Kervin runs before me, legs and arms pumping, mouth wide with joy. A half-filled sackcloth jounces from one fist. I cannot run so fast in my knee-length dress, but I try to keep up. We race to the brick house on the corner. Behind us, a stream of children, flopping and flapping in their Sunday garb, a procession of innocence in search of the best treats.
We pull up at the porch, wrought iron railing, concrete floor.
Kervin starts us: "Hail Holy Queen enthroned above, O Maria."
I join in. "Hail Mother of Mercy and of love O Maria."
Soon, the whole yard is singing the seasonal hymn.
"Triumph all ye Cherubim
Sing with us ye Seraphim
Heav'n and earth resound the hymn
Salve Salve Salve Regina"
And the door opens, revealing a chubby face, a boy with pug nose and wide set blue eyes. His features are American, which means his parents are rich. Christmas spirit swells inside me, a blessing of light and love.
"What is the cause of our happiness?" I scream at the top of my lungs.
"The conception of the Virgin Mary!" others shout. The singing resumes, out of tune, out of cadence. It doesn't matter.
A woman appears in the doorway, long legs swathed in blue jeans, yellow hair falling to her shoulders. Her cheeks are high, her mouth small and round and red with lipstick. So beautiful. Her gaze is sad.
"What is it you want?" she says. "My husband is sick."
"Treats," Kervin says. "For the performance. To celebrate the season."
"Rosquillas!" someone yells.
"Donkey's Milk," another screams.
"At least some fruit," Kervin says. "Everyone has fruit to spare."
The woman frowns. Her eyes glisten. "I have nothing," she says. Her knees bend. She slides down the doorframe a centimeter at a time. Slow motion disaster. "There's nothing."
The boy clings to her sleeve, afraid and lost. Inside my heart, it's like a river damming with silt.
Silence replaces hymn. Thoughts of a virgin's purity give way to the impurities of life.
This time, I start, walking onto the porch, opening my sackcloth, dumping it out. Oranges and sweet rolls, candy, a candle. Everything onto the porch by the door.
Kervin and the others follow one by one, a steady procession of gifts poured out, a growing heap of treats. The boy's grip relaxes. The woman's red lips form Gracias.
And then I am flying to the next porch, Kervin hot on my heels. Soon there will be fireworks.
published 29 February 2012