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Authors: Laura Resau

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BOOK: The Queen of Water
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PART 2

chapter 10

T
HREE YEARS HAVE PASSED
, and I’m settled into the rhythm of life in Kunu Yaku. I’ve learned how to do all my chores perfectly. I no longer burn the rice or add too much salt or forget to sweep under the sofa. Only once in a while, when I slip up, or when the Doctorita is in a bad mood, does she beat me. And this happens only when my bodyguard, Niño Carlitos, isn’t around. Afterward, when he notices my face bruised and swollen, he whispers something sternly to the Doctorita, who hollers, “Well, why is this
longa
my burden?”

I understand the Doctorita better now. Even though she often treats me cruelly, I see that she is not all evil. Her students seem to like her, even joke around with her, although only to a point. She’s known for her temper and impatience and strictness, which make her students cautiously friendly with her. She works hard, waking up early to finish planning lessons and grading papers, going to bed late after squeezing in some dental exams in the evening. There’s even a playful side to her when she’s in a good mood, the side that laughs at Jaimito’s and my antics and cracks jokes with Niño Carlitos.

I understand her marriage better now, maybe from all the soap operas I’ve watched with her while lying on the floor beside her bed. Not to mention all the talk shows I’ve watched in secret, while she and Niño Carlitos are at work and Jaimito is at preschool. I often watch television while doing my chores, making sure to turn off the set fifteen minutes before they come home, so it has time to cool off. And all day long, I think.

I think about this family I’m stuck with, about my place with them, about their places with each other, their places in our town. I see that part of Niño Carlitos is proud of how smart and accomplished his wife is, yet part wishes she would be a simple mother and housewife. Part of him feels bad that she makes more money than he does. Part wishes that she would worry about staying slim and pretty and pleasing him, rather than lying like a bulging sack of potatoes on the sofa, exhausted from her two jobs, bossing me and him around.

I see from their wedding photo that the Doctorita and Niño Carlitos were once in love, and that back then, he didn’t care that his mother didn’t like her. Back then, the Doctorita’s education probably impressed him more than threatened him. Back then, he probably liked the way her fat bottom pressed at the seams of her skirt. Over the past three years, there have been times when they fought so much, I was sure they were on the verge of divorce.

Lately, though, life has flowed smoothly. Niño Carlitos seems to have a new appreciation for his wife, as though he’s remembering how he used to feel. They’ve paid their debts and made better investments and saved enough money to rent a new apartment down the street, bigger than the last, with two floors, separate bedrooms, and space for a dentist’s office downstairs. I sleep on a narrow bed in the room where they keep the ironing board and sewing machine and mops and brooms and buckets. Nothing purple or frilly, but my own bed in my own room.

Jaimito is five years old now and has a two-year-old brother. While the Doctorita was pregnant, she glowed, all pink and round and happy because she had an excuse to eat a lot. As her belly popped out, I grew more and more furious that I’d have to wash heaps of diapers again, just when Jaimito had gotten potty trained. But it turned out Andrecito was such a sweet cherub of a baby that his diapers didn’t bother me. He’s always called me Mamá, since he spent most of his first year strapped to my back with a shawl as I washed dishes and made meals and cleaned the apartment. Now that he can walk, we dance together to
cumbia
tunes on the stereo—which, like the television, I’m not supposed to touch, but could operate blindfolded.

I’ve made friends, students my own age from the
colegio,
and when I walk down the street, they talk to me as if I’m a normal kid, not a servant, not a former indigenous girl. I understand my place better, in this family, in this town, in this country. I am the only
indígena
maid in town. Some other people have maids, but they are poor
mestiza
girls from tiny farm communities. In bigger cities, like Otavalo and Quito, there must be lots of indigenous maids. I remember Matilde saying that she would see other maids like her at the markets in Quito or on the street running errands.

Here, there is no one like me. Sometimes I wonder what it would feel like to have a girl like myself to talk to, a girl who used to be indigenous, a girl who doesn’t know what she is now. I would ask her if she, too, feels an empty space inside her.

It’s a space I’m always trying to fill. It’s like the open beak of a baby bird squawking to its mother,
Feed me, feed me, love me, love me.
A gaping, hungry, dark space. The smiles from my friends and Jaimito and Andrecito and Niño Carlitos fill part of it, and my fantasies fill another part, but sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night afraid that the emptiness has swallowed everything.

Often in the afternoons, while I pasture the cow or gather alfalfa for the guinea pigs, I run into Doña Mercedes’s daughters, Marina and Marlenny. They have crushes on a sexy singer named Chayanne and always carry little folded-up magazine pictures of him in their pockets. “Ohhh! Isn’t Chayanne gorgeous?” they moan. “Look at those muscles. Look at that chest.”

I nod. “He’s good-looking. But he’s not as smart as MacGyver.”

My heart belongs to MacGyver, the star of my favorite television show. He’s a handsome special agent, always solving mysteries and saving people and getting trapped in deadly situations and figuring a way out at the last second. He’s a genius. Even if he has only a match and a can of Coca-Cola and a stick of mint gum, he can use them to booby-trap the bad guys and escape. All the women on the show fall in love with him. When he kisses them, I pretend it’s me he’s kissing.
Oh, Virginia,
mi amor, he whispers, caressing my face.
You’re so beautiful, so smart, such a fast runner. Will you be my secret-agent partner? For as long as we both shall live?

“One day I’ll marry Chayanne,” Marina sighs.

“One day I’ll marry MacGyver,” I sigh.

Marina is twelve years old, and she figures that in six years she can find Chayanne and make him fall in love with her. And she just might: she has shiny, wavy hair that she wears back in glittery barrettes, and thick, naturally curly eyelashes, and full, pouty lips. “Don’t worry, Virginia,” she assures me. “You’ll have no problem making MacGyver fall in love with you. You have bright eyes and a quick mind. That’s how he likes his women.”

I agree. I’d be the ideal girl for him if I were a few years older. I still don’t know exactly how old I am, but I figure I must be around Marina’s age.

Sometimes Doña Mercedes and the Doctorita speculate on my age. “Well,” Doña Mercedes says, eyeing her daughter and me, “my daughter is taller than Virginia, but look into their eyes. Marina has the eyes of a child, but Virginia has the eyes of someone much older.”

The Doctorita shakes her head. “Oh, no, my Virginia is younger.”

I flinch whenever she says
my Virginia,
as though I’m her pet.

She laughs. “Look, my Virginia barely has breasts.”

I blush and fold my arms over my chest.

“I still say Virginia’s older,” Doña Mercedes says, unconvinced.

“Well”—the Doctorita shrugs—“either way, she’s definitely becoming a teenager, the way she primps in front of a mirror for an hour before she goes out. Even to buy a bag of eggs!”

My face flushes hotter still. It’s true. Before I go on errands, I brush and smooth my hair into a perfect waist-long ponytail and try on three outfits before I find the right one. Once I tried to leave my hair loose, like some of the ninth-grade girls I’d seen at the
colegio,
but on my way out the door, the Doctorita snapped, “What do you think you’re doing?” and made me pull my hair back.

Sunday mornings are best, because the Doctorita and Niño Carlitos sleep late and Jaimito watches cartoons with Andrecito. I can leave to buy the milk and bread without them knowing what time I’ve left. I get up early and put on my favorite pea green jacket. My other clothes are all a little too big or too small, but this jacket fits me as though I went to the store and bought it just for myself. I slip out of the house around eight o’clock and head toward the town square.

Life feels as quivery-new as the morning air. I walk around the sparkling fountain slowly, taking my time, wandering through the crowds, past the people lined up to buy warm popcorn and steaming potato tortillas.
Cumbia
music floats out of the shops and fills me up, makes me feel part of the thrilling buzz of families and couples who’ve come from the villages to spend the day shopping and talking and strolling.

I imagine MacGyver walking next to me, his arm around me, his hand resting comfortably on my hip. He brushes a strand of hair from my face and whispers words of love in my ear. We sit on a bench and munch popcorn while I tell him my secrets: how my family is fading from my memory, except for the words Mamita told me, that she would be happy if I left. Those words will never fade. MacGyver’s jaw clenches. Mi amor,
if you want, I’ll booby-trap her house to get revenge. Just say the word.

After my walk, when I slip back inside the house an hour later, my heart beating fast, Niño Carlitos and the Doctorita are still in their bedroom and the boys’ eyes are still glued to the TV. My body vibrates with the rhythms of the
cumbias,
as though my blood and bones have absorbed the music and my insides are dancing.

One bright afternoon, while I’m walking down the street to our house, swinging a bag of sugar and dried lentils, I see MacGyver.

In the flesh.

He’s talking to some teachers from the
colegio.
The breeze whips through his hair—the same caramel-candy brown as MacGyver’s, a little feathered and longer in the back. His shoulders stretch broad and muscular beneath his shirt.

The closer I walk, the more convinced I am. He has MacGyver’s eyes, piercing and intelligent, and the same strong jaw and gentle lips. Even his fingers, twirling a key chain, are precise and nimble, ready to defuse a bomb or pick a lock at a moment’s notice.

What is MacGyver doing in Kunu Yaku? My knees grow weak. Very slowly, I walk by him, staring and glancing back over my shoulder.

Later, while making dinner with the Doctorita, I muster up a casual voice. “So, I saw a new señor in town today. He was talking to some teachers from the
colegio.

“Oh, the new teacher.” She moves her head closer to mine so Niño Carlitos can’t hear. “A handsome young man?”

I nod. “What’s his name?”

“Roberto, I think.”

Roberto. Maybe that’s MacGyver’s code name. Maybe he’s scoping out our town to see if they should shoot an episode here. Of course he’d be using a fake name and job so he wouldn’t be bombarded by fans. This way he’ll fit better into small-town life in rural Ecuador. Maybe the episode is about some evil people plotting to blow up Kunu Yaku, and his assignment is to find the bomb and save us all. He’ll need a helper for the mission, someone who knows the town inside and out, who knows all the people, their habits and personalities. Someone fast and smart and good at looking innocent. I wonder if they’ve found an actress to play that part yet.

On Saturday the Doctorita and Niño Carlitos invite some teachers over to our house. I answer the door and greet them, one by one, and lead them to the living room. At the third knock, I answer the door, and there he is, twirling his key chain.

“Good afternoon,” he says, glancing around with intense brown eyes, as though he’s surveying the room in case he needs materials to build a last-minute booby trap.

“I’m Roberto,” he says to me.

I nod and smile, too nervous to talk.
Don’t worry,
my eyes say silently,
I won’t blow your cover.
I lead him to the red velvet sofa.

“Bring us some juice, Virginia,” the Doctorita says.

I take the pitcher of sugary cantaloupe water from the refrigerator and pour five foaming glasses. I bring out MacGyver’s first. My hands are shaking and I worry I might spill some, or worse, trip on the walk across the living room. My cheeks hot, I hand him the glass. Our fingers brush as he takes it.

“Thank you,” he says.

I try to make my mouth move to say
you’re welcome,
but it stays shut, so I give a little smile.

I hover at the edge of the living room, listening and watching.

“I can’t believe you haven’t heard los Kjarkas,” MacGyver is telling the teachers as he pulls out a cassette from his jacket pocket. He sticks the tape in the stereo and turns the volume loud, the way I like it. Then he sits down on the red velvet sofa and leans his head back and closes his eyes and listens.

The music is different from anything I’ve ever heard. First there’s guitar music strumming fast and passionate, then flute music trilling and waving and rising and falling like the mountains and rivers.

I imagine MacGyver and me dancing at the end of the episode. He spins me and dips me and runs his fingers through my long, loose hair. And then, like a gust of wind, the music picks us up and we are flying in hang gliders like birds over the mountains, swooping in valleys and rising over peaks. Over rich earth and sun-warmed stone and sparkling, sunlit streams.

After the song ends, he turns down the volume a little. “Well, what do you think?”

Niño Carlitos and the Doctorita and the other teachers nod politely. “Oh, very nice.” But I can tell that it hasn’t reached in and grabbed their souls the way it has for me and MacGyver.

“Where’s this group from?” Niño Carlitos asks.

“An Indian village in the Andes,” MacGyver says. “It’s
indígena
music.”

Indigenous music.

And just like that, the music turns dirty. Ugly and cheap and coated with mud. Barefoot and ridden with lice and fleas. Something you want to hide in a cardboard box, something to stamp out of your mind.

BOOK: The Queen of Water
10.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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