Have you ever analyzed the cuss words, phrases and insults that come out of people’s mouths? They often make no sense. Take a favorite from my mother’s arsenal as an example (at least while I was growing up, in the Dominican Republic): rigión sin bautizar or unbaptized imp.
I recall the first time I noticed the nonsensical nature of such phraseology. I was seven or eight. It had been raining all day, and the nearly black sky threatened to continue weeping over the land forever. My mother’s nerves were on edge. We had just planted cassava, and the rain was sure to ruin the work. I used my mother’s temporary distraction to drown her cigarettes.
You see, my Wicked Luvs, our roof was made of zinc—long lasting, fantastic for enjoying the chant of the rain, but… after a decade or two of Caribbean weather, tiny holes would start to rust through the metal. One of the holes dripped right next to my mother’s bed. Whenever it rained, we placed a bucket under the hole to keep rainwater from puddling on the floor.
While my mother was busy shouting at the radio, for failing to properly forecast the weather, I sneaked into the bedroom and dropped her cigarettes into the half full bucket. The damn box wouldn’t sink. I would not touch the nasty thing, so I pushed it down with a stick I used for sword fighting. My mother caught me holding her cigarettes under water with my stick.
“What are you…?” my mother started, her eyes on my stick and the bucket. I took a step back, and the cigarette carton bobbed to the surface. “You, rigión sin bautizar!” She reached for my arm, but I was out of the room and running out of the house before she could lay a finger on me.
I walked to a neighbor’s house. Since I was one of the only people in our village who liked this particular neighbor, she always welcomed me into her home. Most people were afraid of her eccentric ways—called her witch—and avoided her place. She had been making candles, but she stopped to get me a towel and to make some hot chocolate with star anise and butter.
My neighbor resumed her candle making. I sat on a rocking chair, wrapped in a towel, sipping chocolate. The sound of the rocker, the rain kissing the roof, the buttery taste of chocolate, and the scent of warm wax put me in a pensive mood. I started wondering about my mother’s verbal scolding philosophy. I remember thinking, Why would an imp want to be baptized?
a wee note…
– “Rigión sin bautizar” (or unbaptized imp): I’m not quite sure where the word rigión comes from. Logic points towards “region” (or región, in Spanish), which explains close to nothing… In the phrase, rigión refers to a mischievous imp or demon. My mother would hurl the words at my back, whenever I acted like a nightmare in her eyes… and probably in the eyes of several others… since I was a bit of a one-girl-riot while growing up.