Huérfanos | Flash Fiction | Chicago Reader

Huérfanos 

Flash Fiction 2018

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DANIEL FISHEL
  • Daniel Fishel

Fifteen days on your feet have led you here, a body among bodies, bronzed by the sun and damp with sweat. That morning, familiar faces offered you stale bread to split with your brother. They know your name and story. That's enough to consider themselves family now, lives knotted together by the rhythm of endless shuffling.

You still think of the three of you as orphans. Sometimes the word slips through your cracked lips too. Diego doesn't say anything. His memory of your parents is like yours: promises ten years old, phone calls to strangers in Chicago, old photographs that could belong to anyone. But your older sister María remembers. If she were here, she would say, Ay, Lucía, and beg the Lord's forgiveness.

Buses form a line. The soldiers tell you to get on, but there is no place to go back to, only hunger and thirst. You carry home in the grooves of your torn sneakers.

Four years ago, you had a twin brother. Sebastián. As a child, you kept your hair short so people would mistake you for him, until adolescence reshaped your bodies, leaving you only the same puffed cheeks, the same silent laugh. Everyone referred to you as the twins, a name you wore better than your own, as though you two wound together so tightly you became one person.

When they took him, your footsteps became hollow.

It's his death that has you belonging to no one, no land or country. Sometimes, at night in the camps, you think you hear his voice, and your throat closes up until Diego squeezes your palm, telling you breathe.

You had to leave María and her husband in a city hospital along the way, their son sick with the fever that spread around, the one optimistic tías call exhaustion.

You wouldn't want to be a mother. When María was pregnant, you dreamed of the doctors cutting her open and leaving her that way, her warm insides leaking onto the tile floor while your tía wiped the baby clean.

In front of you, a bus belches stale air. Soldiers help the tired on. By now, you know their faces. These people who are and aren't your family. Your body aches in places you can't name, and you think of those rubbery seats made warm by the sun.

Outside the hospital, you kissed Angelito and told María, See you in América.

She said, Si Dios quiere, like your grandmother used to, in a sigh. It hurts—the things God wills. You can blame him for the land where he made you, for the womb he knit you into as though you didn't deserve better, for Sebastián, buried a thousand miles away. But still, those words taste like giving up.

Soldiers tell you there's no future ahead, but still these strangers walk. You turn from the bus and you notice how your sneakers compress the earth, mixing together all the places you've been. Hope, that second fever, is contagious too.   v

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