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The youngest child had been crying all night.
"How can I rest and be ready for work in the morning when I can't sleep? Yesterday I nearly fell, while spreading the hot tar. It's dangerous going up and down the ladder when I'm always tired."
"I'm so sorry," Emma said apologetically, as if it were her fault. "He cries day and night, because he is hungry, and then he cries after I feed him because everything I feed him makes him sick. He is so small and so thin for a two-year-old. I don't know what to do."
Juan got up and went for a cup of coffee. When he returned, Emma continued talking. "My comadre says he is embrujado and that we must see a curandera. She knows La India María, who lives in the pueblo. Maybe she could help us. What do you think?"
I don't believe in this thing called the evil eye, but I'm ready to try anything. I can't remember when I slept the whole night through!" He raked his fingers through his hair and grumbled more.
"It's not the baby's fault. The only thing which seems to help him is hot tea, te de hierba buena, with a little honey."
This and similar conversations were repeated over and over, and always came to an abrupt end. Neither parent knew what to do and both felt guilty for their inaction.
The couple lived in an isolated town of only a few families. The village had no telephone; the roads were bare dirt, and among all the families there were only two cars and one old battered pick-up truck. Necessity made them good neighbors; they shared what they had and trusted each other. They were allaware of the joys and sorrows which were part of their daily life.
One day the comadre came over to see how the baby was doing, and found Emma crying and trying to rock him to sleep. They talked of taking the child to María, but they were afraid of having car trouble on the way and ending up stranded. The comadre decided to go alone and try to convince María to come to them. After she left the couple tried to figure out how to pay María.
The family had a small farm with a few farm animals and a small orchard. At this time of year they had ripe apples and pears - surely this was enough to barter with. That's how business was done in this village, where there was no money.
María did come, and they were glad to see her. She was a large woman with a commanding voice, and seemed a little brusque, because she was all business. She entered the house and asked to see the child. After a short conversation with Emma, she spotted her eight-year-old daughter, Raquel, who stood by. "Go to the chicken house and get me an egg," she ordered. The child ran out as commanded and returned soon with an egg in her little hand.
In the meantime, María placed the baby over a blanket on the kitchen table, and took his clothes off. With the diaper she made a circle around his umbilicus. When Raquel brought the egg, María broke it and emptied it over the baby's belly button. He winced and let out a surprised cry. María studied the egg, muttering all the while, as she moved the yolk with her finger every which way, as if looking for something. No one understood her words, or saw what she saw. After a while she pulled out a hair and claimed that it belonged to the person who had caused the brujería.
She assured Emma that the baby would be all right, but told her not to nurse him any more. She also told her not to give him any milk unless it was goat's milk.
The baby slept all night, and so did the father! The next morning over breakfast, the parents didn't know quite what to think. The baby was still sleeping, and the parents were both rested.
A couple of years later Raquel ran into trouble at school. She had always enjoyed her classmates and they had good times together. Suddenly something strange happened at recess. She found the other girls whispering to each other, looking at her from across the yard. They began to exclude her from games and conversation. Raquel felt completely alone and couldn't understand what was happening. Finally one of the most outspoken of the girls said to her, "Your mother is a witch! Your mother is a witch!" The others chimed in with, "Tu madre es bruja! Bruja!"
The words hurt her. Raquel's eyes filled with tears. She didn't know what to say or do. At first she yelled back, "You must be crazy! My mother never hurt anyone!" The taunting continued and Raquel ran home to tell her parents. She could not understand the unexpected turn of events, even though her parents could. Raquel refused to go to school the next day. She hoped it was only gossip, which would go away.
Her parents knew that Emma was being accused of having bewitched a friend of hers. A couple had moved to the village the year before, all the way from Italy. They were different and didn't fit in with the other villagers very well. Emma had befriended the wife, even though no one else in the village did. The woman was sickly and medicinal herbs didn't seem to help her.
Often Emma and Juan visited them and helped them with farm work. Emma used to take food, including soups and baked goods, because the woman could no longer cook for herself and her family. During the past winter Emma and Juan saw very little of the other family, because the distance was too far to walk in bad weather.
The following spring the woman was very ill, and her husband spread the gossip that Emma had bewitched his wife with the food. The village had heard it all. Raquel was the last to know.
Juan and Emma discussed it with each other and with Raquel. Emma cried. "I've lost a friend, and the village hates me and is afraid of me."
"This whole brujería business is nothing but stupid superstition!" Juan exclaimed angrily. He turned to Raquel. "Pay no attention to those crazy girls. It's meanness! The woman was sick when she got here, and they have to blame it on someone. There's no such thing as a bruja!"
"What about the time La India María came and cured my little brother?" asked Raquel.
"It wasn't eggs and hair and witchcraft which cured your little brother," Juan declared. "It was good advice about what to feed him. He was allergic to your mother's milk, and cow's milk. When she stopped feeding him that, he got well."
They talked until late, and Raquel felt better. But she wondered if she'd ever have any friends in the village again.
Excerpted from Undercurrents by Adela Amador. Copyright © 1998 by Adela Amador. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
O My Land, My Friends
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By Langdon Hammer and Brom Weber
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Copyright © 1997 Langdon Hammer and Brom Weber. All rights reserved.