"Porque me da la gana." Elba Luz took off running. Her long brown braids bounced. In all her life she had never cut her hair, except that Mami cut her bangs. And except the time she'd cut her bangs herself, sitting on a big rock in the patio de atras she wasn't allowed to go to, in the pouring rain. When Mami asked why, Elba Luz explained. "No me gustaba ese pelo de lluvia."
She ran all the way down the hill and stopped short by the huge flat rock that overlooked the Guacabon river at the edge of Silvito's patio. He chased her. He pumped his strong, stocky arms and legs as hard as he could to catch up to her. "Todo cambia." He was screaming as he tagged her, but she wasn't letting on she could hear him. She barely could. The wind wings were blowing away from the Guacabon, down from El Pico the way they always did at dusk. She stood at the far edge of the rock and watched the kites soaring on the wind wings of the setting sun. Those were the kites of the bigger boys. They flew them in the big lawn along the bank where the river curved right into the town of Coral. She recognized Robertico's bright red kite and watched the sun glow through it. When she was a nina grande their age she would make a kite herself even though she was a girl. She remembered when Robertico had been a boy, and then a big boy. Now he was almost a man, a guardia at the Base Naval, but still he made kites.
After she let Silvito catch her they climbed, out of breath, holding hands, all the way up the ochre hill to the wooden shed where Silvito's mother Mami Ines stood cooking a Guacabon fish his father Silvio had caught. Elba Luz studied Mami Ines from behind. She was a mujerona hermosa (she'd once heard her Papi say those words) with dark brown skin, big calves and nalgas, and strong arms. She was one of the only Mamis Elba Luz knew who kept her curly curly hair very short. Elba Luz couldn't imagine ever wanting to cut her own hair. Mami Ines turned over the huge fish she was frying over a tiny stove.
Elba and Silvito walked into the cinder block house which was new. It was to show Elba Luz the house that Silvito had talked her into going home with him after school. The family used to live in the little shack which was now the kitchen and over the last year Silvio the father and his friends built a house, cinder block by cinder block. Even Elbita's Papi tiled, and plastered a few times when he was in Coral. They had not yet painted the gray blocks or the white plastered walls. Silvito said that now the family had moved in, maybe they never would. Elba Luz stood now in what was the bedroom, looking through the side window. She could see a piece of the river and she could see a piece of the mountain. The river was a deep brown green like an aceituna and the mountain was purple. From her own bedroom she could only see a row of distant purple peaks.
Silvito threw himself onto one of two double beds. Elba Luz looked at him and wished she could lie down too. His whole family slept in this one room. Silvito and his brother and sister shared the bed by the window. She sat carefully on the edge so that she could keep staring at the river and the mountains because their colors were getting darker as the sun fell behind El Pico. "Todo cambia." Silvito laughed. She got up and grabbed her brown leather book satchel. She needed to make it home before dark and it would take a while to climb all the way up the hill to the Plaza de Coral and then race to her house on the other side.

Nobody noticed Elba Luz come in. The front of the long deep house was deserted. She pushed in the door which wasn't locked until nine PM so the huespedes could easily enter. Elba Luz thought she might be anybody, even el Cuco. She touched the arched, spiny leaves of the areca plant and stepped on tiptoes in the very center of the black curlicues on the tiles. She tried to be quiet as she passed the front room not to wake Dona Zoila who was napping before the meal. Zoila never shut her door all the way and Elba Luz could see her narrow shape under the sheet and her bare feet sticking out pointing at the ceiling.
The next room was empty and when it was Elba Luz snuck in there to do her homework in peace. She stepped inside and set her brown satchel on the floor and sat down on the cool tile floor. She took out her thin green notebook and her pink plastic pencil case that Dona Zoila had given her when she started second grade. The case had lasted her all the way into third grade. She was careful not to pull the zipper past where Mami had stiched a little wall of thread to keep the carriage from slipping out. She took out her favorite pencil Papi had brought her from the City, pink, with a soft pink eraser that left not streaks, and a mota of pink fluff. She lay on her stomach on the tiles and breathed in the pine disinfectant from the mop water. She looked busy when Mami peeked in, having just finished with the cooking, to check in on her. Elba Luz looked up and gave Mami a big smile. Mami was her very own person, just for her. Pobrecita. Inocente. She'd been working in the kitchen for two hours and now she thought Elba Luz had been in here doing her homework all that while. Long ago (although of course she did not follow it today) Elba Luz had made a rule for herself, always do the homework before anything else. She had made this rule along with many others. One rule was that she must get up very early, before Mami and one day she must take a cold shower, the next day she must take a dry shower in which she stood in the stall and rubbed her skin until she formed little worms of dirt. Of course the rules were secret, except for the one about the homework. All the grownups noticed and admired that one.
"No me gusta que no merendaste y tienes demasiada hambre." Elba Luz took the hand Mami offered and let herself be pulled up, and drawn into a garlicky, oniony Mami hug. She clutched Mami's chest, burrowed her head in Mami's round breasts, and then she grabbed Mami's round buttocks as Mami straightened up. "Mi nina preciosa." Elba Luz wanted to tell her about Silvito's house. The words almost got out of her mouth but she thought better. She didn't have permiso after all. She thought about all the times she had to protect the grownups from the truth. She and Silvito often talked about having to pretend not to know who the Reyes Magos really were.
Hand in hand with Mami she walked past the small patio on the left of the hallway. She heard the gurgle of Its tiny pila, always running. They passed the bano principal on the right, and three of the rooms Mami rented to huespedes. Mami called their home Casa Rocio. She'd let Elba Luz help paint the sign. Some people lived in Casa Rocio all the time like Dona Zoila, who had been there almost Elba Luz' whole life, going on eight years, since after ancient parents died. Some of the rooms had a double bed. The others had two narrow little beds each. Dona Zoila's and the one across from hers had been the sala and the saleta of the house a long time ago, and they had a double bed and a single bed and a little couch. Elba Luz liked to imagine that when she grew up she could live there, have her own little home, and still be near Mami. She liked to imagine converting the long barred window that faced the street into a door of her very own. The window was as tall as a door. The shutters already opened all the way, in two halves. How could she cut those thick iron bars? She spent many hours pondering that question. It was one of those things she would probably need to get someone to help her do. Maybe Silvito's father could figure out how to do it. He knew how to build a whole house. Or by then Silvito himself would be a grown up and he and Elba Luz could do the job together.
Mami handed Elba Luz the wet trapo for wiping the red flannel backed table cloth. She began at the end furthest from the kitchen and wiped the red cloth in circles. She liked this job. Mami had shown her how to make sure she had cleaned every inch of the long narrow table. Mami held up six fingers and Elba Luz took three plates and then another three from the stack of plates by the big stone sink. Elba set the prettiest of the plates, with red and blue curlicues on the edges, on Mami's place. She gave Dona Zoila the next best one. It was thin and had pale blue flowers on the border. For everybody else she placed the plates randomly. She liked to see who got which by accident. It was a lucky sign when she happened to get the one with a face in the center, her favorite.
She took down one of the cloth napkins hanging to dry on a string in the little patio beyond the kitchen. She stared into the little cages of the palomitas Mami bred for their eggs (and every once in a while for a sopita when she was sick. To save the Palomitas Elba Luz avoided letting Mami know she was ever feeling even sick.) Her favorite yellowish gray Palomita peered through the thin wire mesh. "Hola Plumita." She studied the tiny, shiny eyes. "Dime que piensas."
"Piensa que quisiera poder pensar." Dona Zoila took down the other napkins very fast. "Te ayudo." Elba Luz loved Dona Zoila's raspy voice that Papi said was caused from yelling and scoling at first graders over many years. Elba Luz had told him no, no. no, Dona Zoila didn't yell or scold. In minutes Zoila folded the napkins, set them, and let Elbita lay a fork, a spoon, and a knife on top of every one. "Hiciste la tarea?" Dona Zoila had been Elba Luz' teacher in first, and then in second grade. But not in third grade. "Ya no eres mi maestra." Elba Luz sing songed and ran down the deep hall toward the front door. Dona Zoila chased her. "Cuidado, te cojo." She had never forgotten how to be a little girl. Was that why she never got married? Elba Luz ducked around her and ran into her homework room then back outside when Dona Zoila nearly cornered her. She ran right into the legs of Abi, the newest huesped. He was thin, with a long face and a tiny mustache. His skin was blue black. He was a periodista and most nights he came home very late. Elba Luz looked up at his smiling face. "Tampoco me agarras." She ran toward the kitchen. Abi chased her as far as his room, the one closest to the bathroom. Elba Luz stopped and stood by his door dying to peer inside. He had his clothes in piles on one of the narrow beds and on the small table between them he had a small typwriter in a black case. She walked inside. "Puedo abrirla?" Abi was sitting on the bed he slept on, untying his work shoes, taking off thin black socks, slipping his feet into black chancletas. "Como no." He inched himself toward the typewriter and undid the latch for her. "Ensename." He pulled the chair by his chiforrober to the table, sat on it, and reached on the shelf below it for a sheet of paper. "Toma." She took the paper, slipped it behind the roller, and together they turned the knobs on each side until a bit of the paper stuck up on the front. Abi poked his finger into a key with the letter e. "Mira." He poised his hand over the keyboard and kit keys quickly. ELBA LUZ. He pulled out the sheet of paper and handed it to her.
"Como se hace?" He rolled another sheet of paper onto the roller. He rose and lifted her onto his lap. He took her index finger, put it on the letter j. She hit it and then she began to hit every single letter. He rose and sat her on the chair by herself. She began to hit every single letter with her index fingers. He stretched out on his bed with an arm over his eyes. She decided to write the alphabet. It took her forever to find each letter and get from a to z. He rolled over. He placed her small hands on the keyboard. "Pero tu sabes que cada dedo tiene sus letras. Mira a ver cuantas letras puedes hacer con el dedo indice." She tried to see how many letters her index fnger could reach. She was just getting started when Mami called out, "A comer."
"Sopita pero no de paloma." Elba Luz ate two spoonfuls of the chicken broth with the bits of cebolla and zanahoria and fideos floating in it. She drank cold water. "Mira mi bigote." Nobody could see the bigote of chicken fat she could feel. Still they laughed. "Que ocurrencias tiene esta nina." Don Rudy said. He had just walked in. She turned toward his loud voice. He was very tall and very big. She liked the way he always joked and grinned. Elba Luz saw him sit by the bowl with black zigzags on the edge. She waited. He let her wait. Then he reached into his guaybera pocket. Don Rudy sold what Papi called boberias to farmacias and quincallas and was a huesped the first few days of every month and then depending on how his selling was going sometimes almost the whole month. He always brought her a present. He handed her a square of cardboard. On it were two pink hebillas with tiny pink flowers. She put one barrette on each of her braids.