|La Vida de María Isabel
Author: Miss Dolly PM
When the corrupt juntas of the Guatemalan government invade her home, Maria Isabel is forced to abandon all that she knows and loves to head to "the land of the free" and "home of the brave." Is America all it's cracked up to be, though?Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Tragedy - Words: 4,871 - Reviews: 4 - Published: 05-22-06 - Status: Complete - id: 2178920
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
May 22, 2006
La Vida de María Isabel
A cool breeze gently rustled the long, glossy leaves of the sapota trees, the sun just poking its head out over the swell of the horizon and glowing over the landscape of the rugged mountains and tropical foliage. The day was warm and damp, the sweet smell of the wet soil filling the air with a rich, intoxicating scent. The aracari birds and mangrove swallows had woken early, their high-pitched chirps sounding from the canopy of the forest. Echoing along with their voices was they rhythmic thumping of a small, handheld mallet pounding into a small wooden bowl at intervals.
María Isabel wiped the sheen of sweat from her brow and took a moment from her work to look up at the sky. A pink, orange effulgence tinted the canvas past the clouds. María shifted slightly to see past the branches of the trees. Currently, she was kneeling in the mud near a river bend, mashing fruit in her bowl for her breakfast. The soft hush of rushing water gently graced her ears. The morning was so calm. After breathing a sigh of tranquility, she returned her attention to her task and continued to crush the ruby-red berries.
Suddenly, another sound filled María's ears. The shouts and cries of a child frightened away a flock of birds in the trees. Looking up from her work again, she saw a little boy bounding through the forest excitedly, flapping his arms and running as fast as his legs would carry him. María smiled to herself. Luís. Her younger brother
"Luís!" she called. "Luís, what are you doing up so early?"
Her little brother giggled as he approached her. He stumbled over a fugitive tree root sticking out of the ground, though, and ended up sliding into the mud at his sister's feet. When he looked up into her face, though, his eyes were sparkling underneath the grime smeared around his face and his mouth was spread into a wide grin. He chuckled happily.
"Buenos días, mi hermana," he smiled.
María shook her head at Luís, but smiled back at him all the same. She scolded him playfully. "Look at you Luís! You've hardly been up for an hour, and you're already covered in filth. What have you been doing? Rolling around in the mud? What would Mamí say if she were here?"
Luís made no reply but continued to beam. In a split second, he decided to pounce on his sister and embraced her in his grubby arms. María shrieked as the wet earth smeared all over her clothes.
"Luís!" she cried.
He giggled and proceeded to place a wet kiss on her cheek.
"I'm sure Mamí would say that she loved me and would call me her precious hijito!" Luís smiled triumphantly at his response.
María, spitting out some of the grime that slipped past her lips, kneeled up from the ground and crawled over the river. Luís followed.
"Ven aquí, Luís. Let's get ourselves clean before we go back to the house."
Luís nodded his head and crouched by the muddy shore next to his sister. He dunked his head in the water and began to run his fingers through his unkempt hair. María also began to splash water on her forearms, rinsing off the filth her brother had slopped on her. She sighed and looked up at the sky absent-mindedly. It seemed so long that her mother had passed away. Luís had hardly been two-years-old, and Father had abandoned them when Mamí was pregnant with her second child. Mamí had been infected with some unknown illness after Luís was born, and there was no healthcare available to a family as poor as theirs in Guatemala. So, Mamí died, her cold corpse found drenched in sweat underneath a layer of handmade, woven blankets. María remembered having to bury the body herself and explain to Luís that Mamí was in a better place and it would be a long time before they were reunited with her again.
She had raised her little brother since her mother passed. For seven years, she had been the maternal figure responsible for caring for him. She cleaned their house, washed their clothes, and gathered and prepared their food. At the age of seventeen, María was forced to adopt the duties of an adult and accept the accompanying responsibilities. It was a necessary precocity she was to acquire if Luís was to grow into a respectable adult. She loved her little brother dearly, though, and the indelible memory of her mother encouraged her to persevere despite her difficulties raising him.
It was times like these, though, when she observed her brother at the apex of life and knew that her mother would never see him laugh, that María's mother's death filled her with a misanthropic hate and resentment for the government. After all, since the imperial juntas had sunk their stealthy claws into the elections, the entire body of legislation had been inundated with corrupt military officials. The monsters had prevented her mother from obtaining the care she needed when she was ill. Poor people were treated with less respect than animals in Guatemala; there was no succor for the paupers. It was this knowledge that filled María with a pestilential feeling of hate, one that flooded her with bitterness and anger.
As she pondered, she heard Luís giggle again and bubbles issued from his mouth underneath the water. They rose to the surface of the river and popped subsequently. Her heart softened at the sound of his cheerful voice. Luís was so carefree, a true spirit of conviviality. Nothing in life seemed to rankle the strong-willed boy. He was stalwart and determined to live life to the fullest. María sighed again. Luís made life worth living.
Psssssh-tch! María looked up immediately as the sound of a gunshot reached her ears. The early morning birds scattered and María felt her heart swell with panic. She knew there were only certain kinds of people who shot off guns in this part of the rainforest.
"Soldados," she breathed in a deathly soft voice. It was the military men who murdered without thought, murdered women and children simply if they were poor. Guatemalans of caste condescended to the poor, spit on what little value they had as human beings. They would spare no pity for María and her younger brother. Promptly, María grabbed Luís's arm.
"Luís, we must go! Now!" she whispered to him urgently.
As she looked down, though, she laid her eyes on a most hideous sight. There was her brother, head hanging limply in the water, a deep hole seething where the bullet penetrated his breast. A steady stream of blood was trickling down his chest; he was dead.
"Luís!" María screamed as she lodged her brother out of the water and held up his head. His eyes were open, but they were glazed. The spark that once danced in his orbs was lost forever. He was truly dead.
Another gunshot sounded. María froze as she felt the bullet skim past the frail hairs on the crevice of her neck. She had no time to think. She dropped her brother's corpse and bolted. As fast as her legs could carry her, she darted forward, dodging the trunks of the trees and twisting roots growing out of the ground. She heard the gun click and discharge again. The bullet missed her, but she could feel her adrenaline pumping through her at a mad pace. She was breathing so hard, her lungs were swelling painfully, and her heart felt as though it would push past her chest and escape the cavity of her body. She knew she couldn't return to her home. Her pursuers would expect that. She would have to keep running until she stumbled upon a place to hide.
Luck was with her that day, though. As she sprinted through the forest, she caught sight of a nearby ditch. A massive sapota treehad been uprooted and a hollow nook was shadowed underneath its dangling roots. Surreptitiously, María slipped into the hole and crouched beneath the hanging roots. She could feel the hirsute legs of spiders crawling up her back, but she could do nothing.
A few men's voices shouted from above. "I just saw her! She was here!"
Military boots thumped against the ground, dangerously close to where María hid. She trembled and put her hand in her mouth to keep herself from giving away her hideaway. The soldiers spoke again.
"Where'd she go? I know I just saw her."
"What does it matter? We got the boy, and the girl's probably gone off running. She'll get caught eventually. Let's go check out that hut where they were living. There may be something of value even in that squalid place."
The men chuckled and soon the sound of their boots thumping faded away. María firmly remained crouched underneath the tree roots. She continued to quiver fearfully; her body was paralyzed with fright. Late into the night she would keep herself there in that same spot, huddled in that same position, waiting for someone to come and find her.
There was only one option for her. It had taken María three days to remember something herm other had told her long, long ago, when Luís was only a baby. Mamí would tell her stories when the sun had slipped under the rugged heights of the highlands and her brother was at peace in deep slumber. The moon would be high in the sky, along with the celestial stars, and it would seem that María and her mother were the only two people in the world. It was at this time that Mamí would tell her stories of el norte. The north. Los estados unidos. America.
The word echoed in María's mind; she repeated it to herself like a mantra. In the tales her mother told, America was a land of wealth and riches. There were taps where water flowed at the command of a person's grip and toilets that flushed with the simple press of a lever. That wasn't to mention the electric lights, which could be triggered on or off at one's will. Also, there were beautiful women with peaches and cream skin, rosy red cheeks, and glossy lips, their eyes as blue as the sky and their hair curled into shiny, golden ringlets. In America, the houses were warm or cold based on the preference of their owner, and the paths were streets, paved with cement instead of padded dirt and wood chips. There were food and clothes to buy, and plenty of jobs for all. In America, even the poorest could climb from their homes of tree roots and puddle water and live in opulence.
María sighed. To get to America was nearly impossible. One would have to climb through the mountains and cross the Sierras of Mexico, not to mention the difficult task of surpassing the border control of the United States military. The journey was a long and arduous one; often times it meant death for even the most intrepid and stealthy of journeyers. María had no choice, though. It was either go to America or die.
So, she left her home of roots and gathered up a small sack of food and clothes back at her hut. In addition to the clothes and food, she also picked up a small cutting knife. She supposed sadly that it might be useful if her journey ever got dangerous. The soldados had ransacked her home, leaving her and her brother's possessions scattered over the floor. A tear escaped her as she realized all her mother's precious jewelry had been purloined. She could not linger in her despondency, though… she was forced to take what she could and go. With one last look at her little home, the death of her mother and brother haunting her memory, María left Guatemala for good, all hopes set on America.
For many days she had trekked across the Guatemalan highlands, stealthily making her way through the rainforests and plodding through the Pacific lowlands. Thus far, she had managed to avoid the military, but she knew that would not be so easily upon her arrival in Mexico. The people there would easily distinguish her as a Guatemalan by her Indian heritage and would promptly have her sent back to her own country. María knew if she made it to Tijuana, however, she could find a coyote to guide her across the Sierras. That was her goal now.
She had just finished traveling through the deep rainforests and was slowly emerging onto a sparser plain. The central plateau of Mexico steeped up slowly in the distance. Far out on the horizon, María was able to make out the flat desert plains and sparse foliage of the mesas de centrales. Miles and miles of walking on sore, aching feet with nothing but stale tortillas and dried up berries she brought from home, made her appreciate the obscure view of the landscape for all it was worth. Ignoring the cries of her tired limbs, María trudged on knowing soon Guatemala would be behind her. The sparkle of America glittered in her mind. She hitched her traveling cloth close to her hip and proceeded to climb down from the Guatemalan hills.
Then again, less foliage meant less places to hide if such ambush were necessary. Also, Mexico was nearly three times as long as Guatemala. That meant it would take three times as long for her to cross by foot. Unless… María smiled slightly as he heard a rare sound, a sound that had only reached her ears once or twice in her life before but was one of the easiest noises for her to identify. It was the low purr of a motor, the roll of tires against pavement, the hum of a moving car. María knew that some sort of vehicle was approaching. If she could manage to sneak onto the car in some way unnoticed, she could hitchhike to Tijuana and save herself the trouble of walking so far. She would have to stop the car, though, which was no simple feat. As the car moved ever closer, María was forced to do the first, rash thing that came to her mind. She picked up a nearby stone and tossed it at the car's approaching the windshield, then ducked out of sight. As she hoped, the glass shattered and the car slowed to a halt. María dodged behind the vehicle, holding her breath as she did, waiting in apprehension for the driver to exit the car.
Soon, she heard the door kick open and heard the driver step out, mumbling obscenities as he did so. The man was driving an old, rusted Jeep with a number of boxes crowded in the back of the vehicle. María heard the driver curse again as he inspected the broken glass. She nearly gasped when she heard him mention something unfriendly about "the girl on the road." Thankful for her lithe figure and quiet foot, María jumped into the trunk of the truck and crouched behind one of the many boxes. Since the death of her brother, María had become quite talented at camouflaging herself in desperate times. She heard the footsteps of the driver approach the back of the truck; she felt him kick the back open and was certain he was peering for her around the crates.
"Come out, come out, come out niña. I know you're in there, and I'd like to thank you for the hole you put in my windshield."
He mentioned some other crude things that María blushed at, but she remained glued in her position. She made no movement or sound. She heard the man growl angrily and curse again. Suddenly, the back of the truck tilted backward and María felt herself slide along with the crates. For a moment, she thought the man was going to pick up the truck and toss her out, like a child would shake a coin out of a piggy bank. The truck fell back into place, though, bouncing slightly on the tires, and María praised God that the man could not lift the truck. She heard the driver grumble about seeing things and could sense that he was stalking back to his seat. As the man lifted himself back into the car, the truck weighed down again. María looked up slightly and was not hard pressed to see that the man was morbidly obese. He'd been too lazy to check the back carefully because of this. María thanked God again for her luck that day. Anyone else would have found her. She heard the drive brush away some glass shards of his dashboard and started the ignition. The engine roared to life and soon María was on her way to Tijuana.
There were a plethora of coyotes in the city. María found that as soon as she began wandering through the hazy streets, hordes of men crowded around her to make offers.
"Only five hundred dolares and I'll get you across the border, señorita."
"A lot can happen to a girl out there if she's not protected. Two hundred dollars and I'll guard you all the way."
"Don't listen to these fools, señorita. They're cheating you out of your money. I'll charge you a mere one hundred dollars and guarantee the same security and success."
María looked back and forth from the many faces, utterly confused. It seemed her head was spinning with the many offers. She stumbled through the crowds, unable to speak. Suddenly, though, she felt a firm, yet gentle hand grasp her arm. She looked to her side and saw a handsome young man grinning down at her. He flashed her a wide smile, his pearly white teeth gleaming. His eyes were a soft brown and he had a clean, dark plait of hair. His smile reassured her. In a deep, confident voice, he ordered the grungy coyotes away.
"Hey, you good-for-nothings. Get lost! This lady needs none of your ridiculous tricks. She is with me now."
The coyotes grumbled, but it seemed that they respected the authority of the poised young man. They began to drift away, and soon María was left alone with her rescuer. She turned to him shyly.
"Gracias, señor," she smiled, blushing slightly. "I am grateful for your kindness."
The man charmed her again with another one of his patented grins.
"Think nothing of it, señorita. But, tell me, what is a girl of your fair appearance doing in a foul dump like this?"
In retrospect, María may have realized that providing such personal information to a complete stranger in the middle of Tijuana was incredibly risky, but at the time, the caballero's encouraging nods and pleasant voice urged her to recall the events of her life and explain to him the purpose of her journey. As María felt she gained a confidant in the man, she asked him how she might find a safe route to America. The man's grin widened.
"Well, I understand if you are opposed to the idea, María (she had given him her name), but I could take you across the border."
"Really?" María's face lit up. "You would do that for me, señor?"
"Por supuesto." The man beamed. "It would be an honor to guide such a beauty into the land of the free. I feel privileged that you would even ask." The man's grin faltered suddenly. "I hate to bring something up, though…" María looked at him imploringly.
"What is it?" she asked. "What's wrong?"
"Well, even for me, María, crossing the border is a difficult task. By no means is it a simple feat. It costs money, you see… Do you have any money, María?"
María looked at the ground sadly. Her home had been ravaged when she returned to pack for her journey. There was no money left when she came back. Every precious article in her home had been stolen. María felt her heart sink into the pit of her stomach. She couldn't give up now. She'd come so far. It was this determination that led María to lie for the first time in her life.
"Oh, sí, señor. Yo tengo mucho dinero."
The man beamed again. He grasped her by the shoulder affectionately.
"Excelente. Then we'll be on our way. Call me Julio. And meet me by the outer fence at midnight tonight. It's about a mile and a half away, a good distance from the city, but you should be safe from here to there. Just keep quiet, and you'll be fine. Okay?"
María agreed, feeling hopeful and guilty simultaneous, praying to God that everything worked out.
Suddenly, a lurking figure in the shadows pounced from out of the darkness and leapt onto María. She shrieked as she saw the gleam of a sharp blade parked closely against the skin on her throat. She heard Julio's deep, throaty voice chuckle at her; all its previous warmth and pleasantness dissipated in a mere second. He growled at her.
"Give me all your money! Give it to me! Now!"
María panicked. She had no money. She lied! What was she to do? She cried as she felt Julio's fingers grope around her neck; his digits wrapped around the silver coins of a necklace her mother had given her long ago. She had forgotten she was wearing it. Julio yanked the chain and ripped it off her collar. He sliced open her traveling cloth and emptied its contents on the ground. As he was sifting through the remaining crumbs of María's food, the girl shuffled away and stood up shakily, attempting to make a getaway.
Julio's voice snaked to her ears again. "Oh, no you don't. I'm not finished searching yet!"
María didn't think twice about running. She shot off like a bullet from a pistol and sprinted as fast as she could down the darkened plain. She could hear him following close behind her, his footsteps pounding into the ground, his heavy breathing bearing down upon her. María knew he wasn't far behind her. Then she remembered. The cutting knife she'd brought with her from home! It was still attached to her hip. She reached down and grabbed it firmly. In a split-second, she turned around and flung it at her pursuer. She heard him cry out in agony but refused to turn around. There was no going back now. She would just have to make it on her own. All that kept her running as her eyes watered and the bitter sting of humiliation finally attacked her was that faint image of her last hope, America.
For four days she had run, only stopping to sleep at intervals of two hours each night. For four days she had plowed on across the plateau of Mexico and reached the Sierra Mountains. For four days, she had climbed over the rugged terrain and cut herself, bruised herself, chaffed her skin, twisted her ankles, bit her lip, walked until blisters popped on her feet. And for what… to reach the American border, to see the lights of the city sparkling like an electric Eden in the distance, to have her dream within her reach—only to have the cruel vines of fate twist about her wrists and ankles and pull her back.
The border control caught her. The blaring lights of the helicopter had glared down at her as she attempted to crawl her way into Texas. They caught her in her ragged clothes, her disheveled hair, her bleeding flesh. She could hardly drag her body along with her feet as she tramped across the dividing line. They brought her back to the police station and there she was, being readied for deportation back to Guatemala—where she would be killed for having attempted escape.
María observed Officer Martinez despairingly as he sat at his computer comfortably typing up her report. She thought it ironic that a man of heritage not too different from her own was deporting her. After all, hadn't his family once been immigrants too? María was no longer forlorn; she was not bitter, or discouraged, or miserable, or hateful. Her situation had reached a pinnacle of bleakness that she could feel nothing anymore. Such unfathomable melancholy was indescribable by words of any language.
That was when María noticed it. Luck would have its way with her again, that seductive chance of fate. It seemed to be illuminated by an ethereal glow on Officer Martinez's desk, the holster wrapped snugly around the lustrous gleam of the pistol. Without even thinking, María let her hand slowly drift towards the handle of the gun. Officer Martinez was too absorbed in the clacking of his keyboard to even notice the girl's movements. María let her finger swiftly loop itself into the trigger. Martinez didn't even hear the gun click. As soon as the shot fired, Martinez turned around and María Isabel was dead. She was the very image of the broken American dream.
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