By Carlos Perdomo
I am all for healthy family relationships. For me, is very difficult to understand why brothers and sisters, after spending their childhood years together, go their separate ways and seldom see each other again. With that spirit in mind, I decided to invite my brothers, Fernando and Alfredo, along with their respective better halves, on a weekend trip to Algonquin Park. After a brief consultation between them, they told me they really appreciated the invitation, and they only wanted to know the day of the excursion. I suggested going next Sunday, and in addition, I suggested we hold a five minute conversation to put together the details.
Fernando, my oldest brother, said at once, “Forget about any special meetings. Let’s go, have fun, and explore a new place. As long as they accept debit cards who cares about the rest?”
Alfredo, my youngest brother, only wanted to know if there were enough rest areas along the way, due to his constant stomachal problems.
Christina, Alfredo’s wife, wanted to be sure that cellular phones worked properly in the middle of the park, because she needed to be in constant communication with her son.
Deborah said, “Let’s see what happens.”
To avoid any misunderstandings, I proposed to divide all the expenses accordingly: gasoline, food and miscellaneous, a request that was immediately and unanimously approved. They offer to pay for their expenses in due time.
I returned home ready to share the good news. Brenda, (she was the one who came up with the whole idea) almost killed me when I told her about the deal. “Are you out of your mind? There is no way I am going to go on that trip empty handed! It’s my tradition,” she continued to say, pointing her finger at me, “to offer food from my country to anybody who is willing to share a good time with members of my family.”
“But we agreed,” I tried to say.
“It does not matter. Next Saturday we are going to do shopping and buy a few special things I already have in mind. They are going to love every bit, or in this case, every bite of it.”
“Relax,” I said. “Remember the other time when you prepared that fancy meal and nobody touched it? Or when you arranged six or seven different dishes and we had to throw everything in the garbage?”
“That’s a completely different situation. You see, now I am sure of what they like. I hope we will have enough time to go to, “Sweet & Sweet,” to buy those delicious cheese pastries.”
“What? We can not do that! That bakery is in Kingston. Have you forgotten?”
“Do not exaggerate. It is not that far.”
“It is almost like going on another trip for God’s sake.”
“Well, no pastries, no trip.”
On Friday night, I received a call from Alfredo. Right away he told me that a dilemma had arisen.
“Hey Aquileo, what’s new?”
“Same old, same old, my friend,” I replied.
“Are you ready for Sunday?”
“Almost, but I would like to ask you a fast and simple question.”
“Christina has close relatives living in Huntsville, you know, and she wants to know if there is any possibility, you know, of stopping there for a couple of hours to visit them, you know?”
“Difficult to say,” I replied. “It all depends what time we are leaving and how long we want to explore the park.”
“I understand, you know, the poor soul has not seen them for a long time and it would be great to do so.”
“What about any other time?”
“She believes it is a great opportunity, you know, not only to see her next of kin, but also to save some money. If she goes by herself later, you know, there’s the cost of transportation and time, etc.”
“Tell your honey that my humble answer this time is no. We do not have enough hours to spare:
“She won’t be pleased, you know, the poor soul.”
Later that same evening, Fernando called and invited me to go out for a cup of coffee. I had already finished my work for the day, so it seemed like an excellent idea to talk a little nonsense and a lot about baseball. We met at Yorkdale Mall and embraced in a classic affectionate hug, a ritual we have maintained for more that 40 years. He looked unusually serious and obviously the question had to be asked.
“Are you okay, bro?”
“You do not look too pleased.”
“True. I’m asking myself why we have to make everything so difficult.”
“Generally speaking, I suspect?”
“C’mon. Do not allow anything spoil your life. Drink your latte.”
“What about Deborah?”
“I really do not like to bother you, but she’s been a pain in the neck these last two days.”
“She wants to take the cat with her.”
“On the trip.”
“Do not tell me.”
“I’m telling you! She can not find someone to leave the, “felis catus,” with. And she is so worried about her. How is she going to eat? What if she cries and nobody is around? What if she gets lost?”
“The damn cat disappears for weeks and nobody pays attention. The food stays there forever and no one comments. The crying goes on and on for months and not a twitch. Enough is enough! She has to go. I need to find a good family and give it away, because to be honest with you, I am sick and tired of all the fights because of Felixia.”
“So, what do you think?”
“About taking the cat?”
Oh, Oh, I needed to come up with a very good excuse and fast. Even the thought of, “Felixia,” scratching the back seat of the car gave me a headache, not to mention the smell and the meowing.
“I would do it with all my pleasure, except that the Toyota is a six-seater.”
“She is a small creature.”
“Bro, in Ontario they apply the law strictly. If the information states six passengers, it’s the way it has to be. Not 6.25 or 6.50.”
“Yeah, human beings.”
“No, no! Like I said, six is six. Whether it’s four people and two cats, or five people and one dog, and so on.”
“You understand how much I care about your feelings. It’s difficult to deny your request but the law is the law.
“Man! What I am going to tell, Deborah?”
“You will come up with a good idea.“
By then I was getting a little bit worried about the state of affairs. First it was my wife, then Alfredo’s, and then Fernando’s. Luckily, at that moment I did not realize what exactly I was getting into, otherwise, I would have ran as fast as I could.
THE BIG DAY IS HERE
The plan was to pick up at Fernando’s at twenty minutes to ten and at Alfredo’s at precisely, ten o’clock. You can imagine what it already meant for me. I woke up at seven in the morning, not so much because it was time to go, but because of a thundering noise in the kitchen. My beloved Brenda was really busy. Half asleep, I greeted her and immediately saw three big bags sitting on the floor. Amazing! I felt I was headed for a long day.
“Are you going out of the country?” I asked.
”Funny,” she replied.
“Do not start again. You promised to respect my customs.”
“True, but why so many bags?”
“Bathing suits, towels, sandals, soap and tap water in the biggest one. There is food and drinks in the second and the Kingston pastries in the third one.”
I let the time go by, immersed in the morning’s news, pondering why women need two hours to get ready. Into the washroom, back to the bedroom, out of the bedroom, into the living room, back to washroom and so on. Most of the time, I think that the reason they do it, is because they want the exercise. Finally, she was ready.
One of my traits is being punctual. If you ask me to meet you at five in the afternoon, I will show up two minutes before five. On the other hand, I expect the same when the roles are reversed. Sadly, this is a dream which never comes true!
It is now ten o’clock and Fernando’s wife is still trying to find the right person to the right cat. My brother went in and out three times already and nothing has been solved. At last she came out of the building only to inform us that she did her best to recommend, “Felixia,” to one of the neighbours but at no avail. Strongly apologizing for the delay, she promised that the kitten would behave properly and wouldn’t cause problems. Without a pause, she opened the car door and made herself and, “Felixia,” comfortable.
“Fernando, should I open the trunk?”
“For what? We are not taking anything.”
I kept my thoughts to myself. I told you. I told you. They are not bringing as much as an apple to share.
As soon as we arrived at Alfredo’s place, his wife started yapping immediately.
“We were ready at 9:30! If I had known that you were going to be late, I could have gone to the dollar store and to buy a few necessary things for the house. And it is also my concern that we might not have enough time to see my family.”
“Well, there was a problem with Deborah’s cat. We could not make it on time. By the way, I already told your husband that we are not going to Huntsville.”
“Oh no, no, no! He promised me. Is she bringing the “thing”?”
“See, some people do not understand the meaning of the word discretion, always finding a way to abuse somebody.
“Should I open the…”
“Do not bother, we are not carrying anything. Alfredo said that Brenda always makes a lot of food, so why worry.
After buying gasoline, cigarettes and alcohol, we were finally on our way. When I drive I like to listen to Neil Diamond. His music relaxes me, and without a doubt, makes me a better driver. At least, that’s what I think. As soon as we hit highway 400, I started the CD-player. I never imagined it would be such a problem. A few minutes had passed when I started hearing whispers on the back.
“Alfredo, I do no like that music. Give him your salsa compilation; otherwise, I am going to fall asleep.”
“Fernando, what about Julio Iglesias? Spanish, we need Spanish. Actually we want it now. I do not understand your brother. English music, just like he was born here. Ridiculous!”
I decided to ignore the “petitions” and continued driving, enjoying and admiring the beautifulness of the Canadian autumn.
ON THE UP AND…DOWN
I started feeling a little bit cold, therefore I cranked up the heat; in about five minutes we would be warm and cozy. Not even two seconds had elapsed when I felt a chilly draft hitting the nape of my neck. I looked sideways and, without doubt, the back windows were completely open. I tried to explain the reason for having the heat on when suddenly everybody started talking at once.
“Why? You know perfectly well that my allergies can handle a dry environment.”
“Terrible. At my age, I feel hot and then cold. I might catch bronchitis if we have to open the windows just because you want to do it your way.”
“I left the city to get a fresh air!”
“Well, if you want to do so at least stop for a few minutes, I need to get rid of my winter coat. I am roasting already.”
Finally, I had no choice but to turn the damn thing off. I just wanted five minutes of comfort.
I repeated to myself two or three times, “It is only a trip, Aquileo. There is no need to lose your cool. Everything will be nice and dandy, Aquileo. Whatever!”
Soon after, I asked everybody to listen carefully; it was time to collect each person’s share. “As we agreed with Fernando and Alfredo, the expenses will cover gasoline, change of oil, and car-wash. Brenda believes that the total will be $240.00 and the amount per capita will come to $40, we also decided that everybody was going to bring some food, but apparently only my side did; either way, today is a day to celebrate and I do not mind to share our food with you guys”
“Wait a second, I do not want to complain about the division but something does not seem right, we are seven in this car and Brenda calculated the expenses only for six, am I right?”
“Christina, please do not tell me that you are thinking what I am thinking,” Deborah stated.
Here we go again! At the beginning I did not understand where the mistake was apparently made or where the difference might be. For me it was plain and simple — $240.00 divided among six people would equal to $40.00 each.
“Relax, relax,” Brenda intervened, calculator in hand.
“Can you see?” adding one by one all the quantities “numbers never lie,” she stressed.
“I insist, we are seven in this car and the rate should be divided accordingly.”
“Sure, I am counting the cat because it occupies space, eats and on top of it makes the car stinky. If we want to be fair, Fernando and Deborah should pay for Felixia’s portion.”
The good thing about recounting the experience is that I can express in a few paragraphs an argument that lasted from Barrie to Huntsville, or about 45 minutes of the drive time. Finally, after a “no,” a “maybe,” and a “probably,” Christina was willing to forgive but not to forget about the Felixia issue. Doing it under protest, plus with the condition that we had to stop and visit her relatives.
I completely disagreed over the last point, and for the second time, everybody was shouting and trying to be heard. By then, I was ready to turn back to Toronto. I kept on asking myself, “Why did I decide to invite the family? Who laced my bloody scissor two days ago? When did I hit my head and come up with this ‘superb’ idea?” In synthesis, what the heck I was thinking?
Although, I was deeply consternated about the way the situation had evolved, the latest discussion was a blessing in disguise. Christina did not notice when we passed Huntsville, and for the first time in the whole trip I heard some reasonable words.
“Family, I do believe that we have to revert to the main issue – the share of expenses,” Fernando stated.
“Okay, okay,” everybody responded.
Alfredo who had been quiet for most of the trip was the first to react.
“Does somebody have a pen?”
“Brenda here is our donation. Count it all to be sure that there is $40.00,” Deborah stated while handing a white bag full of coins collected the night before in the school raffle. Shortly afterwards, Alfredo, not to be outdone, gave her a cheque and said, “I apologize because it is postdated. Hopefully you can cash it in a week or so.”
I did not know what to do – laugh or cry. The brightness in my wife’s eyes was impossible to translate, but the constant shakiness of her hands was an indication of her thoughts.
Obviously, nobody was paying any attention at the fabulous landscape in front of us; there where more important matters to take care of.
“Hey guys, you can not drink in the car.”
“Who cares? Nobody is going to notice.”
“Yeah, how can that be a problem? Our driver is sober.”
“Please, there are a lot of cops along this road and if they stop me I will pay for something I am not doing.”
“Ladies and gentleman we got a priest!”
“A square triangle!”
Everybody was laughing hard and the bugging continued for a few more minutes until Christina started yelling at the top of her lungs:
“Felixia don’t! Leave it alone! Fernando hurry, hurry, stop her!!!!!
The motive of the screaming was easy to deduce – the back seat cushion.
“I told you so many times to leave that animal at home, but you never listen. Now tell me what you are going to do?”
“It’s not that bad. It was probably ripped before.”
“Impossible Deborah,” my better half answered, her face of the colors of the rainbow. “I always take care of the car and everything was in perfect condition as per yesterday.”
“Well it is not my fault; the poor cat has been hours sitting idle she needs to be active. Aquileo you should have stopped once in a while to let her walk, but I know very well that you are so inconsiderate.”
Enough is enough I determined. I put on the breaks, pulled over to the side of the road and walked into the forest to regain my serenity.
Alfredo looked for me, lighted a cigarette, and expressed his regrets about all the incidents that we were experiencing in just three short hours.
“You know, the next time, we should make a better plan. Unfortunately, no one wants to cooperate, you know? My opinion is that we better go back to Toronto, otherwise the whole family will not talk to each other anymore”
“True. You’re making sense. We’ll do it.”
“I need one, you know, small favour. In our return, leave us in Huntsville. Poor Christy is feeling very sad. She really wants to see her family. Don’t worry, you know, the house is only about 10 kilometers west of town.”
“Go to hell!”
I went back to the car, gathered everybody around me and commenced my speech. “The honest and damn truth is that for some reason we cannot get along properly. You are fully aware that in a short period of time we have been having incident after incident, consequently the best thing to do is to call it a day and go back home.”
“What is he talking about?”
“No way, we are almost there.”
“I want my money back.”
“Aquileo, I never thought you were such a party pooper.”
“I cannot believe it!”
“At least you can give us some food.”
“Ain’t gonna happen,” Brenda jumped in, “I am taking the food back. There will be no more handouts from me.”
“What a stupid decision!”
“No matter what you say, it is not going to change my mind. We will get some coffee to go and no more parley.”
Fernando raised his hand, “Hold on, hold on. We all understand that you are upset, we also recognize that we deserve to go back, thus I propose that we eat a little bit before heading home. Right across the road there is a hamburger and chip stand. Let’s go over, eat as much you want. It’s my treat. We are not close to any town and we are really lucky that there is food in the middle of nowhere.
Maybe it was what I needed, a tasty patty along with crispy fries and as a topper no more shenanigans. How wrong was I?
We finished our food barely talking to each other. There were no more smiles and crackpot jokes between us. Fernando true to his word as approached the attendant. “How much is the tab beautiful lady?”
Reaching in his wallet, my brother pulled out his debit card and asked, “Can I get some cash back please?”
Indeed, you guessed it right.
On our return trip to Toronto, I got two speeding tickets.