Every evening the darkness comes. In a city like San Antonio it hovers about the banks of the river in black shadows. Sometimes these shadows seem to take on a life of their own, a life that has been there for centuries, hiding, watching, waiting—a spirit that wanders up and down the banks of the river, moaning like the wind in the trees, “Hijos. Hijos. Dónde están mis hijos? Where are my children?”
This spirit has a name. She is called La Llorona, the Weeping Woman. Many have seen her in her white burial gown, walking the river’s shore. Some live to tell the story. Some are found floating face down in the river. But La Llorona was not always her name. Many years ago, in a tiny village in south Texas, lived a beautiful young girl named Maria. From the time she was a child, a light seemed to glow about her. In the mornings, when the women of the village gathered at the well to gossip, they would tease Maria about her little boyfriends. Even as a child, Maria would stare back at them and tilt her nose in the air.
“The man I marry will not be one of the dirty little poor boys of this village. He will be very rich,” she would proclaim.
The women, of course, would have a great laugh. And as Maria grew older, her beauty and her haughtiness grew as well. One day, when Maria was sixteen years old, a stranger rode into town. He was dressed in shiny black leather from head to toe, in the Spanish style. He carried himself tall and rode a smart, black stallion. The women hushed and stared, as he tied his horse to a fig tree near the well. And then, with a flourish, he pulled his guitar from over his shoulder and began to play. The women, without taking their eyes off him, gathered at his feet to listen.
Even the birds grew silent.
But not Maria. She proudly turned and carried her water jug to the river. As she knelt and watched the river water flow into the clay jug, she saw the stranger’s reflection appear in the water.
“You must be Maria,” he said quietly.
Maria brushed past him and ran quickly home. But he followed her, and that evening began to strum and sing beneath her window. Maria was hypnotized, as were all women in the handsome young stranger’s presence. Two months later, the two were married.
At first, they were a happy couple. Maria insisted they build a large, expensive house on the hill overlooking the village, for all to see. Two children were born to them, a handsome young boy and a precious little girl. But soon the wealthy stranger grew bored with life in the tiny village. He began taking short overnight trips, each one lasting a little longer. And when he returned, Maria would quarrel with him. Lines in her face began to grow, as her beauty turned to jealousy and rage.
One morning, as she and the children walked along the river’s edge, she saw her husband returning from a weeklong journey, driving a fancy new carriage. And sitting by his side was a woman she did not know, a pale woman with a soft, shy beauty. He parked the carriage and lifted the children to sit beside his lady companion. Then he called to the horses and off they rode. An hour later, when they returned, the children were laughing, their pockets filled with sweet candies. Maria’s husband helped the children climb down from the wagon. He glanced briefly at
Maria, waved to the children, and rode away. Not once did he acknowledge that Maria was his wife.
Maria was furious. She shook her fists in the air. She grabbed her hair and pulled it hard. Then she turned to the children, who
had walked to the riverbank.
In a fit of anger, Maria pushed her children into the river. Suddenly she came to her senses and realized what she had done. But the children were gone, carried away by the swift, deep current of the river.
But it was too late. Maria grabbed a long branch and tried to feel for her children in the water, but the river snatched it from her. All day and well into the night Maria walked the riverbank, calling and crying till she had no voice. The next morning the people of the town found her, lying dead on the muddy shore of the cruel river.
They dressed her in a white burial gown and buried Maria, there on the banks of the river, to be close to her children. But Maria did not stay in that grave. Late that evening, the villagers heard a howling wind, a moaning, crying wind coming from the river. A dozen men, carrying torches, gathered at the well. As they approached the river cautiously, they heard the cry.
Some of the men claimed they saw her walking in her white burial gown, others said they felt a cold chill on the river’s edge. Only eleven men returned to the well that night. The twelfth man crawled to the well the next morning, red finger marks wrapped around his neck. He told of being pulled to the river by the Weeping Woman, La Llorona. They say her spirit still lives in the river, in all rivers. The Rio Grande, the Guadalupe, the Colorado, even the San Antonio River. If you find yourself, some late evening, on the banks of a Texas river, stay away from that dark, shadowy place on the river’s edge. But if you stumble into the darkness, if you hear the wind whisper, “Hijos. Where are my children?” flee.
With all your speed, flee. She still seeks her little ones, and in the eyes of La Llorona, we are all her children.