Now Starring Maria


Words :

Clara Kim

Illustration :

Jordi Ng

Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either from an hour of sitting and observing at a churro cafe in West Los Angeles or the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


PAN - CARIBBEAN SEA - DAY - clear and calm

MUSIC - quiet and melancholy - plays throughout opening scene //

FADE TO BLACK

FADE IN


EXT. CHURROS CALIENTES - EVENING (7:54 PM)

In the heart of West Los Angeles, a quaint coffee shop glows yellow onto the street, a warmth only visible to those with a keen eye. Empty chairs sit in groups outside, waiting to be filled with animated bodies. Music plays from a television inside, echoing through the space.

The silhouette of a woman appears beneath pendant lights. Her printed skirt flounces to your gaze.

This is MARIA. A hostess on most days and an aspiring star, loyal niece, and parrot-owner on all days. At 29 years old, she has a feminine physique with robust hips. Her voluminous, thick curls and heeled boots make her a proud 5’8’’.

She oscillates between blankly staring at customers and very intently gazing out the door. Deeply embedded pins keep her hair kempt while she twirls her black strands one by one between her fingers.

DISSOLVE TO:

INT. CHURROS CALIENTES - EVENING (7:56 PM)

MARIA’S POV shots of inside the hidden gem (Wide, Close Up)

Only flickering candlelights and shadows of early visitors bring life to the brick walls. Two female college students sit at the bar. One poses holding a churro while her confidant snaps a shot on her phone, disrupting the cadence of the room with a startling flash. Across the space sits a small family. A little boy’s mother embraces him as he chomps on his own sugary delight.

The Churros Calientes’ ladies glide around, the backs of their shirts reading, “U like it hot, U like it sweet.”

MARIA’S POV cont. - ENRIQUE

A close-up shot of out the window. A silver-haired man, ENRIQUE, comes into frame. He is leaning against his black Mustang with a mischievous grin. He gestures to Maria to come outside. Maria obeys. There is a skilled coyness in the way she asks:

MARIA
Would you like a table outside?

ENRIQUE
I’m disappointed:
you don’t remember me from earlier. I was the strange looking one with three cups of chocolate for an empty plate of churros--  

MARIA
(laughs)
It’s hard to notice fellas when I’m stuck to the corner.

ENRIQUE
Well, my name’s Enrique, and I kept ordering them hoping I would get a chance to talk to you. Didn’t work out but your sister did give me your name. Es muy bonito.

MARIA
Thank you. 

She chuckles at the memory of her unhappy mother naming her after the bitter sea.


ENRIQUE
Wanna go dancing with me tonight?
DISSOLVE TO:

Zoom out shot from ECU (Extreme Close Up) of red dress circling ceaselessly, into Maria and Enrique dancing the Joropo (Venezuelan dance) on stage in front of big audience. Enrique’s silver hair peeks out from beneath his fedora while a big, red flower barely locks Maria’s curls in place. A spotlight chases their darting footsteps.
CUT TO:

A close-up of MARIA’S P.O.V. - ENRIQUE

CASABLANCA’s Humphrey Bogart is passionately focused on her as they spin.

Zoom out to Enrique disappearing to the back. The audience starts CHEERING for Maria who keeps dancing, adorning a bright smile.  

BACK TO SCENE - EXT. CHURROS CALIENTES - EVENING

ENRIQUE (con’t)
(confused)
MARIA?

MARIA
(quickly hides grin)
Oh! I’d love to, but I have a lesson to go to.

ENRIQUE
(jabbing)
You sure know how to break a man’s heart.
Here’s my number if you ever want to
fix it.

Enrique hands her the note, then departs.

Maria puts it in her blouse pocket, then turns back to a chaotic line of restless customers.

INT. CHURROS CALIENTES - EVENING (8:45 PM)

Maria’s younger sister, BEATRIZ, comes running toward her. She is much younger (18) and looks much simpler.

BEATRIZ
Vas a salir con él?
(Are you going to go out with him?)

Her excitement nearly causes the note to fall out of Maria’s pocket.

MARIA
(Feigning ignorance)
Se llama Enrique?
(Is his name Enrique?)

The two erupt in giggles, which is halted by the owner. This is their 60 year old UNCLE, also their warm companion.

UNCLE
Girls, get back to work please!

CUT TO:

EXT. CHURROS CALIENTES - EVENING (9:04 PM)

It is a couple minutes after her shift. Maria discreetly applies her lip gloss and reveals her golden keychain from behind the pipes that line the walls of the cafe.

FADE IN

ECU - CINEMA PIXELS - “PELLE THE CONQUEROR”
After receiving a kiss on the cheek, a young boy walks away from his old man. The rugged old man remains in the frame — waving, hesitating.

MUSIC — beautiful, somber piano music begins and plays through until ending credits.
The camera shifts to the boy and his sack walking into the horizon.
He then turns and waves at his father who reciprocates. Film ends with dolly shot of boy reaching the shore in quest of America.

INT. ROYAL THEATRE - EVENING (11:30 PM)

Maria sits in her regular seat amongst a few scattered elderly couples. Earnestly watching it to its end, her eyes glow with blue from the screen, which they never drift from. Her hand falls back into the popcorn while tears fall down her cheeks. She is the only one crying.

One couple nearby notices and gives a small smile in her direction. She pays no attention. Others brush against her legs to leave. Maria gives no attention.

The flip phone in her purse RINGS. Maria continues to cry. The phone rings persistently until she picks up, looking vaguely irritated.

MARIA
Hello?

BEATRIZ is on the other end.

BEATRIZ
When are you coming home?

MARIA
Don’t bother me, I’m crying.

BEATRIZ
Again? I can’t sleep and I’m still
hungry. I want you to make that
squash soup I like.

MARIA
Alright, I’ll be there soon.

BEATRIZ
Make sure to dry those eyes first!


Maria grabs her purse from her seat and finally heads toward the glowing exit with her unfinished popcorn. Enrique’s number remains folded in the cupholder.  

FADE IN

INT. MARIA’S APARTMENT - PAST MIDNIGHT

A space barely big enough for two. Pots and frying pans fill the kitchen sink in the background. Beatriz’ attempt at squash soup is dispersed over the counter and its pungent smell lingers on. The teal walls are dominated by photographs of the sisters and late Hollywood stars.

Amidst the neighbors’ rustling above and NANDO, their parrot, flapping in his cage, Beatriz is sound asleep on the couch. Maria approaches her sister, whose steady breathing becomes more clear, and removes the dirty plate off her chest. She glances at the empty bed in the distance, and smiles softly, masking a deeper excitement that is seen in her eyes. She’s going to have a fantastic sleep.

Maria uncoils her hair, dresses in her nightgown, and places her golden keychain from her purse onto the nightstand. Before turning to face the ceiling, she looks passionately at the keychain. Tucked away next to it is a small photograph of her parents back home.

FADE TO BLACK

FADE IN

INT. MARIA’S HOME IN MAIQUETÍA - DAY (2:50 PM)

The door is locked shut. We hear her parents BICKERING downstairs. In the corner of the frame, BEATRIZ and Maria’s youngest sister are playing a game outside. The room is filled with windows, so the broken ceiling lamp is left broken. Harsh sunlight penetrates the lined paper Maria is writing on. Despite outgrowing her desk, Maria marks the paper with a sense of grandeur.

PAN - CARIBBEAN SEA - DAY - clear and calm

V.O. of MARIA
(romanticized, exaggerated)

To the lucky one who finds this:

She resides before you today, bereft of life but abundant in presence. Those who saw her on screen may remember her indelible charm through her role as Kat from Where Have the Flowers Gone (2016) or Lady Jane from The Occult series (2019). Her husband and her biggest supporting actor, Patrick, her uncle Michel, her sister Beatriz, and many friends she encountered will remember her as kind yet tenacious, for Maria Oropeza was a young fire that refused to die out.

The Venezuelan terrains weren’t wide enough for her and neither was her parents’ yard. Since she was a little girl walking through the Sunday market with her Mamá, the world was calling out for her from somewhere -- somewhere past the Caribbean Sea. And so she let go of her Mamá’s hand and faced the dust ahead. They told her, “You won’t make it, no, here is where you’re supposed to be.” But brave Maria Oropeza dared to leave, and became exactly what she was meant to be.

This is just the beginning. May you never forget the despair she hid and the elegance she embodied in spite of it.

THE END