A thirty-something black haired woman sat in silence in a private room at the rear of the J.D. Fero Funeral Home. The room was dark except for the bars of light that stream from behind the blinds that were drawn closed. Someone had nailed a Protestant Cross to each wall. She was alone-except for her haunting thoughts. Even though her beauty is the only remarkable thing about the room, her pain reflected on her face. Her expression reflected thirty-five years of emotional turmoil and pain she endured and the burden was great. She twisted her hair to knots around her left index finger as she always did when nervous. She was more elegant then sexy, more beautiful than average.
She dreaded this day since learning of her father’s death one week earlier. Clarence was a good, simple man. Her thoughts went to the recent flurry of events. James, her father’s only brother, found him sitting upright in his favorite chair, dead. His liver had finally given out after years of boozing. James made an in-the-middle-of-the-night telephone call to her; he had already made the necessary funeral arrangements as per his brother’s instructions: James ordered special flowers and he delivered Clarence’s Brooks Brothers pinstriped suit and Allen Edmonds shoes to the funeral director and he made arrangements for a family dinner at El Posto, Clarence’s favorite restaurant. There was nothing for her to do-just the way Clarence wanted it.
The woman thought she heard the door open and without turning her body she looked over her right shoulder.
“Maria, the pastor has arrived,” a humble voice said from outside the doorway.
“Thank you,” she replied.
Maria recited the Lord’s Prayer, made the sign of the cross, and walked to the door, where the humble voice stood.
“Are you ok,” the humble voice asked her?
“I am fine,” Maria replied.
Maria left her private room and walked down a narrow hallway that opened to a large viewing area. She continued walking along the military straight rows of chairs and sat in the family section in front of the coffin. The coffin was just a coffin. Maria’s eyes passed over the many well-placed wreaths and flower baskets. An easel held a simple sheet of cardboard with black and white photos. She stopped and stared at a photo of her eating a peach. She wore pigtails and a scowl. Among the basket was one simpler than the rest; however, it contained the most beautiful speckled, raspberry-pink and while long stem flowers Maria had ever seen. A beige greeting card envelope with “MARIA” handwritten on the front was attached to the basket.
Maria stood and asked a stranger sitting nearby if she knew what kind of flowers were in the basket. The stranger stood too and turned her head and cocked it in a peculiar way and replied, “”Oh! Of Course I do. Those are Stargazer Lilies. Quite possibly the foulest flowers God ever created. They make people cry rivers.”
“They are so beautiful,” Maria said.
“Don’t be fooled Missy. They are a hybrid flower. Made from two. Them flowers are offspring of God and Satan. Probably the vilest flower one could send to a funeral. Them flowers could send the lord himself to tears and sneezing fits.”
Maria bent at the knees, knelt and picked up the greeting card from its holder. She gently opened the flap that bound the envelope closed. She unfolded the three folds of the twenty-pound beige paper with her fingertips and immediately recognized her father’s handwriting. Clarence wrote with his hand the flowing words:
“Through the years I have often about that day when we met for the first time along the bank of the Cangrejal River and of the short time you lived with me in Independence. Before you left Honduras the first time, I adopted you when your mother and I got married. I regret that you were forced return to Honduras with your mother and endure so much. I am very proud of the woman that you became despite your marked childhood. Your mother gave you away, you were forced to cook and clean for drunks as a child, you were abused in ways I don’t wish to mention. By the grace of God you escaped the perpetual poverty of Honduras and succeeded in business and parenthood. I always laughed when I remembered how you learned English watching Sesame Street in Brooklyn. I know you are strong woman, and I know you think you are too strong to cry. Even as a little girl you were sad. You were sad when they chopped your ducks tail, but you didn’t cry. You didn’t cry when your grandmother beat you just to see you bleed. You didn’t cry when kids tore your only dress just to see you scream. And I am sure you didn’t cry when James told you I died. I know you don’t cry for lack of emotion or endearment; you don’t cry because you don’t know how. When I spoke to you in letters and on the telephone, I spoke often about how cleansing tears can be. This is why I left instructions for James to bring you these flowers. They are magic flowers. Their beauty makes some people happy and can make many people cry.”
Maria pulled her long black hair back, bunched it tight with her right hand, and formed a tail. She sighed and a tear came to each eye. Her gray streaked hair was now more pronounced; shimmered under the bright florescent lights. She folded the letter closed and her thoughts went to a story her father had told her many years before about how they first met. She remembered the story like this:
A young black haired girl tiptoed along the railroad tracks that were laid east to west, along the banks of the Cangrejal River, through the coastal city of La Ceiba Honduras. There was no way the little girl could get lost completing her task since the tracks began at the edge of her squalid neighborhood and ended at the Standard Fruit Company packing warehouse, her destination. She could see the hulking structure in the distance. The sun shined from the west and cloaked the warehouse in darkness.
She had traveled this route many times before. She wore a navy blue, ill-fitting, wrinkled white schoolgirl shirt that bunched around her waste. Her left hand carried her grandfather’s tri-level lunch bucket. It was an old bucket, but a solid one. The bottom held rice, the middle held beans, the top held tortillas. The handle broken some time ago but was repaired with a spool of clear tape that yellowed from being held be sweaty hands.
As she continued along the tracks, he little girl reached her cinnamon colored right hand into her breast pocket of her stained school shirt. She had stained it while roasting coffee beans for her grandfather’s morning coffee. She felt for the tiny doll she always carried with her. Nothing! She then dug her right hand into the right front pocket of her hand-me-down skirt but felt nothing but air. She froze, lowered her had and scanned the small thumbnail size, smoky colored river stones that lined this area of the railroad tracks for a glimpse of her little doll. She made tiny paper cloths for this doll. She molded tiny clay cups and saucers for this doll. She slept with this doll on her husk pillow.
An America man closer to thirty than twenty enjoyed the shade of a massive Ceiba tree that stood at the river edge. He enjoyed watching the meandering water flow, letting the brackish water nibble his toes. He enjoyed watching the little girl balance on the tracks. The American spent several hours under the tree trying to escape the blistering Caribbean sun that he was unaccustomed to. He was grateful he had found the tree. The tree held broad branches that supported think limbs and provided nutrition to its robust elephant ear leaves. The American noticed that the tree was short in life. The heavy flooding that came each rainy season had taken its toll. The last hurricane did the most damage though. The Cangrejal River had beached so high that year that the raging water washed away most of the root sediment, leaving the tree unsteady.
The American’s clothing indicated that this was his first trip to the Caribbean. The sombrero that he purchased at a local tourist shop was good beachwear for a Mexican resort, but all wrong for trekking around Honduras. The broad dinner-table brim was too heavy for the cone it was married to. As the American walked the brim flopped in front of his eyes, causing him to trip over invisible objects. The Hawaiian shirt he brought from the states was made from polyester; with every step it ripped his sunburned flesh like a rasp file. His ears are close to his rosy gaunt cheeks and are marked scarlet with yesterday’s sun.
The American saw the young girl stop walking, search her pockets, and lower her head to search the ground. He judged her age to be eight-years-old. He was close enough to notice she was distraught, but too far away to see what eluded her. He thought back five years to when his daughter was the little girl’s age and size. Tears filled his eyes, he rub them clear. He continued to watch the girl through his fog. She suddenly relaxed, bent at the waste, and picked up something. She cradled the something in both hands and spoke silent words to it. She squeezed the something between her left index finger and thumb and makes eye contact before placing the something in her left breast pocket.
The American peered downriver and then upriver. Sensing that the little girl was at peace, the he walked into the open from under the massive Ceiba tree. He peered downriver and then upriver one more time. He saw no one. He silently applauded himself for selecting a discreet place to rest. The American called out to the girl who stopped walking when she heard his voice.
“Hola,” the American said.
“Hola,” the little girl replied.
“What’s your name?
“Maria,” she answered.
“Maria is a pretty name.”
“Do you live around here?”
“No, I live in La Colonia Mira Mar.”
The American had heard of La Colonia Mira Mar. La Ceiba was divided into eight districts. The wealthy, which is a relative term when discussing any country, city, or colony in Central America, either live in La Tronja and La Naranja. In La Ceiba, the poor and the poorer live in colonies like Mira Mar. In colonies such as Mira Mar, here that bandits and gangs run the street after sun down, or so the American had heard.
“May I ask you where you are going?” the American asked.
“I have to take my grandfather his lunch. I take it to him everyday.”
“Do you always walk alone, and barefoot?”
“Yes, Yes you always walk alone, or yes you always walk barefoot alone?”
Maria giggled and smiled wide, peering down at her shoeless feet.
“Do you have any shoes?”
“Oh yes, my grandfather is a shoe maker- a great shoemaker. But I hate to wear the
shoes he makes me because they pinch my toes.”
“Since your taking lunch to your grandfather the shoe maker can I tag along? I have been
traveling for sometime and my shoes have worn through.”
He turned to show the girl the hole in the sole of his shoe as proof of his claim, as a long thin package he had wanted to conceal protruded from the right-hand pocket of his tan linen blazer.
“You have something in your pocket, Mister,” Maria said, ignoring his question. “Can I see?”
“I don’t know if you want to. What I have in this package is special.”
“Let me see! Let me see! Por favor!
The American took the brown rectangular package from his linen blazer. He unknotted the baling string that he had tied around the package like a baker wraps string around pound boxes of Italian cookies.
“Ok,” he relented. “If I let you see what’s in this package you must make me a promise. It’s a very big promise.”
“Let me see! Let me see! Por favor!”
From inside the package the American pulled the most beautiful flowers Maria had ever seen. They were speckled, raspberry-pink and white long stemmed flowers. “They are magic flowers,” the American said. “Their beauty makes some people happy and can make many people cry.”