The sun set sleepily over the quaint town. Houses grew dark on the cobblestone streets and horse traffic became sparse. Colorful curtains were pulled over windows and the cracks in clay huts dissolved with the falling sun.Agustin trudged down the small path, ignoring any greetings from other townspeople. His head was bent and his hands were shoved into his pockets.
“Stupid town. Stupid Hernán” he snarled under his breath. He crossed the road and entered the poorer part of the town. Toothless women and rugged men nodded their heads at the visibly upset pickpocket, who in return offered a short, displeased grunt.
“What’s up with the young Vasquez boy today”? Mrs. Imelda, his neighbor, murmured to her husband. Agustin ducked his head lower and bit his tongue from snapping back.
“Keep quiet! You don’t want him to hear you Imelda”! Miguel, her husband, admonished. The woman bent her grey head and nodded, rocking gently on the wooden chair.
“I pity him” she said. If possible, Agustin hunched lower and clenched his dirty trousers.
“Why”? Miguel asked.
“He’s such a young boy and to be burdened with a sister who’s good as dead. Why if that was me-“.
“She’s not going to die so watch your tongue”! Agustin snapped. Mrs. Imelda’s eyes widened.
“I-“. Agustin cut her off with a stern look. Miguel receded slowly into the shadows, wary of Agustin’s wrath.
“Repeat it again Imelda. I dare you” he snarled. Mrs. Imelda visibly gulped, her eyes shining in fear.
“I meant no harm Agustin. I was just saying-“!
“If you don’t have anything good to say then don’t say it! I’m the one keeping this worthless pack of a village fed so I’d suggest you be careful with what you say” Agustin growled. Mrs. Imelda nodded, and with one final stern look, Agustin receded into the shadows of the alleys.
“Why do I even feed her family? Bad mouthing my sister like that”! Agustin asked himself. He dragged a dirty hand on the wall, slapping any excess rocks from the cracked clay. He took a deep breath to control his nerves. His hand closed into a dark fist as he neared the clearing.
“No. She has children who deserve better. They need to eat and be properly taken care of” he said, repeating the phrase over and over to himself. He dragged his tired body to a small, isolated house close to the edge of town. The clay was cracked and dusty. The roof was built hastily out of dried sticks and mud. Broken bits of bricks rounded to top and a wooden porch stood proudly in front of the structure. But that wasn’t what made it home. His eyes lit up when he saw her.
Dora Vasquez sat idly on the small steps. She leaned her head back, the dry wind blowing her hair gently around her. Her brown eyes gazed up gently at the sky and her hands twisted each other on her lap. She sat with a sense of peace and formality that it made Agustin forget his earlier anger.
“Dora”. He breathed, sighing with relief. Her face was still blotchy with rashes and he could tell with how stiff her shoulders were that she was in pain, yet she still waited for him, just like she always did.
“Agustin” she whispered kindly. He ran to her and scooped her in his arms, twirling his younger sister around in a circle.
“Be carful Agustin! I’ll throw up again”! Dora admonished quietly. Agustin laughed softly and pressed a loving kiss on his sister’s forehead. He hefted his arm up to hold her head and carried her inside.
“What are you doing outside mi vida? You’ll get even sicker in the cold” he asked. He placed her on the small bed and covered her up to her chest. Dora smiled.
“I wanted to make sure you got home alright” she said.
“I’ll always come home to you Dora. I’m not leaving you like they did”! Agustin said firmly. Dora nodded.
“I know...but...” she bit her lip and Agustin noticed that her eyes were dark and glassy.
“Here. Drink some water”. He handed her the cup by the bed and Dora drank it eagerly. Agustin sighed.
“I’d get a doctor, but I’m not sure...” he didn’t finish.
“You don’t what to hear what he has to say, do you Agustin? You don’t want to accept the fact that I’m going to die” Dora asked. Her voice was raspy and Agustin pushed the cup up to her lips.
“No” he finally said. His voice was filled with hurt and pain, but he blinked it away. “I don’t want to know that you’ll die, because you won’t”. His voice became more firm “I’ll find a way to cure you”.
“How”? Dora asked. Her voice broke and cracked and the rashes on her body became more visible with each gulp. Agustin winced, his heart squeezing at the sight of his near dead sister. The girl who he’d taken care of her entire life. He wasn’t about to let fate snip her life line.
“I’ll fine something” he said again. He stroked her hair, ignoring the bumps and pinches when the rashes brushed his hands. Dora sighed.
“But can you please get the doctor? I’d like to at least know how long I have left” she whispered. Agustin clenched his jaw.
“You’ll live Dora. You have to believe that. For me” he pleaded.
“Please? Get the doctor”? Dora asked again. Her eyes dripped with wetness and Agustin wiped them away with his thumb. His heart clenched tighter and he willed the tears away. He couldn’t cry in front of her. He had to be strong for her!
“I will my reinita. I will” he murmured. Her moved to lay next to her, relishing the feeling of her living body in his arms; her heartbeat beating gently against his. Agustin felt a light push against his chest. He looked down a saw Dora trying to push him away.
“What’s wrong Dora”? He asked.
“I don’t want you to get sick Agustin” she mumbled. Agustin gripped her tighter.
“No! This could be my last chance to hold you alive! And if you die, then I’ll know that I will follow soon after” he said.
“Don’t waste your life on me Agustin. Enjoy while you can” Dora pleaded. Agustin shook his head defiantly.
“No. I-I can’t live without you Dora. No matter how hard I try, the only person I can ever think about while doing anything is you”! He said. Dora remained quiet. She laid back gently against her older brother, enjoying quietly the small strokes he laid on her hair and the warmth he emanated.
“I don’t know why so many people dislike you” she murmured. Agustin stirred.
“What did you say”? He asked gently. Dora sat up to look him in the eye.
“The townspeople are blind” she said. “They don’t see the kind man you are Agustin. They don’t see the boy who’s willing to do everything for his sister. They don’t see the boy who slaves away everyday to not only feed his family, but his community too. They only see a disruptive pickpocket in their perfect world. They don’t see the brother I love”.
“That means so much to me for you to say that Dora” Agustin said. He kissed her hand, then her cheek and her forehead. Dora scrunched up her nose.
“It’s true Agustin. You’re my hero”.
Darkness blanketed the town and all was quiet on the roads. Agustin slept soundly next to Dora, the only noise of comfort for him the sound of her harsh breathing. He sat up and pushed some strands of hair out of her face, wiping away the sweat that had beaded onto her forehead.
“You’ll live Dora. I promise I’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that” he said. He thought back to Hernán’s visit earlier that day, when he’d said he lost someone or something important to him.
“What could he have lost”? Agustin wondered. His voice was hushed, for fear Dora would wake up. “What man like Hernán could ever cherish something so badly it’d pain him to be lost”? He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and turned to look out the small window. The moon radiated soft light onto the small, rubbish like village. Agustin turned a skeptical eye to Mrs. Imelda’s window. The candle glowed softly by the pane, and shadows danced around it.
“How can someone be up at this hour”? Agustin grumbled. He moved to get out of bed to put a rag over the window, but as he did so, Dora shot up in bed and began violently coughing. She put a hand wildly to her throat and her food from dinner spilled onto the bedspread.
“Dora”! Agustin cried. He reached to pull her hair away, his hand brushing the nape of her neck.
“Damn”! He jerked his hand back. She was burning up. The welts on her body seemed to have grown bigger and she cried out when another wave of vomit spilled from her mouth.
“Agustin! Help”! She cried weakly. She arched her back in pain and gripped the blankets as she threw up again.
“I’m trying Dora I’m trying”! Agustin exclaimed. He rubbed her back and tried to calm her throat, but vomit wouldn’t stop coming out.
“I-ca-n’t brea-th Agustin”! Dora screamed. Agustin’s head whipped to the window. Lights began flickering on and people crowded to their house.
“Agustin”! Antonio’s worried voice called through the door latch. “What’s going on”!
“Help! It’s Dora! I don’t know what to do”! Agustin cried. His own tears came spilling as Dora threw up again, this time mostly bile and spit.
“Hang on”! The door creaked and splintered open as Antonio came barging in, some of the slums people following him. Their eyes grew sympathetic when they saw Dora.
“What do we do”? Agustin asked. He pulled at his hair and Dora retched again, her eyes rolling back in her head.
“Someone go get Doctor Lopez. Agustin, let’s get Dora to stop vomiting”! Antonio ordered. Agustin nodded.
“You’ll be fine Dora” he whispered. Antonio opened his mouth to say something, but shut it when he saw a vulnerable pain in Agustin’s eyes.
“She’ll be fine” he said, though he could feel his own voice betray him. He helped carry Dora to a clean bed and gave Agustin spare clothes to change her into. Once they finished, they tapped her back and rubbed it slowly, willing the vomit back into the pit of her stomach. Agustin didn’t look her in the eye. She was stiff in pain and her eyes were bloodshot. Bumps and scabs ripped her once smooth brown skin and spit covered her face.
“Here”. Antonio gently wiped her mouth with a wet rag. There was a quiet rap on the doorpost and Agustin glared at the newcomer.
Doctor Lopez strode slowly into the room. His bird-like mask was strapped to his face and his heavy black coat was draped over his shoulders. He carried a small medical bag and immediately went to Dora’s side, lifting her arms and legs for inspection. The slum people had by now retired to their homes, offering few quiet words of sympathy to Agustin. He ignored them.
“How long has this been going on”? Doctor Lopez questioned.
“About a month now” Agustin said. Doctor Lopez nodded and checked Dora over again before packing his things and motioning Antonio and Agustin aside.
“Well, I checked her for signs of any disability. She seems to have none thankfully. However...” Doctor Lopez glanced at Agustin, pitifully. Agustin’s stomach dropped and his eyes rimmed with tears. He blinked them away. He knew what Doctor Lopez was going to say and his body filled with dread. He covered his mouth.
“No! No please no”! He cried. Antonio placed a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. Agustin shrugged it off and grabbed the doctor’s collar, looking him dead in they eye through the ridiculously large goggles. “Tell me you’re lying”! The doctor bit his lip and looked away, then looked directly at Agustin. “-I’m sorry, but she has smallpox. She’s not going to make it”.