Below is the first segment of a new short story, Little Maria. While the story is new, it is based on a chapter from my novel, Unidentified Woman, a literary crime about rape, revenge and redemption. I believe it stands alone as is, and will reward you handsomely when you read it.
“If life is a garden,
Women are the flowers.
Men are the gardeners,
Who pick up the prettiest ones.”
I sing this song while jumping rope with Adela, my best friend, before going off to school. I’m only twelve, but Mami keeps telling me I should grow up and stop jumping rope. Do things girls my age are supposed to be doing, like helping her in the kitchen and learning how to sew. I hate it when she says that. I’m holding tight to the rope that connects me to my childhood, afraid of losing it, afraid of growing up. It’s as if somehow, don’t know how, I know what lies ahead.
The dirt road to school, that’s what lies ahead. Adela and I run hand in hand there, skipping between the small stones, still singing that silly song a boy at school taught us yesterday, about the flowers and the gardeners. And laughing about it too, questioning who is the prettiest one: her or me? And this boy, Angelo his name, is he in love with me or with her?
We come off the bend to the only half-paved road in our poor little village, happy to bounce on solid ground. Just then a black car suddenly stops near us, making noise and raising dust. Never before in my life have I seen such a beautiful, shiny car. I can see myself reflected in it, like in a twisted mirror. But only for a second, because the back window rolls down immediately and a man pokes out his head, asking me for my name. Maria, I say. I hate my name, I really do. It’s so…
He tells me to come over and show him the way to our school. Adela whispers in my ear that I shouldn’t do it and drops my hand. But I do it anyhow, maybe because Mami always told me to obey men. Especially older men like him. When I get closer he opens the door suddenly, grabs my hand and pulls me inside. He is very strong, so it’s easy for him to place me in the backseat between his legs and push my head down. All I can think of is my schoolbag: why did I leave it behind on the dirt road? No matter, Adela will bring it to school with her. Of course she would. That’s where we are going, isn’t it?
The car answers me by taking off screaming. I want to scream too, but I can’t. His stinky hand is on my mouth. It hurts me so I bite it. He curses bad words and hits me on the back of my head. Now I really scream. He is strangling me. I can’t breathe. His firm thighs clap my hips. I can’t move. I can’t shout. I close my eyes.
When I close my eyes, I’m afraid the world that was promised to me—going to school with Adela, meeting Angelo and our other friends there, studying history which I like the most, our day-trip next week to the Mayan ruins, even graduation and going to high school in town—may be gone and lost forever. And together with the cloud of dust I imagine the speeding car is raising behind as it leaves our village, an evil cloud is falling all over me. Covering me with eternal darkness and sadness.