01 mayo 2007

May First is May Day ~ Part II: Evening Meeting

My mother is sick again this afternoon, so I eat soup from this morning and go to the cornfields to bring in the remnant of the almost-ripe corn. While I work, the sweet juice of the cane cheers my throat and lessens the afternoon heat. As the sun draws near to the western Mountains, I return to my house to prepare the dinner. I place the flowers in a glass and they give me joy as I cook. As the kitchen darkens, my brothers begin to enter one by one, embracing my waist as if they loved me. They tell me they are hungry. They ask why I was not at lunch at school. I tell them to go bring me herbs for the fish soup. Now they really love me. (They love fish.)

My father comes home, and he and my brothers sit in front of the fire to eat. My mother barely eats the potato soup I bring her, and she does not even look up to see my hand. I take my place beside my father. He is a just man, the whole town knows, and though his silence makes me fear, he never treats us badly. He eats his soup, and I bring him more, pleased it is to his taste. As I am again taking my seat, my Tia calls from outside and opens our door.

“Mauricio! How goes it for you? Children- come and greet your Tia,” she smiles.

My aunt is kind and has a smile like the sunset. She brings me dresses her daughters cannot wear anymore and always invites me in for bread if I pass her bread shop. She is very strong, laughs easily, but can resist whom she will. My Tio leaves her often, but I have never seen her cry. Her face is flushed tonight; she has news.

“Have you heard, my brother, who has come to our town? You know that sect of the evangelicals, those who say they are Christians but attend no mass? A group has come… here! There is to be a meeting tonight. I went last night and their words stir you within. I could not stop thinking of what they said. You must come. Where is Eudicia?”

“She is ill again. I cannot go tonight; I have other plans. Take the girl,” my father replies. I am the girl! This night could become exciting.

“What plans? With the bar? Take your children, Mauricio. Just this once. You have not been to mass since the past Easter. I will not pay your masses when you are condemned to judgment! Candles, maybe, but masses I cannot afford,” my Tia responded; her eyes continued laughing. My aunt has not mentioned me, but I am sure she will allow me to accompany her. I wait to hear more mention of myself.

My father smiled, “I am glad you concern yourself with my soul. It is truly a comfort. But there is a town meeting tonight I must attend. I am surprised you are not going. And speaking of condemnation, I am unsure joining with a sect is the best way to earn merit.”

“But you have not heard their words…! They are so different… from us, from the priest who comes on occasion. They are so happy… As to the other meeting, I will have no part of it. I do not want my sons murdered before they even attain to manhood. We will not discuss it.” Her voice is like knives now. Will she let me go? I take her arm between my hands.

She pulls me to her. “I will bring this beauty. Should I take the boys too?”

“Take the younger ones. The others can stay here to do their assignments. I will take my oldest with me.” Jhancarlos, scarcely nine, has a smile like a cat. He believes that every time he is with Father more manliness is produced within him. I will not argue tonight.

* * * *

The evangelicos are meeting in the school. The baby is asleep on my back and the little one is crying beside me. He fell on the steps down from our house and wants me to carry him, but we are almost inside. My Tia beside me has let her hair down, and she is very beautiful. I should have changed my clothes. There is still mud from the stream on my skirt.

These evangelicos truly sing. Although I see only eight at the front singing, I could hear them from the front door of my house, and all through the town, even louder than the speakers in the town hall. How they sing! They sing They sing like my Tia when her husband comes home from the Jungle, but they do not sing about men. As we sit on the second row, I cover my brother’s still-crying mouth so I can hear the words. They sing about a Father who is not the Mountain. What is this?

A man stands up. He had been kneeling behind the teacher’s desk in the corner. I had not realized his presence. He is not of my town, for I do not know him. I want to memorize his face; his appearance is so good. The others stop singing, and he begins to speak. His voice laughs, even though he is not joking.
“Brothers and friends,” he says, “I have come today to talk to the thirsty ones. If you are thirsty, listen well, because I have ‘living water’ that will satisfy your soul. I will tell you of Jesus.”

I know a Jesus from school, his father is the alcalde of the town and he pinched me once when I, on accident, tripped over his bag lying next to him. But I know the man is talking about a different one. We have Religion on Mondays, and the teacher tells us that the son of Mary died because of our wickedness. My Tia does her rosary with us sometimes, too. I do not want to hear about the death of Jesus or my wickedness. My brother is finally asleep against me, but it is hard to be comfortable. Maybe I will go home.

The man starts to pray, but he has no rosary. A moth enters and flies through a candle flame up front three times before crashing into the corner. My brother’s hair is wet from the heat of where he lays against my arm. I count fifteen adults and thirty children, besides the strangers. My body is hot but my toes are cold. What am I doing here in the school I so hate? The man has stopped praying and he begins speaking.

He speaks of being thirsty, like when you work in the field all day but you have already drank all the water you brought hours before. He speaks of the thirst of the soul, which I do not really understand, but he talks about the how it is like the tiredness when you wake up and wish you were still asleep. I know how that is. He says the thirst of the soul is like the trash and sad emptiness left after a party, or coming to your house after being gone long and finding no one there, and that no one has missed you. He says that the thirst is like being lost and knowing no one will come find you.

His words make me want to cry. I think he is talking about hearing your mother sick in the middle of the night and being too cold to want to get out of bed, or having your cousin walk past you at lunch and not even look at you. Maybe it is like the feeling of not knowing how, and being beat for being so stupid. Maybe he means like when you have eaten all your dinner, and you are still hungry.
The man reads a story about a woman who goes to her well and finds Jesus. (He is not dead yet, I do not think.) He tells her about “living water.” I think of living water, and I like the thought. Living water would be happy water, like laughing or dancing water. The man says Jesus is the “Living Water.”

I do not understand, but I am very busy thinking beyond the dirty waters of the school or the mud of my life. “Living water,” like the water that runs down the waterfall outside of town. “Living water!” Water that is alive like the Mountain, but for us. The Mountain lives and cannot be destroyed, but he will eventually destroy all, Grandmother says. We will eventually be the soil of the Mountain, and there will be no more knowing. The Mountain will win and gain us. But how can Jesus be water, or even give water, if He is dead?

People have bent their heads and begun to talk in whispers with their neighbors. Their heads turn toward the back. I, too, look back. The man at the front continues speaking until the man who has entered interrupts him. The new man’s voice fills the room voice fills the room like cold air. He is looking at all of us. “Did you not hear of the meeting? The whole town was required to be in attendance.”

More have come in the open doorway. Their ponchos make them look huge. How many have come in? I see guns in some hands. There is a woman holding one. She is young, and she looks brave like my Tia, but she has a harder face. My aunt beside me says a word I have not heard before, but it is like the one from the store. She calls the man who has entered a Commander. Is this the army?

The Commander’s voice has silenced the whispers. He addresses the strangers, “Who are you?”

The man at the front speaks to him, “Pardon us. We are strangers in these parts…”

“You are strangers? From what place do you come? Why are you here?”

I see the women in the front benches get down on the floor. I can see their beautiful hair brush the ground as they lower their heads. They are crouching, on their knees. Their hands go to their faces, but I can see their lips move without sound. The man who was speaking of the water moves toward the Commander.

“I am from the capital. My companions are from this region and others. We are here in peace. We speak of the gospel of Christ Jesus, our Lord.”

“Ah, proselytizers. Of the evangelical sect, I presume?”


“You are fools and you preach lies. You deceive these people with your emotionalism and fables. I should kill you here and now and save these people the disillusionment.”

The man of the living water walks to the commander, within an arms length.

“Tell me, who should I fear? Man or God? You take my life, and I see the beautiful face of my Savior in shorter time than I deserve. I sin against God by silence and I see the flames of hell. Should I heed your words because I fear for my ‘life?’ The life I have you cannot touch.”

The Commander laughs, “You are a valiant man, this I admit to you. You should join us. We will bring liberation. This religion is the chains that keep our people oppressed into silence and submission. Our only hope for freedom is what we can procure by struggle and blood. Why follow the dreams of a dead man who liberated no one? We hold the life of our people within our will.”

The first stranger has light in his face, “I follow no dead man. I follow the One Almighty, so filled with life and victory that death itself could not contain Him! Tell me if one of your leaders has liberated one soul from death. Tell me if your doctrine will cleanse me. Tell me if the sacrifice of my life for your cause can excel the sacrifice of the life of Jesus for humanity? Convince me.”

The Commander shakes his head, “You, brother, are truly a courageous man. But you are blinded and deceived. Your delusions only mask slavery. You will see, in the years and days to come, you will see what liberation really looks like. You will join us, for your heart is true. But for now, I say, you will have no more meetings when the Party is conducting its meetings. What’s more, you will attend our next meeting the upcoming week. All of you will be there,” he says, looking at the rest of us.

He yells at his men and they march through the door. The room is silent. The voice of a woman comes singing from the front. She starts with a shaking voice, but others join in after the first breath. They sing that they are in victory. They sing that Jesus, the victor, has freed them. They sing that because He is alive, they are free, and that they are on their way home to paradise. They sing that Jesus brings freedom.

They did not hear the Commander? Or does the Commander not understand?

May First is May Day (Part One)

May First is Mayday
(Part I: The First Day of School)

I have never been lucky. As the oldest, how could I possibly attain to good fortune? I must carry the fears of the little ones and the sorrows of the great ones, and somehow build tragedy into comprehension. The day I was born, my mother, the woman whose heart had already been stone since her thirteenth year, cried for all of one hour, as my Grandmother tells me. After her tears, she stopped, washed her face and picked one brilliant red seed out from a bag sitting in the corner. (My Grandmother has a memory like a child, everyone says. She remembers like the Mountain remembers. She even reminds me when my memory lacks.) The seed is to save me from the Mountain. The single black eye in the red beckons the Mountain’s love and so blinds him to me. I am safe; the seed lies over my heart all the way from my birth to today, secure in the chuspa my Grandmother knit for me and strung around my neck that first morning.

Now, I have lived many, many days. I have seen the birth days of my five brothers and the death days of two girl children. I am the only daughter of my mother to still breathe today, and I wonder why the black eyes of their red seeds were not strong enough to guard my sisters. Tomorrow is to be my eleventh completed year, but I will not remember that until much later. Tomorrow will be too full to contain a birthday.

Tomorrow, I will go to school for the first time this year. Classes began some days ago, but my mother has been ill again; maybe she will have another child. I do not want to go to school because I do not understand, and the teacher hits easily. But I must go to make sure that my brothers stay the whole morning. They like to leave to go to the stream and grab fish if they can. I will make sure they cannot.

* * * *

I wake up before the roosters because the little one beside me has wet himself. He shivers and whimpers like a dog at my side. I do not say the word I learned from the men at the store, but I think it. My father and mother are not yet awake, and the fire is almost cold. I pull a blanket with me as I go to the fire, but hearing the little one’s teeth chatter, I leave it with him. I wrap myself in the thin blue manta that had covered our faces, warming the air for us to breathe while we slept. I hate the cold, and I think the word again. The firewood outside the door is cold and rough to my hands, but the fire I make burn is beautiful.

* * * *

I am dreaming of eating cane in between green rows of corn when I hear a loud noise beside me. I jerk my head up, and my cousin beside me laughs silently into her hands. I look down to where a book has fallen into the aisle beside my bench. I am in school; I had forgotten. My arm hurts from where I laid my head upon it, and I start to stretch out to pick up the book when I sense someone behind me. I look up and see a blur as a stick falls on the back of my outstretched hand. The stick falls again.

“You ungrateful Indian! You come to school and are too stupid to hold on to a book you do not deserve! You sleep without respect for me?! Leave! Get out!” the teacher shows his teeth as he yells, and although I still do not understand everything that has happened, I pull away from the stick as it falls a third time. The light from the open door at the back looks too far away, but I reach it at last. I am crying as I run toward the street. I hate to cry. I run past the shops to the trail and stop crying.

The sun warms me, and the blue tells me to be glad not to be in school now. I wipe my wet cheeks and head up the path toward the stream. I am thinking how happy I am to see the light jumping on the water when I slip on the muddy trail. My heart begins to run. I apologize to the Mountain and form the cross I have seen my Tia make. I snatch a clod of dirt from the ledge beside me and crumble it, throwing it over my shoulder. The red seed feels heavy in its pouch. “Do not look, Tayta Mountain, do not look, Tayta sir,” I beg as I run to plunge my feet into the singing water of the stream.

My heart slows, but does not stop. I am safe. The Mountain did not notice. I hear the birds converse and the wind pass through the corn above me. I smile, for I am almost in my dream. The water of the stream is cold, but it makes my dusty feet clean. I will look for fish now.

* * * *

The stream is no longer cold to my wrinkled feet, and the sun burns from above. I have three fish to show for my morning, and I hear the shouts of the children leaving the school below. If I go a little to the left, I can see them, but I do not wish to see them. I put the fish in my manta and take the trail to the right of the stream that also goes by my Tia’s house.

She has lilies growing where the stream passes behind her house. I do not know what she does to make them grow because I do not see them in any other place along this stream. My hand has two angry stripes from the teacher’s stick, and I pick two perfect flowers so I do not have to see the red. I hope my mother does not notice.