Where is Little Martin?
By Sergio Casas
Martin, my name is Martin, in honor of St. Martin de Porres to whom my mother asked for his intercession for my health because I was in a delicate situation. Two weeks after I was born, a respiratory complication forced me to be in an oxygen chamber. On the doctor’s recommendation, who was not sure if I would survive, my mother called the priest to have me baptized. “No one can die without having a name and a blessing,” people said.
The morning is cloudy and quiet. There is no noise from the kids running to the school today, vacation time. At my three years old I don’t have to worry about it.
While my mother works in the kitchen, I play with my plastic lion with tires on his feet that the baby Jesus brought me last Christmas. I push him through the hallway until he hits the door, then I push him from the door to the patio. La Monina, my cat, passes by and gives him a slap in the face. Hahaha. If he were a real lion, he would have eaten her by now. My sisters are attending my mom’s instructions. Some clean, some help with cooking. I don’t see my brothers; they must be outside.
Soon, Mom calls for lunchtime, I sit at the table with my brothers and sisters. My father, at the head of the table, always quiet, gets the first plate.
My mother is always concerned about my health. “Do you feel okay?” she asks.
“Yes, Mom,” I respond. She checks that my chicken broth with rice and vegetables is not too hot and rolls a tortilla for me.
Mealtime passes between jokes and laughs. My older brother always says something funny. My father is quiet, he finishes eating and leaves the table. Then we hear him practicing the French horn, and, as always, my mother is the last one to sit and eat.
After I finish my food, I go and sit outside the door. “Hello, Martincito.” Neighbors pass by and greet me. There is a nice smell of wet earth. I see in one side of the street a little group of girls, in the other side a group of boys. They tease each other across the street.
Doña Maria is always looking out her door and watching every move in the barrio. The boys call her el occidental, “the human newspaper”. If you want to know what is going on in the barrio, ask el occidental.
I have, in my pocket, a twenty-centavo coin that my godmother gave me, Mi Domingo, my Sunday, which is a custom, and I think It’s time to spend it. I go to the house close to mine where they sell candies. “Doña Amparito, I want a paleta de cajeta.”
“Mijo, I don’t have any. Go to the corner store, maybe they have some,” she says.
And here I go, walking in the black shoes my older brother grew out of, white socks, my brown short pants, and white shirt. I pass the welder’s workshop; sparks are shooting out like little stars. In the corner store the same answer. I keep walking, enjoying the walk, and for the first time I cross the street alone. On the way I am thinking and observing. I am on an adventure.
I keep crossing streets. It seems not so complicated after all. I arrive at a park with gardens, trees, plants, flowers, and a fountain which I approach to touch the water. It feels cold. People pass by from one side to the other as if in a hurry. Fresh air feels cool on my back. The lights are turned on. There is little sunlight left.
It is then when I look around me, nothing seems familiar. I realize I don’t know where my house is. There is no face that I know. It’s getting dark and everything looks different. I’m scared. I run looking to the sides. Where is everybody? Where am I? I can’t find any sign that tells me where to go. My tears don’t let me see clearly. I try to hold back the crying but I can’t. “Mom, Mom,” I call, as if whispering.
I close my eyes hoping for a miracle, wishing that when I open them I will find myself in my house next to my mother. That is the place where I feel safe, so with my eyes closed I hear a deep and serene voice that tells me, “Don’t worry. Everything will be okay. Soon you will be home.”
I open my eyes and look behind me to see a figure in the shadows with a big head, bright eyes, and extended wings. I close my eyes again trying to ignore him, then I feel a hand resting on my right shoulder and I hear a voice say, “Are you alone? Where are your parents?” a lady with a dark dress and curly hair asked me.
I answered in a breathy voice, “I don’t know. I don’t know where my house is.”
With a soft voice she says to me, “Don’t worry. Everything will be okay. You will be fine. You will be home soon.” The same words I heard from the winged figure, like a dragon. I look behind again and it is not there. I can only see bushes in the darkness.
“What is your name?” she asks.
“Martin, my name is Martin,” I answer. She takes me by my hand and we start walking.
“It is already dark, Martin. Tomorrow you will be back home, meanwhile we have to think about what we are going to have for dinner.”
I just listen and walk, sucking my thumb. I look at the faces of the people passing by, hoping to recognize someone from el barrio, but it seems that I am transported to another world. Warm tears roll down my chubby cheeks.
As we board a full bus, she asks me to hold on tight to the handrail. I have never been on a bus before. I can’t keep my balance. Jumps, jolts, lights flashing in front of the window, noise, conversations; inside it is so dark I can barely make out my black shoes scuffed at the toe.
We get off the bus and walk with some haste. We arrive at a wide-open wooden gate. At the back of the cobbled front yard is a house, with a door and a window with a light on. One outside light shines on a big tree where birdcages hang. Then I hear the barking of a dog and the screams of children who come running.
“Looks who is here! Your new brother,” the lady says.
I burst into tears and think, I don’t want new brothers and sisters. I want my own family that are together at the table, where we share beans and lemon tea when there is no money to buy milk. I want my mom, clinging to her apron while she cooks, and my dad, with his no conversation and his music, the neighborhood kids and their noisy way of playing and my cat, Monina, that lulls me at night with her purr.
The wind blows hard, hitting the top of the tree that emits a loud sound as if trying to say something.
The lady says, “Let’s go inside, it looks like it’s going to rain.”
The kids surround me and invite me in, trying to calm me down because I can’t stop crying. Once inside, one of them brings me a toy to distract me and tells me, “I lend you my doll, the saint, the silver-masked one, the wrestler.”
I stay glued to the door wanting to see through the small window that is in the center but it is too high for me. Another one of the boys brings me a chair and helps me climb up to be able to see out. I hold on to the two small bars of the window. I feel the breeze and smell the scent of wet earth. The rain starts.
“Maaaa, mom, mom,” I shout over and over again, as loud as I can but the crack of lightning and roar of thunder are louder than my voice.
“Dinner is ready, Martin, come to the table, come on, you need to eat something,” the lady says.
I listen but I ignore her. I still hope that my family will appear through that wooden gate to take me home. I don’t even want to blink. I keep repeating, “ Maaaa, mom, mom.” I don’t feel hungry or sleepy, I just want to be here looking out. I want to wake up from this nightmare.
I hear them chatting at the dinner table and in my mind I can see my family sitting at the table, talking, passing the basket of tortillas. There are no better refried beans than the ones my mom makes, and I wonder what they are doing now. Has my mom run upstairs to the patio to pick up the clothes from the clothesline so they don’t get wet in the rain? Are they looking for me?
I do not remember if I slept or not, or where and how. A rooster announces the new day with his song.
“When you finish this, is time to go, Martin.” She holds out a glass of milk and a cema. She takes me by the hand again, walking in a hurry, people passing by greet her and ask, “Who is the boy?”
She answers, “Is a long story.”
We keep walking, people scurrying by. A man with a big basket full of birotes on his head is riding his bicycle on the sidewalk because the milk delivery truck is blocking the street. Horns are honking; the city is awake.
We stop, a wide-open door and a gendarme, a policeman, stands at the entrance. He is wearing his blue uniform; bloomers, an ironed shirt, black boots, his cap, and a baton on his belt. She talks to him for a few seconds and we enter.
She sits me on a wooden bench, asks me to wait there, and goes to talk to the person at the desk. They both look at me and the person at the desk takes some notes. She comes back to me. “I have to go,” she says, “but you will be fine, everything will be okay. Soon your parents will come for you, Martin. Don’t worry. Goodbye,” she says, giving me a kiss on the forehead.
I watch her moving out in a smooth motion like she is floating as she disappears through the door without looking back. A breath of air blows in my face. There is nothing left to do but wait.
“Do you want a glass of water?” an officer asks me. I shake my head no. He pats me on the shoulder and walks away.
I wonder, What if my parents don’t come? where will I go? where will they take me? will the lady come back for me? will I sleep on this bench, or in the street?
My head starts to spin around and around. I don’t understand anything. I just want a lollypop. I hear murmurs coming from the front door. Somebody is talking to the police. When I look carefully, it is my mom and dad. I sit still. I don’t know if I’m dreaming.
They come in, and while my dad goes to the desk, my mom comes with watery eyes and hands clasped in prayer. She drops to her knees and cups her palms to my cheeks. She runs her hands around my limbs to make sure I am not broken.
“Are you okay, my little brown boy?” she says in a broken voice, and she hugs me. I can feel her tears on my face.
All I can say is, “Ma.” I have no more tears to cry and no more voice to scream. I hold on to her neck to make sure she will take me with her. My dad comes over and caresses my head and we leave the police station.
Outside a cab is waiting for us; my first cab ride. On the way they ask me how it happened, how did I get lost, but I can’t talk, I keep holding on to my mom.
My dad says, “A woman took him in for the night and brought him to the police station.”
Mom says, “God bless that woman.”
Then they tell me about how the neighbors helped them in the search. Someone suggested that they bring a photo of me to the local TV station. That was my first appearance on TV. The kids also went out to ask around.
As I listen to everything, I realize that a few hours after I left the barrio, the neighbors came together as one family of a hundred members, 20 fathers, 20 mothers, 25 brothers and 35 sisters.
The cab stops at the corner of our block and lets us out, the meter is ticking. My dad takes me in his arms. Kids are playing soccer in the street. One of them, El Chino, nicknamed because of his Afro hair, shouts out, “Martin! Martin is back!” Everybody runs to meet us shouting and clapping, El Chino comes closer, “Don Pancho, may I carry him?” he asks.
My dad nods his head and El Chino puts me on his shoulders and jumping and shouting we move towards the house. Boys and girls are jumping around, Doña Maria, El Occidental, comes out with her hands in the air calling for everyone to come and see. People are waving and smiling and I feel like I am in a parade. My eyes and my heart perceive in a different way, these same houses, the same people.
My brothers and sisters come out to welcome me. They hug me and shake my hair and ask, “How did you get lost? Where did you sleep?” and so on and so on. My older sister is carrying my baby sister, who doesn’t care that I have been found. I feel happy but a bit dazed. I can’t explain anything at this moment. Last night I thought I would never see my neighborhood, my people, my house, my family again.
The sun is gone. I am sitting on the patio watching my sisters setting the table and my mother is cooking, wearing her checkered apron.
“Dinner is ready,” she calls. I approach the table; all the family is here and like always the first dish is served to my father. My mother makes sure that my food is not too hot. She serves me and looks at me and I can see a shine in her eyes. She takes a moment to caress my hair and gives me a tight hug and whispers so only I can hear, “Oh, my little brown boy.”
The jokes and laughter happen at the table. The beans taste like a little piece of heaven to me today, as if the hand of God himself rolled my tortilla and served my tea.
It’s time to sleep. My mother pulls the covers over my shoulders in the bed that I share with my brother. I put my head on the pillow and look out the window at a starry sky. Some clouds are shining, reflecting the light of the full moon. They look like the big-headed, winged figure I saw in the park, like a dragon, his eyes are two stars. I can hear in my head his voice saying, “Everything will be okay.” I take a deep breath and smile. My cat, La Monina, jumps on the bed. I grab her and cuddle her to my chest; it feels good, her purring.
My family is sleeping. I can hear their hearts beating, like singing a song, a love song. The dragon is right, everything will be okay, I am where I belong. Yes, I am home.
March 2022 Issue
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