Translated by Katrina Hassan
Justina cleans hotel rooms for a living, twenty two of them a day. Sometimes it can be twenty five, depending on if any of her colleagues miss work that day. Her shift begins at 5 a.m. and finishes at 7 p.m. fourteen hours in total. Monday through Friday. Saturdays and Sundays she rents a space at a Mexican supermarket. One square meter for twenty five dollars a day, where she sells hand embroidered blankets. She embroiders them on nights when she can’t sleep, and there are many. Money from the blankets pay for her gasoline.
From Wednesday to Saturday, Justina works in a Latin nightclub. She sets up her stand in the ladies’ bathroom and pays twenty dollars a night as rent. On a little table she has sanitary pads, bobby pins, hair ties, clothes hangers, cotton balls, band-aids, talc, perfume, deodorant, and foot balm. The owners of the club do not let her put a price on the items, but the unspoken rule is that the ladies give Justina a tip.
When Justina saw that many women ignored her, she moved the paper towels over to her side therefore obligating them to see her. At least now they look at her and notice that they are all equal. The patrons at this nightclub are mostly undocumented Latinas such as herself, also making a living out of domestic work. “Who do they think they are?” she thinks to herself. She notices how they arrive glamorously. “They clean bathrooms for a living too!” she thinks.
Every now and then Justina takes a break from the smell of the bathroom. She heads out near the dance floor where the white smoke that tickles the nose is blown. She notices the young ladies perched high on high heeled shoes and wearing mini skirts. They can barely walk on those shoes. They feign happiness and sexual desire while they shake off the tiredness from work.
She understands that like herself, many women here have children back home and are looking for papers. Everyone knows that in the Latin nightclubs tons of gringos and European men go on the prowl for Latinas. The men are sure that there is no match for a Latina in bed. It is even better if they are working in maintenance and undocumented. That makes them the most vulnerable and in need of fulfilling a dream. The ladies on the contrary wish for luck that night in finding a gringo that will fall in love with, marry them and fix their undocumented situation therefore changing their lives.
There are nights in which Justina doesn’t even make ten dollars. Other nights she will make a hundred dollars, but after deducting the rent and investment in products she is left with only a small profit. One hundred dollars is a ton of money in her native El Ocote, Yoro, Honduras. She has five children there, left in the care of her grandparents. They have all been waiting twelve years for her.
Justina starts work at the club at 9 p.m. and finishes at 2 a.m. She lives in an apartment she rents with four other undocumented women. At the time roosters crow, and everyone would be waking up back home, she has already begun her day. By then she is dressed and making herself a cup of coffee. As she sips her coffee, she tries to give the day a new breath.
Justina, like thousands of undocumented people, wishes to bring her children. She doesn’t have the money for the coyote or the courage for them to take the risk as she did. She doesn’t sleep at night ever since that first night when coyotes sexually assaulted her the first night in the Sonoran desert. This pain and that secret she shall take to her grave.
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Ilka Oliva-Corado @ilkaolivacorado