At La Casa Azul

By María José Espinosa,
Literata Los Andes University
Teacher at La Casa Azul & en La Bibliocasa Llano Verde.
Yoselin and her sister Nicole at La casa Azul
In Song of Solomon, Milkman Dead is born when an insurance salesman commits suicide after declaring his intention to fly. Branded with a leaden surname at birth, Milkman also seeks to fly. A moment of revelation comes when he becomes aware of the names of the people around him, names marked by yearning, errors, gestures, marks, imperfections, events. Whether he flies or not in the end is because he was able to detach himself from them.

Kimberly arrived at Casa Azul carrying only her name and her siblings'. We don't know for sure how her name is spelled, there is no record to back it up. Her father is absent, her grandmother seems to carry all the pain in the world, her mother works as a recycler, and in the early days of Casa Azul, she appeared drugged.

Sergio: Hey, Majo, are you going to teach Kimberly today?
Majo: Yes, of course, I hope she shows up.
Majo: Maria, Kimberly wrote you a letter.
Maria: What does it say?
Majo [Kimberly?]: "Teacher, I love you a lot."

She enters Casa Azul. She looks down with shyness and reserve. Sometimes she looks around, her gaze fixed on the books she doesn't understand, but intuits. She only responds to what she is asked and prefers to watch the activities from afar.

Majo y Jenny: Who's at the window?
Todos: Ana! Ana!
Majo y Jenny: What's in that empanada?
Todos Kimberly bajito: Nothing! Nothing! They laugh, she smiles.

Casa Azul is full of desirable noises. The children shout, get excited, get exasperated with their playmates, with one another, laugh without fear. They are transparent with their emotions, it is easy to know if they liked what you planned. When Jenny and I did the activity with the worry dolls, we asked the children what they were afraid of.

The darkness
Being alone
My mom dying

Kimberly replied, "The darkness." It was the first time she spoke in public. That insignificant and ordinary moment felt like a small victory.

Sometimes we have to go to her house to call her. What in other children could be read as laziness, forgetfulness of their parents, running with laps, living far away and arriving with their lungs on fire and a couple of minutes late, in her case, is simply that she lost track of time: How can a girl who doesn't go to school have a clear notion of 2:00 pm? Her meter is the television programs, the national ones. "I go to bed when La Viuda Negra ends. On Saturdays I watch Sailor Moon." I still remember the school schedules, I had a sense of time because I knew what time we went out for recess. There is no mom or dad to turn to. We have the grieving grandmother and a rogue uncle who spends his time on that fatal street of the pot. There isn't much. Once I went to pick her up with Lily, and the first thing I had to do was see her house. It was a small house, and the diminutive still feels large. And the second thing, which also hit Lily, was the impact of three gazes, Kimberly's and her siblings', when they opened the door. "So much sadness in their eyes," Lily said. I couldn't say anything.

With Stefy, the challenge was greater. Everyone had to expose themselves to public speaking, invent stories on the spot, draw words from an imaginary bag and say all that came to mind in a minute, play games, emit all kinds of sounds, mop the floor with their body, make themselves heard in every way possible. And always, at some point, put on a scene and present it to the public. At first, Kimberly won the hearts of those who attended the classes, as there was not the slightest possibility of her standing up in front of everyone to say anything. It was there, surreptitiously, that she won everyone's heart one by one. Maria Antonia was already won over.

Kimberly: Teacher, can I borrow some colors?
Teacher, can I help distribute?
Teacher, I made this card.
Teacher, do you know how to play this? Pointing to the guitar.

Majo: No,Kimberly. I would learn just to teach you, I think.
Kimberly: Teacher, do you know when cooking class is?

As is the case for many - the majority - cooking class is Kimberly's favorite. I can think of all the obvious reasons, but being very convoluted, I think that in the kitchen they can see their learning materialized, knead it, smell it and add a little more salt, or realize that they needed butter. And as if that wasn't already something great, they eat it and it's pure pleasure. That should be knowledge for everyone. In class, Yoselin follows all the instructions, asks Dania if she's doing well, occasionally gives advice to kids at another table. She already feels she can give advice, well.

It would never occur to me to think of Kimberly as a passive child. Perhaps suddenly silenced by the weight of oblivion, necessity, a restricted world. But as soon as she saw the books, she took one, and as soon as she had the opportunity, she plucked the guitar strings. She took the colors, asked things quietly. As soon as she had tools, she used them. And that's why, even when asked, "What is your neighborhood?" she answered "Colombia", she was the one who answered the comprehension questions correctly. Because she is curious and knows how to listen. She started taking books home, giving hugs, letting herself be loved. I was thrilled to see her perform in a scene. She was a supporting character, a girl who, along with others, bullied the nerd in the class. I laughed when she pulled her hair, when she called her silly. When she walked like Antonella from "Patito Feo" and pretended to be chewing gum. The best part was that she looked calm, at ease.

She sings, softly, but she sings in Sergio's icebreakers. She does the salad and chipichipi dance. When she looks at me, I feel the most important. She has that gift.

At the Halloween event, she couldn't dance Thriller with the others because she was late, but I dare say she would have if she had dared. But something important happened that day: she told me she wanted me to teach her to read. She told me with her eyes, those that each time look a little less dull. In our first session we reviewed the vowels, danced them with the song "La barca" by Luis Pescetti. We shouted them. I really like it when she speaks loud. I asked her to make a list of the words she knows how to write:

Te amo
I love you
Te quiero mucho

Three-fifths of love, two names. We were ready to begin. The words of love and identity were making way for the others. Now that list is a little longer. Kimberly knows the letters of the alphabet and how they sound. She can write short words if I repeatedly reiterate their sound. She is able to read short sentences, very slowly still, but she succeeds. She is a sponge, she learns very quickly.

She still responds, "I don't know," when I know she does. Her voice is soft and her expressions, brief. She is not like the twins or Gabriela who take command once they have the instruction. She is also not outgoing and personable like Antonella (her story is another thing too). But Kimberly is perhaps the most forceful presence in La Casa. The one you know is there, without fanfare, without drums or grandiloquence. You realize it when you see her browsing through books, when you see her helping with the little ones, when she gives you a hug from behind. And now, when she participates in all the activities (if you saw her dancing!) when you miss her terribly when she doesn't come.

Going back to the beginning, I don't know what Kimberly's surname is, the weight that comes from generations back. Sometimes it's better that way, because we have the ability to rewrite her story, to give twists in the plot and to hang up the pen, like Cervantes did with Don Quixote, to see how his knight errant continued to undo wrongs and right injustices, to see how Yoselin leads us to witness the wonderful and tremendous event - on the track of La Casa Azul - of seeing her fly.