When Bells Ring
If ever a man writes me a poem like this one, I?ll marry him in an instant
Nana Diaz was sitting comfortably in her room, crocheting the intricate design of another one of her famous afghans.
Published on LatinoLA: July 3, 2004
?Nana, were you ever in love?? Alegria sought the old lady?s eyes as she approached her
rocker. ?What I mean is ? er ? you know ? how did you know Grandfather was the one??
Nana stopped the crochet hook?s dance, took her spectacles off, and stared into the depths of the dark pupils that were appraising her. Her great-granddaughter was a beautiful girl; her Spanish eyes sparkled with life and curiosity, demanding an answer to her question.
?Your great-grandfather was not the one, Alegria,? Nana responded with such a strong conviction in her voice that the teen took a step back, startled.
?But ? but, I thought??
?Whatever you thought was right. I loved your great-grandfather. He was a good man and a wonderful husband. But I never heard bells when we kissed.?
?Oh please, Nana, don?t pull my leg! As if I?m going to believe in hearing bells when
two lovers kiss.?
?Well, well -- why should an old woman expect a fifteen-year-old to believe in such nonsense?? Nana returned the spectacles to her nose, and continued crocheting, ignoring the piercing look of the inquisitive brown eyes.
?Nana, Great-grandfather worshiped the ground you walked on.?
The spectacles came off once more and the old lady rubbed both eyes gently with the tip of her fingers. The blue eyes looked back at the perfect countenance as Alegria bent over her. Nana?s thin arms stretched and cupped the young face between her small hands and feeling the smoothness of the olive skin, she smiled and answered, ?That?s because for your great-grandfather, I was the one. He did hear bells when we kissed.?
Alegria slowly knelt by Nana?s side. ?Why didn?t you?? she asked with apprehension in her voice.
?Take one of those big pillows by the side of the fireplace and sit. It is a long story and your knees would get mighty tired if you remain kneeling.?
Alegria did as told. She fetched a large red, velvety cushion and sat with her legs crossed by Nana?s side, her heart filled with anticipation.
Nana pulled the silver chain that she always wore out of her sweater. Two keys dangled from it. She removed the chain from her neck and bent toward the night table. The first key opened the table?s top drawer. She grabbed an oak wood box from the inside and placed it on her lap. The box itself was a work of art.
?Liam designed the artwork,? her nana said when she saw Alegria staring fascinated at the lion and the rose engraved on the fine wood.
?Liam?? Alegria looked at her intrigued.
?Liam was my high school sweetheart; the man who stole my heart at first sight.?
?If you heard bells with his kisses, why didn?t you marry him then?? There was a tone
of defiance in Alegria?s voice. She had loved her great-grandfather more than anything in the world and she wasn?t sure she could handle this unexpected discovery.
Nana cleared her throat and responded, ?Because the war took him away from me.?
Alegria noticed the shadow of sadness that veiled her Nana?s eyes when she pronounced each word. Maybe there was such a thing as hearing bells when you kiss that special man
in your life after all. She unfolded her legs and knelt so she could reach the rocker and placed her warm hand on Nana?s. Alegria noticed Nana?s hand was ice cold.
?Is something wrong Nana?? Concerned, the girl sought the old woman?s eyes.
?No child, there is nothing wrong.? But there was a tremor in her voice.
Her wizened hands opened the box?s lid and took out a yellowish, faded photograph. As her hand caressed the picture, two tears rolled down her cheeks, glided down her neck and found refuge in her bosom. Nana extended her hand to show her great-granddaughter the picture, ?Alegria, meet Liam O?Faolain, the love of my life.?
The girl took the photograph and her eyes met the figure of a tall, handsome, red-haired-man. She couldn?t help but notice the arrogance in the green eyes. His fair skin and meaty lips enclosed perfect teeth, exposed by a shy smile. In an instant Alegria felt the power he must have had over her Nana.
?How old was he?? She asked. Her eyes glued to the picture.
?In that picture he was nineteen.? Nana?s voice exuded such pride.
?What happened to him?? Alegria asked as she returned the picture.
?Our parents opposed our relationship. You know -- the usual.? Nana took a long breath.
?We were too young, not of the same social background, etc? etc?? The old hands picked up the crochet piece again and, for a moment, Alegria thought the conversation was over.
?When my parents decided it was for my own good that we moved away, he wanted for us to elope and get married.? Nana?s eyes were misty. ?I said no, I couldn?t do that to my parents. Even if they wouldn?t allow me to see him, besides, I dreamed of pursuing a higher education.?
Nana opened the box again and removed a worn out piece of paper. ?I have folded and unfolded it so many times it?s disintegrating,? she said as she offered it to the girl.
Alegria carefully unfolded the paper and read:
?Dionisia, I joined the air force and will be leaving tomorrow for the academy. It is best if we don?t see each other anymore. You?re free to see someone else.
?But? Nana, I thought he loved you!? Alegria said with indignation in her voice.
?He did,? Nana said. ?But he was stubborn as a mule, too, used to getting his way and I dared to say no to him.?
Alegria folded the note and returned it to Nana, ?I don?t understand; it seems like he had a temper.?
Nana smiled and her eyes sparkled. ?He did. It was that temper that took him away from me. The war broke out a few weeks after he graduated from the academy. He had written to me by then, but refused to give me an address where I could write back.?
Nana Diaz cleared her throat to suppress the tears. ?His father had used his influence to
prevent him from being sent to the front to fight. He would have gotten an office job, but when he found out, he got furious and volunteered for a dangerous mission.?
Alegria looked at her great-grandmother and held her breath, ?Was he???
Nana didn?t let the girl finish her question, ?He didn?t make it back,? she said, and opened the box again. This time she took out a pink envelope.
?His parents gave this letter to me. The officer that brought it to them said Liam had asked him to mail it for him, before he left on the secret mission.?
Alegria?s hand was shaking when she took the envelope and opened it carefully. She felt like she was committing sacrilege. What if what he had written was only meant to be read by her Nana?
?Go ahead, read it!? Nana?s voice brought her back from her reverie. She took the card out. A lady and her knight were on the front of the card. ?How romantic, Nana,? she looked up to find her eyes watching her every movement.
The girl opened the card, ?Wow ? Nana -- he wrote you a poem. May I?? She asked with a mischievous smile dancing in her lips.
?Please, read it for me. I?d love to hear you read it.? There was so much emotion in the old woman?s voice that for a moment, her great-granddaughter feared for her heart.
?Are you okay Nana?? She asked with concern.
?Read, Alegria, read. I?m fine!? The intonation of her voice was feisty.
?A TROUBADOUR?S SONG
Befriend the exotic orchid
Exquisite and well-bred.
Moonbeams dress her in elegance
Yet her heart is virgin land.
Vehement words of passion
Abide in the lover?s pen
Love, he writes to the maiden
Endorses the troubadour?s song
Noble desire waits, hopes
To steal a look from the eyes he loves
If the maiden listens
Not a note will falter
Ecstasy awaits them as the sun crowns the moon
I love you, please forgive me. I don?t want you to see anybody else.
Alegria couldn?t say a word, tears were welling from her eyes and her voice broke as she said his name.
?Nana,? she said after she regained her composure. ?If ever a man writes me a poem like this one, I?ll marry him in an instant.?
?What about the bells?? Nana asked as she put away the card.
?I?ll ring them myself.?
And they both burst into laughter.
?Nana, did you ever write a poem??
?How did I know that you were going to ask me that??
?Because I have a very smart Nana, I suppose.? Alegria?s smile was like a ray of sunshine for Dionisia Diaz.
?Of course I wrote a poem, I had to answer him, didn?t I??
?But, Nana, you said??
?Read the poem,? Nana gave her a piece of elegant and expensive stationery. The girl could smell the perfume even after so many years. She unfolded the page and read:
?A SONG OF LOVE
If my soul could cross the distance
that separates me from you
I would ask for your smile
and my heart would sing love songs
Hand-in-hand we?d walk together
among roses and gardenias
Bells would ring waking the ferns
under the spell of our kiss
Instead, my soul wakes among shadows
War destroyed a country ? shattered
our dreams ? left me alone, frightened
Your name a whisper drown in the sea
Petals burned by winter?s frost, a deserted
garden witnessed, the last rose?s demise
But a love song can be heard in the dusk
of the evening, when daylight painfully dies
And the birds bid farewell to the sun
I still look out my window, contemplate
in nature, a love so complete
That my heart soon feels the dagger
of imminent despair
Yet I know? Somewhere?
in the silvery rays of the moon
Your love and the joy of my song
meet and bells ring at midnight
Joy, Nana?? Alegria asked bewildered, feeling the impact of the poem?s end.
?Yes my child, joy.? Nana said with a tremulous voice. ?The joy of having been blessed
with the knowledge of such love.?
?What do you mean by meeting at midnight??
?Memories never die, Alegria. Within them, we meet with our loved ones whenever we wish. I chose to meet him at midnight.?
?Nana, will I ever love like that?? Alegria had returned to the cushion and was resting her cheek on her great-grandmother?s knees.
?Alegria, your name means, ?Forever joyful.' It is a promise of happiness.? The old woman caressed the girl?s long, silky tresses. ?Yes, love will come to you in its entire splendor and when it arrives, don?t let go of it.?
?I won?t Nana. I?m going to write my lover many poems.? She raised her eyes and with a sparkle of mischievousness, she said, ?My poems will be better than yours.?
Nana took her face in her tired hands and said, ?I?m sure they will child, I?m sure they will.? She lifted the box from her lap and offered it to the lovely girl.
?This is for you, so that you never forget your Nana.?
Alegria stood up and took the box. She bent forward and kissed her nana on the cheek as she caressed the snow white hair with her free hand. ?I love you Nana, I?ll come visit again next week.?
The nursing home seemed brighter, happier than when she arrived that morning. Alegria walked out into the gardens and felt her Nana?s love floating in the air.
? By Gloria Pimentel
July 2, 2004
Gloria is a LatinoLA fan.