For nine days Lunamia accompanied her mother on the dusty, desolate two hour drive from their home to a small town church, to visit a shrine. If she was good, Mamá promised her a sweet from the panadería around the corner from the shrine. She could have anything she wanted. On the drive, Lunamia decided that today would be the day she'd ask for the cup of arroz con leche instead of the usual marranito. She had noticed how the top of the dessert had a thick coat of cinnamon. On the long drive she kept imagining taking a spoon and carefully skimming the cinnamon off with just enough of the pudding and savoring the creamy flavors until the spice tickled the roof of her mouth.
She had been so consumed with her plans, she didn't notice that the car had stopped. They had arrived. "Okay, mija", her mother said, "This is the last day, so pray extra hard for us." Lunamia straightened her socks and took some spit to the scuff on her shoe before getting out of the car. She was tired and a bit queasy from the ride. She had closed her eyes too long on the drive, the sun at her face, she was now a bit dizzy. Other cars drove up and she recognize the faces from the previous eight mornings.
As the people entered the small shrine on the last day of the novena, the smell of incense escaped from inside the church and began to fill the air around her. It reminded her of visiting Tia Lina last summer in California. Tia Lina ran out of the house that day squealing with delight, her strong, distinct, almost piquant perfume greeted Lunamia before Tia's husky and welcoming arms could envelope her. Now inside the shrine, Lunamia took her right pointer finger up to her right eye and with her left eye closed, pretended to control the group in front of her. She whispered her commands, "You, old, Abuelito man, you sit over there, you his daughter, sit next to him." The elderly man, back hunched over, slowly filed into the same pew he'd been occupying every morning for the previous eight days. His daughter, a skinny, middle aged woman with a long, drawn face sat next to him. "Now, Abuelito man, say,'Por favor, no olvides las prometas de tu Mamá.'" The man, turned to his daughter and tearfully made his request. "Now, daughter, say, 'Si papa, voy a resar.'" His daughter clutched his hand as she told him she would pray. Mamá took Lunamia's hand tightly and brought it down against her side.
Lunamia then took her seat next to Mamá. The hard, wooden pew was cold. She always panicked a bit, wondering how she'd make it through the whole service sitting on the hardest surface on earth. She had to be good, no squirming. Thoughts of jumping up and running as fast as she could, up and down the center aisle consumed her. She inched forward until her feet were flat on the floor. Mamá was staring straight ahead. The priest entered and began to lead the prayers. The small and tired chorus of voices distracted her. Relieved, Lunamia sat back, the cup of arroz con leche with a thick layer of cinnamon returned to her mind. This time, she added large, sugar crystals to the top and raisins.