by Eva O.
I pivoted slowly, feeling the steady breath of the animal against my bare calves. Ay dios, ayúdame por favor! I thought, longingly. It’s piercing red eyes met mine, striking fear straight into my soul. My heart sank and my knees turned to liquid. The hairs on the nape of my neck stood up.
The creature’s sleek leathery skin and stance suggested it wasn’t going to attack. But, its narrow, livid eyes suggested otherwise. They burned with the passion of a million suns. I stared down at the cherry red dress my mama sewed for me on my birthday. God, of course I had to choose today to wear my special red dress.
The creature’s joints contracted, it took a step forward and my skin erupted in freezing goosebumps although San Juan was blistering as ever. I stumbled backward tentatively, wishing I had walked by La Paneria instead of the El Rancho.
The creature took notice of my motion and followed, walking briskly in my direction. The world sped up. I looked around frantically at the open field lined with harvest-ready crops. Then my eyes turned to the bright barn door, swinging in the wind.
The creature snuffed and growled hungrily. In a split second, I was sprinting, as fast as I could, my muscles burning. The hefty creature’s feet pounded alarmingly against the cobblestone ground. The gap between us decreased with each step I took.
Tears brimmed in my eyes as I gave up hope of outrunning the bull. My whole life flashed before my eyes. All five years. As I ran, I saw my mother, lifting water from the well to boil for our arroz. I saw my father sitting on our stoop, plucking the strings of his ancient guitar. His boleros ringing through the street. I saw my sisters prancing toward the river with little bars of brown soap and baskets of clothes to wash. I was too young to die!
“Aaah!” I let out a blood curdling scream as my body hit the bottom of a jagged trench with a thump! Pain seared through my back and stars danced before my eyes. I looked up, and suddenly there were two bulls. I couldn’t tell if I was seeing double or if another one had escaped. Its horns swayed from left to right, in search of me. I held my breath and squeezed my eyes shut. And then, after a few seconds, it retired back to El Rancho.
Phew! I let out a sigh of relief as El Granjero shouted profanities at the bull. But, my bliss was followed by the sinking realization that I was four feet under in a trench and had ruined one of the only dresses I owned. I stood up quickly and pulled the fabric forward. It was covered in dirt and bloodstains and there were tears in many places. I felt a twinge in my nose. Tears threatened to escape my eyes. Don’t cry, don’t cry. I told myself. But I was crying. No, I was balling. I collapsed defeatedly. My mama would be furious! My family was very poor, my sisters and I each owned three dresses. One for church, one for school, and an extra one for fiestas. And this one was ruined! What would I wear to school now? Also, how would I go to school if I couldn’t get out of this trench! My blood boiled beneath my skin and I hugged my knees. Praying internally.
Ay dios, Ayuda me, quiero ir a escuela pero no puedo con un vestido como este!
“Abril, Abril?” Asked a haggard voice coming from above. I rubbed my eyes and looked up to find a hunched old woman with gray hair and a tattered dress loomed precariously over the trench.
“Si, soy yo,” I responded, swallowing hard.
“Ay, what are you doing here?” She spoke to me in Spanish. I tried to form an answer in my head. To tell her how I was on my way to school and a bull started chasing me and I fell in a trench. But, it came out in a muddled slur.
“I was- and then el toro- then I fell in and-” my voice broke, I sobbed violently. Humiliated by my own pathetic situation. The woman looked at me sympathetically.
“Ay mi hija, estás bien. Take my hand and I’ll help you out. You can come inside and get all cleaned up, si?” She asked, reaching into the trench. I nodded reluctantly and took her liver spotted hand. She was surprisingly strong for a woman of her age and stature. She pulled me out swiftly. Although, I couldn’t have been more than 50 pounds at the time.
We walked in silence back to her casita, which was a one story tiny structure made entirely of wood.
“Okay mi hija, let’s get out cleaned up. I have a bathtub already filled next to the stove, estas bien?” she asked. I nodded and headed to the diminutive tin box and began undressing shyly. The woman was polite enough to look the other way. I handed her the dress and settled into the tub. The water was lukewarm and slightly murky. I had to bend my knees to fit.
“Ay ay ay, chica, I don’t know how you did this to your dress.” She held it up to a sunlit window and examined the rips. It was worse than I thought.
“Is it fixable?” I asked nervously. She pursed her lips for a moment before setting it down on a wooden chair.
“Si, si mi hija. It will take a little while but I can do it.” She nodded to an old sewing machine in the corner of the room. I grabbed a small ragged washcloth and began washing myself. The woman headed to the stove and stirred a boiling pot of rice. That was one thing about Puerto Rican women, no matter what time of day it was, they were cooking. And nobody in my town had much in the way of food. But we could turn a grain of rice into a feast if we had to.
“So, how are you going to get the dress back to me?” I asked, cursing my demanding tone. She didn’t seem to notice.
“No te preocupes, I know your mama,” she responded simply. In my town, everybody knew each other.
“She is one special woman. She helped my hermana when her esposo died years ago. God bless her. I don’t think she would’ve made it if it hadn’t been for your mama,” she said, slicing through a thick cut of pollo. I nodded, wrapping a small towel she provided around my body. My mama was a special woman. God spoke to her in her dreams, he showed her when anyone on las montañas needed her help and she comforted them.
I quivered shyly, waiting to be offered another dress.
“Ay niña!” She exclaimed, dropping her wooden spoon to the ground. “You’re dripping all over my floor! Here, let me get you something to wear.” She quickly rushed to a small closet of similar color to the rest of the room. The house was so small, I could touch the closet from the bathtub. She scrunched her face and examined the sparse contents of the wardrobe.
“Aqui estas!” She shouted, holding a small cream colored dress up to my body.
“I know it’s not very stylish, but it is all I have.” I turned and examined the linen thing. It was cuffed at the sleeves and had a few ruffles at the skirt. Buttons lined the bodice. I smiled brightly. Aside from a few tears and stains, it was in mint condition. And far more perfect than any dress I’d ever owned.
“No, está perfecto!” I replied. The lady smiled warmly and told me to change while she turned away to focus on the meal she was making.
“You know, that belonged to Mi hija many years ago,” she remarked.
“Really?” I asked as I fiddled with the buttons.
“Yes, her name is Elena. She was the prettiest girl in San Juan in her day. Almost as pretty as you.” I blushed intensely. I had never considered myself pretty. I thought I was homely, short and thin like my mother. My father was the handsome one. He had light skin and blue eyes. All the ladies loved him. Some said he could be americano. My sister Nina was the one who took after him. I suppose I could be pretty in someone else’s eyes.
“Ah, how time flies. I remember like yesterday that she was your age. Oh, now she’s in Nueva York. She’s a journalist or something. She has a fancy husband and a fancy apartment and no tiene tiempo para su madre!” I laughed and settled in a little wooden chair.
“I’m sure she has time for you señora,” I disagreed. She shook her head dismally.
“Ay no chica. She’s busy with her life in America. With her hijos. I don’t get to see them often. Sometimes they come down for Navidad. But, that’s how it goes I guess. Children want to leave their parents, pursue their own dreams. I’m proud she left though. I wouldn’t want the same life for her as I have. She still calls sometimes but reception here is bad.” I chewed on what she said for a moment as the house filled with the aroma of fresh Recow. I couldn’t imagine leaving my little town in Puerto Rico. San Juan was my whole world. Running to the well to fetch water for my mama, listening to my papa play the guitar, combing my sister’s hair after they took a wash in the river. I could never leave. No. America was not for me.
“I don’t want to leave,” I told the woman. “I want to live in San Juan forever. I don’t want to learn English and eat American food. I like it here.” But, to my frustration, the woman just laughed.
“What? It’s true. I want to live in San Juan!” I insisted.
“Ay chica, everyone says that. But, someday you’ll realize there is more to the world than San Juan. There are opportunities; there are people and jobs waiting for you. The world is too big to stay in San Juan.” She shucked stalks of rice into a boiling pot.
“Then why did you stay here?” I challenged.
“Well, I was never really meant to go anywhere mi hija. There weren’t opportunities for people like me in America. Nobody would hire a Puertoriceña who doesn’t speak English. But now the possibilities are endless. Times are changing. You can learn English and make something of yourself. Trust me, you don’t want to be a housewife in Puerto Rico forever.”
“But my mother is a housewife,” I argued.
“I know. I am friends with your mother. And, I also know she wants bigger things for you. She wants you to make a life for yourself. And you will mi hija, you will.”
I never forgot that conversation. Looking back on my five year old self, I was wrong. I’m glad my family decided to move to Nueva York. Because, she was right. San Juan was too small for my sisters and I. Even though we started in a one bedroom apartment, we made it. Every one of us. My father served in the military, my hermana became a teacher and I became a nurse with many children. I still go back to Puerto Rico sometimes. And I wonder what would’ve been if I stayed. But, then I remember I am happy here. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
About the Author: Hi, my name is Eva and I am a thirteen year old aspiring writer. Some of my accomplishments include being accepted onto the staff for my school newspaper and completing a 240 page (unpublished) novel. I currently live in New York with my parents and two younger brothers. One day I hope to become a published author like Virginia Wolfe or Stephen King.
Thank you for sharing this fiction story with MissHeard Media, Eva! If you’d like to share your own creativity (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, art, etc.) please use the contact form!