| THE COFFEE PLANTATION|
by Ana Lucia de Leon By virtue of being children, we can sleep anywhere and in the smallest of places. The shared beds have no room for star-sleepers or Shavasana enthusiasts. Instead, we sleep on our sides beyond the painful ants that perambulate our sore muscles. Underneath a mass of blankets, our warm bodies fight the chill of dawn. As always, night gets too cold and day too hot without the help of thermal regulators. Where one starts, and the other ends is lost to the mess of blankets, towels, limbs, and couch cushions. Our room is stuffed. Four rough walls and an uneven floor is a rather minimalistic approach to the space. The scratchy texture of the walls is not a stylistic choice, but an issue that presents no real inconvenience (only occasional broken skin). The faded pink paint is not, by any stretch, adding to the interior design. In fact, terms like Feng Shui and aesthetics have never been spoken in this house. The curtains abandoned long ago the fight to keep the outside from coming in. In its place, rags of fabric drape from naked wooden sticks that performed as broomsticks in other lives.
Night is full of wild noises as the location is voluntarily remote and hidden, and it has never met the artificial sounds of machines and made-up life. Outside, the forest extends for so long it makes us feel like we traveled space and time to a divergent and remote planet. As the moon gives up the center stage for the sun to shine, we exist in profound and sweet unconsciousness.
The internal clock of the old man in the next room marks five, and his eyes unbolt open tired of rest.
“I am going to take them to the field.” His raucous words are lost in the indigo dawn. The only reply a loud snore.
While the house sleeps, he creeps out to the hallway where more people snooze and snore to quietly make his way to the bathroom (accessible only from the outside). He walks the rooms of the house he had built himself despite of the diploma hung on a wall that proclaims his profession is of a teacher. The house by the lake is overgrown; overflowing the side of the mountain to the bottom. Originally meant to be a humble two-bedroom, the house has extended in all directions. Each of its rooms and expansions built separately and to patch holes in different times.
The dark old man has rough skin folded into a million wrinkles. He doesn’t mind the yet-to be-warmed breeze, and just like every morning, he showers with fresh lake water. Per usual, the old man uses a bar soap to cleanse his bent body and thinning hair. The soap is of a generic brand that advertises to be gentle on everything—even the china. After the shower, he pats dry his body with the pants he wore yesterday and then slides them up to his waste. In addition, a clean t-shirt full of holes and a green cap worn shapeless. Then, he walks back into the house he never quite finished. Unpolished walls, chipped paint, and slick cement floor.
In the quiet morning, a high, brisk sound is out of place. One protest lost to the void of morning. Another sound, louder this time cuts through the fabric of dreams bringing us back to the room with the pink walls. The blankets are violently pulled away from our bodies and our extremities get stabbed by the halting night breeze. The sun had no time to warm the chill of darkness. We grump loudly while covering our faces with our hands. The question is raised: Why?! Moaning and rebuttals interrupt the peace of the awaking lake.
“UP!” The old man pulls an arm.
“We have work.” The old man rattles us.
“Coffee will not pick itself.” The old man fires the lone lightbulb.
Full of arguments, we search for our shoes while trying in vain to talk our way out of work, but the old man is not forgiving, not to a group of fourteen half-asleep children, not to a mark in the calendar that declares holiday, not to the fact that Saturdays must be dedicated to active sluggishness. The old man guides us through the rooms and the beds of resting adults. They smile in their sleep for today they have been pardoned. The old man swears off the laziness of our generation (even before we were declared entitled to it) and exclaims his own father would have been up in the mountain hunting hours ago. Still in pjs, we walk in a single line like sacrifices to the gods of sleeping-in.
The evilness of coffee plants is rapidly consented as we pick the red fruit. Taller than most and pushed down by the scarlet orbs, coffee plants scatter in what seems thousands at the back of the house. We stand in front our goliaths with a basket at our feet and with the only weapons that are our fragile fingers. We pick and drop the coffee fruit for what seems like hours still half-asleep and in a slow hypnotizing rhythm. Soon the sun has scared away the cold and our fingers a colored with soil. Colorful baskets filled to the rim replace empty baskets waiting to carry its dues. The old man picks the coffee next to one and then another while hushing words of urgency and killing “fire worms” when one of us screams in fear. The work is not hard but mundane and repetitive. The pjs that covered us during the night begin to suffocate us under the sun.
I look down to my hands. They are darkened and strained by the wild dust. I look down to my blue basket, it is only half-way full of red dots. My pajamas, I notice, are just as filthy as my skin, but the plant that stands in front of me is still ripe with its blood. Around me, my thirteen cousins work their way through more coffee plants and more plastic baskets. I smear sweat forming on my forehead with the collected soil in my fingernails. I know I look as abandoned and tired as I feel, but I must go back to work.
The old man is collecting the fruit in sacks by the edge of the plantation. He pours the content of the baskets into one sack until it is taller and heavier than us. Suddenly, a lone girl wanders from the side of the wall and bites into a tortilla that vapors and spills beans. She looks at us with a hint of amusement in her black eyes. Her hair is up un a messy wavy bun and just like the rest of us she still wears her pajamas.
“Breakfast is ready.” She announces.
We are only thirteen after all. Somehow she escaped our faith.
“We are not done.” The old man threatens with the same black eyes.
We protest by stopping the motions of our hands. An old woman in a dress walks around the wall and stands next to the hairy girl. We wait.
“Come on!” she gestures with a smile. “Time to eat.” About the Author:Luci de Leon grew up in Guatemala City. Inspired by books, she decided to study English Literature in a small town in Idaho. Most of her time is spent in short fiction stories, but every now and then, she will write about growing up in Guatemala, and how the country that never reads inspires her to keep writing.