I’m in a waiting room surrounded by quiet gringos. All of us do our best to spread out, to give each other as much personal space as possible. We stare at the TV in the uppermost corner of the room, flip through magazines, or play with our cellphones. We don’t talk.
The automatic doors whoosh open and a Latino family comes in. A father, a mother, two young daughters. They are speaking at a normal indoor volume, but not in the hushed tones of people who don’t want to be overheard. They’re speaking Spanish. They glance around the room, even making eye contact with me, before continuing on, unaware that I understand every word of what they’re saying.
I hold my magazine a little higher to hide my smile.
After signing-in with the receptionist, the husband and wife discuss who will go back to see the doctor with the youngest daughter and who will wait in the waiting room with the older daughter. The wife seems to be a good ten years younger than the husband. She rakes her fingers through her hair while snapping her gum. She adjusts her big sunglasses on top of her head and checks each ear to see that her jewelry is still there. She plays with her cellphone, twists the shiny ring on her finger, and then pulls out a makeup bag from her purse – she ignores the children. The husband, a tall, handsome man with wide shoulders and salt-and-pepper hair, tends to their daughters. The little girls ask their father for a snack and it is he who opens the diaper bag and gives them one while his wife, with her legs crossed just-so, touches up her nail polish.
The family’s surname is called. The father stands, hefts the little girl into his arms, and walks dutifully through the door that the nurse holds open. The wife blows on her nails and looks bored.
The older daughter sits across the row from her mother. She holds a plastic toy horse in her hands. The mane and tail are hopelessly tangled. The little girl puts her arms down at her sides – opens her hand and drops the toy horse onto the linoleum floor. Some in the waiting room look up to see what caused the clatter and then look away. The mother puts her makeup bag back into her purse and then pulls her cellphone from the pocket of her tight white jeans with careful fingers, so as not to ruin the fresh polish.
The little girl lets her whole body go limp, and slides from the chair to the floor, her dress getting caught up on the seat and showing her underwear. I smile at her. She stares at me, hard, neither smiling or frowning. Her eyes are a warm fiery brown, and her black curls are as hopelessly tangled as the mane of her toy horse.
She turns to her mother.
“Mamá, yo quiero un juguito,” she says. The mother says nothing in response to her request for juice.
“Mamá, yo quiero un juguito,” she repeats, this time standing and patting the diaper bag which held the snack her father had gotten her earlier.
“No,” the mother answers, without explanation.
“Porqué no, Mamá? Tengo sed. Quiero un juguito de la bolsa, Aquí traemos—”
“No,” the mother answers again, as she types a text into her cellphone and shakes her leg impatiently.
The little girl stomps her foot, crosses her arms over her chest and then slides back down to the floor.
She mumbles in Spanish that she wants her father to come back because he would give her a juice.
The mother tells her to be quiet.
The girl is quiet… but only for a moment. She looks around the room, at all the gringo faces. In accented but very clear English she tells her mother, “I hate you! … and you’re ugly!”
The gringo faces look up at the little girl and her mother, surprised, amused. The mother mumbles in Spanish – calls her “malcriada.”
The little girl smiles in satisfaction, picks up her toy horse, and tries to work her fingers through the tangles in its hair.
Image source: Melissa Venable