Mariana Del Rio
Instructor: Maysan Haydar
"¡Vamos, María, eres tan lenta!" Come on, Maria, you're so slow! Luciana ran ahead of me, kicking up gravel into my sweaty face. I would have given up before and let the exhausted feeling consume me, but I had to keep going. No matter what, I had to get across the street. I could almost taste the refreshing, icy, cherry piragua in my dry mouth. Today was one of the many days when nothing could stop the beating pain and heat of the sun except for the fruity shaved ice of a piragua. We were trying to find the cart through the different people along with stray dogs and a few chickens who trotted around the colorful buildings. The clashed music of maracas and guitars seemed to be around every corner, which always made our small Puerto Rican town feel more like home.
Once I saw the piragua cart through the wavering heat, I pushed my body to run up the sidewalk even faster, almost passing Luciana(and she was nine years old!). The cart beckoned to me, bright red, yellow, green, and shimmering blue. I may have shoved a few people, or possibly stepped on a lizard scuttling across the ground, but I bet they would understand. I was so absorbed in my wanting that I forgot that the ground, like most places, was unleveled. My faded pink shoe hit a raised piece of the sidewalk. I fell forward, in an almost comical way, slamming my elbow onto the pavement.
I winced as the rocks slashed open cuts and bruised my arms, stinging pain driving through my elbow. Tears began to trickle, then come in a steady stream, rounding my burnt face and chapped lips. I squeezed my eyes shut as if it would make the pain stop. Through my blurry sight, I saw Luciana stop and run back to me. I heard the sound of her flip-flops slapping on the ground. "Maria! I'm so sorry! Are you okay?" I was still crying as she helped me up. She froze when she saw my arm. "Ah! There's blood! You need to go to your mom!" As she led me back to my house after I staggered up, I turned back to catch a glimpse of the bright piragua cart, standing in the sun for the last time, though I didn't realize it.
I pressed the wet, blue rag to my bleeding arm after dipping it in the small bowl Mamá had filled with water for me. I was about to dip the rag back and I heard a muffled yell from downstairs. It was Papá calling me. I could tell from the rough tone of voice. I put the towel in the bowl and covered my elbow with my hand as I ran down the stairs.
The kitchen was small and cluttered. Pots were stacked on the counter, partly stained with various sauces from different dishes paired with rice and beans. A thick, salty, spicy smell of sofrito lingered from the night before. There was always someone in the kitchen either cooking, baking, or simply playing dominoes. Today, something was wrong. I noticed Angelica and Miguel, my older sister and brother, both sitting at the table, not out with their friends or cousins, not playing cards, and not smiling.
Mamá led me to a seat between them. I tried to whisper to Miguel to ask what happened, but he shook his head slightly as he said under his breath, "Siéntate," Sit down. So I did. Although he was my brother, he was so much older that I never argued with him.
The next few minutes were a blur. I remembered being shown a computer with a building on the screen. I remembered Angelica placing her hands on my shoulders and me forgetting about my bleeding arm. I focused my eyes on the bright screen as the words "CALL TO RENT APARTMENT" came into view, along with two flickering words: Lorain, Ohio.
I couldn't say anything. I wanted to, but no matter what, nothing would change. We were being uprooted. I started to cry again. Everyone I knew, everything I heard, everything I had seen, I would never experience again.
I didn't know what to do as my family searched my face for a reaction other than tears, so I stood up and bounded back upstairs.
"I'm going to write you a letter every day!" Luciana told me, while holding her dad's hand. She hugged me as my family said goodbye to their own friends. Everything was in the back of our van, except for my stitched-up doll in my hand and a drawing of me that Luciana had just given to me. It sort of looked like a strawberry, but I took it as a compliment. Soon Papá shouted from the car, "Let's go, mija!" I walked toward the car, then turned around one more time before going in. I shut the metal door, and once everyone was in, Papá shut the door. As we started driving, I could hear all the families that had come to watch us leave, yelling "¡Hasta luego!" See you later! None of them said goodbye.
"Ha!" I put another "O" on the small piece of yellow paper we found in front of our seat on the airline. I crossed my line of circles out to indicate that I had won.
"¿Cómo?"How? Miguel said sarcastically as if he let me win. He put his pen down. This was the third time I beat him in tic-tac-toe.
A woman wearing all blue except for her vibrant scarlet lips stood next to our seat. There was a silver pin on her jacket that said "Sasha." I made a slight face at her. Was she feeling okay? The lady had one of the palest faces I had ever seen in my life! She said something in English. Miguel answered her. I knew a few things in English, but only very basic responses, like "yes" and "no"(that was easy), but my brother definitely knew more than I did.
The lady looked at me with a plastic smile as she said something else to me. I tilted my head, and she repeated the same sentence of gibberish, louder and I think slower. I could feel my face get as red as her lipstick as I raced through all my English vocabulary in my head, trying to find at least one word that made sense.
I finally said quickly, "No." I waited for her response, which was just some kind of chuckle. "Sasha" said something else and then walked away. I raised my eyebrow at Miguel as he whispered. "Ella preguntó si le gustó el vuelo." She asked if you were enjoying the flight. The embarrassment I felt made me sink back into my seat. If I couldn't answer an easy question on the flight, how was I going to talk once we got to America?
The Ohio airport was crazy, not like the ghost peppers in Abuelo's rice, but like the time when Luciana and I sneaked behind Señor Gonzalez's house and watched him kill one of his chickens for stew. It was terrifying.
Everyone shouting- not shouting- screaming. Almost everyone looked as pale as "Sasha." I grasped Mamá's hand and didn't let go, no matter how much I was dragged through herds of crying, cursing, and laughing people. It was also freezing, but no one seemed to care. Is this how it was always going to be? I was so shocked that I didn't realize I wasn't holding anyone's hand anymore. I started breathing more quickly than I did when we were on the plane. I didn't know what to do, I couldn't ask for help, so I ran. Tears threatened to escape my eyes as I sped away from everyone. I hated Ohio. I hated America. I hated "Sasha." I hated leaving. I wanted to go home.
I found a glass door and pushed it open. Outside was even more freezing than inside. I kept running until I tripped on something covered in white. I fell forward onto what I expected would be hard ground. Although now I felt wet in addition to being cold, I became covered in a white, slushy powder. It was almost like...
I picked some up in my hands. It was so cold, it felt like it was burning my hands. I've never felt anything like it, but it was still so familiar. I quickly turned around, then tasted it. I was right.
It was a piragua.