For the past few weeks, her nights in Baltimore have been spent studying the various faces, procedures, and routes she would need to know; memorizing each one in deep detail. Now, this street in Flushing, Queens is as familiar as her street in Baltimore.
Despite the warm June weather Mechteld wears a thin hooded sweatshirt that covers her arms. In public, she always keeps the hood pulled up over a ball cap along with sunglasses and shemagh around her neck. Mechteld is small and very thin. A battered backpack weighs her small body down. When dressed in her hoodie and ball cap many people assume she is a preteen boy.
Mechteld has grown used to the discomfort of always being overdressed in hot weather. It has become a necessity to always keep her body covered and face hidden. One reason is to avoid stares, but more importantly Mechteld needs to protect herself. Mechteld knows people always remember her face. How could they not? She is a monster.
Mechteld snakes her way through the morning commuters of Flushing. She keeps her head down as she passes signs in English, Chinese and Arabic until she comes to an intersection. Ahead of her is her destination, New York Hospital Queens.
From her hospital window, Marquita watches the dozens of people walking on the sidewalk stories below her. She likes studying them from a distance. From this distance the people are silent and she can only assume what each person is like. Watching each voiceless person distracts her mind from the constant clamor from the people in the hospital. As each person passes she wonders if the people will look the same after the surgery.
Everyone keeps asking Marquita if she is scared. The question seems odd to her. Of course she is scared. Soon doctors will be operating on her brain while she is still awake. The doctors have told her the surgery has many risks. She could lose her ability to speak or walk, she could have major brain damage, or she could even die. Marquita recognizes that everything about the surgery should scare her, but the things that scare her most aren’t the operation, the possible brain damage, or death. Those possibilities barely bother her.
Marquita wasn’t scared when the doctor told her about the tumor in her brain. She was relieved. For Marquita, the tumor is the answer to all the questions she has had about herself since she was a child. The tumor is the reason she is different from all the other girls in Corona, Queens. Perhaps if the tumor were gone she would finally be normal. Perhaps, she will finally have what she has prayed so earnestly for since she was a child.
Marquita looks young for sixteen. Despite her mother being taller than all the other women on their street, Marquita barely stands taller than a grade school student. Regardless of her short stature, Marquita’s beauty is unique. Her eyes are an amber hazel that complements her toffee colored skin. She inherited her eyes from her father’s side of the family. Her usually poufy natural hair is now shaved in preparation for surgery.
Marquita has been trying to be “normal” for years and most people believe her facade. Even her mother is fooled. As long as Marquita could remember, her mother explained away her peculiarities as being a “sensitive child” or it being a result of the seizures she had since she was seven. But Marquita knows she was different before her seizures.
Deeper questions probe Marquita’s mind as she sits at the window waiting. What if her father is right? She has never been able to fool him. He knows she is different because his father was also different. Many people in the Moreno family are different. She knows her and her father are now thinking the same question; will the surgery do nothing because the Moreno family is cursed?
Marquita stops looking at the people outside and gets up from her chair. If she is cursed, then she should go pray, as she always does. She needs to ask St. Valentine and the Virgin Mary for protection. She needs to ask God to heal her, whether it is from a tumor or a curse. As she leaves her hospital room to pray for what might be her last time, the figures on the street below go about their morning. They know nothing of the girl filled with shame, fear, and anticipation. None, except for one. One person had eluded Marquita’s attention.
Marquita makes her way to the chapel and is relieved to find it unoccupied. She kneels in front of the altar with her hands tightly clasped in front of her. Intertwined in her fingers are the rosary beads her grandmother gave her as a child. Marquita bows her head and tightly closes her eyes to recite the prayer her priest taught her the day before.
“Loving Father, I entrust myself to your care this day; guide with wisdom and skill the minds and hands of the doctors who minister in your Name, and grant that every cause of illness be removed, I may be restored to soundness of health and learn to live in more perfect harmony with you and with those around me. Through Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Marquita’s hands tighten and shake as she proceeds in her prayer. She feels shame start to rise again from her belly. She isn’t sure if it is right to pray for this. Perhaps it is God’s will that she is different. Perhaps he had cursed her family for what they did. Perhaps the Morenos no longer deserved harmony with God or anyone else. Despite this heavy feeling, Marquita’s fear pushes her forward.
“And please, if possible let the surgery make me normal. I don’t like knowing the things I know. I don’t like knowing such horrible things…. Please Lord, if it is Your Will, release me from this torture. I can’t bear it any longer. Into your hands, I commend my body and my soul. Amen.”
Tears start to fall from Marquita’s tightly closed eyes. Behind Marquita, Mechteld silently watches from behind a window.
Mechteld knows she cannot stare at Marquita for long. The doctors and nurses will be getting ready soon, which means she needs to prepare now. Mechteld takes an elevator two stories up and finds her first stop, men’s locker room. She stands in the hall pretending to read a magazine as she waits for her target. Within minutes he appears and waves his ID card in front of a panel to unlock the locker room door. He doesn’t realize he’s being watched and doesn’t observe Mechteld moving behind him. She catches the heavy door before it can close and automatically lock.
Inside Nurse Lopez is alone as he unpacks his bag and readies himself to change into scrubs. He is a Latino man in his thirties, with a small stature and upbeat attitude. As he dresses into his scrubs he doesn’t notice Mechteld’s quiet and quick steps into the room. He doesn’t even sense her as she leans her back against the lockers behind his opened door. When he closes his door he jumps back when he sees the small figure with a ball cap and sunglasses. At first he cannot even distinguish if the person is male or female under the hoodie and cotton scarf.
Mechteld says nothing as he examines her profile. He asks, “Who are you?” but Mechteld gives no response. She merely turns to face him directly. Nurse Lopez asks again, “Who are you? Why are you in here?” Mechteld takes a step towards Nurse Lopez and he takes a small step backwards. He says, “If you need help you can to go to the nearest nurse’s station. They can direct you to where you need to go.” She takes off her sunglasses and ball cap and loosens her scarf. She steps in front of Nurse Lopez who gasps as he takes in her face. He knows he should look away, but instead he concentrates on the ghastliness in front of him. He barely registers Mechteld’s question.
“You’re on the schedule to assist with the in the awake craniotomy, correct?”
Nurse Lopez looks away from Mechteld’s face and hesitates with his answer.
“What? …..Yes. I work with Dr. Batra.”
He knows he shouldn’t have told her this, but his moment of transfixion delays his judgment. Nurse Lopez looks deeply into Mechteld’s calming blue eyes. She stares at him for a moment before gently saying, “I’m sorry, this is going to hurt.”
More to come...