Andrea Ramirez


Shattered View

    For the first twenty years of my life, I traveled with my parents to their homeland, Colombia, almost every year.  One year in particular, I remember traveling only with my father to visit his mother, Abuelita Herminia.  Abuelita Herminia lived with and was cared for by my aunts- Teresita, a middle-aged woman who never married, and Hermana Ines, who was a nun.   

    After arriving at my grandmother’s house and exchanging the expected round of hugs and kisses, we sat in her living room to catch up on each other’s lives.  Several minutes into the conversation, Dad mentioned to his mother and sisters that we were taking a day to see his cousin, Millo.  “La niña really wants to see him and visit his parish,” he said.  My father’s explanation was really aimed at his sisters.  At 87 years old, my grandmother did little more than sit on her worn brown accent chair and twiddle her thumbs while staring blankly out the window.  On the other hand, my aunts listened intently to my father’s every word.  Leaving the house to visit Millo was one of few acceptable reasons my father could give to his possessive sisters to leave their house.  Ines and Teresita believed that my father’s only purpose for visiting Colombia should be to stay with my grandmother.  Since my feeble grandmother hadn’t gone past her balcony for several years, Dad and I mostly remained housebound each time we traveled to Colombia.   

    “Oh of course,” Ines replied.  “You have to go see it Octo.  Millo’s working very hard on the building of that church.” 

    Ines’s positive response surprised me at first but upon second thought, made sense.  To my father’s side of the family, but especially to my aunts Ines and Teresita, Cousin Millo was untouchable.  He was like God to them--omnipotent, almighty, and all powerful--because he was the only priest in the family.  Once, at a family party in Colombia, one of Ines’s convent sisters came up to me out of nowhere and stated, in a hushed voice, as if she were about to give me top secret information, “What a blessing you have to be a part of a family with a nun and a priest!”  Her offbeat comment caught me completely by surprise-I barely grinned at her before she whisked away, the back of her tunic lifting slightly, like an ivory Superman cape.  My relatives’ decision to become clergy had never crossed my mind as one of my blessings and I doubted the nun’s superfluous comments wouldn’t change that.          

    Millo’s new parish was located in Niquia, the type of place the locals called un barrio popular, a low class neighborhood.  As my father drove to Niquia, I could see the gradual transformation of a well maintained city into its neglected outskirts.  The city’s skyscrapers turned into old, dilapidated buildings.  The local parks with their colorful fountains and well groomed children turned into deteriorated soccer fields with long, weedy grass upon which ill clothed children threw a weathered soccer ball around.   

    From the moment we arrived in Niquia and I set foot on the rocky red gravel that lay before the church, I knew I had left city life far behind.  I stood in front of Millo’s small, pale church.  An imposing gold cross decorated the roof and a life size white statue of the Virgin Mary stood at the entrance.  These were by far, this shanty town’s most elegant landmarks    

    “Hello Andreita, how are you?” Millo had come to meet us at the car.  He always spoke quickly in his high pitched voice, as if there was too much to do to spend the time talking.   

I smiled at him, trying to figure out what he’d said.  Seconds later, I responded. “Oh…Millo…I’m doing well.  I’m sorry, it’s just that you talk so fast!” 

    Millo patted my head and laughed.  He and my father resembled each other in many ways-both had the same large white teeth and a head full of bright white hair.  Nonetheless, Millo towered over my father in both height and girth.       

    Millo turned to my father.  “Cousin Octo, how’s it going?  Que mas?  You look like the man with the broken arm.  Did you hear about the guy with the broken arm?”   

    Conversations with Millo never lasted too long before he started telling jokes.  I didn’t laugh so much at his vulgar jokes as the fact that they were worse than the dirtiest jokes I had ever heard a layperson tell.  Millo liked to mention one in particular about going to Amsterdam and mistakenly ending up in la casa de las putas, a brothel.  I couldn’t help but laugh as I observed a fully robed priest cursing and talking openly about private parts.     

    To the left of Millo’s church stood the local cemetery.  I remember thinking how sad it must be to spend the rest of eternity in a forsaken place like the Niquia cemetery.  Dirty white towers littered the weedy ground, each containing several inserts for rudimentary wooden caskets.  This was where Millo’s parishioners would most likely be buried.  Que pesar, I thought.  Even their final resting place would be meager.       

    To the right of the church, shanty houses were stacked atop one another, on shaky concrete or wooden ground. 

    Millo brought us into the church.  He stood amidst the pews with his hands on his hips, his face beaming with pride.  The church was simple but immaculately clean.  By far, the most lavish piece of furniture was its marble altar.  The wooden pews had a fresh glossy coat and the drab gray floor gleamed.  At this time of day, around noon, the only person in the church besides us was a humbly-dressed, middle aged lady, who mopped the floors quickly yet efficiently.  She acknowledged our presence by lifting her head meekly and smiling softly.  Then she uttered a barely audible “Buenos dias,” before industriously continuing her chore.  Something told me she didn’t quite think it was “in her place” to spend more than a fleeting second greeting us before resuming her duties.  I wished she didn’t feel that way.  I wished I could get to know her.         

    I tried to listen to Millo as he explained some details about the church but soon became distracted by the ranchera music coming from a nearby house.   

    In my church in Miami, stained glass windows decorated the walls, showing images of saints and the holy family.  Millo’s church had large square holes in the walls which allowed for ventilation.  I looked out of one of the holes and scanned the makeshift houses to pinpoint where the music was coming from.   

    It was the house with the open door.  In it, a young lady in short shorts and a tank top swayed to the rhythm of the music with a dirty mop.  She sang the ranchera song word for word as she mopped and danced feverishly over the black and white checkerboard tile.  I had only seen that tile design in businesses which received a lot of traffic, not a residence.   

    The singer was too far away to hear, but I could tell by the way she moved her mouth that she was singing with all her might as if on a stage, performing.  She seemed to have forgotten that she was only mopping the drab tile in her poor house.  The tile looked much cheaper than the pink, glossy tile which decorated my house.  As many times as I had mopped the floor in my house however, I had never done so with as much joy as the girl who was mesmerizing me with her sheer passion and bravado.   

    On the contrary, I whined each time my father asked me to do the floors in our house.  My house, which had air conditioning and a full refrigerator and floors which gleamed.  The ranchera singer, in her old clothes and rickety concrete house, didn’t seem to mind her surroundings and instead seemed content in her superstar world.  I felt ashamed for all the times I became disgruntled when my parents asked me to help them around the house, failing to notice that this was the least I could do in exchange for my comfortable lifestyle.       

    Millo then led us to his office.  Like his church, Millo’s office was no-frills: a plain wooden table and chair, two chairs for guests, and a couple of cheap plastic frames decorating the concrete walls.     

    “Hey, what happened to that frame?”  I pointed to the frame with the shattered glass and what appeared to be a hole left by a bullet.   

    “Oh.” Millo giggled.  “Imaginese.  That happened one time while I was sitting at my desk, doing some work.  A bullet shot through my window and hit that frame.  Needless to say, it was a scary moment.  Gangs.”  Millo giggled nervously and continued talking to my father about other church business.   

    The shattered glass window in Millo’s office, a tiny slot in the concrete wall, revealed how the bullet had gotten inside.   

    “Millo, why haven’t you fixed the window and the frame yet?”  I interrupted. 

    “Well, to remind me of how close I came to the eternal glory.”  Millo laughed loudly in his typical manner of making light of serious topics.     

    But soon after, Millo looked at me with a straight face.  “But also,” he continued, “to remind me of what kind of community I’m working with.” 

    This was a side to Millo I had not seen.  For him to take a job there, in Niquia, in a place where people needed more than what they had to give said a lot about him.  To him, being a priest had nothing to do with doing a job.  Millo was fulfilling a passion to help others, no matter what the cost. 

    I had a newfound respect for Millo after that day.  Not in the way I admired Hermana Ines at six years old though, when I confessed to my mother that I wanted to be a nun.  I was no longer the naïve youngster with a romantic image of religious workers who did little more than sit and pray.  Millo had shown me that priests were also warriors sometimes.  They literally had to defend themselves and their community for what they believed in.  I wanted to be like Millo but not in the same way I had wanted to be a nun several years back when I craved my aunt’s calmness and peaceful state.  Instead, I was inspired by Millo’s hands-on approach to his faith and mission and sought to project my own faith in a new light: by helping those in need.     

    Passion was the only answer I could give myself to explain what Millo was doing in a place like Niquia.  Niquia was that place--a place like those they showed on the news in the States when they talked about the civil war going on in Colombia.   

    For the first time, I was afraid to be in Colombia.  I looked out the shattered glass of Millo’s tiny window and saw a ghost town.  I thought warring gangs from the barrio were suddenly going to appear and get into a fight, setting off guns and sending stray bullets towards me.   

    But I was willing to take the risk.  I had no interest in driving back to the safety of my grandma’s house.  I was fine where I was, looking through the shattered glass and absorbing this side of Medellin I knew existed but had never been able to say I had been a part of.  Until now. 

    On the drive home, I asked my father, “Papi, when we visit Colombia next year, can we visit Millo…and can we return to Niquia?”


Andrea is a graduate of the University of Central Florida where

she received both a BA and MA in English-Creative Writing. 

“The Shattered View” is Andrea’s first story which has been accepted

for publication and she is extremely grateful to the Acentos Review

for allowing her work to be shared with the public.  Andrea works

for ASPIRA of Florida, Inc., a community-based organization

dedicated to empowering Hispanic youth through the pursuit of

leadership and education.  Born to Colombian immigrants, Andrea

grew up in Hialeah, Florida, a city bustling with a diverse mix of

mostly Hispanics from many countries and affectionately known as

“La Ciudad que Progresa” by the locals.  Her inspirations run the

gamut from Ortiz-Cofer to Galeano.  She is currently at work on a