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The Number 13

The number 13 is considered to bring bad luck in many Western cultures, as is Friday. For this reason, the 13th, when it happens to fall on a Friday, is considered a day of misfortune and the most superstitious avoid certain habits.

Little Maria may not know it, but every day she carries the number of bad luck on her back. A long time ago, she found a jersey from a well-known soccer team with the number 13 on it in the garbage heap, perhaps thrown away by a fan who didn't accept the defeat of his favorite team, or simply because it was torn on the front. Since then, Maria has never taken the shirt off, perhaps because it was different from all the others she'd found in the trash, torn and uninteresting.

Every morning, she and her sister have to cross, under the blazing sun, a vast plain covered in debris as far as the eye can see in order to reach the places where the trucks deposit the first loads of garbage in the morning. It's a barren desert where no one would imagine there could be life or anything that could be used by anyone.

They carry two buckets, as if they were fishermen walking towards the immensity of the ocean, eager to catch the day's trophies. Along the trails that snake through an amalgam of burnt garbage trampled by the scavengers that live here, they are on the lookout for anything they can find on the ground. Pieces of clothing, shoes, scraps of metal that have survived the fires - everything is important.

The still smoking piles of garbage are chopped up with the only working tool available here: an iron with a twisted tip and a makeshift handle made of rolled-up plastic strips. They have to fight against the toxic fumes and heat that are still rising from the piles of garbage that have been burning all night.

At the end of the day, little Maria wanders alone through this world, gray, smoky and sad, as if it were an inhospitable planet where humanity could not survive. It's her last attempt to find something before the sun sets over the horizon and the cloak of night falls over the plain. Ironically, the number 13 on her back is the only thing of interest that can be seen in this alien landscape.

The day invariably ends like all the others, a day of work and no toys to brighten little Maria's life. She may not know it because she has never crossed the mountains that surround this sad, gray world, but on the other side there are girls like her who get tired of laughing, who comb the hair of dolls that have all their arms and legs, and play house with cutlery and pretend pots and pans.  

Unfortunately, Maria is a little girl like all the others who live here. They all have a vacant, sad look in their eyes that lacks the joy and liveliness we are used to seeing in all children. The first time I saw little Maria was in 2021. 3 years later, she's still wearing the same jersey and her life hasn't changed at all, perhaps ironically confirming that the number 13 she proudly wears on her back has brought her an unlucky fate. She still walks the same trails and wanders the same desolate plain, scavenging through piles of garbage in search of something that can turn her into a real child. The only vanity she has managed to show off after all this time are the rubber bands her mother has put in her hair, which show that, despite the sad and monotonous world she lives in, she will never lose her girlishness.

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