He was born happy and on a holiday. Welcomed into the world by his whole family, gathered together for the special day. They say his mother laughed so hard at one of the jokes being told around the table that her waters broke. At first she thought the dampness between her legs was urine that she had not been able to contain because of her laughter but she soon realized that this was not the case, that the torrent was a signal that her twelfth child was about to be born. Still laughing, she excused herself and went to her bedroom. As she had gone through eleven previous deliveries, this one took only a few minutes, and she gave birth to a beautiful boy who, instead of coming into the world crying, entered it laughing.
After bathing, Doña Jesusa returned to the dining room. "Look what happened to me!" she announced to her relatives. Everyone turned to look at her, and, revealing the tiny bundle she held in her arms, she said, "I laughed so hard, the baby came out."
A loud burst of laughter filled the dining room and everyone enthusiastically applauded the happy occasion. Her husband, Librado Chi, raised his arms and exclaimed, "Qué júbillo!"--"What joy!"
And that was what they named him. In truth, they could not have chosen a better name. Júbilo was a worthy representative of joy, of pleasure, of joviality. Even when he became blind, many years later, he always retained his sense of humor. It seemed as if he had been born with a special gift for happiness. And I don't mean simply a capacity for being happy, but also a talent for bringing happiness to everyone around him. Wherever he went, he was accompanied by a chorus of laughter. No matter how heavy the atmosphere, his arrival, as if by magic, would always ease tension, calm moods, and cause the most pessimistic person to see the brighter side of life, as if, above all else, he had the gift of bringing peace.
The only person with whom this gift failed him was his wife, but that isolated case constituted the sole exception to the rule. In general, there was no one who could resist his charm and good humor. Even Itzel Ay, his paternal grandmother--the woman who, after her son had married a white woman, had been left with a permanent frown etched on her forehead-=began to smile when she saw Júbilo. She called him Che'ehunche'eh Wich, which in the Mayan language means "the one with the smiling face."
The relationship between doña Jesusa and doña Itzel was far from good until after Júbilo was born. Because of race. Doña Itzel was one hundred percent Mayan Indian and she disapproved of the mixing of her race's blood with doña Jesusa's Spanish blood. For many years, she had avoided visiting her son's home. Her grandchildren grew up without her being very involved in their lives. Her rejection of her daughter-in-law was so great that for years she refused to speak to her, arguing that she couldn't speak Spanish. So doña Jesusa was forced to learn Mayan in order to be able to speak with her mother-in-law. But she found it very difficult to learn a new language while raising twelve children, so communication between the two was sparse and of poor quality.
But all that changed after Júbilo was born. As she desired with all her soul to be near the baby, his grandmother began to visit her son's house again, which had never happened with the other grandchildren, as if she had no great interest in them. But from the first moment she saw Júbilo, she became fascinated with his smiling face. Júbilo was a blessing to the family; he appeared like a gift from heaven that no one expected. A beautiful gift that they didn't know what to do with. The difference in age between him and the youngest of his siblings was several years, and a few of his older brothers and sisters were already married and had children of their own. So it was almost as if Júbilo were an only child, and his playmates were his nieces and nephews, who were the same age as he. Because his mother was busy simultaneously fulfilling the roles of mother, wife, grandmother, mother-in-law, and daughter-in-law, Júbilo spent a lot of time in the company of the servants, until his grandmother adopted him as her favorite grandchild. They spent most of the day together, taking walks, playing, talking. Of course, his grandmother spoke to him in Mayan, which meant that Júbilo became doña Itzel's first bilingual grandchild.
From Swift As Desire by Laura Esquivel. Copyright Laura Esquivel 2001. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Crown.
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