What do you do when you suddenly have “no mother and no future, only a broken city?” Meet Mia Genesis Mendez, a little girl whose small world just got smaller: her mother died at Ground Zero less than two days prior.
Stuck inside of her Abuela Mendez’s tight East Harlem apartment with her big brother Carlos, Mia battles against heartache, pain and confusion – and suffers the sting of Abuela Mendez’s belt.
The author has indicated that this book may be inappropriate for children under 13.
East Harlem, Manhattan, NYC, Thursday, September 13, 2001.
“You sitting there like you the queen looking at the ruins of your empire,” Carlos Sebastian Chavez said to his little sister Mia Genesis Mendez.
He watched the 12-year-old empress monitor the ruins of the Twin Towers. A chair pulled from the kitchen table was her solemn throne. The window could have easily been an oriel, a portal to view the lands beyond her castle. Her reality was that she was on the third floor of the George Washington Carver Houses mourning her mother’s death. The only thing that moved on Mia was her flitting eyes, recording every second of an unbelievably horrible reality – no mother and no future, only a broken city.
Mia wiped her nose on the sleeve of a shirt she had been wearing since the morning of the attack. She finally looked at Carlos with reddened eyes and a runny nose. She sniffed in response to his enticement. Carlos tried to give an encouraging smile, but it went unnoticed.
“Your mama was como coco, Mia. She always been como coco.” Carlos’ thick eyebrows perfectly framed the matter-of-fact look on his face as he looked out of Abuela Mendez’s living room window with his little sister, Mia. “She was born como coco,” exhaled Carlos. “And she died como coco.”
“Yeah… I know.” Mia stated as an afterthought.
By the time she answered, he had already walked away and sat at the coffee table in front of the TV.
At seventeen, Carlos had never seen channel 7’s Eyewitness News. He spent all of his waking hours exploring New York City with his friends. After being trapped in Abuela Mendez’s house for the past two days, he could hum the opening jingle, say the opening lines and even impersonate the anchors.
“ABC 7, I’m Bill Ritter…,” Carlos mumbled in unison with the reporter.
The bolts that held the coffee table together could use a good tightening, but the surface was perfect for a makeshift bass drum and snare. Carlos started tapping the beat to Jay-Z’s Izzo using the index finger and the heel of his hand. The King of New York couldn’t keep the Towers from getting hit, but he could keep Carlos sane while being stuck in the house.
Mia had been distant since being told her mother died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. The day of the attacks was a complete blur. One moment, she was in a boring classroom. The next moment, Carlos showed up at the school and took her to their abuela’s apartment. It all happened too quickly for Mia to process.
Gianna Mya Mendez was an old, old woman born in Puerto Rico. She and her daughter Lia Cristina Mendez never got along, and she rarely saw her grandchildren as result. When Carlos and Mia arrived at her door, her threat was heard loud and clear: the TV in the livingroom could not be changed from ABC 7 Eyewitness News for any reason. She turned up the volume loudly just in case the terrorists planned on hitting her building in the George Washington Carver Houses next. She said that she refused to be “next.”
They were not allowed to leave the apartment for any reason, especially Mia. Abuela Mendez said she would feed Mia breakfast, lunch at dinner at 6am, 12pm and 6pm respectfully. Carlos could only get lunch and dinner since he was a grown man. If Abuela Mendez wasn’t in her room praying, crying or sleeping, she was cooking and looking for a reason to hit Carlos.
Carlos filled Mia’s emotional absence by humming the bassline of Izzo again. He slowly danced over to the window next to Mia, bobbing his head to the beat. For a few moments, he was free.
Going on her third hour at the only window facing Ground Zero, Mia never took her eyes off the gray smoke that stole the sky’s blueness. Even though the window was sealed shut from layers of paint, the stench of smoke and fear permeated everywhere.
Without turning from her view, Mia said, “She’s your mama, too…”
“But, you want to know one thing about her being my mama?” asked Carlos.
“What…” Mia’s reply came across as a command, just as she intended.
Catching his breath after finally releasing some of his pent up energy, Carlos placed his palms gently on Mia’s window sill. Sweat started to bead across his face as his heart rate slowed down.
“What do you mean what? Why you say it like that?” Carlos’ questions were more like playful challenges.
“Just tell me.” Mia’s distance was unshakable.
“Escucha me.” Carlos stood up straight. “I don’t have time to talk to you like you’re a baby. I want you to hear what I’m saying now so you can use it later.”
Before Carlos could get his thoughts together, Mia inserted, “I got a question.”
“Why do you say my mama?” Mia gazed at him with a darkness in her eyes beyond her years. “And not our mama?”
“Well…” Carlos sighed and looked away.
“I need to know that for later, too, right? Because you said…”
“I know what I said. But…”
“But what? Tell me that. You are telling me everything else about Mama. Tell me that.”
“Ok. Listen.” Carlos took a deep breath and turned back to Mia. “I’m only going to say this once. And once only. Do you understand….”
Copyright© Joey Pinkney. All rights reserved.