HOLA MIS AMIGOS!!!
We are now traveling below the equator (well, for the ones of us living in el Norte) to Paraguay! And Jeff Switt has shown us that even in the burning blazing sun, strength can blossom. With that, we present:
A Paraguayan Harvest
Who will miss a little peach from a peasant’s orchard?
At sixteen, Chelita is already too old. Her bones are hard, as they are wont to say about such girls. Fit only for farm work or as a trabajadora in a tourist hotel. But her younger sister Penelopia, at thirteen, is ripe for picking.
Chelita yells for her father as two men in green uniforms drag Penelopia from the orchard to a waiting truck. Chelita and her father can only watch.
A soldier pinches the fruit and is delighted with its ripeness.
“Just a little taste –”
“No!” orders the captain.
Penelopia, bound and gagged in the covered bed of the truck, struggles to breathe through a cloth sack tied over her head. Muffled whimpers fill the air. Two guards exchange lewd comments. One gropes Penelopia, and she cries. The guard slaps her head.
“Fuck the capitan,” he mutters, and fondles her again. The girls cower. They’ve all heard the rumors. Incoherent stories. Landfill corpses.
The police no longer investigate. Too much paperwork. And, of course, the bribes.
Midnight. The truck backs to the loading dock. The tailgate drops. Three women in grey usher the girls into a darkened building. “Love Me Tender” competes with static from a distant radio. Today’s catch netted a dozen niñas. Many will bring five hundred American dollars. Some more. The girls that don’t learn, given as bribes.
Penelopia stumbles in the darkness. A woman reeking of perfume removes the girls’ hoods. The matronas laugh as girls cling to each other. Each matrona assigned four girls and four days to groom their little panochas for showing. An exposicion félino. Buyers won’t pay top dollar for ordinary country cuño.
Every day the matronas bathe their girls. Dress their nubile bodies. Paint them with makeup. And a quick course in manners:
El gusto es mio.
Corrections are rapid and continuous:
“Sit straight when you eat.”
“Smile pretty for the man.”
“Stop crying or….”
Matrona Sofia pays special attention to Penelopia, the obvious beauty of her four. As she styles Penelopia’s hair, she whispers in the girl’s ear, “You’re the tastiest putita I’ve ever seen. Perhaps I should sell you to a rich tourista.”
Sofia laughs. Penelopia shudders.
Or should I keep you for myself?
Memories of her childhood arise. The day she was captured. How she survived.
Not all girls blossom. No amount of training can help Lucita who sits across the dining table from Penelopia, weeping. Sofia grabs Lucita by her hair and jerks her head back. Her voice hisses, “Quit your crying or I’ll throw you to the guards.” Lucita screams. She sweeps an arm across the table, sending her dinnerware and utensils flying. Penelopia palms a dinner knife and hides it under her clothing.
Lucita runs toward the locked door, knowing it’s locked, yelling, “Matamé, Matamé,” no longer caring if she lives. Sofia grabs her, drags her toward another door, and shoves her to her assistant.
“No bruises. And keep her a virgin. But do what you must…”
The two other girls are sent to bed. Sofia and Penelopia sit at opposite ends of the table. Sofia breaks the silence. “Penelopia, you’re becoming a beautiful lady.”
Penelopia practices what she’s learned. “Sí, matrona Sofia. Gracias.”
“Come, mi querido. Sit on my lap.”
Penelopia walks to her – back straight, head erect, eyes forward. She stops with an uncertain curtsey. Sofia wraps her arms around her.
Sofia kisses Penelopia on her cheeks. On her lips. She kneads Penelopia’s flesh as a baker would her dough. Penelopia knows what she must do to survive. She nuzzles Sofia’s neck. Her bosom.
“I love you, Mamá.”
Sofia stops her fondling. The fantasy returns. A daughter. She gives Penelopia a motherly hug. It would be dangerous. Smooths her hair. Maybe impossible. Straightens the girl’s clothes. If not now, then when?
Sofia’s lips move in silent prayer. Father. Forgive me of my sins. She crosses herself.
The black phone rings. The three girls stand for final inspection.
“Take these two to the van with the others,” orders Sofia to her assistant. “I’ll take Penelopia.” Sofia leads her down several corridors, up stone steps to a different door. Penelopia struggles to keep Sofia’s stride.
Sofia’s breathing is rapid. Her cheeks flush with anticipation.
“Today we’re going to escape. To Brazil. I have papers. Money. Friends there.”
Sofia edges the door open watching for guards. For soldiers. The daylight blinds. The noise, deafens. Traffic clogs the streets of Asunción. Sidewalks swell with pedestrians who pass without taking notice. The building with bars on blackened windows is one that residents know they must ignore.
Sofia clutches Penelopia to her side and hails a taxi. As she opens the cab door, Penelopia says something. The words are lost in the commotion. Sofia bends down with an ear to Penelopia’s mouth. “What’s that my sweet daughter?” Sofia feels a sharp pain as Penelopia plunges the dinner knife into her neck. She falls to the sidewalk, confused.
“Por qué, Penelopia? I thought you loved me.”
Penelopia leans in as if to give a kiss. Her spittle flies.
“No, matrona. I said I loved mi Mamá.”
That ending must have cut to the bone! Don’t forget: the contest deadline is March 4th, 2017 at 11:59PM Pacific Time! Give Jeff some words of encouragement and please share this story and the contest con tu amigos y familia!!! Muchas gracias!!!