The rainy season with you is lonely and cosy. We live in a city, and in summer it feels that way – we hear footfalls back and forth, one neighbor shouting to another, a conversation outside our gate, a honk for a friend, soccer ooooohs from Garros Bar down the hill. In the rain, though, with your dad out working at the restaurant, our house becomes a ship’s cabin in the middle of the ocean. Watching you walk around like a tiny, drunken sailor serves to heighten the effect; I’m the only one here with sea legs. As I write this, a torrential rain has been falling for six hours straight. You are finally down for the count. I patted you to sleep on your belly, watched your eyes drop shut like magic over a count of ten.
I once went to an education conference in Toronto and, when it ended, arranged with a Panamanian colleague to split a cab from our hotel to the airport. On the morning of our departure, she called my room to ask whether we should leave earlier than planned. “I checked the forecast, and it says it’s going to rain,” she said. I glanced out the window at a nondescript, heavy, gray day, and told her no, we’d left plenty of wiggle room. Later, as our taxi pulled away from the curb, a light rain was falling.
“I thought it was going to rain,” she said, gazing out towards the CN Tower.
“It is raining,” I said.
“This?” She was shocked. “This isn’t rain! Come on, now.”
I burst out laughing, not at her, but at myself, for forgetting. How many times have your father and I had the same conversation? “Está lloviendo,” I’ll say, it’s raining, and he’ll correct me. This isn’t rain. It’s hair of the cat (pelo de gato), or llovizna, or está garruando. Rain, in a tropical country, is a serious affair. Rain means that every pothole or crevice in sight – that is, thousands – overflows. Rain means that the umbrella you optimistically hold overhead keeps water away from your face, but not from the rest of your body, because sheets of water are blowing in horizontally. Rain is a plans-changer, a traffic-stopper, a car-swamper, a water-oozing-down-your-walls event.
Of course, I don’t need to tell you this. You are a child of the rainy season, of hair of the cat and its more forceful cousins, the aguacero and the baldazo, a bucketful. One of the several silly lullabies I made up for you while pregnant reminded you that “you were made in the rain, you’ll be born in the sun.” (This rhymes with “Little Bean, Little Bean, you’re my number one,” which shows why my songwriting skills are not our primary source of income.) You were two months old when the most dramatic thunderstorm I can remember during my ten Costa Rican years raged around our house. You were feeding, and flinched at each crack of thunder, your whole body and your small, wincing face burying themselves into my side. It may be the only time in your life that rain will truly surprise you. Already, at one, you are used to the downpour, and so am I. I love it. I wait for the rainy season eagerly, and wish it gone only during months six and seven (whereupon I wish it gone with every fiber of my being and crave sun, dry shoes and Christmas breezes).
There are many words for rain, but it can also be called simply water. One day, just about the time I was trying to come to terms with the idea that we might never get to have kids after all, your father and I walked up the hill to the nicer neighborhood, the one with the slanty park and quiet streets and view of San José. It was gray and hushed. Suddenly he grabbed my hand. Look, he said. “Ya viene el agua.” Here comes the water. It’s really the best way to describe rain that is more than rain: it’s a flying river, a vertical ocean, a flash flood. We stood there, looking out over our city, watching a wall of tiny drops, a gray line in the distance, sweep towards us over rusty tin roofs. It was astonishing. When rain is that dramatic, you don’t even mind being soaked to the bone.
Ya viene el agua. And so it came, bringing you on its back.