Thunder in Them Stands
by Angelique Imani Rodriguez
When Tato looked down, his hands were melting, flowing like water around his knuckles. Flesh swirling around boney fingertips like silk, he held them out, astounded. This was a new feeling, everything was brighter, colors more intense, sounds more melodic. Tato dug the floating of his walk, the way his body moved with the Earth, how he was a part of everything and everything was a part of him.
“I’m tripping, bro.” Leo, Tato’s best friend, walked up and his eyes shifted until there was just one brown eye above his nose. Leo the Cyclops smiled at Tato, smoothing his shirt over and over. He reached in his pocket and pulled out two tickets, waving them around. The strips of paper expanded, bending with the light of the August sun. It was a Friday. The night they had been waiting for all summer and Leo had brought the acid to celebrate.
“Let’s go. I ain’t trying to miss a thing! I can’t believe it…Fania en Yankee Stadium!”
The train ride felt surreal, people’s clothes morphing into kaleidoscope patterns, reds that blurred into oranges that swirled into pinks, then purples, then blues. Tato and Leo laughed as if laughter was the only thing keeping them alive. They pulled into 161st Street, the white trellis at the top of Yankee Stadium like snow on a mountain peak, proud and gorgeous. The buildings rimming the stadium were clotted browns and brick reds, smudges of soot dusting every top. And in some windows, like beating hearts, the Puerto Rican flag, the stars and stripes that mattered.
A dark-skinned woman dressed in blue with raspberry lips smiled and pearls fell out of her mouth. She reached out with a hand dotted with gold flecks.
“Y’all going to that concert, huh? Thunder coming from them stands!” Her words sounded like windchimes. Tato smiled, wanting to taste her perfume. Leo yanked him off the train and the woman kept grinning as the doors closed behind him, pearls bursting from her mouth like soap bubbles.
People mulled about waiting to be let in when Tato and Leo arrived at the gate of the stadium. Some snuck sips from brown paper bags that became their hands, clouds of smoky haze haloed around their heads. Tato toked from a joint Leo handed him, drank a Heineken that tasted metallic. The concert had just started when they sat. They jammed with each song, drank beer after beer, hundreds of euphoric faces floating amidst the flags of la isla thrust into the air. The moment surpassed anything Tato had ever felt since he and his family moved to the Bronx. It was like putting all these Boricuas together created a whirlpool of energy and color and ribbons of longing, of pride, of home. People moved to the music flowing from the stage, their bodies like stalks of sugarcane, an image that made Tato choke with tears. An image that smelled like his grandfather, like burning melao, of a hunger that had sent Tato’s family scattered to concrete and fire.
When “Congo Bongó” started, Tato felt his body shudder. Ray Barretto’s glasses seemed to shine like diamonds and the glare shifted with every movement of his arms, every time his hand connected with the skin of the conga. Mongo Santamaria sat, stern at his drum, a king surveying the crowd. They battled there on the stage, their rhythms pulling the sun down into the earth, painting the sky in violets, their drums shooting stars into the ether. Tato felt every rhythm in his body, every vibration of the drum in the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Pulled into his seat, the colors and sounds were intense, fluid and moving like a current, like wind, like flames. Tato felt he was standing over people and they all looked like him, but darker or lighter or taller or smaller, some smiling, some dancing, some a part of the music. He blinked seeing his grandfather in his pava, his abuela in a white dress, men with broad shoulders and women with warm smiles and rounded bellies.
And they were all holding him up.
He felt more protected wrapped in the music with them than he had ever felt before. The energy was thick in the air and Tato wanted to drink it.
Suddenly, people started running towards the stage, climbing over barricades, their bodies no longer theirs, their eyes drunk with awe. Something divine had swept across them as Mongo and Ray summoned God closer. Tato felt tears warm on his cheeks, but couldn’t move. Soon, the vision of the crowd overwhelmed him and he imagined them ants crawling over a sugar cube, starved for a honeyed power long denied them.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here, man!” Leo was a floating face, his shouting isolated into a whisper, all other sound washed out. He pulled on Tato’s arm.
And they ran. Ran for what seemed like forever, until the tugging on their bodies from the drumming was now just licking at their heels. They sat on the curb, sweaty, exhilarated, high as shit.
“What the fuck happened? That was crazy, bro!” Leo said, breathless, hands on his knees, bent over.
Tato thought of the people dancing in the stadium, of all the people he felt holding him up, of his grandfather’s pava and the ripples in his abuela’s dress, the way the energy in the air had reeked of palpable longing for a place many of them hadn’t seen in years, and a pride so viscous and sweet, it compelled their bodies. He thought of the way the drum rhythms lifted people out of their seats, dug into their souls, saw everything.
“Espiritu los llevo, man. There was thunder in them stands.” Tato thought he yelled the words but watched as Leo leaned closer to hear.
Tato looked down at his hands, his fingertips still silk in the air. Leo smiled, a brown eye.