I heard a knock on the door. Mamá had left to go to the liquor store, so I opened the door assuming she had come back. She had warned me about opening the door up to strangers, and had always insisted that I ask who was at the door before opening it. But I really thought Mamá was at the door, too young to discern that Mamá had her house keys.
“Hey, your mom sent us for her wallet. A little boy at the store hurt his arm and your mom is over there helping him out . . . she needs money to buy more gauze for his arm.” Three teenage girls stood there – like older sisters keeping guard, protecting. Their faces were soft like caramel chocolate and their hair was adorned with hair bobbles like the bubble gum in the one-cent machine at the liquor store. The machine for which I so eagerly searched for lost pennies on the ground.
“Okay, wait.” I closed the door. Mamá kept a clutch-like brown wallet in a 3-tier wire-hanging basket in the kitchen. I grabbed a chair to reach for it, and just like that the wallet walked away with $205 from the AFDC check she had just cashed.
When Mamá came back, I asked her if the boy’s arm was okay.
She asked me, “What boy?”
I felt a flash of heat consume me from inside. My cheeks throbbing hot and a pounding reproach in my head. Instantaneously we both looked toward the empty wire-hanging basket. The blaring questions, the look of disappointment, the slamming of the door, it’s all a blur now.
The next time I tasted bubble gum, it didn’t taste as sweet. Strangers who looked nice were still strangers. The windows became suspicious. That month Mamá rationed our food more strictly.