Chapter 1: Summer
As I look out at the brightly lit porch lights of the expensive houses passing by, my head tapping against the car window, I experience a brief moment of intense clarity and focus--inspired, perhaps, by a sudden pang of poisonous spite--and all I can think is: I wish they knew what it’s like. I wished they were riding in this car with me, making our way to the fields, on our way to another hellish workday and see how they like, see how long before they cry out for aid from others.
But as I catch ear of the conversation in car, the moment passes, and my concentration refocuses to drowning that out.
Sonia, the driver, is going on about her early morning routine--again--for what seems like the billionth time:
“... So after making fresh flour tortillas, because my husband just loves them and has come to expect, I rush to the restroom to get ready. Sometimes I do it while eating a taco--because you just don’t have time to eat it at the table properly, like God demands.”
“There’s just no time,” my mother, Adela, consents.
“No time!,” Doña Maria, Sonia’s neighbor, chimes in.
My God, I get it! There’s no time in the morning. Irritated, I pull out my ear buds, close my eyes, and concentrate on the peaceful orchestra piece (“Empty Bucket” by Joe Hisaishi).
This won’t be your life, I tell myself. There will be an end: I’ll apply to a university soon, I’ll graduate with the top students of my class; I’ll get a get a degree, get a good paying job, and get out of here. Other people have done it, I will too.
‘Apply soon,’ eh?, breaks in the other voice in my head. Now, how long have you been saying that, Alma?. Stop lying to yourself. You well know afraid to leave all that’d you’ve ever know, despite how much you despise it; afraid of unforeseen hardships, afraid of not being capable enough, afraid of them being right: that school just isn’t meant for people like you.
Aha!, well therein lies the true culprit. If I am scared, it’s because they’ve made a frightened mouse out of me: my father, my mother.
Fine, perhaps that’s true, but by this point, Alma, shouldn’t you have overcome that fact….
My mind continues to fight with itself for a while longer, but eventually the music is triumphant, and all is a peaceful, rhythmic river of notes and keys.
“Well, we’re here; time for another go,” I hear Sonia say.
“It’s only for a little while,” Doña Maria recites.
“A little while, and then we go home,” my mother adds.
I keep my eyes close, for I know what awaits me when I open them: rows. Rows and rows of kiwi trees, which we have to clear of weeds, re-tie to the pole to make them grow straight, and prune--for eight hours!
Just don’t open your eyes this time, I tell myself. The mind is powerful, if you pretend you’re anywhere else, it just might happen.
“Alma, hurry up, get out of the car,” my mother tells me.
I maintain my eyes clos; I am but a face of forced tranquility and beauty.
“Alma, hurry up, stop being difficult, I mean it. It was the same yesterday; no more games, don’t embarrass me anymore” she hisses.
A long sigh escapes from my lips, and I open my eyes. Maybe it’ll work next time.
I get out of the minivan, with difficulty. I’m much taller than most of the women around me--including most of my family. Whereas my mother doesn’t reach five feet five, I’m five feet ten, a little taller than even. One long foot out of the sliding door, I hoist the rest of my body out in completion. And I’m here again….
My work boots crunch the caked ground beneath me, and small puffs of dirt rise with every steps. And though the wind is weak, it’s strong with thermal energy. Already, I begin to feel my forehead dampening with a light film of sweat; already, I begging to wish I wish I was in bed, or better yet: that I had been born into a different life circumstance. What it is like to be the daughter of a successful movie director?, I wonder. Or the daughter of a famous writer? I would certainly be on a wonder vacation right about now, I bet. Waking on up well rested on pristine while sheets and pillows. Breakfast would probably already be waiting for me, whether in a tray cart, or in the hotel restaurant. Oh, the luxury! And my day would primarily consist of enjoy myself. God, how I would love to be on a paddleboard, or hiking up a waterfall trail, or meditating by ocean. Oh, the privilege! But no, instead I’m here… trying to help my parents pay for their rent; trying, to ‘learn how to be able to provide for myself were something to happen to them I was left alone.’”
“Alma! Quickly! We’ve started; don’t let the supervisor see you looking unenergetic.”
“’Unenergetic! Energetic!’ Who on earth would be energetic about doing such work! My God, mother how can you ask me for such a thing. Isn’t it enough that I’m here?
I reach the row of trees where my mother has already began to start pruning the truck on the second tree. I put on my gloves, take out my pair of pruning scissors, and start sling at the branches growing from the very bottom of the truck. They’re thick and elongated, but very delicate, slicing through them requires little arm strength. The crystalline sap they leak enthralls me for a bit, for I begin to recall the biology class I took, and begin to question whether if it’s xylem or phloem that I’m rubbing against my glove covered fingers.
“Alma! Stop fooling around. Hurry up, you’re falling behind already.”
I drop the branches and begrudgingly force myself to focus on the task in front of me. So on i move, unceremoniously snipping at the trunks of these kiwi trees and robbing them of branches that would have adorn them so well with more green leaves.
Those scenes are absolute rubbish, i begin to think again, holding in mind those commercial and movie clips that depict agricultural work in an earthy, sun filled light. Nothing but green-washing: Oh the joys of working with nature. Sure, it’s glorious when it’s taken up as a pastime in an effort to connect with mother earth, or suggested as a means of getting fresh air and relieving stress, but it’s an entirely different story when it has to be done for hours, day after day--and as a means of making end meet.
If only they bothered to find out what it’s really like, I continue to think to myself. But of course, who would make a movie about women working in the fields? On the other hand, if they were to make such a film, they’d only need to take a peek at this group of women. The movie would write itself. God knows I’ve seen enough great films and read enough literature to know the narratives provided here are worth sharing with a mass audience. Courage, rebellion, abuse, hope, they can all easily be found here, amidst these fields. I myself would write it, if I only knew how--
“Good morning, Adelita. How are you doing today?,” I hear Doña Fabiola, the supervisor, ask my mother.
I turn my head in the direction of her voice: a little ways down the line from where i am
“Good morning, Fabi, I’m doing fine,” responds my mother.
“Well, that’s always good to hear,” she retorts, while checking her work on the kiwi trees, making her way to me.
“And how are you doing, Alma?,” Doña Fabiola ask me.
“Oh, I’m doing good too,” I reply.
“Good, but here, let me help you,” she says, bending down to pull at the branches at the bottom of tree truck for me. “See, they come right off. This will save you a lot of time, but use your scissors at the end to chop off those smaller ones, that way there’s nothing left behind.”
“Okay,” i say, feeling uncomfortable; I’ve been conditioned--by my mother--to feel social anxiety every time i receive help from the supervisor. “It looks bad,” she’s told me. “It shows everyone that you can’t keep up with them--and that’s embarrassing.”
“Oh, okay, thanks,” i say, my ears burning up.
She smiles, rises, and, slipping under the oldest branches that have successfully grown think over the straight wire defining this row, marches three rows over to help out one of the older women in our little squadron of field workers.
“She seems to be holding up fine, doesn’t she?,” asks Sonia.
“Yes, i would have imagined to see her less spirited--at least for a couple of weeks,” replies my mother.
“I think we all expected that, but I guess. Maybe this goes to show how little she cared about Don Diego--may he rest in peace.”
“May he rest in peace,” my mother echoes.
“She remarried last Saturday.”
“What, really?,” my mother asks, shocked and slightly offended at the thought.
“Yes, Paula called me that night. Apparently she had called Doña Fabiola about a questioned she had about her paycheck, and they were done talking about that and Paula asked her what she was doing, Doña Fabiola told her she was getting ready to go the courthouse to get married.
“Married to whom?”
“Raul? Who’s Raul?
“They grew up together in Durango. And they used to be boyfriend and girlfriend. But then Doña Fabiola’s moved to Oklahoma, and, well, who knows what became of him. But you know fate has a funny way of working itself out and somehow they both ended up in Orosi, and widowers.”
“No. Is he a widower too?”
“Yes. Paula told me that his wife came do something that never head, and eventually took her.”
“You think it was Cancer too, like Don Diego?,” my mother inquires.
“That I don’t know, but at this point it wouldn’t surprise me.”
“The turns of life, eh, Sonia?”
“Yes, yes, you just never know what you’ll expect.”
Both released a sigh of mutual understanding, one that expressed a shared knowledge of how much that was true, and how much it wasn’t--or how much it had not been for them.
“Still,” starts up my mother again, “she said she loved Don Diego. Well, if that’s love--marrying another man right after you drop dead--imagine what she would have done had she not loved him.”
How dare you? Ugh, Mother, i swear! So what? Was she supposed to be miserable for the rest of her life just because her husband died? Was she supposed trying to looking for a meaning connection with another person? Sometimes things just work out like that. There are people who are social magnets, they can’t help attracting others and engendering new relationships.
Sometimes i wish I’d been blessed with a magnetic pull...
“I know what you mean,” replies Sonia. “She could at least have decency to wait a while longer before she got remarried. They should have taken it very slow.”
I will myself to stop listening; i can’t stand the where the direction of the conversation is: to “what is proper,” to “how Mexican women of a certain age ought to be behave.”
My God, let her be!
I finally decide to clear my mind of all comments and let my body run on autopilot: cleaning the tree trunk of all new branches, tying the top of the tree on the the supporting pole, and entangling the two main branches on the wire that runs all the way up and down the row.
Up above, the sky is a pale blue, and the sun is blinding white orb that looks down on us with no pity. There’s no breeze to cool things down, and no dares to go to Doña Fabiola’s truck to get a sip of water because it’s just too early. Lunch is at ten. I pull out my phone from my left pocket. 7:03, it reads. Three more hours. I swallow a gulp of saliva. I open my music app, scroll to my Coldplay playlist, which has enough songs to last me four hours, and try to keep pushing through.
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