Elena stood by the door arch, and the flames from the lantern flickered in her eyes as she stared down the dusty road into the night. Her bare feet shifted leaving scuff marks in the dirt and she cocked her head to listen to the sounds in the shack behind her. Small voices whispered and a complaint echoed. She leaned back inside and uttered instructions to share. The voices softened and faded, and she returned to her vigil.
The ground beneath her feet was pitted and worn, and her rough soles matched the patches of eroded earth. She shivered and pulled her holey shawl tighter around her shoulders, and leaned down to flick away an irritating mosquito. Elena coughed, a sound that echoed through the night as much as it rattled through her chest, and she struggled to clear her throat.
She tapped her foot impatiently and tried to gaze further than her old eyes would see, tried to penetrate the dark indigo desert and see beyond the tall saguaro, the sentinel at the edge of the track into town. She pulled in a deep breath, shaky with worry, and leaned back against the stone doorframe. The wick in the lantern was low and the oil almost spent, but she refused to turn it out, refused to sink the track into the gloom of dusk…not yet.
A bark carried across the chill night air and resonated through her bones, and sent fear curling into the pit of her stomach.
Still she waited, aware that there was now quiet in the hovel, aware of the fatigue that chilled her fragile body, and aware of the last crust of bread and spoonful of soup sitting by the dying embers in the grate. Her belly growled.
The moon scrolled across the sky, and stars began to glimmer, and Elena wondered if time had moved too far.
She stepped out from beneath the arch and moved across the stony track, limping awkwardly, her heart sank each time the wild dog howled, and she tried to bat away the tears that hung on her lashes.
She waited, still standing firm, her resolve never wavering, despite the darkness of the night. She stood until her feet ached and hope began to fade like morning stars.
Then she heard it, as quiet and soft as a mouse; footsteps, tiny footsteps beating against the dirt trail and her heart swelled. She shuffled towards the sound, dragging her lame foot, until a small child burst past the saguaro and ran, haloed in the moonlight, into her welcoming arms.
He wept, rubbing tired and dirty fists across his tear-stained face, and Elena hugged him close. “Hermoso niño!” she murmured, “Al fin en casa.”
After the spoonful of soup and the last crust of bread the exhausted child slipped beneath a ragged blanket on a narrow bed, with six other lost children, and slept beneath his guardian’s constant gaze.