Soon the house shook with Celia's snores. To Matt, the sound was as normal as the thunder that sometimes echoed over the hills. It in no way kept him from sleep. "Steven and Emilia," he whispered, testing the words in his mouth. He didn't know what he would say to the strange children if they appeared again, but he was determined to try to talk to them. He practiced several sentences: "My name is Matt. I live here. Do you want to color pictures?"
No, he couldn't mention the coloring book or the crayons. They were stolen.
"Would you like some food?" But the food might be stolen too. "Do you want to play?" Good. Steven and Emilia could suggest something, and Matt would be off the hook.
"Do you want to play? Do you want to play?" he murmured as his eyes closed and the gentle face of the Virgin of Guadalupe floated in the candlelight.
Chapter 3: Property of the Alacrán Estate
Celia left in the morning, and Matt spent the entire day waiting for the children. He had given up hope when, just before sunset, he heard voices approaching through the poppy fields.
He planted himself in front of the window and waited.
"There he is! See, María, I told you I wasn't lying," cried Emilia. Her hand rested on the shoulder of a much smaller girl. "He won't talk to us, but you're about his age. Maybe he won't be afraid of you." Emilia pushed the girl ahead of her and fell back to wait with Steven.
María wasn't at all shy about coming up to the window. "Hey, boy!" she yelled, rapping the glass with her fist. "What's your name? Do you want to play?"
With one blow, she stole Matt's carefully prepared speech. He stared at her, unable to think of another opening.
"Well, is it yes or no?" María turned toward the others. "Make him unlock the door."
"That's up to him," said Steven.
Matt wanted to say he didn't have the key, but he was unable to get the words out.
"At least he isn't hiding today," remarked Emilia.
"If you can't unlock the door, open the window," María said.
Matt tried, knowing it wouldn't work. Celia had nailed the window shut. He threw up his hands.
"He understands what we say," said Steven.
"Hey, boy! If you don't do something quick, we're going away," María shouted.
Matt thought desperately. He needed something to interest them. He held up his finger, as Celia did when she wanted him to wait. He nodded his head to show that he agreed with María's demand and was about to do something.
"What does that mean?" said Emilia.
"Beats me. Maybe he's a mute and can't talk," Steven guessed.
Matt raced to his bedroom. He ripped the picture of the man with the bullfrog sandwich from the wall. It made Celia laugh. Maybe it would make these children laugh. He ran back and pressed the newspaper against the window. The three children came close to study it.
"What's it say?" asked María.
"'Ribbit on Rye,'" read Steven. "Do you get it? It's a bullfrog going ribbit, ribbit, ribbit, and it's between two slices of rye bread. That's pretty funny."
Emilia giggled, but María looked uncertain. "People don't eat bullfrogs," she said. "I mean, not when they're alive."
"It's a joke, dum-dum."
"I'm not a dum-dum! It's mean and nasty to eat bullfrogs! I don't think it's funny at all."
"Save me from eejits," said Steven, rolling his eyes.
"I'm not an eejit, either!"
"Oh, lighten up, María," Emilia said.
"You brought me out here to see a boy, and it was miles and miles across the fields, and I'm tired and the boy won't talk. I hate you!"
Matt stared at the scene with consternation. That wasn't the result he wanted at all. María was crying, Emilia looked angry, and Steven had turned his back on both of them. Matt rapped on the window. When María looked up, he waved the picture and then wadded it into a ball. He threw it with all his force across the room.
Copyright © 2002 by Nancy Farmer
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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