By Eugenia Viteri
Translated by Susan E. Benner
Every day of the week, but especially Sunday afternoons, Teresa wandered the broad beach near the town of La Libertad. Her bright, quick eyes moving constantly, she would scrutinize the distant shore, then throw herself into the hunt for a pair of sunglasses, a barrette, a comb: any object left lying forgotten on the beach by the wealthy bathers from the city. Sometimes she found herself waging a furious battle with the angry sea for her prey. If the waves won, she would sit in the damp sand staring sadly out to sea.
She would walk slowly, her head down, her eyes darting about searching the sand. Her emaciated figure reflected little charm and no one noticed her as she wandered by. But she was doing this for Luis…
She was doing this for him, because in her hunt for objects left forgotten in the sand, she hoped she could somehow contribute to their economic survival, to “help him a little,” as she would think when she saw that his salary wasn’t enough. She would never say it, even to herself, but she also hoped that her efforts would make him change. But no, he would never change. Because the abuse that he continuously inflicted on her seemed to provoke in him a kind of secret pleasure until she fell at his knees begging for forgiveness. Still, if she could just have better luck this time… Until now she had only been able to find worthless trinkets tossed in the sand. “Dear God, let me find something good today,” she thought.
And at any rate, she was happy helping him, even if it only brought in a few pennies. When he hit her, and it happened almost daily, she suffered terribly, and waited for the compensation of at least some gentle if awkward touch. After all, he was her husband…
Suddenly a bright flash of light caught her eyes like a fleeting streak of lightening. Veteran connoisseur of forgotten objects, she knew when to take notice: there was something very interesting over on a far point of the beach, and she ran quickly toward it. She hurriedly dropped down in the sand next to it, afraid that someone might notice her. “Because this lovely thing, this they would take away from me,” she thought.
It was a ring, covered with brilliant stones that seemed to open their shining wings to the sun. Teresa cradled it in her small hands, like a living thing, afraid that the waves or the wind might snatch it from her. Then, hopping about in the sand like a wounded bird, she headed off, murmuring; “It’s a real ring, a real ring.”
But suddenly her joy was cut short. Because this would be like all the other times: “Let me see. What did you find? Give it to me.” And upon seeing the object: “Junk… This isn’t worth a thing.” And he would get up to give her two or three hard slaps across the face. But then, looking more closely at the ring: “Ah no. Now this, this might be worth something. This one yes, yes…” And then he’d go off to sell it for a few miserable pennies.
No, she wouldn’t give it to him just for that. It was so beautiful! She rolled it around in her hands, discovering new facets of the ring each time, as if it were several rings and not just one…
She wouldn’t give it to him. No. She would keep it for herself, to gladden her heart in secret. When she was alone, she would put it on her finger, and, she was sure, she would appear wondrously beautiful reflected in the tiny mirror formed by the central stone of the ring.
She wondered about the owner of the ring. Was she beautiful? And her hands, what were they like? Smooth and white from being well-protected, lazy because she didn’t have to hurry in her comfortable life, tranquil life. Ah, Teresa’s hands were going to look like that now, adorned with these divine little stones. Luis sat up sleepily when he saw her come in. “So, did you find anything?” Fearful, she was slow to reply:
“Nothing, nothing… This time, nothing.”
“Hmm. That’s strange, it being Sunday and ail..He didn’t hit her. Perhaps he was too tired, perhaps he noticed a different air about her. He shrugged his shoulders and returned to his nap.
But the next day the violent scenes began again. Except this time it mattered to her less because now she had her triumphant moments when, alone, she flattered her woman’s vanity, lighting up the feeble soul of the ugly girl she had been by embellishing her hand with the precious ring. Luis must have noticed something
different about her, because after scorning the trinkets she’d gathered and spitting out insults, he stopped suddenly with his hand in mid air, ready to strike her face.
“The way you’ve fixed your hair,” he mumbled. “It looks good on you.. She had done her hair in homage to the ring, to this sacred ring which was transforming everything. And he had noticed, and had noticed her face shining with a new brilliance that also came from the sacred stones in the ring. And so he kissed her, and stroked her face, without the blows she was so accustomed to. But the next afternoon he returned home unexpectedly and surprised her in the doorway with her hand held out in silent adoration of the ring.
“And that?” he demanded. “That looks valuable. Did you find it today?” She hid her hand behind her back.
“No. No, I didn’t find it/’ she said hastily.
“Well then, what did you do, steal it?”
“No! No… Someone gave it to me…”
Luis let out a loud laugh. “They-gave-it-to-YOU!” he said mockingly. “Who in the world would be giving you rings?!”
Teresa raised her head. The words fell from her lips, a lie that was a protest of her insulted dignity: “A man… A man…”
Luis frowned. His fingers twitched as he formed a fist, and Teresa closed her eyes, waiting for the blow. But it never fell. Luis was stopped, confused by the unfamiliar brilliance in her face. He spun around and went into their hut, but returned after a few minutes.
“Listen, are you trying to make me mad? Where did you get that ring?”
“A man gave it to me.”
“What man?” She could hear the fury rising in his voice.
“A dark man… Tall… With black hair… A man. A man who says he loves me.” She no longer thought about what she was saying. The words fell unbidden,rising spontaneously from the dream she was living. “He wants to take me with him… He calls me ‘my sweet’, ‘my dear’…
“Bitch! You just wait..He raised his fists again as if to strike her, but again he stopped in mid air, paralyzed by her face, as calm and serene as a quiet lake. But this other man… “I’ll kill him!” he cried. “Oh yes,I’ll kill him!” Teresa smiled softly.
“You can’t. He’s waiting for me far away. I’m going to meet him soon.”
Luis changed suddenly, completely. All the anger drained away and he looked at her with agony in his eyes. This time it was he who fell to his knees, begging:
“No, Teresa, you can’t leave me. I love you. Give him back his ring, I’ll buy you a better one. Just today they raised my salary.”
Teresa sweetly stroked his shaggy head with her ringed hand. And the stones of the ring sparkled like stars in an ebony night.