Victoria had never experienced a storm like this! She could hardly see and in less than ten seconds, her clothes clung to her body like the wet T shirts the gringas wore at the hotel’s poolside bar. But she’d have to ignore her modesty right now; she needed help and headed for the neighbor’s home – an identical dwelling to her own. Victoria could see it looked as endangered as hers.
“Ines, you’ve got to come outside and see what’s happening to our houses.”
The eyes of her only friend in this hopeless place looked so frightened.
“Victoria what the hell are you doing?”
“Ines look up. It won’t be long before our roofs are blown away. Where is your husband?”
As soon as the words shot out of her mouth, Victoria lamented them. She didn’t want to make Ines feel worse. She reached out her hand and rested it briefly on the other woman’s cheek. Stoic and unsentimental, Ines simply said, “OK, let’s get on with it.” It seemed clear to both women that the roofs were of primary importance. Ines’ five children cried and tried to cling to her as she stepped out into the raging wind. “Get back, you’ve got to stay dry,” she said.
Clambering over a pile of tree trunks, that had been left lying on the ground after the last bad storm, Victoria’s vision just reached the edge of her hut’s window. She saw her children in there –resigned to whatever would come. Equal amounts of fear and fury rose up and out of her and she said to her friend,
“Ines we have to get some of these heavy pieces of wood up on the roofs to hold them down.”
” And how will we do that,” asked Ines.
“We’ll pile up these logs and stand on them.”
When they had three solidly stacked on top of one another, Victoria climbed up and told Ines,
“Help me raise one of the big round pieces.”
For half an hour the two women stretched, pulled, lugged and thumped down weight onto their flimsy roofs.
Their worry for the little ones, waiting below produced an energy and strength that neither of them imagined they possessed.
“You are as strong as one of the porters at the market,” said Ines.
“And I bet you could beat most men in the arm wrestling contests they hold down at the cantina,” Victoria told her friend.
When eight large thick branches had been firmly thumped into place – four atop each roof, Victoria said,
“Now we’ll lower the wash lines, throw them over top and anchor the whole works.”
After many attempts to get them positioned, the long ropes finally lay crisscrossed over the wooden weights straddling the humble homes.
“The rest is up to God,” said Victoria.
Too tired and too anxious, the women didn’t say goodnight but Victoria mouthed a kiss as she turned back to her four by four. Ines pantomimed a catch and held her hand to her heart. Verbal thanks and congratulations would come later – maybe.
Pati held back the crying toddlers while Lois opened the water sodden door and let her mother back inside. Rain seeped through wall cracks and Victoria stuffed her wet clothing into them. Naked but for her undergarments, sweat oozing from her exhausted body, she mopped up the puddles on the floor. Taking dry clothes from the shelves of the wardrobe she dressed each child carefully, cleaned their smudged faces and placed all four in the pink hammock. She then removed the vinyl cloth from the small table in the corner and loosely draped it over her bewildered babies.
“It’s like a game… help Mama… go to sleep now… it will be better in the morning.
The girls, lying foot to foot, hugged their brothers close and almost in unison, the quartet began to snore. Soft little nasal sounds. Like kittens purring…
After scraping off the mud and grime as best she could, Victoria slipped a cotton house dress over her head and lit the stub of a candle beneath the image tacked up on the wall. The faint flicker would be enough to show the Virgen de Guadalupe where she hid with her four treasures. The nuns from the mission where she received her First Communion told her that when the Queen of Heaven had appeared to Juan Diego she asked, “Am I not your mother?” Victoria took comfort in those words. She had to, there was nowhere else to look for it.
The wind came in wild waves; the rain seemed intent on soaking through every fissure in the plaster. When one of her makeshift dykes sprang a leak, Victoria would rise from her hammock and jam in whatever she could get her hands on. Clothing, towels, a cushion cover. The whole night … it went on and on. Victoria did not allow herself to sleep. She heard the storm growling above their heads and increased her prayers. The flame continued to burn, the candle stub did not go dark.
At one point, the whooshing seemed to abate, only to surge again. Later she would learn the name for the quiet period. The next day the neighbors would call it, “the eye of the storm.”
Dawn arrived and the wind wound down but rain still beat hard on her beleaguered building. When they were sleeping, she thought her children looked like four little tacos. Now they stretched and peeked out through the mesh.
“Girls, stay in the hammock until the day light shines enough for you to see your way through this muddy mess.” One baby tucked in her arms, Victoria crossed through the debris and retrieved the leftovers from last night’s windfall. Pati and Lois gratefully grabbed the plate. She leaned out for her other son who tumbled into her ample arms. While drinking their fill, as they’d done every day of their lives, the brothers took positions that accommodated one another.
Today would be hard. But what day was not? The mental checklist started:
Check on Ines… Find out about work… Get more food… Clean children… Clean floors,
Clean, Clean, Clean…
No sleep last night and it seemed doubtful that there would be any today.
So much lay ahead but right now, with her four children feeding and feeling full in the still standing four by four, she felt so powerful, so resilient, so… VICTORIOUS!