a short story by Sean Harris.
‘If there’s an emergency, go and get Ernesto. He’s in the yellow house.’
The woman dressed in maid whites looked at her daughter and son sitting on the wooden boards of the shack. The boy was playing with coloured building blocks. The girl was reading a Frozen book. The girl did not look up.
‘Yes, Mama, in the yellow house.’
‘Don’t let Jorge crawl anywhere. Keep him where he is.’
‘Don’t answer the door to anyone.’
‘I should be home by twelve.’
The girl did not look up from her book. The maid was impatient.
‘Yes, Mama! You can go now!’
The maid, whose name was Maria, walked out of shacks in the hot sun, up to the road. She passed the mango farm on the left that was closed off with barbed wire.
The mangos, tiny, round, green, and drooping down with their weight on the branches, were not yet ripe. Maria saw the farmer, with his white cowboy hat, walking along the long rows of the planted trees. A donkey stood under the shade of one of the trees. The mango farm finished at the traffic lights, where the cars waited in lines.
The man with bent legs and feet was there in his homemade wheelchair, begging at the open car windows. He only raised his sombrero to Maria when he saw her.
It was an hour’s walk to Paradise Village, under the hot sun, along the busy road. There was a side passage away the road that bordered the big swamp. Maria walked along the passage. There were pink birds with the flat beaks pecking around in the mud. Maria walked back up on the road. She sidled along the edge of the busy road, with the rush from the cars blowing back her sleek black hair.
After a while of walking, a fat man pulled up in a truck and smiled at Maria with his gold teeth.
‘Get in, amiga,’ said the man. ‘You can’t walk on the road like that.’
Maria said nothing and walked past the man’s truck.
The man followed in the truck alongside her. ‘Amiga! Don’t ignore me.’
‘I won’t get in your truck,’ Maria said. ‘Go away.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘That’s my own business.’
‘Are you a maid?’
‘I won’t talk to you.’
The man smiled with his gold teeth. Then he finally drove away.
Maria took a deep breath and carried on down the road. Up ahead were traffic lights, the ones that always had street artists performing in front of the stopped cars. At that time there was only one man with wild shaggy hair. He was juggling coloured balls. He dropped one of his balls as Maria passed. It rolled to her, and she threw it back to him. He looked very hot and tired and dirty.
Maria passed the shopping mall, the fish restaurant, and the bus station.
She could see the Paradise Village flags in the distance. She heard the tiger roaring at that moment. She shuddered as she approached the long cage of the tiger’s pen. The pen joined up to the Paradise Village entrance, but the tiger was not in sight.
Maria passed as quickly as she could, with her chest bouncing as she walked. There was a sudden growl.
The tiger pounced forward and meshed its claws in the wire of the cage. Maria dived straight to the ground. The beast and the woman looked at each other. The tiger sat back on his haunches docilely. Maria stood up. Her maid whites were covered with yellow dust. She wiped it away desperately, but none of the thick dust would come off. The guards at the entrance could not see her yet. She walked up to the big stone archway entrance.
The guard was in his booth.
‘Buen dia,’ Maria said, putting her ID card through the slip in the booth.
The guard said, ‘Buen dia’ and ran his pen down a clipboard. He shook his head.
‘We don’t have your name.’
‘That’s impossible,’ Maria said.
‘No.’ The man shook his head. ‘We don’t have you.’
‘There must be a mistake.’
‘Maybe,’ said the guard. ‘But we don’t have you.’
‘It’s my first day as a maid, for Mr. and Mrs. Hollen, at number thirty-nine.’
The guard nodded. ‘I’ll try calling them.’
‘They’re not there. They’re both at work.’
‘Oh,’ said the guard. ‘I’ll try calling, anyway. It’s ringing. No, no answer.’
‘Will you let me in?’ Maria asked him.
‘I can’t do it. This is the function of a gated-community, you understand.’
‘They must have just forgotten to give you my name. I swear to you.’
‘There’s nothing I can do.’
‘I have two little children. They’re hungry. I need to be paid.’
Another maid in whites waited behind Maria. The guard noticed her, took her ID, and looked at the clipboard. He opened the gate. The maid walked through and gave Maria a nasty look. There were sprinklers spraying on the grass after the gate.
‘There’s really nothing I can do,’ the guard said. ‘If Mr. and Mrs. Hollen have forgotten to give your name, it’s their fault.’
‘They’ll understand. I’ll take down your name if they ask.’
‘Thank you,’ Maria said.
She turned and started walking all the way back along the road.
When she finally arrived home, Maria saw smoke pluming out of the window of the shack. She dropped her bag and started running. From a distance, she could hear Jorge crying. When she arrived at the door to the shack, she flung it open and found Jorge crying on his rug. Sophia tried to wave the thick smoke out the window.
‘It’s just smoke, Mama! Don’t worry!’
Maria saw the steaming pan in the sink. Whatever was inside was strongly burnt. She picked up Jorge and dragged Sophia outside. She said, ‘The smoke is bad for our lungs.’
They stood outside, watching the smoke billowing out of the shack.
‘Jorge wouldn’t stop crying, Mama. So—so, I was making warm milk—like you do.’
‘I forgot about it—and the smoke—’
‘It’s all right. It’s just smoke. We’ll wait for it to clear. Then we’ll be all right.’
all pictures by Chiara Vitellozzi.
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