She had no intention of going to town that day. The rundown colonial buildings, the beggars sprawled in the dusty main plaza, the streets with cobblestones crumbling like an old man’s teeth—the entire place made her feel even more uneasy than usual. But Geraldo said he had to make a payment of 100 dollars at the bank by day’s end, and he’d be busy with their four sons harvesting the maiz right through sunset; so, would she please go there and take care of it, and of course, pick up something nice for herself, a new dress maybe, at the dry goods place.
Reluctantly, she went. She skipped the dry goods place since they hardly ever had anything real pretty there, or if it was pretty enough she couldn’t any longer get herself into it; so why make herself miserable by looking into that store mirror that showed you back and front at the same time. Better to just go take care of Geraldo’s business at the bank.
She crossed through the main plaza, glanced over at the pockmarked white church where she never entered. She walked by the aproned ladies who were selling fragrant pupusas [tortillas with stuffing] and grilled corn-on-the-cob from smoking pushcarts. Then, just as she was a few steps from the bank, trying to ignore everything and everyone, she looked up and she saw him. There he was in front of the glass doors of the bank. Erect, as if waiting for some trouble, he was standing there in a blue and brown uniform—different from that other one, the Salvadoran Fuerza Armada one—and now with a shotgun in one hand, and fingering his handlebar moustache with the other hand. The moustache was new, different; before it had been a nasty thin line over his nasty thin mouth. But those pointy ears and the same slick black hair, though a bit grayer now—yes, they were his. And as he said his meaningless welcome in that raspy voice of his, she had no doubt: it was him.
She couldn’t look him in the eye. Never could do that. She sensed that he didn’t look at her too closely, or if he did, he didn’t recognize her. Not surprising, she thought. She had been only 14 years-old then, slim and lovely, and had worn her flowing chestnut hair shoulder-length then, not clipped short like now. Trembling and barely able to breathe, she walked past him. Only with great effort was she able to take care of Geraldo’s business. A half-hour later she exited the bank door, relieved to find that some other guy with a shotgun was now standing guard duty.
What was she to do, she kept asking herself as she rode home on the rickety rainbow-colored bus? How deal with this thing? How? Yes, she wanted to tell Geraldo and her older brother Chepe who also lived in the community. But, telling them would have a price. Pleasant and kind as Geraldo was, he just might go after that bastard; that’s what he had said years back, just before they got married. And Chepe, he for sure would grab his machete and go hack that son-of-a-whore to pieces, never mind the consequences. So, no, I’ve got to keep quiet for the moment, she figured, at least until I get this thing figured out.
But that same evening, even though he was tired when he came back from the milpa [plot of land], Geraldo sensed that something was wrong with her. “You all right, Carmen?” he asked as he plunked his heavy body down at the wooden bench on their dirt-packed veranda. His broad face with that tender smile was honed in on her as she tried to look away and busy herself by poking the fire and smacking down tortillas onto the homemade cast iron pan. When she didn’t answer, he got up and stood silently at her side for a few moments, and then finally said in his soft voice, “Some problem with the bank folks? Or, is it something else. Que pasa?”
The four boys were trying not to look at her, and a couple of them went by the cistern and washed their faces. “No problem,” she mumbled. She turned toward him, rubbed him gently on his thick shoulder as he flung both arms around her waist. Pulling loose, she said in a way more harsh than she meant, “Mira, Geraldo, you feed the boys tonight.” She then stumbled into their dank one-room shanty, covering her sobs with her apron.
Grateful as Carmen was for Geraldo’s ways with her, and grateful as she was to her brother Chepe for originally steering his ex-compañero, Geraldo, in her direction, she never could get herself to feel that she deserved their goodness. Nor could she get herself, even on her most hellish days, to talk openly to them about how she felt. They wouldn’t understand. Only a woman, and maybe only a woman who had gone through something like she did, could truly fathom how the world had changed for her back when she was 14 years-old; and also, how terrifying it was for her, all these years later, to unexpectedly come upon the one who had forced that change on her; and even more, how confused she now was as to what, if anything, she should or could do to that bastard, Colonel Montoya.
Luckily for Carmen, within their community of 300 souls, almost all of whom were ex-guerrillas and their families, there were at least two or three women who had suffered similar horrors in their lives. And one of them was the community’s healer and fortune-teller, Angelica, a boney, pale and arthritic woman in her seventies who (apart from some teenagers) was the only one in the community who wore lipstick even on weekdays. Nobody knew the full history of Angelica Bonifacia Morales de Cordoba, not even Carmen who adored her. It was general knowledge, however, that she was the wife of a revered former comandante of the FMLN guerrillas, but when he died in an ambush in the late 1980s it was his mistress, and not Angelica, who inherited almost all of his worldly goods as well as his sizeable pension. Angelica always proclaimed that she didn’t mind this betrayal, which was hard to believe except if one knew (and Carmen was one of the few who did know) that she had long before ceased loving him when he had, out of unimaginable political loyalty, done nothing at all upon discovering that his superior commander had raped her on three consecutive nights when he, her husband, was off on a training mission in Cuba. Confronted with the indisputable evidence, her husband had said without the slightest shame, “Such are the hazards of war, unfortunately.” So, when the news came that her husband had died heroically, she played her part as a bereaved widow, while secretly—and with no shame of her own—welcoming her freedom. And with her new freedom, she left for Spain, where she spent a year studying the arts of healing and fortune-telling. She returned just in time to receive, along with three dozen other families of former FMLN combatants, a small plot of land and a wooden shanty. Promptly, and a bit ostentatiously, she had endeared herself to the new community, as well as several other communities in the area, by predicting almost the exact date of the Peace Accords and, in addition, the general terms of government reparations to the ex-guerrillas and their families.
Now, 20 years hence, Angelica lived in the community’s finest house: a two-bedroom cinderblock structure located in the community’s upper reaches. From her faded red hammock on her veranda, she could see the 40 or so shanties below, and generally at dawn a soothing, other-worldly mist rose from the valley and the sugarcane fields and up to the milpas just above her.
That drizzly November morning when Carmen finally decided to visit Angelica—after a week of horrendous, repetitive nightmares—she found her friend sitting cross-legged on her hammock, her head covered with a white silk scarf. Slowly rising, Angelica beckoned Carmen to have a seat on an adjacent floor cushion. “I heard you coming up the path and I sense you are carrying quite a load on you. Here, I’ll get you some coffee, chica. It’ll calm you.”
“I sure as hell hope so,” Carmen said. Then, even though she fought it for a moment, she began weeping. The two women sat silently for a long minute, and then Carmen said, “My nightmares–they’ve come back.”
“I saw him, Angelica. In town—at the bank.”
“You mean the Fuerza Armada guy who during the war, that one who….”
Carmen didn’t need to explain further. Years ago, shortly after she met Angelica in their newly-established community, the two had shared confidences. Trusting Angelica immediately—an unusual experience for Carmen—she told her in gruesome detail how she had been captured while delivering food supplies to her brother’s FMLN unit in the monte, up in Chalatenango. She and three others were captured together, tied up like animals, and transported to a remote army barracks belonging to the Fuerza Armada. Colonel Montoya was the commander there. He came out of his office that day to inspect the four girls, pinching them and fondling them, and then turned the other three over to one of his soldiers and kept Carmen for himself. Later she found out that those poor girls had been gang-raped for a week and then shot in the head and dumped into the garbage pit. As for her, she had been the Colonel’s “little one” for two months, and probably would have suffered the same fate as the other girls if it had not been for a surprise visit from the Red Cross which caught the entire battalion off guard, including the Colonel, and he was compelled by those gringo doctors and nurses to release her to their custody. They fed and clothed her for a few days. Afterwards, they drove her in their shiny white truck back to her hamlet where she rejoined her family—that is, the few who were not off fighting with the FMLN. Unable to talk about her experience and, in any case, with nobody wanting to hear a word of it, she had kept it a secret until after the war when Chepe, her favorite brother, returned; and then she told him.
“Yes, yes, I remember the whole thing. Of course, I remember.” Angelica shook her head, wincing. She took a deep swallow of her coffee and said, as if to herself, “So that bastard is back in your dreams–your nightmares.” With her smoldering grey eyes focused on Carmen, she said, “Now you’re wondering what to do, aren’t you? I understand. Believe me, I understand. Remember what happened to me? I couldn’t decide, and in the end I did nothing. That was a bad choice. One must do something.”
Angelica started pacing up and down on her veranda. Finally, as if she were a judge bringing in the verdict, Angelica explained that she had learned in Spain how to effect certain curses—curses that would settle the matter with minimum bloodshed. Angelica did not believe in using this wizardry to kill people. “Death sentences are only for God,” she said. “But short of that, we can let him know that we have not forgotten and not forgiven, and that he will have to pay a penalty—something short of death—for his crime.” Angelica put her arms around Carmen. “Are you willing to follow my instructions?”
“Si, si. I’m ready.”
The plan was rather simple, even though it seemed a bit bizarre to Carmen. Angelica said she had seen it employed on several occasions. But, to make the curse work (Angelica peered into Carmen’s eyes and grasped her hands with surprising force), every detail had to be followed exactly. What Carmen had to do was to slaughter a rooster, cut off its cockscomb and place it in a plastic bag together with a half-cup of the rooster’s blood, and then add into this bloody mix a pair of Carmen’s most sexy underwear. Once she had this plastic bag prepared, she needed to place it inside a brown paper bag on which she had written her tormentor’s name. Then, within the following twenty-four hours, she had to deposit the bag with her own hand (nobody else could do it for her!) either in front of her tormentor’s home or at his place of work. After that, all she needed to do was go home and wait patiently: it would take about a month. Since it was now near the end of November, Angelica said, by Christmas time the curse will have taken effect.
With these instructions firmly in mind, Carmen returned to her shanty. True, she had her doubts that such magic could work. But with her deep belief in Angelica, she was determined to try it. Anyway, what did she have to lose? Fortunately, that afternoon her four sons were in school, and now that the harvest was over Geraldo was busy with several other men in the community repairing the potholed road that led from the community to the main street. The only beings that would see her doing these strange things were the two cows, the three dozen chickens, their dog Fidel, and of course, the rooster. As she went into the house to fetch Geraldo’s machete, she realized that killing the rooster would be the easy part. After all, she’d been slaughtering chickens and roosters ever since she was seven years-old. But, the underwear part of this plan, just thinking about it, filled her with disgust. Besides, what was “sexy” about her underwear—those miserable, half-torn things she had worn for years? As she went to the trunk to fetch a couple of these things, much to her surprise, she suddenly remembered that at the bottom and covered by a sheet of plywood, she had hidden those pink panties and matching brassiere that Geraldo had bought her shortly after they married. She had screamed at him back then, swore that she would never wear those things, and buried them away at the bottom of the trunk. Now, at last, she had found a use for them.
A half-hour later, blood still on her hands, she had a plastic bag filled with the necessary items. She was sitting there on the veranda, now writing the name of her tormentor with a red crayon in large letters on the paper bag when she heard Geraldo’s footsteps entering their yard. A wave of nausea rose from the pit of her stomach as she bolted into the shanty with the two bags in hand. Geraldo, who was seldom flustered by anything, gazed at his fleeing wife, then saw the decapitated rooster lying on the veranda floor; and he, too, felt his stomach turn. “Hey, Carmen,” he called after her, but did not enter the shanty. “What’s going on here?”
“Nothing’s going on,” came the answer from inside the shanty.
“Like hell it isn’t.” Geraldo removed his muddy boots and slowly walked inside. There, sitting on their cot, the two bags still grasped tightly in her hands, Carmen was shaking and moaning. Without saying a word, she held out the two bags to Geraldo and, in a mixture of anguish and embarrassment, she revealed to him the whole story. Geraldo listened patiently, biting his lips as she talked. When she finished, he said to her with all the calmness he could muster, “And this is what you are going to do?”
“I feel I must.”
“There are other ways, you know.”
“No, Geraldo, don’t!” She grabbed him by his shoulders. “Please, let me do it my way. I trust Angelica.”
“And when are you going to do this?”
“Tomorrow. At dawn. Before the bank opens and before Montoya arrives. I’m going to put the stuff next to the door where he stands. I’ve got it figured out, Geraldo. Please, leave it to me. You must!”
The following morning, as the first rays of the sun were slashing through the banana and papaya trees next to the veranda, Carmen, dressed in her frayed blue Sunday clothes, was ready to go. She had hardly slept that night. The bestial face of the Colonel kept reappearing in her mind and she felt queasy with each reappearance. But she also felt something else now. She imagined the bloody concoction she was planning to deliver, and disgusting as it was, it also gave her a sense of strength and a vague feeling of hopefulness. Still, she was scared. What if someone noticed what she was placing there in front of the bank? Would she run? And what if the Colonel himself caught her doing it? What would she say or do then? Unsettled by these last-minute thoughts, she didn’t bother grabbing her breakfast of tortillas and beans. Nor did she stop to clean up the mess she made yesterday—the blood, the feathers, and the rooster’s castrated head. Geraldo would pick up the mess, she figured. She just wanted to be on her way and get it over with.
An hour later, she found herself pushing her way out of the bus at the town’s already-crowded main plaza. The scent of smoking wood and fresh-made tortillas perfumed the damp morning air; she wanted to go get a couple of those tortillas but decided to wait. Walking across the plaza toward the bank, she glanced at the hovering white church, and for the first time in years she felt a longing to go in and pray; but that too would have to wait. She continued heading towards the bank which was not due to open for another half-hour and, Gracias a Dios, nobody was lined up outside and the Colonel was nowhere in sight. Wasting not another second, she went up the stairs leading to the bank’s glass doors, sat down for a moment as if she were a customer, and with a quick hand she deposited her bag just to the left of the doors. She continued to sit for a few more minutes, sweating now and her feet almost numb. No customers yet, no Colonel, and nobody watching her. Unhurriedly, she pulled herself up and casually strolled over to one of the tortilla stands and bought herself two pupusas with cheese along with a cup of coffee. But, hungry as she was, she could barely eat. Instead, she continued over to the sole coconut palm in the plaza, sat down, and as inconspicuously as possible kept a watch on the bank’s front door.
Sure enough, at eight o’clock sharp, according to the clock perched high on the church’s outer wall, the bank doors swung open and out stepped her enemy in his starched uniform and with his shotgun in his hand. A few customers had lined up, and one by one he welcomed them with that phony smile of his. Soon they were all inside and he shifted his stance slightly, looked up at the cloudless sky and then down at the ground. At once he noticed the package. He picked it up, at first not looking at it closely, but then the writing on the brown bag seemed to surprise him. A few more customers passed by and he hardly welcomed them. He walked a few paces away from the front doors, quickly peeked inside the brown bag, and began removing the plastic pouch. From her perch under the coconut tree, her enemy seemed to shudder when he saw the contents. To her surprise, he then disappeared back inside the bank; and even more to her surprise, five minutes later a second guard came out of the bank and took up the Colonel’s position. Carmen waited where she was for a long time, still unable to eat her pupusas. Eager as she was to get home, she felt stuck to that patch under the coconut tree, and she could not take her eyes off of the bank. She took a swig of her coffee, enjoyed the warm flow down her throat, and then from her mouth came a sound that she hardly recognized as her own; not quite a laugh, more a cackle; and for the first time in days, she almost felt good.
As Carmen was there in town delivering her witch’s brew, Geraldo was back at their shanty’s kitchen making lopsided tortillas for his sons and getting them ready for school. The boys were not bothered by their mother’s unusual early disappearance. Only Geraldo was bothered—and for reasons his sons, of course, could not imagine. Geraldo was supposed to work that day with the other guys on repairing the road, but he decided to stay at home. Normally he enjoyed that communal work which wasn’t very hard, and often enough was fun—bullshitting, having a good laugh. But today he felt like being alone. He felt confused and he felt angry. Shouldn’t he have gone with his wife, no matter what she said? What if there had been a confrontation and he wasn’t there to protect her? He should have gone.
Not able to sit still, he went over to the woodpile, grabbed his axe and began splitting logs. That, at least, felt good. He wasn’t singing now as he usually did when he worked. He was splitting the logs in a quiet fury, his massive arms driving the axe through the pine blocks in one swift downswing. The sweat pouring down his face, down his torso, drenching his pants and shirt, gave him some relief from his thoughts. He surely would have continued for the whole morning if it weren’t for a sudden and unexpected visit from his brother-in-law. Grinning as he removed his straw sombrero from his bald head, Chepe was walking in a jaunty, mocking way towards him. “Well, well, here I figured you were sick or something and that’s why you weren’t with us working on the road. You sure as hell don’t look sick to me!”
“No, I’m not sick,” Geraldo answered, looking away from Chepe.
Chepe glanced around the yard and back at the shanty. “Where’s Carmen, today?”
“I can see that.”
“She had some business in town.”
“Must have been pretty serious business,” said Chepe. “The place looks a mess. That’s not like her. Rooster feathers, blood on the veranda, even a head lying over there. What the hell is going on? You two have a fight or something?”
“No, not really.”
“Shit, Geraldo. You know you can tell me. I know Carmen can be a pain in the ass sometimes. What is it?”
Geraldo put down the axe, walked over to the cistern and dumped a pail of water over his head, and then wiped himself off with the towel hanging on a branch of the papaya tree. He wasn’t at all sure that it was wise to tell Chepe what had happened. Carmen definitely wouldn’t want that. But he had his own need, and he felt he wanted to say something. So he motioned for Chepe to come sit on a pine stump next to him, and he filled him in on some of what was happening.
Chepe sat there listening silently for several minutes, stroking the stubble on his angular face and fixing his unblinking dark eyes on Geraldo. The muscles in his forearms were sliding like snakes as he rubbed his enormous calloused hands together. Geraldo had seen this face of Chepe’s, this look of his, in the monte during the war, and he was always glad back then that Chepe was on his side. Finally, gazing around at the mess in front of him, Geraldo shrugged and ended his story with a comment that felt lame and even unmanly. “Out of respect for your sister, my wife, I felt I had to let her do it her way.”
“Do it her way?” Chepe snarled. “What the fuck does that girl know about defending herself?”
“I know, I know,” said Geraldo. “But out of respect…”
“What the hell kind of respect is that? And where the hell is your respect for me? And for yourself?” There was silence for a few moments, though it felt longer, and then Chepe continued, “I’ve been waiting for 20 years to catch up with Montoya. Twenty years, I’ve been waiting to find him—to cut off his balls, to let him know who the fuck he was messing with. And now, Geraldo, you tell me he’s right there in town, standing in front of the bank, and you’re sitting here doing nothing because my sister is trying to punish this guy with some kind of witch’s brew? Is that what you’re telling me?”
“All I said,” Geraldo responded slowly, sadly, “is that Carmen trusts Angelica. You know that as well as I do. And I agreed she should try that stuff out. Look, Chepe, she may be your sister, but she’s my wife. You know damn well—yes, you do—that despite everything, I’ve always treated her with respect. Now is no different. You understand?”
Chepe rose from the stump, gave Geraldo a thump on the shoulder and said, “I understand, my friend. But I also understand that there’s no way that son-of-a-whore Montoya is going to still be standing there in the future. That I can promise you.” And Chepe walked briskly away, as Geraldo followed him with his eyes, wondering what Chepe would do next, and much to his own surprise, not sorry that he had told him about Montoya.
It was still a few days before Christmas. As a rule, Carmen and Geraldo did not do much to celebrate the holidays: no tree, no decorations, and only a few gifts for the boys and sometimes for each other. To get the gifts, they needed to go to town. At Carmen’s insistence neither of them had been there for weeks, nor had they spoken of Montoya since that day when Carmen had delivered her fateful package and returned in the afternoon to announce in her perfunctory way, “I did it. I think the curse is already working.” At that, Geraldo had squeezed out a smile and answered, “Well done, Carmen.”
In the meantime, Geraldo naturally had had other thoughts as to what might have happened. But from Chepe, he learned nothing. The two men had spent the past few weeks continuing to work on the road. They didn’t say much to each other for a couple of days, but soon enough they were chatting and joking again along with the other guys. It wasn’t until the final day of the roadwork, as each was heading home, that Chepe gave any indication of what had happened. “Time to enjoy the holidays, Geraldo,” he said amiably, and then he winked—or so it seemed to Geraldo–as he sauntered off. That wink, if it really was a wink, felt like an icicle going down Geraldo’s back. It was the same wink that he’d sometimes see from his brother-in-law when Chepe returned from some mission as a sniper in the guerrillas, and it meant only one thing: the target had been hit. So what was Chepe saying now, he wondered? Was Montoya a dead man? Yet, if that were true, surely rumors would have wafted out to the community, since the Colonel’s reputation was known to all of the war generation.
What was sure, as far as Geraldo could tell, was that Carmen seemed calmer now. What Geraldo did not know is that Carmen’s nightmares had not completely disappeared. She didn’t tell him this. As best she could, she was quietly trying to dispel this ghoul of her dreams with a brief incantation that Angelica had suggested. Angelica had insisted it would work: over time, she said, the ghost of Montoya would fade into his own satanic darkness. With all her heart, Carmen wanted to believe this. But in recent days, just before they were about to go to town again she had the sharp sense that Colonel Montoya would always be with her: no matter where he was in this world or the next, he was destined to reappear, and she would, at those moments, remain his 14 year-old prey.
Yet, ready or not, it was soon to be Christmas, and there were a few gifts to be bought, and Geraldo had to go back to the bank and make his monthly payment of 100 dollars. As they walked through the sugarcane fields to the bus stop, they did not speak, though uncharacteristically they held each other’s hand. They did not speak while on the bus either. It was only when the bus unloaded on the far side of the plaza that Carmen, her voice shaking, said that she would be going over to the market and dry goods store while Geraldo took care of his business at the bank. Geraldo nodded amenably and agreed to meet her in a half-hour or so in the plaza next to the twenty-foot high Christmas tree there.
His mouth felt dry, so half-way to the bank Geraldo stopped and bought a coconut from one of the stands in the park. While he slowly sipped the juice, he tried to peek through the scrawny trees that stood like lost refugees randomly located in dusty patches. From where he stood he could only see the bank’s upper façade. Then, approaching slowly, as if he were stalking an enemy, he could see the guard at the front door of the bank. With a mixture of relief and concern, he could see it was not Montoya. It was a young man, tall and thin and with a neatly trimmed reddish beard. Geraldo tipped his straw sombrero to the young guard and walked into the bank.
Moments later he was seated in one of the bank’s cubicles, pleasantly chatting with Señora Suarez, the woman who handled his loan. Even though there were a couple of other customers waiting outside, Señora Suarez took her time since she was fond of Geraldo and admired his gentlemanly manner. “So how goes it with the harvest this year?” she asked, offering Geraldo a Marlboro.
“A good year, muy bien,” he answered, as she lit the cigarette for him with a pearl-colored lighter. “One more good harvest, and I’ll pay off the entire loan, I reckon.”
“No rush, Geraldo, we’re always here for you if you need us. No change there. Same as always.”
Geraldo took a deep drag of his cigarette, as if filling some empty spot in himself. Pretending the thought had just come to him, he said, “I did notice one small change when I came in, though.”
“What’s that?” she said, smiling.
“You’ve got a new guard out front, I noticed. A pity. I used to like chatting with Señor Montoya when I came here.”
“Yes, right. Edmundo Montoya is gone.”
“Oh no,” she said. “I wish it had happened that way.” She motioned for Geraldo to move his chair closer, and she lowered her voice. “He got mugged a few weeks back. Told us that he had a nasty fall, but nobody believed him. His nose was broken and his arm too. We figured he got robbed by some thugs in the neighborhood. Especially because he told us that he’s leaving the area. And can you imagine–to the United States.”
“Lucky him,” said Geraldo, trying not to sound too interested.
“Yes, I suppose,” Señora Suarez said. “I wish I had relatives up there like he does. Two sisters in California, and a brother in Texas, an ex-army officer like Edmundo.” Señora Suarez looked around to see if anyone was listening, and then in a whisper she said, “I’ll tell you something, between you and me. I’ve heard that his brother got quietly relieved of his army duties for some…well, some misdeeds. Anyway, at the end of the war, the gringos offered them all a way out—gave them all lifetime visas. I reckon Edmundo has decided to use his now, maybe join some of his family. My guess, that’s all.” Señora Suarez again looked about her, took a quick puff of her cigarette, returned her cigarette lighter to her purse, and extended a firm hand to Geraldo. “Bueno, I better get on with the customers outside now. Always nice chatting with you, Geraldo. And, by the way, Feliz Navidades!”
“The same to you, Señora Suarez!” Geraldo tipped his sombrero in her direction, backed out of her cubicle and for a moment had trouble placing the sombrero back on his head. He walked over to the water cooler and almost forgot to remove the cigarette from his mouth as he bent to drink. Exiting the bank, he went over to a bench near the plaza’s Christmas tree. He was glad that Carmen was not there yet. What the hell should he tell her, he wondered? The truth? He could hardly grasp the truth himself. Had Chepe beat up Montoya—the wrong Montoya? And what should he tell Chepe?
As Geraldo sat there dazed and mulling over what to do, a group of cheery teenage girls passed by. They were wearing blue-and-white school uniforms and some of them were carrying Christmas tree decorations. They began placing the decorations—bright colored balls and white wooden figurines—on the tree, and at the same time they started singing Christmas carols. Geraldo listened, looked at these sweet kids singing and laughing, and without expecting it, tears began flowing down his cheeks. He suddenly had this strange feeling—something like what he had felt at the end of the war, some river of relief and regret at the same time. Now, as these tears rushed out of him, he found himself thinking that what he had just heard about Montoya—all the Montoyas—was information he probably ought not tell Carmen or Chepe. For the good of everyone, shouldn’t he just keep it to himself? As this thought was passing through his mind, he looked up and saw Carmen approaching him.
“You’re crying?” she said, puzzled, as she tenderly stroked his arm.
“Beautiful kids, beautiful songs, no?”
“Si, si….That’s why the tears?”
“I guess so,” he said.
Carmen forced a smile, then turned abruptly toward the bank. “And what did you see over there? He’s gone, isn’t he?”
Geraldo re-gathered himself. “Oh, yes. Gone—never coming back.”
“Gone to the United States, they say. He had some kind of susto, a terrible fright, and he took off.”
“Well, that’s good,” Carmen said flatly.
“You don’t seem….well, you don’t look all that happy about it. Or even surprised.”
“Surprised, no.” Carmen paused. “Happy….si, si, you could call it that.” She grabbed Geraldo’s hand to pull him up from the bench. “Got the kids their presents, and also a nice surprise for you.
“And what about for you?”
“Hombre, no! I was over at the dry goods store and they had nothing that fits me right.”
“Not even now? Not even Christmas time?”
“Next Christmas. Let’s just go home now.”
And they strolled slowly over to the bus stop, holding hands tightly, in a silence that felt comfortable enough to each of them.
I am a psychologist and writer. Among the six books I have written or co-athored are, “From Grandmother to Granddaughter–Salvadoran Women’s Stories”, (University of California Press, 2001), and “From Beneath the Volcano–The Story of a Salvadoran Campesino and His Family”, (University of Arizona Press, 2011; co-author with Marta Evelyn Pineda).