Cintia always loved playing out in the rain and today was no different. As soon as she heard the rain softly hitting her office window she jumped up, put on her shoes and grabbed the multicolored umbrella. She knew she wouldn’t be using it, but she’d probably do her imitation of Gene Kelly in ‘Singing in the Rain.’ From the reception desk, Blanca Reynosa’s soft voice reminded her daughter, “Cintia, don’t forget to put on your rain pancho! What’s wrong with you? You want to catch your death of cold?” Cintia’s response as usual was, “Ay mami I’m a big girl now and you know I’ll just take it off once I get outside,” she grinned.
“Bueno, fine! But I’ll make you a nice hot cup of tea for when you’re done playing and you will drink it niña!” She muttered to herself as she walked away, “Mi hija el pato!” (My daughter, the duck).
Blanca Reynosa smiled as she prepared tea for her daughter and remembered the ducks and the rainy summer day fourteen years ago when her daughter had been eleven and her life had changed forever.
The Reynosa family was a rowdy bunch, except for Cintia who at eleven was very small for her age and very seldom spoke, if at all. Anyone attempting to speak to her was treated to a blank stare and then she would quietly move and hide behind her mami or papi. Her parents despaired of her ever coming out of her shell. Mami would say that she was a very quiet caterpillar and that one day she’d turn into a beautiful butterfly.
The Reynosa’s loved their big neighborhood church and every Sunday morning the entire family would walk to church together. They’d leave extra early so that Papi and Mami could use that time to ask each of them how their week had been, what they were grateful for and who had made them angry that week and give them advice on how they should handle it. Every week, as they would walk along the river’s edge towards church, Papi would point out something different in God’s wonderful creation and ask them what they thought God was thinking when He’d created it. The two Reynosa brothers always had deep answers and Tita, the eldest sister, well…let’s just say that poor Papi was always doubled up laughing by the time they got to church. He would look at his four children and with a sigh of pride and satisfaction he’d say, “You’ll do, you’ll do.”
That Sunday they’d left the house as usual and had answered Papi’s questions to his satisfaction and amusement, but just as they were about to enter Iglesia Casa de Oración (House of Prayer Church), Tita suddenly discovered she’d left her Bible at home. Actually, she’d just begun to date and knew that this week, Sunday morning would be the only time she could talk to her boyfriend on the phone. Mami must have realized that, because she decided to send someone else. She knew it was time that her youngest blessing began to grow up and do more for herself and even though her protective instincts told her not to do it, she decided to send Cintia. With an uncertain glance backward, Cintia started home back the way they’d come.
Cintia made it home in record time, grabbed Tita’s Bible and started out the door just as it began to rain. She took the multi-colored umbrella from the stand beside the door and started walking back very slowly. She loved walking in the rain.
She walked along Bay River and watched leaves as they floated down the river like little boats, some sinking when they filled with rain and others twirling madly as if controlled by magic. It took longer than usual to get to the corner of Alcott St. and cross to the other side. It was a very wide street with lots of traffic especially on the weekends. Cintia looked at the watch mami had given her and knew she’d still make it back to church in time. She knew that her mami and papi would be so proud of her. Mr. Landry, the owner of Gary’s Grocers waved to her and she hesitantly lifted her hand to wave back and turned to continue her walk, when she heard angry quacking behind her.
A mama duck with five little ducklings was attempting to cross the street to get to the other side, but the cars refused to stop. She would spread her wings and quack at them furiously, and then she’d turn her neck and quack at her babies, as if warning them not to move. Cintia knew she needed to get to church, but she was so afraid that something would happen to that little family. One of the little ducklings decided not to listen to its mama and started across the street and was hit by a small car and came to rest on its side in the middle of the street. Cintia screamed and would have run into the street, but before she could Mr. Landry had thrown one of the store’s grocery carts into the street causing traffic to come to a screeching halt. Cars on both sides began honking loudly.
Cintia ran to the injured duckling and kneeling on the ground picked it up and cradled it in her arms.
A big man in a blue Ford truck had tired of honking and was now lumbering toward Cintia and the ducks. “Get out of the way you stupid little girl,” he yelled, “they’re just ducks and now you’ve made me late!” He’d expected her to move quickly, but she sat there with her shoulders shaking and tears streaming down her face as she cradled the injured duckling in her arms.
Her parents and siblings, who’d come to look for her when she hadn’t returned to church, were furious! How dare that man scream at their little Cintia. Just as they started across to help her, Cintia took a deep breath, drew her shoulders back and looking straight into the big man’s eyes said, “No, I won’t move! I’m going to help the ducks cross the street.” She was still shaking a little bit, but she knew she had to be strong and just the way God protected her, she had to protect the ducks.
The big man opened his mouth to yell again, but all the anger drained out of him at the look of determination on her little face. She sat right where she was, looked up at him and refused to budge an inch. She was attempting to put the most ferocious scowl on her face possible, the one Papi wore when he was upset with her brothers, but she was failing miserably.
The big man lifted a beefy hand into the air and she tensed expecting a swat, but instead his hand came to rest gently on her head. He let out a great big sigh and got down on one knee to look into her eyes, “I’m sorry; you’re not a stupid little girl and I can always watch that movie another day with my kids. Maybe I can help you?” She looked up at him and her big brown eyes got bigger and all of a sudden she smiled so big, so that in spite of the rain coming down, the big man felt like the sun had come out to shine brightly on everyone.
Blanca Reynosa smiled and watched her little girl climb out of her cocoon. She walked across to her daughter, “Mijita (little daughter), what do you want us to do?”
“Can you stand and look at the cars on that side and put both your arms up to the sides like this,” Cintia put her free arm up to the side demonstrating, “until the ducks are on the other side?”
They split up into two groups one on each side of the duck family, the big man right in the middle of one group keeping the cars at bay; employees of Gary’s Grocers and Mr. Landry himself joined them.
Cintia picked up her umbrella and walked to the mama duck and just looked at her. She wasn’t quite sure what she was supposed to do next. The mama duck looked around and seemed to realize that everything had stopped for her; she put her head straight up in the air, quacked at the remaining four ducklings and up at Cintia as if to say, ‘follow me,’ and began to waddle across the street. Every once in a while she’d hiss at the backs of her live blockade and would look at Cintia as if to make sure she was still with them. With her open umbrella in one hand and the duckling in the other she followed the little family across the street.
Safely across the mama duck gathered her ducklings to her and quacked at Cintia, who began to cry again as she got down on her knees and placed the duckling on the ground. “I’m sorry mama duck, I think he went to heaven.” She covered her eyes with fisted hands and began to cry quietly, her heart broken.
Traffic had begun to move slowly and those who’d helped the ducks cross stood around her. Her Papi kept saying, “Ay mijita, lo siento. Daughter, I’m so sorry.” The big man stood there with a helpless look on his face and kept swallowing to try and get past the lump in his throat. Blanca and Tita got down on their knees to hug and console the youngest Reynosa.
A sudden pecking at Blanca’s knee had her looking around, “Mijita mira! Look!” The little duckling had begun to move, a little slowly at first, then more energetically and was pecking at anything in range. The mama duck moved to it, rubbed the back of the feathery head with her bill, then as discipline nipped it’s tail feathers sharply.
Mama duck quacked her approval at Cintia then with a few quacks and hisses lined up all five of her babies and led them into the water. The sun broke through the clouds, just as the last duckling waded into the water and Cintia’s eyes sparkled like chocolate diamonds with the last of her tears. With the biggest smile on her face she told her mami and papi, “That’s what I want to do when I grow up!”
“What mija? Swim?” Mami couldn’t stop smiling and papi was amazed that his Chiquita was finally talking.
“No! I want to take care of animals. I want to make them better and help them when they’re in trouble!”
Several months later after the duck incident, as it came to be known, Blanca watched with pride as her littlest blessing came into her own. The family had place of honor as Cintia cut the ribbon attached to the Duck Crossing signs that Mayor Morgan had placed on both sides of Alcott St. thanks to the urging of many citizens.
Cintia had expected to get in trouble for not getting back to church, but instead Mami and Papi proudly told everyone the story of the ducks on that rainy Sunday and how their little Cintia had finally turned into a butterfly.
Cintia looked around her at Reynosa’s Animal Hospital and Kennel; the barking dogs, the newly born kittens and the small lamb and smiled; to think this had all begun one rainy Sunday with a little family of ducks. She drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. She grabbed her rainbow colored umbrella and ran out into the rain. Maybe if she were lucky she’d come across some ducks.