Posted on: September 30, 2013
Marco woke to the sounds of his infant daughter stirring. She hadn’t cried out, but the studio apartment was small and Marco was a light sleeper. He got out of bed and tiptoed to her crib, taking care not to wake his girlfriend and the mother of his child. His daughter smiled as he approached, letting out a high-pitched squeal of delight. She kicked her small feet and shook her small fists, casting the shadows of four mischievous sprites dancing wildly against the fiery orange of the dim streetlamp outside. Marco lifted her from her crib and sang to her softly, “Duermete mi niña, duermete mi amor…”
Marco found out Gabriella, his girlfriend, was pregnant during one of his assignments. He contemplated what Gabriella’s pregnancy would mean for him as he pressed his handgun to the head of the man kneeling in front of him. They were in a narrow alleyway tucked between a shuttered pet shop and an empty bodega. The steel felt cold in Marco’s hands and the click of the hammer was deafening. The trigger resisted the weight of his finger and it took all of his strength to finally pull it. When the deed was done, he paused to catch his breath. He leaned against the stucco wall and let the weight of his body pull him down until he was level with the dead body at his feet. Marco looked away from the corpse and stared instead at the graffiti-strewn wall opposite him. He spotted a wheat-pasted poster of the Virgin Mary directly in his line of sight. It was old and was peeling away from the wall, maybe someone had tried to remove it. The Virgin Mary had been vibrant with color at some point, but was now sun-faded and looked gray in the dark of the night. There, Marco closed his eyes and prayed.
He named his daughter Esperanza, a child born amidst the chaos. Soon after, with the help of some of his friends, Marco left the Maras and found work in construction.
Marco woke again just as dawn was breaking. The world was blue-gray now, colors that signaled the start of his day. He slipped into his dusty work clothes in the bathroom so as not to wake his sleeping family. In front of the mirror, he gently ran his fingers over the scars on his bare chest, a constant reminder of a life just recently past. It all seemed so distant at that moment. Construction wasn’t anything to boast about, but it was legitimate, and he wouldn’t be ashamed to tell his daughter what her father did. It was honorable work. The Lord was a carpenter, a creator of things – who better to emulate?
He was only given a few hours of work that day, hours that had been dwindling more and more in the past year. The economy was down, they told him, and no one was building anymore.
At home, he watched Esperanza play with her toys in her crib, realizing that they had all been gifts. What kind of father couldn’t buy his own daughter toys to play with? Marco glanced around the small, unadorned apartment, his eyes landing on a stack of untouched bills which sat atop a coffee table he salvaged from a street corner. The coffee table, which doubled as a dining table, was made of particle board and had swollen where moisture had breached the paint-chipped surface. The unpaid bills bothered him, but it was the coffee table that sent him in a rage. It was falling apart. It was all falling apart.
“We’re running low on formula,” Gabriella said.
“Okay,” was all Marco could say in reply.
It was chilly outside. Marco had gone downstairs to smoke a cigarette, a habit he promised Gabriella he would kick. He only smoked because it helped calm him, but now each puff he took felt like another dollar stolen from his own daughter. He fumbled with his cellphone in his coat pocket before pulling it out. He scrolled through his contacts until he landed on one from his past.
“I need work Angel,” Marco said.
“You have work Marco,” Angel replied, “in construction.”
“You know what I mean.”
“No Marco. Have you already forgotten how hard it was to leave the Maras? You got a new start. You have a choice now.” Angel had grown up with Marco in El Salvador. They came to the United States together and joined the Maras together. After Esperanza was born, when Marco wanted out, it was Angel that convinced the Maras to leave him be.
“What choice? A choice between living like a beggar and living as a criminal? It’s the street one way or the other. You’re telling me that I can choose to be a mouse or a rat. Men like us will always be fighting for scraps, better to be feared than weak.”
“You have a family Marco.” Angel was desperate.
“Exactly.” Marco, more so.
There was a pause and a sigh. “Fine, meet me in the alleyway behind Lee’s Grocery, you remember where that is?”
“Sure, the bodega by the old pet store.” The image of the Virgin Mary flashed in Marco’s mind and for a moment he hesitated, but only for a moment.
It was late when Marco returned. He opened his apartment door as quietly as possible, but woke Esperanza anyway. She cried loudly, waking Gabriella.
“I’ve got her,” Marco said to his girlfriend, “go back to sleep.” Marco, without looking, felt the disappointment in Gabriella’s eyes, but she said nothing as she pulled the covers over her shoulders.
As Marco embraced Esperanza, bouncing her lightly against his chest, she slowly drifted back to sleep. After she had dozed off, Marco held her out in front of him as she lay flat on his forearm. She felt warm and soft against his skin.
“Everything’s going to be okay,” he whispered to her. And then he sang, “Duermete mi niña, duermete mi amor…”
Written by: Sam Chow
Photograph by: Chris Boyles
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
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