"I moved out of the house that night. Gathered up a few things in a small suitcase, and got out of there. I spent the remainder of that night riding buses from one end of the city to the other. When morning came, I went to a restaurant, bought a newspaper, and found a small apartment far from the university quarter. I told the landlord my husband had recently died, that I was living on a pension. He was happy to have a steady income and a tenant who was too old to cause any damage to his property.
"Someone had to survive to get my daughter back. I was trembling, crying, as I unpacked my pitiful little suitcase. The funny thing was, I was laughing, too. I could not let sorrow get the best of me, immobilize me, or I would be paralyzed. I had to laugh at the sheer insanity of it. Me, a danger to the state. They must be pretty weak to be scared of me or my husband. All these brave men, with their big guns and their pitiful, small, frightened lives. I laughed at them, silently, with malice in my heart. I laughed at them aloud, with tears in my eyes. I pitied them. I was coming after them, somehow, sometime. Hell hath no fury"
"Eventually, I found a job as a practical nurse at the hospital. I got into a routine. But I never stopped looking for my family. When I went home at night, I was alone because of these criminals. My government, trusted to protect us, given the power of force over us in good faith, was betraying our trust. These treacherous, vile people were killing us for mere political power and control. They were murderous thieves, mere banal thieves, killing for money. My daughter was gone, my husband, my son. I would never live again as I had before, because of these inhuman monsters. My life, as I had known it, would never be again. All I had left was my search, my anger, my laughter, my agony, my hate. I went to bed with tears, awoke with anger, and laughed at the angry grandmother I had become."
It was the same strange dream, she knew, even as she dreamed. The horror. Her daughter, in labor, in a green room, on a gurney screaming strangely silent screams, her mouth distorted in a big O, not just pain, but fear, the fear, the certain knowledge they would take her baby. The evident pain in her eyes, her toes curling under as she strained, her body arched, the Navy captain at her side dressed in surgical gown, urging her to push, push. Then her daughter was gone. On the gurney now: the Navy captain, feverish, in turmoil, Maria at his side, soothing, holding a wet cloth to his forehead, the room now yellow, sickening, stinking, filled with the clash of metal as if the surgical instruments were tumbling in a washing machine. She thought if she could soothe him, she could save her daughter and the baby. Then, scuffling and screams, her old kitchen full of troops, the Navy secret police hauling her family out the door.
She awoke in a sweat, the little vegetable seller's boy calling, "papas, papas" in the blue morning, birds singing. She sat up. A city bus went by, the clicking wagon of the sharpening man going by in the street under her window, calling, "Tijeras, cuchillos, (scissors, knives)!" The flutter of pigeons. A still morning, blue skies, another bus went by, the air began to fill with heat and fumes. A radio played popular music in the small grocery down the street.
She put her glasses on, and her robe, then, standing, went into the bathroom, saw herself in the mirror as she rinsed her mouth with water, a desperate face looking back, the teeth of a murderer, she laughed to herself, grandmother with a grudge. Tears welled up in her eyes.
In the kitchen, she made a pot of coffee, found the bread in the refrigerator, sliced it with the big bread knife, and put the slices in the toaster. She went to her purse, found the Kleenex amid the keys that were now mostly useless-- she wasn't going back home in the foreseeable future, the knitting, with its sturdy metal needles, found the little black address book under her new wallet with the false I.D. that had cost her two weeks' wages. The toast popped up, the coffee boiled up into the chamber, she turned down the fire, listening to the birdsong, the cooing of the pigeons on the ledge outside the window. Another bus passed by, the inane, irritating happy chatter droning on the radio. She poured a cup of coffee, buttered the bread, sat back down, dreaming of her husband in his brown cardigan with the bulging pockets. She wondered where he was, where her daughter was, as she ate the bread and drank the coffee, and the air began to hum with traffic and fill with exhaust fumes in the new day's rising heat and humidity.
She finished breakfast, washed the dishes, the coffee pot could wait till she got home. She bathed, and put her hair in a bun, under the net. In the closet were her hospital shoes: white, the white hose, the uniform of a practical nurse. After dressing in plain street clothes, she put an orange and a peppermint stick in her purse and left, an empty shopping bag under her arm. She struggled slowly downstairs, and stepped out into strong sunlight, heavy traffic. The day was warming up fast. She walked to the bus stop and stood waiting, watching the neighborhood come to life. A truck full of troops passed, staring at her. She turned her face away from them just as the bus pulled up. She climbed on and rode it to the suburbs seven miles from her home.
Now she remembered that hopeful day. She had traced the boy through the hospital records and her friends, other elderly women who spoke only to each other as they cleaned the patients, the rooms, the halls , the bathrooms, cleaned the phones, the light fixtures, took out the trash. No one noticed these old women who made the hospital function, cleaning the surgeries, pushing the wheelchairs, dutifully reporting the dead to the nurses after opening the room's windows to let the soul out.
After the troops had stormed her kitchen in the night, after three years of careful searching, she had found her grandson. He had been adopted by a police sergeant and his wife, whom she had traced to a modest home on a suburban street. She had walked by the house after work day after day, looking carefully toward the house so as not to attract attention, hoping to catch a glimpse of the child.
One day she was approaching the house a little later-- she had been held up at work cleaning up after someone's liver had burst, and the woman had left the house leading a small boy. Maria followed them to the park, taking a seat on a park bench, watching the boy, her grandson, she was certain, as he played on the swings, ran around with the other children. The mother had not noticed her, she thought. No one paid any attention to an old woman knitting on a park bench.
For two months, now, she had sat in the park on her days off, knitting, waiting, then watching the boy out of the corner of her eye. The secret police were still a danger. Anyone suspicious could be picked up and taken away, but they never took old women, so far. Other women, bereft as she, had approached her to march in the plaza, but she still had hope and could not afford to be connected with the disappearance of her family. She would maintain her false identity, and stay away from her family's old apartment near the university. As long as no one knew who she was she had hope, she could watch her grandson, and knit, and think.
There was nothing she would not do to get her grandson back. She had thought about murdering the woman who had adopted him. The long, metal knitting needles seemed innocent, but in spite of their innocuous appearance, could have a deadly aspect. She was furious. The loss of her whole family had driven her nearly insane. She felt a barbaric hatred for the police and that included the boy's new family. She had absolutely no compunction about doing anything-- that she could get away with-- to get her boy back. But she could not allow anyone to stop her-- especially the police, who were always cruising the city, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in troop trucks discordantly military in the midst of urban life, a betrayal of the government's obscene practice of rounding up suspected leftists.
Maria's contacts had told her they were actually arresting anyone who opposed them for any reason now-- or no reason other than wealth, a woman's good looks, or even children, who could be sold to needy couples for thousands, or given to favorites, henchmen of the murderers. Teachers, union leaders and journalists who had lost their lives, their property, or their children were not the only targets anymore. The secret police had become a gang of murderers and kidnappers, disposing of anyone who was a soft touch, who had money, who was not "connected," holding some for ransom and dumping others at sea. It was insane. There was no longer any rhyme or reason to it, if there ever had been. It was rumored the military held women who were pregnant until they delivered, then killed them, dumping their bodies, some still alive, out of helicopters at sea, or buried their bodies in mass graves at the soccer field at the stadium, where no one played soccer anymore.
One day the woman sat beside her on the park bench. They exchanged greetings, pleasantries. They talked about the children playing. The conversation turned to the boy. The woman could not have children, she said. They had adopted, they-- her husband had been so happy, and she had been so in love with the little tyke. His name was Ramon, she said. She called him over, and the old woman had seen her daughter's face in his. Remaining silent had cost her, emotionally. She could not bring herself to betray her feelings, to touch the boy. She offered him the orange. He looked to his mother for her approval-- he knew he was not allowed to take gifts from strangers. His mother smiled, nodded, he took the orange from Maria, and she felt a sense of relief for the first time in years. There might still be hope, she laughed to herself, holding back the tears.
She had returned home, to go through her routine at the hospital, living her new fake life, obsessed with the boy, hiding her emotions in laughter, taking no chances, but feeling furious, enraged at the lie she was living. She was the wife of a full professor at the university, and here she was, cleaning out bedpans, changing dirty sheets. In the mornings she saw her true self in the mirror, desperate, murderous, hurt, hurting, living for her afternoons in the park, knitting, watching the police cruise by.