From Part 15 of “Dareen: The Story of Nakedgirl”.
Her light brown, delicate shoulders were what one noticed first, as she stood on the ATM line on the outdoor mall on this hot Sunday afternoon. Fiddling with her little purse, grabbing and pulling a couple of dollars from the little front pocket of her tiny jean shorts, slender knees knocking together. She seemed unaware of how one could see the shape of her body so clearly as if she was not wearing even these scanty scraps of covering.
Maybe not all that scanty, though there was plenty of skin. Long black hair combed into ponytails on each side, a backless top that exposed her shoulder blades, down to a narrow waist crossed by the two tiny strings that held her top on. The jean shorts were low-rise, though not extremely so. Still, the beginning of pink panties visibly peeked over the top. Below, a pair of clunky black sandals, maybe five years out of style, completed the outfit.
Dareen, sitting at one of the taco stand tables in the shade of a big umbrella, was enchanted by this girl, obviously still in her teens. There was something about her that kept Dareen’s interest. Besides the fact she was undeniably beautiful, and pretty too, as she saw when the girl turned briefly, brushing back a strand of hair as she moved from fourth on line to third.
Her skin was maybe a shade lighter than Dareen’s and she looked Hispanic. Though there were many kids her age around, she seemed to be alone, and sad somehow. Or at least very serious. And now two guys walked past and one said, “Nice thong.” Dareen burned; she had been the subject of many unwelcome comments from guys, though with her mostly concerning her breasts.
Indeed the girl’s panties were increasingly making a showing over the hollow of the her slender back and they were thong style, though a little wide as thongs go. Dareen had never tried thong panties, the idea seemed so uncomfortable.
Obviously hearing the remark, the girl reflexively tugged up her shorts and the thong disappeared. She slouched forward, arms moving a little to the front. Dareen knew the gesture well, a sign of trying to hide one’s body. This girl was modest, like Dareen herself, who felt a sisterly affection for this child. Yet . . . why was she so scantily clad? Dareen was glad for the shade she was in but still hot in her kerchief, long-sleeved blouse, long skirt, socks and sneakers; she might as well be wearing a burka, she often told herself. She felt both envious and grateful, comparing her coverings with the girl’s.
The girl got her money and went over to one of the flea market tables near where Dareen was. There was the usual summer stuff (little tops, shorts, flip-flops) that other teenage girls were going through. The girl came to something, then hesitantly picked it up. It was a truly tiny short short, low rise and cutoff at the same time, maybe wide enough for her little teenaged hips, but hardly any longer than her hand. The girl put it down, looking desolate.
She came over to sit at the table, facing away from Dareen, slouched over, elbows on her knees, every vertebra visible in a graceful curved line. And then when she turned around to put her purse on the table to rearrange it, Dareen saw that she had tears in her eyes.
The surprised Dareen said, “Are you O.K.?”
The girl bravely wiped the tears away and said, “Si. Yes.”
“You don’t look O.K.”
“I . . . ” The girl couldn’t get out a sentence. She cried and hid her face and began to get up and run away.
Dareen jumped up and held her. It was the only thing for a big sister to do. “I don’t like seeing a girl like you crying. My name’s Dareen. What happened? Should I call someone?”
The girl looked at Dareen through a thick veil of tears. “Que pasó . . . What happened to me . . . I don’t know.” She had a thick Hispanic accent. Despite more prodding she kept shaking her head. “Let’s go for a walk,” Dareen said, but the girl quickly refused that idea.
After some prodding she did go along with Dareen’s offer to duck into the nearest restaurant for an ice cream. And was relieved when Dareen picked the booth way in the back.
“What’s your name?”
“Lourdes,” the girl said.
Dareen went through the preliminaries of ordering the ice cream sodas and it was only when they were into sipping them that she tried to play therapist again.
“You seem like a modest girl,” Dareen said. “So am I.”
The girl crossed her hands to cover her bare shoulders and bowed her head. “I don’t like to dress like this so little.”
“Why do you do it then?”
“I have to. Since that ‘thing’ happened a few weeks ago clothes bother me more and more. I get sick from wearing so much. Ay, Dios mio . . . My fathers think I am turning into a . . . puta.”
“Your fathers?” Dareen thought back to her rudimentary knowledge of Spanish. “You mean your parents.”
“Sí, lo siento. My parents. They are muy tradicional.”
As she began to open up Dareen found out her story. It turned out that Lourdes and her family had immigrated from the Dominican Republic on a work visa two years ago. She had just turned 18 but because she had been through remedial English, she still had an extra year of high school to complete. She had been to a doctor about her condition but he concluded it was psychological, which just tended to confirm her parents’ suspicions that she was turning out like her older sister, who had gotten into drugs and prostitution and was just now straightening herself out.
And Lourdes was illegal. Her whole family was. Last year they received a letter at their old apartment stating that because they had missed an appointment they had 30 days to leave the country. The appointment letter had never gotten to them, not surprising because in their old place the mailboxes were always broken and mixed up. Dareen thought of the new law that schools had to report any illegal immigrants among their students. Fortunately, as Dareen had read, the principals in downtown schools, which were attended mostly by immigrant children, were not cooperating.
“My work, they give me pain too,” Lourdes said. She worked stocking shelves at a shoe store. Her boss had made hints that if she wanted to keep her job she should be dressing more conservatively.
“I want to, much, but I just can’t,” she said tearfully. “I get the more sick, I can’t breathe, I vomit. At first it was just long mangas?” She made a motion with her hands.
“Yes. Then I couldn’t wear sleeves at all, I had to wear tank shirts. I couldn’t wear shoes anymore, or socks, now I have to wear sandalias all the time. It’s just getting the more bad. I don’t feel heat, it’s more an allergy. Or something. Ever since that big rain.”
“Yes. I went with some friends to a party out in Two . . . Park de Two Rivers?”
“Two Creeks Park?” A big park just south of the city.
Dareen felt the hair on her scalp stand up. “What happened?”
“Big lights, lightning I mean. After it got dark. I ran away but then I felt like insectas all over me and it raised me up.”
It was as if Dareen’s question and the answer were pre-scripted, she was watching herself and Lourdes as if in a movie. “What day was that? Do you remember?”
“I can’t forget. The twenty-six of June.”
Dareen looked Lourdes in the eye, a look that puzzled the young girl, of course. Then the girl put her head in her hand and sniffed back tears.
“I don’t know what to do. It is the more and more bad.” She squirmed in her seat. “I can’t wear anything on my back. These pants are so low, but they feel like choking my waist. I have to get even more short, lower rise. And my,” she looked around and whispered, “my panties, I hate to wear thong, but even that is too much.” She sat up, crossing her hands onto her bare shoulders again. “I have to get more and more shame, I will lose my job, my parents think I’m a puta, and how will I go back to school like this?”
Dareen took off her kerchief. “Here, put this on.” And she put it onto the bare shoulders of the longing girl to cover them. It took only a second, of quaking and sudden paleness in the girl’s face and blotchy redness and the awful rash that immediately covered her features, for Dareen to be convinced of the girl’s plight. It was very frightening. Dareen pulled the kerchief back and within two seconds Lourdes was back to normal except for having to catch her breath.
Dareen suddenly knew herself on a mission. She took out a pen and wrote her number down. “I want to help you, Lourdes. I am your friend. I want you to call me any time you want to talk.” She thought for a second. “I want us to meet every week. How about here?”
Lourdes’s frightened look made Dareen realize that she didn’t want to be out where people congregated if she could avoid it.
So Dareen walked Lourdes to her car and drove her to the apartment.
Elly was there. “This is my friend Lourdes,” Dareen said. Then said quickly, “I’m tutoring her, she’s from the Dominican Republic.”
“Where is that?”
“Near Cuba.” Dareen, always good with maps. Elly was about to make a playful comment about all Hispanics being the same to her, but remembering her frequent complaints about white people mistaking her for an Arab, she held her tongue. Dareen and Lourdes and Elly hung out, watching TV. They got a kick out of the novelas, the soap operas on Spanish TV. Lourdes seemed to forget about her predicament the typical teenage girl in her came alive. She was explaining the characters and the plot, but of course, soap operas are the same the world over and no translation was needed. Dareen waited for Lourdes to say something about her condition to Elly but she didn’t. Lourdes apparently wanted it to remain a secret.
Dareen brought Lourdes home, a neighborhood with run-down apartment buildings and lots of little kids playing on the dirty sidewalks and loud salsa and merengue music blaring from seemingly every window. Before they got to the corner Dareen saw a small public library branch and, thinking quickly, told her she would be there every Wednesday at 7:30. As they said good-bye they hugged. And then Lourdes, carrying her purse over her bare shoulder with her backless top and short shorts, clip-clopped up the stairs in her clunky sandals, up through the front door, its lock broken, hanging half-open.