She snuffled, trying hard not to cry, but the tears fell unchecked on her lumpy pillow. The rest of the day had been pretty much the same. When her father tired of hitting her, he would scream profanities at her – a completely different man from the one who swung her to sleep the night before. He told her she was stupid, useless, careless (that she agreed on), didn’t deserve to have nice things. He already took away her gold necklace, and hid her earrings.
He was always doing that.
He gave her things to take them away. Every time Andrea got a gift from him, she pretended to love it, but inside, she no longer cared. At some point in her life, he would take it all away. It was lucky he hadn’t given her life – she didn’t doubt he would feel entitled to taking that too.
The night passed, with the ensuing chill that came down the mountains and sat on the valley in the deepest, darkest part of night. She shivered from both fever and cold, then sweated and finally in the early hours of light, gave in to the sheet Mama insisted on pulling over her.
She felt the tentative hand that tried to hold her, but she rolled away, wincing from the pain, both inside and out. She felt betrayed by Mama, and she didn’t want anything to do with her. She knew the routine; she would be gentle and loving to her the rest of the day, and perhaps into the week. Until something happened between her and Papa, and the cycle would start all over again.
When she finally woke up, it was to his usual morning calls. They always let her sleep in on Sunday, and when she was up and about, the focus was on her homework, her school books or eating and resting. For everything that Papa wasn’t, he believed in her schoolwork. He believed to such an extent that the pressure was always on to be smarter than everyone, to come first, to get the highest marks in everything – NO. MATTER. WHAT.
That Sunday, her mother put pancakes on the table for her, with lots of butter and honey. Her favorite chocolate drink sat steaming next to the heaped plate. She washed her face after the perfunctory kiss and hug “good morning” to both parents. Her Papa played with her nose, pulling at it and trying to get a smile out of her.
They both acted like they hadn’t taken all their frustrations out on her, using her like a whipping post, no more an animal than the horse he whipped constantly to a frenzy, or the dogs that walked with their tails between their legs whenever he was around. For a little girl whose eyes had been opened long ago, she knew and felt these things, yet fearful that someday the beatings would escalate further, she played along.
She sat gingerly, wounds oozing into her underwear as she sat and made her bottom sore yet again. She ate with gusto, smiling or laughing at his weak attempts at joking. No-one mentioned yesterday; no-one mentioned the marks on Mama either.
The sun hadn’t come out when Eva got up. The laundry couldn’t wait, and she preferred not to roast alive when the sun finally blazed overhead. The standing tub held the dark clothes that she had soaked overnight. The night dew was meant to whiten the lighter clothing she had left hanging, so before her tiny hands scrubbed and brushed and wrung out the darks, she picked them in and set them on a chair outside. She had to climb on a piece of wood to reach the tub, but wanting the little bit of money that would help feed her that day and perhaps even the rest of the week, she kept working.
The aches all along her back to her ankles, and the private dull, throbbing ache – they did their best to disappear as she brought on her resolve to work through them all.
By the time the sun came out to dry the clothing, she had hung them all out and she sat inside trying to eat something. Her shrunken stomach growled, yet she couldn’t fit in much food. Her hunger made her dream of other meals she had only enjoyed at other times.
She remembered eating lots of good food at a birthday party once. She hadn’t wanted to go, but everyone else drowned out her protests. She had been scrubbed and bathed and dressed in a dress that now lay in tatters somewhere. Her bare, protesting feet had been washed and put into her cleanest rubber flip flops. She had never owned any closed shoes, and preferred going around barefoot anyway. When she finally asked why she had to go, someone mentioned it was her sister’s party.
She knew she had other family, but they were scattered everywhere in the village. Her mama had her and her little brother with him and then died. Before that, she had two other children – a boy and a girl - so the story went.
So because it was her sister, she was suddenly scrubbed clean and sent to the good side of the village. Never having gone to a party by herself, she had stayed behind everyone, only catching glimpses of the birthday girl, her sister. Sister was fat; she looked like she ate at parties every day.
There had been Coca Cola, something she had had maybe once around Christmas. It was fizzy, bubbly, and tickled her nose fiercely. She forced it down then burped so loudly even the boys had laughed. When the food was passed around, she had been amazed at the bounty. Tamales, rice and beans, there was dip and chips, and cake. She ate everything, feeling her stomach swelling by the time she hit the rice and beans. She kept eating, no longer tasting, but only filling her constantly hungry stomach. She watched everyone as they ate, sang, played silly games, and when sister came out with her cake and its lit candles, Eva put her spoon down and joined in singing.
Sister had worn a blue dress, with lace and ribbons and several layers, so the cake had been blue too. Blue sugar roses and green sugar leaves would all around the cake, three layers total. There had been a camera, and someone took a picture of sister posing with her cake, and with her classmates, and somehow, she had looked at the teacher taking pictures and the camera’s bright light had hurt her eyes.
There had also been a piñata, which the boys enjoyed beating and cracking open so that the sweets flew everywhere. There had been a scramble; girls pushing and shoving just like the boys, fighting for the most sugar. One fell by her feet, and she had bent to pick it up, quietly. She held it in her palm, thinking of savoring it slowly, and perhaps sharing with her little brother – if he was nice to her.
Even after bags of sweets were handed out to everyone, she still held the one she caught. That one was solely hers, the rest was just extra. In her shabby clothes, slippered feet and lanky frame, she was nothing like sister, and the quiet pride of having lived without for so long made her feel better than sister.
She wasn’t comfortable until she went back home, back to the dirty, dark and old house that leaked when it rained. She was not happy there either, but she was home, where she knew what would happen, where even when it was bad, it was her home.
Eva looked down at her plate, still sitting in front of her while she had been daydreaming. The sun started trying to shine in down the valley, and the sounds of stirring in Grandma’s bedroom meant she should get up and start cooking for her. The plate lay empty, and the growling in her stomach had stopped. For now.
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