Miranda Mendoza was in middle school agonizing about best friends and PE. It was Miranda in the morning thinking of these two things. Edcouch and Elsa were two small towns on the tip of South Texas, twenty miles or so away from the border. Miranda went to Central Middle School, which was located right on the dividing line of Edcouch and Elsa. Elsa was the town with a gas station, a grocery store and the fancier houses. Edcouch had churches, no library and creepy legends like the devil at the dance or the owl that was a witch. Eight graders went to a separate school all to themselves. On the bus, they looked like giants in skin too tight for their bodies. Miranda Mendoza liked school; it was all the other stuff on her mind.
She liked school, yeah. Not being at home. She ate breakfast and lunch there, it wasn’t half-bad either. Away from home. Then there were the books. All the books she hasn’t read.
When the first bell rang at 8AM, you’d better be in your seat. The library was open for 15 minutes in the mornings before the first bell, but with such a narrow window, no one ever visited the library in the mornings. It was open in the afternoons for 30 minutes, from 3:00 to 3:30. It didn’t make sense because classes were dismissed at 3:30. Some days Mr. García, her reading teacher, let her go for the last 15 minutes of his class. But his class was the subject she loved the most, her most favorite class and second favorite thing about school.
The mornings were worse. Her Ma got her up at 6AM. Be at the bus stop by 6:30. They lived way on the other side of Edcouch. She was always the first on the bus. She sat on the third row. First row was Mario, her oldest brother. Second row was always Tony, the middle brother. They never talked on the bus.
She was the third in the family but the first girl. By the time the bus dropped her off after school, it was close to 5PM. She made dinner for her older brothers, two sisters and the youngest brother and baby of the family. Ma sometimes left chicken in the fridge and Miranda learned to season it and then put it in the oven. That was the easiest way she could make it without messing it up. Sometimes it was wienes and if they had eggs, she’d scramble eggs and add diced up wienes. Or French fries, that was easy too. Sometimes the shoestring kind were on sale at HEB, four bags for $1 and Ma would stuff the freezer with them. Miranda had to remember to take them out of the oil before her Ma got home. Once she forgot and the other kids hadn’t eaten yet, when Ma came home and found them sitting in the oil, they were soggy and soaked – good for nothing. “Buena para nada,” her Ma said. The clothes her Ma left in the machine had to be hung on the clotheslines. She’d add some more clothes to the machine, add detergent and see what else needed to be done in the laundry room. She had to do that before her Ma came home and not let the clothes sit for too long. If they sat too long in the machine, they’d start to smell and her Ma could tell. She would push her head in the clothes, “Mira – smell it smell it.”
The sun wasn’t out when Miranda got on the bus. Miranda would open the tiny window to let the breeze in. Her brothers did the same. Before any other kids were picked up, before the bus turned on Baseball Street, before she saw the library to the right – the tiny building with a tiny desk waiting for her – before the bus hit the town, they’d pass the fields. Trucks pulled up, men jumped out from the back, women with handkerchiefs around their necks. She couldn’t focus on any particular face, but in the blur of the bus going by, they were her uncle and aunt who’d gone to the fields of Minnesota or North Dakota, so far away from there she couldn’t imagine a world that far away.
It was only the three of them and the bus driver and the sun painting the world alive.
September 26, 1989
Room 23 – Mrs. Dávila
We are supposed to write about our feelings of the accident in the journal, free write. The bus where the kids drowned. It just happened.
I get on the bus every morning. I didn’t know those kids. They went to a different school. Were they in UIL? What’s going to happen to the stuff in their lockers? I have a mirror, a shirt that was ripped in gym, deodorant. What embarrassing things do those girls have? I don’t want my things thrown away. I have some notebooks with clean sheets in the back. My brother Edgar could use them.
I ride the bus. I ride bus #7, route 6. I wonder how they come up the route numbers.
I ride the bus every morning to school. Dad can’t take me because he’s goes to work. He says there’s a perfectly good ride for us with the bus. Edgar sits next to me. He gets off at Brewster Elementary. When it’s his turn, he gets off, gives me a smile and I watch as he is swallowed up by the rest of the kids.
We’re supposed to write our feelings
About the accident
Because 21 kids like me drowned on the way to school
Edgar and me on the bus, he holds my hand tight tight.
Noemi Martinez is a queer crip Chicana/Boricua lupine mermaid writer and poet living in South Texas. She is the poet-in-residence for Yellow Chair Review. She has a piece of paper that says she earned a grad degree in history and writing but mostly enjoys oil pastels and gesso these days.
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