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  The youngest child had been crying all night. 
  "How can I rest and be ready for work in the
morning when I can't sleep? Yesterday I nearly 
fell, while spreading the hot tar. It's 
dangerous going up and down the ladder when 
I'm always tired."
  "I'm so sorry," Emma said apologetically, as 
if it were her fault. "He cries day and night, 
because he is hungry, and then he cries after 
I feed him because everything I feed him makes 
him sick. He is so small and so thin for a 
two-year-old. I don't know what to do."
  Juan got up and went for a cup of coffee. When he
returned, Emma continued talking. "My comadre says
he is embrujado and that we must see a curandera. She
knows La India Maria, who lives in the pueblo. Maybe
she could help us. What do you think?"
  "I don't believe in this thing called the evil eye, but
I'm ready to try anything. I can't remember when I
slept the whole night through!" He raked his fingers
through his hair and grumbled more.
  "It's not the baby's fault. The only thing which
seems to help him is hot tea, te de hierba buena, with
a little honey."
  This and similar conversations were repeated over
and over, and always came to an abrupt end. Neither
parent knew what to do and both felt guilty for their
  The couple lived in an isolated town of only a few
families. The village had no telephone; the roads were
bare dirt, and among all the families there were only
two cars and one old battered pick-up truck. Necessity
made them good neighbors; they shared what they had
and trusted each other. They were all aware of the joys
and sorrows which were part of their daily life.
  One day the comadre came over to see how the
baby was doing, and found Emma crying and trying to
rock him to sleep. They talked of taking the child to
Maria, but they were afraid of having car trouble on
the way and ending up stranded. The comadre decided
to go alone and try to convince Maria to come to
them. After she left the couple tried to figure out how
to pay Maria.
  The family had a small farm with a few farm
animals and a small orchard. At this time of year they
had ripe apples and pears - surely this was enough to
barter with. That's how business was done in this
village, where there was no money.
  Maria did come, and they were glad to see her. She
was a large woman with a commanding voice, and
seemed a little brusque, because she was all business.
She entered the house and asked to see the child. After
a short conversation with Emma, she spotted her
eight-year-old daughter, Raquel, who stood by. "Go to
the chicken house and get me an egg," she ordered.
The child ran out as commanded and returned soon
with an egg in her little hand.
  In the meantime, Maria placed the baby over a
blanket on the kitchen table, and took his clothes off.
With the diaper she made a circle around his
umbilicus. When Raquel brought the egg, Maria broke
it and emptied it over the baby's belly button. He
winced and let out a surprised cry. Maria studied the
egg, muttering all the while, as she moved the yolk
with her finger every which way, as if looking for
something. No one understood her words, or saw what
she saw. After a while she pulled out a hair and
claimed that it belonged to the person who had caused
the brujeria. 
  She assured Emma that the baby would be all right,
but told her not to nurse him any more. She also told
her not to give him any milk unless it was goat's milk.
  The baby slept all night, and so did the father! The
next morning over breakfast, the parents didn't know
quite what to think. The baby was still sleeping, and
the parents were both rested.

  A couple of years later Raquel ran into trouble at
school.  She had always enjoyed her classmates and
they had good times together. Suddenly something
strange happened at recess. She found the other girls
whispering to each other, looking at her from across
the yard. They began to exclude her from games and
conversation. Raquel felt completely alone and couldn't
understand what was happening. Finally one of the
most outspoken of the girls said to her, "Your mother
is a witch! Your mother is a witch!" The others chimed 
in with, "Tu madre es bruja! Bruja!"
  The words hurt her. Raquel's eyes filled with tears.
She didn't know what to say or do. At first she yelled
back, "You must be crazy! My mother never hurt
anyone!" The taunting continued and Raquel ran home
to tell her parents. She could not understand the
unexpected turn of events, even though her parents
could. Raquel refused to go to school the next day. She
hoped it was only gossip, which would go away.
  Her parents knew that Emma was being accused of
having bewitched a friend of hers. A couple had
moved to the village the year before, all the way from
Italy. They were different and didn't fit in with the
other villagers very well. Emma had befriended the
wife, even though no one else in the village did. The
woman was sickly and medicinal herbs didn't seem to
help her. 
  Often Emma and Juan visited them and helped them
with farm work. Emma used to take food, including
soups and baked goods, because the woman could no
longer cook for herself and her family. During the past
winter Emma and Juan saw very little of the other
family, because the distance was too far to walk in bad
  The following spring the woman was very ill, and
her husband spread the gossip that Emma had
bewitched his wife with the food. The village had
heard it all. Raquel was the last to know. 
  Juan and Emma discussed it with each other and
with Raquel. Emma cried. "I've lost a friend, and the
village hates me and is afraid of me."
  "This whole brujeria business is nothing but stupid
superstition!" Juan exclaimed angrily. He turned to
Raquel. "Pay no attention to those crazy girls. It's
meanness! The woman was sick when she got here,
and they have to blame it on someone. There's no such
thing as a bruja!"
  "What about the time La India Maria came and
cured my little brother?" asked Raquel.
  "It wasn't eggs and hair and witchcraft which cured
your little brother," Juan declared. "It was good advice
about what to feed him. He was allergic to your
mother's milk, and cow's milk. When she stopped
feeding him that, he got well."
  They talked until late, and Raquel felt better. But
she wondered if she'd ever have any friends in the
village again.
from Undercurrents:
New Mexico Stories, Then & Now,
© 1998, by Adela Amador

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