The sun was back with a vendetta, only it held rays like fire over the earth instead of a machete. It wore a mask of radiating, pulsating heat and
Beba Maria felt like she was going to pass out.
The day had been long, the road hard, and the undertaking of their task was proving more difficult than they had expected. They’d missed the boat because
Oscar had fallen down, scraped a knee, chipped a tooth, cried for ages.
There was now a stretch of desert between them and the spaceships that would shoot them towards a literal new beginning on an entirely different planet so
Lina was holding Oscar and Beba Maria by the clammy hands and pulling them along with her as far as she could go. She had to keep going. They all did. It was the same with the boat, if they missed this ship to the stars, they would have to go back home. Lina didn’t think she had it in her heart to turn around now, but every time she snuck a glance at Oscar or Beba Maria, she could easily see that
Oscar was still in pain because of his teeth and Beba Maria was near the melting point for human flesh. What was it, anyway? She knew the temperature for paper. She knew it for steel and other metals but the fact that human flesh could burn, just fry right off your bones, was horrible to her. She didn’t want to think of it, didn’t want to have a reason to think of it, but the reason was staring down at her from the sky as it broiled her alive in the hot sauce pan of the desert. The reason, Lina thought, was no longer a benevolent ruler who gave the lands warmth and safety. Instead, it was a villainous royal, with eyes of hot coal, feet and hands of electrifying fire. And was Lina scared of the sun?
Yes, but she was also scared of the things that never changed under the sun.
People who were less fortunate than she.
Why were they dangerous?
Well, they were more dangerous than the wild animals.
Wild animals didn’t look up at you with cracked hands, broken limbs, split lips, and begging, pleading-with-you-for-mercy eyes. Wild animals never asked for your last piece of bread. They never broke your heart into a million pieces when after all you gave up to help them, they still curled up and died like roly poly bugs. Yeah, Lina thought, the people who were more unlucky in this desert would bring her down and then Oscar would fall, Beba Maria would fall. It was Lina’s job to keep them going. She was the oldest. She had the plans.
“Lina,” Beba Maria suddenly dropped to her knees in the sand, “Lina.”
“Que? What?” Lina dropped beside her, cursing everything for stopping their march towards the starport. “Es el calor? Is it the heat? Tu cabeza? Your head? Que pasa?”
“Mi cabeza, Lina. My head is killing me. I need to rest, please.”
Lina shook her head. “No.” She pulled the younger girl up by the arm. “We can’t rest.” She threw her friend a soft smile. “Never quit, never surrender.”
Oscar bounced on his heels, further tearing the soles of his shoes. “And when we get to the spaceship, there will be seats made of gold, Lina. Did you know? Did you know the seats are all made of gold?”
Lina did know. She was the one who told Oscar that in the first place. She smiled at her brother. “Yes, they are gold. And do you know what else?”
Oscar asked, “What? What?”
Beba Maria mouthed, “What? Que?”
Lina was glad they were moving again. If she told them stories, maybe the walk wouldn’t seem so hot. Maybe if she talked of gold on spaceships instead of murderous sun villains, they wouldn’t catch on fire. They wouldn’t have to be
Ash called Oscar.
Ash called Lina.
Ash called Beba Maria.
“On the spaceship, they have fountains that splash chocolate.”
Their smiles grew, and she continued.
“On the spaceship, they have beds made from the geese that live in the fluffiest clouds.”
Beba Maria gasped to think of such a high delight and Oscar beamed, happy to hear his sister chatting like she used to. “Que mas, Lina? What else?”
“Well, there is a never ending supply of toilet paper. There are parties that last until midnight every day. There are,” she paused for effect, “Dancing girls and singing boys that twirl you away and away until you forget all about your problems. They twirl you right into the stars outside your windows.”
“We can see the stars?” Beba Maria loved the stars.
“Yes, all of them. And you can name them whatever you would like.”
Beba Maria liked the sound of that a lot. “I will name one after mami, one after papi, one after mis hermanitos, and the others will be after us.”
“What do you mean?” Lina stepped over a dead rattlesnake.
“I mean there will be stars with our names.”
Oh so she meant
Stars called Oscar.
Stars called Lina.
Stars called Beba Maria.
“Yes,” Beba Maria said, “Because once we’re out of the desert and on the spaceships, no one will be able to hold us here. No one can touch the stars.”
No, thought Lina, but they can see us waving down at them.
Oscar’s stomach was growling. He tugged the shirt of his sister. “Tengo hambre, I’m hungry. Where’s our food?”
They couldn’t eat yet, though. There was still such a large expanse of sand before them. Lina had to be wise with her food rationing. She was the oldest. She had the plan. She also had the bread, though, and that was what Oscar wanted. He began to cry again.
Lina resisted his soft brown eyes.
She didn’t look at his trembling lip or chipped tooth.
She ignored his quiet sniffling, running nose, sad shuffling feet.
And they marched on, deeper and deeper into a jungle with no trees.
This was Lina’s fault. She should have waited until Oscar and Beba Maria were older to make this journey. The thing was, however much of a mistake this was, she wasn’t sure she would have made it to be much older if she had stayed where she was. So it was her mistake, and they could all die, but there was no erasing what had already been etched in the stone of time. Yes, Lina said to herself, time is not sand. You cannot run your feet over clocks to make them turn back to yesterday. Time is stones, or mountains, even.
Time doesn’t move for anybody.
Luckily for Lina, she was no longer a body.
She was a star.