The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories
She had risked her life and sacrificed her womanhood in exchange for an adequate existence in a foreign land, far away from her village; a place whose beauty is hidden behind a thick layer of dust, baked by the relentless heat from the sun and burdened by years and years of neglect. Its people pour out of their dwellings like soldier ants, single file, and single mined; and like ants, they carry burdens several times their body weight. They live in four-by-four cinder-block dwellings covered with corrugated metal roofs that turn into sweat boxes during the day, ice boxes during the night, and thunder domes during the rainy season.
She's an illegal immigrant. One of the thousands and thousands of people who abandon mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends to look for a so-called better life, thousands of miles away from their homes.
Her name is Maria Dolores. Her beautiful face is hidden behind a thick layer of skin scorched by the direct light from the tropical sun. Her eyes are like two cherries floating in a bowl of milk. Her hair shines with greasy slickness under the noontime sun and flows down the contours of her roundish head as melting paraffin from a poorly lit candle. Maria’s story, like her buried beauty, is not quite unique. Stories like hers had been told to wide-eyed children and unflinching women who had given up a husband, a father, a brother, in her village, to make the brutal trek north, but had failed to serve the purpose they were meant to fill: to keep others from leaving home.
The stories of this trek had become legendary, even mythological; with brave deeds, calamitous destinies of life and death, true-to-life struggles between good and evil. The stories had been told and retold by the few survivors who had managed to return, or had been spat back by the inhabitants of the northern lands they'd tried to conquer. The stories, with their vivid words, reveal the true soul of man: plain and bold, as when bone is revealed when the skin is peeled after the slaughter of the pig, or by the robotic, repetitious rapture of a machines processing chickens in a plant's conveyor belt.
Maria Dolores had survived the ordeal of passage. She had made the trek and settled in a northern town. Her story, like her buried beauty, is not quite unique:
Maria lives in one of three rooms of a three bedroom apartment she shares with close to a dozen strangers. Young men, young women, she never sees. She can only tell they share the rooms by the pairs of shoes piled up inside a closet. Maria Dolores gets up every day, including Sunday, at 4 o’clock in the morning to get ready for work. She doesn’t own an alarm clock. She doesn’t rely on the loud ringing of an alarm clock to wake up in time because Maria hears her own alarm that had grown out of necessity and desperation, and goes off inside her head at the exact time each morning. It has never failed her. Maria Dolores knows that if she fails to wake on time, every day, of every week, of every month, of every year, she will not have money to pay rent, or to pay for the ride that takes her to the processing plant. She will not have money for food, and no medicine for her unborn child. Maria can’t afford to miss the van that takes her to the plant. Not once.
Maria Dolores’ day begins in darkness. She must arrive at the street corner on time, without a minute to spare, to catch the van that will drive her to the Eastern Shore. The van that takes her, and about ten other women, will not wait. If Maria is late, the van will speed into the darkness without her.
Maria stands under the yellowish light of a street lamp. She stares at her swarthy shadow on the sidewalk with her head down, arms wrapped around her round belly, as if protecting the precious bulge from the bitter cold of the morning’s breeze. Maria Dolores leans on the light pole to support her aching back. She waits. It is 4 o’clock in the morning. Her back, legs, feet, head, lungs, ache today. More so than usual. She leans against the lamp post to relieve some of the pain that afflicts every inch of her body. It’s almost 5 o’clock in the morning. The van will soon arrive. Maria will soon be able to rest her body for two-hours-and-ten-minutes. Two-hours-and-ten-minutes of pain-relief. Two-hours-and-ten-minutes is exactly how much time it takes for the van to reach its destination. Maria knows that if she gets a seat in the van she will sleep uninterrupted for at least two-hours-and-ten-minutes, which is the time it takes the van to arrive at the processing plant.
Maria Dolores waits. She wears comfortable shoes. From the very first day when she stepped into the van, nearly four years to the date, she had been told by the ladies that share the ride every morning, that her life would be much easier if she wore comfortable shoes. They had told maria Dolores about the thrift store, run by the Salvation Army, where comfortable ‘sneakers’ could be had for a few dollars. They had even thrown in the advice of using 'Lysol' to spray the inside of her shoes every morning to prevent bad odor. Maria’s feet are the least of her worries. She is eight months pregnant with the child that had resulted from having risked her life and sacrificed her womanhood in exchange for an adequate existence. Her first and only child.
It is 5 o’clock in the morning. The van arrives on time. Maria Dolores rushes to the van. The sliding door opens to reveal many more women than usual, young and old; hunched over, leaning, slouching, sleeping, snoring. The van is nearly full. Maria Dolores is wearing comfortable shoes and a comfortable skirt. She manages to lift her leg up to the steps of the van. Her face twists in pain. She steps back down to the street and leans against the dirty side of the Van. She takes a deeper breath and whispers to herself exhaling “Hay mi Dios.”
Maria Dolores is in pain. A voice from the driver’s side of the van shouts a command: “IN OR OUT!”
Maria Dolores reaches for a helpful hand from one of the riders inside the van, she pulls her skirt up to her thigh and lifts herself into the van. She squeezes into one of the spaces left inside the van and sits in pain. Maria breaths heavily as she cradles her belly with a motherly embrace and whispers “duerme nene” to her protruding bulge while gently patting on the side of her belly with the one available hand.
Maria closes her eyes and shifts her body slowly to squeeze a little more room where there’s none to be had. The van is replete with women on their way to the Eastern Shore to work in the processing plants. There, they will stand for twelve hours on their comfortable shoes while they slice, dice, peal, and pack chickens. Maria Dolores will do the same for twelve, thirteen or even fifteen hours; whatever time it takes to get the money to pay rent, food, and medicine for her unborn child.
Two-hours-and-ten-minutes, sharp! The van stops outside the dusty compound of the processing plant. The light from the morning sun paints the sky with an eerie yellow tan, the same color of the light bulbs hanging from barbed wires atop a chain-link fence that surrounds the perimeter of the plant. Several vans are already parked in a long and lazy line. The dust from the unpaved parking lot lingers and covers the faces of each of the men and women who walk in a procession of human beings forming a long and winding line that looks like soldiers ants making their way back to the ant hill. They move silently towards the entrance of the plant where a guard in a booth waring a khaki uniform checks and examines the “ID” cards of every man, and woman, accessing the compound through a narrow turnstile that clicks and squeaks as each body brakes right through it.
Maria Dolores has reached her destination. She’s one of thousands who had abandon mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends to look for a so called better life a thousand miles away from home. Maria had lived up to her appellation, she had risked her life and sacrificed her womanhood in exchange for an adequate existence in a foreign land, far away from her village. The doors of the van finally slide open. It’s occupants disembark slowly, they cross themselves with crooked fingers, and mouth-out a prayer to Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, ‘La Dolorosa,” as they begin their trek across the dusty lot to reach the uninviting gate of the processing plant. All, but two: Maria Dolores and her never-to-be-born child.
© Oswaldo jimenez September 7th 2012
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