I am poised to start my retreat. In just two days I will retire from my usual activities and indulge in writing… for two weeks. While I am “down under” I will still post. I hope you’ll enjoy the updates, short stories, essays and poems that I’ll share with you from now until May 9th.
This first short story will be told over a two day period. It is based on a true account… Victoria lived in Cancun during the 1980s. Not much more than a girl herself, she found herself raising four children on her own…
FOUR BY FOUR
I’ll be on that bus so soon! Fifteen minutes to four. A quarter of an hour from now, Victoria would check the hotel time card, quickly peel off the very efficient-looking maid’s uniform, remove the regulation hair net, and step into the clothes she was used to.
She’d open her tattered tote for inspection, and then move towards the door set into the side of the building. The final indignity before exiting involved the security employee’s pat down. She figured he wouldn’t bother going too far today. He wanted to be on his way as much as she did.
She ached to see the four children waiting for her in the miniscule four meter by four meter shed. By rights, their house should be called a room. A total of sixteen square meters, the place featured nothing more than a rough cement floor, four leaning concrete block walls and a rusted tin roof.
Two hammocks slung from one side to the other, the clothes closet, a small table, two plastic chairs, a cupboard and her sewing machine comprised the entire household inventory. The kerosene burner and wash tub sat outside under a tall tamarind tree. The privy could be found still further back, by the rock wall.
Her two girls, Pati and Lois slept in the tattered blue hammock, and she, with the twins, in the faded pink one, They still nursed and fleeting thoughts of their slumbering moon-shaped faces filled her with such emotion that her eyes welled and she could feel her breasts filling. Crossing her arms, she applied firm pressure to her chest. The rushing abated. The wind picked up stronger with each minute and the rain drummed steadily.
Earlier this year, she became the sole provider for her four young children. Her eldest would be desperate by now. At six o’clock this morning she’d left the seven year old to look after them all, “Lois, you’re in charge but your sister will help you with the twins.”
The worst of Victoria’s anxiety centered on the fact that she’d been unable to leave much food. Just a loaf of bread. They’d gone all day with only that, and by now they surely waited for her like famished fledglings in a nest.
The sky looks so grey and the frothy clouds circle the horizon. Is it true what everyone is saying? Will a hurricane slam right into us tonight? ¡Ay Virgencita! How much more can I endure?
Victoria held on tightly to the bag she’d carry out of the hotel. Food. Her children would have their fill tonight. A large group of tourists cancelled their mid-day feast and the restaurant manager distributed the sumptuous dishes amongst the personnel – like Jesus with the loaves and fishes. A funny thing… the man told them his name. Jesús Santos – a saintly man. One of the few Victoria had ever met.
The driver of the employees’ bus dropped her at the downtown terminal and luckily, the one she needed to take to the “Zona Obrera” was just departing. And after forty bumpy minutes, Victoria stepped through her flimsy front door. Lois’ eyes widened with relief.
She and Pati passed the babies to their mother and the whimpering mouths rooted until they found Victoria’s nipples. They clamped on like tentacles. Stroking the bobbing dark haired heads, she felt sad to think they already knew how hunger feels. They’re a year and a half; soon I won’t have more milk to give them. How will I find the money to pay for it at the cooperative?
Too patiently for tiny girls, Lois and Pati begged permission to open the bag. Victoria nodded and laughed out loud when she saw the surprise on their faces. Meat! Lots and lots of meat!
And for a few treasured minutes, Victoria and her children felt supremely content in the four by four “first home” that she and her husband had been awarded upon their arrival in Cancun.
“Welcome Settlers!” the government official had said to them. She remembered the comparisons she made between the slapped together, shade-less workers compound and her traditional home in her pueblo, with its orange trees and leafy hibiscus. She immediately told her husband, “We need to go back where we have chickens, corn and comforts.” He grew angry when she said that and told her, “We’ll stay for one high tourism season and then, we’ll leave.”
One season turned into five, and six months ago, the leave taking finally happened – for him at least. He went north with his buddies – la banda. His farewell note, tucked up beside the serene face of the framed Virgen of Guadalupe simply stated, “I will make my fortune in Gringolandia, you’ll see…” So far, not one peso had come to her and the children.
How the wind blows! Victoria herded her small flock into the corner of the single room. Lois and Pati’s frightened faces convinced Victoria she needed to secure their fragile refuge.
I have to find the cause of the terrible racket! She passed the baby boys to their sisters. “Stay here and don’t even think about coming out, no matter what happens!”
The rusted tin roof raised and slammed down, raised and slammed down. The gusts of horizontal rain poured in. Just six-thirty and almost completely dark. She’d have to hurry! Looking up, she realized that the roof could be blown off at any moment.