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Authors: Laura Resau

The Queen of Water

The Queen of Water
Laura Resau
Random House Children's Books (2011)

Born in an Andean village in Ecuador, Virginia lives with her large family in a small, earthen-walled dwelling. In her village of indígenas, it is not uncommon to work in the fields all day, even as a child, or to be called a longa tonta--stupid Indian--by members of the ruling class of mestizos, or Spanish descendants. When seven-year-old Virginia is taken from her village to be a servant to a mestizo couple, she has no idea what the future holds.
In this poignant novel based on a true story, acclaimed author Laura Resau has collaborated with María Virginia Farinango to recount one girl's unforgettable journey to self-discovery. Virginia's story will speak to anyone who has ever struggled to find his or her place in the world. It will make you laugh and cry, and ultimately, it will fill you with hope.
From the Hardcover edition.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Text copyright © 2011 by Laura Resau and María Virginia Farinango

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Resau, Laura.

The Queen of Water / by Laura Resau and María Virginia Farinango. — 1st ed.

p. cm.

Summary: Living in a village in Ecuador, a Quechua Indian girl is sent to work as an indentured servant for an upper class “mestizo” family.

eISBN: 978-0-375-89680-4

1. Quechua Indians—Ecuador—Fiction. [1. Quechua Indians—Fiction. 2. Indians of South America—Ecuador—Fiction. 3. Indentured servants—Fiction. 4. Social classes—Fiction. 5. Ecuador—Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.R2978Qu 2011

[Fic]—dc22

2010010512

Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.

v3.1

For my son, Yanni; my husband, Tino; and all the indigenous girls who were mistreated and humiliated as servants to
mestizos
With love,
María Virginia Farinango

Acknowledgments

W
RITING THIS BOOK
was a six-year journey, and a great many people have contributed along the way. Together, we offer these people our deep gratitude. We received excellent manuscript feedback from Old Town Writers’ Group, Paul and Holly Ashby, Jimena Peña, Martha Petty, Laura Pritchett, Chris Resau, and Michelle Sparks. We feel incredibly fortunate to have our editor, Stephanie Lane Elliott, and agent, Erin Murphy—both of whom are a rare mix of smart, sweet, and sincere. As always, it’s been a complete joy to work with the enthusiastic and talented people at Delacorte Press. We thank the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund’s Money for Women, the Puffin Foundation, and Arts Alive of Fort Collins, Colorado, for their generous grants.
Matter Journal
boosted our confidence in the early stages of our project by publishing “Magic Shoes,” an adaptation of which appears as a scene in this book.

Many friends have been important sources of encouragement and practical help: Kay Salens, MaryLou Smith, Elcy Vargas, José Quiñones, Alecssandra Rea and her family, Ken Burgess, and the ESL teachers at Front Range Community College. We’d like to thank all our other friends and family members who have supported us in realizing our dreams over the years, especially our husbands, Tino and Ian, and our sons, Yanni and Bran.

In particular, María Virginia would like to give special thanks to el Señor Jesús and her friend, Laura, who has become like a sister to her.

Laura would like to thank María Virginia for her friendship, her sisterly warmth, and the huge honor of cowriting her story.

¡Querer es poder!

PART 1

A
S A LITTLE GIRL
,
I did not know I was a descendant of the Inca, the most powerful ancient civilization of South America. I did not know that when the Spanish conquistadors came, crazed for gold, they conquered us, and over the centuries, two kinds of people emerged in Ecuador.

The
mestizos.

And the
indígenas.

I did not know how they came to be them, or how we came to be us. For me, the distinction seemed as old and fixed as the mountains.

The
mestizos
thought they were as white and precious and delicate as fresh bread. They spoke Spanish and had fancy last names like Palacios and Cevallos. They were the doctors and dentists and teachers and bankers and landowners. They kept out of the sun so they wouldn’t grow dark like Indians. Even if their skin was as brown as mine, they claimed they had no Indian blood and proudly held up their names and clothes to prove it.

And then there were us, the
indígenas,
with skin as rough and ruddy as freshly dug potatoes, cheeks chapped raw by the sun and wind. The mestizos called us
longos,
stupid Indians, dirty Indians, poor Indians. We had awkward, backward names like Farinango, which our grandparents signed with an
X
on contracts they couldn’t read. In this way, our grandparents sold their land and then, forever after, paid the
mestizos
half their harvest to rent what was once theirs.

As a little girl, I hated those
mestizos.

Yet I wanted, desperately, to be one.

When I was about seven, I left my world. I disappeared into theirs, and did not find my way back until many years later. But I am getting ahead of myself. I will begin at the beginning, on my last day in my village, Yana Urku. When I woke up that morning, I thought it would be a day like any other.

chapter 1

B
EFORE DAWN
, I wake up to the sound of creatures scurrying inside the wall near my head. Mice and rats and dogs have burrowed these tunnels through the dried clay, searching for food scraps. I’m always searching for food scraps too. Right now my belly’s already rumbling, and it’s hours till breakfast.

The house is dark as a cave except for bits of blue light coming through the holes in the earthen walls. My gaze fixes on a new trail of golden honey oozing from a crack, just within arm’s reach. Bees live in there, black bees that sting terribly, but make the best honey in the world. I poke my hand in the crack and scoop out the sticky sweetness and lick it from my finger. It’s gritty but good.

Our guinea pigs are hungry now too, squeaking and dancing around in their corner, waiting for alfalfa. I can see every corner of our house from my sleeping place on the floor. Mamita and Papito are snoring under their wool blanket on a bed frame made of scrap wood. My brother and sister are curled up next to me—Hermelinda on the end and Manuelito wedged in the middle—and the fleas and bedbugs and lice are crawling wherever they please. My spot against the wall is cozy, the perfect place for licking honey in secret.

Soon Mamita will awaken, standing up and stretching in her white blouse that hangs midway down her thighs. Then, yawning, she’ll wrap a long dark
anaco
around her waist, golden beads around her neck, and red beads around her wrists. Then she’ll open the door and a rectangle of misty morning light will shine into our house’s musty darkness. Then she’ll light the cooking fire and we’ll all slurp steamy potato soup around the fire pit.

If she catches me with honey dripping from my fingers, her face will twist into a frown. When people tell her, “Your little Virginia is
vivísima
!” Mamita snorts, “Humph, she’s clever for stealing food, that’s about all.”

It’s true, I do use my wits to fill my belly with fresh cheese or warm rolls. Or to get something I really want, like a pet goat or a pair of shoes. But there’s more. I have dreams. Dreams bigger than the mountaintops that poke at the clouds. In the pasture, I always climb my favorite tree and shout to the sheep, “I’m traveling far from here!” and my tree turns into a truck and I ride off to a place where I can eat rice and meat and watermelon every day.

In the half-light of dawn, I plunge my hand deeper into the darkness inside the wall, searching for honey, dreaming, as always, of golden treasures.

After breakfast, I’m in the valley pasturing sheep under a sky the dull gray of cow intestines, when Hermelinda appears on the hill. I squint up at her. The mountains loom behind her, peaks lost in heavy clouds. She waves her little arms at me, the wind whipping her hair in all directions. “Virginia!” she cries in her squeaky toddler voice. “There are
mishus
at the house. Mamita says to come right away!”

Mishus
are what we call the
mestizos.
It’s a mean word, in the same way that their names for us—
longos,
or dirty Indians—are mean. With my golden goat, Cheetah, at my side, I climb toward home, urging the straggling sheep along with my stick. Feeling suddenly sick, I call out, “Hermelinda, which
mishus
?”

“Alfonso and his wife and two others.”

I stop in my tracks. Alfonso owns the land my family farms. Lately, he and his wife, Mariana, have made a point of talking to me whenever they visit the fields, asking me questions, eyeing me up and down, then murmuring to each other as they walk off. Alfonso is the one who took my cousins Zoyla and Gregoria away from their parents two years ago. Zoyla and Gregoria and I used to play market together while we pastured the animals. And then, one day, when they were near my age now—about seven—they left with the
mishus.

We never heard from them again.

I head up the path, pushing against the crazy wind, kicking at rocks and smacking trees with my stick as I walk. Past the corn and potato fields, my house comes into view, looking small and weak against the mountains towering behind it. I can make out the forms of the
mishus
sitting on the dirt patio with my parents. My muscles are tensing, the way they do when I see dogs in the distance and I’m not quite sure if they’re nice or mean.

I’m grateful Cheetah is at my side. Even though she’s only a goat, she loves me more than anything in the world. And she’ll do anything to protect me. Once, when a vicious dog tried to attack, Cheetah hurled herself in front of me and rose to her hind feet. “Maah maaah!” she bellowed in its face, slashing the air with her front hooves. The dog had never seen such a brazen goat, and it backed away, bewildered. It’s good to have someone love you so fiercely. Even if that someone is a goat.

I rest my hand on her honey brown head and rub her ears, walking slowly, my heart thumping. As I lead the sheep into their pens, I watch the patch of weeds in front of our house where Alfonso sits beside his wife with her ridiculous, huge bun, along with a thin
mestizo
man. A fat
mestiza
woman with short hair and a polka-dot dress sits a little off to the side. I take a deep breath, then head toward them, brandishing my stick like a machete. The closer I walk, the hotter my face gets, as though my blood has caught fire.

Mamita is watching the
mishus
politely as Papito chats with them, his face unusually friendly. As I come closer, Mamita looks up at me and frowns. Her glare orders me to stop swinging my stick and behave.

But I look straight ahead, ignoring them all, and, still swinging my stick, stomp straight into the house. Cheetah sets herself just outside the door, ever loyal.

After a moment, Mamita rushes inside, furious. “What’s wrong with you? Why didn’t you greet our guests? What will they think of you?”

Scowling, I throw my stick on the floor. “I’m not going with those
mishus.

She doesn’t hit me. Instead, with a frown, she spits on her finger and rubs at the reddish brown spots—dried blood from flea bites I scratch too much—that speckle the sleeves of my dirty white blouse.

“You’re a mess,” she mutters, readjusting the faded purple
faja
around my waist and then, in frustration, unwrapping the entire wide ribbon. Once the
faja
is no longer holding up my
anaco,
it falls to the ground, the thick, dark cotton pooling at my bare feet. I stand shivering in my blouse as Mamita shakes the loose dust and dried mud from my
anaco.
Then, commanding, “Hold still!” she rewraps the skirt tightly around my legs and hips and waist. With one hand holding up my
anaco,
she uses the other to wind the
faja
over my rib cage, so tightly I can barely breathe.

“Ahhh!” I scream.

“Don’t be a crybaby,” she says, tucking in the end of the
faja,
then standing back to survey her work. She shakes her head, frowning. “Your
anaco
is too short,” she says, as though it’s my fault I’ve grown. It’s true, the tattered hem hangs only to midcalf, exposing my scratched-up ankles. But my other two
anacos
are even shorter, and she knows it.

“I’m not going with those
mishus,
” I say again, folding my arms over my chest.

In a tight voice, she snaps, “They’re Alfonso’s son and daughter-in-law. They need someone to take care of their baby. Alfonso told them about you.”

Gulping down my fear, I jut out my chin and harden my eyes. “I won’t go.”

Mamita presses her lips together. “They’ll pay a thousand sucres a month.”

A thousand sucres? An unthinkable sum. I consider the dazzling clothes and shoes and heaps of delicious white rice that so much money could buy.

Mamita watches me thinking. Her voice turns silky. “I bet they have a television.”

“Really?” I’ve only seen TV once before, but my older sister, Matilde, watches it all the time. She’s twelve years old and works as a maid for
mestizos
in Quito, about two hours away. They’re nice
mestizos,
she tells us on her visits home once a month. Of course, I would be happy if she came only once a
year.
Whenever Matilde visits, Mamita gives her the biggest potato from the soup and goes on and on about how beautiful and plump and fair-skinned she is.

Mamita smiles. “And they live toward the coast. There’s a lot of fruit there, mangoes and pineapples and bananas.” She knows I can’t resist fruit. “And watermelon.”

I draw in a breath. “Maybe.” Maybe if I go away and come back once a month, Mamita will tell me how beautiful and plump and fair-skinned I am, too.

She pats my head and tucks my wild hair behind my ears. I follow her outside, then stand beside Cheetah, keeping one hand on the fur of her neck. “Good afternoon,” I mumble to the
mishus.

Alfonso’s son looks at me carefully. His skin and hair and lips are all as pale as dried-out cornstalks. “You’re pretty,” he says, grinning. His teeth are the same bland color as the rest of him. “How old are you? Six? Seven?”

I shrug. I don’t know exactly how old I am, or when my birthday is. My parents don’t bother keeping track of these things.

He leans closer. “Do you speak Spanish?”

I don’t answer, even though I’ve learned a good bit of Spanish from playing with some
mestizo
children in the cow pasture. That’s how I learned about Tarzan and Cheetah, playing jungle with them.

“She understands more than she speaks,” my father says. “And she’ll learn fast.”

The
mishu
glances at his wife, raising his eyebrows in a question. She nods and taps her toe impatiently, which makes the flesh of her calves jiggle.

The man turns to his father. “She’ll do. We’ll take her.”

We’ll take her?
Is that it? I blink, searching my parents’ faces. They’re nodding, satisfied.

I want to hear more about the thousand sucres and the fruit and the TV, but no one says another word to me. The men talk a little more about the harvest, while the two
mishu
women swat at flies and battle against the wind to smooth their hair. The younger woman is looking restlessly into the distance, as though she just wants to get this over with and leave.

Suddenly, I understand that I have no say in this. Not a shred of power. The decision has been made. Even though I’m an expert at making deals to get what I want—my goat, warm rolls, purple lollipops—this is somehow different. This is happening whether I like it or not.

Panic latches onto my throat. Why have my parents agreed so quickly? They know these
mishus
are thieves and liars. Don’t they understand that I might disappear like Zoyla and Gregoria?

I bite my lip. Maybe they
want
me to disappear. I whine and cry too much, and I always want to do everything myself and always my way. Just last week, Mamita threw up her arms in anger and snapped,
Virginia, I’d be happy if one day you left and never came back.
The words stayed in my head like rocks, too heavy to move out. That must be it. She wants me to leave forever.

Shaking, I press my face into Cheetah’s fur, breathing in her sweet-sour goat smell, wrapping my arms tightly around her.

Mamita hisses in Quichua, “Get your face out of that filthy animal’s fur. Or else we’ll eat it for lunch.”

I lift my head, but turn away from Mamita, keeping one hand on Cheetah, my fingers playing with her velvety ears.

Finally, my parents stand up and shake hands and agree that the next day I’ll go to Alfonso’s hacienda, and from there, I’ll leave with his son and daughter-in-law for the half-day truck ride to their town. Tomorrow I’ll be gone.

They walk down the dusty path, the woman tripping every few steps in her pointy high-heeled shoes. Without a word to me, Mamita goes inside to heat up soup for lunch, and Papito heads for the potato fields. The
mishus
grow smaller and smaller, and finally, on the next hill over, disappear into the big white house.

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