This story is by Ella Adriana Chirinos and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I was already awake when the cackles broke the stillness of the morning. “What are those chickens up to now?” I murmured. When it didn’t stop, I got out of bed to look out the window. I scanned through the green plantain trees until I saw what was happening.
The hungry iguana, or hamo, as I called him, had killed a chick. About one and a half feet long, the grayish-brown male reptile, swallowed the week-old bird in a gulp as the chickens and I stood still, watching.
“Peep, peeep, peeeep!”
The remaining chicks ran frantically through the leaves on the ground, camouflaging in the shades of brown. Mama hen’s beak opened as her tongue bobbed up and down. She spread her wings out, and shouts of relief erupted from her babies.
“Finally,” I sighed. “They’re with their mama.” However, their joy turned into cries of confusion, and my thoughts shouted, Why won’t she console them?
The tears gushed out my eyes, blurring my vision while the questions echoed, Why Lord? Why? I dropped on the bed and curled into a fetal position. Clutching the sheet, I mourned for what appeared to be a senseless loss of life until I heard the television. That was when I gasped for air as the chicks’ anxiety became mine.
My mama was awake.
I could hear the clinging and clanging of the pots and pans in the kitchen while the morning news echoed throughout the house. Why does she always have to be up so early?
Hoping to fall into a deep sleep, I closed my eyes. Still, the fear of the daily struggle to keep my room, my safe place, decontaminated, violently injected me with unwanted energy.
Jumping up to make the bed, I carefully aligned the sheets and pillows. Then, I snuck into the bathroom, locked the door, and repeatedly washed my hands, losing track of time. I only stopped to adjust the bra strap cutting into my skin.
Mama’s familiar warning, “Don’t make me call your name twice, or you’ll know what’s good for you!” sounded off. I washed my hands three more times and took a Lysol wipe from under the sink to disinfect the doorknob. The lemon-scented bleach cut through the remaining layer of skin protecting my fingers.
Taking a deep breath, I reassured myself. You can do this. Just don’t show your panic when you feel dirty. Pretend you’re normal.
I folded the wipe and tossed it in the trash and proceeded to tiptoe into the kitchen and stand by the window while she stirred the beans on the stove. I noticed the freshly cut plantains lightly covered in salt and the fire heating the oil in the frying pan.
Maybe we can pretend everything is okay, I thought. She’s making my favorite food — plantains, fried beans, and soon, tortillas.
Mama moved her luscious, dark brown straight hair to the side to wipe the sweat from the back of her neck. I used to comb that hair as a child. Does she realize how much I love her? How I want her to tell me everything is going to be alright?
When she cut off the burner for the beans and grabbed the large, metal fork to fry the plantains, I cleared my throat. She turned, and to my surprise, tried to smile. Maybe she’ll try to be kind and help me win this battle. Could today be the day everything changes?
However, she couldn’t help it. Mama dropped her gaze and fixated on the raw skin of my hands. She never finished widening her mouth as she clenched her coffee-stained teeth and pointed the fork at me. Those delicate lips let out that sweet voice that once lulled me to sleep.
“You idiot. How many times did you wash your hands just now?”
The ripple of hope inside my chest quickly turned into a wave of fierce anger at the lack of compassion.
“Your opinion doesn’t hurt me anymore, mama. Say whatever you wish, you hypocrite!”
She flung the fork at my feet, skimming my left big toe. Before I could react, she had me by the hair with one hand and with the other, seeped her fingers into my cheeks.
“Will you have to disinfect yourself because I touched you? Huh?!”
Face to face, I searched her dark-brown eyes, desiring to find the light inside them while scorning the drop of saliva that landed on my nose. God, is there any love left inside her for me? Why is she so terrible? What have I done?
She flinched as if sensing my desire for connection and let go. I dropped to the floor.
It never changes. Does it? This is my life.
That night, I stared at myself in the mirror on the wall in my room. My guts twisted from the fear of contamination, causing me to bend forward and lean my head on the glass for support. I lifted it again to look at myself but couldn’t make out my face.
Who am I?
Everything was a blur, except for the red, raw meat of my fingers. I highlighted every distinct crack and cut and traced the lines of blood. When the anxiety became overwhelming, I closed my eyes to pray, figuring I could hear back from Heaven if I wasn’t distracted.
Jesus, You’re supposed to heal me. Don’t You care that I’m suffering? Where are You?
How do I survive this isolation? I’m stuck with a woman who hates me!
Even the animals are monsters now!
Do You realize that three letters have corrupted every area of my life?
I punched the concrete wall, bruising my knuckles. Yet, the sudden pain couldn’t outweigh my thoughts. “Three letters,” I whispered. “Do You want me to say them out loud? I can’t even talk about it in this hell I’m living in!”
I hit the wall again, as the discoloration spread.
“OCD! OCD! I have OCD!”
I slammed my fist for the third and final time, tearing my skin. The tears welled in my eyes as I cried: “Give me a sign that You’re real!”
After a few minutes of silently weeping, I decided to compose myself. Just get over it already. Walking away from the mirror in despair, I tucked my hand into my white t-shirt as the warm blood wet my stomach.
“Ohhh…my word…what’s happening?”
Before I realized it, the blood was drenching my shirt, while I found myself on the floor as a heavy presence covered me like honey, and electric waves passed through my system. Sprawled out on my back, I watched while the hairs on my other arm tried to stand up, as the panic of contamination rose within me. They bobbed up and down.
I don’t want to get up off the floor and change my clothes, but I have to, don’t I?
God, am I not supposed to be a prisoner always?
While we wrestled, the warmth of His peace covered me like a massive, wool blanket. The glory of His person was so tangible and thick that the air became impregnated with His life. I couldn’t stand or escape even if I wanted to, because everything Jesus became mine.
So, I rolled over and wriggled like a worm until I reached the foot of the bed and blacked out.
The cackling woke and shook me to my core, causing me to dry-heave.
I crawled to the wall and pulled myself up to look out the window just as the iguana went in for the kill. “Does it ever end?” I whined.
This time, mama hen rushed the iguana, and defended her chicks the only way she knew how: picking and spurring.
The iguana’s pink mouth clamped onto her leg, dragging her around. When it appeared as if she had lost the fight, a sudden jerk resulted in her freedom. She picked hamo’s left eye, and returned to her little ones, bloodied and bruised, but victorious.
Dumbfounded, I backed away from the window until I reached the bed and laid down. I stared at the ceiling, drooling and picking the dried snot from around my nostrils. Suddenly, I noticed there wasn’t any pain in my knuckles and placed my hand in front of me. “Where’s the missing skin?”
Then, the silence of my mind caught my attention. I had no thoughts and anxiety.
Is this what under His wings means?
My heart started racing and what felt like a panic attack coming on, turned into uncontrollable laughter as I repeated:
“That’s why He named me Ruth!”