The final time Rosana jerked awake, she found the early-morning chill settling over the silence. The adreneline and fear of last’s night’s adventure had drained away with the river into the sea, leaving her wishing she could sit here to recover in silence for a day or two. But it was chilly, and dawn was coming. She shook Norma gently and uncurled her aching legs.
“What a blessing, ‘Sana!” whispered Norma, holding up the bag of bread with the water bottle. “I still have it!”
Rosana choked back a cry of delight. “See? See? I told you God would provide, and he did!” They broke off chunks of bread and ate, washing it down with sips of water.
“It’s good you brought those last buckets of water,” laughed Norma. “Imagine if we hadn’t filled the bottles before we left! We’d be drinking from the river!”
“Unn – unh,” garbled Rosana, her mouth full of bread, “Barto says the river’s full of bacteria and never to drink it.” His name cast a pall over the meal. “What is that?” She pointed to a black place in the loaf. “Please don’t tell me there are bugs in it!”
Norma dug her fingernail into the bread and pulled what appeared to be a large piece of paper from the loaf. She held it up in the pale light. Money.
Both women stared in disbelief, but neither said a word. Norma folded the bill and tucked it inside her shirt. They both calculated the bags of groceries it was worth.
“Let’s see if we can get out of here – oh, ick!” Rosana leaped from the protection of the bush, wiping beetles from her legs where the bare skin had been pressed to the soil. The gash on her knee began to bleed again. She ignored it.
Norma held up her hands to be helped from the bush and stood stretching slowing in the growing light. Now, they could see their hands and each other’s faces. Rosana took in their location, and the Convent on the hill a little to the right of them and straight up.
“We’ll go to La Madre first,” she explained to Norma, crouching for the older woman to lean onto her back. “Hup!” The first faltering steps were difficult, but Rosana found her balance, and leaning into the incline, started up the long hill, one step at a time.
The Lauds bell had already rung when Rosana staggered to the Convent’s kitchen gate. She had skirted the property and come around to the back to avoid any unexpected visitors the Sisters might be hosting today. She lowered Norma to the ground and rang the bell, an action which set off a strange banging in the garden shed. Rosana was too tired to pay attention.
For some reason, it looked as if La Madre was expecting her. In fact, Rosana could not understand why La Madre would have Sisters waiting for them at the back gate, but the fact that they were welcome guests was all that was important. Rosana indicated Norma sitting on the ground by the gate, and was stunned beyond comprehension when a Sister arrived, pushing Norma’s wheelchair.
“This way, queridas,” purred Sister Elena, leading the widows to the Convent guest room where baths and breakfast waited. “La Madre says not to nap yet. Just clean up, eat, and then come to her office. We’re so glad you made it safely!” She smiled and closed the door on their questions. The women were glad to obey.
A filthy t-shirt over a torn and stained silver dress was not her idea of after-bath clothing, so Rosana was pleasantly surprised to find a worn-but-clean skirt and shirt for herself and dress for Norma waiting near the brilliant-white towels.
They ate the eggs and rice with such pleasure that they were laughing before the meal had ended, and clean and full, it was all they could do to ignore the room’s neat beds and make their way to La Madre’s office, stopping in the chapel to say a quick ‘thank you.’
Sister Elena met them at the office door. “Go in and sit,” she said, “La Madre will be with you shortly. Norma, would you come with me please?” Without waiting for consent, Sister Elena indicated the chair for Rosana and turned and pushed Norma down the hallway toward the work room.
Rosana sat gingerly in the chair. In a moment, she stood again.
“I hope she comes quickly, or I am going to fall asleep,” she muttered, crossing the room to look down at their own casita only two stone-throws away. “I’m going to go home, crawl onto that mattress and -”
She jumped guiltily at the sound of steps in the hallway and hurried to sit in the chair Sister Elena had indicated. She looked up expectantly, but it was not La Madre who came into the room.
Barto had closed the door and walked past the desk toward another chair before he saw her. His eyes grew wide and he cried out, “Rosana?” He was across the room in a flash, lifting her to her feet and holding her out to examine her. She flinched when he touched the cut on her knee, but was annoyed by the time he smoothed her wet hair and pulled her close in a tight embrace.
“Never,” he choked, tears streaming from bagged eyes down drawn cheeks, “you must never, ever walk away from me like that again. Do you hear me, Rosana? Not ever.” He sobbed into her hair, kissing the top of her head.
She wrapped her arms around him and stood silently while he cried, rocking slowly with the rhythm of his sobs. “You’ve had a long night,” she said when the tears abated.
He nodded. “You, too. That cut looks deep. And it’s my fault! I’m the one who -”
“Enough,” she said, sick of emotions. “No more self-pity. We both made it, and so did Norma. Did they catch the guy on the bridge?” He nodded, wiping his eyes with thumb and forefinger and transferring the wet to his dirty jeans. “It was Jaime,of course.”
“You mean Jaime, my nighttime visitor?” she asked, arching one eyebrow.
“He told me what happened.”
“He must have been drunk.”
“He was. And then he told me he was going to-”
“Nevermind. My guardian angel must have warned me. Something didn’t feel right. And then all these people started to chase us – I didn’t think we were going to make it.” She paused, reliving the panic of being hunted.
“That was us. Me and Angelo, and a few other guys who came to save you. We hunted up that river all night until we knew you couldn’t have gone that far with your mother on your back, so we doubled back and came up the hill to the Convent. La Madre said you would come in the morning. And here -” His eyes threatened to overflow again.
“Thanks for looking for me. And for getting everyone else to help, too. If I’d known it was you-” she stopped, not sure what she would come out of her mouth at the end of that thought. Would she have welcomed his help? Not after his broken promise. Not after rejecting her. Here he was crying like a tired, overwrought schoolboy – it was anticlimactic. She sighed.
“I’m tired, and I want to go home.”
“Home? You mean home-home? Back to the US?”
“No, Senor Barto, I want to go to the mattress in our casita and sleep for a couple of days.” She moved toward the door. “Do you know if La Madre is coming? She told me to wait for her here. Or, Sister Elena did, anyway.”
“She told me the same thing.”
“Well, I think I’ll try to go and find Norma and go to the casita. Hopefully, there’s no one inside it!”
“There’s not – anymore. We searched it, and there’s been someone on watch ever since. Rosana -”
She turned to him, tired, sad eyes looking out of an exhausted face. “What is it, Senor Barto?”
She grunted and flashing a half-smile, went down the hall to find Norma.