Pepe: In my country, se habla pero no se hacen nada.
Carlos, Sr.: Everybody is on strike--the doctors, the teachers, even the damn futbolistas!
Mama Maritza: Una mosca, una mosca, siempre estan moscas en la mesa.
Lucia bent over to pick up the last handful of the day's wash, supporting her aching back with one hand as she straightened up to hang the faded clothes on the line. She paused for a moment to glance around at the decaying buildings which surrounded her perch atop the Rio-Tex Savings and Loan building in Houston, Texas . . . America. All around her bricks were crumbling and mortar was coming loose. Some of the buildings looked so decrepit that it seemed as if they would tip over if too many pigeons gathered on one side of the roof. The drab greyness of the scene combined with the overcast, smog-filled sky to bring a tear to her eye as she remembered her tiny but pleasant village in the foothills of the Bolivian Andes.
Was that a pan-flute she heard, lifting a sweet and tranquil melody in the air, or was it only the sound of the cars thirteen stories below fighting their way through the grueling Houston morning rush hour traffic? It really didn't matter to her just now--she closed her eyes and allowed the sound to carry her back to La Villa de Buen Suerte, the Village of Good Luck, where she and countless generations of her family had lived in peace and contentment for hundreds of years. A few chickens, a plot of maiz growing beside the small thatched-roof shack, fresh coca leaves to chew to ward off the hunger until the dinner hour--that was all she knew or needed then, and she had been happy, oh, so
happy . . .
She pulled a clothes pin from her mouth and silently cursed the day eight years before when Antonio had showed up in her village, the shiny bumpers of his Inca Cola delivery truck outshined only by the dazzling gold cap on one of his front teeth. That smile--oh,that smile! How she loved and hated that man's face! She was only fourteen then, but when he asked her one day to ride with him to his next stop, Villa Maria, she had accepted, even though she knew it was wrong. And when he had stopped the truck half-way along the eighteen-kilometer ride to the village, and had slid his hand gently but awkwardly down the front of her blouse and had squeezed her still-forming breasts, she had allowed him to, gazing dreamily into his dark twinkling eyes--eyes which seemed to her to exude the very essence of life itself. And when on his next visit he had loosened her skirt and committed THE ACT with her, she had not resisted, had even felt a twinge of pleasure, even though she knew from what the nuns had taught her that to feel pleasure, especially in such a sinful union, was not a woman's right.
Why did she agree to go with him that day? Why did she allow him complete dominion over her mind, her soul, even her body? Why, when he had shown up three months later after not seeing her once since the day they had committed THE ACT had she consented to go with him to El Norte, to the United States of America, away from everything she knew and loved? But that was all over now, and Lucia opened her eyes, feeling a little foolish as she realized that those were all questions which no longer needed answers, since she was now here and not there.
Here, she thought disdainfully, was a lonely apartment atop this run-down office building--the savings and loan had failed three years ago, leaving nothing but a collection of shady insurance agents, scheister lawyers, and sleazy private eyes to inhabit its dark corridors--in downtown Houston, Texas, America. "It's the land of riches and opportunity for everyone," Antonio had told her excitedly when he was convincing her to accompany him on that far-off day. Yes, this was the land of opportunity all right, for everyone except Antonio and his gullible girlfriend, thought Lucia as she hung the last pair of Antonio's faded jeans on the line and headed inside. After eight years in America, they were still almost as poor as when they had arrived, even though they were a few material possesions to the better. She sighed and clicked on the TV, which still had a pretty good picture even though the glass was scratched and the speakers rattled whenever anyone spoke. It was almost time for The Beautiful Ones, her favorite program. Even though she still didn't understand much of what they were saying, she liked to see the fancy clothes the women wore and dream of someday living in a house like that . . .
Antonio was at work downstairs, where he was the all-around maintenance man and Fix-It King for the building. It was not an easy job, since the building was falling apart and old Mr. Kleinman who now owned it was such a tight-fisted old cabron that Antonio was forever having to improvise ways to repair things which should have been replaced long ago. Everybody in the offices seemed to love Antonio, especially the secretaries, for whom he was always fixing this or that, and sometimes when Antonio was late coming home Lucia would start to wonder . . .
For his sixty-plus hours per week Antonio earned free rent in their two-room apartment and seventy-five dollars a week cash. They seemed to get by on it, though, as Maria was frugal with the grocery money, even though things were SO expensive here. At least God had not cursed them with any bebitos to care for, because then they would really have it tight. As it was, she had managed to put away a little rainy day money in a peanut butter jar she kept hidden under the sink--she didn't dare tell Antonio about it for fear he would blow it on something exravagant. Sometimes, when she knew he was gone and wouldn't be back until the evening, she would take out her peaunut butter jar and count her savings--as of last week she had saved one-hundred and seven dollars and sixty-two cents. She wasn't quite sure what they would ever use it for, but she felt better knowing it was there.
Today on The Beuatiful Ones one of Lucia's favorite characters, Belinda Bradford, was supposed to get married. Oh, what a wedding that would be! There would be splendid cakes and beautiful dresses and men dressed in handsome tuxedos--how she wished she had been invited! She was like a little bird alone all day in her roof-top cage, and these characters were the only real friends that she had--she loved them as if they were her own family. When they were sick, she prayed to the Saints to heal them, when they had joy, she shared in it, when they died, she wept until her eyes were red and pleaded with the Blessed Virgin to forgive their many sins (and ho, how they sinned!) and allow them to enter into eternal peace with the Heavenly Father.
For today's wedding she had thought of sending a card, but that would mean at least a dollar for the card, and another twenty-five cents for the stamp. That would leave her only one hundred and six dollars and thirty-seven cents--it would take her at least a week to be able to regain her loss! No, Belinda would just have to be satisfied with her best wishes this time.
During the commercial, Lucia stood up and made herself a cup of coffee in the kitchen, the old way, with hot milk, sugar, and coffee. It was the one extravagance she allowed herself here--well, except for the Oreo cookies. She had seen them advertised on TV once, and it looked like so much fun to take them apart and lick the creamy filling out of the center that she just HAD to try it. Besides, she had found a coupon for twenty-five cents in one of the newspapers that Antonio brought home every night. He would find them in wastebaskets after the offices closed, and brought them home to practice his English. As for Lucia, she couldn't read either Spanish or English, but she recognized the twenty-five cents sign and the appetizing picture of the Oreo cookie on the coupon. Ever since then, she kept a package of Oreos in the refrigerator, allowing herself exactly one cookie each morning and one in the afternoon. This way, the package lasted more than two weeks, and she made up for the cost of the cookies by skipping lunch. How careful she was with their money! Antonio will be proud of her one of these days when he sees how much she has saved. Maybe they could buy a car--not a new one, of course--but something to get them out of the filth and heat of the city, even if only on Sundays in the afternoon. On the television she had seen pictures of the beautiful beaches along the coast, where one could still find a quiet place to walk without all the noise and stench of the city, just the sound of the birds chirping and the scent of the ocean. She had never smelled the ocean before, but she was sure it must be a pleasant smell.
The commercial had ended, but the milk wasn't quite as hot as she usually liked it. Oh, well, it would have to do--this was one episode she just couldn't miss! She quickly poured the milk into the cup and stirred in the coffee and sugar. She opened the refrigerator and pulled out one of the precious cookies with the creamy filling in the middle, then hurried into the living room to watch the show.
How beautiful they all looked, she thought, with their hair by Clairol and their make-up by Max Factor. She and Antonio had once taken the bus to the mall and had seen the magnificent stores where she was sure the actresses must buy all their clothes. Lucia had been ashamed to go in to any of the stores, though, realizing that Antonio could not afford to buy her any of the expensive dresses. She sighed and broke open her cookie, sticking her tongue into the delicious creamy center while she watched the bride promenade up to the front of the cathedral. What a beautiful, beautiful dress, she thought. It must have cost at least a hundred dollars!
When the wedding was over, Lucia wiped her eyes, drained her coffee cup, and savored the last few crumbs of her cookie. She then got up, pulled her peanut butter jar out from under the sink, and counted out exactly one dollar and twenty-five cents, no, there would be tax on the card, she remembered, so she took out eight cents more.
Before she put the jar back under the seat, though, a twinkle came to her eye and a strange smile appeared on her lips.
Almost mechanically, she counted out one hundred dollars in five dollar bills and slipped them into the pocket of her apron. She was going to help Belinda cover the cost of her wedding dress. After all, she thought, what are friends for? With a beaming smile on her face, she replaced the jar, turned off the TV, and hurried out the door to mail her gift.