The following excerpt from WHITE HANDS appeared in the SOUTHAMPTON REVIEW,  Spring, 2010 







It was mid afternoon by the time they got to Esperanza. The town had been totally destroyed.  Roofs had col-lapsed into piles of shat-tered red tile and twisted tin.   Walls were reduced to rubble and exploded bricks.  Spent M-16 automatic rifle cartridges littered the ground.  The upright palms were singed at the top, like spent sparklers.  
  Forced to flee at a moment's notice, the towns-people had scooped up their cherished possessions and, in their frantic flight, dropped them along the way.  Chickens clucked among the clothing, blankets, toys, diapers, and photos scat-tered about the street.   A baby's knitted bootie rested atop a religious picture, torn from a magazine and placed in a crude frame.  Among the rubble at her feet, Samira picked up a postcard of the Statue of Liberty.
A cow mooed in the distance.  Otherwise, an eerie stillness prevailed.  The town was completely devoid of people.  Only the animals remained. 
	“Where did everyone go?" Samira whispered, though she knew the demented arithmetic of war.  Subtract two hundred people from a village.  Cram them into refugee camps or the scrap dwellings that lined the ravines in San Salvador.  The result?  Crowded, unsanitary conditions, disease, and sometimes death.  
	A clatter of metal came from down the street and Samira jumped.  Andy forged ahead.  Samira reluctantly followed, unable to tolerate the thought that Andy might think her a coward.
	At the main square they found gallon tins of soybean oil piled high, as if for a bonfire.  A pig snuffled among the empty tins, causing the racket. 
Samira picked up one of the cans.  Printed on the side was:  "Furnished by the People of the United States of America.  Not for resale."  Her laughter was startling in the surrounding quiet.  
“What's so funny?" Andy asked.
Samira held up the can.  "Your government might consider printing these instructions in Spanish if they expect people to follow them." 
Americans' arrogance—or was it ignorance—never failed to astonish her.  They assumed the whole world spoke English, even the peasants from this remote village.  
"The Green Cross has been here," Andy observed.  She breathed deeply.  "Smells like they've fumigated as well." 
“Can mortars and grenades cause this much damage?" Samira asked, tossing the can onto the pile. 
“Crispy palm trees and collapsed roofs?  No way.  Only one thing causes this kind of damage:  bombs."
       “Do you think the Americans were involved?"
       "Depends on what you mean by involved.  These were probably American-made bombs dropped by American helicopters, but if you're asking if American pilots were in the cockpit, your guess is as good as mine.  That would definitely be against the rules of engagement.  One thing I do know. We're not going to get a straight story out of the embassy."
	“What do you think happened?"  Samira was not naïve in the ways of war but knew little about Super Power involvement in an indigenous civil war.
	“I can make up a story, but that's not good enough for the paper."
    This was Andy's theory:  The army had canvassed the town looking for guerillas.  Then the Salvadoran bombers, possibly with the help of American advisors, had flattened the town, officially causing no civilian casualties. 
"I know the mindset. There's no such thing as a civilian casualty," Andy said.  "Anything that moves is an insurgent.   Including the owner of this."
She picked up a stuffed dinosaur from the gutter.  White foam dribbled from a hole in its stomach, as if from a bullet wound.
"The Salvadoran army probably cleared out the town to make sure no guerrillas were left."  She tossed the stuffed animal to Samira.  "I have no idea if my story's true or not.  We need to talk to some of the people who fled."
	She handed Samira a stick.
	“What's this for?" Samira said.	
	“Just a precaution.  All these animals left behind—they're people's livelihood.  They haven't been fed in a while, so they're probably ill-tempered.”
      "Where are you going?"
	“To see a man about a dog."
	Samira stared at her.
	“Take a pee," Andy said.   
	“Oh," Samira said.   She liked folksy phrases that gave personality to language, though this particular one made no sense to her.  Americans, she had noticed, seemed to pee more than other people.
She sat down by a heap of sun-baked earthen bricks that had been reduced to dirt clods.  Wind whistled through one of the collapsed houses.  Barks echoed from further down the street. 
She thought of the insanity of leveling a whole town of people to make sure no guerillas were left.   It was the Maoist solution:  If the guerillas were fish in a sea, then take the water from the fish:  Quitarle el agua al pez.
She placed the stuffed animal on her lap and read the message on the back of the Statue of Liberty postcard.  
	“Dear Gloria:  I hope you find yourself well.  Here, the life is very peaceful.  I miss El Salvador so much," Silvia had written in Spanish. 
	Samira recognized the ex-patriot's plaintive yearning for a home that would never again be the same.  The people of El Salvador wanted the same thing as the people of Beirut --they wanted the struggle to be over.  They wanted not to worry when their grandmother went to market, or when their child walked to school.  They wanted a life free from capricious bombings and forced evacuations, never knowing, when they returned from the fields, if they would find their homes looted, bulldozed, or burned.   They wanted what they would never have:  life as it had been before.
The pile of silver tins reflected tawdry glints of light and offered a startling surface contrast to the dull matted colors of the rubble.  The surface of things told the sad story of flight, disruption, and destruction.  It was the same story, over and over, in different countries, in different centuries, yet still, war persisted.  The reason didn't matter:  greed, nationalism, ideology.  The result was always the same: the innocents suffered the most. 
Why was peace considered the province of the naive and innocent?  If women were in charge, Samira wondered, would governments so easily enter into war?  Women were more attuned to the long-term effect on the fathers and sons who supplied the soldiers, the mothers and children who made the sacrifices.
Andy returned and they drove to the provincial capital, La Rosa.  The first stop was the mayor's office, a crumbling structure on the main square.  The mayor was an elderly man with a face wrinkled like the scum that forms on boiled milk.  The walls in his office were covered with irregularly spaced Christmas cards at odd angles.  Their yellowed edges indicated that they had been there for some time.  The display was surreal by virtue of being so random.
	They asked the mayor if he had information about where the residents of Esperanza had gone.  The mayor didn't know, but suggested that they go see the priest and French nuns who lived nearby and worked at the large refugee camp outside of town.
	Andy thanked him.
	“I really like your wall decorations," Samira said.  "It's very creative, all these cards at different angles."
	“They're covering bullet holes," the mayor said, matter-of-factly.   Samira blushed and bid him goodbye.
    The parish house was on a narrow street around the corner from the mayor's office.  A tall, dark-haired beauty with porcelain skin answered the door.  She looked barely eighteen and had a fresh, open face.   Andy was surprised when she introduced herself as Sister Mary Louise and even more surprised that she spoke with an Irish brogue.
	“I thought you were French," Andy said.
	The nun laughed.  "You must have talked to the mayor.  We're from the Franciscan order, you see, so he's convinced we're French."
	They followed her through the house to the back veranda. Samira and Andy sat down on creaky wicker rocking chairs that looked onto a private garden. Four massive wood columns held up the porch roof. 
	The porch had the feel of shabby gentility.  Plump, faded cushions were tossed about.  An antique Underwood typewriter rose above the clutter atop the battered desk.   Newspapers, board games, and books covered every available flat surface.
	Father Ignacio had gone to the store with another Irish Sister.  While they awaited the priest's return, Sister Mary Louise brought them bottles of bright orange Fanta and glasses of ice.  Andy avoided ice in restaurants, even the fancy ones, because she didn't trust the quality of the water.  She must have hesitated slightly before accepting the glass, because Sister Mary Louise was quick to assure her that they used rainwater stored in cisterns, and not the amoeba soup that came out of the tap. 
Andy explained that they were trying to find someone to interview who had fled from the town of Esperanza.  Did she know of any new arrivals that fit that description?
	“We get new people all the time.  I don't know where they come from.  Unfortunately, there's no formal intake process.  We're pitifully understaffed.  When more people arrive, the residents open up their makeshift homes and absorb them.  It's astonishing.  The people have so little, but they're still willing to share," she said, in a lyrical brogue.
       “Has there been an increased demand at the clinic?" Andy asked.
"There was a large group last week--mostly children," the young nun said, eager to be helpful.  "Luckily there were no serious injuries.  We're always short on medical supplies." 
She told them that some children had cuts on their feet that had gotten infected after days of walking barefoot through the mountains.   A mother arrived carrying a two-year-old boy wounded by flying debris from an exploding mortar.  His right arm was one gaping wound, slit from shoulder to elbow.  One child's toes were matted together and had to be separated with a razor blade to clean out larvae that had infested the wounds.
"These children are troopers.  I have such admiration for them," she said, her face shining with sincerity.  She had not yet been jaded by the demands of relief work. 
Andy asked her why she had chosen to come to El Salvador.
"I knew if I came here, I could make a difference," she said.
These words from the mouths of most people Andy knew, would sound corny or sentimental.  But from the nun, they cut to the heart.   Reporters were sometimes too ironic for their own good, Andy thought.
"Did you know how dangerous it was?" Samira asked.
“Of course. I say a prayer every day for Sisters Ita, Maura and Dorothy.  They're martyrs, along with the Archbishop."   
She referred to the three American nuns who were raped and murdered by National Guardsmen three years before, during the most violent part of the civil war.  Archbishop Romero had been gunned down in cold blood while saying mass.  
"The government thought they were communists because they tried to help the poor.  Their lives were witnesses.  What good are their deaths if they serve to scare the church away?  I refuse to be intimidated!" she declared fiercely.   Her inner fire cast its glow about her, though Andy suspected, sadly, that a few more months in the country would extinguish it. 
"You'll love Father Ignacio," the nun continued.   "He's one of the brave ones.  There are so many parishes that can't find priests.  It saddens me to think of all those unblessed souls.  But Father Ignacio has survived here for ten years.  I see a light on in his room.  Let me go check and see if he's back."
She bounded off like an afghan puppy—long-limbed, exuberant, and excitable. 
While they waited, Samira got out her sketchbook.  Andy sat quietly, basking in the serenity of her surroundings.
Sheltered from the dusty squalor of the plaza, the garden felt intimate and secret.  The plants had glossy leaves, thick enough to withstand the drubbing of the monsoon rains.  The bougainvillea looked like an extravagantly pink boa tossed carelessly over the white stucco walls.  The birds of paradise with the sharply pointed orange beaks that gave the flower its name, all faced in the same direction, as if someone had said "Look!" and the birds had turned their heads in unison. 
Andy was a lapsed Catholic.  In college, she had rebelled against the church, with its male hierarchy and opposition to birth control and abortion.  Catholicism seemed out of touch with what mattered in her life.
She still attended mass twice a year--on Christmas Eve and Easter--and she always felt badly for not going more.  That was the thing about a Catholic upbringing—she carried guilt in her blood like a virus.  Dormant for long stretches, it could flare up unexpectedly. 
Sister Mary Louise had what she lacked—an abiding conviction.  It grounded and excited her.  By contrast, Andy questioned things, then questioned her questioning of them until she didn't know what she believed any more.   Was Catholicism the right religion?  Was it enough to believe in God, or must one be consumed by Him?   Was a cafeteria Catholic like herself a real Catholic, or more like a jackrabbit, which looked like a rabbit but wasn't—it was a hare.  She analyzed, doubted, and fell prey to twisty thoughts when what she really wanted was to be like Sister Mary Louise, and be absolutely sure.
The nun returned with Father Ignacio, a short man whose dark skin and wide cheeks hinted at Indian blood.  He wore plastic sandals and khaki shorts that revealed the muscular, well-formed calves of a soccer player.  Though he was a full head shorter than the rangy nun, his dignified bearing unmistakably established his authority.  Andy felt weak-kneed and awestruck.  Priests still had the power to do that to her, even a diminutive Salvadoran priest in plastic sandals.
They were introduced, and after several awkward attempts trying out different languages, they settled into Spanish. 
The nun left to get Father Ignacio the beer he requested.  After they had talked a while, Samira said, "Sister Mary Louise thinks you're a hero."
He smiled and shook his head sagely.  "She's young.  There are no heroes here, except the people.  They hold on to hope when it seems pointless.  Hope is a funny thing.  That it can survive in an atmosphere like the camps is extraordinary.  But it does.  And it keeps the people going.  It keeps me going.  Anything I can do to nurture that hope is reason enough to do my work."  
"Are you safe in the camps?" she asked.
“I am very careful," he said, proceeding in measured tones.  "I used to want to want to change things.  But I quickly learned that when I give food to the poor, I'm a saint.  When I ask why the poor are hungry, I'm branded a communist."  A light flared in his dark eyes, animating his face.  But just as quickly, the spark winked out.  "So I don't ask.  I keep my head down.  I do my job.  I'm of no help to anyone from the grave."
Sister Mary Louise returned with the beer and moved some papers on the table beside the priest to make room.  "The government sends informants into the camps," she said.  "They're convinced we're inciting the peasants."  Father Ignacio gave her a harsh look. "I'm sorry," she said, chastised.  "I haven't learned to keep my own counsel."  An edgy silence ensued.  Fear had made its way into this private paradise.
They talked for a while longer then Andy repeated the reason for their visit and asked if the priest knew of anyone in the camps from the town of Esperanza. 
"I'm sorry, but we are not able to help you," Father said.  The tension was palpable.  His survival depended on knowing what he could and could not do.  He could not, for example, help anyone who might expose the ruthlessness of the government.  He could not express an opinion about the army or the guerillas, even in the privacy of his garden.  Such was the long reach of terror.
Sister Mary Louise walked them to the front door.  As they were leaving, she whispered, "There is one woman—Prudencia is her name.  I'm trying to help her locate her daughters, who were separated from her when she fled from some village east of here, but the name escapes me.  Are you staying overnight in La Rosa?"
Andy nodded.
The nun looked over her shoulder to see if anyone was within hearing distance, and then said,   "I'll take you to meet her tomorrow if you'll…" She held an index finger to her lip. 
"We won't tell anyone," Andy assured her.
The next morning they met at the Parish house and rode in Sister Mary Louise's Jeep to the refugee camp half an hour outside of town.  The nun wore a full skirt and a loose-fitting cotton top.  She tied a blue bandana around her long dark hair.  
"Do you ever wear a habit?" Samira asked.  She rode in the back, and her hair was wild in the wind.
"Imagine—in the sweltering heat, with the hem dragging through the open sewage!"   She laughed at the idea. "Besides, I want to blend in.  The whale with the highest spout is the first to get harpooned." 
"Are you worried?" Andy said. 
"About me?   No.  Father Ignacio's another story.  There are rumors in the camp that members of the death squads are taping his homilies to see if he's spreading subversive thoughts.  You met him.  He's hardly a revolutionary.  But the Bible itself is subversive.  Minister unto the poor.   Blessed are the meek.  Those are subversive ideas.
At the entrance to the camp, they pulled in line behind a pickup truck waiting for clearance.  The bed of the truck was stacked high with bulging burlap bags that strained against the slatted wood sides of the truck.  Two armed soldiers climbed on top of the cargo. 
The nun eased the Jeep back to give the soldiers a wide berth.  The women in the car looked on as the two soldiers plunged their bayonets into the bags, one by one, methodically making their way to the bottom layer.  Each stab was accompanied by a grunt.  The scene was disturbing, suggesting, as it did, that this was a rehearsal, the way new doctors first practice vaccinating oranges before moving on to humans.
The nun gripped the wheel, holding herself back from confronting the soldiers.  She knew, and everyone in the car knew, that this would do no good.
“What are they doing?" Samira whispered.  Her stomach felt queasy. 
"Looking for weapons," the nun said.  She trembled with indignity as she watched dried corn, beans, and powdered milk gush from the slits.  "I look on the ground and see dozens of children who won't get fed," she whispered.
 The soldiers finished their job and then signaled for the truck to pass through.  It drove slowly down the road, dribbling dried beans and corn behind.  The milk powder dusted the dirt trail like snow.  No sooner had the truck passed than a swarm of refugees descended on the road, scooping up dried corn kernels and beans into empty tins, along with pebbles, chicken manure, and grime.
Sister Mary Louise took several deep breaths to calm herself.  By the time she pulled up to the checkpoint she was smiling.  She explained that the women with her were journalists and guests of the Parish.  The soldiers gave a cursory look at their papers and then waved them through.
	The crowd of refugees parted to make room for the nun.  Under the wheels of the Jeep, the dried beans and corn crunched like gravel.
     The camp was made up of open-ended A-framed tents of orange and green canvas, provided by the United Nations.  The tents were placed side by side, so close it was impossible to walk between them without stepping over a cat's cradle of taut ropes.  For privacy, many inhabitants had built lean-tos made of saplings, thatch, and scrap cardboard on the opened ends.  The overall effect was of a shantytown. 
The women parked and walked through the camp.  The density of people made Samira uncomfortable.  People were massed in tents, barefoot children played in the dirt, groups gathered under trees.  Animals wandered freely.  Many refugees wore baggy clothes. Dust was everywhere.  It coated people's legs and arms like cocoa powder.  It worked its way into every crack and crevice; it settled on the laundry spread out on the makeshift roofs.  Mosquitoes swarmed about and flies feasted on the stinking slime that ran in rivulets though the camps. 
But amidst the scenes of despair were heartwarming vignettes.  They passed the maternity ward at the health clinic.  A tarp tied between trees shaded eight sleeping newborns from the sun.  Swaddled in pristine white cloth, the babies—unimaginably small--lay head to toe in sturdy cardboard grapefruit boxes, their sweetness undiminished by the improvised accommodations.   The infants looked like so many baby Jesuses, awaiting their role in the annual life-sized crèche.
The women sat under a mango tree, and Sister Mary Louise gave them background information to prepare them for their meeting with Prudencia, the peasant woman who had fled from Esperanza during the bombing.  With a dramatic flair that seemed to be her Irish birthright, the nun recounted the story Prudencia had told her.
The day the village was destroyed, soldiers went door-to-door looking for subversives.  Prudencia sent her two daughters, ages four and seven, into the forest to hide.  When the uniformed men arrived at her hut, Prudencia was alone with Eduardo, the baby.  She tried to treat the soldiers courteously, as her mother had taught her to treat all guests in their house.  But the soldiers did not act like guests as they charged in and ransacked the house.
The lead soldier was in his late twenties.  The two boys with him were too small to comfortably handle the rifles and bayonets that they carried.  One had a few lonely hairs above his lip, and the other was too young to grow a moustache of any kind.  Their youth made it even more humiliating for Prudencia to watch as they pawed through her belongings in the one-room hut with hammocks hanging from the ceiling.
With no glass on the windows or anywhere in the dwelling, there was no loud shattering.  The notable thing was how little noise her possessions made.  The boys emptied the slatted wooden crate where she kept a change of clothes for all of the family members.  The plastic water jugs made a dull knock on the dirt floor, accompanied by the slightly louder clatter of the pans and the empty tin gallon containers marked "Furnished by the People of the United States of America.  Not for Resale."  But mainly, an eerie quiet prevailed as clothes, bedding, everything in its place, was hurled to another place. 
The boy with the five-hair moustache found her husband's prized possession—a deck of cards—and flung it to the ceiling.  Kings, queens, and jacks offered a flash of color in the air as the royalty of the deck, like autumn leaves, twirled to the ground with the other cards. 
Quivering, Prudencia clutched her son close to her, cupping his head in her palm and gently pushing his face into her breast so he would not witness the scene.
The soldiers seemed enraged that they could not find what they were looking for.  What did they expect?  A Communist newspaper?  Even if her husband had been an insurgent, which he was not, he could not read. 
The older soldier grilled Prudencia:  Where is your husband?  What is his role in the guerilla organization?  Who is helping him?  She told him the truth: her husband had gone to La Rosa for supplies.  
"Guerilla supplies?" the soldier asked. 
"My husband is shopping for his family," she said.  The tremble in her voice made it sound as if she were lying.  Each month, her husband made the journey by foot over the mountain paths to La Rosa, where he bought groceries they could not get in the village.  No matter how little money he had, he always brought back candy for his daughters. 
"You are lying," the soldier said.  He had evidence that her husband was a communist, he said.  She had nothing to gain by protecting him.  They would find him one way or another.
"He's a simple farmer, not a friend of the guerillas," she said.  Each denial served as proof that she was hiding something.
Eduardo started to cry.  The youngest soldier ordered him to stop, and, when this did not work, he pointed his rifle at the mother and child.
"Leave him alone.  He's too young to understand," the other soldier said.
"This kid's a future revolutionary," the young boy said. 
Prudencia tried to comfort her baby, hoping her voice might calm him.  Ssshhh.  Ssshhh, she whispered, the only sound she could make without betraying fear.  But there was no way to hide her state of mind from her child.  He could feel it in her damp skin, the tenseness of her muscles, and the foreign distasteful smell that came from her pores as she clutched his soft, chubby body against hers.
A bullhorn announced that residents had fifteen minutes to vacate the village.  Outside, cries of distress came from the nearby huts.  Inside, the screaming baby added to the chaos. 
As if to impress his superior, the youngest boy grabbed the baby from Prudencia and said, "Tell us the truth.  Where is your husband?" 
The boy held the squirming baby in one arm, and, with his free hand, grasped his rifle awkwardly by the barrel, near the bayonet. 
As he shifted to readjust the unwieldy load, the child kicked against his chest and the bayonet sliced into the baby's shoulder.  Eduardo landed on the dirt floor with a thud, among the scattered household goods and playing cards.  The leader barked a command, and the soldiers cleared out of the house. 
Prudencia scooped Eduardo up and ran through the forest with the bleeding child in her arms.  People were fleeing the village in all directions.  The soldiers cleared out as well.  Soon the explosion of mortar and gunfire overpowered the child's heartbreaking sobs.  Low-flying planes dropped bombs and the clear blue sky blossomed with the cloudlike aftermath of destruction.  These clouds were no blankets of the gods—as the villagers called the fluffy white clouds that decorated the sky.  These puffs were a mixture of dust, smoke, and the packed mud of dwelling walls, pulverized into particles small enough to take flight. 
Prudencia knew the forest well.  She depended on its plants and roots to supplement her family's diet.  She forged her own path and didn't stop until she reached the river.  The baby's wound was not deep.  She cleaned it as best she could and bandaged it with strips from her apron.  But she didn't know to boil the water first.  The wound became infected.  She kept her son alive for a week in the cave, but the infection eventually took him.   
When Prudencia found her way to the refugee camp, she was reunited with her husband, but so far, she had not located her two daughters.  Sister Mary Louise was helping her search in surrounding villages.
When the nun finished with the story, Andy and  Samira  sat quietly, unable to speak.  From nearby came the innocent chorus of school children chanting their lessons in unison.
"Do you think Prudencia will talk to us?" Andy said, after an extended silence.
“It took me a long time to get her to trust me enough to tell me the details.  I don't know how forthcoming she'll be with you.  Here in the camps, silence is a survival technique.   But you never know.  Let's go find her and I'll introduce you."
The peasant woman was only twenty-seven but looked forty.  Her dark hair was pulled back in a single braid.  She wore a faded flowered dress that hung on her gaunt figure.  Her hollowed out cheeks and broken stare suggested to Andy photographs she had seen of Appalachian miners' wives during the Depression--a universal look of deprivation that crossed cultures.
When Prudencia saw Sister Mary Louise, a smile briefly flashed across her face, hinting at the beauty that lay hidden behind the tortured set of her eyes and mouth.  When the nun introduced her to the journalists, the smile disappeared.
Prudencia agreed to take the women to her son's grave.  Sister Mary Louise stayed behind, but Andy and Samira followed the peasant woman through the mountains.  Boulders and exposed tree roots protruded from the ragged sides of the path that climbed above the river.  The small rocks that had washed into the path during rainy season made for treacherous hiking. 
Prudencia had confided her story to the nun, but to Andy, she was mum.  As they followed the trail through the forest, Andy gently prodded her for details, but the story was too fresh or too distressing to recount. 
A short distance after the ground flattened out in the valley, Prudencia turned off the path.  Following signs that only she knew, she headed purposefully through the pine forest, cutting a wide berth around the maguey plants, whose touch leathery spikes would gouge any flesh they came in contact with. 
Andy admired the resolve with which the mother led them to her baby's grave, as if this one simple act would hold together her world, on the verge of collapse.  There was dignity in her determination.  She would not, or could not, recount the details of the recent horror, but she would lead them to the evidence. 
They thrashed through a tangle of undergrowth until they came to a cave, tucked unobtrusively into a hillside.  An arch of rocks, like an eyebrow, formed a canopy over a hollowed out space that was high enough to crouch, but not stand.  Near the entrance, rocks encircled the charred remains of a fire.  Further back, a flattened bed of straw formed a pad for sleeping.   
This was where she hid for two weeks, leaving only once, when she returned to the destroyed village for scraps of charred wood to mark her baby's grave.
The three women followed Prudencia past the cave until they came to a clearing. Two black-tipped boards had been lashed together to form a crude cross.  A pile of stones at the base held the marker upright. 
"There's no name," Andy remarked in Spanish.  Her training as a journalist had taught her to question things.  Anything could be buried in this unmarked grave:  a pet, a child who had died of malaria or dehydration, or nothing at all.
She looked over at Prudencia and wished she could withdraw her words, but it was too late.  The mindset that poked holes in theories and tested for weaknesses was not one that could easily accommodate a broken heart. 
Prudencia's face was contorted in unbearable pain.  Her upper lip began to twitch.  A tear formed in the corner of her eye and stayed there, defying gravity.  She folded herself up and touched her forehead to the forest floor.   Her knobby back, visible through her dingy print dress, shook.  Then she began to speak in gibberish, as if possessed.  Andy listened closely, but could recognize no Spanish words.  It was a language she didn't know:  The language of grief.  
Andy crouched beside Prudencia and put a steadying hand on her back.  
After a while, Prudencia raised the upper half of her body and folded her hands in her lap.  She took a deep breath to steel herself, and then said,  "You don't have to believe me.  Let the bones speak.  They will tell the truth."  
The rays of sun fell down into the clearing, forming a cathedral of light.  Andy helped Prudencia to her feet. 
"Do you know how to read and write?" Samira asked, gently. 
Prudencia hung her head in humiliation.  "What kind of mother am I?  I can't even mark my son's grave." 
Of course she could not write her child's name, Andy thought, castigating herself for not putting together the available clues.  She was illiterate. 
Samira asked Prudencia if she would like her to paint the baby's name on the cross board.  Prudencia knelt at Samira's feet in supplication, thanking her profusely.  Samira, embarrassed by the peasant woman's subservient posture, helped her to her feet, as if to say:  in matters of the heart, we're all equals. 
	Using the information Prudencia gave her, Samira set to work with her tiny set of watercolors and a thimble full of water from the canteen.  She outlined the letters with her brush and filled them with color.  The grain of the wood showed through the thin wash of paint, but the letters were clearly legible:  Eduardo Pozo: March 2, 1983 -- October 17, 1983.   She added a garland of flowers that wove in and out of the letters.  
"It's beautiful," the mother said, kneeling again in front of the grave.
Andy and Samira stood silently as Prudencia prayed at the gravesite, her fingers picking at the lap of her dress as if manipulating an invisible rosary.
After they returned to the refugee camp, Sister Mary Louise drove them to the Parish house, and they left directly for the capital so they could get back before dark.  In the car, Andy asked Samira if the paints on the grave would last.
“They're watercolors," Samira said.  "They'll be gone after the first hard rain.  But they'll last long enough to allow Prudencia a good night's sleep."
	I hate this war, Andy thought.
HomeHome_page.htmlshapeimage_2_link_0

During the Civil War in El Salvador in 1983, Andrea O'Brien, a reporter for the New York Times and Samira Baru, the Lebanese wife of the Washington Post reporter, go to a bombed village to investigate.

White HandsWhite_Hands.htmlshapeimage_3_link_0
ContactWH_Contact.htmlshapeimage_4_link_0