The Three Babas

“Toma tu café, nieta. Tienes un largo día por delante.” The tanned hand reached out from under the lace shawl and pushed the familiar mug towards me. I took the mug mutely and nodded but did not drink.

The collection of women sitting at the small table with me were comforting to be around. I felt safe. I felt welcome. Coffee meant I would be leaving them soon and I wanted to stay for as long as I could.

“You heard her, girl. Drink up!” The only thing larger than the dark skinned woman’s drawl was the woman’s girth. Though the laughter that followed could swallow both up.

“I will, Baba.” As I raised the mug to my lips, I realized that her name wasn’t Baba. None of the women seated here with me were named Baba. But they were all Baba to me. All family in some way. A particular type of relation that could only be called “Baba”.

The ground ancho chili settled on my tongue. “Ah, Baba! I need to find another chili. I have been putting it in my coffee for only a month, but that has been long enough for the ancho to lose its bite! I’ve gotten used to it. It’s like smoked paprika to me now, but not as sweet.”

“Todavía es suficiente, nieta. No use un chile diferente. El ancho es importante. Es medicina. Quizá adelante tengas un mejor chile. Pero por ahora, toma tu medicina.”

I drank more of the coffee and chewed a bit on the ground ancho. “I thought the epazote was the medicine.” The heat of the coffee had softened the texture of the ground spice. I used the time spent experiencing the grit as an excuse to carefully choose words to follow. “And an offering.”

“[It’s both, daughter.]” I understood the meaning of this Baba’s words, but her language confused me. “[As is your faith. As is your willingness to continue even though you doubt so much.]” This Baba is as brown as she is short but covered in layers of rich colors and yarns. Her pronounced nose was not turned to declare judgement on me, but to hold a space from which to hang her knowing smile.

“Child, any act of self care is medicine and offering. It’s just you still don’t see yourself deserving of it, so the only way to get you to care for yourself is to care for others.” The black woman bobbed her head happily to herself even as I winced from her reading. “Mm-hmm. Just wait until you see what medicine I have cooking up for you! But you’re not ready for that yet.” She rocked happily and made numerous pointing gestures as if I should be happy for what she has in store for me.

“¡Hablas demasiado! ¡Ella pensará que estamos engañándola y se irá!”

“She knows we’re tricking her! She may be of your blood but she ain’t no flower waiting to be plucked! This rose has thorns. She just needs to stop using them on herself.”

Despite the revelation, I sat back and continued drinking the admittedly good ancho coffee as Black Baba and Lace Baba turned to face each other in what promised to be a good pissing contest.

“[Do not forget she also carries the blood of slaves. And that some have to be taught how to stand after generations of being forced to kneel.]” Knotted Baba, despite being the shortest and most quiet of the three, had a presence that marked her as the most dangerous of the three. Black Baba whirled around with a vicious redness to her eyes but noticed I was watching all three of them intently and called her anger to heel.

Knotted Baba continued in the uncomfortable pause. “[She is our daughter. She does not need us to renew the conflicts we were forced to bear. She needs to take her medicine, physical or not, until she is able to work on her own, with clear eyes and strong hands.]” Her hands were as a child’s next to mine. There was a hidden strength in them that terrified me as she patted my arm.

“[Stay with the ancho chili in your coffee for now. You are not ready for stronger medicine. Cook often with the epazote now that you know its flavor. It too is a medicine but remember who gave it to you. When you are ready for a stronger chili, [Lace Baba] will bring it to you. When you are ready for something more than epazote, I will bring it to you. But you are not ready for [Black Baba’s] medicine. Not yet.]

As Knotted Baba spoke, the other two Babas settled their feud and their position at the table we shared. I finished drinking the coffee and the ancho it carried. Placing the empty mug on the table I looked at the three anachronistic women.

“I’m dreaming.”

“¡Claro que sí! Eso no nos hace menos real.”

I rubbed my face and looked at Black Baba. “What will your medicine be?”

I could not tell if the mirth left her face or only deepened the intensity of her hue. “A necessary one.”

“That I’m not strong enough for.”

“Not now by any means, child.”

“Okay. I’ll stay with the ancho for now, and will find ways to include the epazote more in my cooking.”

The three Babas nodded in silent triumph.

“Is it time to get up for work yet?”

“[The dawn is still far away. Do you wish to rest more or to go under the mountains?]”

I slumped in the chair, suddenly exhausted. “If I may, Baba, I’d like to get some deep sleep.”

The table was suddenly absent as if it was never there. Instead of sitting on a chair, I was seated on my bed. Three sets of hands pushed me down and patted me as the blanket unrolled over me on its own accord.

“Sleep.” They spoke in unison and despite the three languages spoken, I understood them all. I turned over and fell into a deeper sleep under the gaze of my three Babas.