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Brujas, Parteras y Rebosos

Doña Tomasa, the Witch Nurse

Margarita was very sick and in pain enough to die. Her baby would not come. For two days Quiteria, the partera, had been wringing her hands and weeping. She had done all she knew to do. Narciso, Margarita’s husband, haggard and worried, stood by making up his mind to go for old Doña Tomasa. That was what was wrong. With their other four children, they had called old Doña Tomasa. Now, for the new baby they called Quiteria because Quiteria lived much nearer and was a much younger woman. But he would go and bring Doña Tomasa. He rushed from the house and brought his pony, and soon he was riding on the narrow trail to Doña Tomasa’s house up in the mountains four miles away. The horse would not trot. At last he came to her house. She was sulky and angry.

“You must come to see my wife; she will die if you do not hurry,” Narciso said.

“I will not go! Keep your Quiteria!” said the angry Doña Tomasa.

Then Narciso knew that he had been right. Doña Tomasa was jealous. Oh, his poor sick Margarita! What would this wicked old woman do to her? Now he became angry.

“My wife, she will die. You will go or I will lasso you and drag you behind my horse to my house!”

Doña Tomasa knew the man meant what he threatened. She said, “You go. I will follow you.”

Narciso left the place. Now his horse went trotting along since he was going home. But every little while he looked back, but no Tomasa followed. He grew uneasy, but he rode on; she said she would follow. When he reached home, there by the fire sat Doña Tomasa warming herself for the day was cold. Margarita was begging her to hurry and help her. Quiteria was begging her to hurry and help Margarita lest she die. Narciso watched old Doña Tomasa roll and smoke cigarettes and warm her hands, not at all surprised to find her there before his fire place, for she was always suddenly appearing or disappearing. He, too, pleaded with the old witch nurse to do something quickly to save Margarita. But all Doña Tomasa did was roll and smoke cigarettes, warm her hands at the fire, and putter about the room looking at this or that while Margarita groaned in her sufferings and begged her to help her baby to come. Hour followed hour. Margarita screamed in pain. Doña Tomasa glared at Quiteria and walked to the bed.

“Give me your hand, you coward!” she demanded.

Margarita laid her hand in the hard palm of the witch nurse and at that moment, they all heard a baby’s cry, and there was Margarita’s baby right before them. Doña Tomasa gave them all a look of triumph —Margarita’s baby had come when she willed.

Quiteria Outwits the Witch Nurse

“Quiteria is the best nurse and she is young,” the people said, and it made Doña Tomasa, the witch nurse, very jealous. So Quiteria was afraid of her and she tried to keep out of her way. The witch nurse might play an evil trick on her.

Then one day somebody whispered to Quiteria that if she stood on Tomasa’s shadow, Tomasa could not move and then she would have power over Tomasa. At noon one day, Doña Tomasa came to visit Quiteria. Ah, thought Quiteria to herself, I must keep her until her shadow grows a little. So she invited the witch nurse to eat dinner with her.

The woman was hungry so she stayed and drank the good atole (a drink made of milk and the meal of the roasted and ground pueblo corn) and ate the tortillas. But she was in a hurry and soon she was leaving.

Quiteria picked up her new reboso and followed Tomasa out the door.

“See how fine my new reboso is. Touch it.” And Quiteria came very close to the witch nurse and stood on her shadow. The witch nurse tried to move. She could not.

So she acted very natural as if she did not wish to move. She talked of the people to Quiteria. She talked of the crops. She rolled many cigarettes and smoked them. Hour after hour passed. Then she knew Quiteria was keeping her there on purpose. She must get away.

She cried out, “I am sick. Run quick. Get me some water!” Quiteria saw that she looked very pale, so she ran into the house for the water.

When she returned, Doña Tomasa was gone.