“¿Estas loca?” she asked.
I had to be crazy to pay nine dollars for a sandwich of pale ham on a roll smaller than my fist. The voice had already pointed out that I was a fool to pay the admission fee for my husband B and me to enter the New York Botanical Gardens.
“Forty dollars when you can look at the flowers in front of the cranky old lady’s house on Liberty Avenue for free?”
I paid for the sandwich grudgingly, but silently, just as I had for the entry. B didn’t need to know about the voice. The botanical gardens was the second stop on our Bronx tour, immediately after our visit to the northeast’s largest botanica. I didn’t need him asking if I was crazy, too. He would have assumed I heard the voice of an orisha or Saint Somebody, and been just as mistaken as the female voice. I wasn’t crazy or foolish. I was hungry, and needed to fuel up to walk every inch of the gardens and see every plant, shrub, tree, flower, and bush to get our forty dollars’ worth.
“Who takes a bag too small to pack sandwiches and drinks?” asked the voice as B and I ate at an outdoor table. She sounded familiar, but I couldn’t decide if it was the voice of my mother, godmother, grandmother, an aunt, family friend, or past neighbor. It was undeniably the voice of some Latina in my past, and while their voices varied slightly, their messages were identical. My excursion went against the practical wisdom I’d heard all my life. No wonder the Latinas in my head wouldn’t shut up.
There I was in el Bronx (“Don’t you know it is muy peligroso there?”), early on a Saturday afternoon (“With so much that needs to be done in la casa?”), eating a take-out sandwich (“How do you know they really wash their hands?”) before B and I toured the botanical gardens (“Can’t you take a walk in the park for free? After you clean that floor?”).
I looked up from the price tag on the wrapper crumpled on the table, and saw the green expanse beyond B, bordered by trees in the distance. I saw the wide walkways that meandered past benches, and through multicolored gardens. My view of the sky was not obstructed by high rises or marred by utility poles. The summer sounds in the gardens were of quiet conversations, birds chirping, the occasional rustle of leaves. Seeing what I was missing, I became more annoyed with myself than the voice.
“I am going to sit here and enjoy every single bite of this,” I declared, and bit into the sandwich.
“Is it that good?” B asked.
“Eh, it’s okay, but I’ve waited more than forty years to buy and enjoy this sandwich.”
B raised his eyebrows and gave the same look he gives the pamphlet-wielding Jehovah’s Witnesses at the Journal Square PATH station.
“Nothing. I just mean this is nice. Coming here was a good idea. Thanks honey.”
The bite of sandwich he’d taken fell out of his mouth when his jaw dropped. I smiled, patted his hand, and continued to enjoy my sandwich, quietly, slowly, and in peace.