Most happily and with the innocence of a farm girl, María examined the fabric and stitching of dress after dress, pleased to find that the vendors were very kind and not at all what she had expected. For a half an hour she looked around, the women working those stalls and tables complimenting her on the pristine nature of her mulatta skin, nary a pimple or blemish to mar her face (the kind of skin which had its own inner glow, like in the cosmetic ads, except she didn't use any makeup, not back then, a glow that inspired in the male species the desire to kiss and touch her), the men giving her the up and down, the children running like scamps tugging at her skirt— You see, my daughter; if I was incredibly good looking in my twenties, you can't imagine what I looked like in my prime, as a girl of sixteen and seventeen—I was something out of a man's dream, with honey skin so glowing and a face so pure and perfect that men couldn't help wanting to possess me.?.?.?.?
But being so young and innocent, I was hardly aware of such things, only that—well, how can I put it my love?—that I was somehow different from your typical cubanita.
That afternoon, she bought, at quite reasonable prices, certain dainty undergarments, they were so inexpensive, as well as a blouse, a pair of polka-dotted high heels, which she would have to grow accustomed to, and finally, after haggling with the vendor, she decided upon a pink dress of a florid design, said to have been styled after the Parisian fashion, with ruffles cascading over the shoulders and hips; a dress which she, being frugal, would keep for some ten years. With such items in hand and after she and her benefactor, the half toothless Sixto, had eaten a little something from a stand, they proceeded east into Havana, the city of both torments and love.
Excerpt from "Beautiful Maria of my Soul" by Oscar Hijuelos, copyright Hyperion Publishing, 2010.