Naima Coster
It rained every morning in Bogotá. The sound rarely woke me. It was not long before I was used to the soft pattering of drops on the roof, the rush of water into the drainpipes, the way cold seeped into the house. Usually, it was the baby who woke me. He would wander into our bedroom, rubbing his eyes and looking lost. He stood in the threshold, silent, waiting for me to invite him in.
           “Buenos días, papi,” I would say, motioning him into the room. He shuffled in sleepily, and I lifted him into bed with us. Sometimes, I could tell he was scared of nightmares or wetting the bed, but most of the time, he was just afraid to be alone. He did not ask for his mother, but I knew he was thinking of her. Sebastián stirred whenever the baby joined us. He murmured good morning and drew us into his arms. I listened to the rain and to their breathing and felt as if we could be anywhere in the world. We stayed like that for hours, until someone came downstairs to wake us up.
The apartment Sebastián and I shared with the baby was part of a casa de familia, a typical family home in Fontibón, a neighborhood that had once been its own city but was absorbed into the larger, more affluent capital city of Bogotá. A single door led from the street into the house: four apartments clustered around a central courtyard. The apartments were more like rooms of a house than distinct properties; people flowed into and out of them all day long, to borrow plates or announce lunch, to share gossip or ask for a favor. There were fourteen of us living in the house: four of Sebastián’s aunts and uncles, five of their children, the baby, Sebastián, two dogs, and me.
Sebastián’s eldest aunt, Cristina, had a key to the apartment. She never knocked before she entered in the mornings, trailed by her youngest daughter, the precocious, chatty, long-haired Paola, and Lulú, an unkind, neurotic white mutt who yapped as it tracked rainwater and mud into the apartment. I drew the covers around myself, instinctively, and ashamed, whenever Cristina found me in bed with her most prized and beloved nephew, with the baby between us. She always offered to bring breakfast down to our apartment, but we knew better than to accept.
As soon as I went up to Cristina’s apartment, the day ceased to be mine; it belonged to la familia. Upstairs, we ate breakfast while watching the news, usually a report about the World Cup or the upcoming Presidential elections. Over buttered arepas, fried eggs, and heaps of white rice, the family discussed whether Mockus or Santos would be better for Colombia. They debated who would be able to crack down on drug trafficking and Las FARC, who could stop the displacement of poor people, and who would make amends for the falsos positivos, thousands of innocent civilians murdered by the military and then falsely reported to be guerrilleros captured and killed in combat. 
The news always seemed so far from my own anxieties about life in Colombia: privacy, translation, disappointing Sebastián. I struggled to decipher the ringing, formal, cascading Spanish his family spoke in torrents so different from the staccato, cheeky Spanish I had learned from my Dominican mother. I tried to laugh and hmmm at the appropriate moments or when I had nothing else to say.  They asked me questions I could not answer.
¿Cuándo vuelve a Colombia? ¿Ya está amañada con Sebastián? ¿Se van a casar o que?
I did not know when I would return to Colombia. I was not always used to and pleased with Sebastián. I did not know if we would get married. The best I could offer was, “I hope so,” and “I think so,” or, to really please them, “Si Dios quiere.” Their questions convinced me a month was too long to spend in Colombia, even if I had missed Sebastián, and even if he had been waiting for me to arrive, meet the family, and see the city where his mother had grown up.
Sebastián was a sort of demigod to his family. He had grown up in the United States, but he could sing along to as many old vallenatos as they could. He spoke fluent, gorgeous, lilting, Bogotano Spanish. He had never caused his mother grief, never gotten a girl pregnant, never gone to jail. He was the first college graduate in the family, and soon, the first doctor.
He told jokes during breakfast, commented astutely on the news, and downed several cups of aguapanela before rising to wash his dishes. Cristina made aguapanela daily, steeping a block of solid dark brown cane sugar in boiling water until it dissolved. It was rich and sweet; we drank it at every meal. Sebastián always drank the most.
“Nobody’s judging you, mami,” he would say, when we were alone and I confessed my fear that they would decide I was not good enough for him. “Did anyone say anything to you?” 
When I shook my head no, he took my hands in his, kissed me, and resolved, “You have nothing to worry about. My family has their own problems. They’re just glad you’re here.”
I did not believe him.
He had been in Bogotá since April, leaving behind New York City and me, to do research with a team of medical anthropologists at NACHO, the national university. He leapt at the opportunity to spend time away from the life we shared with other English-speaking, ivy-league-educated twentysomethings in Brooklyn. His sister, who was searching for a new job and needed time to get on her feet, asked him to take her son with him to Colombia to learn Spanish and get to know the family. He said yes.
The baby and I were two of a kind: adrift in Bogotá, adjusting to the weather and the omnipresence of family. We were both grateful for the hospitality, aguapanela, and kindness. Still, we could not shake the feeling that we were not quite at home. I clung to him, carried him around like a shield. He reminded me of his uncle: charming, stubborn, mischievous, bright-eyed.
I tried to endear myself to the adults in the family – Juan David, Cristina, Sofía, Octavio – by cheerfully running all the errands they asked of me and Sebastián. We bought poison pellets at the pharmacy to kill the mosquitoes – zancudos – that flew into the apartment and bit the children at night. We dutifully marched across the old railroad tracks to visit relatives in the neighborhood over. Sebastián balanced the books for Sofía’s business, and I helped Paola with her grammar homework, although her nine-year-old Spanish was far more precise than mine. We cleaned and took care of the baby. I diced cucumbers. I rolled arepas. 
Once, we were sent to Carrefour for groceries. Sebastián insisted that we take Juan David’s bicycle there, through the winding, cobbled streets of Fontibón. He pedaled and I rode standing on a bar above the back wheel. I was terrified, towering over him, as he sped down hills and over the railroad tracks. I shrieked and clutched his shoulders as he recklessly steered us, trying to make me laugh. The ride back was easier and quicker; I remembered the way to the house on Calle 22F. 
It was only in the final weeks of my stay that Sebastián tried to show me the rest of the city, beyond the gridded, numbered, lettered streets of Fontibón. On those days, we endured the requisite morning discussions of politics and music and marriage, and then we left for el centro.
We visited the colonial district, stopping in bookstores to leaf through volumes of Colombian history and novels by Marquez. We wandered around NACHO and tried to imagine who we would have been if our families had never left Latin America, if his mother had never emigrated from Bogotá to Queens, and mine from Santiago to Brooklyn, if we had met at a school like NACHO, instead of at Yale. 
Sebastián bought me cups of tinto, black coffee with cinnamon and aguapanela, and I vowed I would never drink a cup of coffee that did not taste the same. We ate food off the street – arepas, chorizo, empanadas, and papa rellena. If we had brought the baby along, we bought him raspaos, cones of shaved ice drenched in multicolored syrups and condensed milk, or obleas, two huge, flat wafer cookies stuck together with caramel, cream, powdered cheese, mulberry sauce, and sprinkles. Sebastián took pictures of me in every plaza and at every monument. He told me what he knew about each historical site, recounting the memories he had inherited from his mother.
We walked for miles through crowded, modern, gloomy gray streets, orienting ourselves by looking for the mountains: massive, green peaks, rising to the east of the city. Bogotá was 8000 feet above sea level. I was closer to the clouds than I had ever been before.
During this time away from the house, Sebastián told me about his family living in the house on Calle 22F. He told me about how Octavio missed his children, who were living with their mother in Spain. She had gone to Madrid for work, sent for the children, and then called to say she had met someone else and was not coming back. He explained why I never saw his youngest aunt, who was rumored to have slept with Sofía’s husband. She lived elsewhere with her own family, visiting only on special occasions and birthdays. Even Cristina, the matriarch of the family, had secrets of her own. Juan David had cheated on her once years ago and although she had never quite recovered, she continued to work as his wife, cleaning and tending to the children, waiting, keeping dinner warm for him each evening until he arrived home. After listening to Sebastián’s stories, I better understood Octavio’s incessant joke-telling and Sofía’s reclusiveness, why Juan David prayed so much, and why Cristina never sent us off without warm arepas wrapped in paper towels.  I wondered whether we should have invited them along for our sightseeing. They had lived in Bogotá their entire lives, but there was still much they had not seen outside of Fontibón.
	Our rides back home on the colectivo were peaceful. The cramped, public minibuses lurched in traffic, but the views of the city were beautiful. We wound our arms around each other and looked out the windows, watching the mountains recede and the streets grow dimmer, emptier, less metropolitan, as we approached Fontibón. On the colectivo, I would realize I was hungry again and that my anxiety had lessened, eased by the miles I had walked, the things I had tasted and heard and seen. 
At Calle 22F, Sebastián and I would descend from the bus, cross the street, and hunt for rocks to hurl up at the window until someone heard us and threw down the keys to let us in from the rain. Inside the courtyard, Cristina called us up to her apartment for leftovers and aguapanela. We gathered in her kitchen, and the aunts and uncles asked us what we had done in el centro. It was on these nights that I did not miss my life in Brooklyn. Cristina greeted me with a hug and kiss; Sofía was fascinated by the way my hair inflated and curled in the humidity. Octavio teased me gently, and so did Juan David. We poured milk in our aguapanela or slivers of soft, white cheese that melted at the bottom of the cup, soaked up the sugar, and became the color of amber, rich. We all laughed in hushed voices, trying not to wake the baby.

Naima Aisha Coster is a devoted fiction writer, living and creating in New York City.  She has roots in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Curaçao, and Brooklyn. Naima studied English, Creative Writing, and African American Studies at Yale College, where she won the Elmore A. Willets Prize for Fiction Writing. After graduating in 2008, she went on to teach creative writing to young people in various settings, from the South Bronx to Rikers Island. Naima is currently pursuing a M.A. in English with a Writing Concentration at Fordham University, where she won the Margaret Lamb/Writing to the Right-Hand Margin Prize for Fiction. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in The New York TimesArts & Letters, The Acentos ReviewWireTap MagazineThe Fordham ObserverYale Daily News, and Yale Daily News Magazine. Naima has served as a mentor at Girls Write Now and is at work on a memoir. You can read more of her work on her website:

Nonfiction:  Fontibón