chapter 1

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Fly off the ground

Into a cloud

For ...a moment

Watch the people

Wanting to stop

For ...a moment

Play the harp

Become the dream

For...a moment

It was Saturday, the perfect day to listen to harp music and the city noises in the shady park: la Plaza Uruguaya. I could hear a few street vendors almost singing about their fresh pomelo fruits and homemade shoes. The smells of grilled meats and cheese empanadas swirled my nose. I knew the food cart was nearby. My stomach growled, but I held my money tighter in a sweaty, clenched fist. My bum itched, so I wriggled a little into the dirt, making myself a nice butt imprint.

"Stop doing that," Pablo said. "Civilized people might think you have worms." I smiled up at him, knowing he was joking about me itching my bum on the ground. I actually did wonder if I had worms. "Abuelita sent you this," Pablo said, showing me the paper bag he carried and patting me on my braids as if I were a puppy he was greeting. My heart warmed.

"Shh, Pablo. He's playing el Tres de Mayo," I said. "Then he'll play Pájaro Compaña, which sounds like little birds." Pablo nodded, stretched out his legs next to mine and pulled his notebook from his belt. He handed me the paper bag. I grinned. I knew that Abuelita had sent the sweet roll for my birthday. Of course she sent it with Pablo because, like me, he was an street urchin, roaming the streets of Asunción. "Feliz cumpleaños," Pablo said. I grinned at him and pretended to blow out his finger, which he was holding up like a candle.

"Thanks." I was so hungry with all the smells in the air and with the fact that I hadn't eaten that morning, so I quickly divided it, but then I rolled my half back into the wax paper and put it in the bib of my faded, blue overalls.

"Aren't you going to eat it?" Pablo asked, munching the half I had given him with his near starvation. "She only buys you one a year." He licked the sugary syrup from his dirty, long fingers and then glanced in the direction of the little bakery on wheels that sold the empanadas, still hungry. "The best food vendors are set up all over the park. I don't know how you can stand being here." I knew Pablo was thinking about the empanadas with carne molida, peas and cut up hard boiled eggs. I knew I could buy several of the gooey treats right now. I could even buy us large panchos from the modern gas station on our way home. If I showed the clerk the money through the swinging glass door, she would give us the nod to come in. At the back of the store, we could get a long poncho hot dog on a bun and load it with cheeses, sour salad, mustard, corn, and beans. With the money in my clenched fist, Pablo and I could eat well that day, and we needed it. But I just couldn't use it for food.

"I'll eat it later," I said about the sweet roll. His eyes strained to see mine better, probably trying to guess why I hesitated when we hardly ever received treats. "I have the money, Pablo. I want to ask him." We both stared at the harp man, and I swallowed hard.

Pablo nodded and returned to his notebook. He scratched a mosquito bite as if it helped him think. Then he looked at me with eyes that were too old for either of us. Sometimes I wondered why I had chosen such a serious friend. But Pablo and I were alike: we were motherless. His mother didn't love him and mine had left me with my grandmother: my abuelita.

"What if he is as mean as they say?" Pablo said. "He could hurt your feelings." A parrot in the tree above us repeated, "hurt your feelings, hurt your feelings."

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⏰ Last updated: Jun 23, 2019 ⏰

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