Below is the third 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.
I wake up lying on a narrow mattress thrown on the floor, without a bed even. One side of my face is burning but the rest of my body feels so cold and numb. Above me I see a crowd of many faces: girls like me with dark falling hair and brown eyes, my age or maybe just a little older. They look at me with sad eyes. Never saw such sad eyes before, as if someone placed old eyes in these young faces. One of them is holding a wet cloth to my burning cheek. She takes it off and puts it in a little bowl of water that’s on the floor beside me.
What’s your name, she asks me. Maria, I whisper. Me too, she says. That’s why I hate my name so much, it’s so common. Where am I, I ask her. The farm, she says.
They look at each other, then around. Are they afraid to talk about it?
It’s a coca farm, one of them volunteers. Soon you will see.
A door opens and they all fly away. Like angels they fly. Maybe I’m in heaven after all. A coca farm in heaven, that’s it. Can hear clapping. Not the clapping of wings but of Big Mamá’s hands. She is standing by the door to the narrow hall we are all in. She is like a storybook giant. Her body covers the whole doorway. All the other girls gather around a long table near the entrance, where one of the girls is already busy bringing food to the table. Think she has wings the way she moves. Am I dreaming?
Don’t think so. Because I hear Big Mamá calling me from the doorway: We’re waiting for you, Little Maria, come join your sisters.
Stay still on my mattress. So she is Big Mamá and I am Little Maria. How come? I’m not little and I’m not hungry. Hear myself saying that: I’m not hungry.
Big mistake. Now she is coming over. Dear God, please stop her!
She stops by my mattress and kicks it, but not too hard, saying: You’re going to eat, Little Maria, hungry or not!
She may think I’m little, but I’m not stupid. Her voice is harsh and she raises her hand too. Know already what’s coming to me if I won’t get up. So I do. Leave my little piece of heaven and join the other girls at the table. After I sit down Big Mamá says the blessing and then we eat. Or pretend to eat the way I do. Terrible food: dirt soup and some dry tamales. My tummy and my head are aching for my mother’s food, poor as we are. See myself sitting there, suddenly, at our round little kitchen table at home, doing homework after school. Just the way it always is.