Translated by Katrina Hassan
At twelve o’clock sharp an alarm goes off to signal it is lunchtime. The workers have half an hour to eat and get back to work. Simona has been working at this place for 20 years. She started off as a cleaner and in 4 years she moved up to kitchen assistant. In the beginning she was chopping up tons of onions. Now she is preparing gourmet foods that are sold in the well to do supermarkets.
Originally from the neighbourhood of Los Apante’s, Juayúa, El Salvador, Simona went to the United States to escape stigma. She wanted to live in a place where she wasn’t insulted for her disability. Polio affected her leg and now she walks with a limp. Not a day went by when she wasn’t made fun of, either by the school kids or the neighbourhood kids. In the fourth grade she decided to quit to school in the middle of the school year. She couldn’t deal with the kids making fun of her and the teachers staying quiet about it. The teachers even laughed at the names the kids called her. Her parents accepted her decision. Both of them wanted to avoid sending Simona to school. The precise reason was to prevent more people seeing their daughter’s disability.
The only thing that saved Simona at school, and she embraced it completely was a book. Whenever she felt trapped, angry or sad, she read. She read every time that she wanted to escape that place and reality. This book had to be rescued from the trash quite a few times, her mom always threw it away. She read hidden away from her dad too. He thought it was a great waste of time. She had her first period and started and her breasts began to show as family and strangers made fun of her.
When her uncle began to sexually abuse her, Simona was only nine years old. He threatened her saying that if she told on him, he would deny it and say she provoked him. Simona did tell her mother. Her mom told her that her uncle had permission from her dad to abuse her and that nothing could be done.
Simona’s mom also told her “This is a woman’s way of life. You better get used to it. Your grandfather sexually abused me until the day I got married. This is how men are. They are like animals that can’t help themselves. It’s better to not fight it.” Simona never mentioned it again to anyone.
There wasn’t a day when her family didn’t make her feel as if she was a burden. In order to help the household economy, she got herself a hen. The hen made itself at home and 21 days later she had chicks to rear. The day she took them to the fair to sell, she got robbed along the way. Her family didn’t believe that it happened. They said surely she sold them and took the money but didn’t want to share it with the family.
At the fair, Simona met a baker’s helper. That day he happened to be there to build and break down the stand. She didn’t think twice about it and went to live with him. He lived in a rented a room next to the market. Soon after though, he began to physically and verbally abuse her, especially about her polio. A woman that was Simon’s neighbour rescued her from her room one day when the guy was beating her. When the guy went to work they took advantage and the neighbour sent Simona away with another friend who had a truck driving lover. The truck driver agreed to take her away and from there she went from truck to truck all the way to San Diego. She was twenty two years old.
The alarm goes off. Simona, with all the years of accumulated tiredness in her ankles and lower back, takes off her apron, hat and gloves. She begins to walk towards the public library which is nearby on the next block. She borrows a book and goes to sit and read it on the grass beneath a maple tree. She takes out her lunch and begins her trip, just as she did when she was a little girl, to escape Los Apantes.
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Ilka Oliva-Corado @ilkaolivacorado