The other big room was where the kitchen and living room were. Mama was always sitting at the sewing machine in the corner of the living room, her feet pumping away at the pedals, the whirring sound of the needle going up and down, tightly sewing seams along the fabric of the clothes she had been asked to make. When she came in from school, her schoolbag went on the little table on the corner next to her machine. The perfunctory kiss she gave her mother was returned with a quick squeeze. She would then sit on the floor at her mother’s feet, taking off her shoes, then her socks. After unrolling the socks, she put on her rubber slippers, avoiding the ground with her hot, newly released feet. She headed into the bedroom, dropping the dirty socks in the blue bucket reserved for laundry. Her uniform came off first, leaving only the blouse that went under her jumper, and her tights. After her shoes were put away in a neat row next to the other shoes she owned (two more pairs), right under the foot of the bed, she came back out.
Today, she had lots of homework to do, reading, math, and studying for a religion test. Mama put the last stitches in the dress she was working on, covered her machine and got up, heading to the kitchen to start tea. It would be flour tortillas, some leftover chicken from lunch, and maybe a sunny side up egg for the studious, quiet little girl.
Across the village, down the hill and past the cemetery, in a darkened thatched house, the little seven year old girl’s hands were elbow deep in a dough mixture, kneading clumsily, but vigorously. The smoke from the fire hearth seeped into the small house, but it no longer affected her. Lying on a discarded flour sack on the dirt floor, her little brother Franco lay on his pudgy stomach, wearing only his briefs. Inside one of the two tiny rooms, her grandmother languished on her bed as she awaited tea.
He still hadn’t come home yet, but he would any moment, walking in with his father after a day out in the fields, working for someone who more than likely paid a pittance. Eva kneaded in a hurry, mixing just a little bit more water into the corn dough to make it soft and pliable, good enough to flatten into fluffy tortillas for the entire family.
There were hardly any beans left, but there were a few eggs that Franco had brought home after running around the neighborhood and cemetery all afternoon after school. No-one questioned whose chickens the eggs came from; it was food, it was desperately needed, and it was there. With the dough ready, she started flattening tortillas, putting several on the blackened comal. They sizzled on contact with the hot metal, and in less than a minute, they were all ready to flip. While they baked, her tiny fingers worked more flat discs, and her hands fairly flew from the table to the hot stove, flipping, pressing to puff the tortillas, putting new ones to bake. Looking guiltily around, she took one of the slightly burned tortillas and ate it greedily while she cooked. In no time flat, she was done preparing the main part of the night’s meal.
On cue, her grandmother walked out of the bedroom and headed to her usual place at the table. Her wide girth showed a definite love for food, and the ancient wooden chair, built by her father as a wedding trousseau, creaked and groaned under her weight. At the door, the sounds of a horse clip-clopped uphill, and Eva knew they were both home. Franco got up from his place on the dirt floor and ran outside to meet his father and grandfather.
Eva continued her cooking, tiptoeing when she had to. She took the blue and white speckled enamel bowl down from its spot (hanging on a nail tacked to the wall) to crack a few eggs in, beating them with some salt. The ancient, handle-less frying pan was misshapen, burnt at the sides and bottom, and sat precariously on the smoking hot comal. A pat of lard went in, and wielding a knife almost as long as her work-toughened arm, she sliced some onions to fry up. When they had gotten good and golden, she poured the beaten eggs in. She could not recall how she learned, but everything seemed by instinct. She stirred the eggs, fluffing them up some. The pot of beans had been warming up beside the comal all along, and with the eggs and hot tortillas, dinner would be simple but good.
The adults all sat around. There was no ceremony of getting refreshed, bathing before dinner – hands were barely washed. It was survival in this little house, and dinner was hot and ready. Eva put out plates of food for everyone before serving herself. Her plate was smaller than everyone’s, with just a little bit of the remaining beans and a few bites of eggs. There was no coffee tonight, so everyone drank water. When Franco finished his food first, he pushed his plate away but remained seated. Tonight, no-one put more food on his plate – Eva was starving, and she already took less food than him. She didn’t look into his face, avoiding the sad looks he normally gave to persuade her to part with some of her meal. Soon, she too was done with her measly dinner, thankful she had snuck one tortilla before, for it seemed the adults were intent on leaving none to chance.
There was homework to do, but Eva’s eyes drooped even as she took a cold bucket bath outside. As filthy as she was, there was hardly ever any soap, and tonight, she used a piece of the laundry bar to scrub into her tangled, lice-ridden hair. The suds that ran down were enough to wash the rest of herself with. The harsh soap stung her eyes and parts of her body, but she was clean enough. Drying off with a threadbare towel, she put on an old t-shirt and headed inside to the tiny bed she shared with her father.
It was around midnight when she felt him groping her. She lay still, as she had since she could remember… Mama had just died, gone to sleep in the cemetery forever…she had been three…it had never stopped…
In his hammock, Franco vacillated between awake and asleep, unaware if the demons he saw were real or imagined. Below him, his sister lay enduring an assault that had become standard, routine, yet never right. She was tired, hungry, afraid, hurting…yet she lay there…not able to imagine any other life than the one she had…she lay there, afraid to dream of something better…
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