Jun. 15, 2015

I Trust You Now

About fifty feet above the first house they stopped, the figure of a man lay sprawled at its corner. Another of the houses smoldered. The walls collapsed onto each other in a teepee of charcoaled boards suspended in a dune of white ash and rimmed by blackened thatch. Thin lanyards of smoke arose in soul tracks until fading into glare at the level of the two men.

   The scene was silent except for a small waterfall and wind-rustled pines. The light breeze carried a scent the doctor knew but could not yet name. He saw about 30 meters of the two-track road as it terminated in gouges where some large vehicle had turned around.

   "I don't see anyone. Shouldn't we go down?"

   "There might still be soldiers."

   "I don't hear anything, do you?"       

   His guide shook a ‘No’ but did not move. “This is your village?” he looked squarely at his now rigid guide. "You brought me here so I could save someone. I can't do it from here."

   "I am afraid to look."  The old man said     

   "So am I." The doctor rose to his knees, "Unless you have a better idea, we’ll stay in the tree line and work our way down to that nearest house." He picked up the leather bag. Evenly spaced Australian pines had enough foliage to provide cover as they shuffled sideways downhill, holding the flexile branches like ropes for support.

   "You know that man?" the doctor spoke in a stage whisper.

   "Yes."

   Twenty more feet and they saw three corpses stacked in a grotesque pile. The arm of a man propped skyward by the shoulders of another; he looked as though he might have been waving gaily when he died.

   The older man sat, hyperventilating. The doctor waited for him. He tried to speak but found his own teeth clenched; it took a moment to pry open his locked jaws.

   "Take a deep breath and hold it, abuelo."

   The old man did as instructed. "Those are all men," he croaked. "The others will be in the burned house." He lowered his head to the forearms crossing his knees. The buzz of thousands of flies now reached them.

   They found the hole that the soldiers had made the men dig in a tilled bean patch—wide and deep enough to cover a body. A patch of corn stood next to the beans. All had been leveled by machete. Two half-starved curs snapped and pulled at the bodies of men.

   “We must keep them from the animals, Don Doctor, until I can bring the shaman.” the older man said. They dragged the four bodies to the hole. The old man checked for anything salvageable; if there had been any they were already taken.

   "Something must have scared them off.

   "There are guerrillas on the volcán," the abuelo said.

   "Do you know the guerrillas?" The doctor asked as they walked toward the burned house. "They should have buried them."

   "They do not take time for rituals. Some say they are as bad as the army, others say not." The sweet smell of burned flesh irrupted as they neared the house. “I do not know them. They have a name but I do not know them."

*** 

They used poles to pry smoking boards from the pile. A blackened, fleshy lump comprised of four children was covered by two women. The doctor's lungs seized; he forced them to suck air.

   For an hour, they extracted and carried the innocents to join the men. The doctor wanted to ask again about the guerrillas but it occurred to him that he did not know how the old man had escaped, or how he had even known what happened. I should know more, he thought, ten cuidado.

   "I was hoeing the patch back of the village when I heard the truck. I saw the soldiers and I ran." The older man sagged against a tree, slowly sinking to the base of it. "Leave me here." The doctor could hear him keening as he walked back to his jeep.

   The doctor hoisted himself into the car and started the engine. He attempted to shift to reverse but the ancient gears fought back. Both hands slapped the steering wheel. He leaned his head onto it for several breaths then sat up, turned off the engine and walked back to the old man.

   "Come on abuelo, it is not good to stay here. We'll find a place for you."

*** 

 They bumped slowly over the rutted road back to the main highway. "How did you find me?" the doctor asked finally, "I've been in town barely a week."

   "You are the new doctor," the old man said, He slumped against the jeep's low sides, grasping the handhold; each year of his life showed in his face. "Everyone knows who you are. Even the guerrillas."

   "Why did the soldiers do this? Were you helping the guerrillas?"

   "No, but..." He looked straight ahead, "No." He sat up a little, his voice quickened, "That was my son, the one waving to us from the other world. He was helping to start the cooperativa, so that we could sell some beans and corn and buy supplies."

   "The army doesn't like that?"

   "The army.... is afraid of our working together in any manner. "

   They were quiet again.

   The road improved near the main highway. "The guerrillas have been here," abuelo pointed to a flyer on the first power pole, "that is their paper."

   The doctor pulled it off the pole. It carried a famous visage of Che, and was signed, "Brigada Che Guevara." 

   "Are these the guerrillas you spoke of, abuelo?”

   “Yes.”

  “Do you know these people abuelo?”

   The old man's eyes lit a little as he looked at the doctor. "Yes," he said. "I do know them, now that I think about it.” His words came with an edge of defiance, should trust alone fail.

   "Could you introduce me?" the doctor said.