Esperanza was born on Christmas Day in Ojocaliente, Zacatecas. The delivery was uneventful until the midwife, Señora Mondragón, saw the child’s eyes. The Señora looked up at Esperanza’s father, Don Eduardo, and then to Esperanza’s mother, Doña Ángeles, and said, “Disculpe, pero—who in your family has green eyes?”
Puzzled, Doña Ángeles responded, “Why, no one.”
The first thought that came to Señora Mondragón was that the Doña had been unfaithful. Right away, she asked that Don Eduardo give the mother and child time to bond. The father, not knowing what was normal in childbirth, easily agreed and left the room.
“Forgive me, Señora, but I must know. Have you stepped out on your husband at all?” the midwife asked.
“Of course not,” the Doña responded. “How could you ask such a thing?”
“Perdón, Señora, but I had to know for sure.”
Besides being a midwife, Señora Mondragón also served as the town’s lie detector. People, usually women, would come to her with the accused in tow and pay ten pesos to ask a question in front of her. She would then simply respond, “He’s lying” or “He’s telling the truth.”
A mother once brought her fat, little boy to ask, “Was it you or the dog who ate all the empanadas?”
“It was the dog,” the fat boy responded.
“He’s lying,” Señora Mondragón concluded.
A young bride-to-be brought her fiancé to ask, “Were you at the whorehouse last night?”
To which he responded, “No.” They always said no.
“He’s lying,” Señora Modragón said.
Once a woman asked her husband, “Did you sleep with that zorra, Anita Rojas?”
Her husband answered, “No.”
Señora Mondragón was forced to say, “He’s telling the truth,” because of the question asked in front of her. But she knew that it was Sofía de la Vega whom he had slept with.
So, when Doña Ángeles answered that she had not been unfaithful, the midwife knew that she was telling the truth.
“This child is the daughter of the devil,” said Señora Mondragón.
“How can you say that?” the Doña asked.
“Because she has the eyes of a serpent!” she said and handed the baby to her mother.
Doña Ángeles gave out a “Dios mío!” and did three signs of the cross before taking her daughter.
Esperanza had green eyes. They were the greenest eyes anyone had ever seen, so uncommon that people thought that they looked like the eyes of Satan—though all anyone had to go by were artists’ renditions of the devil found in churches. Esperanza was not the daughter of the devil, but the dye was cast. She might as well have been.
With the daughter in her mother’s arms, the wet nurse, Lupita, was able to see the baby’s eyes for the first time. Regardless of what anyone said, when Lupita looked into the newborn’s eyes, all she could think was that they were those of an angel. Lupita immediately fell in love with Esperanza, and it was a good thing, because the Doña promptly handed her daughter over to her.
With the baby in her arms, Lupita announced in protest, “This baby is no daughter of Satan.” And with that, as if on cue, Esperanza started to wail and did not stop until the next day when Lupita reported to the kitchen with the baby in her arms.
Hours later, after la comida had been prepared and served, Lupita gathered up the child and exited the kitchen. As soon as Lupita crossed the threshold of the kitchen, Esperanza started crying again and did not stop until the next day when it was time to prepare la comida again.
It didn’t take long for Lupita to figure it out. With the help of the other servants, Lupita turned the walk-in pantry of the kitchen into sleeping quarters for her and Esperanza.
For a while, the house was at peace, and everyone seemed to forget the declaration of Señora Mondragón—until Esperanza learned to walk. The child got into everything within reach. The lower kitchen cabinets were fitted with latches so that she couldn’t access the contents inside them. All decorations and trinkets within one meter of the ground were removed or placed on higher shelves, for fear of them getting knocked to the ground and destroyed. The family even had to give away their prized German Shepherds because Esperanza would not stop collecting dog shit and bringing it into the house.
For the next several years, the only time the house was quiet was when Esperanza was asleep. No matter what happened, though, Lupita never lost her temper with the little girl. And when it came time for Esperanza to say her first word, it was “’Pita.”
Don Eduardo was so distraught by the child’s behavior that he stopped making love to his wife, for fear of creating another devil child. Then one day, after years of tolerating both the little troublemaker and the rumors as to who her real father was, Don Eduardo packed two leather bags and left on a business trip, never to return.
For the next several years, the house of Doña Ángeles never had a moment’s peace—until the day came that Esperanza started school. The relief was short-lived, though. By the end of her second year in school, Esperanza was sent home with a letter pinned to her blouse asking Doña Ángeles not to send the child back.
This was when Esperanza started her first apprenticeship, under Lupita, in her mother’s kitchen. Along with learning how to cook, Esperanza learned how to read. Although she resented her, the Doña couldn’t stand the possibility of having a dummy as a daughter. So she labeled everything in the kitchen with its appropriate word. After Esperanza mastered every word in the kitchen, her mother moved on to labeling items in the rest of their home. The house looked as though Doña Ángeles had died and was hosting her own estate sale, but instead of prices on the cards, there were vocabulary words. Once Esperanza learned how to read and spell the words on every label in their home, Doña Ángeles started giving the child books and insisted that if Esperanza wanted to be in the kitchen, she would have to finish a book a week. It turns out this was all the education Esperanza ever needed.
After several years, Doña Ángeles resigned to the fact that her husband was never coming back. She was also broke and resorted to the selling the antique furniture that decorated her house, piece by piece.
One of the furniture buyers was the widower Don Raúl de la Serna, a foreman for the copper mining company in town. After he first laid eyes on the Doña, Don Raúl came by the house every day to either inquire about or buy another piece of furniture. Within two months Doña Ángeles had her furniture back, even the pieces Don Raúl did not buy, as well as a new husband.
Don Raúl did not think of Esperanza as his own daughter. The wild child was just too much for him. But he did treat her with respect. She was, after all, his wife’s daughter. One Saturday, while peeling chayote in the kitchen, Esperanza got distracted, as she often did, and sent the tip of her paring knife into the end of her middle finger.
Though she was sixteen by this time, she let out a wail as if she was an infant who had just taken a tumble. She cried, not so much because of how much it hurt, but for the attention. Don Raul, who was in the garden, ran into the kitchen to see who was dying.
“What’s the matter in here?” the Don said.
Esperanza, crying and holding her finger in her other hand, shouted, “I cut my finger!”
The Don took Esperanza’s folded hands in his and took her over to the washbasin. As he unwrapped her finger, expecting it to be severed, he couldn’t help but laugh. “It’s just a pinprick,” he said. “There’s barely any blood.” The Don wiped the blood off Esperanza’s finger with his thumb and said, “Look. It already stopped bleeding.” The Don exhaled deeply and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. “Dios mío. You almost gave me a heart attack.” Looking at his thumb he continued, “All that over a little drop of blood.” And then, without any thought, Don Raúl put his thumb into his mouth and sucked the drop of blood off of it.
Later that night, with a look of lust and desperation in his eyes, Don Raúl de la Serna crept into Esperanza’s bed. He slid between her legs and pulled her panties to one side. When she started to protest, he put his hand over her mouth.
By the time Don Raúl finished taking Esperanza’s virginity, he was dead.