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When I Was Very Little

By Citlalin Ossio

Honorable Mention, Prose, Create | Encounter 2022

When I was very little and Mami was still a crown princess, my abuelos, the King and Queen, didn’t like me. They called me cursed. In fact, so did all in the palace.

But Mami was different; she believed I was a treasure. Her treasure.

When I’d get sad about being called cursed, she would comfort me with songs. Her voice was my favorite sound in the whole world, and when she sang, all my fears and sorrows melted away until I couldn’t help but dance. Then we’d dance together, just Mami and me.

Every day the King and Queen would visit us in our secluded palace room. Though they never acknowledged me. They’d tell Mami the kingdom was in ruins, and they needed her help to fix it.

Mami would say, “I will, and I will teach my daughter how to help as well.”

“That cursed thing will never inherit my throne,” the King would respond, his tone as hard as stone. “And neither will you if you insist on keeping it instead of sending it to Echo Isle as we told you to.”

She is your granddaughter and rightful heir, whether you like it or not,” Mami would say, her voice unwavering. “And I will do everything in my power to ensure she has a chance to claim that right. I will never give her up.” She was always brave in front of them, standing tall and fearless, but at night she’d cry when she thought I was asleep. She worried about what would happen to me in the future and wondered if it was selfish to keep me with her to inherit a broken kingdom.

I wasn’t strong enough to take care of her, so instead, I’d dance to cheer her up. That always dried her tears.

Her cries would turn to laughter, then she’d hug me and say, “The kingdom may be in shambles but it’s still my beloved home. I wish to share it with you. I think you’ll love it as much as I do, mi vida.”

I’d fall asleep in the safety of her warm embrace as she’d promise to always love and protect me.

When I was older the King and Queen made their usual visit. Only this time, they were accompanied by two royal advisors holding firefly lanterns that cast shadows on their masks of bone.

“Since you will not listen to us,” the King said. “Maybe you will listen to the pleas of your people.”

The first councilor stepped forward. “Your Highness, you must heed their Majesties’ request and break the curse if you wish to rule the kingdom well. We need a monarch like you to lead us to prosperity.”

“My daughter is not a curse. I can take care of both my kingdom and her if you’d just help me,” said Mami.

“Impossible!” the second councilor shouted, so loud I jumped. Mami soothed me as he continued. “Our duty is to the kingdom.”

“This is your last chance,” the King said. “If you will not obey us, then you must forfeit your inheritance and leave the palace.”

Mami hugged me tight and pleaded with the Queen. “Mamá, please.”

Please, Abuela, I echoed.

The following silence lasted what felt like forever. Finally, in a soft voice the Queen said, “It is for your own good and that of the kingdom. Choose, now.”

Mami’s breath hitched. After a moment, she wiped her tears and squared her shoulders. “I choose my daughter.”

We left the palace that day without escort or guard, without ceremony or blessings. Just Mami and me.

Word of our banishment spread faster than wildfire. Those who feared me, shunned us. Others condemned us. Still Mami kept me safe. But after a few days she grew tired, her courage fading. Even my dancing no longer brought her peace.