After Constantina left our home, she became a single mother. With faith and determination she supported herself and her son by selling clothing in a booth in a small market.
Every night she walked home with her little son, down the corridor at the side of the house, past the druggies, and up three flights of stairs to the one small room that was their home for 15 years. They were practically prisoners in that room, but love and tender care can blossom even in dismal circumstances. The owners of the house lived on the second floor and were anything but friendly and accommodating. By the time Constantina carried water upstairs, did her laundry and laid out Steven’s clothes and bus fare for the following day, it was one am. She was usually up at five to ride the bus across the city to the small factories and cottage workshops in another part of town. She became a savvy buyer—judging quality, style and salability—and back at the market she kept needle and thread handy to neatly mend minor flaws in her purchases. She took advantage of the hour trip to reclaim some of the sleep she had lost. Sitting upright on the straight-backed bus seat and nodding uncomfortably with her chin toward her chest, the potholes in the streets and the jolting starts and stops hardly fazed her. One morning as she drifted in and out of sleep, she became aware of a man leaning uncomfortably toward her right shoulder. She awoke with a start and glanced toward the driver’s rear view mirror. She could see a gang of thieves methodically working their way to the front of the bus, quietly relieving the hapless occupants of their money and valuables. The sleepy travelers did not cry out, considering themselves to be under-powered if not out-numbered. Constantina’s blood ran cold and she momentarily froze. Then her self-preservation instincts came to the fore. She saw a stoplight ahead on the narrow street. No one had yelled “Baja!” the customary signal to get off, but she knew what she had to do. Timing her movements precisely, she tapped the man pressing against her shoulder and said, “Pardon me, I have to get off.” She did the same to the thief who was standing guard at the front door. Feigning ignorance of his intent, in a quiet, but confident voice, she said, “I get off here.” He shot an irritated glance in her direction, but he moved aside and let her pass. She stepped off just as the bus stopped. With an enormous feeling of relief, she made her way to the next bus stop to continue in the direction of her destination. She observed the drowsy passengers quickly before climbing aboard, thankful she had the change to pay for an extra trip that morning.