Furia by Yamile Saied Mendez

For my daughters, Magalí and Areli,

For my sister, María Belén Saied,

For the little girl I once was,

For all las Incorregibles and las Furias of the world.

But a mermaid has no tears, and

therefore she suffers so much more.

—Hans Christian Andersen,

“The Little Mermaid”


Lies have short legs. I learned this proverb before I could speak. I never knew exactly where it came from. Maybe the saying followed my family across the Atlantic, all the way to Rosario, the second-largest city in Argentina, at the end of the world.

My Russian great-grandmother, Isabel, embroidered it on a pillow after her first love broke her heart and married her sister. My Palestinian grandfather, Ahmed, whispered it to me every time my mom found his hidden stash of wine bottles. My Andalusian grandmother, Elena, repeated it like a mantra until her memories and regrets called her to the next life. Maybe it came from Matilde, the woman who chased freedom to Las Pampas all the way from Brazil, but of her, this Black woman whose blood roared in my veins, we hardly ever spoke. Her last name got lost, but my grandma’s grandma still showed up so many generations later in the way my brown hair curled, the shape of my nose, and my stubbornness—ay, Dios mío, my stubbornness. Like her, if family folklore was to be trusted, I had never learned to shut up or do as I was told.

But perhaps the words sprouted from this land that the conquistadores thought was encrusted with silver, the only inheritance I’d ever receive from the indigenous branch of my family tree. In any case, when my mom said them to me as I was getting ready to leave the house that afternoon, I brushed her off.

“I’m not lying,” I insisted, fighting with the tangled laces of my sneakers—real Nikes that Pablo, my brother, had given me for Christmas after he got his first footballer paycheck. “I told you, I’ll be at Roxana’s.”

My mom put down her sewing—a sequined skirt for a quincea?era—and stared at me. “Be back by seven. The whole family will be over to celebrate the season opener.”

The whole family.

As if.

For all their talk of family unity, my parents weren’t on speaking terms with any of their siblings or cousins. But my dad’s friends and Pablo’s girlfriend would be here eating and gossiping and laughing until who knew when.

“You know Pablo, Ma. I’m sure he has plans with the team.”

“He specifically asked me to make pizzas,” she said with a smirk. “Now,you be on time, and don’t do anything stupid.”

“Stupid like what?” My words came out too harsh, but I had stellar grades. I didn’t do drugs. I didn’t sleep around. Hell, I was seventeen andnot pregnant, unlike every other woman in my family. You would’ve thought she’d give me some credit, be on my side, but no. Nothing I did was enough.I was not enough. “It’s not like I can go to El Gigante. I don’t have money for a ticket.”

She flung the fabric aside. “Mirá, Camila, how many times have I told you that a fútbol stadium’s no place for a decent se?orita? That girl who turned up in a ditch? If she hadn’t been hanging out with the wrong crowd, she’d still be alive.”

There was a little bit of truth in what she said. But just a little.That girl, Gimena Márquez, had gone missing after a game last year, but she had been killed by her boyfriend, el Paco. He and Pope Francisco shared a name, but el Paco was no saint.

Everyone knew that, just as everyone knew he used every woman in his life as a punching bag, starting with his mother. If I pointed this out, though, my mom would start ranting about the Ni Una Menos movement, how it was all feminist propaganda, and I’d miss my bus. My championship game, the one my mom couldn’t know about, was at four, the same time as Central’s league opener. At least they were at opposite ends of the city.

“Vieja,” I said, instantly regretting calling her old. She wasn’t even forty yet. “We live in the twenty-first century in a free-ish country. If I wanted to go to the stadium, I could. You could, too, Mami. Pablo would want to see you there. You know that, right?”

Her face hardened. The last time she’d been to the stadium, Central had lost, and my dad had joked that she’d been la yeta, bad luck. My mom was a never-forgive, never-forget kind of person and would remember his words until her last breath. Because what if he was right? What if she had been the reason Pablo’s team had lost?

Throwing my last card, I let just enough of the truth spill out (I was going to Roxana’s after my game) to quench her fears. “At Roxana’s I can hear what happens in the stadium, Mama. Just give me this, please. What am I supposed to do here all day?”

She tugged at a stubborn thread. “It’s Mamá, Camila—don’t talk like a country girl. If my sister Graciela heard you speak like this . . .” Her eyes swept over me, up and down. “And why are you wearing those baggy pants, hija? If you’d let me make you a few dresses . . .”

I almost laughed. If she was picking on how I talked and how I dressed, I’d won this battle. But then she said, “You’re hiding something, and it worries me.”

My heart softened.

I’d been hiding that something for an entire year, since Coach Alicia had discovered Roxana and me playing in a night league and recruited us to her team.

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