Rosana stood on the edge of the sidewalk, the wheelchair already mired in the inch of sand
which covered the cement, and looked south across the bay. The deep blue-green waves
lapped the shore fifty feet ahead.
“I don’t want to try and push you down to the water, Mama. I don’t think we’d ever get out.”
“No, Mija, my daughter, I no want to touch the sea. I just want to see the water. Many times,
I come here when I was a girl.”
Piles of trash littered the beach, particularly in the seaweed and driftwood which marked the
high tide line.
“Filthy,” she muttered, at the same time inhaling deeply the fresh air and the view of the
towering hills across the bay. “Where is your house, Mama?”
Norma turned and pointed toward a hill not far from the Palmar. “We live near that hill.”
“We need to go see it, Mama.”
“No. No. It fall down.”
“Well, if there’s anything left, we need it. And if there’s nothing left, we need to build it.”
Tears ran down Norma’s face, shining brilliantly in the bright Caribbean morning. She shook
her head. “It is Eduardo’s land. Widows no have when husband die.”
“Who gets it, if not the widow?”
“Sons. If no sons, close relative man must buy and give to widow.”
“Well, if no one is living there now, no one’s going to mind if we do.” Rosana hoped what she
was saying was true.
Norma shook her head, tears dripping from her eyes, squeezed tightly closed.
“Mama,” Rosana knelt and looked up into her mother-in-law’s eyes, “we only have two
hundred and fifty dollars left. No one is giving us discounts for being long-lost relatives.
Instead, they assume we’re rich. We can’t stay in the Inn another night. Not even one, if we
want to be able to eat and buy your medicines while I find a job. Do you understand, Mama?”
The older woman nodded, but said nothing.
“Okay. Well, let’s get some food and go. Is there a road?”
The road was well-used, but bumpy, and Rosana walked several extra miles that day pushing
the chair from one side of the road to the other to avoid dips and potholes. Several boys and
girls from Palmar followed them, laughing and talking and trying to touch Rosana’s hair.
Finally, sweating and filthy from the road grime which covered them in a cloud every time a
car sped by, Norma indicated a foot path leading down from the hill on which they stood.
Rosana stopped, panting.
“Down here, Mama?”
What had once been a driveway was now little more than a gully washed out by a decade of
rain. Broken wooded gates hung limp on rusty hinges. Rosana pulled the handles of the
wheelchair down until only the rear wheels bumped over the rough road. The children,
running ahead, leaped up what had once been whitewashed steps and ran laughing into the
ruin of a modest two-story dwelling with a beautiful view of the bay.
“Mama, I’m going to leave you here in the driveway until I make sure the floor is sturdy.” She
parked the chair and set the brake in the shade of a group of sapling trees which had
sprouted in the middle of the driveway. From her pack, she drew a bottle of water, a loaf of
bread, and a small package of cheese, which she placed in Norma’s lap. “I’ll be back,” she
assured her. Then, kissing her mother-in-law on the hair, Rosana followed the sounds of
excitement into the childhood home of her dead husband.
Downstairs had been little more than a patio enclosed by an iron fence.
“The fence is pretty much intact,” Rosana muttered, “but it looks like the whole wall on the
ocean side of the house must have collapsed in the earthquake.” Rosana peered through an
opening in a crumbled wall and caught a glimpse of a mangled sink. “Kitchen,” she said
“Hey! Hey!” Rosana looked up and smiled at the boy grinning down at her from the second
level through a crack in the ceiling.
“How did you get up there?” she asked, walking the length of the enclosed patio to find the
answer herself. At the other end was the answer, a collapsed set of stairs. With the children
laughing and encouraging, Rosana picked her way up the pile of rubble and then used the
still-attached handrail to scramble over the gap onto the second floor of the house.
The bedroom over the kitchen end of the house was all rubble and broken doors, but both
rooms on the other end of the house were still intact, although Rosana had to stifle a scream
as her footsteps disturbed a nest of cockroaches in the leaves which had collected on the
“No mold,” she mused, peering up at the ceiling of one of the bedrooms. “The roof must be
intact, even if there are bugs everywhere!” She shuddered, and then stopped. It had become
strangely silent. The voices of the children had been snuffed out, and Rosana suddenly
aware of Norma, alone in the driveway, turned to leave the room.
A man was in the doorway.
A large man. Not tall, but broad of shoulder and waist. With the sun behind him, Rosana
could not make out any details about his age or features. The sensible part of her brain
wondered how he had lifted that belly up the ruined staircase and over the gap onto the
second floor. He filled the doorway and Rosana was aware of her unique vulnerability. The
small window on her left had no glass and led to a walkway from which she could easily jump
down into the driveway if she had to. But how would she run with Norma in a wheelchair?
She feigned nonchanlance.
“Hola,” she stated flatly.
“What you do in my house, pretty girl? Eh? You look for a cockroaches?” He laughed at his
Rosana didn’t answer, but walked casually toward the window.
“Eh? You like my house, eh? You want to buy? You want to make this room for the old lady?
You must leeft her up, first!” Again, his laughter rang on the plaster walls. He rubbed his
palms together. “I almost marry that old lady! But now, I have better fruit to pick, eh?”
“Permiso,” she said, ‘excuse me,’ and waited for him to move out of the doorway. He stepped
aside and waved her through.
“You want to come out, eh? I not keep you.”
Rosana sidled past him, scanning the second floor for exits beside the stairs and the outer
wall. As she reached the head of the stairs, he grabbed her arm. Rosana froze.
“Preetty, pretty baby. Pretty girl. You come here wit Norma? You marry her son? And now,”
he spread out his other hand, “dead. So why you come? Eh? You want other Dominican?”
He leered suggestively, pulling Rosana closer until she could smell his bad breath. “I have a
leetle houses – bodegas – rooms for pretty girls. You come?”
The voice came out of the stairwell, a command as much as a statement. The man dropped
Rosana’s arm like a hot pot and stepped backward.
“Barto?” he growled, and then his voice changed to a pleasing wheedle. “Barto? Ey! Barto!”
Rosana didn’t stay around to find out who had the power to change Jaime into a whining
puppy. She ran to the crumbling wall, vaulted over the edge and half-fell, half-slid down to the
driveway. She could hear the men’s voices inside the house. Stumbling toward the front of
the house, she stopped to survey the driveway.
A pick-up truck and a Hummer were parked side by side, but there was no sign of Norma.
“Norma!” called Rosana, running from one side of the house to the other, trying to keep the
desperation out of her voice.
“She’s in my truck.”
Rosana turned on the balls of her feet, ready to leap up the driveway away from the old, fat
Jaime if the need arose. Instead, a tall, trim man in his early forties, his wavy hair black with
iron-gray streaks, stepped through the door of the ruined house, settling a cowboy hat on his
“Wait around the corner until I call you,” he pointed, and Rosana obeyed, her back flat against
the crumbling wall of the house. She stood silently, her knees shaking from the landing they
had just absorbed, wondering what about this man had caused her to obey without even a
single snarky comment.
“I’m getting soft,” she muttered, selecting a fist-sized stone from the rubble by the wall.
A thump, followed by huffing and puffing issued from inside the house, and Rosana imagined
Jaime heaving himself over the gap onto the ruin of the stairs.
“Donde esta ella?” ‘Where is she?’ Rosana recognized the wheezing voice.
“She’s not for you, Jaime. Consider them both under my protection, and if I find you or any of
your men causing trouble for them, you and I will have to have a little discussion about your
“Oh,” Jaime replied in a sing-song voice. “I understand. A little treat for you, ehh? Ehh? Tell
me when you get sick of her, eh! I want a turn!”
There was a sound of a car door opening, closing, and then a whirr of tires on dried dirt. In a
few seconds, the sounds of the vehicle faded away.
Rosana stood still, waiting for the command to come back. The man had certainly appeared
right on time, but at what cost? And was Norma alright? She peered around the corner of the
building and for the second time that morning came face-to-face with a man. She jumped
back and stood still, trying to look unconcerned.
He smiled, took off his hat and held out his hand. Then he addressed her in perfect English.
“Hello. I’m Bartolomeo Santos.”
“Uh, I’m Mrs. Delacruz,” said Rosana, opting for the bland title rather than her given name.
She took his hand and shook it lightly. “Norma’s in your truck?”
“Yes. And you should be, too. You’re already burned.” He replaced his hat and indicated the
pick-up truck with tinted windows in the driveway.
“I’m sure I’ll survive.” She hurried ahead of him to the truck. Norma’s wheelchair was on its
side in the back. He opened the cab door while she inspected his loading job.
“Mama? I’m here! Are you alright?” She turned from the truck bed and ran to the open door.
“Si, querida. Fine. Barto has air conditioning!”
Rosana laughed. “You must be comfortable, then, Mama!” She turned to Barto, who still held
the door open. “Thank you,” and then in a lower voice, “and thank you for turning up the air
conditioning so she didn’t have to hear any of that.”
He inclined his head without answering and taking her hand, helped her into the cab beside
her mother-in-law. Her hand was soft, free of callouses, and the nails neatly manicured. That
will change soon, linda, he thought as he walked around the truck and climbed into the
“You cannot live there,” he stated as they turned from the rutted drive onto the main road.
“Two rooms are intact,” Rosana began.
“No.” His command carried the same weight as the one which sent Rosana scurrying around
the house a moment before, and she bit back a belligerent comment. “You cannot live there
because it is not stable,” he continued. “Another earthquake and the structure will fall
completely. That is why Jaime never rebuilt it.”
Norma began to cry softly. Rosana took off her hat and fished a handkerchief out of Norma’s
purse. She wetted it with water from their water bottle and used it clean her mother-in-law’s
face. Then she helped the older woman to drink. “Don’t worry, Mama. It will work out.
Something will work out.” She took a swig herself and used the back of her shirt sleeve to
wipe her own face.
“I’m sorry I don’t have any more water to offer you,” she said to their driver, who carefully
navigated the road back to the village.
“No need, thank you. In the Dominican Republic, we don’t drink so much bottled water like
you do in the U.S.”
“Where are you taking us?” She asked after a moment of silence.
“First to the Inn, where you must gather your things, and then to Planchado.”
“What is Plan-”
“I’ll explain. But for now, remember something. You are not in the US any more. The people
here are not like your people. They are friendly and loving to each other, but not as much to
foreigners. They are struggling to make ends meet, and many have no qualms about stealing.
Hide your valuables.”
Rosana began a sarcastic comment, but Barto continued.
“Secondly, in this country, the sex-trade is a large part of the local economy. Unless you want
to be mistaken for a worker in that trade, do not go anywhere alone, especially at night. Do
“Good. Here you are, Senora Delacruz. Leave Norma in the car. I will watch her while you
go in and get your bags.”
Without a word of protest about being ordered around, Rosana climbed out of the truck and
walked into the Inn. “I’m getting soft,” she said.
Ten minutes and many curious stares later, Barto guided the truck through the quiet streets of
Palmar. Norma coughed, twisting the bandana in her fingers. A hundred questions ran
through Rosana’s mind, but putting them into words on this convoluted morning seemed
“Senor Barto, where are you taking us?” Norma asked.
“To Planchado. Were there houses at Planchado when you lived here, cousin?”
“No. Only the Convent.”
“I built some small houses for the Haitian refugees who come here to pick during the harvest.
Most of them are at the bottom of the hill, but I am building two new houses on the side of the
hill next to the Convent, and you will live in one.”
“How much is the rent?” demanded Rosana, turning a steely eye toward their rescuer.
He glanced at her, and then at Norma. Rosana could see him calculating and knew she was
powerless to argue with his price. Unless it involved other than monetary payment.
“Ten dollars a week.”
Rosana did some quick calculations. Ten dollars a week. Forty dollars a month. They had
six months of rent with very little left over for food. Or, four months rent and enough for food
and Norma’s medications. She wondered if they would have enough to make it through until
she got a job. But surely four months would be enough time to get a job. She realized he
“…but this house isn’t quite finished yet. The interior walls, for example, do not have plaster,
the windows are not yet installed, and most importantly for you, there is no running water.”
He gauged her response out of the corner of her eye. She didn’t even flinch.
“Is there a well?”
“Yes. A common well that will be used by both houses when they are occupied.”
“One outlet. Enough to run a light.”
Rosana considered the implications. A refrigerator was what they really needed. Norma’s
medications had to be kept cold. They would have to solve that problem. Water she would
haul in a bucket and heat on the stove if necessary. At least they would have a roof over their
“Seven dollars a week,” she countered. “And you throw in a bucket. A new bucket.”
Barto stroked his mustache to hide the smile which threatened to twitch across his face.
“Eight. And two new buckets.”
“Done. I’ll pay the first month now.” Rosana reached into her shirt and brought out their
money. Quickly, she counted out thirty-two dollars and tucked the remainder back into it’s
hiding place. Their driver was wiping his mustache, his eyes fixed on the road.
“Here, Mama, give this to him.” Involuntarily, she flipped down the sun visor and surveyed the
image there. She sighed. Sweat, dust, and too much sun gave her face a bedraggled,
mottled look that matched the way she felt. At least she could fix her hair while there was still
a mirror. Methodically, she removed the bobby pins and rubber band which held the red curls
in place until they fell limply around her shoulders. She handed the pins to Norma.
“Hold these, please, Mama.”
Barto watched, furtively as the red curtain fell around her like a cloud of living sunset, and for
a moment thought he had never seen anything as beautiful in his life. Before he could stop
himself, the words were out of his mouth, sounding harsh and foreign to his own ears.
“Keep your hair covered. And a hat on at all times.”
She turned a confused, surprised look toward him, tucking the curtain behind her ear with a
delicate unconscious gesture that nearly stopped his heart.
Blessedly, Norma clarified. “So much dust and sun, querida. Your head will burn.”
And the men here will not be as respectful of you as you’re used to, he thought to himself.
She would need protection. They both needed protection, but how would he find time to deal
with their needs with the harvest about to start? I’ll help as much as I can, he thought, but
she’s going to need more than I can give. Soft hands. She’s a spoiled American beauty queen
who has never worked a day in her life. There’s no way she’s going to support herself and
her mother-in-law in this country. He snorted involuntarily, catching himself and changing it
into a cough. But she brought Norma home, and Norma is family, so I’ll help when I can, he
resolved, thinking about the well and the outhouse at Planchado. He adjusted himself in the
seat and resolved to watch the situation unfold.
Rosana quickly braided her hair, taking the pins from her mother-in-law one at a time and
securing the braid under the sun hat, which she planted firmly on her head, pulling it down
until Barto could no longer see her face. He slowed the truck and turned inland, away from
the coast. Along a dirt track and up a small hill they traveled slowly, kicking up a storm of dust
“What’s that?” Rosana blurted. “That building! Up there! With the sun glinting on the
“The Convent, no?” Norma replied, turning to their host for confirmation.
Barto nodded. “The Sisters of the Sacred Heart live here. Near your house.”
“Convent?” Rosana looked to Norma for explanation.
“Like a monastery, but for women. Like the monastery on the hill – by – by -” Norma’s breath
came in great heaves.
“I know, Mama. I know.” The younger woman gathered her into her arms and rocked her
gently. “Like the monastery on the hill by Camp Pendleton. The place we were going to visit
the day they died.”
A bump in the road gave Barto a glimpse under the hat at the face of the woman who cradled
his older cousin. The eyes were closed, and tears ran freely.
Posts tagged ‘chapter thirteen’
Rosana stood on the edge of the sidewalk, the wheelchair already mired in the inch of sand