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Maunabo, Puerto Rico
November 17, 1944
Ramón León Carrasquillo had a powerful premonition. Something extraordinary was about to happen.
Just that morning, he shot an unprecedented seven free throws in a row. He watched the seventh ball soar into the air and sail through the tattered net when numbers appeared, high in the sky above the palm tree that held the faded backboard nailed to its mighty trunk. A fourteen, trailed by three zeros pulsed red above the clouds, so vibrant that Ramón believed God Himself must have painted it.
His heart fluttered in his chest like a moth caught in an oil lamp. He could scarcely breathe before the vision faded away in the breeze. A trail of gooseflesh swept up his arms until his mother’s voice broke his trance, calling him to work at her tienda de ropa. Ramón tucked his basketball under his arm and hurried across the plaza, the only paved area in his village.
He passed the whitewashed colonial Catholic church and the enormous ceiba trees shading park benches. This morning, Ramón was the only person in the plaza, but the benches would soon be occupied by young boys who polished shoes for a penny and old men too frail to work in the sugar cane fields.
Ramón stepped into the store, legs trembling—had he imagined that vision in the sky? Would everything suddenly look different? No, the shelves were lined with the same bolts and rolls of cotton, broadcloth and muslin from which his mother fashioned shirts, pants or skirts that villagers ordered when they could afford it. He placed the basketball under the counter where he tallied purchases, and washed his hands in the old ceramic basin. He began to press and straighten the rolls of fabric tight against one another when the tarnished brass doorbell jingled to announce his first customer, an elderly jíbara from the barrio.
Ramón nodded to acknowledge her. He wondered: what did it mean, the number above the clouds? What other extraordinary things might happen today? When the peasant woman laid seven brown buttons on the worn counter and counted fourteen pennies, a revelation struck him like a fist: fourteen cents, seven buttons, and seven free throws. He was the seventh child to survive after his beloved mother lost her first eight babies, the lucky one, born in a caul on the seventh day of the seventh month.
“I hope Caimito comes today. It’s lottery ticket day, and my husband’s been saving two dimes to play,” the woman declared.
There was no reason the lottery vendor wouldn’t roll into Maunabo in his battered old truck. Hurricane season had passed, the roads were clear and the sky electric blue. The tropical breeze carried the scent of the sea.
At that moment, Ramón felt the gooseflesh again. Now he knew what those numbers meant. He must play that number in the lottery.