A Matter of Ch'ulel by Gina Kingsley by Gina Kingsley - Read Online

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A Matter of Ch'ulel - Gina Kingsley

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Chapter 1

Beyond the Fence

It was eleven at night. She turned constantly in her bed, all because of a fire, an internal fight. She had to make a decision. The prevalent feeling was an action needed to be taken that night. Otherwise she might never gather enough strength to do what she was about to do. She wanted to run away from home, run into the unknown, risk even death if necessary. The worst, still, would be the separation from her family for who knew how long, and maybe forever. It had to be that, or stay home and quietly support her stepfather’s abuse, and her judgment told her this would mean a slow death. She had suffered with depression and emerging suicidal tendencies - she had tried that last route before without success.

Finally, she reached her decision; escape would take place that very night. She prepared to go, leaving a couple of pillows covered with blankets as a decoy. She was a kid, just eleven years old, but she knew her stepfather could wake up at the slightest noise, and if that were to happen, the covered pillows could fool him, and give her more time to flee. Just in case this escape was going to happen she had kept a backpack hidden under her bed. In the backpack were rugged clothes, a couple of books, and a table knife. Without turning the light on, she walked to the bedroom door and turned the knob very slowly. Out she went, closing the door with the same care.

The air was chilly outside. She headed to one end of the patio, climbed over a concrete fountain used to wash clothes, and from there got on the roof of a toilette stall located next to the fountain. Another climb and Dinora stood on top of a high concrete wall with broken glass encrusted in it. This obstacle was no problem for Dinora. For years all the kids in the house, including her, used to play on this wall and the roof of this house. Of course, that was before the arrival of the lieutenant.

She knew by heart the arrangement of the pieces of sharp glass, and soon was on the main roof of the house. This part was composed of asbestos sheets hammered onto a wooden frame. She walked only where the heads of the nails were visible, as stepping off the line of nails could cause the roof to break, and her to fall into the attic.

While she climbed, tears filled her eyes. It had been a bad week. Information had come that her father, a prominent commander of rebel forces, had been killed. The news said he had received nine bullets all over his body. As far as Dinora remembered, she had seen him only a couple of times, but she assumed her father had to be better than her stepfather, the lieutenant.

After the walk on the roof, the next step was to jump over to a mango tree. The action was flawless, she had also done this many times while playing, although she had not realized, until now, how loud the noise of the leaves shaking would be. She felt uneasy about it.

Once on the ground, she had to find the dogs. She made sure all of them got her smell, otherwise even one of them could start a racket. She then located an empty bottle of honey, a bottle she had previously seen lying around the yard during the day. She filled the bottle with water from a faucet and put in the backpack. It was time to escalate the nine-foot tall fence.

The unintentional fall on the other side was painful. The unpaved alleyway allowed rocks to protrude from the dirt. Fortunately, she landed on her bottom. She felt pain, but no other damage. The unexpected fall caused her to doubt herself. It was the first event not planned in her escape. Different feelings now collided in her mind. Outside the alley was deserted, and she stood alone on the street, a couple of hours before midnight.

She had never been allowed to go out except to go to school or to the little corner store, never for any other reason. She understood that there was no way back without painful consequences, so she started to run toward the boulevard a block away. Then she turned left and ran north.

Her plan was to run all the way to the ocean, pictures and memories from the past made her equate the image of the open space of the sea with freedom from her problems. She had thought she could make it to the beach in five or six hours, but in reality the beach was one hundred and twenty miles away. Without a doubt, her childish mind was on the way to learning about distances.

As she ran on the boulevard, she imagined meeting the waves by early morning. Dinora, worried the lieutenant would be looking for her already, looked back frequently. After three kilometers, the wide road of the boulevard became a single two-way highway. There were no more streetlights. Dinora realized, at this point, how dark this moonless night really was. Fear crept all around while she walked on the shoulder of the highway. She placed the knife in her back pocket. For moments she imagined wild bears or jaguars in the bush. She felt increasingly tired and the thought of returning bubbled up inside. She reflected upon what kind of punishment the lieutenant would prepare for her this time and decided to continue on.

From now on Dinora planned to act as a boy using her dead father’s name. She had short hair and was dressed accordingly. No doubt people would respect a young man better than any girl. Machismo was a day-to-day reality.

She reached the end of the line for city busses, the place called the La Cuesta. The hike had become harsh because the road meandered and climbed over steep hills. The highway, carved on the side of hills and mountains, like immovable guards, surrounded the capital city located in a narrow valley. The peaks of the huge hills had different shapes, some of them were twin peaks, some had flat tops, and still others were layered like steep cakes. The only way to leave the city was to go over these natural monuments all left over from ancient volcanoes and cataclysmic geographical events.

The young girl arrived at a place called Carrizal, and was tired. She had finished all the water she had brought along, and realized the walk to the ocean impractical. So she reluctantly decided to ask for a ride although it was a long shot, as there were few cars traveling at that time of the night.

Dinora reached a place called Elolo, the meaning of which had been lost in the indigenous past of the region. It was now about midnight and she had reached the highest point on the rim of the mountain range that fenced the city.

She sat on a big flat rock contemplating the spectacle of all the lights down below. Dinora thought now of the impossibility of going back. She had already gone too far. Down there between all those thousands of lights, one of them illuminated her street, her neighborhood, and the place where she had grown up. Questions kept filling her little mind. Did she make the right decision? Would she ever see her mom, her brothers and sister again? Would she die on this outing? But she hated the city, and there had been too much suffering in the last year, so she rose and pressed on.

The cars she tried to stop did not even slow down. The chill of the early morning settled and Dinora shivered. When possible, she ran for a little bit to keep warm. Temperatures could go as low as forty degrees Fahrenheit in the mountains. She had walked ten kilometers when a Volkswagen microbus passed her, slowed down, and then came to a complete stop a few meters ahead.

Dinora ran to the car, which turned out to be an ambulance from a humanitarian institution. The front door on the passenger side opened, and there was a man at the wheel. I am dropping some medical supplies at a hospital about fifty kilometers from here. Where are you heading? he asked.

I’m also going to that hospital, said Dinora.

The man smiled. Well, come on, jump in. It’s cold out there, he said.

She sat on the front passenger seat, holding the backpack in her lap. Roy, the driver, tried to make conversation talking about the top quality of the medical supplies he transported.

Dinora looked to the road and over the window without paying much attention to the guy. Even though grateful to be out of the cold, her mind pondered all the distance she was not walking, all the time being saved. She thought about how much closer to the ocean she was. Perhaps she could be there by morning light as she had planned.

She cracked the window enough to smell the aroma of the pine trees and allowed her eyes to absorb the sights. For moments she watched the line in the middle of the road, the shadows of the trees and mountains, and the sporadic huts beside the road.

What’s your name and how old you are? Roy asked.

My name is Rick and I’m sixteen, she answered while looking at his face for a couple of seconds. His face looked rough with a short beard, and his eyes intimidating. Soon enough her eyes stumbled on a revolver that sat on the dashboard very close to the steering wheel.

It’s for protection. This road is lonely, he said, obviously detecting Dinora staring at the weapon. Not withstanding his explanation, the gun made her a little unsettled.

Roy talked about his job for a while and then asked, Have you ever had sex?

Dinora, disturbed by the question, answered quickly shaking her head.

You’re not sixteen. You’re younger then that. I can teach you an experience in pleasure you’ll never forget. You’ll be very grateful to me. It‘s part of growing up, he said.

Alarms rang in her head as the situation frightened her. She knew little about sex, but knew surely Roy was not a good man, and she would not do what he wanted; even the thought of touching the man disturbed her a lot.

I want to get out of your car, she said trying to sound strong.

Take it easy. I’ll give you plenty of money so you can go wherever you are going, he replied.

No, I want to get out now, she repeated emphatically.

What’s wrong dear? I wouldn’t hurt you. I’ll do it carefully and very slowly, he said with a strange smile on his face.

Please, let me go. I don’t want to do anything with you! she said and grasped the lever to open the door with her right hand. At that moment, he accelerated the vehicle. They had just cleared the tortuous mountain road and were entering the Comayagua Valley where the road was a straight line.

Okay, I’ve had enough of this nonsense. You’re welcome to get out right now, he said.

She started to move the lever, but he accelerated, speeding fifty kilometers an hour, and she knew jumping at that moment was not a good idea.

Suddenly he turned to the left taking a dirt road. White dust, as if waves of ghosts, scattered in front of the headlights and flew all around and even inside the bus. Rocks hit the bottom of the car. She lowered the window. Help! Help! she screamed the loudest she could, but on this road only a multitude of trees could hear.

Two kilometers later he stopped the car. Dinora opened the door but he grabbed her left arm and pulled her closer to him.

We can do this pleasurably or painfully, that is your choice, but we’ll do it, he said in a loud and upset tone.

Her mind spun. She kicked and tried to get free. He proceeded to punch her in the face, and then grabbed her by the neck using his left hand to encircle it.

She continued struggling, but it was no use, he was too powerful for her. She gasped for air, and at that desperate instant, an idea came to her mind. She released the door’s lever and instead took her dull knife, the one she had in her pocket, and when he pulled her closer, she thrust it with all her might into his stomach area. He was almost on top of her, but now he pulled back releasing her. He held his arms in the air while he looked at his stomach; a painful and surprised expression crossed his face. Dinora thrust the knife again with her shoe without thinking. He hollered in pain, as she rapidly struggled to get out of the car, pick up her backpack and run.

You, you, damn rat, son of a bitch, you will pay for this! she heard him call behind her.

She ran until she got off the dirt road and entered the dark highland forest. She heard detonations of shots, each of them illuminating the tall pine trees.

She dropped to the ground and rolled down a small hill, her body hitting rocks bushes and branches. By now she knew she was safe from the shots still ringing in the distance.

She stood and ran across the forest, falling down a few times while branches scratched at her face. Finally very tired, she stopped and sat on a fallen tree. She listened to a particular sound. Right in front of her, on a low branch of a tree, sat the outline of an owl. Dinora stayed quiet in the darkness and listened to the creature whose shape was drawn against the starry sky. She had never remembered seeing an owl that close. She had no idea if she should feel afraid of the owl, after all she had heard a number of bad things about them. Instead of fear though, the animal’s sound inspired tranquility. The night was also filled with bat calls.

She sat and meditated about the incident. The man could be dead or close to dying, or maybe he still looked for her. If he were to die, her fingerprints would be on that knife. For the first time in her life she had met somebody more evil than the lieutenant - who had tortured her physically and psychologically, but never sexually.

The night was beautiful. She never had seen so many stars, but at the same time, it was dark and frightful. Her worry related to finding snakes every step or jaguars that lay hidden in the darkness.

Eventually she found herself walking next to the main paved road still committed to making it to the ocean. This time, she had decided, she would look at oncoming cars before they got too close, and size them up. If she saw a small vehicle she would run and hide quickly in the ditch next to the road. If, by the contrary, it were a big truck or transport then she would ask for a ride. This was a precaution to avoid another encounter with Roy’s Volkswagen.

Along the road she found a small river under a bridge. She went down to the edge, drank some water, and cleaned her wounds. She also tried to reduce the swelling on her face by pouring cold water onto it.

Dinora wished she had her bottle to collect some water and regretted having left it way back close to the city. Her cheek was in pain just like her neck, where she had small cuts.

She started to walk again. The night was still dark, and she didn’t know the time. Dinora reflected again about the events and the ironies of life - her dad killed by nine bullets. She had now been on the wrong side of a gun twice in her life.

The first time had happened a couple of months before when she was in seventh grade. On that occasion the students were staging a protest in front of the presidential palace. They wanted the government to replace or renovate the facility where the middle school was located, as the building was more than two-hundred-years old and built by the Spanish.

The week before the protest, part of the structure collapsed, killing a number of students. The authorities refused any relief, arguing about a lack of funds. Violence erupted at the protest gathering. Who knew how it all began? The army said some students hurtled bricks toward the troops. A barrage of bullets was unleashed very close to her. Blood ran in the street. Some students died, while others were wounded. Maybe her destiny was to find herself in front of guns more times than other people, just like her father.

On the road cars passed by every ten minutes or so, until finally a big bus from a transport company called Danery stopped. This company had service from the capital to Sula. Dinora ran to the bus. The driver’s helper came out and proceeded to help her with her backpack. The young man recited the fares needed to different destinations.

I don’t have any money. I just want a little ride, she said.

You got to be kidding! the helper said, throwing her bag in the bushes next to the road. He went back in the bus, which departed soon after. She swore loudly how she’d never travel with that company.

Dinora continued walking. The road seemed unending in this valley, although it was possible to see the outline of the mountains on the horizon. Little by little she got closer.

Another transport stopped. This time from a company called El Rey. The driver opened the door from his seat. What are you doing in the middle of nowhere and alone? he asked.

I’m going to the coast, but do not have any money, she answered. The driver looked at her.

Come in! he said in a pitying way. She felt so much relief to enter the warm bus. It’s sad how parents allow their kids to wander at night, the driver commented. Go and find a seat back there, he added.

She found a seat, hugged her backpack, and looked out the window. The bus got over the mountains very quickly. She felt her battered body and mind sinking in the comfortable seat, and soon fell into a deep sleep.

Come on boy, wake up! the driver said, shaking her by the shoulder.

It took a while for her eyes to get use to the light. It was morning already.

What happen to you? Look at your face and arms. Did somebody beat you up? he asked.

No, no! I fell down, she answered, looking away.

Well, look, this is as far as I can take you. I’m not allowed to pick up anybody in the middle of the road. A few kilometers from here an inspector will check the bus. If you are here, I may get fired. You’re not listed on the original list, he explained with a worried expression.

Dinora stretched a little, took her backpack and exited the bus. Thank you, sir. You don’t know how much I appreciate your help, she told the bus driver sitting beside the closed door.

Boy, you’ll be okay now. It’s daylight, he said.

It was a misty morning and the bus sat parked next to half dozen cars in front of a restaurant close to the road. The fog had rolled in and visibility was only half kilometer. She entered the business and used the washroom, then asked directions. Given she did not know where she was, she needed to know which way was the ocean.

By the same token she was told the Yojoa Lake was right there next to the road, even though it was not visible because of the fog.

Now she came to realize the impossibility of fulfilling her original schedule. The ocean was still far away. It was already morning, the sun was up and the fog had lifted. She walked on. For an hour her quest took her beside a beautiful lake. It filled the view on her left side while the blacktop road lay to her right. The lake was of much significance to Dinora. Her mother had been born not far from the shores of that magnificent body of water. A moment of sadness squeezed her heart. Her mom had been absent from the house for more then three months because an unknown illness kept her in a hospital where only adults were allowed to visit. This had been another factor that had precipitated Dinora into making this breakaway.

Chapter 2

Of Legends, Trains, and Busses

It came to Dinora’s mind a story her mom used to tell about the lake. There were different versions of it, but she liked her mother’s rendition best. A long, long time ago, maybe thousands of years ago, there was a tribe named Pulapanzac located next to a big cascade close to where the lake was now.

Yo, the son of the Cacique, was madly in love with a girl, Hoa, from another tribe called Tocoa. The couple was ready to be married but a sorcerer, Akbo, wanted the girl for himself. Hoa’s father wanted her to choose her mate and she went for Yo. Akbo became enraged and cast a spell on Hoa by which she was transformed into a clay pot full of sweet water.

Yo tried to carry the clay pot, but the pot was very hot to the touch. The heat was so intense it burned any barrier he used to avoid it. Akbo proclaimed nobody would be able to break the spell until Hoa’s father agreed to his demands.

Yo went back to Pulapanzac and enlisted the help of another sorcerer, Soroca. Soroca explained to Yo in order to break the spell, Yo would have to carry the pot, which now was Hoa, next to the nearby cascade. The cascade had powerful magic. Once there, Soroca was to perform a ceremony changing the pot back into the pretty Hoa again. Soroca provided Yo with a special pair of mittens, but warned Yo against dropping the pot, as this event would cause Hoa to be lost forever. Not satisfied with that prospect, Yo wanted insurance if that were to happen he would share Hoa’s fate. So Soroca gave him an amulet that would cause Yo to join Hoa whatever her destiny.

With all of this, Yo went to the other village where he was able to pick up the pot. He walked a long distance. Right when he was very close to his town, a snake sent by Akbo reached him, and made him trip while coiling on his legs. The pot broke and became the lake; Yo became a huge alligator.

The legend said sometimes when the full moon illuminated the water, a huge alligator could be seen slowly cruising over the waters of Yohoa Lake.

This was one of Dinora’s favorite stories, although she knew the lakebed was the crater of a huge ancient volcano, which had been filled with water over millennia.

By ten that morning, Dinora had cleared the lake’s edge and found herself next to a group of badly built wooden shacks that served as a terminal for small buses that took people from there north to the Sula Valley.

Dinora had sixty cents in her pocket and figured this amount could take her closer to Sula. When these events took place prices were low, but still the ticket to Sula was two dollars.

Please sir, take me for a few kilometers. I can pay sixty cents, Dinora implored the driver of the next bus departing. He checked the engine and took his greasy hands from under the hood.

Where in the hell are your parents? he asked noticeably upset.

Sir, I don’t have a father and my mom is sick and dying in Sula. I need to get there, she said, trying deceitfully to look very sad.

Don’t bother. Go away damn stupid kid, he said, closing the motor’s cover.

Dinora, resigned to forge ahead on her own, started to walk. She felt upset with herself for making up the dying mother tale. She tried to rationalize this by thinking her options were limited.

There was a need to hasten her pace. By now the lieutenant was looking for her, she thought. She dedicated a lot of effort to asking for a ride while strolling along the highway.

Half an hour later the upset driver she had met stopped his bus next to her. Jump in! he said.

Dinora climbed inside and offered the sixty cents.

I don’t need your money. Go, sit, and be quiet, he said.

At that moment, sitting on the bus she could see her reflection in the window and she became aware of how badly hurt her face was next to the eye socket. She also saw the lacerations on her cheeks and throat, and finally the bruises on the arms. Her appearance was really sad, there was no need to exaggerate.

Later on the journey she overheard a conversation between the driver and an older passenger whom sat next to him. You know friend, it’s not good for you to pick up these beggar kids. They just want to steal something or worst, said the passenger.

The driver looked back to the old man, who gave the appearance of being a well-to-do landowner. I know. Believe me, I’ll keep an eye on him at all times, and if a paying client needs that seat, then the kid will be kicked out, said the driver. His answer seemed to calm the passenger’s worries.

Luck was on Dinora’s side though, and the seat was not needed throughout the ride.

The bus navigated over rolling hills until encountering the flatness of the Sula Valley, which was located eighty kilometers from the Caribbean Sea. Since a very early age, Dinora had been told she’d been born in that valley. At this point, her heart was filled with all kinds of feelings. She’d also been told her dad had died one hundred kilometers away.

The last time Dinora remembered being there was the time her grandmother had brought her to visit the big city of Sula. Dinora was five years old then. That was the only time she remembered riding on a train. She had some relatives living in the area, but she did not know where, and anyway, did not plan to request their help.

The bus, now in the city, let out some people here and there. It was one or two in the afternoon and hot. Lines of sweat dripped around everybody’s face as the sun shone in all its majesty.

Well, where is it going to be? the driver asked in an upset tone. Dinora, not sure if he was talking to her, looked back, finding out to her surprise, all the passengers were gone. Oh yeah! You’re the last one, we’ve been going around in circles, but you can’t seem to decide where to get off, he said.

I don’t know the city that well, so let me out at the train station, she answered.

The train station it is! he said loudly. He increased velocity, and turned lefts and rights. In the meantime, the city sights occupied Dinora’s brain. The streets were wide, and it looked like a dynamic place, very different from the capital city with his colonial narrow passageways.

The Spanish lined up the capital city three hundred years ago. The U.S. banana companies, on the other hand, developed Sula a hundred years ago. She felt good about this city for some reason.

The bus came to a stop next to a white building where sets of railroad tracks ran in the front and back. Thanks for your help, sir, she said as she exited the vehicle.

Bye. Good luck, he replied, almost showing a smile.

She entered the white building. Some men worked on the ramps, loading boxes in cargo containers on top of railroad platforms. A dozen or so people were scattered around the installation. Dinora went directly to the ticket sale window, but it was closed, so she looked for a bench to sit on. She felt tired again, and for the moment, out of ideas. She sat there and meditated about the time when the window would reopen selling tickets, and about their price. Many times she almost stood up to question any of the people walking around, but she spotted two military guys who patrolled the station, and didn’t want to call attention to herself.

Who knew, she thought, maybe the lieutenant had sent a search nationwide, given the influence he had on the army. At her age, she was prone to believe the exaggerated claims to power her stepfather had made, so she sat tight.

After a while, a group of shirtless workers took a lunch break. They ran outside where street vendors of all kinds carried their products on homemade wooden carts. A young man, maybe seventeen of age, came back in and sat next to her. Sweat drenched his body while he devoured a burrito. Dinora’s mouth salivated thinking about the flavor of the food. Once the burrito was finished the guy began to eat an orange.

Do any of the trains go to the ocean? she asked, trying to forget about the food.

Oh yeah! They travel to three points along the coast, he answered, while chewing on the fruit.

Which place of those have the most beautiful beach? she inquired.

That has to be Tela. Yeah, that’s the best, he replied, and pulled another orange out of a bag. He offered it to Dinora. She grabbed the round fruit in a hurry and quickly consumed it. You’re not from around here are you? he said.

Well I was born here, but I just came from the capital, she said.

I assume you’re waiting for a train, he said.

Yes, I’ll buy a ticket to Tela when the cashier opens the window, she said.

Bad news. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow. The ticketing window is only open until noon, he said.

It’s okay. I’ll wait here until tomorrow. You see, I don’t have a place to go in this city, she explained.

I can tell you how to get to a cheap motel close by. They only charge two dollars a night, he said.

No, I’ll stay here. I don’t have money to spare, she said.

I’m afraid you can’t do that, my friend. Only workers are allowed in the station and anyway it’s dangerous, he warned.

Dinora finished the last piece of the fruit. Then, I don’t know what I’m going to do, she said.

If you’re in a hurry, you can take a minibus to Progreso City and from there, take another bus to Tela, he said.

Really? I wasn’t aware of that. How much is the ticket to Progreso City? she asked.

Only a dollar, he answered.

Dinora played with the sixty cents in her pocket. She felt optimist regarding her chances to advance toward the ocean before nightfall. She could pay about half of the way to Progreso City and perhaps walk the rest of the way, she thought. That orange was delicious, she said licking her lips.

There’s a guy outside selling them, and they’re only five cents each, he said.

You think they’ll take me close to Progreso City with sixty cents? she asked.

Come on kid! You’re traveling with sixty cents? My God! he said. Then a young lady stepped next to him and handed him a brown bag.

I’m sorry I’m late with your lunch, brother, but I had a hard time catching the bus, the lady said with a smile.

That’s okay. I ate some oranges and talked to this poor kid. He needs to go to Progreso City, but only has sixty cents, he said.

The young lady, wearing a green dress, looked at Dinora with brown, pious eyes. Hi! My name is Julia. Is my brother telling the truth? she asked.

Dinora nodded and explained to Julia about not having a place to stay in Sula. Behind them the young man ate his lunch.

Today you are in luck, kid. I have a boyfriend who drives one of the minibuses to Progreso City, and I’m sure I can get you a ride there for half the price. What do you say to that? she asked.

Dinora gladly agreed. After consulting her watch, Julia concluded her friend would drive by in about half an hour.

Dinora took advantage of the time remaining, and went outside to buy a couple of oranges. She ate one on the spot and saved the other one for later in the bottom of her backpack.

At the calculated time, Julia and Dinora walked to the bus stop about a block away from the station. The wait was a little longer than Julia had planned, as the minibus was late. Very close to three on that afternoon, the small Isuzu bus made its stop. Julia exchanged some words with the driver, and soon the little traveler was on board and on the move again even though penniless. Dinora sat close to the door next to a young man whose job was to collect the fare from the people boarding the bus.

Somewhere along the way, Dinora put her hand inside the backpack caressing the smooth skin of the remaining orange. She was hungry, but wanted to save the fruit for later. While doing this, her fingers ran across an object. She took it out. It was a fountain pen that brought back some memories from her last birthday. Her grandmother had given her the writing implement. She was fond of that pen. She thought about how much she loved Grandma, but at the same time felt pain. The pain came because that elderly, usually sweet lady, the last time they had a conversation had scolded Dinora because the drastic change in her grades.

Dinora used to be an A student until the six grade, but then in her seventh year, her grades had taken a nosedive. Dinora suffered because nobody seemed able to understand why this had happened, how much physical and psychological damage the lieutenant had inflicted on her. Dwelling on this issue, she grasped the pen in her right hand.

The itinerary of the minibus ran along the city, some rural areas, past rivers big and small, and smaller towns. People got in and out. Sometimes the fare collector had to get off the bus writing on paper forms on checkpoints along the route. It was on one of these occasions the question was asked, Does anybody have a pen I can borrow?

There was a silence. I’ve got one! Dinora said. She figured that was the only fair thing to do, given she’d paid only half ticket.

When we get to Progreso City I’ll return it to you, said the fare collector taking the pen from her hand.

The trip was uneventful, save some sort of arguments going on between the driver and his helper. Finally the Isuzu made it to Progreso City, a medium-sized town where most of the streets were dirt-covered. Now it was late afternoon. The small bus lazily navigated the dusty streets until it arrived at an unpaved lot. There, packed in such a small area, were about eight small busses and five large yellow school busses. Most of them were in poor condition. They were to remain parked there until the morning.

Like the last time, Dinora was the last occupant. Her mind was saturated with worries about what she would do now. She walked hurriedly after the fare collector who seemed to be going home.

Could you give my pen back, please! she asked, while the driver observed from a distance.

I don’t have any pen! the fare collector said, noticeably upset.

But I only lent that pen to you. My grandma gave it to me. Please give it back! she said, with despair in her voice.

I never borrowed anything from you! the fare collector said, and abruptly pushed her forcibly over some trash canisters. Stupid kid! I don’t know what you’re talking about. If you follow me or say anything else, you’ll find this in your face, he added, showing his fist. Then he walked away down the street.

Dinora was immovable. She lay on the ground as hurricanes of emotions raged into her young heart. She felt her brave spirit crack up.

The driver walked next to her and grabbed her hand, helping her to stand. Damn Cocolo! He is a thief and a heartless ass! the driver said.

Dinora could not cope with this at this time. First she sobbed, and then soon cried. It was my grandma’s pen, she repeated in the middle of tears.

The factor for this explosion was not just the pen, that last violent act was the drop that filled the glass. After almost twenty-four hours of tension, pain, fear, abuse, and hunger Dinora had reached the end.

Do not worry kid. I’ll help you. You’re Julia’s little friend, he said and led her to a two-story building across the street. They walked inside a poorly furnished office. He pointed to a bench where she could sit, while he talked to a receptionist who sat at a desk. The driver disappeared behind a door that read manager, but not before signaling to Dinora to wait with his hand. Time went by. Her eyes wandered, looking to deer antlers hung on the wall next to some old black and white pictures of people and busses. After a while, an obese man with an old brown suit came out the door and gave some papers to the lady at the reception. She began typing something, while the fat man went back inside the office, giving a fleeting look towards Dinora.

She sat there feeling more relaxed, while outside the night approached. The secretary switched the lights on, a couple of ceiling lamps that dangled, while between them the blades of a fan spun. The driver got out of the manager’s office, walked next to Dinora, and reassured her the manager would help her. He then went out into the street. Dinora waited impatiently while darkness enveloped the town. She speculated how the chubby man could help her.

Some time after, the large man came out the door and sat next to Dinora. The wood on the bench moaned, resenting the weight.

I have a lot of complaints about this guy, Cocolo. I talked with him a few times, but he does not seem to get it. Juan, your friend, told me about what happened and I feel sorry about it. But trust me, tomorrow he’ll be fired. He has crossed the line too far this time. He can’t go around hitting clients, he said looking at Dinora’s face, and probably attributing all the bruises to the fare collector.

Sir, I just wanted to get my pen back. You see, it was a present from my grandma, she said.

I know kid. Juan told me about it. But he also said you were on your way to Tela, and I can help you get there, he said, playing with the metal band on his wristwatch.

Can you really help me to get to Tela? she asked in a skeptical way.

Sure I can. Look at that bus outside. The one with the lights on, he said pointing to the lot across the street. That bus is leaving in half an hour. It is the last one to Tela today. I can give you a free trip there or, if you want, you can wait until tomorrow so we can confront Cocolo about your pen. What is your choice? he asked.

Dinora stood up in a hurry and looked at the transport. Guys worked, loading sacks, boxes and other things through the back door. I want to go on that bus! she said enthusiastically.

The manager went back into his office and brought a pink paper that he stapled at the secretary’s desk. He gave the paper to Dinora. Give this to the driver, and have a safe trip, he said smiling.

She ran to the bus and gave the note to the driver of the big yellow bus. He inspected it under the dome light, and signaled with his hand pointing to the seats behind him. She sat next to a window, feeling relieved.

Eventually the old bus moved. The mostly dirt road was bad with a lot of potholes. She consumed her orange while playfully casting the peels on the darkness outside. Behind her, Progreso city and her fountain pen were left behind. She fell to sleep soon after.

Somehow she woke up when the vehicle arrived in Tela. It was late - ten or close to eleven - at night. The bus pulled into a sandy parking lot next to a few other busses. Dinora finally had made it to Tela. Immediately, she asked one of the passengers about the location of the beach. She learned the beach was only three blocks from where she was.

She ran on the concrete street, like the sea was to leave soon, until she saw the whites of the surf and heard the roar of the waves. The view was surreal to her. She couldn’t believe what she had accomplished in a day. She walked to the right of the beach, touching with her fingers the edge of the waves that licked the sand. She tasted the salty water, just to make sure it was the ocean for real, after all she’d never seen the ocean at night in person. She walked close to a half a kilometer in the dark. It was an area apparently devoid of houses nearby. The chilliness of the ocean wind made her little body tremble. She dug a hole in the sand away from the waves, and then proceeded to sleep using her backpack as a pillow.

Who knew what time it was when somebody shook her by the shoulder and awakened her to the still darkness of the night. Are you okay kid? Are you okay kid, a man’s voice asked.

Yes, yes, I’m okay, she answered, sitting up on her sandy bed and trying to make sense about what was happening. For a few instants she was confused, not knowing exactly where she was. Recurrent dreams about the events in the last day filled her mind, for a second, she even thought the escape had all been a dream.

What are you doing here? the man asked.

I was sleeping a little bit, she said. Behind the man, at some distance, were four other persons.

It’s dangerous to sleep out here by yourself. Especially for a small kid like you, the man said.

Who are you anyway? asked Dinora.

My name is Ochee. We’re fishermen. I’m trying to help you. Don’t be alarmed, he said.

I’m camping here for this night, I live in that house, she said, pointing to one of lights in town. At the same time the rest of the fishermen approached. They pushed each other playfully, obviously young.

Okay! But I’ll repeat to you, it is not safe to be out here. You should go home, said Ochee and he walked away with his group.

Don’t worry. I’ll go home in a little bit, she said while looking at the group until they vanished in the distance.

She tried to sleep again because she was tired, but the wind made her feel cold. She pulled some clothes out of her backpack; an extra pair of blue jeans and another shirt made her feel warmer. Only then could she fall to sleep again.

Chapter 3

Necessity on the Highlands

A strong burning pain on Dinora’s face woke her up. It was daytime, sometime in the morning. The sun burned her body, and she felt uncomfortably hot with her spare clothes on. Then happiness filled her soul. Dinora looked at a magnificent spectacle. The sea, the salty breeze, the deep blue of the water and sky, the waves, all these elements made an overwhelming impression on her. The view and the feelings were what she had expected and much more. Tears of happiness inundated her eyes. It would be hard to explain her feelings. It was like she’d been delivered to paradise. Like she’d been there before in happier times.

Her perseverance paid off, and she had reached her goal. After moments of all around contemplation trying to absorb the scenery with all her senses, she dug into the sand looking for her backpack, but it was no use.

My God! Those fishermen, she said, thinking the fishermen had