– Fiction by Kimberly Roda Moorhead –
Honorable Mention in the 2020 Dreamers Stories of Migration, Sense of Place and Home Contest
A heavy weight presses down on my chest. It feels like a chasm is dividing the breastplates covering my heart. I take a moment to research my condition online, but I already know I am not dying, or having a stroke or heart attack. The unbearable pressure bearing down on my entire being has everything to do with Oralia.
Oralia Cortez can’t speak English and I can’t speak Spanish, but we make do. She is Honduran, seeking asylum in America. She left her home because a gang member tried to kidnap her daughter and then he threatened to kill her son. Oralia flees her country in the middle of the night, on a bus heading to Guatemala. She brings her daughter who is only three, a hundred and thirty dollars, and a backpack stuffed with their belongings. She leaves behind everything else she owns and everyone she knows, including her son who is now eleven. She has not seen him for three Christmases and he no longer believes in San Nicolas. This breaks Oralia’s heart. It breaks mine, too, because I am also a mother. I cannot imagine a situation in which I might leave one of my children behind.
But we have lived in two different worlds, running parallel with one another until we intersect on a cold Sunday afternoon in November, when my husband decides we need to clean out the clutter we have amassed in our garage. The weather in North Carolina is fickle and overnight, the temperatures drop from seventy degrees to forty. We need the space to pull our second car in before the first frost glazes our windshield and adds five minutes of scraping time to our morning commute.
Old bikes and helmets lean against each other, along with beach umbrellas and chairs, coolers, tennis racquets and bubble wands. Five booster seats sit stacked high on a shelf lining the wall. Our three daughters are older now and we don’t have any need for one of these car seats, let alone five. Donation centers will not take them because the safety regulations allowing them to be resold have expired. I refuse to put the booster seats in the garbage. They are perfectly fine, and they do not belong in a landfill. I post them online.
Marketplace Category: Baby & Kids
Description: Free booster seats to anyone who wants them. I have five. Pick up only. Covers need to be cleaned.
Three minutes pass and my phone dings with a new message.
“Sigue disponible? San gratis?”
“Still available. Yes, they are free.”
“Si me da su direccion porfavor. Yego en 20 minutos. Gracias. Oralia.”
I give Oralia my address. She asks her neighbor for a ride to our house. When they arrive, a little girl jumps out of the car. Her long black hair blows behind her as she runs into our yard wearing nothing more than flip-flops and a thin yellow sundress. I am cleaning out a bag of sandy beach toys from a trip we took to the Outer Banks several years ago. She stares at the doll I’m holding in my hands. It has a mermaid tail and impossibly tangled red hair. I offer it to her, and she clutches the doll to her chest. She shivers. I find a pair of scratched princess sunglasses at the bottom of the bag and give those to her as well. She puts them on and smiles at me.
Oralia is thankful for the booster seats and the toys. She tells me later, once we become friends, that when she was waiting to get into our country, immigration authorities in Mexico captured her. These men take the last of her belongings leaving them with nothing. She lives in a jail cell with her daughter for five months along with fleas and rats. She isn’t allowed to bathe or see a doctor about the tremor she develops. When she is finally granted asylum status and allowed to enter the United States through Tijuana, a woman is waiting for her with offers of work cleaning houses for an American man. This is a lie. Oralia is trafficked as a sex slave, but she manages to escape. She doesn’t want to talk about this part of her journey.
Oralia and her daughter sleep on the streets. They beg for money to eat, but locals are weary of the illegals plaguing their border towns. They are also afraid. Sharing the burden and suffering of our fellow species is too much effort, or inconvenience, or risk. Stories headline the news that humanitarians are being arrested for aiding and harboring immigrants. Showing compassion has become a crime. Denying basic rights such as food, water, and shelter is our new law.
Oralia and her daughter eventually cross the country, making their way to our town. A church takes them in and helps them find a small apartment where they now live. She cannot work legally in our country for six months or until the courts grant her asylum status.
As I watch them drive off with our old booster seats, and doll and scratched sunglasses, a part of me is relieved to have them gone. Guilt is an uncomfortable emotion. Out of sight, out of mind; I can shirk the universal responsibility to improve our deteriorating human ecosystem by looking away. It’s that easy.
This is the first day I feel the pressure tightening in my chest. I send Oralia another message. I ask her why she needs the five booster seats. She tells me she is going to sell them to buy food and a winter coat for her daughter. The next day, I drive over to her apartment with three different coats my daughters have outgrown. The mermaid is sitting on the sofa. Her hair is brushed, and the sand has been washed from her face and body.
When I leave, I think about Oralia and the mermaid, and how our ecosystem is foundering because human compassion is on the brink of extinction. My own insignificance and life of comfort humbles me. I know nothing about the nightmare she has endured, nor how I, as an individual, can possibly make her life better.
But my community does, and they rally behind her. My quiet plea for assistance yields the help of a local immigration attorney who offers her services to Oralia pro bono. Other friends adopt the family for Christmas, and they buy gifts for the small girl who worries that San Nicolas will forget her again, like he did last year. A woman I’ve never met, hears of Oralia through a teacher at my daughters’ school. She speaks Spanish and knows of local agencies that guide newcomers through the complexities of the social and domestic life in our country. We shake hands when we meet and drive over together to see Oralia. When I glance over my shoulder, I can see the back of her car is full of food and toiletries. We unload them when we arrive. Oralia asks her to translate for us and we finally talk.
Oralia calls me her angel sent from God. I am not. The heaviness in my heart remains and I don’t foresee it going away anytime soon. But if I still feel it, and others feel it like me, perhaps this means there’s hope for us yet. Mother nature is capricious, but we control human ecology. We can defend the ideology that kindness is a strength, not a weakness. We do not have to look away. We have a choice and we decide the fate of our humanity. Our dream for a better world can be realized.
About the Author – Kimberly Roda Moorhead
Kimberly Roda Moorhead began her career in publishing and later became an executive in the technology industry. She graduated from Sweet Briar College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing.
While she has over two decades of nonfiction editing and writing experience under her belt, Kimberly’s true passion has always been writing creative fiction. Her work was featured in the book The Butcher’s Block and her short story Pervertman was recently selected as a finalist for the Tucson Festival of Books. Kimberly is currently working on her debut novel, The Silenced Voice.
She lives in Cary and Cashiers, North Carolina.
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**This story by Kimberly Roda Moorhead received an honorable mention in the 2020 Stories of Migration, Sense of Place & Home Contest.
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