“I walk every morning. To the store. Then back to my home. My tiny wooden shack, where Mother, Marco, Aba, Javier, and I somehow manage to live. The tiny wooden shack where we sit and eat the scraps of a rich man’s meal. Where we mourn. Where we dream. Where we cry. Where we sleep on the floor. Where we are.”
I walk every morning. To the store. Then back to my home. My tiny wooden shack, where Mother, Marco, Aba, Javier, and I somehow manage to live. The tiny wooden shack where we sit and eat the scraps of a rich man’s meal. Where we mourn. Where we dream. Where we cry. Where we sleep on the floor. Where we are.
The shack sits in the middle of our little community at the brink of the state of Texas, where the nearest town of Caradan is about half an hour away. Mother says we need to save every single penny if we want to ever get a normal house. She says we must not horse around, or we will become repartriadas, deportees. I know this because our old neighbors were deported just after their oldest son stole a piece of bread from the nearby bake shop. Aba, my abuelo, says it’s all consequences for their ancestors’ sins. As far as everyone else is concerned, it’s for real. Marco, my dog, is always ramming into things and is the reason for our family’s broken door. The door, though, is not the only broken thing. We too are broken, the lot of us. We have been broken since last year when Father fell off of the roof trying to fix our old house back in Mexico and died. That was only the beginning. The beginning of the end. And the end of the beginning.
I slowly drag myself across this never-ending path of sun. My bare feet burning everytime I take a step.
“Can’t afford shoes,” says Mother.
I wish we could. I really do. I look up at the scorching sun, droplets of water rolling down my face. I look back down at my dress that Mother washed yesterday. It’s soaked. It has turned from its usual dusty blue, to a dark navy. It sticks to my skin. I hate that. I keep walking. I never stop. Father always used to say how strong I am. I intend to try and make his angel believe that. Then, in the distance I see a man. He is waving at me. He seems happy. He beckons me to come to him. It’s Father. He wants me to come over to the other side. I want to come over to the other side. I run. I run and run and run. But Father only seems to be getting farther and farther away. I break down. I drop. I don’t care. Let me go. Let me leave. Let me go to the other side. Please. And then… I go.
Except I don’t. I don’t go. Because I wake up and see Javier standing over me with a grin on his face.
“You’re awake,” he says, kissing my forehead. I stare at him. I don’t smile. He frowns. “What’s wrong? Are you hungry?” he asks, handing me a piece of the bread I bought earlier today. I push it away. I sit up and walk. Straight out of the room. Straight out of the shack. Mother is sitting on a bench talking to Aba, and Marco is chasing a hen. Mother sees me.
“Carmen, you are awake,” she mumbles, and motions for me to sit down next to her. I sit. I know not to be too soft with Mother because ever since Father’s passing, she has been sorrowful and harsh. Her gaze is hard. Always.
“Yes, Mother. I am awake. What happened? Why didn’t I go to the other side?” I ask.
“My miel dulce, sweet honey,” he says. “My Carmenita, you fainted. We got worried, so Javier went to find you.” I know his words are meant to be soothing and informative, but they are scary.
“Aba, I saw him.” I gulp, glancing at Mother, her head down. “I saw… Father.” Aba tries to force out a reassuring grin, but it turns out to be a frown. Mother stands up in one sharp movement. Her black, silky hair in a messy plait. Her blouse dirtied. Her skirt ripped. Her shoes falling apart. Her wonderful, tan skin covered in black dust. She runs her oily hands through her hair and sighs. She turns around to face me and Aba with a sudden smile.
“Mother… I… I didn’t mean to,” I manage to get out. Instead, she just simply waves it away.
“Carmen, I should have told you this before, but me and Aba are sending you to live with the Smiths. In Salineño. As a housemaid,” Mother says, extending her hands out to me.
I gape at her. “Salineño? But that’s miles away, away from you. And Javier and Aba.”
Then, the tears come. They wash away the dirt that stains my face. But they don’t wash away the pain. Mother taps Aba, and both of them go inside to make dinner. I sit on the bench and rub my knees. I lean back against the hard metal the shack is made of. I stare at the stars. The way they move through the sky with ease. The sky turns darker and darker, until all I can see is the light in the next shack. Then, the light goes out. I walk back inside. I skip dinner. I remove my bodice and undo my braids. Carefully, I set down my blanket and fall asleep. A sleep I wish could last forever.
Forever. Forever. I love that word. The way it rolls off my tongue like water. But when I realize forever isn’t forever, everything stops. And the water. The water becomes dry. Dry. Dry in my mouth. My soul. Me. Dry Water.
“Do you have everything?” asks Aba the next morning. I look down at my little, sad cloth with my doll, undergarments, a relatively clean shirt, and a picture of my family. When it was whole.
“Yes,” I answer, my expression blank. Mother comes into the room.
“Carmen, are you ready?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say again. I tie the cloth together and drag it out of the room. Marco comes running into the shack. He jumps on me and licks my face.
“Oh, stop it!” I yell, grinning for the first time in awhile. A long while. I go outside. A cloud of sand sweeps through. I cough. My friend Antonia finds me.
“Hola, Carmenita,” she says. “Te vas?” I look at her.
“Sí,” I answer, eager to get away from her because I want to begin my journey.
“Antonia!” I hear. Finally. Her mother calls.
“Adios, amiga,” she says, waving at me as she runs to her mother.
These Smith people are supposed to be very rich, which I do not believe. At all. I don’t know what to do next. I should probably say bye to everyone. No. No, I will not. I will leave. I am independent. I am strong. I can do this by myself. So, I walk. I walk away from this dreaded community of immigrants. Where there is no food. No water. No money. No clothes. No father.
I look down at my dress. It is a sunny yellow. It is nice. Except it is small. I am twelve now. I cannot fit in small dresses. I wear my mother’s wedding shoes. They are white sandals. They are also nice. I like wearing nice things. Father would have loved to see me wear nice things. Even my cloth is a bit nice. A bit. Mother gave me a dirty, worn-out, yellow towel to put on my head if I get too hot. So, I do. It matches my dress after all. I hum a tune from a song Abuela used to sing to me before she died. Too much death in my family.
My humming is soon swallowed by the sound of thumping. No. More like stomping. Like the sound of hooves. Hooves. Horses. I see a storm of dust rising up as the sound approaches me. Horses. Highwaymen. Pretty things. Dresses. White sandals. I panic. I do the sensible thing. Run. I run and hide behind a mangly, old bush. Through a little crack in the leaves, I watch as four horses pass by me, each one with a man all dressed in black on top. Once they are gone, I set out again.
By the start of the second hour, my sandals are a tan shade and are filled with sand and dust. My lips are cracked and are bleeding. I suck on the blood as I don’t have water. My throat is dry, and my voice mimicking a frog. My towel is soaked with sweat, and my legs shake with every step. With every step, my heart gets heavier. I begin to slow down. Take a rest. Yes. I should. I will. I am. I lie down on the side of the road and cover my head with my towel.
I do not get much rest. Someone taps me. I ignore them.
“Eh… girl, you a’right there?” asks an unfamiliar voice. I remove the towel from my head. Above me is a face. A handsome face. I blush. No. Stop. No time for games. I sit up.
“Um… yes… hello,” I say, awkwardly fiddling with my hair.
“Erm…’ello. My name is Seamus. I’m thirteen. Erm, Seamus Smith that is,” Seamus says, helping me up. My face heats up.
“Hola… erm… I mean hello. My name is Seamus. Um, sorry. My name is Carmen Lopez,” I mumble, tucking my hair behind my ear. “I need to get going, to Salineño. My family is sending me to live with the Smiths, which I presume is your family. I am to be your maid,” I add. Seamus’s face lights up.
“Hey, hey. I was also heading to Sal, had to visit my aunt. I can take you,” he exclaims, grabbing my hand and pulling me toward an automobile standing in the road. I stop in my tracks, jerking Seamus backward. “Oh, um sorry… for taking your hand, I didn’t mean to do that,” he whispers, letting go. His face turns a violent shade of pink.
“What? No! It’s not that. It’s just… ” I feel weird. “I have never actually seen an automobile.” I say, clicking my heels together.
“Oh, well, you just get in and drive,” Seamus explains, opening the door. He gets in. It seems easy. I follow the same steps. Open the door. Put one foot in. Put in the other. Then sit. I do it. “See, not so hard, eh?” Seamus asks, looking for a sign of agreement in my eyes.
“No, not at all,” I answer, eager to move.
“Ready?” asks Seamus, putting his foot on the pedal.
“Ready!” I yell. Then, whoosh. We go fast. I start screaming. “I am flying!”
I stand up on my seat and rise. The wind. The wind blows through my hair. The sweet wind. Like a river. Flowing with me. The wind. My sunny yellow dress flings up. But I don’t care. I don’t worry. Because for once in my life, I don’t have to.
“Is this it, your house?” I ask as we pull up to a medium sized, white house. The first thing I notice is that the air isn’t clear, but is rather dusty.
“Yep. The man of the house, my dad, Arnold, makes his money off farming. We have a barn in the back with some cattle and chickens. I expect you’ll be helping,” says Seamus. He gets out of the car and opens my door for me. I step out of the car onto the gravel.
“Not to be rude, but are they nice?” I ask. “The folks?” I know that this is not my place to ask.
“I guess so. Mom’s kind. Dad’s smart. And my sister, Lily, is very annoying,” answers Seamus. Our talk, though, is interrupted by a girl who looked about my age, storming out of the Smith house.
“Seamus! What are you doing?” she asks. “And what is that?” she adds, pointing at me with a clean finger complete with a nice, blue fingernail. Seamus ruffles his flaming red hair. I stand there, cracking up. “What? Are you laughing? I shall tell my father!” she declares, marching back into the house. The girl is so prim and perfect, but so angry that it is a bit funny.
“Shall we?” asks Seamus.
“Yes, we shall.” And with that we follow Lily.
I sit on the floor, cloth in hand. Mrs. and Mr. Smith look down upon me with faces of concern.
“Are you sure this is her?” asks Mrs. Smith.
“Yes dear, I’m sure,” answers Mr. Smith. Then, they turn their eyes back on me. I am used to being stared at. For starters, my hair is very long and almost reaches my buttocks. My left arm looks a bit… well, wrong. My elbow pokes inward instead of aligning with the rest of my arm because of an accident when I was little.
“Carmen, why don’t you go sit down at the table?” insists Mrs. Smith.
“Yes, ma’am,” I mumble, sounding extremely monotone. I sit down on the velvet cushioned chair. Mrs. Smith takes a seat down across from me. I notice that her appearance is completely the opposite of mine. Her skin a milky white. Her hair is in a curly bob and has a mean glint to it. Her eyes are an ocean blue. She is wearing a white dress, with a boa placed gently over her shoulders.
“Carmen Lopez. Daughter of Ines Lopez and Gordon Lopez?” asks Mrs. Smith, reading from a yellow paper. I feel like a dog, answering these questions.
“Yes, ma’am,” I answer. I put my cloth in my lap and rest my head on the table.
“Are you tired?” asks Mrs. Smith. Enough with the questions. I want to go.
“Yes, ma’am,” I say yet again.
“Right then,” Mrs. Smith starts. “Arnold! Can you lead the girl to her room?”
I immediately bring my head up in surprise. I get my own room? Mr Smith walks in and asks me to come with him. His appearance is much like his wife’s. He is stout, though Mrs. Smith is tall. He wears a black suit and has very elegant and manly glasses. I am hypnotized by his tie. The way it sways back and forth when he walks. Its perfect stitching. Its wonderful pattern. The dark brown and purple diamonds perfectly in place. Together we walk up the stairs. It is carpeted with a fine, black fabric. The walls are crowded with pictures of the Smith family. There are many. Photography is amazing. I rarely see any pictures though. I take each one in. I think my favorite is the one where Lily is covered in mud.
“Was it hard?” asks Mr Smith, bringing me back to the real world.
“What?” I quickly ask, confused.
“Was it hard losing your father?” he says, looking a little shy. I freeze. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable,” he says.
“It was hard. I miss him,” I say, my voice soft. I continue to walk up the stairs, staring at the pictures. Happy. They are happy. No pain or struggle is shown in them. Nothing.
We reach the top floor. It looks slightly smaller and dirty than everything else. The walls are a flaky white, and there is a rather ugly table at the side of the hallway. At the end of the corridor, there is a small, locked door that is painted a vague yellow. Like my dress.
“This way,” says Mr. Smith, pointing to the door. I walk, taking in the smell of paint. Mr. Smith unlocks the door and gestures for me to go in.
“This is your home now,” says Mr. Smith. I freeze.
Do I want this to be my home? Do I really?
Mother. Home. Family. The Smiths are not my family. I have one family. They sent me away. But are they really my family? Nice people don’t send their children away to live with Lily. Mother is not nice. But it is Father’s fault. He died. He left us. He tore the family apart. He is happy. In the sky. He has friends. And food, and clothes, and a home.
No. He has no home. Home is where your family is. He has no family. Well, at least not anymore. I have no family. People say family is who you share blood with. No. Family is who loves you. Who cares for you. If I had all the money in the world, I’d throw it out. Money doesn’t give you family. You earn family. You fight for it. Not send it away. I am mad. Angry. Hurting. If the Smiths find me useless, they will send me away to my not-family. They will not want me either. No one wants me. I wish I had gone with Father that day in the desert. To the other side. Where I would be wanted. But who is to say that is true? Lily says that even though I live with a rich family, in a rich town, I will never be one of them. I can fake it. I can walk and talk with them. But I will always be me. Carmen Lopez. Poor, stupid, ugly, fake. Me. They are all water in a river. I am water too. But I am dry.
Entering the room I see a small, metal bed. A broken wooden table is set next to the bed. I stand in the doorway. Shocked. In awe. I drop down on my knees and pray to God. I thank him for this home where I have a room, and food, and running water. I ask him to keep my other family safe. Mr. Smith walks away leaving me on the floor. After praying and thanking God for giving me a home, I find a letter on the sheets of the bed. Strange, I think. Why would a letter be addressed to me? I mean, sure, but why me? The poor Carmen that I am. I pick up the letter. It looks old. It’s a tannish color with messy writing on it. I can’t read, so I ask Mr. Smith to read it for me before he walks away.
I am so sorry for sending you away. I was angry. You know I was. I am sorry, my love. I need the money. We need the money. It’s not fair that you have to go to a strange Americano family because of me. I miss you. If you want, you may come home.
I freeze. Mother cares. She knows that I know she is angry. I have seen an offer to come home. But it isn’t home. I have already racked my brain about that three times over. Do I want to go to where my brother and Aba and dog and Mother are? Or do I want to stay here where I will be fed and bathed? Where I will have a house and a bed? Where I will wear nice clothes, not potato dresses or my brother’s old overalls. I sink into the bed and rest my head on the pillow. The letter sits on my stomach. I think long and hard. I weigh both sides, and I realize that the Smiths’ side is heavier. Here I will have just a glimpse of promise and future. Here I won’t be malnourished. Here I’ll be okay.
For once I feel as if I have a home. For once I feel I am at rest with not only myself but the world. I am peaceful. Calm. I am dry water, showered with the drops of a new rain.