I don’t think I’ve ever bought Jamaica flowers on my own.
I always take some from home, the bright buds clinging to a plastic bag. As a kid, I didn’t even know the small, red pieces came from a flower. It was in the kitchen, nestled amidst spices, so it was more like an ingredient to my young eyes.
Hear the click of the burner, the drop of the buds into water. Watch the clear liquid turn into a vibrant, deep red with pinkish tones.
Strain the liquid and let it cool. Hear it sloshing into a pitcher with ice. Then listen for the sugar streaming in, and a wood spoon clinking against the insides as everything is stirred.
Watch it turn the glass that bright, deep red. There’s always the option to add a little more sugar to make it sweeter. Is it bright and bold, but can be bitter. Like many things.
It’s the color of your thirst being quenched on a summer day. My mom says it’s good for your kidneys, too. Like the red-pink liquid might course through me and ease the parts of me that I can’t see.
How strange, I think, that it can be so bright but it doesn’t stain my fingers or my lips when I take a sip.
Once, my mom gives a few buds to friends who have come over and keep raving about the glasses they’ve had from the pitcher. She gives them instructions so that they can make it at home. A few little baggies of bright red in each person’s purse or pocket.
I got a hibiscus tattooed on the side of my waist in college. She didn’t know about either of my tattoos until after I got them. Ours was a mother/daughter intimacy where I could change in front of her. She wanted me to try on a dress one day and I said “oops, so…” the silence between us lengthening like the hibiscus red-pink blooming in hot water. “Do you have a tattoo? How many?”
“Oh but this one is a hibiscus flower, like what we use to make Jamaica?” This doesn’t change her mind.
I didn’t choose it thinking of Jamaica. The flower wasn’t Jamaica and Jamaica wasn’t hibiscus until I made the connection. I kept seeing people sipping from bright burgundy iced drinks as they walked out of Starbucks.
A friend tells me that you can make use of the flowers after you strain the liquid, too. I assemble them into a line on a tortilla with cheese, folding one half of the tortilla over another. They are chewy but pleasant. They look almost like a deep purple after being fried in the pan and melting into the cheese. A new hue.
Maybe I don’t buy my own Jamaica because I associate it with home. The color of my first home. My mom brings me a large bag from the store near her. My sister-in-law tells me that you can actually make it cold, no need to boil. In my clear carafe at home, they look even darker than I remember. I pour the water in and leave it overnight in the fridge. The next morning the color has saturated the entire thing. I pour myself a glass with ice and send her and my mom a photo.
The home I’ve made now is different.
I know nostalgia. It looks like a deep red-pink.
Eva Recinos is an arts and culture journalist and non-fiction writer based in Los Angeles. She is currently working on a memoir in essays. She runs a free monthly newsletter for creatives called Notes from Eva.