maravilloso.” Her grandfather smiled. “It only feels like yesterday when I was the one on that same guitar playing for El Campo. Even with quipes stuffed in their mouths, they slowed their chewing to listen closer to my playing. Breaths hitched, mine included. That was the only thing you could hear. The guitar and the cicadas buzzing in the palm trees.”
Agustina waited before his next words how she always did, like carefully waiting for a coconut to fall from its tree on its own accord because you knew it would be ripe.
“How about ‘Amada Mia?’ Cheo Feliciano. Remember the one we learned last summer? Do you still remember that one? Or has it slipped from your brain? Everything seems to be slipping away, but what stays are songs. It’s muscle memory, the dance of fingers over frets.”
“I remember,” said Agustina. “It goes like this.” Her calloused fingertips pressed into the metal, taking obscure positions that shifted every few seconds, while her other hand gently picked over the gaping hole. Agustina closed her eyes and kept playing.
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Everything was the same. The guitar, the same instrument her grandfather held sixty years ago. The palm trees rooted deep under the soil, gripping onto anything that would keep them tethered to a world in which time whipped everything away. El Campo, where the roosters cried every bleak morning, and rain showers drenched the steep hills and left behind a smell that you could only smell right here in El Campo. Only she had changed. Agustina was no longer the little girl who flounced in white skirts that became brown from the mud. Ever since then, the city hardened her, like the frost that came over oak trees and left them bare. Whenever she came back to El Campo, the snow melted off. It was in moments like these that she wished she could be a palm tree under the blazing Caribbean sun, where the cold never whispered in the winds except for those cool, damp nights spent talking with cousins in hushed voices. And when everyone went to sleep, you could hear the frogs croaking. Crickets chirping. Water rushing by in the river nearby. The soft acoustics of El Campo.
But eventually she would have to go back. Back to the city where she learned English. Where she bought her first apartment. Where the cold settled over her like a frosty blanket, and no matter how hard you blew on your hands while waiting for the bus they never warmed up. Agustina found it hard to wake up on those days when the radiator was off. At dawn, she found comfort in burying herself under the blankets, imagining herself in El Campo. And if she listened hard enough, she swore a rooster cried outside her window.
Agustina slowly came to a stop, and took her eyes off the patch of green grass she had stared at while her mind had wandered. Her fingers still managed to play the song at least twice over before her grandfather snapped her out of it.
“I asked if you could play ‘Dos Gardenias.’ Are you feeling alright?”
“Yes. It’s just so hot out here.”
“What’s on your mind? There’s something bothering you, I know it. You and your father contort your eyebrows the same way, so they look even bushier.”
“I don’t want to go.”
“You’re sitting down right now. You’re not going anywhere.”
“I mean, I don’t want to leave.”
“You’re not leaving for another two days.”
“I know. It’s just that when I do leave, I know I’m going to miss this place. I love the city, I do, but I don’t know if I can bear another cold winter. I wish I had done more things. I wish I had taken you to the beach.”
“It’s hot right now.”
“I know, papá. It’s just that it won’t be—”
“And it will be cold when you get back. You are sitting on this island with me right now. Enjoy it. You spend so much time thinking about what the cold will be like in New York, when you won’t know for another two days. So, why are you wallowing in your own sadness? You wanted to go to the beach? Good. We’ll go to the beach tomorrow.”
Agustina stared at her grandfather.
“What are you looking at me for? Now, ‘Dos Gardenias.’ Do you know it or not?”
The young woman smiled briefly before positioning the guitar over her thigh.
After many nights spent in worrying because I didn’t know what to write about for the anthology piece, I just sat down and started to type in my computer. Guitar. El Campo. Time. These were the words that initiated what would become this piece. I wrote what I about knew and what I didn’t know. What I knew was my visits to El Campo. And my few attempts to play the guitar. What I didn’t know was my parents experience in leaving their homeland. I didn’t understand how they could be so upset to leave, because the island would be there next time, and snow awaited us in the city. I didn’t understand that along with leaving all of the leisure time spent in vacation, they also left behind their family and friends. When a tear slipped from my eye as we drove away from all of the palm trees and towards the airport that would take us back to the city, only then I started to understand. I wrote this piece in part my perspective, my experience in the island. I also wrote this piece in consideration of my parents, who know this place as their first home. I tried to write based on what I remembered from my last trip, which was five weeks ago, and the one before that, which was ten months ago. I tried to write as “organically” as possible, without editing every second after typing words. Then, me and my mentor cut this down to the word count, and added the title.
Camila Bonilla is a junior in high school who loves to bring her fictional narratives to life in writing. In middle school, Camila first dabbled in writing when crafting her Friend-fiction stories, featuring her classmates in school. Realizing that the limits in stories were endless, Camila now always stops to wield the power of her pencil when an idea sparks in her head. When not jumping from story to story, she enjoys painting watercolour portraits and making short films with her friends.