Joel Bentley

I wake up swaying, lying in my hammock with the bugs crawling over me. I swat them away. Mama lies beside me because last night I couldn’t sleep. The storm was loud so mama called me over and I lay there leaning against her warmth. The sunlight touches my skin but the air is still cool. I step out of the hammock out of the hammock onto the floor.
The dirt beneath my feet is hard, but smooth. If I lie on the ground it looks hilly and the dirt is dark. Sometimes I pretend it’s my own farm and I plant plantain and guava and the candy I get from the store. I don’t usually plant candy because it tastes too good. Mama gets mad whenever I dig up the floor.
I have to go do my chores so I pull on a shirt. I pick up my buckets and run to the well. The well is outside the village in the middle of a grove of palm trees. It would make a good fort. Carlos is there. Is say Hola and he says Hola. He says some strangers have come to the village. They have white skin with big bags on their backs and funny smiles. I ask Where? He says By the river.
We pick up our buckets and run. We don’t say anything but we’re racing. Carlos is bigger and he thinks he’s faster, but when we play soccer I always score more goals. When we run Carlos’ cheeks puff out and his eyebrows fold in.
We reach the river and the strangers are unloading all kinds of bags. The bags have red leaves on them. The strangers are in line going up the bank and they are passing things and laughing. One of them is standing on the top of the bank and squinting as he looks at the river. He’s looking for something on the river but there’s nothing there right now. The river is brown and wide and sometimes you see pink dolphins race or someone floats down on the logs for sale or a ferry comes with sugar and Coca-Cola. The man squinting at the river brings something black and shiny right up to his face to block the sun. The black thing clicks and he puts it back in his bag.
The strangers pile up in a circle on the bank of the river. They sit on bags and wipe sweat from their eyes. They pour water out of a yellow carton they’ve brought with them. I offer them some of my water. They frown and say, No gracias.
Pastor Pablo is talking with the strangers. On Sundays Pastor Pablo has church in his home. I went one time and he told a story about a boy who could kill lions and bears with his hands.
I ask him who the strangers are. He says they are missionaries from Canada and that they are staying with him for a few days. I ask him if we can help and he says Yes, bring the bags to my house. Carlos and I leave our buckets and pick up some bags. I pick up a bag that looks like an unripe banana. One of the strangers says something to me that I don’t understand. He is big and has hair all over his head and face. His teeth are as white as his skin. Pastor Pablo tells him it’s fine, I’m taking the bag to his house.
Carlos and I race but my bag is heavier so he wins. We leave the bags and run back to the river. This time I pick up one of the yellow cartons. One of the strange women with white hair says Hola to me so I say Hola but she doesn’t understand anything else.
We race again but this time I see mama and she asks me where I got the yellow carton. She tells me not to steal from the strangers and asks me Where is the water? She gets mad at me and tells me to get ready for school.
I run back and get the buckets and bring them home. I put on my school uniform, a white shirt and brown shorts. I find my bag and run to school.
At school I say Hola to Carlos and find my place. The walls are white and the board is green. I don’t like walls. The teacher looks like us. He has a white shirt and brown shorts but he’s bigger. That’s why he teaches, he’s bigger.
The teacher asks a question. My friend Adela answers. She is smarter than me. She says she likes school and she likes learning. School is boring and long. I wish I could go watch the strangers.

At lunch the strangers are on the field. They bring a soccer ball and start playing. It is a new soccer ball. Carlos and some of his older friends start playing against the strangers. All of the school kids are on the field. They chase the ball over the bumps and into the corners. I play with the strangers. The man who squints always passes to me.
I score three goals. Carlos scores one.

One of the strangers has hair that looks like fire. He is always shouting and laughing. He picks me up and swings me upside down. My head feels dizzy and I see the field spin. The palm trees are flying and the sky is the ground. I laugh.
We play for a while but then the strangers get tired and stop running. Some of them walk off the field and sit under the palm trees. I want to keep playing but they are too tired.
The man who squints is standing at the side of the field by the palm treed. He is holding the black thing in front of his face again. I run up to him and ask him what it is and if I can hold it. He doesn’t speak. I look closely at the black thing and I see my reflection so maybe it’s a mirror. He takes out his water and he holds it out for me. I say Gracias and drink quickly. The water is war but fresh.
The teacher comes onto the field and tells us to come back to class. We don’t want to but we have to.

After school me and Carlos walk home. He says the black thing is a camera. I ask, What’s a camera? He says a camera takes pictures like the pictures in the newspapers our papas sometimes have. Or like the pictures in the book Carlos’ friend Diego brought back from the city, the book of naked girls with big bums.
I ask if the stranger took our pictures. He says Maybe.
I don’t want my picture in a book.

When I go home after school mama tells me I have to do more chores. I take my machete and I go cut down some guava. I want to watch the strangers so I do my chores quickly.
When I get back mama is gone and papa says she is cooking for the strangers. I ask Why? And he says Because the strangers are paying, they have lots of money.
I run to Pastor Pablo’s house.
The door is crowded with kids and I try to push my way through but one of the older kids won’t let me and pushes me back out.
I run around to the back of the house and mama is there cooking. The strangers are having chicken and I ask mama How come the strangers get to have chicken and we never do? She says Because they paid for it.
I run inside and most of the strangers are sitting in their hammocks. They are all men, the women are in another room. Most of them are talking, but the man who squints and shared water with me looks like he is trying to read. It’s getting dark.
The man with hair on his face stands up and says something and they slowly move into the other room. I follow the men in and I stand out of the way, in the corner. They sit down at a table with plates and cups laid out.
The women are here too.
One of them screams.
I laugh and crush the spider under my foot. It’s wet and sticky.
Mama starts to bring the food in. When she sees me she tells me should leave the strangers alone. I complain but she says I’ll have to do more chores if I don’t. So I leave.
I run around the house. The front door is still crowded but I find a crack in the logs of the wall I can see through.
Some of the strangers eat fast and some eat really slow and the woman who screamed at the spider won’t eat anything.
I run to the back of the house when mama comes in to take the dishes away. I meet her at the back and I ask if I can help. She says Yes so I grab the plate of the woman who didn’t eat anything. When I get out of the room I start eating the chicken but mama sees me and tells me not to. I ask Why? She says Because it’s not our food.
I clear the rest of the dishes and go home.

At night I can hear the bugs: the crickets, mosquitoes and flies. I can hear the birds. I can hear the tree branches swaying.
Adela says at night you can hear the jungle breathing.
There is no storm tonight.

I do my chores quickly in the morning. I don’t see Carlos at the well so I hurry back home and then I go to the plaza.
The plaza is in the centre of the village. It is a big open space where mama and papa sometimes sit and talk. Some days the men from the city come and sell things in the plaza, things that come from the city, like papa’s newspapers.
The man who shared with me is sitting in the plaza. He opens up a book and takes out a picture. He puts the picture beside him and begins to read.
I sit down on the pavement and watch him. He has the beginning of wrinkles at the corners of his eyes and he has some hair on his face but not much. His hair is curly like waves made by the wake of a ferry. He squints as he reads. He never looks at me.
Adela walks over and picks up the picture. I stand up to look at it. The picture is of a woman who is standing in a field with her hands in her pockets. She is standing in grass up to her knees. The grass looks spiky. She looks foreign but beautiful, her hair is like palm branches in the wind. She is smiling.
The man who shares looks at Adela and says, “Mi novia.”
Adela looks at the picture and smiles.

After school I look for the strangers. I find them in the plaza and they are going to the river to take a bath. Some of the older kids show them where the beach is. It’s sandy and flat and it has logs to dry clothes on. The strangers have bottles full of white and blue liquid that foams when they put it in their hair. I smell one of the bottles. It smells nice. I imagine it smells like ocean. I’ve never seen the ocean.
Adela went to the ocean with her papa once. She said that the ocean is big and blue and flat. She said the ocean is always climbing the shore because it wants to meet the river. But he can’t make it because he’s eaten too many fish. He’s too big. So he just sits by the shore and sings to the river all day hoping she will come to him.
I watch Adela swim in the river. She laughs as the strangers pass around a soccer ball trying to keep it in the air. Her black hair sticks to the back of her neck.
After they bathe, the strangers play on the beach. The man with fire hair has brought something that looks like a big nut. He calls it a football. The strangers pass it around in the air. They pass it to Carlos. He kicks it to me and I kick it to Adela. She picks it up and throws it in the air to the man with the fire hair who walks over and gives her a high five.

At night the strangers put on a show. The sky is pink like dolphins.
The strangers are all in the plaza and the boys are playing soccer. I join the strangers’ team and score two goals right away. The man who shares says something loud at me. I don’t understand but he smiles, so I smile.
After soccer Pastor Pablo tells us to sit down. The strangers act out a play and Pastor Pablo tells it to us in Spanish. The story is about a man named Jonas who ran away from God. He took a boat onto the ocean and was swallowed by a big fish. The fish spat him out three days later. Jonas never ran away from God after that.
The strangers teach us a Bible verse and play games with us and we laugh. At the end they give us bracelets and then we pray. When they pray they ask if anyone wants to know Jesus. I don’t really know who Jesus is and I thought they said he died, but when I looked around everyone had their hand up so I put my hand up too.

The next morning the strangers are leaving so I get up early and I ignore my chores. The man who shares is sitting in the plaza reading again. He looks like he hasn’t slept. I sit down on the pavement in front of him and watch him read.
I ask him if he would take a picture of Adela. He doesn’t say anything. I ask him again. He says something but I don’t understand.
There are more kids sitting with me watching him now and he is finished reading. He stands up and I stand up and I ask him once more if he’ll take a picture. He doesn’t say anything but just looks at me and shakes his head.
I reach and grab the camera. He pushes me back and I fall on the pavement and scrape my elbow. Mama told me not to steal.
I look at my elbow and it is bleeding, but not too bad. All the other kids are staring at me and I am on the ground. The man who shares looks at me and says something. His eyes are wide and silent. He gives me his hand and I take it and he pulls me up.
He reaches into his bag and he pulls out a pin with a red leaf on it. He gives it to me and I’m not sure what to do with it. I say Gracias but I don’t know what to do with it. He walks back to Pastor Pablo’s house.

At lunch they load up their boat and I help.
The man who shares doesn’t talk to me. He tries not to look at me but I see him look at me once. His eyebrows fold in like Carlos’. My elbow has stopped bleeding and it’s fine.
The strangers get on the boat and they wave as they leave. I stand on the bank and watch. The river is wide and brown and soon the strangers fade into the haze. The river turns and I can’t see them. They’re gone. I’m not sure if I’m sad.
I open up my hand and look at the pin with the red leaf. I close my hand and walk over to Adela. I give her the pin. She takes it and smiles.
“Bonita.”屏幕快照 2015-10-18 11.33.00 PM