Juana’s Pearl

Based on John Steinbeck’s – The Pearl. Tried to write it from Juana’s perspective.
He asked Juana to throw it away. She gazed at it, the briefest hypnotic trance, before deciding this was something Kino needed to do, for his sake, for their sake. It needed to be done to restore some semblance of sanity to their lives, even if it was just a facade.

She thrust the pearl in his hand as he shirked away, flinching, refusing to touch or even glance at it. But she was determined. It had to be done and Kino had to do it.

Pearls fascinated Juana. She came from a long line of pearl divers, people whose boats were their most prized material possession and pearls, that helped line the King of Spain’s coffers, were what kept their small town clothed, fed and one step ahead of hunger and starvation. As a little girl she accompanied her Dad on pearl diving trips, eagerly awaiting his emergence from the depths, bearing the haul of the day. She could gaze for hours at the lustrous sheen, mesmerized by the distorted reflections she saw on the glistening surfaces, they seemed to be teasing her, tantalizing her. He told her how the pearl, in essence, was simply an irritant, an intruder that changed the oyster forever. She wondered why he never let her keep them, selling every single one to scrape together a living. It was a harmonious existence amongst gentle people who lived, loved feeling the serene music of existence within their sensitive souls.

Now as they stood by the shore, purged of all joy, she remembered her Dad’s fear, his wariness of these glistening, shimmering things of evil beauty. Her life with Kino had been a song, the melody of the earth sung in three simple notes until the day it all changed, forever.

That morning, she woke early and stood for a few moments, watching the dawn’s first light playfully dancing on Kino’s back She turned her head to Coyotito, asleep in his hammock, and gave silent thanks for her blissful existence. She was humming her favorite tune, going about her chores when Kino came up behind her and planted a kiss on her neck. Then, as she lifted her eyes to glance at Coyotito, she saw it, out of the corner of her eye, a scorpion. It was crawling down the rope that suspended the hammock from the beams above. She screamed and pointed as Kino glided across the room. Suddenly awake Coyotito burst out laughing at the sight of his parents, shaking the rope. The scorpion fell on him and stung him the split second before Kino could get there to pulverize and grind it to dust. But the damage was done, she had witnessed the most horror-filled moment of her life. The neighbors came, word about the baby being stung by a scorpion had spread. They stood, paralyzed, not knowing what to do as she ran to the baby and placed her lips on the wound sucking and spitting out the poison. She yelled at Kino to get a doctor and saw them exchanging sad glances. They knew the doctor would never attend to them here.

Juana insisted they walk to the doctor’s house. The townsfolk set out behind them, too distressed to note they had left the brush houses behind and had walked into the stone and plaster city. They knocked at the doctor’s door and asked the servant to fetch his master. The servant came back asking for money. They handed him three small pearls to take back but he returned apologizing, shaking his head, indicating that the doctor was unmoved. Juana had heard them inside, the doctor screaming at the servant, amazed that they expected him to cure insect bites on an Indian child! She heard him remark he was a doctor, not a veterinarian.

They had walked back, steps heavy with dejection and anger. Juana had prayed. She remembered praying the doctor would relent, she had sought the doctor’s help in her prayers not God’s, while Coyotito’s wound swelled. They had set out in their little boat the next morning, Kino wound tight as a whip, ready to strike. She sensed his anger and shame, felt his determination. She had watched him dive and had known it was different this time. He stayed submerged for what felt like an eternity he then emerged holding the biggest pearl she had ever seen. He held it up to her, proud. They rejoiced, their prayers had been answered. Word spread fast. The excitement palpable as everyone celebrated their good fortune, talking about the sums its sale would fetch praying their sudden luck wouldn’t change them. She was swept away in Kino’s excitement as he planned their glorious future, dreamt of making Coyotito a man of letters and of bidding farewell to penury.

The doctor appeared at their door the next day bearing medicine for the child, agreeing to postpone the collection of his fees until the sale of the pearl. The priest who had refused them a church wedding now came a-calling, expressing hopes of charitable donations.

Juana noted Kino’s gradual transformation from protector to fierce defender of not just his wife and child but the pearl as well. She saw him dig a hole by the fireplace to hide the pearl and she saw him take to wearing his knife on his person. His watchful eyes never slept anymore. She recalled the burglary attempts on their home and through her own lack of sleep heard the discordant notes getting louder, reverberating and filling her head until she couldn’t stand it anymore. She asked him to return the pearl to the ocean, she told him it was evil but he refused to listen. He assured her they would sell the pearl the next day, casting off the evil and holding on to the good.

They set off to the market the next day to pit their wits and wares against the pearl buyers’ collusive powers. They were offered a miserable amount – 1000 pesos. An infuriated Kino had refused to sell it for the pittance he was offered and had threatened to take it elsewhere. That night someone tried to steal from them again and Kino was hurt in the scuffle that ensued. Juana couldn’t take it anymore. She extracted the pearl from its hiding place crept out of the house while Kino slept. She intended to return the pearl to the evil depths from whence it had emerged. But as she was getting ready to do this she took an instant to notice a menacing looking Kino right behind her, enraged. He snatched the pearl away from her and struck her with a force that sent her crashing against the rocks. He left her there and walked away. When she gathered her courage to get up and walk back she noticed Kino in a struggle with a man, but by the time she walked back to them, someone had died. Kino stood, staggering, attempting to steady himself and at his feet lay a murdered man. Juana had to think fast, she left Kino there and dragged the man to the nearest bushes and hid him. Fugitives now they needed to leave town, the murdered man would soon be found and trackers set on the trail of the murderer.

They set out in the wilderness, Juana carrying Coyotito in her arms. They walked for miles, hiding whenever they spotted the trackers, climbing up the mountains evading them as best they could. They spotted them in the distance, two men and a horse. Seeking shelter for the night, they found the cave by a lake. The trackers were close now and they hid, knowing it was just a matter of time. Kino was restless. She had always been submissive and knew men. She knew there were no half measures with men, she viewed them as half insane and half god, willing to plunge their strength against the mountains and the seas. Juana knew the mountains would break him and the seas would drown him but there wasn’t a thing she could do. He felt cornered and wanted confront his pursuers and snatch one of their rifles away. He asked Juana to wait in the cave and left. He attacked the trackers like a man possessed, with a vengeance and fury she hadn’t known he possessed. He shot at them while she crouched within and then saw the sight no mother should ever witness, a sight so gruesome, so evil that she was now amazed she was still alive, standing, breathing, walking. Kino’s stray bullet had blown away Coyotito’ s head.

The songs of their soul, the music had been silenced forever. The irritant had left them tainted and changed forever, altered beyond recognition. She wanted nothing more than to see Kino cast the evil back to the darkest depths from which it had emerged as she stood there rocking a blood soaked bundle in her arms.

2 Comments

  1. "…as she stood there rocking a blood soaked bundle in her arms."What a memorable and haunting finish to such a beautiful construction. King of Gypsies

  2. You are an excellent writer, Vikram seth, Arundhati,Rohinton Mistry etc. better watch out.You can give Jhumpa Lahiri run for her money. Steinbeck would have had the same perspective for Juana. Violent death of the child because of the greed of Kino, it is the perfect climax.


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