Maybe it was the rain that made me feel so melancholy. Most days I see the glue sniffer swaying in the middle of the street in Nueva Vida, and the gang members sharing a liter of rum on the corner, and it’s just another day.
Or maybe it was that the Lobas were with me riding past the huelepega on our way back from karate class, passing the drunk asleep on the sidewalk with his feet in the street, turning up Iliana* and Martha’s street to drop them at home, and the gang on their corner looked sharper, meaner than usual.
I was turning over in my mind the conversation we’d had. “Raquel,” I’d asked, “where were you and Celina last week?”
“Oh, we couldn’t come because the cops took our brother away.”
“Me too,” says Ninoska, “they came and took my brother while he was watching TV.”
Last week in Nueva Vida one gang killed a drunk from a different gang on his way to buy another bottle. So the police took all the suspicious young men in for questioning…all the Lobas’ brothers.
Now all the boys are back home, the murderer is nowhere to be found, and the pandilleros are telling the lurking television cameras that they’re going to kill in retribution.
Maybe it’s the rain, but we’re celebrating two years with the Lobas and today it feels like we’ve taken one step forward and three steps back.
They are all studying in secondary school now. Except for Paula, who sometimes carries a knife, who whacked her teacher over the head with a broom two years ago and hasn’t been back to school since. And Martha, who was going to study this year again now that the baby sister she’s taking care of is nearly two, but she can’t get her transfer papers from the private school where she went before because the principal is a pastor who made a pass at her and she told her mom and now he won’t give them her transcript. And Iliana, who has missed two weeks of school because it’s such a big place and she’s so small, she gets lost in the jostling crowds. And Gema, who’s missed two weeks because her iron shorted out and she can’t iron her uniform and if she goes without a uniform the teacher yells at her, even though by law she has a right to study whether she’s in uniform or not. I tell her this, but she says, “I don’t like for them to call me out in front of class.”
In two years, none of the Lobas have gotten pregnant. But Iliana talks about a man in the Army who comes to see her on weekends. And Gema has a man with a daughter visiting her at home, and she thinks her mom likes him. And Sara’s mom hasn’t let her out for three weeks because she’s in love with a 28-year-old man and her mom has quit her job to make sure Sara is never at home alone.
Maybe it’s the rain. But today there are so many hurdles.
Today the obstacles seem to stack up against my Lobas.
The cloudy sky puts the gang on the street corner into stark relief. Today when I see them, I feel the humid air pressing up against Nueva Vida, pushing in, pushing, and pushing against my Lobas, against their brothers and the gangs.
Now, at home, I watch the brown ants that always come with the first rains fluttering through the air with wings four times the size of their bodies. They flutter and buzz and land, first one wing falls off, and then the other, and they lie writhing wingless on the ground, struggling until they die.
Today as I watch the winged ants, I see the faces of the pandilleros in Nueva Vida, with bravado four times the size of their fear. They sniff glue their eyes flutter, blissed out, while their bodies writhe, terribly, heartbreakingly, struggling on this earth in Nueva Vida.
Today I’m praying that my Lobas make it, in spite of their long, long odds.
*All names have been changed