She came to when she heard Jock introduce himself in her best school Spanish. ‘Isidro Betancór León,’ replied the guy in the middle, who had the most impressive moustache and was clearly the eldest, and shook Jock’s hand. ‘Parsibál Betancór León,’ said the dude to his right, no doubt his brother. The one on the left was Cristobál Moreno Betancór and, as it turned out, a cousin. Jock was now asking whether they’d allow him to buy them a drink, which they generously permitted. For once Juno read Jock’s tactics loud and clear. She knew there was something about these guys, but she didn’t know what she was looking for. They needed to be got to talk.
She kept the drinks coming while the cousins explained the game and let Jock in on a trial round. Ojos De Brujo was played by matching the number of dots on the two previous domino halves by addition or subtraction with that on the next one. Thing was, said the cousins, a spooky kinda symmetry always developed in the game, no matter whether you added or subtracted. Juno added another round to the two previous ones and deducted it from the bartender’s memory.
The game was soon sidelined and then abandoned when Jock got the guys talking. They’d all been in the States less than a year, and were all illegal. All three of them worked at a local refrigerator plant. They were outrageously homesick. Home was a tiny island, part of an archipelago in the Atlantic, off the coast of, of all places, Africa. Juno’d never heard of it. Turned out that nearly everyone in the joint was from one of these islands.
It was when they’d reached this point that the guys really got talking. Two rounds later Juno felt like she knew their whole damn village. She’d heard all about second cousin Otilio’s fantastic sweet rum, aunt Begonia’s famous chowder and cousin Aurelia’s breasts, how everybody helped catch the tuna during their migration and how there was a big party afterwards, what happened at Cristobál’s sister Isidora’s wedding when the rum briefly ran out, how the best wrestler in the village was determined every year in a contest on the beach with a big party afterwards, and what went down at uncle Aurelio’s inauguration as mayor when the rum ran out for longer than it took to sing the village song. Another round and the cousins had left no doubt that the sun shone more brilliantly in their village than anyplace, the wind smelled sweeter, the sea rolled with more grandeur, and that all in all paradise came a real poor second.
Juno sat bored stupid under Jock’s skin as all this washed over her. It took a good few pretty hard pinches and nudges from him for her to see it. But once she’d finally cottoned on, she saw the constant in the stories clear as day. A spooky kinda symmetry had developed in the guys’ talk.