He was a fifteen-year-old boy sitting alone on a cracked trash can. The network of alleyways was infested with the sounds of broken Spanish and broken English. He bent his head down and stared at his bare feet covered in dirt and dust from the grimy streets of Laredo, Texas. The roar of distant motorcycles grew steadily louder until he could feel wind and the hot breath of Spanish curse words. Dust settled into the black curls of his hair. He got his hair from his mother, his abuela, or grandmother, used to tell him. She would stroke his cheek with those age old hands, dry as a bone and crumbly like a winter leaf clinging to life.
She would smile at him with the gaze of a wise owl, and say "Your mother's hair was thick and as black as the night, and she would never cut it, not until it grew down to her ankles and collected the dust. And I would tell her, 'Daughter, you look like an old woman with the white in your hair.' But she would just laugh and shake her head, and the dust would fall to the ground and she would be young once more."
And he would ask "And you, Abuela? Shake your head, and the white in your hair will fall to the ground like the flour from your famous tortillas."
But she would just laugh faintly, the sound disappearing into the wind, before saying "Ah, my boy, my son. I cannot just shake off my old age. I am so full of years, I can barely fit anymore."
At the time, as an eight-year-old boy, he did not understand the pain in her eyes.
But now, he could see everything plainly. He could smell the baking tortillas as if they were under his nose. The smell brought back pleasant memories of times the warm sun danced on the backs of happy children, while they laughed with heavy bellies and light hearts. As he remembered, his stomach did not growl at the thought of heaping plates of beans and corn. He had not eaten in a week; he was numb from the pangs of hunger.
Night had fallen, but he dared not stir from his spot in the alley. Candle lit windows lined the broken down neighborhood, but the shelter at the very end was pitch dark. He knew that his mother had lined the windows with empty bottles of beer, and most were cracked from her fits of anger. He could see in his mind the shattered glass that covered the floor that he slept on, could see himself sweeping it away every night before he slept. He could smell a whiff of cheap cigarettes that his mother smoked every night before falling unconscious. They were paid for by scrounging and begging, even as their own bellies went empty. No, he would not return to the place that was no longer his home, to be with the stranger who was no longer his mother. He leaned his head against an empty water jug and closed his eyes.
The boy awoke the next morning to the sounds of clanging pots and laughter. Men sat on the broken stoops around him talking through tobacco stained teeth. Wives and children were half-covered by steam rising from the pans of fresh tortilla. He saw a woman through the parting clouds carrying a sack of flour, her hair as white as the balmy clouds in the sky. She saw him and smiled with the melancholy air of an old bird. He sat up and started running towards her, weak in his starvation.
"Abuela, Abuela, I have waited for you, what took you so long? I knew you would not leave me here!" he shouted across the alley. "Abuela, where have you been? Did you forget me? How could you forget me?"
Even as he spoke, a torrent of hot air swept through the street, blowing up makeshift shelters of strips of fabric. He faltered for a moment, and then looked back at her, the dust stinging his eyes. He looked up, and saw only a young woman with coal black hair dusting flour onto the baking tortillas, as the wind snatched away the white powder that had settled into her strands.
Annie Lu is a junior in high school in Washington with a passion for literature of all kinds. She has been published in several other literary magazines for teens. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing, and playing sports.