Below is the fifth 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.
Know already what virgin is. Mami warned me to stay that way until I marry the man I love. You and I talked about it a few times, Adela, remember? Feel like talking directly to you now. Do you hear me at all?
Big Mamá hands me a torn nightgown, thick and rough like an onion sack. She bundles my clothes into one little pile, my lovely school skirt I love so much as well, and hands it to me. She then lifts me up like I was some little doll and places me on a stool. She is using this threatening voice again, telling me to listen up. Nothing I can do but listen. Her teeth are yellow and some are missing. She has a small mustache too, almost as thick as my Papi’s. You’re going to sleep now, she continues with her instructions, because tomorrow morning you’ll get up early to work. You’ll wear these clothes, she points at my school uniform that’s under my arm.
Will I go to school too, I ask her. Big Mamá strokes my hair gently. Such a surprise. Surprise that it feels so good. She even smiles at me with her ugly yellow teeth and says: This place is your school, Little Maria, and I’m your teacher and your headmaster. You’ll do as I say, and everything we’ll be all right.
Don’t know what she means by that. This place is not my school—I love my school. Think about it when she leads me back to the hall where all the girls are. There is only one naked light bulb at the center, hanging down from the cracked ceiling, spraying fuzzy yellow light around. Find my mattress, where there is now also a thin, partly torn blanket. Put my bundle of clothes down under my head like a pillow and cover myself with the blanket. But I’m still cold.
There is an icon of the Virgin Mary in the corner and one candle burning underneath it. Each girl in her turn kneels down there and says her prayer under the dark eyes of Big Mamá. She forces me do so too, so I say a prayer for my Mami to come over quickly, save me from these bad people and this horrible place and take me back home. Then I lie down again like all the other girls.
Good night sisters, says Big Mamá. No more talking. She turns off the light and leaves, closing the squeaking door behind her. Then it is quiet, but not for long. Hear whispers in the dark. Some of the girls get together around one mattress. Not me—stay still. Think of you, Adela: what are you doing right now? Hope you took my schoolbag with you. Will need it when I get back to school. Be sure to tell Senora Molina what happened to me so I won’t get tardy marks and be punished when I come back. Would you write down our homework assignments for me? Sure you would. You are my best friend ever. You are my real sister, even if you called me a retard once. Why did you call me that, Adela? And why did you drop my hand and allow me go to that car?