At three months of age, Maria Lopez Smith’s eyes turned blue, not just any ordinary blue, but turquoise, the color of the sea near Porto San Sebastian, where Sophia Henrietta Vargas, Maria’s maternal grandmother, lived; she too had turquoise eyes.
It was a sign; Maria’s brown-eyed mother told the rest of the family, a sign that her child, the fifth daughter of a fifth daughter, would be a woman of great importance.
Maria’s father worked at the grand resort, Las Almandas. Far enough from Porto San Sebastian so that he only came home during the month of August. When Maria was born her mother informed her husband that she would return to Las Almandas with him. Maria’s four sisters moved in with various relatives, who raised them as their own along with their other children. Maria was left with her grandmother, Sophia, in the small house that overlooked the sea.
“Being a woman of great importance, Maria,” her grandmother always began, “requires being in the right place at the right time.” She smiled and continued to braid her granddaughter’s hair as she repeated the adventures that led her to Porto San Sebastian.
“My first marriage was an arranged one, or that is what my husband believed. He was from Madrid and I was from Las Rozas. He had seen me…” Her grandmother went on to describe how, at the age of fifteen, she had used her turquoise eyes for the first time. “I have not always lived in this quiet village,” she said, ending the story the way she ended all of her stories. “And you will not have to either,” she added.
Maria remembered that her grandmother started to plan for her future when she was only six years old.
“When you are fourteen, you will leave here. You will go and live with your oldest sister in the place called Brooklyn. There you will learn the ways of the people and make yourself important.”
Maria leaned against a pillar on the platform of the Christopher Street Subway station and rubbed her belly. She was in her eighth month with her first child and the heat was the one thing that felt familiar. She took a deep breath and remembered how she had tried to explain it to her American husband, Jason, the night before.
“If I close my eyes for a moment I am transported home. The thick air covers me and I can almost hear the sound of the waves,” she told him.
“Stay home and rest. You don’t need to work, Maria. It’s embarrassing that my wife still works.”
“I’m sorry that I have become a shame to you.”
“That’s not what I meant; it’s just…”
“Resting is not the point, is it, mi amor?” she interrupted him smiling as he rubbed her feet. “I have an important job too,” she sighed as he kneaded his fingers deep into the arch of her right foot. “Is that what bothers you?”
“No, don’t be ridiculous. I’m proud of you. Remember when I introduced you to my aunt?”
“Yes, she insisted that I looked just like her favorite movie star: Elizabeth Taylor, then she took me into her bedroom and read my tarot cards. I know she whispered the readings to you, mi amor,” Maria sighed again. “It was a good thing that you had already proposed marriage or I would not have believed it was your idea.”
“You are more beautiful than ever. Why can’t you stay home?”
“Because my job is to be with people. Tomorrow I have an important presentation.”
Jason smiled, shook his head, and leaned over to give his wife a kiss.
Maria had worked for a local television station for three years before she met her husband. She started as the assistant to Xavier Batista, the reporter who covered the Hispanic community. When he moved to the special broadcasting unit at the station, Maria moved with him to the twentieth floor, where the programming department for the station was located.
Maria’s presentation would be to the head of the network. It was about a new show she had developed; Xavier had encouraged her to dream big. She had gone to him with her idea only six months earlier.
“Brilliant!” He clapped his hands. “But, why just New York, Maria? Think bigger. You know what I always say: demographics. Use them. The country is changing, you have a story to tell, use your biography. My show: “Tiempo” is getting stale. Women drive ratings and your show will speak to them.
“You have been so generous to me, Xavier. If the network buys my show, I don’t know how I will be able to thank you.”
He looked at her, smiled and reached out to touch her. “Tell Jason who the father is.”
Maria’s eyes were closed as the Number 1 Train approached the station. When she opened them, she could see from the platform that it was already crowded. A young woman grabbed the last empty seat.
So Maria stood in front of her, hoping that she would get up after seeing her protruding belly.
“Oh, my goodness. Sorry. Didn’t see you, please sit down,” the woman said as she jumped up.
It was always the women who moved first, Maria thought. She sat down, closed her eyes, and started to rehearse the first slides of her presentation.
Her show was called “Háblame: Talk to Me”.
Several stops later Maria opened her eyes. “Why are you staring at me?”
The young woman was searching Maria’s face; she blushed. “Oh, not staring, just lost in thought, sorry.” She turned away and walked toward the doors that were about to open at Forty-second Street.
Maria wondered who she was, if only she had been kinder and said something something positive that the girl could have taken with her. Not everyone is born with turquoise eyes.
From the short story collection: Goodbye Claudia – by Bonita LeFlore