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Fantasticoe 2001 -  10th Anniversary Issue 


Sterling Anton


 The merchant slams his foot into the bundle of rags sleeping in the doorway and does so with such force he hopes he has broken something.  Hassa nearly flips completely.  He steps forward and aims another blow cursing profusely.  Without thinking, she moves quickly from the doorstep fearful of another blow to her back and cautiously creeps down the avenue Bella Vista.  She pushes back her matted hair.  It is merely a subconscious act, since her hair is short and hasnít been combed in months. She wipes her face, leaving streaks of dirt and stair step muck across her cheeks.  Already before sunrise San Jose, Costa Rica is warm and sticky with exhaust.  She searches her pockets and again she finds that she has been robbed during the night.

 The sky is grey.  In San Jose it is nearly always that color, whether form rain or from smog, Hassa doesnít know, and really doesnít care.  It doesnít affect her.  A Mercedes public bus rumbles past, leaving a column of foul smelling smoke, which is immediately consumed by another bus, and another and another.  She is afraid of crossing the street.  Finding refuge from the mass of rushing, working rich people she holds onto a lamppost.  Peopleís faces fly by like dashing dreams, shallowly explored and then quickly forgotten.  She watches them with no real distaste, anger or jealously.
 Sometimes she dreams of how it was before her father died.  He was a small man, but strong as a merchantís kick.  Hassa remembers when he came home and found a man sitting on mama.  That is what she said then.  Her father had not said a word; just hit him with a two-by-four.  He didnít move again.  Hassaís father was stabbed one night because he was wearing a gold necklace that someone else wanted.  That was it.  No grudge, no anger, just a gold necklace.  Mama and Hassa didnít live there much longer, but Hassa remembers when mama left her at home at night, and would come home smelling of sweat and cheap menís cologne.  One night mama didnít come home; didnít cook Hassa eggs and beans and rice.  Hassa left when a man in a suit came with other people who wanted her house.  The man had come beforehand, and finding only Hassa, decided to extract payment in a more painful, personal way.  Hassa didnít stay around much longer.

Her stomach aches and whenever Hassa gets up too quickly a black mist of dizziness circles her head.  From the lamppost where Hassa leans she can see Roberto huddling with Julio and Amarillo.  Like her, they are dressed in rags, clothes that had been clean and nice once upon a time.  Hassa slowly moves towards them, careful not to be noticed by any police or vindictive merchants.  She is accepted with a nod as she joins the group.

 Hassa gratefully draws on a cigarette and avoids the eyes of her companions.  They, like her, are unwanted and homeless.  Although this matters very little, it was probable one of them who stole the few colones tucked in her pocket as she slept. Instinctively she trusts no one, and expects the same from everyone else.  She has been hurt too many times to trust anyone, even her hesitant friends.

 Amarillo swears darkly under his breath, a perrjo has spotted them.  On the count of three, the four break into different directions and run hard.  Perrjo is slang for a cop who looks for strays.  The merchants pay them to get rid of Hassa and all like her.  To them she is a pest and menace.  Hassa sees it is not her the perrjo has chosen this time.  Roberto screams as he is still running; the perrjo pushes him down into the pavement.  Hassa does not look back as Roberto cries for help.

 Roberto is lucky, Hassa thinks.  Usually no one is near to hear the screams.  Although Hassa has been also lucky, she knows that she cannot escape forever.  For five years she has wandered the streets of San Jose.  She has never been inside La Casa Verde, or any other of the popular tourist destinations.  Instead she roams at the far side of the plaza hoping for an unsuspecting Canadian or Argentinean, or anyone who drops their guard long enough for her to make off with their fine wallets, sparkling watches, or sophisticated cameras.

 Hassa wears an old dress she stole from a tourist toilet; its red base has frayed and worn so that little remains below the knees.  Her hair is uneven and short, sprinkled with white cement from the broken steps where she slept.  Roberto had cut it with a silver pocket knife he had lifted from a loud-mouthed tall American, telling her it was better to have short hair and look like a boy.  Hassa is short and small, and although she is fourteen she looks closer to ten.

 In the plaza de Morazan, she sees her chance for food.  Hassa is in the nicest part of downtown, and the most dangerous.  Ahead she sees a little boy dressed in nice shorts and shoes carrying a little camera.  From behind the garbage dumpster she runs at him when all othersí heads are turned and has the black camera in her hands before the boy can see her.  In silent shock he stands and watches her run before he begins to cry.  Hassa runs until she is sure she is not being followed.  It is a small camera and will not be worth very much.

 Hassa doesnít like the man who buys cameras from the street children, but unlike others who pay more, he asks no questions.  His home is on the edge of the slum and is where most of his business originates.  Hassa doesnít otherwise go near the Juarez slums.  She slept there two nights and was attacked by men who lived there.  The last was tall with crooked teeth and a cut across his cheek.  It was here Hassa was first raped and spit upon by those as poor as she in her first few days on the streets.

 Although her abuse has become commonplace, Hassa hasnít forgotten this place.  She moves into the cameramanís house and calls to him.  The house smells of hard alcohol and cigarettes.  The cameraman zigzags into the room, and it seems the only thing he can focus on is Hassa.  Before she can move he grabs Hassa by the hair and then her breast.  After two or three kicks she goes limp and lets the cameraman take pillage of her.  Hassaís eyeís glaze over and she thinks of chocolate and warm bread.  Fighting back always makes them angrier.

 Hassa leaves with her small pocket full of bills.  Today she will eat and hide.  First she goes to the bakery to buy bread.  The bakery, while not too far from the slums has been taken care of and looks as clean and fresh as the bread it holds.  In the window there are cakes and long, thick rolls.  The clean-shaven man at the counter ignores the blood on Hassaís dress and that coming from her nose.  He puts the bread on the counter and reluctantly takes the money, as if afraid of becoming dirty or catching some awful disease.  Hassa leaves the sweet smelling shop before she is asked to do so.

 As night falls, Hassa moves to a dimly-lit fountain in front of a church at the far end of town.  The Virgin Mary leans over it, and water trickles from her outstretched hands, ivory white.  She kneels in the water and scratches at her skin to remove all her demons.  Her cuts leave small, red clouds as the scabs become soft and fall off.  She shivers.  Looking around she sees no one, and feels very alone.  She looks up at the Virgin Mary and thinks of her own mama.  Why did she leave Hassa?  Suddenly the church becomes very ominous, and she focuses back on the composed, peaceful face.  For just a moment, only a fleeting second, she feels clean and safe.   Her demons gone, Hassa falls asleep on warm bricks, stomach full, under a compassionate face.

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