Adriana by Leea Glasheen

September 1, 2015 | By | Reply More

Pués, así es, Doña Debora.”  Adriana said my name with an extra syllable, but I didn’t correct her because it sounded lovely that way.

She hunched over the pila, a three-part, waist-high stone sink, rubbing a bar of detergent into one of my husband’s T-shirts. Once it was sufficiently soaped, she rasped it clean on the gravely bottom of the pila and then rinsed it with the water that flowed into the middle section. The water was treated with enough chlorine to smell like a hotel swimming pool but still needed to be boiled like it owed us money before we could consume it. Even with those precautions, we regularly ended up defecating into cups so doctors could diagnose us with intestinal parasites that year my husband worked at the molino, two miles down a dirt road from the village of Técpan, Guatemala,.

“The suitors used to come all the time.” Adriana spoke to me in Spanish except when she humored my attempt to learn the local Mayan language and responded to my rudimentary statements in Cakchiquel. “I turned them all away because you know they only want one thing from a country girl.”

It’s easy to imagine a line outside a younger Adriana’s door. Though silver strands shown at the temples of the otherwise thick black braid that extended down her back, her lively black eyes and rosy cheeks whispered of the beauty of her youth.

“There was one, though, whom I allowed to come back,” she said as she did the chores that earned her five dollars a week which included cleaning our entire home each weekday morning, making lunch before she left, and washing our clothes on Friday afternoons. I had been reprimanded by a stranger in the market place the week before. Didn’t I understand, she asked, that if I overpaid my muchacha, then all of the muchachas would expect five dollars a week?

“He was from the city and would drive past my house on his moto. I sent him away several times before I finally accepted him. We would walk to the bridge and talk. He always asked me to ride with him on hismoto. Of course I did not. It would not have been decent because we were not yet married.”

I drank chamomile tea as she spoke. I made a cup of tea for her also and sliced us each a piece of pound cake bought at the Mennonite bakery.  I suppose the women in town would complain if they heard I not only gave her cake but other food as well. After Adriana asked permission to keep vegetables she had fished out of our trash, I started setting aside those that I found too squishy. That way, they would be clean when she took them, and I didn’t have to be reminded that she valued what I tossed away.

“Then I heard from my cousin that she saw him kissing a girl in the town, right at the top of the hill, you know, by the mechanic’s shop. I was so furious. How could he do that to me? The next time he stopped by, I told him that I was finished with him and he should never come back.”

She wiped her hands on her delantal, an ornately-embroidered apron worn by virtually every Mayan woman over a corte, a long piece of hand-woven cloth wrapped around as a skirt and tied in place by a colorful sash. She also wore a thick polyester blouse with machine-embroidered flowers, a style that dated back to Spanish colonialism. It was a cheaper version of the huipil, the traditional hand-woven Mayan top.

Delicioso. Muchísimas gracias, Doña Debora,” Adriana said upon tasting her cake. “He tried to tell me that I misunderstood. He said that it was the custom in the city to greet with kisses, but I couldn’t believe him. I couldn’t let him make a fool of me. So I sent him away.”

The cheek kissing exported from Spain to the Spanish-speaking Americas didn’t catch on among the Mayans. The Mayan men shook hands and the woman patted each other’s shoulders.

“He was so angry with me when he left. And he didn’t return. I waited and waited for him to return. The others still came to my door, but I couldn’t go with them because, even though we had a fight, we had made a commitment to each other.”

Adriana squinted when she checked to see if the clothes were clean. She had told me that she used to support herself by selling her embroidery but in recent years had not been able to see well enough to create her works of art. I remembered my sense of pride bartering like a native in the market places. “One hundred Quetzales,” they might quote me for a hand-embroidered scarf. “My husband earns Quetzales, not dollars,” I would tell them as I walked away. “For you, fiftyQuetzales,” they’d say. I would embellish, “I have many children to feed at home. I can give you ten.”  We would settle on fifteen, meaning I paid less than three dollars. Now I wondering how many times Adriana would have rubbed her eyes to see more clearly while embroidering that scarf by candlelight for the few centavos the merchant paid her.

“I still see him drive by on his moto now and again. Sometimes there is a woman on the back. I wonder how my life would have been different, but there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t let him make a fool of me. Maybe I should have found someone else. They used to come all the time,” she said, “but they don’t come any more.”

She wiped the few drops of splashed water from the tile floor before she carried the basket of wet clothing to the line outside.

As she pinned the shoulders of my daughter’s elementary school uniform to the line, the revving of a motor could be heard in the distance. As it got closer, the cloud of dust that surrounded it did not hide that it was a motorcycle. Adriana turned to the road, holding her flattened hand above her eyes to block the late afternoon sun. She watched as the rider flew by. Then she turned back to the basket and continued to hang my clothes to dry.

Leea Glasheen writes on the shores of Lake Michigan; you are as likely to catch sight of her on, in, or biking next to the lake as you are to spy her in the corner of a coffee shop tapping, tapping, tapping her thoughts into existence. Leea packs a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Mount Mary University of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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Category: Being, Prose, United States of America, When Women Waken Literary Journal

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