Monthly Archives: November 2015

Abuela Invents the Zero

In school, we had to write a story we read in another person’s perspective. This story was originally in Constancia’s perspective, and  our assignment was to re write it in Abuela’s. You can find the original online here: “Abuela Invents the Zero“.

Abuela Invents the Zero by Daniela Velasquez

Just because you see a frail, huddled lump engulfed in a coat when you look at me, it doesn’t mean that’s what I am. Sure, I may be a sorry sight and my old bones might be small and brittle, but I still have feelings. Mi nieta, Constancia, seems not to understand this. From the very first time she laid her wide, youthful, eyes on my frizzy gray hair and deeply wrinkled face, I could tell she despised me.

You would think that raising ten children on la isla should warrant some respect, but not from little Constancia. She thinks that I don’t notice how she regularly ignores me, how often she sends disgusted looks my way, how she pretends we don’t know each other, that I don’t exist. I don’t understand Constancia. She acts as if I’m barging into her life without reason. I’m only here in New Jersey to experience the magic of snow I read about as a child. It’s been a lifetime dream, and I’ll be gone before long.

I try to ignore her, to gain strength from my faith. I say the rosary, read bible verses, and sing old spanish hymns at the top of my creaky voice. Although mi hija, Elena, has come down with the flu, sickness won’t stop me from attending Sunday mass. I need something to ground me, inspire me, so I can regain my peace of mind. Back on la isla, going to mass always soothed my soul; hopefully, here in la Polo Norte, it will be the same.

I request Lucas, Elena’s husband, to escort me to church on Sunday. Unable to leave his wife alone, however, he decides that the responsibility of driving should be Constancia’s. I just hope she is compliant, because I can’t go without assistance.

When Sunday comes, Lucas helps me hobble my way down the slick pathway to the car. It pains me to see the sickened look in Contancia’s eyes as she takes in the mass of fabric that’s my body. My bun feels too big, my back too hunched, and my hands too dry under her scrutinizing stare. There’s nothing I can do about it, though. Constancia is my only way to church, whether I like it or not.

Before I know it, we’ve arrived at church for the Spanish mass. Huffing and muttering, Constancia leads me up the steep, crumbling steps. I don’t understand why she still thinks that I’m blind to her repulsion.

Stepping into the church is like meeting a lost relative I never thought I would see again. I slowly pad to my pew, making sure it has the same view of the altar as my spot at La Isla Inglesia (The Island Church). I wedge my way past the people already settled there with enough muttered “con permisos”  to write a book.

It’s like I’m already in heaven. I sing hymns to the Lord, even though my voice has long since gone hoarse. I pray, because my time is almost up. And I smile like there’s no tomorrow. The mass flies by, and soon it’s time to take communion. I poke my head out of the missalette and unsteadily get to my feet. At a snail’s pace, I make my way toward the front of the church.

I accept the eucharist like an old friend. The familiar feeling of the wafer in my mouth warms me to the core. I move on slowly, savoring the moment.

My eyes dart around the room, searching for Constancia. She’s nowhere to be found. How can this be?  I am lost in a place that had just started to feel like a second home. I imagine everyone can see me clear as day, poking my feeble head out of my oversized coat like a turtle in it’s shell. I hear titters from the pews, and my face burns with embarrassment. Where is Constancia, the one who is supposedly looking after me?

Finally, a woman helps me to my seat. I cannot grasp why Constancia has abandoned me. What have I done to deserve such contempt from my own nieta? How dare she treat me with such disrespect?

On the drive back, I stifle my outrage, hoping Constancia apologizes on her own. But we sit in silence. I realize that her confession will have to come the hard way.

The minute I step into la casa, I let loose my bottled up storm of emotion. I raise a knobby, gnarled hand, shaking, and point to Constancia. I fix her with a steely glare, and say with conviction what I have been thinking since I arrived.

“You make me feel like una cero, nada.” I declare, then tromp to my room, inflamed. Constancia seems to forget that one day she will be old, that she will someday be in my shoes. She seems to think that I am worth nothing, worth less than the dirt under her feet. Yet I am her family, her grandmother.

I warble my favorite hymns, hoping that in some obscure way, they would connect me to la isla and calm my spirit. I pull out my bible for comfort. A yellowed slip of paper flutters to the ground, and I pluck it off the floor. It’s a letter to me, and an old one, too. I unfold the creased paper and read the words faded with age.

Sabrina, it reads.

Of all the hurtful things you can do to a person, the worst is to make them feel like una cero, nada, like you did to me, your very own Abuela. But always remember that everyone can make mistakes, especially children. So when your own time comes to feel like una cero (and I guarantee it will), remember this day.

And I do remember. Maybe I’ve been too hard on Constancia. Maybe I need to reach out to her. Maybe I am the one who owes an apology.

Woman in the Snow

This was a school assignment to take the point of view of someone else in a story we read.  We had to rewrite the story from that person’s point of view.

Woman in the Snow

Having a baby was harder than I expected.  I was constantly on edge, making sure my precious bundle of joy didn’t suffer any harm. That’s how I was with my Jada.  She was a ray of sunshine in my disaster of a life:  no money, no education, no peace of mind.  It was my only job to make sure Jada stayed happy and healthy.  I had failed.

It was hard to believe how tranquil it had been just two days ago.  Jase was looking for work, but Jada and I were happy as can be.  Strolling through our little garden she scratched herself on something – now I knew it must have been a rusty nail in our collapsing fence.  I’d rinsed the cut, but didn’t give it a second thought otherwise.

I show have.  After a day, Jada’s symptoms were beginning to show.  After two days I was mortified.  She was ashy and burning up with what felt like a 104 degree fever.  With no insurance and no transportation, things were looking bleak,  But, going to the hospital was the only hope.

Forging my way on foot, through the bitter cold, Jada wailed in my embrace.  She was hot as coal with each step I was fighting icy pinpricks of sleet.  It was all my fault.  My fault that Jase was out looking for work, my fault that Jada was suffering, and my fault she wasn’t at the hospital. I had to fix it.  Jada would not, could not die.  Suffering my way across the road, I heard the rumble of a bus approaching.

Seeing me, the driver slowed to a halt and climbed out.  He was a rotund white man in a dull grey uniform.  His face told me he was all business.  As he made his way toward me, I wrapped my jacket more tightly around Jada and I.  I wished for the thousandth time that I had grabbed something heavier than a blanket and windbreaker on the mad rush out the door.

“Look here,” he told me gruffly.  “I’ve closed down the route.  I’m taking the bus in.”

I was hysterical and made sure he knew it. “I need help, please, ” I pleaded.  “My husband’s gone to Memphis looking for work, and the baby is sick, real sick.  She needs to go to the hospital.  I know she’ll die if I don’t get help.” I explained through racking sobs.  By now my bare feet were numb, and Jada almost too hot to touch.

After an eternity, the driver Grady (it said on his name tag) signed.  “Well, I got to go by the hospital on the way back to the garage.  You can ride that far.  ” He crossed his arms and nodded to me for money.

I was then I realize that along with shoes, I had forgotten to grab my purse.  My heart sank into my stomach.  “I-I don’t have the fare,” I mumbled.  “But if you let me ride, I’ll bring it to you in the morning.”

He snarled, “Give an inch and y’all want a mile. You know the rules.  No money. No ride!”

Hot tears welled up in my eyes and sob stuck in my throat.  Anger roared in my ears, Jada, my baby, was dying, dying! Why couldn’t this insolent man see that?

“Please!” I cried, “Feel her head. She’s burning up.” Grady did nothing.  I searched myself in a futle attempt to find something to pay with.  All I had was my golden wedding rind.  To save Jada, I had to let it go.  The driver refused it, and snapped something about me over-reacting, but I had already despaired.

The wind howled in time with my heart.  Jada was slipping away from me with every passing second.  Watching the bus rumble away was like losing the last of your breath underwater; helplessness and horror overwhelmed me.

I couldn’t give up though.  Jase and Jada are both counting on me.  So I summoned what energy I had left, and trundled on, past the bakery, past the library.  As I grew more numb and sluggish, Jada grew more agitated.  I was nearing the hospital at last when I felt myself slipping away.  Jada was now cold and still.  As the darkness enveloped me, I knew we were dying.  If only I had noticed the cut sooner, if only I had money, if only the driver had shown us kindness…