There was a small shrine on the sidewalk this week, consisting of a flickering candle in a tin can, a few flowers, and a smiling photograph of Marcia with a large black plastic garbage bag made into a wreath and the typed notice of her recent passing.
Age 28 and crippled since birth, unable to use her hands or walks; she graced the stone sidewalk on the west side of the Central Park in Antigua every morning. Bound to her wheelchair and assisted by her daughter, Cristina Sarai Sis, Marcia made the bus trip from nearby Jocotenango every day. The bus fare cost her 40 quetzals, $4.80, or the price of one of her sketches. Her father taught her at an early age to draw, using her deformed feet, to sketch animals, butterflies, and her favorite bird, the quetzal. She died a few nights ago, set free from her earthly ties by a cerebral hemorrhage.
I confess that when I first moved here, I found myself avoiding her gaze. She was never like any of the other mendicants on the sidewalks, hands out for alms, displaying their infirmities. She never asked for money but always gave a smile for free. I found myself helping her daughter more than once, as they left at dark for the bus station many blocks away.
The daughter wasn’t large or strong enough to negotiate the steep stone steps at the end of the passageway, burdened with Marcia and her wheelchair. I’d hold the top, near Marcia’s head and her daughter would catch her feet, as the wheelchair bumped its way down two steep stone steps. She always smiled and thanked me. I never knew they lived that far away. I will miss her smile. We’d began to wink at each other lately, and I found myself stuffing spare change in her tip jar. I wish I’d bought one of her sketches but I didn’t know she’d leave us so quickly. The American Legion is setting up a scholarship fund for her daughter, as of today. I’ll be putting money in that pot and missing one of Antigua’s brightest stars, the girl with the Mona Lisa smile and the heart of gold.