TITLE: Ester, Called Maria
GENRE: MG Historical Fiction
For thirteen-year-old Ester Cordova, being a secret Jew is a bit like a game until the Inquisition arrives in Portugal. To try to keep her family out of the Inquisition’s reach, Ester lies to her family, strikes a deal with enemies, disguises herself, but finally must obey her parents and do the unimaginable-- leave Portugal without them.
There are two of me. I watch myself, and I’m the one I’m watching:
Mama crouches at the trapdoor and hands Isaac down to Grandma. I’m next. The cellar is black except for a small lamp. I clutch my doll Fryda and squat beside Grandma. She cradles Isaac and gives him sips of wine. It dribbles onto his chin. She puts the cup in my hands. I swallow the rest. The bitter smell of sour grapes. Mama has a basket of food. Papa has blankets. He rolls me up in one. It’s hot, and my ears and nose itch. I feel Grandma beside me. I think it’s Grandma. From somewhere else, clomps, cracks, screams, smacks. The sounds get louder. My head hurts. I can’t move…
I shake the shadowy dream, slip on a petticoat, pull my dress over my chemise, cinch the bodice, then spit three times over my shoulder and hope it works. No bad omens today. Reaching over, I stroke Isaac’s warm brow until his eyes flutter open.
“It’s morning,” I whisper close to his ear. My little brother sits up rubbing his cheeks, and quickly we mouth the morning Jewish prayer, Modi Ani…. We’re done before Luzia comes in.
“Good morning, children.”
She hands Isaac his clothes. He wiggles under the covers to put them on.
“Maria, let’s see to your hair.”
“I can do it myself.”
“Of course. But would you like help?”
Luzia unravels my night braid, and we each take a comb to one side.