Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2021  Vol. 20  No. 1
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The Intersection

Jose Granero described it so plainly that one had to wonder if the people in the town square that day were capable of shock or awe. Tired of redirecting a comet on the outer edges of Andromeda, God turned away from the cosmos and lifted Sister Maria Esperanza up by the nape of her neck the way one picks up a kitten. It was recounted plainly: God pulled Sister Maria Esperanza up out of the intersection. She was a bride of Christ after all, a woman who served God and His Holy Church. You and I might find it difficult to imagine God intervening, much less in such a dramatic fashion. We might be more likely to say Sister Maria Esperanza shot up like a bullet and then hovered roughly eight feet above the street, hovered there as if a steady stream of air, released by the earth, diligently worked to hold her aloft. See how even our description seems preposterous?

Everyone in the town knew the girl who would become Sister Maria Esperanza. It was a small town and, well, the girl was anything but ordinary. Children refused to play with her. She disturbed them, frightened them. The Devil kissed each of the girl’s eyelids at birth, the old women say, producing two differently-colored eyes, one a striking dark blue that was further emphasized by her dark brown skin and black hair, the other a hazel flecked with gray. No one in her family had eyes like that. No one in the entire town had eyes like that. It had to be a sign, a mark, a clue, a remnant of some unholy act. Not even the god YĆ»cahu hiding at the top of el Yunque had two differently-colored eyes. But despite her evil eyes, or maybe because of them, the girl was baptized and took her First Communion. She even took the sacrament of confirmation. Everyone has to be saved after all. But in the end, does any of that matter? Besada por el diablo:she was damned, seen as damned. At fifteen, when the men had already whistled at other girls for years, calling out for this or that “favor,” no one called out to the girl who would become Sister Maria Esperanza. When men saw her coming down the lane, they went silent. They lowered their heads and studied the weeds flourishing in the cracks of the sidewalks. They looked away in search of any image on which they could train their focus. It was as if she were already a nun, already married to God.

They say it was a Saturday like any other Saturday. They say it was a truly ordinary day: women ran errands; the markets were filled with people; and men sat around on benches smoking and chewing on sticks of sugar cane that had long lost the taste of raw sugar. For miles in almost any direction, all that could be seen were acres and acres of sugar cane. Sugar touched everything in the town. At times, even the air smelled of sugar. On some days, it was so strong the people believed you could lick it from the air, believed if you sat long enough that sugar would settle on your skin. On that Saturday morning in late autumn, October some say, Sister Maria Esperanza woke, said her prayers, helped to prepare the modest breakfast the nuns ate, and set up a pot to make a stew for later that day. But as the nuns needed to eat, so did the poor, and it was Sister Maria Esperanza’s turn to oversee the soup kitchen. She set out from the convent at 11:20 a.m. because she knew it would take thirty minutes to walk to the edge of the town square where the soup kitchen was located.

It did not matter what you did for work: it always came back to sugar. Jose Granero did not work at the mill or in the refinement rooms, did not work the fields tending the cane. He drove a truck instead, delivering the packaged sugar to the port on the other side of the island. From there it would be shipped to Miami for transfer to other parts of the US. The joke was that everything in the US required sweetening to make it bearable. The business of sugar was the source of everything. Without it, the town itself would likely cease to exist. Jose Granero rarely worked on Saturdays, but one of the trucks had broken down earlier in the week, and now the entire delivery schedule was in disarray. He had no choice but to drive on Saturday in an attempt to get the shipments back on schedule. And this did not bother him as much as it bothered his wife who wanted to pack up the children and drive to the playa on the southern coast of the island.

Like Sister Maria Esperanza, Jose Granero was thirty-three years old. He went to elementary school with her and knew the girl known back then as la extranjera. His wife had not only gone to elementary school with Sister Maria Esperanza but also high school. She was always quick to point out how many odd things happened around the girl who became Sister Maria Esperanza. There was something wrong with the girl, something unexplainable. Whenever someone tried to defend the girl, Jose Granero’s wife would recount how two girls in their high school history class ridiculed the strange girl for how poorly she had combed her hair. Within an hour, the two teenaged girls began crying as clump after clump of their hair began falling out. Those eyes, Jose Granero’s wife would say, two different colors, each one so unnatural. And trust me, they were unnatural: the blue one the color of the sea when it is darkened by a storm; the hazel one like the fields of sugar cane, that color green mottled with the gray of decay.

Maria Guerrero Lopez was born to Mateo Guerrero and Catarina Lopez at 8:48 a.m. on April 15, 1949. She was the last of six children Catarina would bear: she was dead within hours of delivering the baby girl. Mateo Guerrero, blinded by grief, did what most men do. He drank himself into a stupor. But instead of passing out from so much rum, Mateo Guerrero stumbled towards home. The rum made his knees weak, made his steps heavy and awkward, and then he toppled, fell into a ditch where a corrugated leaf of aluminum sliced open his neck. Lucas Guerrero, Mateo’s brother, raised the six children with his wife Sofia as if they were their own. What choice did they have? Catarina Lopez was an only child, and so there was no other family to take in the Guerrero children. Growing up, we all assumed Lucas and Sofia Guerrero were the children’s parents. No one thought it odd the couple had nine children, but the truth is that six of them were actually their nephews and nieces. After high school, Maria Guerrero, the youngest of the children, committed herself to the Church. She kept her given first name but soon became Sister Maria Esperanza, the “hope” of Esperanza given to her by the old Reverend Mother.

At 11:50 a.m. on that Saturday as afternoon approached, as Jose Granero drove toward the square desperate to make it to the mill by noon, he lowered his foot on the brake pad as he approached the intersection, but the truck did not respond. It did not so much as slow even slightly. Instead, it continued on, coasting at thirty-five miles per hour. And there in front of him was Sister Maria Esperanza crossing the street. He tried to honk his horn. He tried to pull on the emergency brake, but nothing worked. He could see the story playing out in front of him, could see the truck striking the nun, could see her body flying off at an angle, somersaulting through the air and then rolling across the ground. It seemed inevitable. And just as he was within four feet of the nun, just as he resigned himself to the fact he would hit her and likely kill her, Sister Maria Esperanza shot straight up into the air and came to rest roughly eight feet above the ground, the truck sailing directly under her and then slowing of it own volition. But there, at the intersection just across from the square, Sister Maria Esperanza remained suspended in the air.

People gasped, first at the truck and the accident they believed to be watching unfurl in slowed motion, and then because the nun shot upward and, finally, because she then remained in the air, floating, her habit slowly undulating around her as if she were caught in a slowly swirling river of air. The old women grabbed the children and rushed them away. Men stood staring in disbelief. Jose Granero ran from his truck, ran along the square back to the intersection. He called up to Sister Maria Esperanza, whose eyes were closed, not tightly out of fear but gently, as if praying. He called her name over and over, but Sister Maria Esperanza did not respond. Jose walked under her, around her. He called to her, but the nun remained silent. She had been called to silence or had found a way to create silence within the scene. Jose Granero begged for someone to get a ladder, something, so that someone could reach her and possibly bring her down. He said this as if Sister Maria Esperanza were simply a cat stuck on a high branch in a tree. But there was no tree. The nun hovered eight feet above the ground as people ran back to their homes. Soon, the only person near the floating nun was Jose Granero. A few watched from the windows of stores near the square but would not come out, would not dare go anywhere near this impossible sight.

Called to silence, the square had been called to silence. The birds had ceased their chirping. The branches did not shake their leaves in response to the wind. There was no wind. The fountain had stopped gurgling. It was as if a hush had descended on the square as the nun rose into the air. Her position there above the ground became the focus of everything. Jose Granero found it difficult to hear his own breathing, which was quite exaggerated in that moment. There was no traffic, no people walking, talking, or sitting about. And there above the intersection, Sister Maria Esperanza floated eight feet off the ground.

After twenty minutes, what felt to him like hours, Jose Granero stopped running around the intersection, stopped running under Sister Maria Esperanza as if searching for what held the nun aloft. He stood perfectly still and took a different tact: he calmly asked the nun to come down. Jose Granero felt guilt, felt it was his fault the nun was now stuck above the intersection, her arms at her side, her palms facing forward, the backs of her sandals ticking up and down against her heels as if she were walking. Jose Granero was so intent on watching Sister Maria Esperanza that he did not notice Monsignor Garcia walking up and then stopping to stand next to him.

“How long has she been like this?”

“Monsignor! I, I didn’t hear you . . . ”

“How long has she been like this?” Monsignor repeated, without any attempt to hide the annoyance on his face.

“She has been up there for almost thirty minutes.”

“I see. And has she cried? Has she said anything? Is she hurt?”

“No, Monsignor. She has said and done nothing. She just stays up there.”

“Go to the Church. Go around to the rectory. Ask Señor Verde to bring a ladder.”

“Yes, Monsignor. I will . . . ”

“Right now, Jose.”

Jose Granero ran to the rectory to fetch the ladder. Standing beneath Sister Maria Esperanza, Monsignor sighed and softly said: “Come down here immediately, Sister. You have caused more than enough of a scene here for one day.” At first, nothing changed. Sister Maria Esperanza remained where she was, floating eight feet above the road, her habit slowly rippling around her. “I am not going to ask again, Sister. You must come down immediately. You are damaging Holy Mother Church by your actions. How is the Church to do her work here!” The priest didn’t so much as look up at the nun to see if she were listening, to see if she were responding. He spoke slowly and with intent. “Come down here, this minute,” he said. And slowly, the rippling ceased. And then, as if being gently lowered, Sister Maria Esperanza drifted down and came to rest on the ground in front of Monsignor Garcia. She opened her eyes and gasped.

“I don’t want to hear a word from you, Sister. Go back to the convent immediately. Forget whatever business you were attending to when this happened.”

Sister Maria Esperanza did what any nun would do; she obeyed Monsignor Garcia. As she walked away, she could see people coming out from the stores and businesses near the square. They were staring at her with expressions on their faces she had never seen before. The birds were chirping in the trees now, and two pigeons shot up from the edge of the fountain where two boys had thrown some pebbles. All of her life people had stared at her, but now something had changed. She could see it in their faces. They weren’t just annoyed and bothered by her. There, walking away from the square, she saw fear in their faces. It was unmistakable. When Sister Maria Esperanza reached the convent, she stepped through its iron gates and disappeared within the overbearing stone structure that had been standing there for almost one hundred years.

“Monsignor!” cried Jose Granero as he returned with the ladder. “Where is Sister Maria?”

“I had her come down, and I have sent her home.”

“But Monsignor . . . ”

“What prompted this, Jose? What happened here?”

“I couldn’t stop the truck, Monsignor. I would have hit her. I almost hit her. She, uh, moved out of the way of the truck.”

“So no one touched her?”

“No, Monsignor. She just shot up into the air.”

“You must never discuss this again, Jose. You must never describe this. And if asked about it, you must pretend you never saw any of this. Do I make myself clear? Jose?”

“Yes, Monsignor. It is just that . . . ”

“Never. Never say another word about this.”

“Yes, Monsignor.”

Jose Granero walked back across the square to his truck and began checking the brakes and the undercarriage. He found nothing wrong with the truck. An hour later, one of the mechanics arrived from the mill and found nothing wrong with the truck. Jose expected people to come and ask him about what had happened, but no one did. Weeks passed, then months and even years, and none of the close to thirty people that had been in the square that day ever asked him a word about what had happened. And not once did he overhear anyone discussing the nun floating eight feet above the road. When Jose Granero tried to tell his wife, tried to explain the unbelievable sight of the nun floating above the intersection, she laughed and told him he drank too much rum.

Nothing changed for Sister Maria Esperanza. Did you expect anything to change? The people in the town continued avoiding her much as they always had, the habit long-learned and persistent. The nun had no memory of the thirty-something minutes she spent floating above the earth. She had no memory of how she left the ground and how the air buoyed her to safety. Despite that, whenever she approached the intersection she instinctively looked up. It was as if a mark had been left there, one she could not easily make out. Sister Maria Esperanza expected to see a bird or a branch or a quickly rushing geyser of air, but she never saw anything there. Nothing lived in the air above that intersection. You expect me to tell you she saw the glimmering Hand of God poised there waiting, but I doubt even she saw anything like that.  

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