Through the hammering of the rain on the steel roof, Maria could hear Rosita bellowing. She closed the kitchen window and turned the portable stove off, leaving the beans to cool as shehurried out of the concrete shack. The rain soaked her thin cotton dress and stung her eyes. The sky was black and the wind made the trees bend unnaturally. Rosita was trying to free herself from the wooden pole she was tied to. Her hooves were stuck in the muddy ground.
She untied the calf and led her towards a shed that stood crookedly at the back of the house. It was made out of old pieces of wood and corrugated iron sheets. It had no windows and a broken bulb hung from the ceiling. The small space was covered in old furniture and stacks of outdated magazines. Maria cleared a small corner and covered the floor with straw.Rosita nibbled on the stiff yellow stems. The wind slammed against the walls, making the shed move from side to side. Rosita shifted her weight and kicked a tattered chair with her hind legs. Maria tried to pat her head, but she pulled away. She wanted to keep the shed clear for the calf, but her mother insisted that it was a waste of space and that cows were meant to live out in the open.
Maria pulled a woollen jumper out of a cardboard box and covered Rosita’s back with it. The yellow flowers that were printed on the wool reminded her of the long walks she used to take with her father when he was still alive. During spring the flowers would start blooming and cover the surrounding mountains. Every Sunday they would walk through the fields towards the large city market, sacks full of avocados and mangoes hanging from their backs. Maria thought about the day they had found Rosita.
They had left the house before dawn. It had been raining for days and the air was cool. Maria wore one of her father’s old coats. It hung loosely over her shoulders and reached her knees. The earth was damp and her sandals were covered in dirt. A green and blue centipede climbed up her leg. Maria screamed, spilling the contents of the sack she was carrying into the mud. Her father slapped her across the head and grabbed her arm,
“We won’t be able to sell those now. Go on, pick them up and wash them, I’m sure your mother will be able to use them for something.” He sat on a rock and smoked a cigarette while Maria refilled the sack. She found a thin stream that ran through the field and washed the fruit in the cold water. A soft lowing came from behind a wall of dry vegetation. She left the fruit on a rock and walked towards the sound. A white female calf was tied to a tree. Her legs were shaking and her fur was wet. There was a cut under one of her eyes, a cluster of flies stood on the raw flesh. She looked up and stamped the ground. Maria took a small piece of mango and fed it to her. She looked at her pink belly and decided to call her Rosita, Little Pinky. Maria led the calf back to where her father was waiting.
“Can we take her home? She likes fruit.”
“It belongs to someone, take her back.”
“She is going to die, she is a baby. You’re not supposed to let babies die.”
Maria held on to the animal’s leg and sat on the ground. The mud seeped through her skirt and covered the back of her legs. Her father pulled her by the hand, forcing her to get up. She screamed and kicked a rock. A large red gash appeared on her foot, a trickle of blood staining the stone. She started crying and covered the wound with her hands. The calf lowed and stared at Maria’s father. He sighed and gave Maria a drink of water and a tamarind sweet. The three of them walked back home with the bundle of fruit on top of the calf’s back, Maria limping by her side.
She rubbed the small scar on her foot and looked up as a noise came from the house. Maria ran out of the shed. Behind her she could hear Rosita’s frantic kicking. When she got inside her mother was sitting at the table, a cigarette dangling from her lips. She was a large woman with smooth brown skin. A dash of electric-blue eye shadow made her face look wild and contrasted with her gentle brown eyes. She had named herself after a famous soap star called ‘Kika’, as a result of having a birth name that all the women in the market mocked.
Kika asked for her lunch and took a sip from a small bottle of rum. Maria grabbed two bowls from the sink and filled them with spicy black beans. They barely chewed on their food before swallowing it. Maria’s stomach cramped and she looked out of the window. The rain was coming in through the glass and a small puddle was forming on the floor. She covered it with a worn cotton cloth.
“Did you ask about Rosita’s selling price, or should I do it?” Kika stared at Maria’s skinny legs.
“I’m going tomorrow. The man wasn’t there today.” Maria squeezed a small round bean with her fingers. Kika started painting her fingernails and told Maria to do her homework. Maria could hear the calf’s faint cries through the wind and worried that Rosita would jump around and hurt herself on a piece of furniture. Maria focused on her maths assignment, trying to ignore the lonely sound from the shed. If she achieved good grades, she would have a chance to become a proper veterinary nurse. She needed a mark of ninety to be able to go to the large capital and take the admissions exam for university. She imagined looking after a herd of cows and owning a clinic where three-legged street dogs were treated. Kika spilled a drop of orange nail polish on the table.
“Adrian is moving in, Mari baby. Be nice to him.” Kika wiped up the varnish with a tissue. Maria pictured Adrian eating stale beans with them, his fat thighs rubbing against the bottom of the table.
“We need your room, baby, so we decided you will be sleeping in the shed. You like the shed, no?” Kika continued listing reasons for him to move in, something about Adrian being more of a business deal than a husband. Maria didn’t listen. All she could see was her father looking down at them with sad black eyes.
She got up and headed towards the door. The rain was falling hard and covered the fields in a grey curtain. Kika gave her a small bowl of oats and held her by the wrist.
“God made cows to give us milk or meat, Mari baby. Adrian is the man of this house now. He will not be happy with Rosita here, you understand?”
Maria took the oats and walked back towards the shed. Rosita was restless and moved around the small space. She licked the bowl clean in a few seconds and stood still, waiting for more food. Maria sat down next to her on the ground and stroked her hooves with a long piece of straw.
A week later Adrian moved in. He arrived with a few suitcases and wearing a white hat. Kika made him dinner that night. She lit a candle and placed a bottle of rum on the table. Adrian drank a glass full of the brown liquid and shoved a spoonful of rice with butter into his mouth. He leaned back on his chair and told Maria that he came from an important family in the north of the country. The factory that his family owned was going to be his one day and the three of them would move into a big house with a swimming pool. His eyes were red and white pools of spit formed at the corners of his mouth. Maria thought rich men were tall, fair and had straight noses. She laughed loudly and tried to picture Adrian in a business suit, the buttons popping and his double chin spilling over the collar of his shirt. He chewed with his mouth open and looked at Maria.
“I think you should learn to laugh like a girl. Didn’t your father teach you how girls should laugh? I can teach you to be a lady if you want.” He smiled at her, pieces of food dangling from his gums. Maria took a fork and scratched the table with it. Kika sent her to bed and locked the bedroom door.
She looked around her small room. The walls needed a fresh coat of paint and the window didn’t close properly. She imagined Adrian trying to fix something. His chubby hands could barely hold a screwdriver and his belly got in the way of everything. She packed a bag with her clothes and listened to her mother and Adrian laughing. That night, she dreamed about concrete roads and strange faces distorted by white neon lights.
Maria woke up before her alarm went off and spent the extra time getting ready for school. She drank a glass of milk and grabbed a hard tortilla to eat on her way. The dirt road was full of holes and puddles of sewage water. When she reached school, her skirt was splattered with brown filth. She picked a seat in the back of the classroom and cleaned the stain with a worn tissue.
During her history lesson, Maria wrote a letter for her mother. ‘Don’t worry about me, I am happy and so is Rosita and I will pray every evening and morning and we will both grow up. You can also have the shed now, I won’t be angry.’ She was going to leave it underneath Kika’s pillow that evening, when Adrian took her to the local dance. Then she would take some grass and seeds for Rosita, a bit of money from the glass jar and walk towards the large capital city. She wondered what would happen once her mother discovered she was gone. Adrian would buy her real gold earrings and give her pink cocktails, making her drink until she was sick on the floor. Kika would stop looking for her and have another baby instead, and think about her daughter as a dead distant relative.
The school bell rang and Maria ran out of the yellow concrete building. The walls were covered in dirt and half the chairs had a leg missing. The children looked filthy and had coarse hair. Maria smiled and spat on the ground. It was going to be the last time she had to walk through smelly water and stain her clothes with shit. The big city only had high buildings and women walking around in leopard-skin patterned high heels.
When Maria reached her house, the front door was open. Kika and Adrian were standing in the kitchen listening to music on the radio. A woman with a shrill nasal voice sang, “Forbidden love aaaaaaa it’s a forbidden love, they whisper on the streets, because we are from different societies, you are forbidden aaaaaaa….” Kika was moving her hips back and forth to the tropical rhythm of the song. Adrian tapped his foot and held a can of beer in his hand.
“You’re going to be late for the dance,” Maria blurted out, her eyes wide. She had to leave before it was dark. Rosita hated the night.
“We are staying here, Mari baby, having a family dinner tonight, so you can welcome Adrian into the family properly.” Kika danced around the table as she spoke, avoiding Maria’s gaze. A large pot was sitting on the stove, the smell of chilli and meat filled the shack.
“Adrian has cooked tonight, say thank you, Mari.” Kika hugged Adrian and gave him a long kiss on the lips. Maria could see their tongues touching.
“Thank you,” said Maria, looking at Adrian’s flabby chest and the large tattoo of the Virgin Mary on his upper arm. He smiled, showing his yellowing teeth while spooning largeportions of food on their plates.
“You will enjoy this. My mother makes this as a treat for me.”
A dark brown stew sat on a bed of tender white rice. Thick spicy gravy covered the large chunks of juicy meat. Maria wanted to eat all three plates. She was going to need the strength for the journey, it was a long walk and Rosita needed a lot of help.
She sat down at the table and waited for Kika and Adrian to join her. Kika was looking for paper napkins while Adrian decorated the plates with pieces of fresh coriander. The clouds were inky and the wind was picking up speed. Rosita would usually start lowing when a storm approached, but Maria couldn’t hear her. She looked out of the window. Rosita’s rope lay coiled on the grass, covered in mud and straw. The woollen jumper with the yellow flowers sat in a heap next to it.
Citlalli Millan asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work