I met her in the small village of San Jacinto, El Salvador. My heart aches when I think of her because I only see her face. I failed to learn her name. Her eyes revealed her identity as surely as her fingerprints: one-of-kind, cherished, beautiful. The gaze emitted from her piercing brown eyes, big and full of wonder, was petrifying. There was a group of eight of us, yet when I looked down at her face, she stared directly at me.
Through a gate made of two, three, maybe four-time recycled barbed wire and dead tree branches, up the steep foot-paved path, and under a makeshift clothesline, we stood at the “doorstep.” The ratio of children to people in our group was a perfect one-to-one ratio, yet there were no parents in sight. Walter, our San Jacinto native and translator, explained to us that the children’s single mother was gone. Each day, twice a day, she would walk anywhere from three to five miles in order to get some almost-clean water. While she was gone, all eight of her children were left only to be chaperoned by their tatter-haired dog and their half-dozen chickens.
The quaint little house was built by our team from the previous year. From the doorstep, I watched as everybody else played with the kids, named the chickens, and ran from the scrappy little dog. Though I saw with my eyes all of the things going on around me, it seemed as if my world had stopped. Everything grew silent. The air was a bit thicker than before, my neck a bit sweatier, and my heart heavier than I had ever felt it. I stepped inside. That’s when I saw her.
You could see it on her face. I can still see it today. She was not healthy, an illness or a disorder perhaps. All I could do was look at her as she sat there, curiously looking back at me. Smiles. Her throne was made of periwinkle plastic, ornate and royal in nature, at least for her it was. As I stood steadfast, the rest of the group entered the concrete mansion and took their places next to me. Almost like osmosis, each person stood with eyes glued to this girl, this beautiful little girl. Thickening air, sweaty necks, and heavy hearts. Every part of me wanted to run and flee from this moment, but I knew with utter certainty that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I knew that this was one of those moments, the kind that people write books about and movies are inspired from, and that made me happy because I got to spend it with her.
Shattering the silence, I heard through Walter’s thick accent, “It’s time to go.” And so we did.
Through the gate of three, four, maybe five-time recycled barbed wire and dead tree branches, up the steep foot-paved path, and under an empty, makeshift clothesline. The air was just as dry as I remember, the sun just as unforgiving. Almost exactly a year later, I found myself here again.
I stood on the doorstep. This time there were no kids to play with, no chickens to be called by name, and no scrappy little dog to run from. It was lifeless and it was barren. Everything felt gray. The air got thicker and I swallowed my heart back into my chest as I stepped inside.
My eyes confirmed what my heart refused to believe: she was gone.
In the land between wakefulness and dreams, in the land of cappuccinos and coffee beans, and in all the lands that fall in between, I find her there. In times of blissful happiness, I find her there. In times of deep sorrow and anguish, I too find her there. Anywhere I go, she is there.
I yearn for a day where I may sit, pen and parchment firmly in hand, in the little Salvadoran town of San Jacinto, appropriately equipped with a chair for me and a periwinkle plastic throne for her. I cry out for the chance to relive that moment, if only to whisper, “¿Cómo se llama?”
I may never get the opportunity to meet her again yet I regret nothing; I put my hope in the boys and girls all around the world. The righteous tears, the innocent philosophies, the eyes overflowing with wonder.
Khalil Gibran once said, “Keep me away from the wisdom that does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh, and the greatness which does not bow before children.”
I met the queen whose name I was unworthy of knowing in the small village of San Jacinto, El Salvador. It was here I learned that beauty knows no borders.
And neither does love.
About the Author: My name is Ari Grubner and I am just a normal 19 year-old guy trying to use normal words to leave the world I live in a little better than when I entered it. I am a student, an aspiring-aspiring writer, a speaker, and I am the luckiest guy I’ve ever met.
Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.