I stare up at the dull cement ceiling, sweating, tired, and restless. I have been having trouble sleeping ever since the day I ran back from el mercado[1]. I look over to my little sister across the room, sleeping in a bed that is too small for her, in pajamas that are too big for her frail body yet too small for mine anymore. I can see that she too, is sweating, even without the one raggedy old bed sheet covering her. I turn the small oscillating fan that sits between us closer to her as I get up to look out the window.

I hate windows. They only show you what you don’t want to see. When I was younger, around my sister’s age, back when I knew nothing, I used to love them – I would stare past bakery windows at all the delicious breads and treats, past clothing store windows at all the new jeans and shiny shoes, past book store windows at the displays of books and magazines of all these faraway places and international celebrities. I would yank my mother’s hand towards every window we passed as we walked down to el mercado, begging, “Mamá, mamá! Comprame esto! Yo quiero ese!”[2]And she would reply, “Si, si, Marcelita, un día te daré uno de oro.”[3] I would squeal of delight at the promise of desserts, dresses, and dictionaries all covered in gold.  That was back when I knew nothing. I hate windows.

Outside the window in the cramped room I share with Mariana, all I see is darkness. Our neighborhood is now notorious for crimes late at night, so the street is usually deserted by six o’ clock. That does not mean it is silent, though. Everyone who lives in El Camal has grown indifferent to the sounds of dogs barking, police sirens, and cars screeching in the night, blasting music. El Camal wasn’t always dangerous, though. Mamá told me that she met Papi as she was outside playing with her sisters, and he saw her through the fence that surrounds our house. They became close friends, and both their families did, too. Back then, Mamá said, things were different. You could walk outside whenever you wanted, and everyone knew each other. She knew to come home exactly at dinnertime, and often in the evenings she would go with her sisters to see Papi and his friends play soccer at la cancha.[4]  This was before all the storeowners with their treats and clothes and books in the windows became older, and their stores all eventually closed down.  I was so sad when we would walk to the market and no longer see anything, but empty windows.

By the time I was four, all my friends in El Camal began going to school.  One day, Gaby asked me why I wasn’t joining her on the school bus every morning. Thinking nothing of it, I just told her what my mother had told me, that I would simply have to start school later because Mamá would miss me too much. Obviously, Gaby’s mother did not care about her, or else would not be sending her away every day. This was irrefutable logic in the mind of a four-year old. At first, I was happy to stay at home with Mamá, helping her cook and clean and run errands. All my friends were jealous. Two years passed, and my friends started the first grade. Mamá kept making excuses as to why I wasn’t going to school – I was too little, I wasn’t prepared, I would miss home. I believed her, and hardly complained, but little by little, I started losing my friends. I remember one day in the park they were laughing over a comic they had been given in class, but when they handed it to me I didn’t understand the markings in the thought bubbles above the cartoons. “You still don’t know how to read, Marcela?” They laughed even harder. I felt as if the bubble above my own head was completely blank. When I ran home crying to Mamá, she said not to worry, and that was when she told me that I wouldn’t need those friends because I would be having a little sister soon. When I brought up the fact that I still couldn’t read, she just stayed quiet.

At the age of ten, I began realizing that I would never go to school. I began realizing that El Camal was not the wonderful place I had convinced myself it was. I began realizing that Mamá could not read, either – that the woman I had loved and admired so much, struggled just figuring out prices at the market. Nor was Papa my knight in shining armor. He worked at the sanitation department during the early morning and guarded the local church late at night. He worked two jobs, yet still was paid much too little to support our family of four. Not nearly enough to be sending even one daughter to school. I began to wonder how we even afforded our meals, since Mamá could not read, nor could she leave Mariana and me alone. I wish I never found out.

Mamá sent Mariana and me to el mercado every three days, at the same time, during which she would use the opportunity to clean our room while we were out, so she said. We were sent to buy enough vegetables, fruits, and rice to last us until the next time we would have enough money to return to the market. I always made it a point to avoid the street with all the new stores – all built a good distance away from El Camal – but one time Mariana ran too far ahead of me, and by then it was too late. Behind her dirty little face, shone the excitement and bewilderment at all the treats behind all the windows. She was at the age where she knew she could not have any of these things, but that did not stop her from looking and dreaming. From then on, we always passed down the street on our way to el mercado, me keeping my eyes forward and trying to ignore the concerned shoppers dodging our way, and Mariana lagging behind, gazing at everything and ignoring everyone.

One day, when we got to the block with the stores, I noticed that Mamá had been a dollar short for the groceries. I knew that if I ran home alone, I would be able to get there in half the time it would take to drag Mariana alongside with me. I made her promise she would not leave the block, but when I saw how distracted she was staring at the electric trains I knew she would be okay. When I first got to the fence at home, I realized that it was locked, which was strange since it was usually kept open. I went around and through the loose plank in the back fence, which only we knew about. I opened the door to find a strange man sitting at my table. I had never seen him before, but he was obviously not from El Camal. He was dressed in a cream-colored suit with an open collared white shirt and brown oxford shoes, and had huge gold rings on several of his fingers. He had dark black hair and a mustache, and gave me a smile that sent shivers down my spine.  “Hola, bonita.”[5]I stiffened immediately. “No tengas miedo, ¿por qué no te acercas a mi lado? Ven y siéntate en mi pierna.”[6] He reached out his hand, and seeing that I was reluctant, he yanked me forcefully to him. I pushed him away, but he lifted me and sat me on his lap. He began putting his hands on my thigh, and slowly working them up my dress. I don’t know why I didn’t scream, but when I kept trying to push away he just dug himself into me harder and I could feel my ribs bruising. All I could do was look out the window.

After what had seemed like hours, Mamá walked into the room and dropped the tray of coffee and bread she had been holding. Her hair was undone from its usual braid, and she was wearing her church dress. “Que estas haciendo? Sueltala!”[7]She began to cry angry tears and yanked me from the man’s lap. She hugged me but all I could do was stand there numb. I buried my head into her, but I could still hear the man yelling at my mother. “¿Qué te importa, si yo te estoy pagando bien? Ni siquiera me dijiste que tenías una hija. Mira Maria, dejala, y te pagaréel doble que te doy, si le das a mí.”[8] It was then that I realized what my mother had been doing to support our family all these years. I pushed her away and ran straight out of the house. No one even bothered to look twice my way.

I felt hopeless. I felt ashamed. I felt angry. In reality, I felt as if the cartoon bubble over my head had no markings in it, just a bunch of scribbles because I couldn’t even write or think of the words to describe exactly what it was that I was feeling.

I had ran out of tears by the time I reached Mariana, who did not even notice anything was wrong, just yanked my hand to a window saying, “Mira, Marcela! Comprame esto! Yo quiero ese!”[9]I was too heartbroken to even try to explain to my disillusioned little sister how her imaginary world would come crashing down in a matter of years. How I wished that she would never grow older and face this world, or have to suffer this life of staring into and out of windows, feeling forever trapped.

Before I could say anything else, I just responded, “Si, si, Marianita, un día te daré uno de oro.”[10]


Kimberly Villacis is an undergraduate double major at Lehigh University, studying both Biology and English because she started out studying one before realizing she was always meant for the other. She is also a Latin American Studies minor, and her secret aspiration in life is to one day be published.

[1] the market

[2] “Mother, mother! Buy me this! I want that one!”

[3] “Yes, yes, little Marcela, one day I will give you one made of gold.”

[4] the court (usually made of cement and found in the middle of the community park)

[5] “Hello, beautiful.”

[6] “Don’t be afraid, why don’t you come closer to my side? Come and sit on my lap.”

[7] “What are you doing? Let her go!”

[8] “Why do you care, if I am paying you well? You didn’t even tell me that you had a daughter. Look Maria, let her go, and I will pay you double what I give you, if you give her to me.”

[9] “Look, Marcela! Buy me this! I want that one!”

[10] “Yes, yes, little Mariana, one day I will give you one made of gold.”



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