(The copy in this email is used by permission, from an uncorrected advanced proof. In quoting from this book for reviews or any other purpose, it is essential that the final printed book be referred to, since the author may make changes on these proofs before the book goes to press. This book will be available in bookstores December 2021.)
Guayaquil, Ecuador April 1920
Surely they could all see through my disguise.
A drop of sweat slid down my forehead. I was definitely not dressed for the weather, which was akin to one of those Turkish baths gentlemen visited. The corset squeezing my small breasts was not helping matters. Neither was my husband's vest, his jacket, or his bow tie. The fake beard made my face itch. If only I could scratch it, but any wrong move might tear it off. Even worse, my spectacles were fogging up and making everything blurry.
How did I ever think I could pull this off?
A tremor rippled over my entire body as I reached the end of the pier. Calm down, you can do this. I took a deep breath, but my lungs didn't seem to get enough air. I did, however, get a mouthful of the stench of fish and smoke coming from the ship.
This was madness.
Herds of people waited for us to descend the plank. Some carried signs, others waved at my fellow passengers from the distance. I pictured one of them pointing at me in ridicule.
I can still go back inside.
I turned around and smacked into a shoulder behind me. With all the shouting, shuffling of feet, and dropping of bags, I hadn't seen the young man jostling in my direction. I shifted to the side and he rushed past me, ramming into an old lady strolling in front of us. She squealed as she fell on the ground.
"¡Bruto!" she called after him.
I darted toward her and helped her up—her bony arms as fragile as toothpicks.
"Are you all right?" I said in a low voice.
"Yes, I think so." She snatched her hat from the ground. "That man is an animal! But thank you, caballero. At least there are still a few gentlemen around."
I smiled at the irony but more importantly, it gave me a small measure of confidence that my disguise was working. I was about to ask her if she needed to see a doctor when a woman—older than Methuselah—approached us, leaning over a bamboo cane for support. I'd never seen so many wrinkles and spots on a single face.
"¡Hija!" she told the lady I'd just helped.
"¡Mamá!" the old lady said, hugging her mother. The women had a lot to say to each other and left without giving me a second glance.
If only my mother could be here to help me with my ordeal, but she'd passed away three years ago.
And now Cristóbal. My throat tightened.
But I couldn't fall apart at this moment. I was already here. I had to follow through with my plan, no matter what.
A Moorish tower in yellow and white stripes rose behind a cluster of hats and palm trees. Although narrower, it reminded me of Torre del Oro, back in Sevilla, a slice of my old life appearing before my eyes to reassure me everything would be fine.
That was what my mind said. My legs told a different story. They had become as heavy as lead. At any given moment, someone—anyone—could attack me. But I had no way of knowing who or if I would be able to even move.
Get a hold of yourself, Puri. Relax.
I scanned the strange faces around me. Certainly, my father's lawyer would be among these people, though I had no idea what he looked like. I hoisted my husband's typewriter and dragged the trunk with my other hand.
Fortunately, I had given away all my gowns, which meant I only had to worry about one trunk as opposed to three. As I wandered about the harbor, I ran into several of my dresses on the bodies of other passengers. The last one of them—a pink taffeta sheath my mother had sewn for me—dissolved like foam among a sea of linen and sheer drapes.