Last Sunday, I wanted to do something special for the children, so I asked Mama and Papa if we could serve a fancy Easter breakfast after church. The day was warm—April is Mexico City’s hottest month—but the courtyard was cool with the fountain splashing its water and the shady trees moving in a little breeze.
We put bright cloths on the courtyard tables and Mama put a pot of white lilies at one of end of the food table. Maybe news had spread about the special food, because there was a long line of children waiting outside the gate when we opened it.
Gabriella helped them wash up and served cups of milk. Lucero and I gave out plates of the rosca, cake roll, and cheese empanadas. There were also sausages and tortillas and a big pot of beans with pork and chili peppers.
When the courtyard was full of children eating, I stood up and told them about the fiesta de los niños that we were planning for June.
“My family will teach you to make cookies, rolls, pudding, and other delicious things,” I said. “We will help you, so don’t be afraid you can’t do it! You will have to show up every time we ask you to, so you can be good at making these things when the fiesta comes. For two days, we’ll have a special sale in our bakery. You will also serve customers here in the courtyard. All the money we make from the sale will be saved; we’ll use it to buy you what you need: shoes, clothing, medicine. When you need something, you can come and talk to us and we’ll buy it for you.”
“Why can’t we have the money ourselves?” challenged one boy.
“Yes, why not? That doesn’t seem fair that you get to keep the money!” cried another.
My face turned red and I didn’t know what to say. To my great surprise, Sandro stepped out of the shade and pointed a finger at the two unhappy boys.
“Because,” he said, “if you have money, it will only be stolen from you or spent on something bad for you, like candy or drink—or worse.” His eyes flashed. “You know what I mean. I’m one of you. I know what happens.”
The boys grumbled but lowered their eyes. There was an uncomfortable silence.
“Toys?” said one little girl, finally. “Can I have a toy if I work hard?”
Mama smiled. “We’ll see what we can do.”
I knew the toy might be secondhand, like many of the clothes and shoes; but it was more than she had now.
“Best of all,” I added, “we will hold our own fiesta when the sale is over. We’ll have a piñata here in the courtyard, and celebrate all your hard work.”
Everyone cheered then. Papa stood up and spoke in a serious voice.
“There are some rules,” he said. “You must come early enough to wash before you start baking; your hands, especially, must be clean! You must come every day to learn. If you only show up now and then, you won’t be in the sale and you won’t be at the fiesta.” He looked around the courtyard. “I know that sounds mean. But we are trying to teach you something you can use your whole life. Like a class. You can’t miss any of it or you won’t know what to do. So if you are serious, and really want to do this, form a line and give us your first name. That way, we know how many students to expect, si?”
There was a sudden rush as children pushed back their chairs and tried to stand in line. My sister and Mama took a child each and wrote down their names on pieces of paper. A few children looked uncertain and stood around; some, like the two angry boys, walked out of the courtyard with their hands in their pockets, as if it didn’t matter.
For a moment, I felt a little fear squeeze my heart, Diary. Would those angry boys cause trouble? It’s hard when you want to help but someone turns you down, acting as if you were lying or sneaky.
I prayed that the children would come and the fiesta would be a success!