I had been in the bus for over two hours and my legs began to cramp. I tried to move them but it didn’t help. I looked out the window smeared with dirt and wished I could open it for some fresh air. I watched the scenery go by like a slow movie. The terrain of Mexico was dry, but also quite beautiful. I could only guess the names of the many types of trees and shrubs.
The bus gave a jerk and I knew the driver had downshifted to stop at a small store and gas station. The bus rattled up to the one pump and stopped. From the broken door of the store came a woman. She had native Indian features- red brown skin, jet black hair and deep dark eyes. She began to fill the tank but kept a watchful eye on those of us who left the bus to enter her small store. Since I didn’t want a Coke or chips, I waited outside. For a while I just watched her finish filling the tank. Behind the pump stood a small girl. I hadn’t seen her come up. She had the same Indian features. I also saw her dress- which was very dirty with holes in it the size of my hands. On her head was a bright orange scarf.
Our eyes met and I smiled. She didn’t smile back. I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out some candy. I called to her mother and asked in my halting Spanish if I could give it to her child. The mother eyed me suspiciously. She looked at her daughter and saw the pleading eyes. She relented and told the girl to go get it. The little girl, though timid at first, accepted the gift. I talked to her briefly since I saw we were beginning to board the bus. I asked how old she was. “I’m ten,” she replied proudly and gave a smile. I smiled back. Then I made a blunder. I told her I liked her scarf on her head. Her smile left her face. Her dark eyes filled with tears. I asked what was wrong. “I have no hair. Mama cut it off because I have bugs.” I knelt down and looked into her sad face. We said nothing to each other. The bus driver started the engine. I looked at the girl and asked if I could take her picture. She smiled slightly. I only took one photograph and then got onto the bus. I sat down and continued to wonder about her. I still do.
In my early twenties I spent a summer doing volunteer work in and around Mexico City. While there I met two young girls- one at a remote country store; the other at a children’s center. After coming home, I took a writing class in college where I combined these two girls into the one character in the essay above.
The Mexican girl I met at the store.
And the little girl who wore the orange scarf is on the left.
(Roll film photos- Martha B.)
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