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La Gringa

By , Santa Cruz, CA
It was the summer after her high school freshman year. Young Betty had joined a summer exchange program in San Luis Obispo. She and a group of girls were sent to a small pueblo in Mexico named San Blas. There in the little town of San Blas lived a small indigenous fellow who went by the name of Narciso the third, but all of his friends called him Chicho. Little Chicho spent his days praying, playing Mexican basketball and guitar under the warm Mexican sun with his amigos.

Betty stepped out of the bus in the 100 degree weather already beginning to break a sweat. There wasn’t any air conditioning in the bus anyway, but not having wind blow at her face really intensified the heat. She could taste and smell the humidity by simply breathing. The weather seemed to add another 50 pounds to her exhausted body. She looked behind her to see the other girls get off the bus share the same reaction as they were discovered by the hellish weather. She turned her head back around and saw two nuns appear from out of the church they parked in front of. The few adults that were with Betty’s group walked quickly towards the nuns to greet them. Betty and the rest of the group sluggishly followed behind carrying their luggage that twisted their bodies into awkward shapes. Limping along with her friends she could begin to hear the conversation between the nuns and her group leaders. She could understand the Spanish coming from her group leaders but she could only catch a few words coming from the nuns. She was too weary to try to listen any harder. She just wanted to lie down on top of Mount Everest and sleep. Once the group had caught up with the adults the nuns introduced themselves. Betty could hardly understand them at that point but she got the idea. The nuns then led them to where they would be sleeping for the summer. On the way over they passed by a group of local boys all dressed in uniform looking their way. They looked around the same age as the girls did. Betty thought it was obvious that they were talking about them because of the way they were looking at them and talking at the same time. It bugged her and made her feel uncomfortable but she continued walking with her group until she saw him. He was sitting on the bench holding a guitar, with all his amigos huddled around him. He was tuning his guitar when he looked up at her. He wasn’t talking with the rest of them. Betty looked at him just a bit longer until she was interrupted by her friend complaining about the weather. She couldn’t really listen to her friends because she had become distracted thinking about that young guitarist. She looked back at him one more time to see him playing the guitar bobbing his head and laughing with his friends.

The next morning Betty awoke to the same sticky weather that she had fallen asleep in. All the girls in the room were already up and about making their beds. According to what they had planned back in San Luis Obispo, their first day in San Blas was going to be spent exploring the small pueblo and visiting the beach. As the girls were getting prepared for the day the group leaders began talking about exactly what they were going to do that day. “First ladies, we’re going to church to give thanks that we all made it safe and sound to our destination. Then we can start off to the plaza. Oh, and the nuns and seminary students of the church will be joining us to show us around.” That last sentence caught Betty off guard however, she knew exactly who the seminary students had to be. She began to get a little nervous for the day ahead because she couldn’t help but feel a little intimidated by the boys that would be chaperoning them. She wondered, what if they didn’t like outsiders? What if they didn’t like Americans? But then she remembered that boy that she had seen playing the guitar, and how he would be coming along too. She lost almost all of her nervousness thinking about meeting him, and looked forward for the day ahead.

After the service, they gathered in front of the church where the nuns and boys from the seminary were waiting. The nuns introduced the group of boys to the girls and they started off to town. Some of the brave boys started talking to the gringas breaking the ice. Betty could see her friend blush next to her as one of the boys introduced himself to her. Betty could feel the awkwardness radiate towards her like a chemical spill. It all vanished when he started talking about San Blas, and what there was to do in town. Her friend seemed too interested in what her new amigo was saying for it to seem like a real curiosity. Betty’s shyness forced her to keep her head looking at the ground, just hearing the conversation next to her develop. She started thinking about the guitar player, wondering where he could be in the whole parade. She looked up over the heads of the teenagers that walked in front of her to see if she could find him. After looking at the back of every head she gave up. Right as she got off her toes she felt as if the sun had just gotten closer to the earth. The heat bumped up another 20 degrees as her heart pounded against her rib cage. The boy she was looking for was walking right next to her with his head turned the other way talking to his friend. When he turned his head straight Betty quickly looked away to avoid the awkwardness that she had felt earlier. Her eyes kept wandering aimlessly until they landed back on him. This time he looked back at her quickly enough to catch her eyes. He smiled at her triggering Betty to smile back. “Me llamo Chicho. Como te llamas?” he said with an inviting voice.

“Me llamo Betty”, she replied, wishing she had more to say.
But without a gap of an uncomfortable silence Chicho asked, “Y que piensas de San Blas Betty?”
She responded quickly saying, “caliente”, before laughing.
He looked forward and laughed a little, looking as if he was expecting that answer. They continued talking for the rest of the day as Chicho showed her around the town.

Many weeks and darker shades of skin later, Betty had become used to the hot moist weather. She had gotten to know the way of the San Blas people and the town’s history. She had also gotten to know Chicho a lot more. Betty was always looking for him when the two groups were together so she could spark a conversation with him. She was really beginning to like him and her brain would keep refreshing him in her thoughts.

It was another beach day for the girls and it looked like the boys were joining them. On the way down Betty began looking for Chicho. Once she spotted him she made her way over to where he was walking. Chicho turned his head and caught Betty coming his way. Smiles spread on both of their faces as they met.
“Que honda Betty,” Chicho said with his grin still hanging on his face. They talked and joked for the rest of the walk until they got to the beach. The sand was hot, inspiring everyone to jump in the water much quicker. In a matter of seconds, everyone but the nuns and group leaders were swimming and relaxing in the warm waters. Betty, Chicho and a couple of their friends walked the farthest out into the ocean. They stopped once the water was just above their shoulders. They hung out in the water until they got distracted by one of the kids who was splashing water at everyone. They decided to swim towards him and get him back as a joke. They all began swimming but Betty and Chicho remained standing in the water giggling at their friends. They were standing side by side looking at their friends swim behind the kid who was splashing everyone. Her hands were next to her hips as she watched, treading the water with her open hands back and forth. She liked the feeling of the water run through each gap between her fingers. She enjoyed the feeling of Chicho standing next to her and was happy he decided to stay. She kept treading the warm clear water feeling it transform and adapt to her hand. All she felt was water against her fingers as she was treading her hand back until she bumped into another hand. She quickly withdrew her hand nervously. But as she began to move her hand away, she felt a fingertip touch her palm. She stopped her hand’s retreat and allowed the hand to get closer to hers. She put her fingers through the gaps of his. She realized how fast her heart was racing as their hands so peacefully met. That was the same hand that she took in marriage years later.





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