It was as though, to make up for the chaos around her, with six little brothers and sisters, and another one on the way for her mother, she had to be the one constant. She wanted to be different, she wanted so much more than what she saw happening around her. That’s why she did her school work, and studied hard. She did well in school, earned a scholarship (it was the only way she could continue her studies), and now, well, she was in High School. And not just any high school, Saint Catherine’s Academy.
She was in her last year of school, and an honor roll student at that. Her father didn’t have much to boast about, but whenever he had too much to drink, everyone would hear about the wonderful things that she was doing in school. “And she’s a good cook too!” he would often say as an afterthought. Anna Rosita Valencia sat in deep thought while she rode the bus back home. She had sat next to a big, fat black woman who almost immediately had fallen asleep by the window.
Anna Rosita had been fascinated by the woman, and from her periphery (yet another good word to teach her little siblings) she had seen how the woman’s jaw had slackened, her teeth just visible. Unconsciously, Anna shuddered. The poor woman was a complete stranger to her, sitting there in her sweat stained, green shapeless shift, yet she felt the first stirrings of despise.
She knew, had been taught better at school, but somehow, there was still a part of her that alternately feared and despised the big black women that seemed so prevalent in the country. She herself was a slim, fair-skinned girl from Salvapan, Belmopan. She was what others would call Spanish. Her father was originally from El Salvador, but her mother was Belizean from a few generations back. It was her grandmother who had told her horror stories of the big black women who would put one in an early grave given half the chance. Stories of brutal beatings and black magic and all things despicable had filled her head from early, so that even when a perfectly nice black woman would try to talk to her as a child, she had run away screaming. Most of the women had yelled after her, further driving her mistaken perception that they did mean harm.
Today, the bus had been so crowded that she’d sat down quickly at the first seat available before the massive crowd had surged into the bus heading west. She hadn’t noticed who she’d sat next to in her rush to avoid the girls from her rival school, Palloti. Now she was stuck, for all around her, people jostled and shoved, trying to find a comfortable spot on the overcrowded bus. She saw the tourists with their giant backpacks and guide books. She wondered where they were from.
In front of the tourists were two older men wearing cowboy hats. Next to her in the aisle was a young boy holding a bucket between his legs. He seemed impassive, but she noticed that he was tensely clenching the bucket, making sure that it moved with him. There were grease stains on the cover and along the sides of the container. Anna Rosita wondered if the young boy had been out selling tamales in the city and was now heading home. Maybe he hadn’t sold them all, and he was taking care of the leftovers, which would be his dinner. Or maybe he would reheat the tamales and try and sell them again the next day. She knew a few people who did that; people who didn’t want to waste all that hard work and money.
Anna Rosita turned slightly and saw a sea of humanity around her. There were some Rastafarian men playing their portable CD player and sharing headphones. Behind her, those Palloti girls were chewing gum loudly and popping them every so often. They were braying loudly, telling each other crude stories and discussing which Saint John’s boy would be perfect for the Prom. Anna knew that she wouldn’t be going to the prom, so it didn’t matter which Saint John’s boy was the cutest, he wouldn’t be keeping her company. Deciding to ignore them, she turned once again to staring off into the distance ahead of her. The wind whipped through the bus windows as they passed green shrubbery, pines, flat marshy land and wind-whipped gnarly trees. A house or two could be seen in the blur, little houses and big houses. Anna brought her stare back to the inside of the bus, and once again, stilled herself.
Just as she had settled again, she felt a slight nudge. She knew the woman next to her had awoken when the driver of the bus had barely slowed for a speed bump. Everyone got a jolt, and there were many loud protests. Women sucked their teeth and even the Rasta guys muttered amongst themselves. Now though, it seemed that the woman in the green dress wanted to talk. Anna Rosita felt a slight bit of fear tingle in her spine; and she knew it was silly, but for some reason, she was afraid. She chose to ignore her seat companion, and maybe they would both pretend nothing had happened.
Just then, the bus ground to a halt, and as the smoke billowed in through the windows, protests once again rang. Anna Rosita closed her eyes and covered her face to avoid inhaling the black smoke. The bus started up again, and the jostling of the passengers in the aisle brought the first backpacker next to her. She heard the scrape of the bucket on the bus floor as the young boy moved further back with his precious cargo. Ahead, a handsome young man with pitch black hair and a trimmed moustache got on board. Anna Rosita Valencia’s heart skipped.
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