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Sa Aking Mga Kamay by Sophia Gapuz

Son, Your Mother is Praying for You.

By Amaya Thoene


And I pray for her too, in the lone hours of Monday mornings. I pour myself mugs of Brazilian coffee and toast brown bread, hoping to draw her spirit from the memories under my floorboards. I light incense as Damini, the girl I hope to marry, wakes. Elizeth Cardoso sounds through my bedroom wall, connected to hers, from a record player we found at the Saturday flea market.

Two minutes later, she is knocking on my door, grabbing my hand in hers. This is the first contact we’ve had in four days. Time melts around us, slipping from my aching hands, so I restrict our proximity as best I can. Her smile tempts me to allow myself the pleasure of her company, but this morning is dedicated to my mother, so I settle for smiling back.

Conversation is not one of my gifts, but I’m the kind of person one can be around without speaking. Damini has never told me this much, but she is not one who can conceal her thoughts. I pull her into my living room, placing her cup of Peruvian tea on the stained coffee table. Rain whispers for her from the window, charmed by her in the way everyone is. She is sought after by everything beautiful in this world, but nothing quite so much as rain. It succumbs to her every touch, jealousy ever-present in its loyal following.

I kneel on the rug next to her, our elbows pressed together. Here, my prayer begins. I am pressed into the pages of distant memory.



I lie on the porch of my brother's house in Caetés, Pernambuco, sweat crowding like my grandmother’s teeth. My mother died the Monday before, bestowing this house upon my brother. He is nineteen and married to a quiet girl from Rio de Janeiro. Their daughter is silent as the dead, which she will soon be. Sickness has stolen the words from her throat.

My sister-in-law begged me to sleep in the house, to take the bed by the window, but I refused the offer. I told her I would not watch another girl in my family die, and besides, that bed was my mother’s. She nodded solemnly at this and kissed my head, whispering a prayer against my matted hair.

“I have begun to fear the sight of her: all her baby fat gone, replaced by shadows and the outline of delicate bones.”  

The porch is rotting, giving way to the poverty in the air, the humidity. I press a finger against the softened railing. Quiet footsteps sound behind me and I squeeze my eyes shut, afraid my niece will try to wake me. I have begun to fear the sight of her: all her baby fat gone, replaced by shadows and the outline of delicate bones. A foot nudges my shoulder, compelling me to open my eyes. If it is my niece, so be it. I will lead her back to bed and place a cool, wet cloth on her head, as she is always warmer than the temperature permits.

My niece is not the girl I see. Instead, this girl is the age of my sister-in-law, but the two share no other similarities. She sings Elizeth Cardoso from her throat, strong arms carrying wet laundry from the house to the clothesline. She is barefoot and tall enough that she must stoop to avoid the doorframe. Her foot nudges my arm again and I groan, catching her attention.

This girl is my mother, years ago, youth present in her features. She smiles at me, a braid tucked behind each shoulder.

“Benício, what are you doing on the porch? It’s hot out today.”

She speaks softly, her lilted Portuguese bringing tears to my eyes. Portuguese has sounded wrong since her death—felt different between my teeth—but it is so natural coming from her, even with her thick Peruvian accent and hints of Spanish, her first language.

She leans down beside me, worry creasing her forehead at the sight of my tears. Warm knuckles wipe them from my face and she presses a kiss to my cheek.

Mijo, there is no need for tears. Al mal tiempo, una buena cara.*”

Conversation does not find us, but I relish in her company. I fall steadfast into sleep, calmer than I’ve known in weeks, and when I wake, hours have passed with rain falling on my foot. My sock is soaked through, as are the clothes hanging above my head. I look for my mother, hoping for assistance in wringing out the water from my brother’s work shirts, but she is gone, having departed into the early hours of Monday morning. In her place is my niece, feet dangling over the porch, rain cupping softly in her extended hand. Grief is heavy on her features, an emotion I’ve never seen on a child so young. I turn towards the house, unable to bear the sight, and beckon her in after me. She follows willingly. The only sound is her hollow breathing. Inside, I make us toast and pour her a glass of milk, almost doing the same for myself but stopping, instead stealing cold coffee, leftover from my brother. It is bitter, which is surprising, considering his affinity for sugar. I prefer it this way.

Final words are not attempted by my niece, who will die in two days, her lungs giving out in the heat of the summer night. Instead, she leaves her toast untouched, coming to join me as I sit in the doorframe. She holds my hand in her small fist, sticky from the milk she spilled on herself. Here, we begin to pray.

It is silent and she is shaking with sobs when I reopen my eyes. I find that I, too, am falling apart. This will be our final moment together, the two of us as selfish as children among the dead can be. I wrap the memory in newspaper and bury it beneath my bed.



Mondays draw dust into the air as I am returned to my prayer. My mother’s name, the same as my niece’s, repeats painfully in my mind. Rain greets me, harmonizing with the music in Damini’s bedroom, caught in the middle of “Luciana”. She turns to face me, resting her forehead on mine. My mother’s voice finds me again, folded between raindrops, drowning under Cardoso’s heavy words.

“Death is imminent, Benício. It will not steady if you resist happiness; it will always persist.”

In times like these, I remember my mother in such a raw form. She is young, before children, whispering to me with the knowledge of her older self, slipping between Portuguese and Spanish, attempting comfort with words of both our country and our ancestors. These moments are the most painful, because they are everything I have never been. But in this instant, I accept her advice and compress every thought I bear into Damini’s lips.



And when Sunday evenings call out, Son, your mother is praying for you, I respond. We are praying for you, too, in this American apartment, where we toast brown bread and drink overpriced coffee, our daughter giggling at the rain outside her bedroom window. She carries with her two things tainted by fortune: a Monday morning prayer and your name, carved into her tongue.

*In bad weather, a good face.


About the Writer...

Amaya Thoene is a junior in the Creative Writing department at Harrison School for the Arts. She has been involved in eight public readings since her freshman year and has been published in the Polk County Poetry Anthology. She is a varsity cheerleader and spends most of her free time sleeping out by her pool.

About the Artist...

Sophia Gapuz is a visual artist at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, Florida. She majors in drawing and painting, and explores the world in an emotionally abstract lens, continually searching to create something new.

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