Martina’s Smile

Translated by Katrina Hassan

The first time Arnold beat Martina was their first night together. She’d left home with him because her family wanted to send her to her aunt Dominga’s in the capital. Her parents wanted to get rid of the lazy good for nothing guy that kept lurking around their daughter. Martina’s dad nicknamed Arnold “The Jobless Good For Nothing.” Her mom grew up herding cows and making tortillas for the whole family and told Martina she wasn’t to marry until she finished studying. Martina’s mother had always herded cows and fed the workers in the valley where she had always lived. She wanted Martina to study so she wouldn’t follow in her footsteps.

Martina’s dad had managed to buy over 70 acres of land leading from a ravine. They planted a milpa of corn and beans. He saved some land for cattle herding. The cows were bought in El Salvador. They were sold to to people in the colder lands for slaughter. Martina had only had her period for one year when Arnold arrived from the USA to visit his grandparents.

When she first saw Arnold, Martina thought it was love at first sight, like in the telenovelas. She felt her belly rumble and little bites in her stomach. Her mother brought her down from that cloud with a smack and told her she had amoebas instead. She gave her a mix of olive oil, lime and bicarbonate and a belly rub with oil to get rid of them. She must have had amoebas because she spent two days sitting on the letrine and never felt the bites in her stomach again.

With all the delicateness that the situation merited, her mother explained hormonal changes that menstruation brought to Martina her daughter. Martina didn’t want to have anything else run down her legs or that pain worse than a toothache ever again. Her mom told to her that this is nothing compared to childbirth. Now that’s what she called pain! Her mom warned her that if she didn’t want to deal with child birth pain, Martina should not let anything in between those legs. 

When Arnold said hello at the local fair, Martina didn’t answer and ran away like a wild deer. Arnold was smitten with the tall, leggy, skinny girl that ran like a gazelle. His cousin Iracundo said that was how mountain girls behaved. They ran away and hid from strangers. They don’t return a hello until they trust someone. The girls from the montarrales are even shyer. Arnold saw this as a challenge and bet his cousin one thousand quetzales that he would become her boyfriend and take the mountain girl out of her.

Martina was thirteen years old when Arnold started to appear around every corner, at the store, at the mill, at the old road to the valley, at the park, at the bus stop, on the way to school. The first six months she didn’t answer him when he said hello. She didn’t accept the flowers he gave her, the drinks, or the box of chocolates. She didn’t dance with him at the town party. It was during Holy Week, during the last procession that she didn’t want to leave him talking to himself in the big crowd. She had to answer, even though she was dying to do so since he appeared on the first day.

It only took a few words and a little bit of smooth talking from Arnold so that Martina would be at his feet and running away with him three months later. Arnold had an official girlfriend back in the United States that his family kept quiet about when they saw him star struck by Martina. He was born in the USA but went to live at his grandparent’s in Guatemala so he could be closer to Martina. He cornered her any time he felt like, in alleys, or in the woods. She would make up any excuse to go to the store and buy something just so she could see him.

Arnold would sneak around with help from his cousin Iracundo. He helped him with arranging dates. Arnold never went to Martina’s parents to ask permission to court her. Everything was done on the sly. He would sneak around even though his whole family all knew what he was up to from the beginning. Arnold’s grandfather disapproved of his actions, but nobody listened to him because Arnold was from the generation that does as they please. Nobody batted an eyelid at Martina’s age either. Girls that were younger than her would run away men older than Arnold. Their parents force them to marry in order to get rid of the daughters.

Martina’s dad heard the rumours that his daughter was going out with that good for nothing guy that had come to visit. He found them making out behind Doña Tana’s store. He wanted to grab his daughter by the hair but he contained himself. He remembered his niece Joaquina, who had graduated in psychology, she said parents should never hit their daughters. Even if the parents disapproved of their boyfriend. This was their own decision, and parents can’t prevent them from having a boyfriend. But this was not just any guy Martina was seeing. He was an adult that was grooming a child. He could call the police then and there he thought, but he knew he’d be free in two days. There was not much else he could do but to beat him up then and there. He warned Arnold to stay away from his daughter.

Martina was told that if she saw Arnold again, she’d be sent to study in the capital city at her aunt Domingo’s house. Martina’s fright only lasted one week. A few days later people told Bartolina that Tolino’s grandson and her daughter were seen smooching around everywhere. They warned the parents to be careful or she would end up pregnant. Martina’s family arranged it so that she would be taken to the city the next morning. Arnold waited in the bushes to take Martina to his cousin’s house. He would not even think of taking her to his grandfather’s house. His grandfather would not permit such disrespect.

The first night together, Martina who knew absolutely nothing about sex, got frightened when she first saw Arnold naked and cried after her forcefully opened her legs and he forced himself inside of her. She didn’t breathe, tears rolled off her cheeks as she felt the strength with which Arnold possessed her as he did as he pleased. Once satisfied, he rolled off to the other side of the bed and went to celebrate with his cousin at the town bar.

In the early hours of the morning he came back drunk and forced himself on her again. This time he beat her because she didn’t know how to correspond to what he wanted. This was how Martina spent the next fifteen years with Arnold. She gave birth to four kids and he never showed her any respect. He never as much as caressed her and always forced himself on to her. When her eldest daughter had her first period, Iracundo’s grandson Obdulio, started following her around. Martina didn’t think twice, got her four kids and quickly packed some clothes. She took them as far away as possible from Arnold and his family.

Martina had only a little bit of money with which she managed to get to Quetzaltenango. She got a job there at a coffee plantation. Her kids also worked part time while the went to school. Twenty years have past since the day she left. Martina saved money bit by bit in order to fix her teeth broken by Arnold on their first night together. She can finally smile easily now, without having to hide her teeth. Martina’s kids now live in Quezada, Jutiapa. They know that violence does not form part of a healthy relationship. They learned this from their mother. The only thing they know about their father was that he went on to form another relationship with a girl 25 years his senior.

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Ilka Oliva-Corado @ilkaolivacorado

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