Pudica Darling. #SOScuba

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Chapter 25

It had been two weeks since Pudica got a job feeding pigs, and she didn’t hate it too much. Her key problem was having to carry buckets of pungent pig food through the mud.
Most of the time she was hungry because she needed a government-issued rationing card to buy things like bread, yogurt, or rice. And the kiosks were so expensive only tourists shopped there. Cari’s family shared their portions with her, but she didn’t want to take a lot from them. They had been kind enough to let her sleep on a hammock in the living room, and she was grateful.
For the eighth round of the day, Pudica grabbed a bucket of rotten rice and banana leftovers and dumped it into a bigger container with palmiche. She added water and held her breath. The next step was blending it, but her mixing stick broke on the first day, so she had to use her hand. Never mind her clothes; she had to wash her only outfit every day since she got to the island.
A pig oinked to her left. It stared at her through the fence.
“Don’t judge me, Cerrucho,” she called the pig between quick breaths. “I’m doing this for Oliver.”
A smaller pig with black spots trotted toward the fence.
“Not you, Oliver. I’m talking about my Oliver.” She giggled, leaned over the fence, and petted the animal. “He’s the most giving human being you’ll ever meet.” Her words made her sigh as seeing her husband again seemed too far into the future. She worried about the tiniest factors—if he slept, if he’s sick, or if he ate. He had to be in Texas, back in his gymnasium. “I miss him like you can’t imagine.” A tear gathered by the corner of her eyes, but the thought ended as Cari entered the corral.
“Good-days, I’m heading to the north village again,” said Cari, unaffected by the stench.
“Gosh, how do you do it?” said Pudica.
“I’m used to the trip already. One of them is recovering from COVID-19, and my supervisor wants me to make sure no one else has symptoms before I’m done.”
“Oh, so it’s temporary.”
“Yes, I need to talk to you about that,” Cari whispered, walking closer to her. “I might have a motive to help you.”
Pudica had predicted her hosts to charge rent. That opened a financial hole, but they were in their rights to do it. She just never expected it to be so soon.
“I hear Cubans can ask for political asylum in America, so my mom and I agree I should come with you,” Cari said.
“Are you sure?” Pudica asked because the statement surprised her. However, it wasn’t a secret why anyone abandoned the place.
“Mami and I struggled since before you stayed with us. A year ago, my father might have given a speech that labeled him as a traitor. We haven’t seen him.” Cari wiped her cheek. “Mami won’t leave without him, but she told me to follow my path.”
“If I make it out, I’m sure there will be enough space for you.” Pudica smiled.
Excitement filled the young doctor’s eyes. “Thank you. I get my paycheck this Friday. With that, and your salary, we’ll pay for a phone card or internet access.”
“Magnificent, Cari!” Pudica hopped and held her friend’s hands when they heard a man shout and point at them.
As the women peered down, an obese pig darted between their legs, toppling them like bowling pins. Covered in mud, they sat up in disarray. Pudica spit and scooped dirt off her eyelids.
The pig squealed. Blood showered out of its neck.
“Oh, my God!” said Pudica.
The yelling man and another worker wrestled the animal.
“Ay, I have to change my clothes.” Cari shook her limbs and stomped out of the corral area.
Everyone’s reaction appalled Pudica. An animal bled, and they were more vexed than concerned. She hurried toward the men in case they required help to take care of the wound. But as one held down the pig, his partner reached into his pocket and withdrew a knife. He gripped the handle and speared the blade into the pig multiple times.
The girl screamed in her head, although no sounds left her mouth. She had never experienced the murder of an animal in Texas. The countless occasions she ate meat, she didn’t consider how the creature died.
Her boss’s business was selling pork sandwiches, of course she knew that. To see death happen just made life more compelling.
She didn’t see the killers as evil. In a place where essentials were scarce, it was unaffordable to do otherwise.
A razor blade appeared in front of her. The man who held it pointed at the dead pig.
“You—you want me to shave it?” she asked, still agape.
“Yes. Paco cut his hand. I need somebody to get the hair out before roasting.”
“No, I can’t. Please don’t make me.” She waved her hands.
“You got somewhere to be?” He grabbed the back of her fist and put the razor on her palm.
With such a minuscule blade and gigantic pig, getting rid of all that hair had to keep her there into the night.
She counted the minutes until she could see Oliver and her parents again.

After dinner, Oliver ran past his god-parents and aimed for a doorknob in their hotel room.
“Where are you going?” asked Betsy.
“I’m wide awake,” said Oliver. “I’ll ask around for Pudica.”
“Hey, the sun’s about to set,” said Robert. “We’ll look for her tomorrow. If you go alone, you might get lost, or worse, mugged.”
“I’ll be careful.” Oliver opened the door, but Robert held his shoulder.
Betsy hugged her godson. “My baby, let’s stick together like we’ve been doing. We can’t lose you, too.”
Oliver sighed with an impulse to run out of the hotel and shout his wife’s name so loudly every person in the country would hear him. Respect for his god-parents forced him to close the door and return to his bed.
“Thank you,” said Robert.
“Yeah, no, you’re right.” Oliver fluffed his pillow and laid on it. He pulled off his belt and left his jeans on. He turned, searching for the right spot on the mattress. Both beds shrank in the vast room of clean mirrors, flowers, and modern art. His wife’s luck wasn’t as great; she had no money or documents.
“Do y'all realize we’re in Cuba and we haven’t tried the famous Cuban sandwich?” He jumped off the bed. He was too full for food, but it was one way to leave the room.
“We’ve just had dinner,” said Betsy.
“I could eat.” Robert touched his belly.
“I won’t spend a lot either. I haven’t been lifting, so I’m not that hungry,” said Oliver.
“Let me get my purse.” Betsy lifted her hair up into a ponytail.
They asked a clerk about the best sandwich shops and he suggested the kiosk market nearby. It was popular with tourists and citizens alike. Public places like these were what Oliver needed. A stunning, blonde girl wouldn’t leave a collective crowd’s memory.
Darkness encompassed the island as they found a taxi to drop them at the location. The market had no name, and every kiosk offered pork as the only meat.
The queue for Cuban sandwiches was long. A perfect setting for Oliver to show Pudica’s picture.
“I’ll be back,” he said, separating himself from the human line.
“Have you ever seen him so in love?” Robert whispered to his wife.
Betsy shook her head. “Let’s buy the food and go to him.”
“Relax. He’s not a kid. He knows he can’t expose himself.”
“Here it’s not like Texas. Any official can ask for documents, and if they find something suspicious—”
“Okay, okay.” Robert rubbed Betsy’s shoulder, watching two policemen join the line.

Pudica dumped the razor blade in a pot of bloody water. She couldn’t care to cover her nose. By the time she had shaved three quarters of the deceased pig, the odor was normal. Mud and hair ran down her arms as she let an oxidized faucet run. There were no towels or sanitizing wipes. The air was sufficient to disperse the water from her arms and her face. She would have to triple wash her jeans by hand and hang them to dry indoors. Georgina and Cari warned her about leaving laundry in the backyard rack overnight—burglars loved to steal them, especially quality jeans.
Life on the island was like learning to walk. In America, dirty clothes came out clean and soft from the dryer in less than an hour. And then detergent—oh, how she missed her cleaning brands, and her shampoo, and her silky toilet paper, and her spongy period pads.
Last week, she asked Georgina for some feminine products. The woman cut an old t-shirt in front of her, folded the pieces into long rectangles and told her to use them. She said women are only allowed to buy a limited amount with the rationing card, and most of the time the pads ran out in two days. The rags gave her friction burns. It was the worst week of her life.
Pudica was thankful. Without friends, she wouldn’t have lasted a day.
The blonde let her bristle hair down over her shoulders. Split ends didn’t bother her anymore. Walking out of the corral and onto the sidewalk, she realized many of the things that irritated her before were trivial. She felt liberated from some negative thoughts that confined women from developed countries: too fat, bad make-up, ugly shoes—she appeared so shallow.
A pain propagated through her left buttock. She clasped it and turned around. A shirtless man with a missing tooth sent her kisses through the air. His three friends cackled from a porch.
“Did you just smack my butt?” asked Pudica.
The men laughed harder at her displeasure.
“Bitch, I’d mount your big ass any day,” said Toothless.
“Fucking moron!” She swung her leg forward into his genitals. The man bent over his groin. His friends ran to him, but not to his aid. They pointed and guffawed.
Toothless held his knees in embarrassment. He couldn’t take his rage on his male friends, so he pulled Pudica into the ring and slapped her.
Tears didn’t stop the young woman from returning with kicks and punches; moves poorly performed, but they confused him enough for the girl to run.
Her feet hurtled toward the brightest light. Toothless grunting and cursing after her. His fingers almost hooked to her tangled locks. The market crowd had to save a defenceless woman.
One block left as she darted through the street. She glanced over her shoulder. Toothless’s palm getting closer. Then her face thumped into something solid, but painless. Arms pulled her behind the frame. As she readied herself to run again, she turned to a raging Oliver, beating the last teeth out of her assailant’s face.
Toothless’s friends yelled from the opposite side of the block. The large, beef-fed American gave the man a last blow and yanked the beauty’s arm toward the market.
“It’s you,” her tongue scrambled to English.
“I found you, pudding,” said her husband.
They raced through the kiosks, jostling into the throng. He prowled around a queue line. Maybe he looked for a hideout. Pudica trusted Oliver, so she didn’t question his behavior.
On one end of the line, Robert and Betsy carried two bags of sandwiches. The girl’s words gathered in her throat, choking at the sight of her parents.
“Act normal, act normal.” Oliver clenched his teeth at his family.
Toothless’s friends talked to the officers and made hand gestures to describe the fight.
The parents looked as if they couldn’t breathe. They formed a brief smile. Oliver shoved them through the crowd while the cops spotted them.

Robert had to bribe the front desk clerk to let Pudica upstairs into their hotel room. The girl was so scruffy they had to call the maids to scour the trail of mud she left on the floor. Until they arrived at the inn, she said not one word. Oliver’s palm glued to hers. The couple had yet to kiss.
The door closed behind them and Betsy squeezed Pudica into her arms.
“Mom, I smell,” said Pudica.
The middle-aged woman gasped. Her cheeks becoming instantly damp.
“I’m your dad,” Robert’s voice brittle, wrapping both women around his arms and sobbing.
“You know?” his daughter cried.
“Do you need food? Are you hungry? Do you want a sandwich?” Betsy lifted the bags, examining Pudica for missing body pieces.
“I am starving, but I should take a shower first.” Pudica scanned the room for her husband. Oliver walked out of the bathroom with a towel and a toothbrush.
“Water’s warm. I left you a change of clothes by the sink.”
Pudica leaped and jumped on her husband. He held her lower back and closed his eyes.
“I love you, Ollie.”
“I love you, too, pudding.”

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