Lupita remembers her first day at that place, not who brought her. She remembers looking down at her feet, at the floor, seeing the shadow of one she was certain, even then, she would never see again.
She remembers her first night: going to bed with her shoes on so she’d be ready to leave when, and if, the moment came. She remembers waking up, howling. She remembers the women who came to flash the overheads, wake the other girls, yank her shoes off, pull her covers up and drop the dormitory into darkness, the darkest darkness she had ever seen, one she is sure must be the darkest she will ever know.
But, in childhood’s years, those memories are prehistoric; very nearly, if not quite, lost. Now Lupita has been taken into a house she feels is much too good for her, even if she was chosen over all the others, probably because she was not bad looking for her age and has a certain meek charm the others lack: girls who were there longer and had more time to harden under the light of the overheads, under the touch of all that was rough upon the skin, to steel themselves against the food they had forced down for as long as they can remember.
Now Lupita lives in a beautiful house, surrounded by a tall fence you can see through, even reach through, but cannot crawl up and over; not in either direction, in or out. A fence which is itself, on one side, behind a wall, a solid wall you cannot see through; one, it is supposed, is sufficient to deter those on the other side, those who would appreciate a glimpse of paradise, if not a taste of it.
But Lupita is not a prisoner, not like before. She is the only child in a house that was childless until she was the one chosen, the one taken out of the dozens who were watched, at play, by the childless couple who, their backs against the building, watched. Suddenly the matron called her name, called as if calling a dog she didn’t like, and the hearts of the other girls, yet again passed over, sunk into their shoes.
Lupita, unaware of the miracle, had been formally introduced and had another opportunity to look at her feet, at the concrete of the yard, at the shadow of those who were taking her, so different from the shadow of one who had left her, in childhood’s years, centuries ago, the shadow she was sure she would never see again.
This one was softer, like the voices of the two, the man and woman who, she now realized, must have seen her as a gift in a world that had given much, just not the gift they had in mind.
Now Lupita does not go to bed with her shoes on. She sleeps in a room of her own between sheets she runs her hands over, unable to admit their fineness, their friendliness. In the dark, a considerably lesser dark than one she can almost remember, they speak to her.
‘Lupita,’ say the sheets, ‘you are welcome’ and, sometimes, ‘Lupita, we were waiting for you, just waiting.’
Lupita, bathed in a rich smell of bread and coffee she could never, had she not been chosen, ever imagined, eats her breakfast quickly, standing between the man and woman who must rush to their respective callings, not forgetting to leave her off at a school that, like her sheets, she can hardly believe. Oh, there are the usual insulters, the bullies, but you’d never know it, seeing them there, so clean, so finished, wearing the smart uniform she herself now wears.
Perhaps she lacks the touch, the feel, of gold in her ears, around her neck, but she knows, if she asks, it will be hers. There is nothing she can do about her skin, but coffee-colored is not a bad color. The others seem pale to her, flowers under glass, that need to be watered daily, just so, in the same amount, at the same time, by someone like the silent woman in her new house, a woman who, it seems, has so little to do she must do it in slow motion.
Lupita’s features are also different, if only slightly. But she sees the others, as if they always looked at things together, including her, at the same time, in the same way, taking them in, her features, as they note traces of the native, the blood of the Maya flushed from their own by so many pairings, always lighter and lighter, by Spanish blood which, obviously, is more pure, more valuable. She sees the others noting the lack of hair on her legs. She will know, in time, they are shaving theirs, as they know, already, she will never have to shave hers.