Ana woke up early Wednesday morning. Her alarm was set to sound at six, but the smell of pork and cornmeal prematurely pulled her into consciousness, and for one brief, melancholy moment she thought she was back in Soyapango. But no, it was just her tía in the kitchen making pupusas.
She glanced out the window and saw it was raining. She lived with her tía Blanca and two of Blanca’s sons in a three-bedroom apartment in Hyattsville, just off Highway 1. Ana showered quickly and threw on some clothes. She barely used makeup anymore. The first six months she was here she spent an hour in the bathroom before leaving the house, but she slowly began to realize that girls here didn’t try so hard, especially the gringas. Or they did, but only when they were going out on the weekends or something.
Ana shuffled into the kitchen. “Buenos días, tía,” she said, yawning.
Blanca spooned some Nescafé into a mug, poured hot water over it, and handed the mug and spoon to Ana. Blanca had a worried look on her face as she shoveled the pork and pupusa onto a plate.
“That payaso malvado won,” said Blanca.
“Sí,” said Blanca, not meeting Ana’s eyes.
“So, what does that mean?”
“We’ll see. Maybe we’ll all be sent back,” said Blanca.
“Que mierda,” said Ana. “I feel like I just got here.”
“Well, you need to focus on saving money. No more eating in the calle. And you shouldn’t go to Nueva York next weekend. You can’t afford it,” Blanca said.
Ana had a prima in the Bronx who kept messaging her on Facebook and telling her to come up for a visit. Her prima’s feed was filled with photos that made her life look fancy and important. Ana figured it was mostly for show, but there was this one photo. Her prima was on some old-looking bridge with the New York skyline behind her. She was standing between two friends and hanging on their shoulders. She looked good, a little chubbier than Ana remembered her from the old days, but good. Whoever took the picture caught her mid-laugh. It was one of those deep laughs that put everything on pause and completely reorganized the day.
The last time Ana could remember laughing like that was when her brother was still alive. It was right around the time he first started running with those malandros and getting into trouble. He had a little bit of money all of a sudden and some flaca around the corner started paying attention to him. One night his flaca was sitting with him on the front stoop and Ana and her friend Laura climbed up to the roof with a bucket of water, and when her brother made his move on the girl they doused him. She laughed so hard she thought she might pass out. Her brother, of course, was furious and walked around the house cursing her and punching her arm for the better part of a week.
Ana finished her breakfast and headed for the door. “Ya me voy,” she said.
“Oye,” said Blanca. “Be careful today. My friend Isabel said some racistas vandalized her church last night. They painted a bunch of swastikas and wrote ‘Go Back to Where You Came From’ on the front door.”
“So what should I do? I have to go to work,” Ana said.
“I’m just saying, if you see some blanco loco on the train, stay away from him.”
Ana rolled her eyes. “Ok, tía.”
She did the 20-minute walk to the Metro, fighting with her broken umbrella most of the way, and took the Green Line headed downtown. Ana worked in a sandwich place near McPherson square. The owner was a man named Mr. Kim.
When she first started, Mr. Kim was going to put her in the kitchen, but when she told him she’d studied accounting for a year in the university he decided she should work the register. She made minimum wage just like the guys in the kitchen—one mexicano and two guatemaltecos. Sometimes Luis, the mexicano, made jokes about her ass, or more accurately, her lack of one. She thought he might be trying to flirt.
The trip to New York would be the first real thing that was hers since she’d been here. The bus ticket to New York was just $20 each way and Ana had $150 saved. All she needed was for Mr. Kim to give her next Friday off. She usually helped her tía out with her catering business on the weekends, but she could get out of that.
Ana walked into work and the familiar smell of beef and onions had already filled the place. Luis was behind the counter smiling. “Did you pack your bags yet?” he asked. “Ese pinche payaso racista is going to deport us all.” Ana ignored him.
She hung up her jacket and started to walk back towards the office. She hadn’t quite figured Mr. Kim out yet. He was serious to the point of severity, even with his wife, who also worked there. One time, when Ana didn’t feel well, she had asked to go home early and he had insisted that if she didn’t need to go to the hospital she should stay and finish her shift, which she did. Then again, she occasionally caught him giving free meals to some of the homeless guys who would wander in off the street.
The office door was cracked open and there was Korean music emanating from the behind the door. Ana knocked twice and waited. No one answered. She waited a second more and knocked a little more loudly and a voice said “yes?” Ana pushed the door open slowly and Mr. Kim fixed her with an expressionless stare.
Kyle Burk was raised in Southeast Missouri but has been a D.C. resident for 13 years. He spent the better part of his twenties living and traveling throughout Latin America. Burk has a master’s degree in international relations and works as a writer for the Mexican Embassy. In his free time he also volunteers at Capitol Hill Books.
Read more from our 2017 Fiction Issue here.