Sarah had not expected to become Puerto Rican on Friday night. She had blond hair, blue eyes, and Scandinavian and German genes, but she had something that trumped all that: Sarah had a number. It wasn’t just an ordinary number, but a number that corresponded to three joyful life events: her wedding anniversary, her baby girl’s birth weight, and her best friend’s birthday.
“¡Dios mio! You’ve got the mother of all numbers, Sarita!”
I Latina-ized her name to reinforce that she was no longer blanquita but Boricua. She asked how she could be transformed by a “random number.” Pobrecita. I poured us both a café con leche and kept the cafetera close; there was a lot of history and culture to share with this new hermana.
Every Puerto Rican has a number. Sometimes it is chosen. My aunt Nilda liked the first three digits of the phone number of her first boyfriend, the one who now has his own accounting firm, the one she still says she should have married instead of her pendejo husband Manny. Nilda gave up the man, but she plays that number every day. She hasn’t won enough for a makeover or a Manny-free weekend, but she still hopes.
Sometimes the number chooses you. My cousin Pedrito and his father, Big Pedro, had sat next to each other in the limo behind the hearse that carried great-uncle Luis. Big Pedro elbowed Pedrito.
“Mira ese número on the license plate. It’s the date of your kindergarten graduation. That number’s yours. You better play it.”
Big Pedro initially had to place the bets for his son who was eleven at the time, but the wagers were made with Pedrito’s allowance. Pedrito carries that lesson and the number to this day; shirking responsibility or obligation is not a choice. That number was a message from the great beyond. Pedrito doesn’t want to mess with the spirits. Great-uncle Luis might send some bad luck Pedrito’s way during a job interview or when he’s trying to make a play for Marisol, who never acknowledges his existence.
Sarita’s number was wholly hers, undeniably proven by its connection to three – like the holy trinity! – positive, good things in her life. It was a number of Puerto Rican dreams, grander than the daily Pick 3. It was the kind of number to be worked into larger, grander plans like the MegaMillions or the PowerBall. She didn’t realize the potential of such a number; she suggested it could be both our number. I gasped.
I had a lifetime of Boricua-ness to my advantage and had to explain that it is forbidden to play someone else’s number. There may be occasions when a person may allow another to play his or her number. For example, on a birthday or a baptism day, a number might be shared like a toast. However, that is understood to be a one-time-only deal, and knowledge of someone else’s number is never permission to play that number as if it were your own. Sharing winnings does not erase the transgression. Never. Punto. Sarita sighed.
“I didn’t realize there were so many rules.”
I patted her hand and poured us both more cafecito.
“Ay mija, this is just the beginning. There’s a lot more to being Boricua than you imagined.”