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  • Writer's pictureLeslie Vargas

La Niña Taína

I see her in my nightmares. My bathwater distorts her face with ripples that make us infinite. I see her in the mirror. In old pictures of my mother. At night when the sun goes down and Mami tucks me in so tight that I'm too safe, too warm, too loved. I think about the way she died. Alone. Sleep takes me to her. I become her. She becomes me. As we dissolve, the space left behind fills with pain.

 

I can feel the island wake as my feet sink into the soft sand. The birds begin their songs and end in the evening. I smile at the sunlight as it beams across the horizon. The dark beauty of the night fades into another glorious day. The White Ones came seven suns ago. They smelled like the dead and smiled like they wanted something we couldn't possibly give them. I race across the beach and dive into the warm water. I twirl around a group of tiny blue fish. I melt into each wave and I chase my own soul through the sea. I sink down to the very bottom and find a clamshell that looks very promising. I laugh as the waves drag me back in for another embrace. They want to whisper forgotten dreams and show me stardust. I bow my head at the gift of a beautiful morning.

The walk back to my family was short. They were all gathered in the Caciques* cave discussing the arrival of our curious new friends. Some were worried The White Ones would kill us or worse kill Quisqueya**– she who earned our devotion through gifts we never requested. Quisqueya gave me breath, clothed my body, and will deliver my spirit back into her depths where I will spend the rest of eternity wrapped in the warm whispers of my ancestors. If they try to kill her she will drown them. Take their iron sticks and destroy them with the force of her wind storms. Others believe they will soon leave and we should welcome their time here as a blessing. The Cacique will speak with the island and her lords. They will show us the way.


“Ana, did you swim with the water?” Tiburón*** said, frowning as he weaved his fingers through the Palm leaves, creating an intricate pattern that would protect his face from the sun.


“No Tibi, stop asking me so many questions and focus on your work.” I huffed.


He was always worried about me. As the Caciques' son, he was a valued member of our community. He could choose any man or woman in the village yet he always bothered me. I don’t want to join him or take care of his young. He put the palm leaves down and followed me.


We walked far together. His eyes were burning holes into my back. Each step stung like fire. He was obsessed with me, wanted me like a pearl forever trapped in his watchful gaze. With every rustle of the earth behind me, my body tensed. Rage built in my bones like the days before a Jurakán****.


“You are not allowed to go anywhere on your own, The White Ones could hurt you.” He frowned. He was always frowning or shaking his head at me. Watching me or following me. It made me see red. The grating sound of his voice broke the barrier holding back my tongue.


“I DO NOT WANT YOU!” I shouted in his face. My throat hurt from the piercing sound it made. I was breathing so hard I had to steady myself on a nearby branch.


He stared at the ground for a very long time. Tiburón did this when he was thinking. He looked down until he solved whatever problem was in his head. He was smart like that, thinking before he reacted.


He looked up slowly with tears streaming down his face because he never got angry with me. Even though I was always screaming at him. He always cried and I apologized.


He approached me slowly and put both his hands on my shoulders. He then wrapped his arms around my stiff body.


“Please,” he whispered.


“No,” I said. I pushed him back and ran as fast as I could. His echoing cries followed me like he was calling me back to him.


I covered so much distance I feared I would get lost. I just needed to find the river. I could hear it guiding me to its waters.


I kneeled along the river bank and gave thanks to the river spirits for guiding me home and providing me with nourishment. I gazed at my reflection as the water bubbled and spiraled. I saw my future in the water. The terrible day I would eventually join Tiburón. The cave his father would pass down to him as he became the next Cacique. The young I would resent, then learn to love as they grew. The life I never wanted. I saw my death, Tiburón crying over the woman who never loved him back. I saw him holding our young as they cried for their mother.


I saw The White Ones taking Quisqueya and changing her name. They tore us apart and brought more people they stole from other lands. I saw generations of struggle and violence. They did not kill the island as we thought– they changed her. They changed us. Despite everything, the people were smiling. They were dancing. They lived.

 

Years and years passed as I sat on the bank of the river. Until I saw a little girl that looked just like me. My family was growing so big I lost count. She was scared as she looked back at me in the water. She waved her little brown fingers and I copied her motion. Before I could speak, a hand clamped over my mouth and I was dragged back into the arms of evil. The girl in the water watched what they did to me. We cried together, our tears making puddles in the earth.


When they were done, I wasn’t breathing. They tossed my body in the water. The little girl watched me die. She never forgot me. When she was older she returned to Quisqueya and searched for my river. The island went through changes but the birds sang the same songs. She found my resting place undisturbed. She cried for a long time before she looked into the water. My body was gone but I was there. That was the day I blessed her. She said a prayer in The White Ones tongue because she forgot our own. She left a stone that read “La Niña Taína.” Only then could my soul return home.


*Caciques; A tribal chieftain of Taínos.

**Quisqueya; Kiskeya or Kiskella is the original Taíno name of the Island of Hispaniola, currently known as the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

***Tiburón; Taíno word for Shark. Originally Taíno but commonly seen in the Spanish Language today.

****Jurakán; Taíno word for Hurricane. Origin of the word.



Edited by: Cecilia Innis

Cover Photo Credit: “Yuisa” from Samuel Lind


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