A five-year-old once told all of my neighbors that I had a xixi podre – a rotten vagina. I tried confronting her – why would you say such a thing? She wouldn’t answer. She didn't even deign to look at me. Her name is Serena.
She used to take the mangos out of the tree in my backyard when they were still green. She especially liked to take them after I’d asked her not to. She liked to play tricks on people, but mostly me – she would tip the water bucket over once it was full of rain, sneak into my home when I asked her to stay outside, and scribble on my house with charcoal. It was infuriating.
She used to wait for me outside my door, asking me when we would read next. Is it Saturday yet? No, the day after tomorrow is Saturday – we will read then. How about tomorrow, she’d say. Can we read tomorrow too?
Then her sister, Lude, was born. When her mother was absent – working in the farm or busy with her chores – Serena would wrap Lude up into a capulana, strap her across her back, and carry her to the library for reading time.
Serena never tired of hearing the adventures of Handa, the only young, African female protagonist featured in the library’s books. She heard the story of Handa’s hen disappearing – one time, two times, three times, and on, until she’d memorized the characters' names and the plot twists that came at each turn of the page.
She shared Handa’s stories with Lude. She held Lude’s pencil steady in her hand to help her write. She became her teacher, friend, and protector.
Serena burrowed into people's hearts. She did not fear love. She expressed it exactly as she felt it – conflicted, often unexpected, and at times, camouflaged to look like something else.
And for that, she is the second of The Great Danes.