Was That the Presidio Blowing Up?

"Colonialism must be pulled by the roots. It does not advance our cause to compromise with Gobernador Travieso's hollow reforms. Their laws are a game of mirrors which they move closer or further from the truth at their convenience. Revolution will not be made by laws because true power does not arise from laws. Laws mirror power. To Liberacion I say, it is a historic error to participate in the Sugar Cane Commission. The Commission's sole aim is to misdirect, undermine and defeat the struggle we are close to winning to organize the cane cutters." Tomasa Monte, The Mirror Game of Reform, article in Isla Libre

Adela parked on the driveway to one of the carports of the Infodes building which had once been an apartment house whose ground floor porches doubled as parking spots. She looked up at the gray clouds gathering, tilted back on her heels and practised the pregnant waddle. Sofia's, Marina's and of course Betzaida's cars were already in their spots although it was over an hour before official opening time. She waved to three young men who stood at the foot of the stairs, clutching manila envelopes. She'd seen them many times and knew they were messengers and not dangerous men just released from the Presidio around the corner. She felt Pulgarcito kick. He wasn't only hers now. She'd given him his first birth by telling. He was much bigger than her thumb. Last night Noel renamed him El Nene. He kicked again. As she passed, the shorter of the young men was saying, "They hit me on the head with a bat." She heard terror inside his bragging. She was already on the first landing when the tall boy said back, " The worst is when you get stabbed." She stood at the railing and watched them while she searched for her keys in her bag. The others doubled over and laughed. "You don't feel it. Right you don't feel it." The tall one nodded hard. "I was on my bike racing away and I felt something wet on my left thigh." When she shuddered El Nene kicked hard and somersaulted. "Good thing you're a capoeira, Nene. You're going to need it."
Upstairs she walked quickly to her workstation. She saw Betzaida through the closed glass door to her corner office, already talking intensely into the phone. Sofia and Marina looked up from their cafes con leche and waved her over. "Un cafecito?" Sofia was halfway up heading for the kitchen when Adela shook her head and circled her hand as if about to throw up. "Si, si." Sofia sat back down, searched her top drawer and handed Adela a packet of soda crackers. Adela wheeled her chair toward them and sat. "Como te sientes?" Marina dunked bread in her cafe. Adela shrugged. "I don't feel like entering case data." They laughed. "We'll have a thousand calls now that Verdades published photos of the mass grave in El Bajio." Sofia made fists, covered her eyes and shook her head.
Adela wheeled her chair back to her spot along the long table the three women shared. She wanted to say to them, "What am I doing bringing this Nene into this world? As she booted her computer Sofia said, "We've got to remember we can help people. We can't get as desperate as they are." Marina nodded. "That's true even if we do nothing more than hear them curse Jerez." She pointed to his photo on the official Presidio calendar on the wall. Gobernador Jerez was pictured at a podium in his military gala uniform complete with a scarlet ribbon pinned with medals. Adela wheeled her chair to face them. "It's not good enough. Infodes means nothing. It's one of Jerez' joke laws. We're a distraction. Noel calls this job the great "tentealla." They all faced their computers. The percussion of their keystrokes echoed the rainstorm that had just burst. They worked in silence until Marina spoke. "So you don't think Betzaida's great reform is worth much?" Adela sighed. "Tomasa Monte would wipe herself on all this." There was a loud clap of thunder and then each woman dove fully into her sea of disappeared names.
Adela left her station when she got through her entire folder of new cases. Sofia and Marina had left hours before. She waved to Betzaida who was bent over a stack of papers on her desk and didn't look up. She got home after Tia Matilde's dinner had been eaten. Noel, Lydia and Zuleika stood on the porch by the steps. She reached the top step exactly in time to whisk Lydia away from Zuleika's missile arm. She pulled the girl to her and whirled her just as Zuleika's arm came down. "Me trae loca. No estoy yo para parques." Noel caught Adela's gaze and nodded softly. "Pues que bien, porque yo tengo antojo de queso blanco." Noel took Lydia's hand. Zuleika shrugged and walked into the house. "Sigan echandola a perder." Lydia, Noel and Adela made their way to the bodega where Adela got a quarter pound of sliced white cheese for herself and a molasses cookie for Lydia. She ate cheese for her dinner as they walked to the park.
"Mira, mira." Lydia let go Noel's hand and ran to the swings where
Tomas was pushing Tina. She climbed onto the empty swing beside them. Noel pushed her. Adela sang, "Duermete mi nina," very loud. Tomas created a percussion with his mouth. Lydia changed the song. "Despierta mi nina." Tina sang with her, "Que las ocho son y ahi viene el general con su batallon." The girls and Adela had a duel of the two songs. This was the wake up song Zuleika sang Lydia every so often when she woke up in a good mood. Most times Lydia didn't wake up fast enough and Zuleika's singing became a frantic screech as she shook Lydia awake. Lydia mimicked the screeching. She sang faster and louder and laughed hard as Noel pushed her higher. Tina kept up with the screeches and the laughter. At last Adela joined the wake up song and Tomas made uzi shooting with his mouth and tongue for el general. He turned up the beat on his boombox. Lydia screeched and laughed, schreeched and laughed. When they were spent from laughing they sat on a bench. Lydia settled into Noel's lap and Tina snuggled into Tomas. Adela sat between them and softly sang "duermete mi nino," for the girls and for El Nene. Tomas fast forwarded his tape and played a tender beat on his box.
"Was that the Presidio blowing up?." Tomas sat upright and clutched Tina tight. "Did you see that? El Presidio just blew up." From where they sat they had a direct line of sight to the explosion. They heard the thundersound and saw flames bursting out the top and sides of the building. Most times they didn't pay attention to the boxy prison, built by Jerez during his first term, the tallest of the Old Town skyline visible from El Llano. Now they sat in silence watching it go up in flames. Noel and Adela looked at each other but it was Lydia who spoke. "Those are people, Titi Adela. Those are people jumping from the windows." Mothers and children and marihuaneros and drinkers in the park screamed. Tomas tuned his boombox to a news station. An official advisory played over and over. Estado de Emergencia. Everybody on the street must go indoors. Everybody indoors must stay.
They raced home and joined Zuleika, Matilde and Domingo who stood together in the center of the living room staring through the window at the plume of smoke and flame spewing from the top of the Presidio. Zuleika screamed, "No te oigo" into her cellphone. Adela picked up the house phone to call Betzaida at Infodes. Was it still standing? Was she still there? The house phone was dead. Zuleika handed her cell phone to Matilde. "Dios mio. Nestor can't get home. They closed the bridges." Zuleika and Matilde locked gazes. Domingo rolled his eyes. Even Adela knew what the fear in their looks meant. Nestor somehow managed to find the time to have another family with two young children. Most of the time it was possible for Matilde to never think about this. Had he chosen to go to them?
They were staring at the flames in silence when their neighbor Irma walked in covered in soot. She tossed down the shoes she was clutching, one of them with a missing heel. She held her son Tomas and her daughter Tina. "Gracias a Dios. Gracias a Dios. I was driving home from la Superior and I saw the building go. They made us pull off the road and leave our cars. I've been walking in a sea of sooty humans for two hours. She looked hard at Adela and took her hands. "They blew up the Presidio but not Adela, Gracias a Dios." She hugged Adela and both women began to wail and sob.