Texas: A Child
A Short Story by E.M.S.
"Jesus, Jesus, please forgive me," Nahal muttered softly as the fan buzzed overhead. The teenager lay in the dirty hammock, her sweat making dark rings on the thin fabric as it threatened to soak through. Another great pain swelled within her as she placed the damp rag over her mouth to muffle her cry.
Demetria, the little sister, held her hand softly muttering prayers underneath her breath. Glancing around the young girl noticed that dinner had not been made and the floor had not been swept. She gently let go of Nahal's drenched hand.
"I'm sorry, I must," Demetria leaned over and whispered into her sister's ear. She wondered if Nahal had even heard her.
Demetria grabbed the weathered broom and began to sweep the far corner of the room. It was hardly any use to sweep the floor free of dirt, since that was what it mostly consisted of. The only purpose of sweeping at all was to keep the food crumbs and scraps of cloth from piling up. Demetria swayed her hips along with the broom as she copied the "swish-swash" sound with her mouth.
"Swish-swash," She breathed lightly. A small giggle escaped her mouth before she suddenly remembered that her sister lay in a hammock nearby in great pain, possibly dying.
"I am dying, Mama," Nahal had said earlier that day as she washed dishes in the rusted sink.
"You're not dying you miserable girl," Mama had replied. "When I was pregnant I was made to do much harder work than you are doing now. My futter made me plow in the fields and walk into the city to get the milk and eggs. He wouldn't even let me take the car. Consider yourself that lucky, at least."
Nahal only proceeded to moan as she crouched down, heaping herself into a pile in between the sink and the fridge. "I am dying, I know it."
Mama whipped the towel over Nahal's legs in a swift motion, which left a red mark. "We're all hot. Get up you stupid girl."
After that incident Mama left for work and Demetria watched Nahal as she sat crumpled in a sweaty form of bronzed skin, black hair, and loose clothing.
That had only been a few hours earlier and now she lay in a hammock expressing her misery.
"Jesus, Jesus, please forgive me." She mumbled again, almost incoherently. Demetria looked over at her once beautiful sister. She had been so beautiful; she still was in Demetria's eyes. But instead of a bronzed, muscular body she had now thinned out considerably save the small bump that was her stomach. Black hair soaked with sweat draped across her slender shoulders and small breasts. Demetria dropped the broom to the floor and padded in her bare feet over to her sister. Kneeling down before her Demetria saw that the dust stuck to her knees and the soles of her feet. She didn't care.
As quickly as Demetria began to braid Nahal long hair another great groan escaped her mouth.
"Call Melina," she said breathlessly, eyes still shut. Demetria nearly tripped over herself as she rushed to their next-door neighbor, an older woman who was known in the southern part of Texas for her natural medical techniques and herbs. Though she moved very little and did not travel far from her home people sought her far and wide.
It was not long before Demetria had returned, the withered Melina in tow. The old woman walked with a hunched back and a bag slung over her shoulders towards Nahal.
"Is Nahal going to be ok?" Demetria asked.
"She will be," Melina said through frayed lips and broken teeth. "Go now. Leave us."
Demetria opened the door like she was going, but then Melina turned her back, so she slipped in between the fridge and the couch. She could only see Melina's legs when she sat down and Nahal's body against the cotton hammock, but she could hear. She could find out if Nahal was really going to die.
Demetria heard Melina ask Nahal about her baby. Nahal briefly stared at the swirling fan, which did nothing but move around the suffocating air, and then started to cry. Great big crocodile tears rolled down her face. She explained to Melina that she had bought some medicine from a girl at a club.
"She said it would work," Nahal sighed softly placing the moist cloth over her eyes. "If I had known it would hurt this bad I would've never taken it."
And then all Nahal could say was, "Jesus, Jesus, please forgive me."
Melina ground up some chamomile leaves and stirred them into hot water. She brought the chipped clay mug to Nahal's lips.
"You should go to the hospital."
Nahal replied that she couldn't because then the church would find out that she had taken the medicine and it would be a disaster for that to happen. Also she knew that in order to get treated at the hospital you needed to have an identity card and Nahal could not find hers. In fact, she had lost it the night she went to the club. She deftly wondered if she had dropped it in the toilet when she was vomiting up her Alabama Slammer. Alcohol didn't settle well in the stomach of a pregnant woman; she knew this now.
"You'll need strength for this," Melina explained as she grabbed a banana out of the creel loosely hanging off the wall. She tapped the banana against the counter.
"Not ripe," she declared as she tossed the banana to the floor, the dirt immediately clinging to the peel.
Demetria crept forward as quietly as she could as grabbed the banana. She shook her head at Melina for throwing a perfectly good piece of fruit to the dust. She could've at least placed it back in the creel.
The young girl tiptoed to the door and opened it, trying to make it appear as though she had just come in.
"Mama will be home soon."
Melina turned her head slightly and Nahal didn't move at all. The fan began to sputter overhead.
Demetria couldn't tell how late it was since the shutters were closed, to keep what was left of the cool air in. She wondered if it was time for Roundup Cowgirl to come on. Sometimes Mama would come home early and watch it with Demetria, eat a gyros, and prop her feet up on the couch.
Mama would not be propping her feet up on the couch tonight. Demetria feared what Mama would say when she found out what Nahal had done. Demetria thought that it was incredibly terrible for her sister to do what she had done, but her fear and love for Nahal outweighed the distaste she had for her actions.
At the precise moment that Demetria turned the television on Mama came trotting through the old, rickety door with two canvas bags full of food. Demetria momentarily forgot about Nahal as she excitedly skipped over to her mother and planted a kiss on the woman's worn and weathered cheek.
" Get off you wild girl and help me put this food away."
Demetria quickly searched through the bags to see what food had been brought. So much food was a rare treat. Demetria wondered what Mama had sold to get so much money. Truly, it was not much money at all, but for this small immigrant Greek family, it was.
"Where is your sister?" Mama asked impatiently. Before Demetria could say anything Mama had walked into the other room only to see Melina hovering over Nahal.
"Melina!" Mama exclaimed in surprise. "Why do you come to my home?"
"Nahal called for me and Demetria brought me. She will not carry this child out. She has ruined his chances of life and I fear that he is a boy. I have done what I can to ease her pain, but she is in God's hands now."
With that, Melina shrugged her cotton shawl onto her shoulders, walked out the house, and padded with bare feet on the dirt road.
Mama stood in the door for a moment looking out at the desert as the sun began to set. A dry, hot wind blew across her pulling strands of her long, graying hair from her braid. A single tear flowed down her hardened face as a bristled shrub whistled in front of the door. Mama quickly shook the tear from her cheek and shut the door.
"You ridiculous girl," she spoke to Nahal with venom dripping from her voice. "What have you done? We take what we are given and make better of it. You have thrown what you were given to the stench of the dead. Do you see me being kefi? Do you see me enjoying life? No, I work hard for you and this is how you betray me. I work hard to bring us into this country, which is no more than a wasteland as dry as you father was. At least Greece had trees and the ocean."
Mama buried her face into her hands for a brief moment, before letting out a deep-throated sigh. "Ah, I miss the ocean."
Her head rose with dark eyes glaring. "Be done with your sin and leave my house. I give you until tomorrow. You are no longer my daughter. I renounce you of my blood, stranger."
Demetria could only stare as Mama left the house. Where she went, Demetria had no idea. But Nahal appeared as though she had heard none of Mama's words and lay heaving on the hammock in a pool of sweat. Her chest lifted heavily on each breath and each contraction.
"Demetria," she cried out softly. "Demetria, help me. Mama has abandoned me. Take it away from me."
Demetria was almost unsure of what she meant when she said it. Suddenly a small fist sized shape massed in blood and tissue slid out from between Nahal's legs. She made no sound or effort and appeared as though dead. Demetria leaned close to Nahal's chest and listened for breath. She heard it, however soft. Demetria then grabbed a towel and scooped the mass up into it.
Stumbling outside into the humid darkness she walked slowly to the street lamp and looked down at the ball of blood between her hands. She saw for the first time that it was indeed a baby. She stared wide eyed at the lifeless infant. It (for she could not tell if it was a boy or a girl) had two dime sized hands, two feet, and even two eyes, although they were plastered shut by a gossamer piece of skin. A tiny little mouth was there. Demetria could even make out the pale, colorless lips. She slowly wiped away the blood and the tissue that surrounded the child until it soon looked more like a baby than a wad of fleshy substance.
Demetria suddenly felt a great sadness well up inside of her as she realized that she was holding her nephew or niece. "Oh baby," she sighed helplessly. "To Parelthon Thimithika. I remembered the past, where ghosts staid in their graves and mother's did not bury their children. Where has that past gone?"
Demetria walked under the blanket of stars that engulfed southern Texas. They shown brightly down onto the treeless desert and the array of cactus and small hut like houses, where the community of Hispanic, Greek, and Asian immigrants alike came to be poor together. But as Demetria stared into the sky at the twinkling stars, numbered by the billions, she did not feel poor or insignificant. She felt small and powerless, but she also felt loved and safe. She relished in the thought that she did not have to be in control when there was a God who spun the world on his fingertips and played cat's cradle with the galaxies. Demetria did not know much about God, except for the fact that He had made all things.
As she knelt in the dust and sand by one of the tallest cacti she had ever seen, her favorite, she dug a small hole. Thick dirt caked her hands and dug deep under her fingernails, but she did not care. She took the child and placed it in the hole on top of the towel. Kneeling down she kissed the baby on its tiny forehead. She folded the towel over its head and pushed the dirt over the small lifeless body.
"I would give you a name," she whispered as she patted the mound of dirt, "but I think God has a much better one in mind for you."
Demetria then stood up without even bothering to brush the dirt from her legs. She looked at the little grave one last time as a small tear slipped into the dust, unnoticed.
"Oh Jesus. Please forgive us."