Back from vacation, Juan already has my water boiling. The ginger, milk, sugar, strainer and stainless steel tea urn is just where it should be because of him. He greets me with a smile and notices my walk. Slower than usual. A tight muscle I assure him, nothing serious. He is on the other side of the stainless steel. Doing his work. Cutting. Chopping. Measuring. Seasoning. Just behind him I see my pot of water on one of the burners waiting patiently for the other ingredients. As I chop, crush and measure the ginger, we talk. His time away from the Pfister was spent with family. He looks too young to have children old enough to have children of their own. But with that special kind of pride and joy that only grandparents have, he tells of his time with them and remembers his history.
He is Puerto Rican, grew up there and speaks spanish fluently bantering back and forth with Jose and the other cooks and staff. I love the rhythm of their banter. The way it ebbs and flows in harmony with the sounds of the kitchen. He became a father and lost one when he was young. He moved from couch-to-couch and friend-to-friend. He was just living, he tells me. Doing what he had to do all of those years ago. He talks with a quiet kind of honesty. One that is free of pride or longing. He speaks as if he is a man with everything. Telling me about finding love when he was young. All of these years later, they are still together. She likes it when he makes pasta— all kinds, with chicken and lobster.
He talks of our ancestors. His and mine. Coming together to make the chai. I listen and imagine them dancing, sharing their wisdom and watching over us. Watching over all of us.