This content was published: January 22, 2021. Phone numbers, email addresses, and other information may have changed.
Short Story by Creative Writing Student, Alejandra Rivas
Alejandra Rivas enrolled in her first college classes in the Fall of 2020. Still a junior in highschool, I didn’t know at first how lucky I was to have Alejandra in my section of WR 241, Creative Writing: Fiction, where she would write her first short story, featured here, “Yanira y Lucio.”
“Yanira y Lucio” is a story of many things, but perhaps most of all it is a story of friendship and healing, youth and awakening. Yanira, our protagonist, meets Lucio, the ghost of a solider killed in El Salvador’s civil war, when she happens to stumble upon his bones in a trench as she and her friends play a game of escondelero, or hide-and-seek. Terrified at first, Yanira’s curiosity leads her back to the lonely ghost, the two become friends, and over the course of their conversations Lucio begins to teach Yanira about their past. Meeting Lucio sets in motion Yanira’s personal investigations of her surroundings, her family and village, and nation as a whole, and starts to confront realities that haunt the familiarity of her home (bullet holes in the village walls, bullet casings enmeshed in the jungle floor, a shard of shrapnel in her father’s eye). Yanira and Lucio’s friendship culminates in their journey to El Mozote, Lucio’s home and the site of a brutal massacre. What Lucio finds at El Mozote both shocks him and gives him peace.
More can be said by this magical story, but I would rather leave it to you, reader, and to Alejandra’s own words.
Yanira y Lucio
Escondelero is my favorite game. It means hide and seek in english. I love to hide. I’m the best in my village. I’m really good at climbing and squeezing into tight spaces. I’m not afraid to get dirty if it means I’ll win. I love the rush of adrenaline. I love holding my breath when the seeker’s right next to me. Once I hid for two hours. The best way to play is with a ton of people and four or five seekers. Some of the most fun I’ve had is when the whole village participates.
I was looking for people to play with me. By the time I finally gathered a few other kids it was already dark. I had managed to round up the Argueta brothers, Micaela Muñoz, and my best friends, Inés, Paco, Camilo, and Joaquin. Well, Paquito’s my little brother. I’m not sure I would call him a best friend. Or even a friend really. More like a pain in my ass.
“Okay, okay! We need some seekers!” I called to the group. “How many do you think we need, Cami? Two? three?”
“Let’s go three. Or two, including me.”
“No,” Paco said. “I don’t want to play if Camilo’s a seeker.” I rolled my eyes.
“Oh my god, Paco. Camilo’s a seeker almost every time,” Joaquin said.
“Yeah dude. I promise not to break your elbow again,” Camilo said.
“Come onnn. Let Camilo be a seeker, Paquito,” Inés said, slinging her arm around Paco’s neck. In the end Joaquin, one of the brothers (Angel), and of course, Camilo were the seekers. The three of them huddled in the center of the plaza with their headlamps strapped to their foreheads and their eyes closed. The whole plaza was illuminated with the orange glow of the streetlights. The rest of us faced the direction in which we were planning to hide, ready to run as soon as the trio started counting to a hundred. In this game every second counted. I heard the three collectively draw in a breath and my legs tensed.
“One…” I bolted up the steps of the plaza and towards the entrance to the jungle. In my opinion the jungle is the number one place to hide. Without a doubt. I used to love sneaking into the buildings around the plaza, like the pupuseria or store or museum. The bank was especially hard to sneak into because of the tall pointed gate. I’ve only managed it once or twice. Probably why they started locking every window and obscure entrance. It’s absolutely impossible to sneak in now, but sometimes you can climb onto the roof. The adults hated us hiding in their stores. Lucky for them, houses are off limits.
The jungle has plenty of places to hide. Plenty of trees to climb. Plenty of caves to crawl into. However you do have to watch out for rattlesnakes, vipers, scorpions, and other creepy crawlers. Apparently Marvin saw a jaguar once, but I like to think he’s just trying to scare me. The foliage provides plenty of camouflage and some of my favorite places to hide are the trees or at the base of shrubs like ferns or yucca.
“A hundred!” I faintly heard the end of the count and that’s how I knew I wasn’t far enough. I slid down the tree I had climbed, snapping a few vines. I heard wolf howls coming from the plaza (probably Camilo) and I ran further up into the jungle and into the shrubbery, knowing full well I was probably tearing through tons of spider webs. I found a deep trench and jumped into it without hesitation.
I heard the howls again and heard Camilo’s Wooh! Let’s fuckin go! I heard Joaquín’s laughter and Micaela’s too. She was caught. After her was Inés who put up one hell of a chase. I could hear the thunder of footsteps and screams. As far as I could tell, Paco and the other brother (Omar) were still hidden. I hunkered down in the trench and found a comfortable spot to curl up in.
My back was starting to get sore and I was about to adjust myself when I saw a flash of light. It was definitely someone’s headlamp. I stayed perfectly still and covered my mouth with my hand. I could hear whoever it was approaching, crunching leaves and snapping twigs. They paused a few feet before my trench and listened. I held my breath and suppressed a giggle. Finally they moved on. That was too close, I needed to switch spots. I counted to a hundred in my head before getting up. I started walking further down the trench.
Crunch. I froze. The crunch of whatever I had just stepped on echoed through the forest. I waited a minute before slowly reaching into my pocket and pulling out a flashlight. While mentally cussing I risked clicking it on and looking for the crunchy object. I lifted up my foot and under it was maybe something that looked like a massive broken eggshell. Did I step on an egg? I crouched down and picked up the smooth white pieces. I looked around for more and found a long curved piece. When I looked closely at the piece I was holding I noticed something that looked like a tooth. It was a tooth. I looked down at the rest of the pieces and rapidly came to the conclusion that I had just stepped on a human skull.
I dropped the jaw that I was holding and fell back on my butt. I sat there for a minute looking at the skull. I couldn’t tell if this was gross or cool. It was cool. It was immensely cool. I started collecting the pieces and putting them in my apron.
“Oye, put my shit down.” I jumped and turned towards the voice. Slumped against the wall of the trench was a man. He had a green button down shirt on, jeans, combat boots, and hat. He was covered in blood. I screamed and tried to get up. I fell and tried to get up again. I pulled myself out of the trench. I booked it as fast as I could out of there. Never in my life have I ran so fast. Not even away from Papá when he was coming at me with the belt. I tripped over a root and went rolling down a hill. I hopped to my feet and continued running. I ran out of the jungle, straight to the plaza, and into Joaquín. We both went tumbling to the ground.
“Puchica! Ow, jesus. What the hell, Yanira?” he shouted, getting up off the ground. “Well I fuckin found you.”
“Joaquín, Joaquín. I just saw the craziest shit,” I heaved. “I found a guy. And he was like, covered in blood.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“I don’t know! I was hiding in a trench and out of nowhere there was this guy!”
“Are you good? You’re bleeding.” I looked down and saw that my knees were scraped up. Now that I had noticed them, they started to sting. Then they started to burn. I hid my face in case I was crying.
“I’m gonna go home. I don’t feel good.” I picked myself off the ground and started limping home. I was definitely crying now. My knees burned like crazy. My white apron was starting to get stained red. When I reached home blood was running down my legs. Mamá gasped when she saw me. She started yelling at me immediately. She scolded me as she cleaned and bandaged my knees. She said she’s still gonna make me sell quesadilla with her tomorrow. I was really hoping scraping my knees was gonna keep me home. I limped to my room to make her feel bad. She didn’t. Of course.
That night I dreamed of the man I had seen. I dreamed about the blood that soaked his clothes. I dreamed about his grey, dull eyes. I dreamed about the skull. I didn’t see him sitting there. How could I not have seen him sitting there? I didn’t sleep very well. I was exhausted when I woke up in the morning.
The next day I think I was unusually quiet. The whole time I was selling quesadilla I was thinking about the man. Finally, while standing beside the dusty dirt road, I broke my silence.
“Mamá?” I asked her.
“Yes, mija?” she said, wiping the sweat from her face with a handkerchief.
“Do you think ghosts are real?” She glanced over at me before walking into the road to check for cars. She didn’t see any so she came back and sat next to me, setting her basket of quesadilla on the ground. I passed her the banana leaf fan I had made.
“Why are you asking, mija?” she asked, fanning herself.
“No reason, just asking.” Mamá looked over at me with a crooked smile. I tried to hide my own as I realized she was in a playful mood. There was a glint in her eyes as she leaned towards me.
“Remember the story I told you about La Siguanaba?” she asked. I shivered at the mention of the ghost’s name, even in the ninety degree heat. I nodded.
“Have I told you the story of La Llorona?” I shook my head. She paused and leaned back. “Are you sure you’re not scared?” I shook my head furiously.
“I’m not scared, Mamá.” She chuckled before continuing.
“A long time ago there used to be a very beautiful woman. All the men in the village wanted to marry her. One day a man as beautiful as she was came to the village. The two found each other quickly and fell deeply in love. They were married within the month. The woman got pregnant and when her husband found out, he ran away. He didn’t want children. The woman was distraught with heartbreak and carried the babies in her stomach for nine long months. And then she finally and painfully gave birth.
“The woman brought her two babies to the nearby river and drowned them in hopes that the man she loved would return. Of course, he didn’t and she realized the horrific mistake she had made. She was driven mad with grief and was cursed to wander the rivers in search of her kids. She never found them. La Llorona only comes out at night now and steals away kids that she finds near the rivers to replace her own. She can never help herself though. The thought that her husband might return bugs the back of her mind. She can’t help but drown them, and then she grieves fiercely in a tortuous cycle. Why do you think I always tell you to stay away from the river at night?
She leaned over and whispered in my ear: “¿Dónde están mis hijos?” in a ghostly voice. Where are my children?
“Mamá!” I said, waving her away and getting up out of my seat. She laughed at me wholeheartedly. I picked up our basket of quesadilla and rubbed the back of my neck as I approached the truck that had stopped at the stop light.
“Hello, mister! Do you want to buy some quesadilla? I made it myself.”
As soon as I got home I went looking for the trench. I found the tree that I had been hiding in before. I tried to retrace my steps. Everything looks different during the day. I found three bullet shells along the way. That’s actually a pretty good haul. I finally found the trench, and by find I mean I almost fell into it.
The skull wasn’t where I thought it was. I continued down the trench kicking around leaves and such. I was ready to give up when I finally found it. I reached out to pick up a piece, but then paused. I looked around and tried to spot someone. I even pulled myself out of the trench to look. No one. I hopped back down into the trench.
“Hello?” I called. No answer. I glanced down at the skull again. “Hello?” I slowly bent over and picked a piece up. I looked around again before slipping it into my pocket.
“Don’t. Touch. My shit.” I whirled around and there was the man. I jumped back to the other side of the trench. He looked upset. He sat against the wall of the trench with his elbows on his knees. The back of his head was leaning against the wall. The brim of his bucket hat covered his eyes. I looked down at the blood soaking his clothes. The only time I had ever seen so much blood was when Camilo sliced the inside on his thigh open on his surfboard. He looked so real, but I knew he couldn’t be.
“Are you a ghost?” I asked.
“I guess so.” I knew it. For a while I had been debating the concept, since the other kids didn’t really believe in them, but this definitely settles it. That and Mamá’s story. I knew I was right. Does that mean La Llorona is real too? Or… La Siguanaba?
“What’s your name?” I asked him. “I’m Yanira.”
“Why are you bleeding, Lucio?”
“I got shot,” he said. “You wanna see something really cool?” I nodded. He unbuttoned his shirt and revealed the many holes in his chest and torso. His whole chest was shiny and painted red. The bullet wounds were bruised and weeping black sludge. I was staring, but I’d never seen real bullet wounds before. I reached out and poked one of the holes. He covered himself back up again. He folded his arms across his chest uncomfortably.
“You’re not scared?” he asked.
“Oh, I’m not scared of anything.” He sighed deeply and looked into my eyes.
“How old are you?”
“Everyone’s scared of something. Especially eleven year olds.”
“I’m not. Maybe you’re just delicate. Maybe that’s why you died.” His head snapped up and his eyes turned fiery. A chill ran down my spine and every hair on my body stood straight up. His face twisted and the bags under his eyes started to sink and darken. His eyes bulged out of his head. He shot to his feet and threw his hat on the ground.
“Delicate? You know nothing!” he screamed. The curls on his head were messy and flying everywhere. He came stomping towards me. I scrambled away from him as fast as I could.
“I was a soldier! I’ve seen things you can’t even imagine! I lost everything for you! I died for YOU!” I screamed and climbed out of the trench. As I was running home I could hear haunting sobs and howling from behind me. As soon as I reached my room I slammed the door behind me and threw myself onto my bed. I stayed in bed for the rest of that evening.
Mamá came in to force me to eat dinner. I cried and told her I wasn’t feeling good. She stared at me before shutting my door. I sighed because I knew she was talking to Papá. Sure enough he peeked his head into my room. He sat at the end of my bed.
“Come here, mija,” he said with his arms open. I crawled forward and laid my head in his lap. He took my long braid in his hands and started unbraiding it. He stroked my long brown hair. I’d never cut it before. Mamá told me to keep it long, for my ancestors. I took one of his rough hands and ran my thumb over his calluses. He had campesino hands. Farmworker hands.
“Papá?” I asked.
“You were in the war, right Papá?” He flinched and looked down at me.
“I think I met someone who was there too.” Papá chuckled.
“Everyone here was there.”
“Really?” He laughed and nodded.
“Have I ever told you the story of how I got this?” he asked, pointing to his eye. Papá has a piece of metal in the bone under his eye. It’s why his eyes are always watering. I shook my head no.
“There were four of us brothers. I was the leader of our team. I got a call on the radio saying that some soldiers were heading up disguised as us. We were on the second level of a tall concrete building. There was a dirt road in front of the building. Sure enough three enemies dressed just like us came walking up the dirt road.
‘¡Alto allí quien vive!’ I shouted. Stop there who lives. See in the military they liked to use a lot of passwords. Now the password was Mangos, but when the three soldiers heard me shout they froze and looked at each other. You could tell they weren’t expecting it. We got our rifles ready. They were M16 rifles.
‘Somos los mismos hombres,’ they said. We are the same men. That wasn’t the password.
‘¡Fuego! I said! Fire! As soon as we started shooting so did they. One of the soldiers had an M79 grenade launcher. You know grenades? They’re bombs. I remember how fast he turned. It was lightning quick and then, bam! He fired.
“I was standing at a window. The grenade hit the window frame, which absorbed much of the blast. Two pieces of metal from the window got stuck in my face. I went flying backwards onto my back. At first they thought I was dead. My friend, Becerra, got on the radio and screamed ‘They killed Andrés! They killed Andrés!’ I managed to get back on my feet swaying a little bit. I remember I was dizzy and my head was ringing. There was so much blood. My friend saw me and he said, ‘Oh, no! No, he’s not dead! But he’s really fucked up!’ Don’t tell Mamá that I said that word,” Papá said when I started giggling. He shushed me.
“My companions had killed the three soldiers. Two of our men came in and took me out. They brought me to the hospital. The doctor there took one of the pieces of metal out, but he told me the other had to stay. It was too deep and too small. He said if he took it out he could damage the iris membrane which would make my eyes cry all the time. But that happened anyways. It only took a couple of weeks to heal. My eye was very inflamed for a while.”
I reached up and touched the white scar he had under his left eye. He guided my hand to the piece of his eye socket that was broken. I could feel the little divot, and then the tiny piece of metal. It felt funny. It probably wasn’t any bigger than a piece of pencil lead. I imagined his eye all fat and inflamed.
“I bet you looked funny, Papá,” I said. He chuckled.
“Yes I supposed I did look a little bit funny,” he said, tugging on my nose. He tucked me into bed and began to read me a poem as I drifted off to sleep. Javier Zamora’s “El Salvador” echoed through my ears and I dreamt of gunfire and explosions.
I stayed away from the trench and the jungle for a couple of days. Papá continued telling me stories about the war. I think he likes to talk about it. It makes him feel better. The stories were starting to make me feel a little guilty about leaving Lucio. I couldn’t get his face out of my head. He was furious and scary. His sobs were still echoing in my ears. I died for you. In the morning I looked around the kitchen for some sort of peace offering. I took an extra piece of quesadilla and wrapped it up. I slipped it into the pocket of my skirt. I grabbed some tamarindo too. I headed out to the trench.
“Lucio?” I called. “Lucio, are you here?” I figured he was just being shy. Or maybe I had really insulted him. I crouched by his broken skull and dusted off a few pieces. I set the quesadilla down in front of it and laid down a few pieces of tamarindo. Sighing, I picked myself up and turned to leave.
“Can you peel it for me?” Lucio was sitting cross legged in front of my offering.
“Sure,” I smiled. I sat down and started cracking open the tamarindo and peeling the vines off of the soft sticky fruit. “I’m sorry if I made you mad.” He shook his head and sighed.
“It’s okay. I’m sorry if I scared you.”
“That’s okay… you didn’t scare me.” I tried to pass him the tamarindo. It took him a few tries before he picked it up. His hands looked solid enough, but they managed to ghost through the tamarindo the first couple tries. He carefully started eating it, savouring every bite.
“I can’t taste it,” he said.
“Oh. Sorry,” I moved to take it back but he stopped me.
“It’s okay. It’s fun to pretend I guess.” I sat in silence for a while. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore.
“What did you mean when you said you died for me?” I asked. He stopped chewing and spit out a few seeds. He sighed and scratched his head.
“Do you know about the war?”
“Yeah, of course. All the kids here grow up with stories about it. That’s why there’s so many bullet shells around here. See?” I pulled out a necklace from under my blouse and showed it to him. It was just a piece of string and a large bullet shell I had found a while ago. He wrinkled his nose at me.
“Put that away. Those aren’t meant to be jewelry. The bullet that was inside there killed somebody,” he growled.
“Sorry,” I said, my cheeks burned red with shame. I tucked the necklace back under my shirt. Lucio sighed.
“After I saw my village burn I decided to join the FMLN. I couldn’t let them do that to any other village. There needed to be justice,” Lucio said. His dark circles were deepening and his face was sagging. He sighed again, “There needed to be peace. Tell me, how is your life?”
“It’s good,” I said.
“Is it peaceful?”
“It’s peaceful,” I assured him.
“I’ve seen so much. I’ve held my friends in my arms as they died. I watched my community massacred and my brother… Juancito… I watched him…” He stopped talking and hung his head. My spine started to tingle.
“Where did you come from, Lucio?” I asked him. He looked up at me.
“Mozote. El Mozote.” My breath caught in my throat.
Every Salvadoran knows what happened in El Mozote. The story has been imprinted on our culture. It was one of the worst massacres during the war. All children carry that psychological trauma in their heads. The American funded and trained death squads that terrorized El Salvador had destroyed that village. They separated the men from the women and girls and young children. The men were tortured, mutilated and interrogated for hours. Then they were shot. The women and girls were raped and mutilated and then shot. The young children and babies were hung from the trees. The village was burned to the ground and abandoned. More than eight hundred were killed that day, the majority of them were children. The average age of the kids was six years old.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. He shook his head.
“There’s a reason I’m still here. There are things in this world that should scare you. They should scare everyone,” he said. We sat in silence for a long time. I wasn’t quite sure what I could say to make it better.
“You know, I have a brother too,” I said.
“What’s his name?” Lucio asked.
“Paco. He’s ten.”
“Do you get along?”
“Not really. He’s annoying. I hate him.”
“Don’t hate your brother,” he said defensively. I crossed my arms and rolled my eyes. There was another awkward moment of silence
“Do you want me to teach you how to make bracelets out of the tamarindo seeds?”
After hanging out with Lucio I walked down to Papá’s farm. I found Paco weeding in the cabbage. His jeans were covered in mud and so was his wife beater. Sweat was pouring down his face and making his short hair all spikey. I walked down the rows of cabbage to meet him.
“Hey Paco,” I said. He stood up.
“Come on. I wanna go somewhere.”
“El Mozote?” I said squinting at him.
“What? Why would we go there? Besides, I can’t. I’m still working,” he said.
“No way. I’m not getting whooped.”
“Fine.” I sat down on the ground and watched him weed. “Do you want me to help?”
“Yeah, just go through the rows with the wheel hoe.”
That afternoon we walked to El Mozote. The village was the next one over from ours, so it only took us a couple hours. By the time we got there our feet were black and the sun was starting to set. At the center of the village was a plaza. At the end of the plaza was a big stone wall. The wall had a roof covering it. In front of the wall was a metal statue of a boy, a man, a woman and a girl holding hands. Paco walked up to it and hopped onto the fence. I did the same and tried to read the plague that was under the statue. It said Ellos no han muerto, Están con nosotros, Con ustedes y con la humanidad entera. They have not died, They are with us, With you, And with all of humanity. I moved around the statue and over to the wall. The wall was covered in names. More names than I could count. Paco came over and started reading the names with me. We spent the rest of the evening reading all of them. Lucio was not among the names, but I did spot a familiar one. Juancito. That was Lucio’s brother. I looked around before picking up a nail I had found. I squatted down in front of the name and started scratching.
“What in the hell do you think you’re doing?” Paco said looking around. I shushed him and continued scratching. Next to Juancito I had put Lucio’s name. I stood back and admired the wall. I reached over and hugged my brother. He tensed, but then let me.
“What was that for?” he asked when I let him go. I shrugged.
“Let’s go, Paquito.” I said, reaching for his hand. He paused and looked back at the wall. Then he nodded at me and took my hand. We understood each other.
The next morning I was up early.
“Lucio! Lucio! Come out!”
“What? What now?” he groaned, stretching out his legs. I plopped down next to him.
“I visited El Mozote yesterday.” His eyes snapped up to mine.
“R-really? How is it?”
“I mean, they rebuilt it. It’s been up for forever. I think you should come see it.”
“No. I couldn’t,” he shuddered, his image was wavering a bit.
“Please, Lucio. I want to show you something.”
“No. I can’t anyways. I’m tied to this spot.” I sat and thought for a moment. Lucio had his arms wrapped around his legs and his chin was resting on his knees.
“What if I brought your head with me?”
“What?” I pointed to the scattered pieces of his skull. He nibbled on the inside of his cheek for a minute before slowly nodding his head. I gathered up his skull and put the pieces in my pockets. I stood up and reached my hand out to him. His hand ghosted through mine before latching on. Goosebumps traveled up my arm and down my neck. I was definitely holding his hand, but it was hard to tell. His skin was the exact same temperature as the air, so it felt like I was actually holding nothing at all if that makes sense. The two of us walked the long walk to El Mozote.
He didn’t say anything the whole way. He just kept walking without looking back. I would check on him from time to time by squeezing his hand, and he would let me know he was alright by squeezing my hand back. He seemed to not be blinking very much. He would gaze at his surroundings with his eyes wide open. A few times people greeted us or waved. At first he wouldn’t respond so I would wave back or say hello for him, but as time went on the most he did was nod. I was surprised I wasn’t the only one who could see him. I have a theory that he can choose when he wants to be seen or not. I think when he’s visible to me, he’s visible to anyone. Once a group of kids ran by us, laughing and chasing each other. They dodged their way around us and one even passed between us and we held up our hands so as not to knock the kid in the head. Lucio stopped and watched them disappear around the corner. He closed his eyes for a minute. I waited with him until he was ready to continue.
When we got there my feet, which I had washed last night, were completely black again. He stopped at the entrance to El Mozote. His there-but-not-so-there hand was shaking a little bit. I gently pulled him through the gate. We passed the ruins of the burned down church. He stared at it with watery eyes. I could tell he wanted to stop or run, but I pulled him along. He ran his hand over old stone walls that were covered in bullet holes. We passed new houses and buildings. We walked under a big stone monument that had Jesus crucified high up in the air. We passed by the new church and finally entered the plaza.
The plaza was filled with people. They had flowers in their hands. The people were laying the flowers down at the base of the wall of names. Lucio dropped my hand and stared at the wall. An abuela walked up to us and held up a rose. Lucio hesitated, so I took it for him. The abuela held another one out to him. In a daze he managed to take it. The abuela smiled.
“Gracias,” I said, bowing my head. She nodded and walked on, passing out her roses. Lucio stared at the rose in his hand. I gently took his other hand and led him over to the wall. He spent a long time reading the names, touching each and every one. When he got to the end his finger paused on one name. I guessed which one it was. I left my rose at the bottom of the wall under Juancito’s name.
“And look,” I said pointing to where I had scratched in Jucio’s name. “I put you on there too.” His finger traveled over to his own name. He rubbed his thumb over it. He put his rose down next to mine. He squeezed my hand and smiled at me.
“Thank you, Yanira,” he said. I blushed and looked back at the wall, pretending to read some more names. Lucio looked over his shoulder at the rebuilt village.
“Lucio um-” I started but when I lifted my head to look at him he was gone. I looked down at my hand, which I thought was still holding his, to find it empty. I frantically looked around for him.
“Lucio?” I called. I got a few strange looks from other people. “Sorry,” I muttered. I jogged around the plaza looking for him. Nothing. My eyes were starting to sting and I dragged the back of my hand over them. He wasn’t here. I walked back to the wall and sat down in front of his name. I don’t like to cry. It’s embarrassing, but I couldn’t help it. I started crying right there in front of all the people. I got looks of pity and sorrow. A few people came over to me and asked if I was okay, but I pushed them away. The abuela from earlier lifted me up and walked me over to the church. We sat down in the first row of seats.
“Where’s your friend?” she asked me.
“He’s dead,” I sobbed into her dress. I don’t know if she understood what I meant but ran a wrinkly hand down my braided hair kindly.
When I had settled down I brought out the pieces of Lucio’s skull. She held them with her old wrinkled hands. I asked if we could bury them and she smiled at me. We went out to the courtyard and found a big mango tree that was next to the wall of names. I dug a deep hole and put the skull at the bottom. We scattered a few more of her roses in the grave before I filled it with dirt. I held the abuela’s hand as she blessed the grave. She clutched her rosary with her other hand and closed her eyes. She started to sing a beautiful and haunting song. I couldn’t understand it, but she later told me it was a song from her ancestors, the Nauatl.
I never saw Lucio again after I buried him. Sometimes I would hang around in the trench where we first met for hours to see if he’d show up. He never did. I spent a lot of time by his grave too. No luck there either. The abuela (Doña Guevara) and I still hung out. She’s started to become one of my best friends. I always bring her quesadilla that I’ve baked. She likes it a lot. I think she would have really liked Lucio, too. I introduced her to Paquito. At first he said she smelled funny, but I think he’s warmed up to her. Every year on Dia de los Muertos I bring flowers for Lucio. Juancito too. I also take a big pocketful of tamarindo with me every time I go. I’ll divide it evenly between us, leaving his half on top of his grave. Then I’ll spend the rest of the day cracking open the tamarindo shells and peeling their vines off. I’ll share my half with Paquito, of course. And Doña Guevara.
Alejandra Rivas brings creativity and passion for social justice to all her endeavors. When she’s not in school, out enjoying the natural world, cooking Salvadoran food or baking, you can often find her singing on the couch while writing a story, her dog Suki curled up or stretched out beside her. The daughter of a Salvadoran revolutionary musician father and an activist mother, Alejandra has music and social justice in her bones. Her father was a member of Cutumay Camones, a band that toured globally to raise awareness of the struggles of the Salvadoran people during the brutal war in El Salvador. Alejandra is currently finishing her senior year at Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon and is on her way to the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa in the fall, where she plans to major in Ethnic Studies.
She notes: “I wrote this story thinking of my family and my dad and the horrors they’ve had to go through. It’s important that I spread awareness about the atrocities committed against Central Americans. The story takes place in El Salvador and revolves around one specific event which is the massacre at El Mozote, which is something that really happened. I tried to keep this story light because I didn’t want readers to feel depressed or for Salvadoreños to be in pain when reading. I personally struggled a lot when I learned about my history, but it’s important that we remember the past so we can demand change for the future.”
Matt Chelf teaches creative writing at Sylvania Campus. You can read a sample of his fiction writing.