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It was one of those days of summer, one of those hot days when the sweat from the feet of insects makes sizzling sounds on the rocks. On the banks of the Cuadrante Lake, Golondrina sat mending a fishing net. The cool blue waters lapped at her feet and the tall grasses around her swayed in the slight breeze. Even when the grass grazed her cheek and jumping fish splashed water over her toes, Golondrina could not think of anything but the discomfort of a tiny desire, a desire so small that if you were to hold it in your hand you would see it was the size of the seed of a copinol tree. For a moment, she looked up from the fishing net and toward the path that led from her village, Santa María de las Diez, to the nearby town of San Benito de las Once.
Santa María de las Diez was one of the twelve villages that surrounded the bright blue waters of the Cuadrante Lake. The edge of each village stood exactly forty meters from the lake and exactly ten kilometers separated each village from the next. Even when the strong winds blew and lifted the thatched-roof huts from the ground, the villages never varied from these positions. Surrounding them all were the cloud-topped Mountains Bastante Altas.
In those days, in each of the towns on the lake, a visitor could ask each woman, man, child and baby to line up and the visitor would always count one hundred people—never more, never less. A new baby was never born unless the oldest person in the village died. Most people were healthy and lived very long lives, except in the rare case that someone did something extremely foolish. This had not happened in Santa María since years before when a man named Pavo ate two dozen pears, tied wooden paddles to his hands and feet, and attempted to swim the circumference of the Cuadrante Lake. When he was not seen for days and a new baby was born, it was believed that Pavo had drowned somewhere along the way.
“I really wish my family could move to San Benito,” Golondrina said to no one in particular. In San Benito, she had heard they played many games that had not yet reached Santa María and, in San Benito, the mangos that she loved so much grew to the size of pumpkins. A swirling cloud of mayflies stopped to listen, but only for a moment. Golondrina let out a deep sigh, and the desire in her heart burst like a dandelion in a strong wind and fed an idea that she should try to do what she could to make her wish come true.
Golondrina pulled up the fishing net up from the water and, seeing a caterpillar, decided she would explain to it what she had started to relate to the mayflies. “You know, caterpillar, in a few days we will celebrate the Day of the Fiesta of the New Faces. If my sister or brother is born before then, we may be the family chosen from Santa María to move to San Benito.” Each year, during the Day of the Fiesta of the New Faces, a family of four was chosen from each village to move to the next one. On that day, a big celebration took place to welcome the new family. Golondrina’s family, made up of her mother, father and herself, lacked one member to make four. For six years, Golondrina’s mother had awaited the birth of her second child.
The disinterested caterpillar twisted about and continued its journey around her and toward the path up the mountain. “I guess caterpillars aren’t concerned with such things.”
Golondrina’s mind was still preoccupied with her longing as she folded her net, as she dropped the day’s catch into a basket after throwing back the smallest of the fish, and as she made her way up the path toward her home. She had never told her parents about what she wanted. Her mother had attributed Golondrina’s constant sighing to the spores from the grasses growing up the mountainside. Everyone knows that the spores sometimes lodge in the throat or in the stomach. There they turn into hard objects that make sleeping and eating difficult and bring on constant sighing.
As she walked up the path, Golondrina passed the other women preparing to end their day fishing. None was a better fisher than Golondrina. Every morning without fail her net filled with fish of many sizes and many colors. It was the custom in all of the towns on the lake that the women fished and the men tended the crops planted on the side of the mountains for half of each year. When the half-year was over, the women changed to farmers and the men to fishers. But all year long, Golondrina fished, because her net always filled with a full catch and because, in this way, her life passed contentedly.
After growing up in Santa María, Golondrina wanted to live in a new place with new people and make new friends. In Santa María, the village celebrated with a feast every time the moon was full, and in San Benito, they celebrated with a feast every new moon under a sky filled with twinkling stars.
Just before reaching her home, Golondrina heard noises coming from inside. The noises were rhythmic, as if the house itself were drawing in deep breaths and exhaling loudly through the breaks in the walls.
Golondrina opened the door and found her mother, Paloma, sitting in the middle of the room, her weighty body covered with perspiration and planted in a chair. “Ay de mi!” her mother lamented. “It has been so long since I was comfortable! And how long it has been since I slept in peace!” She rose slowly from the chair and began to wash the table in front of her with long strokes of her rag in a rhythm that matched her breathing. Golondrina rushed forward to help her.
“Sit down, Mamá!” Golondrina begged her suffering mother.
Her mother continued her lament. “All night long, all day long, I hear his little voice crying from inside me, ‘Free me! Free me!’ I don’t think I can stand anymore!” With her last word spoken, Golondrina’s mother fell back into the chair.
The moment had arrived, thought Golondrina, for something to be done. She gathered up her courage and left for the house of Don Cuervo.