And She Left the Dying World
The year the war ended, Gabriela led her sick mother out of Tepeñixtlahuaca. The bones of the villagers still had meat on them then, and the hearths still had fire in them, but the retreating soldiers had chased away the skinny dogs and burned the houses. Scattered in the jungle, the bodies of young women—always the first to pay—had been left to rot. The young men had been killed or turned into soldiers who had, in their own time, committed atrocities.
The path down off the mountain to Paso de la Reina was stony and hard. The journey took eight hours. Gabriela had walked it only three times in her fourteen years, but this time she had the feeling that it would not end well because every few meters along the way, she caught sight of jungle toads staring at her. They were giants, their gray-green bodies covered with warts, their bellies white as cotton. One of them flicked his tongue at Gabriela. When she saw a toad eating a small bird she knew that her mother would not live to see the doctor in Jamiltepec.
At the edge of Paso de la Reina, in sight of the huts and houses and the Rio Verde, her mother begged for a longer rest. Gabriela sat her on a large stone alongside the path in the evening light and there her mother died.
With no one to help her and no one to keep her dead mother company or tell her what to do, Gabriela waited on the path until morning. The men of Paso de la Reina went to work in the fields and the women, on their way to chores, stopped to tell her that she was in luck: the priest—who came once a year to baptize babies, to marry the young, to bless the already interred and to shrive the dying—was in the village.
The priest came and blessed the dead mother. Handing Gabriela a stake, he told her to bury her mother in the red earth beside the path.
With the stake she dug a grave. Not a deep grave but deep enough. She wrapped her mother in the two handwoven huipiles, one dyed deep blue, the other crimson—the only objects her mother had salvaged from the ruins—and buried the body.
At fourteen, she was alone. Her village no longer existed. Her mother was dead. Her murdered father had left a Bible that the soldiers had torn apart, burned, then pissed on, along with a small cache of coins that the soldiers stole before leaving the village to the dead. She was alone and she did not know what to do and she had no place to go.
The priest, a man weary of death but not unhappy to send souls to heaven, told Gabriela that God would provide for her.
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Genre – Women’s Fiction
Rating – PG
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