01 mayo 2007

May First is May Day (Part One)

May First is Mayday
(Part I: The First Day of School)

I have never been lucky. As the oldest, how could I possibly attain to good fortune? I must carry the fears of the little ones and the sorrows of the great ones, and somehow build tragedy into comprehension. The day I was born, my mother, the woman whose heart had already been stone since her thirteenth year, cried for all of one hour, as my Grandmother tells me. After her tears, she stopped, washed her face and picked one brilliant red seed out from a bag sitting in the corner. (My Grandmother has a memory like a child, everyone says. She remembers like the Mountain remembers. She even reminds me when my memory lacks.) The seed is to save me from the Mountain. The single black eye in the red beckons the Mountain’s love and so blinds him to me. I am safe; the seed lies over my heart all the way from my birth to today, secure in the chuspa my Grandmother knit for me and strung around my neck that first morning.

Now, I have lived many, many days. I have seen the birth days of my five brothers and the death days of two girl children. I am the only daughter of my mother to still breathe today, and I wonder why the black eyes of their red seeds were not strong enough to guard my sisters. Tomorrow is to be my eleventh completed year, but I will not remember that until much later. Tomorrow will be too full to contain a birthday.

Tomorrow, I will go to school for the first time this year. Classes began some days ago, but my mother has been ill again; maybe she will have another child. I do not want to go to school because I do not understand, and the teacher hits easily. But I must go to make sure that my brothers stay the whole morning. They like to leave to go to the stream and grab fish if they can. I will make sure they cannot.

* * * *

I wake up before the roosters because the little one beside me has wet himself. He shivers and whimpers like a dog at my side. I do not say the word I learned from the men at the store, but I think it. My father and mother are not yet awake, and the fire is almost cold. I pull a blanket with me as I go to the fire, but hearing the little one’s teeth chatter, I leave it with him. I wrap myself in the thin blue manta that had covered our faces, warming the air for us to breathe while we slept. I hate the cold, and I think the word again. The firewood outside the door is cold and rough to my hands, but the fire I make burn is beautiful.

* * * *

I am dreaming of eating cane in between green rows of corn when I hear a loud noise beside me. I jerk my head up, and my cousin beside me laughs silently into her hands. I look down to where a book has fallen into the aisle beside my bench. I am in school; I had forgotten. My arm hurts from where I laid my head upon it, and I start to stretch out to pick up the book when I sense someone behind me. I look up and see a blur as a stick falls on the back of my outstretched hand. The stick falls again.

“You ungrateful Indian! You come to school and are too stupid to hold on to a book you do not deserve! You sleep without respect for me?! Leave! Get out!” the teacher shows his teeth as he yells, and although I still do not understand everything that has happened, I pull away from the stick as it falls a third time. The light from the open door at the back looks too far away, but I reach it at last. I am crying as I run toward the street. I hate to cry. I run past the shops to the trail and stop crying.

The sun warms me, and the blue tells me to be glad not to be in school now. I wipe my wet cheeks and head up the path toward the stream. I am thinking how happy I am to see the light jumping on the water when I slip on the muddy trail. My heart begins to run. I apologize to the Mountain and form the cross I have seen my Tia make. I snatch a clod of dirt from the ledge beside me and crumble it, throwing it over my shoulder. The red seed feels heavy in its pouch. “Do not look, Tayta Mountain, do not look, Tayta sir,” I beg as I run to plunge my feet into the singing water of the stream.

My heart slows, but does not stop. I am safe. The Mountain did not notice. I hear the birds converse and the wind pass through the corn above me. I smile, for I am almost in my dream. The water of the stream is cold, but it makes my dusty feet clean. I will look for fish now.

* * * *

The stream is no longer cold to my wrinkled feet, and the sun burns from above. I have three fish to show for my morning, and I hear the shouts of the children leaving the school below. If I go a little to the left, I can see them, but I do not wish to see them. I put the fish in my manta and take the trail to the right of the stream that also goes by my Tia’s house.

She has lilies growing where the stream passes behind her house. I do not know what she does to make them grow because I do not see them in any other place along this stream. My hand has two angry stripes from the teacher’s stick, and I pick two perfect flowers so I do not have to see the red. I hope my mother does not notice.