The story of Yohandri

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by Tatiana Hinojosa

Translated by Amanda Kauffman

MY HOPE

There are some moments where I think that life should be like a fantasy story, where we the children live in beautiful houses and wake up with the smell of spring flowers… When I was four, I was a very judicious girl, those who knew me mention, with all the good intentions, that before my mom started to change because of the disease, her and my dad welcomed me with open arms, and during a period of time I was part of a normal family. Then my little sister Jocelin was born and with her, a bond of love that will last the rest of our lives.

At five years of age I started a battle against apathy, in the front line of indolence, in a country that forgets that the most important part of society is us, the children, because we represent the hope for a better future.

Today, like every other day, I wandered through many places and I feel like playing with my imagination, I have carved historical figures with flowers, and the soft foliage of small shrubs. I walked amongst the crowd recreating  in my mind the tour guide’s speech in San Felipe Castle, sometimes I imagine the Spaniards who inhabited that place, the natives and blacks surrendered with their servile attitude, the gallantness of the soldiers watching the enemy’s entrance and the fear that they all probably felt at the time.

If I could choose what to do this morning, I would surely find myself playing all over the hill that borders this stronghold, however, I only hear insults from people who can’t resist poverty,  but I can’t give up, I could never get to where my younger sister is with empty hands, it’s almost certain that she’s hungry.

For the first time in my existence I would like to get to the room where I live with my mom and find her happy, it seems as if she were plotting an argument every day, and the only reason I don’t walk away is because of my little sister. I must take care of her; we only have each other.

“Yohandri!” called my little sister.

I knew that she waited in silence with the hope that I would bring something to eat, we would suffer anxiety, and then I would tippy toe around to try to get misery away from my path, but it was of no use, there was my mom yelling at me for no reason for minutes that turned into hours as if time were stopped.

“Liar! Where have you been? Why didn’t you come?”

A tear ran down my face and was mixed with the grime I had picked up on the street. But of course, my mother was starting to forget what I was doing… Begging through the streets of Cartagena…

“Whose fault would our sadness be?” I would ask God, but they were my only family, my father had already abandoned us. Why remember that? This was the story that was given to me, and somewhere I will be happy, the day will come when I will thank my past because thanks to it, I will forge a great woman in me.

I am happy to go out hand in hand with my little sister, believe that I am a mother to her, we like to run, to scream and sing like wild birds to get the attention of the afternoon, watch our favorite TV show,  read  children’s stories, forget misfortune and helplessness.

But abruptly came the day we received a visit from people with kind expressions, they were talking to my mother, I immediately observed from where I was with my sister as they came to our door with an important matter, explained that someone had filed a complaint about child abuse and exploitation. Luckily, they only looked around and asked us questions, then filled out the legal papers, and announced that they would soon return to continue the process. However, the entities that protect children would keep an eye on us, so before they separated us, we set in motion the only path we could take, fleeing at dawn in a cargo truck.

They say that people return to their village for many reasons, in our case perhaps it was to find familial support, once there I began to once again look in the streets for livelihood for the three of us, my mom was still confused in a bleak attitude that delayed her careful duty as a head of household. I cannot deny that sometimes I desired with passion a father, someone who loves me and protects me, even if I’m not of their own blood.

As I walked through the streets of Dificil Magdalena, the place where we were born, I was evoking the presence of God, my inner words recited some prayer.

“Lord, you’re the one who guides my footsteps this day, so I know that everything will be fine, please cover me with your blood, and don’t forget my request, I need a dad who loves me and accepts me as I am.”

After a couple of weeks we started school, a bright and cheerful construction, in the courtyard there was a didactic park organized under the shade of lush trees, my sister got on the swing until the bell rang that heralded the beginning of classes, for my part I wanted to make many new friends, but I was very shy. I entered the classroom and the first thing my teacher did was give me a warm welcome, my classmates smiled at each other, but not with me, perhaps the solitary expression that my face adopted without realizing it put a barrier between us.

We would go home after six hours at school and my mom was still asleep. Insomnia kept her tired and with a few episodes of forgetfulness, so my only company seemed to suppress her crying by saying what I thought:

“I don’t know why she doesn’t make our lunch, I’m very hungry…”

My precious doll was aware of what was happening, but I invented for her a reality based on the mythical contents of popular stories. It was a matter of fantasizing and already, she loved to see me dance like the great television artists, and she was stunned by my movements, she applauded me happily because beyond any misery we were still girls, I convinced her to sleep for a while so that I could go out and get something that would satiate the hunger at least for a moment.

I was pilgriming through the streets of El Difícil, Magdalena, and its cheerfully colored houses revealed the joy and virtue of its people, perpetual rows drawing taciturn shadows in the afternoon, making my footsteps be heard as a brief high tune and forcing others to look at me from their windows.

They were already beginning to set up the display cases in the avenues. It could be said they sold the best food in the world, yet I do not know anything beyond the streets of this territory, where the soldiers of the war of the thousand days found refuge, hence their cultural epithet. I hear the sound of music coming from the taverns and discover that there would be the place to receive the money I needed and solve our economic difficulties. I realize when I come in that some look at me with suspicion, so I avoid extending my hand…

In my mind there is only the image of my home, so I hurry away when I already have what I need, and a little more… My little sister usually asks me for a candy when she sees me coming.

Someone stops my footsteps. “Dear, please wait a minute!” That voice seemed familiar, so I turned frightenedly to listen to her.

“Why are you going into that place? It’s not good for you to go in there, you could come into trouble, you might not understand, you’re a girl, and I’m really worried about you.”

“I only went for a moment, didn’t bother anyone” I responded without looking her in the eye.

Innocently I followed my path, and I felt behind my back the concern of that curious woman, when I got home I noticed that right on the wall of the chamber occupied by my mother, the faceless shadow of a new friendship was being drawn, my noble soul was filled with shyness because when the sun hides the lustful spirits take over my mother, I could only bow my head and cry silently.

Soon I felt him leave, I heard his vague footsteps like bells of relief in my heart, thought of my beloved Jocelin, and the danger that being surrounded by strangers posed at her tender age.

One day the sun clouded its light, and the clouds shaped pastoral images, Jocelin was ecstatic discovering sheep, flowers, shepherds, and even streams, I only smiled as she pointed her finger at the sky and pointed out the sketch offered to her by the firmament, she barely found a different form and she would give joyful screams and jumped before the sublime beauty of natural art. Suddenly she came to where we were entertained, it was the same lady who had been friendly to me weeks before.

“What are you looking at?” she asked affectionately and joined us in our game, then she gradually became our friend, and not only that, she also began to favor us through other people who looked after abandoned children…

During the first few weeks, life began to shine like an emerald. There was no shortage of food in our humble home, and I found precious objects in bed for my sister and me.

One afternoon in May I saw my mother desperate, her compulsive steps took her from the living room to the kitchen, and again to the same point, at that moment I could appreciate that her belly had grown, she approached where I was, and her expression changed from rage to optimism, then carefully carried her hand to my head to speak.

“You’ll have a little brother, my girl!” when she didn’t get the answer she was hoping for, she began to scream. I thought that a baby was not exactly the therapy my mother needed at this stage in life, she was already aware of her illness, and as far as she knew she took medicine to relieve herself a little. An offensive gesture was drawn on her face, followed by objects falling to the ground, breaking instantly. Blinded by grudge, she became repulsive before my eyes, then I ran out and left her fighting with the walls, the roof, the chairs, the dust and the loneliness.

It should be noted that after so much suffering, life put in my path the father I longed for, there was still hope in the world for good girls like me. I met him because he worked on scientific research that seeks to create treatments for Huntington’s disease, and as my mother was on his list of patients in that brigade, I was able to earn his affection, he was a sensitive soul who looked at us simply, and smiled in understanding, listened to the symptoms of the patients, and then included them in a program with the purpose of accompanying them in their process and that they were never again alone.

During free moments he spoke to our families and witnessed their shortcomings, the children were left with signs of a detached love that excited our tender existence.

We were in his company as young explorers discovering a new world, and just before his farewell I gave him a strong hug, I felt in my being the love of a daughter who wishes to follow his work in the future to continue the subtle philanthropy that immortalizes the name of good-hearted people.

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