Many years ago we lived in Santurce, Puerto Rico, in a large, Spanish style house a short walk from the beach.
The first day of summer vacation, a day free of school obligations, my mother and I decided to take the children to Guayama to visit family. Once there, we went to enjoy lunch at a well known seaside restaurant with aunt Margot and cousin José.
Guayama, fondly known by the locals as the City of Witches, is on the south coast of the island and despite the heat is a lovely city. It is also the ancestral city of two branches of our family.
Waiting for lunch at the restaurant, the children quickly became restless. Suddenly, their squirming and complaining ended; one of the girls had noticed an old woman, carrying a large bag and alerted her sisters.
The girls watched intently as the woman wandered from table to table with hands outstretched. Without fail the various patrons of the waterfront restaurant shooed her away before she could get too close.
“Don’t look in that crazy woman’s direction,” my mother warned the children. “The beggar will probably come this way.”
“She doesn’t look like a beggar, Mom,” I said.
“Maybe not, but she could be a witch.”
My mother’s warning insured the girls’ interest in the woman’s actions. Seconds later, the giggling children caught the stranger’s eye, just as my mother had predicted. The unlikely witch moved rapidly and suddenly was standing by my chair.
“You look like a kind woman,” she said in a strained voice. “I have a gift for you.”
Cousin José jumped to his feet. “Go away!” he yelled. “We don’t want anything from you.”
Hearing a threat in his voice, the woman backed away quickly, but not before dropping the bag on my lap.
“Now it is yours,” she declared and circled her left arm above her head. “You can’t give it back. I sold the others, but I don’t want money for this one. It is yours. Take it!”
My mother tried to grab the bag, but curiosity won out; I stopped her.
“Don’t open it!” My mother looked afraid. “It must be a something bad—something cursed. Why else would she give it to you?”
Why, indeed? Although my mother would deny it, she was very superstitious.
“This is Guayama,” she added . “They are all witches here.”
Overhearing their grandmother’s warning, the children’s wide eyes brightened with anticipation. “Mom, it’s moving! Open the bag!”.
When I opened the dirty bag, the first thing I saw was a huge pair of bright blue eyes looking up at me. It was a small Siamese kitten; I gasped in surprise.
The kitten replied with a plaintive meow.
“What kind of cat has blue eyes? It must be cursed,” my mother cried, wringing her hands. Even though we already had two others, she had never liked cats.
“No,” my oldest corrected her with as much authority as a ten-year-old can muster. “It is a kitten and this one is mine.”
That was the day that Blueberry Muffin came to live with our family and our lives would never be the same.
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