Valentina

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My head of dark black curls bounced up and down as I walked down the busy side walk, I listened to the cars honking and the people driving them shout at each other, the loud old school bachata playing somewhere not to far away, and kids screaming while they run around chasing one another.

The newfound heat from the summer sun burned down a thin layer of warmth and sweat to my brown skin. I felt the thin metal from my hoop earrings graze my neck. My exposed arms stayed at my sides while I walked down Vyse and 180th noticing the slight sway of my hips and my swift pace "relax, this summer will be different" I told myself . People were everywhere people could be. Much to my dismay, and before anyone new it, summer had begun.

The heat was unforgiving and I felt my thick curls start to stick to my forehead. As I got closer to my destination, I guess the discomfort was visible on my face because I soon hear a deep voice spit

"you too pretty to be frowning like that Mami"

I continue walking away from the men, doing my best to ignore them, when I hear

"ok fuck you then bitch"

I walk away proud and confidently and pretend I don't hear any of it, it almost makes me laugh. My brown eyes shifted from the street light to my sneakers a few times until I crossed onto Daily ave and walked toward my building. They were constructing a new apartment building across the street from mine. The company who owns the property is raising the cost of living all over the neighborhood. Although it benefits them, and brings rich white people to the South Bronx, it comes at the expense of the locals. These people, their parents, or grandparents immigrated here and they were the ones influenced the latin culture here. It wasn't fair that they would be tossed out like trash. When I walked up to the 13 story structure, I patted my pockets for a key to enter the building when I remember that my mother took it away from me for sneaking boys into the house while she was at work.

"Fuck" I say out loud. No one was around to let me in. I called my brother to see if he could buzz me in or come down but he didn't answer. What's new.

When I see a figure walk towards me from the other side of the door after waiting for a few minutes, a smile of relief sweeps my face. 1 figure turns into 3 when I notice more people. As they came closer, the three men became clear to me. What remained unclear to me, was the language they were speaking. As I got their attention, they walked over to where I stood and one of them reached for the door, to let me in.

"Thank you so much I've been waiting out here for forever" I chuckled with a smile still plastered on my face. He smiled back

When I got a good look at the person who opened the door, I quickly began to get nervous. "Just relax " I thought as I straightened my posture. The tall boy had a lean muscular build with wide shoulders. His lips had a red tint that stood out against his pale white skin. His eyes were the bluest eyes I'd ever seen. I snapped back when I heard a deep voice.

"Don't mention it, miss" He spoke with a mild accent as he politely held the door open for me. He stared at me hard up and down while I walked through. And I looked up at him through my thick black lashes. I moved my hips ever so slightly hoping to catch his attention as I passed his gaze, trying to hide my nervous interior. We took one last look at each other's faces before he turned around slowly.

He walked back over to his two friends and they continued to speak their mystery language. I was fairly Disappointed that he did not try and spark a conversation with me. The rough sounds and deep monotones they emitted clicked in my head, they're speaking Russian. As they walked out the building I realized they were all wearing the same uniform, construction boots, blue denim jeans splattered with dust and paint, and white tee shirts. "They must work across the street" I thought to myself. While walking up the steps to my apartment door, I banged on it hoping someone would hear. "Im coming, damn!"- my brother. He greeted me with a kiss on the cheek, a gentleman, just how our papá had taught him. He asked how my day was and not even 2 minutes in to me talking, he said

"Oye, Valentina, I have to go drop something off in Harlem, don't open the door to no one, Mami's working a double" such a gentleman.

"Something, what's something? you know Mami gets worried about you getting involved with drugs and shit" I reminded

"Listen, you know I don't like doing this shit either but I gotta help ma out somehow." He said with shame in his eyes.

"Go work at at a fucking McDonald's, pendejo."  I would rather him work a shitty fast food job than risk his life and future.

"Just Be safe Bruno" I told my idiot brother.

"Always" he assured.

And with that he was gone. And I was alone again.

******
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