Gaby's Miedo

Gaby ran away, halfway up the stairs leading to the Church school. Nobody was looking at him, all of them crowded around the table with the coffee and cake. They were hungry after the culto. He peered through the railings and saw Pina, his mother, yell at Chino, his father, who was Reverendo or Elpidio to the people in the Church. He could tell she was yelling because her eyes got big, but in the Church courtyard she didn't raise her voice. She'd yell loud when they got home to where they'd moved, far away from the casa pastoral, to a house where nobody from the Church could hear her. Gaby didn't know why it mattered to Mami that Papi had touched Carmencita's arm. Gaby too liked to touch Carmencita's arm when she sat him down on the front pew to draw him pictures on the edges of the program for the culto. She could draw horses and telephones and faces with noses.
Now Mami had walked off by herself and sat down in the shade with her cake and cafe. Papi was in the center of a group talking about El Rubio who'd gone to la guerra. He didn't know what or where la guerra was El Rubio went to. But when grownups spoke of it Gaby got scared. He imagined la guerra was a room in an empty house. He pictured himself walking through empty room after empty room, through overgrown courtyards, until at last he found it, the emptiest room of all, filled only with the grownups' miedo. La guerra came to him lit yellow, with that yellow light in the night that made him not see his yellow crayons as he drew. When the grownups spoke about la guerra they paid attention to nothing else, they were excited and scared and talked either very fast or slow, or got very quiet.
Now. He slipped away to the top of the stairs. This was his moment, the one Gaby was good at finding, when his parents and other adults completely forgot him. Way at the top of the stairs he could see the empty space. He wanted to know what was in it. He knew the steps led to the church school and that next year he would be going there. For many Sundays he'd been wanting to take a look. He walked close to the wall, blending.
He saw a long narrow hallway with doors opening on both sides. Not la guerra. La Escuela. He took two steps toward the first door to his right. The hand came down. It hit the usual spot on his ass. La Senora del ministro hits her son. He wanted to tell them this at the saludos, tell one lady and watch that lady tell another and another and another. "Diantre muchacho." Mami hiss yelled with the bugged out eyes, because although Gaby had traveled alone the longest distance of his short life the Parishioners were close enough to hear. He became aware of their saludo murmurs. He and Mami walked back downstairs, Mami pulling him and Gaby dragging along behind. As they descended he watched the Church members' faces. Some were turning to smile at Mami. He got free of her hand and ran to take shelter against Papi's legs. He avoided the gazes of these people who were too stupid to see through Mami. Grownups were stupid, or they were bad. Papi was either stupid or bad too.He made himself stop the urge to bite into Papi's leg.
All grownups were the same. Except maybe Carmencita who pulled him from Papi's legs and took him by the hand and sat him on the steps and fished in her purse for the program and her pen. She wasn't like the others, but she was maybe not completely a grownup yet. She was a grownup still a girl like he was un nene grande un poquito baby. "Make me a horse." She put the nib of her green ink fountain pen onto the edge of the paper and with one flowing line made the mane, the leaping legs. And this was new. She gave the horse wings. "He's flying. Your horse is flying." Gaby doubled over laughing and let Carmencita hug him and give him a kiss on the cheek. "Nino Precioso." She kissed him again. "Mi nino precioso."

Gaby smoothed his school uniform pants and kept walking, clinging to the schoolyard wall, blending. He kept smoothing his pants as he walked. This was the first year he wore long ones and by now at the end of the day they were wrinkled. It crossed his mind he'd better take them off as soon as he got home so the wrinkles would work themselves out before morning, before Mami saw them. Did she expect him to stand straight all day in school? His life had been easier in the good old days with shorts. In the old days of first and second grade his knees got scraped but his pants stayed smooth. This was third grade and he was an hombrecito and must keep his pants smooth and unstained.
He called out to Peri. "Avanza, avanza." But not too loud. They were blending. They pressed their bodies close to the schoolyard wall. Nobody had to see them. Especially not the Reverendo Elpidio. There was nobody their age left in the school. They'd all gone home with their mothers. The older boys had left on their own to mataperrear by the river, or to walk around the Plaza after having refrescos and galletas at La Tertulia across from the big Catholic church. Only Gaby and Peri hung around the school yard until the Reverendo was ready to walk them home. Peri's mother helped his Father run their Joyeria and Gaby's Mother had a big fat belly where the new baby was swimming in a private ocean all his own.
They could hear the sounds of all the boys screaming in the Plaza, playing a los agarrados, a los escondidos. Their boys in the tan pants mixed in with throngs from the Catolica in dark blue pants, and the Publica in wine red pants, boys mixing then regrouping, mixing then regrouping, all their white shirts getting limp from sweat and smeared with dirt. But not Gaby and Peri; they didn't get to mataperrear although this year at last their uniforms had long pants, and some of their classmates had started going home on their own, trying their luck breaking into the groups of mataperros in the park or by the river. Gaby and Peri stayed in the schoolyard where they were inching their way to the bleachers, blending all the way, invisible against the schoolyard wall overgrown with enrredaderas, prohibidos de mataperrear by the Reverendo and by Peri's Father who was the principal Anciano of the church.
They climbed up the bleachers along the shady side close to the tree by the wall. They sat and pretended to do what the free boys did for real, mataperrear. They waved their arms in the air and brought their index and middle fingers to their lips, holding the fingers apart to signify their imaginary cigarettes.
"Diablo muchachos." They jumped and brought their hands to their laps. La Loca del Patio had caught them despite all their skillful blending. "Diablos." She screamed louder as she stepped out from the darkness of her shed. Her existence surely proved Papi was as crazy as she was. Who would let a Loca live in a school yard? Gaby and Peri had tried to find the bones of the children she surely ate like in Hansel and Gretel, the time they blended right into her door because they knew she was in the Oficina with the Reverendo. They only stayed in her room for seconds, eyes fixed on her bed made of cardboard and rags spread on the floor. They looked for her caja as their eyes got used to the dark. The caja was empty and outside it what she was always writing turned out to be rows of o's or maybe zeros.
Now La Loca was about to catch them. They ran down taking the steps in twos and kept running and thank God no other boys saw them run. They waved to Papi who was in his oficina talking to a couple from the church. They didn't wait to ask for permission but kept running, avoiding the Plaza, only slowing down when they passed the Cuartel where two soldiers in caqui uniforms cradled long rifles and guarded the door, and lots of soldiers smoking cigarettes took their breaks across the street.
They ran all the way to Peri's house, pushed open the heavy double doors and ran past the Senoritas sitting with Peri's Sister Dora. The Senoritas drank cafe and talked about the wedding Peri's sister was going to have in the Iglesia any day now unless her novio El Rubio didn't come back from the Cordillera Vertebral. Gaby heard Papi telling Mami El Rubio had gone to La Cordillera to join the rebeldes. The senoritas were all fingering a length of white shiny fabric and barely looked at the streak of running boys.
Maybe later Papi would have something to say about Gaby and Peri's escape from the schoolyard. Although now that Gaby wore long pants he seemed to be more proud than angry when he did cosas de muchacho. Gaby shuddered. They were passing the kitchen with its huge red tile wood coal stove with little square windows into hell. Peri ignored his mother who called after them to come merendar.
They collapsed breathless on Peri's bed and wrestled and laughed. Through Peri's barred window, shutters open onto the yard, came the high whistle they knew could only be Peri's older brother Franco who must have heard them running in and was calling them.
They sat up and raced outside under the cupola of tamarindo trees to the small shed Senor Almendros had let Franco build by himself. They slowed down and walked quietly into the shed where Franco stood bent over his work table glueing sunset pink tissue paper onto a kite frame of thin balsa wood strips. They said nothing. They'd learned not to talk to Franco when he was working. They stood and watched until Franco nodded and then they helped him raise and turn the frame.
Franco lifted the kite and stepped sideways out the door. Soon it would be sunset when the wind rolled down from the Cordillera where Gaby pictured Dora's novio El Rubio behind some rocks around a campfire. Rebeldes must be like the malos in a cowboy movie his prima had taken him to see. "Avancen, hurry!" Franco jogged ahead of Gaby and Peri. "Sunset is the best time for catching the wind." They said nothing until they got to the front door. Franco was going to let them come along. They skipped behind him to keep up with his long stride and at last they reached the open field by the Rio Caiman.
Clusters of young men and boys were running after their flying kites, feeding them string, because the wind was picking up. Franco nodded and Gaby and Peri unspooled the string as Franco ran. They jumped and yelled que viva Franco when the sunset pink kite found the wind.
Gaby ran after Peri who ran after Franco. His kite swooped around the others. He ran in circles and the razors on his kite's tail swooped, once, twice, and on the third swoop cut the green and purple kite lose. Franco whooped. Peri and Gaby whooped after him. The purple and green kite lifted on the wind. Marquito doubled over and screamed as the kite disappeared across the river into the darkness beyond the trees.
Franco put an arm around his rival. "Today, it was your turn." Marquito shoved him, then shoved him harder. Franco fell and pulled Marquito down. They rolled on the wet tall grasses. Marquito got Franco on his back and pinned him to the ground. He grinned, stood over him, then ran toward the river calling behind him, "I'll beat you to the water." Franco gave Peri his kite string and told him to reel it back, and raced after Marquito. Peri and Gaby wrestled the kite from the wind, and held the string down with a big flat river stone. By the time they reached the bank the big boys were splashing hard, shoving each other's heads under water. Peri, then Gaby stripped fast and jumped feet first into the smooth pool formed by a bowl of huge smooth river stones.
Nothing had ever felt this good to Gaby. The river water was nearly black in the gathering night, warmed by the sun and warmer than the cooling nightfall air. With Franco and Marquito and his best friend Peri with him not once did Gaby think of the caimanes of his bad dreams. He couldn't believe his luck. He had at last gotten to go to the river and now he was in the river. Marquito floated him with his arms under Gaby's knees and waist. Gaby floated on his back and looked straight up at the sky. The pink was fading, and within just one breath the sky was nearly black.
Then Franco took Gaby's feet and pulled him to the shore. The boys climbed out, grabbed their clothes and walked naked along the river bank, letting the air dry them. Gaby shuddered in the cool breeze and ran when the others set off running with Marquito leading the way.
Gaby saw it first and stopped and screamed. The eyeballs were in a little pile in an indentation on the ground. He'd almost stepped right on the pile of eyes, most of them brown, maybe one green. Maybe the hole had been dug by humans and then covered, but a caiman dug it up. There were maybe half a dozen eyeballs, maybe more. Gaby didn't count them. He was putting his full effort into not screaming again, into not throwing up.
Franco and Marquito kicked dirt back over the eyeballs and ran through the fields along the river path as far as they could get away with running naked. Not talking they dressed fast, then set off at a trot along the straightest maze of streets to Gaby's house. Marcos and Franco waited until the boys were inside before they left and for this Gaby was glad. They walked through the nearly empty living room past Papi and Mami's empty bedroom (Had they gone to church without even knowing where Gaby was?) They jumped into Gaby's bed and lay clutching each other, shaking.
This was so much more than Gaby wanted to know about the future world of grownups. It was a long time until Peri spoke. "I heard my Viejo talking about torturas." Peri's voice was almost a whisper. Gaby nodded. He too had heard the grownups talking of torturas during the saludos after church, and once when he listened in outside the door of the empty room in the middle of the house where Papi kept a table and sometimes wrote his sermons. Gaby had listened because he had never seen Papi take anyone into that room but him. The man who visited was telling Papi he had been torturado. Papi had offered to lead the man in prayer and then in his preacher voice, called out, "Senor, perdonalos porque no saben lo que hacen." He wished Papi had explained to the Lord what torturas were, but the Lord knew everything.
All Gaby knew was tortura was like guerra and revolucion, words the adultos spit out. Gaby could tell the words were important and terrifying and belonged to their domain where he was to be seen and not heard. He wanted meanings for them but could only picture them as empty rooms beyond a series of empty rooms and empty courtyards, empty except for miedo. What was bad enough to make even grownups scared?
Except that now the emptiness was beginning to populate with eyeballs. Where were the people who were now walking around with hollow eyesockets? If Gaby walked Peri home he'd have to walk himself back home alone. Why hadn't Franco waited to take Peri home with him? He and Marquito were off someplace to tell of their find, or too scared to think themselves, and glad to ditch the little ones. Gaby felt little now. He could barely remember feeling like a big boy by the river, in the river, running naked along the river, his goosebumped skin drying in the wind. Now he was smaller than he'd ever been.
"Me quedo." Peri sat up, leaned on Gaby's headboard, and crossed his arms on his chest. "After a while they'll have to figure out I'm here. Or Franco will tell them. Or come get me. He should have taken me." He bent down and whispered into Gaby's ear. "Se las da de rebelde. I hear him and Marquito talking in the shed late at night. They're both rebeldes or they want to be."
"If Don Almendros doesn't come you can stay here to live with me."
They clutched each other and lay still. Maybe Peri had fallen asleep. Gaby didn't move. He was afraid to close his eyes. Only by gazing through them could he be sure his eyeballs would remain where they belonged. Mami said he had ojos duros. Well, he'd show her now just how hard his eyes could be.
Next thing he knew he was screaming, screaming, screaming and Mami was leaning over him offering him a cup with warm sugar milk. Peri was gone, and next morning, Mami told Gaby he'd slept through all the commotion of getting Peri pried from Gaby's clutching arms, and handing him to Franco.
The grownups must know about the eyeballs because neither Peri nor Gaby was ever punished for going to the river instead of staying in the patio de la escuela until Papi was ready to bring them both home, and Peri wasn't punished for going to Gaby's house instead of his own. So surely Franco told. But the grownups never let on. Not one of them ever once mentioned the eyeballs, or where they thought the eyeballs had come from, or where they thought the people who no longer had eyes had gone.

After the Sunday night culto Gaby almost never had to go to, Papi took Gaby and Mami straight to the bus terminal on the other side of the plaza. Soldados in caqui uniforms watched the people getting on the bus. One man's suitcase was opened and his tan colored pants were seized. Papi kissed Mami on the lips and hugged her from the side to avoid the big belly, and then he bent down and kissed Gaby and told him to take good care of Mami in the Capital, and of the new little brother he was about to meet, who maybe might turn out to be a sister. After the soldado nodded Papi put Mami's suitcase in the hole under the bus and walked them to their seats all the way in the back where Papi said Gaby would have room to stretch out and fall asleep. Gaby studied Papi. Knowing about the eyeballs by the river did he really think Gaby would ever fall asleep again and leave his eyeballs unwatched? Surely those people must have been sleeping or else how could anybody have stolen their eyes? Gaby settled in by the window and now Papi was peeking into it from outside. The bus had filled and the conductor shut the door. Papi told Mami he would follow the minute he got the telegram.
Then as the bus pulled away, he told Gaby. "Pretty soon you'll fall asleep and when you wake up next morning you'll be in the Capital."
Papi had forgotten he had ojos duros. He watched the people in the plaza, and sitting outside la Tertulia, and walking on the narrow sidewalks. Sometimes under a streetlight he got a good look at a face. But so far, not one of them had been missing their eyes.
He had no intention of sleeping and missing getting a good close look at the purple mountains of La Cordillera Vertebral ringing Los Santos. He only got to see the mountains from very far most times. They were Heaven, he knew, and the stories they told in Sunday school happened there week by week. Sunday school was the only good part of church because he got the news from heaven. Maybe, maybe he'd catch a glimpse of some of the heaven people, maybe Jose with his coat of many colors. Or, maybe he'd catch a glimpse of Peri's sister's novio,El Rubio, because the mountains were also where the rebeldes were and the revolucion (the reason for the torturas) was happening. These were the empty terror room words Gaby was wanting to decipher. So far he only had that stash of eyeballs for a clue.
Mami had long gone to sleep with her head snug in a small feather pillow she'd brought along to cradle her neck and cover her ears. Gaby had his ojos duros wide open when the two men with bandannas on their faces stepped right in front of the bus and made the driver stop short. The men with guns wore green and not caqui. They must be rebeldes and not Heaven people because there were no guns in Bible time. They walked the bus all the way from front to back, bringing their faces (with eyeballs) close to each passenger and asking very loud. "Quien es Simon Carlos?"
Then the men did a second pass, back to front, asking for contributions. This was like Church ofrenda but with long guns Gaby had never seen this close. He'd only seen them from across the street when he passed the soldiers' Cuartel and once in a cowboy movie. But that was very long ago because he seldom went to the Cine. He'd only gone that time because his Tia Cari was visiting from the Capital and Papi took pity that she was bored en el campo. For the most part, movies were sin. Because they were in the back seat Mami had been the second one to give her ofrenda. When the bandanna man came to her she hid the hand with the wedding ring and gave the man her little gold hoop earrings, a gift from her Mother who lived far away, in the Isla, beyond the Cordillera Vertebral.
This man who took the jewels was barely older than Peri's brother Franco. He said Gracias very nicely and had as sweet a smile as Peri's mother when she collected the church ofrenda. Gaby decided not to be scared, or maybe his body already held as much miedo as it could fit. He clutched Mami's hidden ring hand and they filed outside with the others, last on the long line.
In the dark Gaby could make out another bus in front of them, and another one before that. Behind them Gaby saw two trucks had already been stopped. Passengers gathered on the sides of the road saying nothing. A boy not much older than Gaby held a gun to the group Gaby and Mami were brought to. If only Peri were here to see this. How did you get to be a boy with a gun? He felt Mami's hand tremble and he squeezed it. She pulled him over to the boy with the gun and looked down into the Gunboy's shiny brown eyes. "I have to get to the Capital." She pointed to her belly where the new baby swam in his own playa. "I'm a punto of having a baby."
The Gunboy shrugged. Gaby knew he meant he might have a gun but he was just a boy. He pointed to a larger group gathered on the other side of the road. "Hablele a ellos." Just then Gaby turned his ojos duros their way. Mami took two steps in their direction. The rebels had been yelling but just that instant there was a hush. Gaby had a straight sight line to what had made the silence. One of the men with guns raised his machete and swung it sideways and cut off a man's whole head in one swoop. Peri needed to have seen this because he was never going to believe it. Now his companion was saying Simon Ajusticiado over and over very loud. The killer walked the severed head over to the buses Simon must have once owned. He used the head like a giant crayon. He wrote Simon Ajusticiado with blood on the buses lined up along the road.
Just before dawn, after making all the passengers swear they'd never tell and saying they knew where everybody lived, the Rebeldes vanished into the mountains and let the buses and trucks go. The killer carried the trophy head by its mota of gray hair. The body they left by the side of the road. Gaby stared at it as the bus pulled slowly out of the cuneta and joined the convoy of buses and trucks ahead of it, too many for Gaby to count. He could neither see where the row of trucks and buses ended or began. He held on to Mami's shaking hand. He could tell even though her body was there, she wasn't. Her eyes had the floaty drifty gaze that always scared him. Maybe there was more than one way to take away somebody's eyes even when the eyes stayed in the person's head. She kept telling him, "No tengas miedo." But her own voice was faded from fear. He felt one pierce of longing for Papi but the feeling left him, like a punzada after he ran too fast winning races with Peri. If only Peri had also seen this. If only Peri had seen the man chop off the head and write with it, and take it into the thick woven wall of branches and leaves of the Cordillera Vertebral. So maybe, besides Heaven the Cordillera also held Hell.
Gaby studied the towns they passed. Most of these houses had porches all across the front and were made of wood and not adobe like the porchless houses of Los Santos. He watched closely the people (all with eyes) sitting on the porches, entering bodegas and eating places, walking the roads with baskets on their heads. He wondered, did they know what went on in their roadsides at night? He was beginning to get an idea of what tortura, guerra and revolucion might mean. Maybe these people dressed in normal clothes and walking like Mami might do, into the bodega, were the very same ones who put on caqui pants and took out eyeballs or green fatigues and chopped off heads. He glanced at Mami. She was asleep. He never intended to sleep again.

In the Capital nobody was there to meet them even though Papi had telegrammed before they left. Mami said they'd probably given up waiting because the bus was half a day late. Mami looked all around them yanking Gaby by the hand to one carro publico after another. All the carros were filled. He wished he was strong enough to carry the black suitcase that was making mami's body tilt to the left.
Gaby only knew he was singing, humming loud, because Mami yelled. "Callate. They'll think you're crazy." He saw the policeman come toward them. But it wasn't because Gaby was singing but to take Mami's bag and walk them to the bus they had to take to get to Abuela's barrio. Gaby kept waiting for Mami to say something about Simon's head. She said nothing. The severed head was going into the same emptiness the gouged eyeballs had gone into. Those empty horror rooms swallowed any information Gaby got.
Mami was almost dragging the suitcase by the time they reached Abuela's house which stood wide, sandwiched between two smaller houses. Abuela Rosario and the two Tias sitting in the big columpio on the front porch jumped up and met them at the steps. What could be more wonderful than this porch? None of the houses in Los Santos had porches. This porch was like the movie screen and like the movie audience at once. On the porch you could both be the movie for the passersby and watch the movie they made as they passed. The steps were cracked and the pillars holding up the railing were missing pieces, or missing altogether.
Abuela Rosario grabbed Mami's suitcase. The Tias were screaming, "Llegaron, llegaron." Gaby felt himself hefted up into the air by a Tia whose name he couldn't remember but Mami was calling Catalina. Up close her eyes through thick lenses were scary but her smile as she set him down made him happy. It was a smile just for him. And here was his Tia Cari now. Last time she'd been like Carmencita, a bit woman but mainly girl but now she was mostly woman. She strode out into the porch, grabbed the suitcase from Abuela's hand and kissed Mami, then Gaby. "Vamos al cine un dia." Cari remembered. He didn't expect to be this glad to be in La Capital.
As they walked Gaby studied the curlicues of the moorish designs of the cracked floor tiles and the brown tinted photo of Tia Catalina as a young woman sitting in a tall cane chair with Cari as a little girl on her lap. The Tias were talking, Abuela was talking. They asked one question after another not letting Mami answer just the way Papi talked. How was the ride? Did they sleep? Had they eaten? Mami wasn't talking. She wasn't saying anything, let alone one single word about the head.

Tia Cari put the suitcase inside the bedroom between Catalina's, straight across from the long dining room, and Abuela's. This was Cari's own room. Where would she be sleeping?
Abuela drew Mami toward the kitchen. Gaby let Cari take his hand and lead him to the little white enamel kitchen table close to the back door. Mami had gone to "refrescarse" which meant she was in the bathroom. Gaby was given a thick slice of salty white cheese with a slab or red guayaba dulce on top. He took one small bite of cheese and dulce and stared through the door to the little patio between the main house and the kitchen. This was where abuela kept the coop. He studied the three rows of palomitas. Once she had made him a little omelette out of their little eggs. She probably cooked the birds themselves sometimes but Gaby didn't want to know about that. Later he'd make Cari take him to the empty warehouse behind the house where Abuela kept her milkgoat. He got up for a closer look at the palomitas. He especially liked the white one with just one brown speck on the right wing. She lived in the top middle cage. He looked into her eyes. She seemed to be telling him something his boy mind couldn't understand. He wished he knew bird language. He shuddered to think abuela might kill and cook this palomita into a stew or a soup. But didn't God love everyone? Papi said so over and over in his sermons. And still God had let that man Simon lose his whole head from a single machetazo.

Maybe Mami was sleeping. She was lying on her side in the big bed where, usually, Tia Cari slept. For now Cari got to sleep with Abuela in her big bed in the next room. Gaby heard them talk softly and laugh for a long time. They knew nothing of beheadings, or missing eyeballs and could whisper and laugh in the night. He imagined tiptoeing over to their bed and crawling in between them. But even there he would still know. Their not knowing didn't unhappen it. But still, he longed to lie in bed with Abuela and Cari and be part of secret night jokes.
Mami had a pillow under her top leg and one under her head. He watched the huge belly and wondered if the baby swam all the time or sometimes slept. How the baby got in there he didn't want to ask, not after Peri's brother Franco made it his business to tell him anyway. He touched his own penis and tried to picture Papi putting his into mami's pee hole. He shuddered. Franco had also told him that the baby would be born head first. Somehow the big head (Gaby had seen plenty of big baby heads in Church) came out the very same pee hole the penis went into. There was so much he wanted to know; and so much he wished he didn't know.
Abuela and Cari had long since fallen silent but ojos duros Gaby was still up when Mami began to moan. He lay there wishing he could get Papi to help but he was kilometros away on the other side of the Cordillera, in Los Santos, far away where no one had heard of the severed head. He was surrounded everywhere by people who went through their hours and days not knowing. And here was another secret he was afraid to tell. Should he ask her what was wrong? He should but who would dare? She might swing her hand back to slap him or, with one of her whispered hiss yells, tell him, "Callate diantre." This was his first big secret, la senora del ministro beats her son. The secret nobody knew about in Church, or they knew and they pretended not to know. All around were people who were either stupid, or just as bad as Mami, people who walked into bodegas in the daytime and joked with the lady behind the counter, but who beat their little boys, plucked out eyes, cut off heads. Which was the real person? How could you tell when they were about to switch from one into the other?
Gaby had to bite his tongue wanting to confront them with these secrets when they gathered after the sermon for cafe y bizcochos y saludos, or here in the Capital, when the family gathered around the long dining table for desayunos and comidas. Or just before bed when the Tias had gathered to feel the baby kicking inside Mami's belly. He'd like them all to know so they too could stay up all night safeguarding their eyeballs by keeping their eyes wide open. They didn't know and when he saw them gathering around Mami as if she were buena he began to forget what he knew himself. Surely the woman they knew and gushed over who was buena was the real Mami. It must be Gaby who was bad, Gaby, who lay here hearing her moaning and doing nothing. Because it must be Gaby's job to get help if Mami moaned. Maybe the time had come for the baby to leave his playa. This must have been what Papi had meant when he said take care of Mami. This was the difference between being an hombrecito and a little boy.
What would an hombrecito, an hombre, do? Who cared or trusted hombres anyway, could they really be so stupid or so bad they didn't know about beaten boys, gouged eyeballs or severed heads? He'd rather watch these grownups than have anything to do with them, and here now was one of the best subjects of his inquiry approaching. Tio Justo..He could hear him getting closer, announcing his arrival with the clack of his heels. Tia Catalina made the shoemaker put metal taps on the heels to get them to last longer because when he was on foot patrol he wore out all his shoes.
Gaby studied Tio Justo for many reasons. He wore a dark blue uniform and had a gun (although not a long gun). He said malaspalabras whenever he wanted to and Papi said nothing about his curses, didn't even make a face or raise an eyebrow. Mami just smiled even when Tio Justo called somebody a come mierda. Once when Gaby said the very same words (come mierda) she had dragged him over to the toilet bowl and yelled (loud because they were in the house far from the church where nobody could hear her), "Look in there." (There was an unflushed mojon because the toilet didn't always work). "If you say come mierda again you'll have to eat that."
Tio Justo was a policia. Usually when he came home from his patrulla he clacked his heels right past Gaby's room and went straight to his bedroom. But this night he paused by the door and listened to Mami's moans. He did what an hombre would do, what Gaby had been too scared to do, what the Tias had failed to do on their own, he paid attention. Gaby had noticed Tio Justo didn't miss a thing. His gaze was always roaming watching everything. Maybe Gaby could trust him to take over the watching for a while and go to sleep.
Within minutes Justo had alerted the women. Rosario came in, put her hand on Mami's belly and announced it was time to take her to the Hospital de la Policia. Catalina, Justo and Abuela took Mami in a car borrowed from the neighbor two doors down. (Nobody on the block refused Justo anything.) Just when Gaby thought everyone had forgotten him Cari crawled into his bed. It was better not to be alone, but hard. In the soft glow from the sliver of moon he could see through the patio door, Cari looked sweet and completely his. He wanted so much to tell her about the head. But what if he did and the men in bandannas materialized to kill them just the way they said they would?
Cari's eyes were closed and she was breathing but not so slow he could tell for sure she was asleep. He got closer. "Cari, Cari." She opened her picaro brown eyes.
He told her.
He could tell she didn't believe him. He was sorry the moment the words left his lips. He repeated the part about how the men would kill him and Mami (and her and the others) if they told. He made her swear to the new baby not to tell, not Catalina, not Abuela, not Justo, not her novio Oscarito in the photo by her bed.
Afer she slept he lay watching the sky. The moon had disappeared and the sky was getting lighter. Maybe people didn't deserve his secrets. He was still awake when Justo, Catalina and Abuela passed his door. It was time for the women to start the day's kitchen chores. Gaby smelled the cafe brewing in the kitchen and he pretended to be just woken up when Abuela came for Cari, and gently stroked his head to tell him. "Ahora tienes una hermanita."
The day got off to its clatter of sweeping and mopping and its scent of luz brillante and pine oil. But Gaby pretended to be asleep.

Gaby sat in his dark cloud on the rocking chair in the wide hallway, sucking on the milk bottle Mami had let him have even though he was way too old for it. She'd let him keep for himself one of the regalos for the baby . He strained to hear sounds from Abuelo's room across the hall where his parents were now sleeping with La Nina. When Abuelo came home from his job as conductor for a bus that traveled to the interior and back, he would stay in Tio Nacho's room next to the kitchen. Catalina and Cari's younger brother Nacho was away in military school straightening out. Gaby wondered if abuelo worked for buses that belonged to the headless Simon and if he knew what had happened in the Sierra Vertebral.
Since Papi came back all the Tias and Abuela were always saying, like it was something good, that he "Solo tiene ojos para La Nina." Gaby could see it was true but it wasn't good. Now Papi and Mami filed past him, not looking his way, to the mesa del comedor. Mami had La Nina in a little bundle in her arms. He watched the spectacle of the grownups gathered in the comedor for the afternoon merienda adoring little Micaela. She'd been named, like Gaby, after an angel in the Bible. He'd heard Papi tell abuela he expected another boy and was going to name him Miguel. Abuela said thank God they didn't call her Miguelina because she didn't like that name. Micaela.
Papi had come home in the madrugada bus and had barely looked at Gaby, no ojos for him. Tio Justo had brought Mami home and put her into Abuelo's room with La Nina. What about me! He felt a heat in his chest that wanted to curl his hands into fists and shot hot tears from his eyes. He hadn't been paying attention to Cari talking and now she raised her voice and he couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"Le cortaron la cabeza." She practically yelled the words. Cari, as always, found how to be the center. She would take attention away from Papi even if she had to tell Gaby's sworn secret to do it. Gaby jumped up from his chair and when he reached them Papi bent down and ran his finger across his neck. Mami kept looking at Micaela who as usual was sucking on her breast. Abuela and Catalina were all laughing. Tio Justo spit out his cafe con leche. Did they really think this was funny? Or did grownups laugh when they were scared? He wanted to bite Cari's arm. Instead he dug his fingernails into his palms. Don't cry. Don't yell. Cari told, even though she'd sworn on the new baby. He looked to see if anything was happening to La Nina. Maybe what would happen would come later like spells and curses in fairy tales.
Micaela unplugged herself from Mami and began to cry. Maybe she cried because of Cari, or because she looked like a raisin all wrinkled up and her jet black hair stuck out around her head like a sea urchin. Un Fenomeno.

Gaby lay in Cari's bed, listening to Micaela fussing in the room across the way and Papi talking to her softly while maybe Mami slept. Cari was out on the porch with her novio Oscarito. She sat with him for hours with Abuela Rosario watching through the sala window. Abuela kept her eyes mostly on the novela de la television. But just often enough she fixed them on Cari and Oscarito to keep his hands mainly on his lap and his lips to himself. Yesterday Gaby had been running his car back and forth on the porch steps and Oscarito was bending over, and his lips were almost on top of Cari's when Abuela yelled through the window very loud, "Caridad, muchacha." Besos must be that bad. Gaby's hand shook and he dropped the new black car Papi had brought him after La Nina.
Gaby shifted on the bed away from the hot spot his body had made on the sheet and onto a cool spot almost at the edge of the mattress. He turned the hot pillow over onto the cool side. The moon in the square of sky visible over the wall of the patio had big bruised eyes. He never intended to sleep but he had to pretend to sleep now, because he could hear Cari's footsteps approaching their door, back from the porch and the bathroom and ready for sleep.
He breathed slow the way he knew that people breathed when they were sleeping. Caridad wanted him to hear all her secrets but he wouldn't do it, not after what she'd done with his secret. She talked to him even when he slept. Maybe she could tell that he was faking. She went on and on. He prayed this was one night she talked herself out fast. How Oscarito slipped his hand up her skirt and she let him get halfway up her thigh before she wiggled him away. That when Abuela went to the bathroom all the way at the far end of the house close to the kitchen Oscarito kissed her and put his tongue deep into her mouth and she could feel it, well Gaby knew where. Sometimes, she said, all he had to do was take her hand, or run his fingertips on her palm and she got wet. How Oscarito had put the tip of his tongue into her ear and she got wet, well there, donde tu sabes. Gaby didn't know. Maybe he could guess because of where he was feeling what she was saying. But he didn't want to know. Her talking was giving him feelings he didn't want to have that only a bad boy would have, down there. He turned over onto his stomach and concentrated on keeping his breathing slow and his eyelids smooth. Scrunched eyelids were the giveaway of the fake sleeper.
Now Cari was reaching her peak moment. She began to squirm. He felt her reach her hand between her legs. She began her litany. "Lo quiero, lo quiero, lo quiero, lo quiero. Me voy a morir de tanto que lo quiero." She began to sob. He kept quiet, breathing slow. Pretty soon, still sobbing, still moaning, "Me muero, muero, muero de tanto quererlo," her breathing slowed. She was asleep and he was free from her.
But he, Gaby, wasn't fool enough to sleep. Who knew what other horrors might take place in the night. He wasn't going to just surrender to the ignorance of sleep.

Oscarito sat with Gaby in the columpio in the front porch. Cari was with La Nina because Papi had taken Mami to the Hospital de la Policia. Gaby prayed she wasn't about to have another Nina. Oscarito had stopped reading his Sucesos and sat watching Gaby run his car back and forth on the porch steps for a while and then called him over to sit with him on the porch swing. Gaby asked him to make him a dibujo of a horse. Gaby said, "caballo" and Oscarito took his fat black fountain pen from his top guayabera pocket and drew a horse, not as good as Carmencita's, but still, Gaby could tell it was a horse. Gaby kept his eyes on the horse drawing. He said, "telefono", and Oscarito drew a boxy telephone. Gaby tried hard not to look at the photos Oscarito flipped past quickly to get to a page with some blank space. Still the images had invaded Gaby's eyeballs. A row of bodies on the side of a road; a hillside seen from above strewn with bodies missing parts. Some of the bodies looked like they were melting into the dirt. There was a closeup of a pile of eyeballs in an indentation in the ground. There was a photo of a man that looked like Simon, still alive and with a head.
Oscarito drew another horse, this time a bigger one because the advertisement for a muebleria had lots of blank space around the pictures of rocking chairs and beds. He quickly drew another telephone. Gaby took hold of Oscarito's hand. "Let me see the photos." He expected Oscarito to hit him and call him diantre or muchacho presentao. But instead Oscarito said, "I didn't mean for you to see them but you did." Gaby got closer and leaned into Oscar who turned the pages slowly. "Estas son atrocidades." Oscarito's voice was soft but a little like Papi's sermon voice. "These atrocities are because of the Dictator's greed. We're going to stop him. La revolucion is going to change everything. They're frightening but don't stay scared. There are thousands of us fighting for a better world. They do these things to us and more of us rise up. After the rebeldes win there won't be any more need to chop off the heads of vende patrias."
Just then Tio Justo marched up the porch steps in his navy blue uniform. He paused by Oscarito and Gaby in the columpio, looked at the magazine spread open between them. "No te pongas a hablarle mierda al muchacho." He was glaring. "All we need is for you to fill his head with shit." He marched inside flapping his hand at Oscar. Gaby sat stiff. For one second he pictured himself running into the house after Justo because Justo would have liked that and it was always good to have Justo liking you. He looked up at Oscarito who was looking at him with a thoughtful smile. "No le hagas caso. Justo doesn't know what he says."
Gaby chose. He inched closer to Oscarito and he let him crawl halfway onto his lap. Next thing he knew it was dark on the porch so he knew he'd slept at last. When he woke up he sat up hard. What woke him was Simon's head moving its lips. It wanted to say something but it had no throat. Oscarito had let him sleep on his lap for a long time and now that he was up he said softly, "Vamos a merendar." He led him to the back of the house. As they proceeded along the long hallway he turned on the lights.
Oscarito stopped in the little patio between the main house and the kitchen by the palomitas. "Mira." The doors of the high cages with the periquitos were open. "Listen." The periquitos were singing. They followed their song to the back room by the kitchen. There stood Cari's brother,Tio Nacho. He'd come home from his military school in La Provincia. Gaby watched for signs of his straightening. He'd ridden back on the bus with Abuelo Elpidio who was stretched out on one of the two narrow cots in the room, smoking a cigar. He didn't have time to get up because Gaby ran into his arms. Nacho tumbled alongside him and within seconds was letting Gaby beat him at wrestling, not caring if his dress caqui uniform got wrinkled. Loud boleros were playing on a little record player on a shelf over the bed and a woman was wailing her love pains in a high soprano and the periquitos were flying lose in the room, or perching on dry branches Nacho had nailed out from the walls. "Listen Gaby," Oscarito smiled at them all from just inside the door. "The periquitos are singing along with Palmira."

Mami and Papi had come back from El Medico and Mami and La Nina were reunited in Abuelo's bedroom even though Abuelo was back from la Provincia and would have to share Nacho's little room out back. Gaby could see la Nina sucking away on Mami's tit from where he sat in a rocking chair in the big pasillo between Cari's and his room and theirs. Gaby had seen puppies and kittens do that and had seen Abuela Rosario milk the goat she kept in the big patio. The goat was lose and Gaby could see it through the barred window poking its snout into the shut bottom half of the patio door. He was drinking that goat milk now and trying to shut out talk of the Bautizo de la Nina. He couldn't believe he'd gotten Mami to let him have one of the bottles La Nina had been given as gifts but didn't yet need, since mostly, she got to suck on Mami. He gave himself over to the pleasure of drinking the warm milk. If he drank it very slowly his tongue found the way it was sweet. He held the milk in his mouth awhile and the sweet surprise came if he was patient.
By giving himself over to the sweet milk he could stop himself from hearing Papi and Tia Catalina and Tia Cari planning their trip to Los Santos for the Bautizo de la Nina. Tio Justo would commandeer the neighbor's car. How were they going to fit in the car? He certainly didn't want to hear plans for Gaby and Oscarito and Nacho to go by bus on their own. Todo para la Nina. He shuddered. He never wanted to cross la Cordillera Vertebral again, not in a car and especially not in a bus.
He sat very still in his rocker hoping to blend. If he sat very still maybe, maybe the world around him would hold still. He sat rocking and sucking and studying the human zoo of the adults. He rocked and sucked and watched and let the sweetness make a wall between him and them, a milky wall, like gauze.
All at once they burst out laughing, Papi, Catalina, Abuela Rosario, Abuelo Elpidio, Nacho, Oscarito and of course Cari who was having one of her ocurrencias. He had never seen anyone else take center stage from Papi anywhere, ever. Cari was repeating her ocurrencia. "Oscarito's Mother let him have his bottle until he was 11." She was clutching his hand. With choteo you couldn't tell if people were hurt when they got teased. Gaby only knew from himself. It always hurt him but maybe Oscarito had thick skin. That's what Papi told Gaby after he was done with a choteo about how big Gaby's feet were, or how Gaby sucked his thumb in his sleep, because Gaby couldn't hide his tears. "Estoy jugando. Tienes que aprender a jugar. I do this for your own good. When you learn to play you get thick skin."
"Mentira." Nacho almost fell off the taburete he was sitting on, leaning the goat skin chair from el campo against the wall. "It wasn't a bottle Oscarito sucked on. It was his Mother's teta." This time Oscarito joined in the laughter as he turned and walked away over to where the chiva was still pushing the gate with her snout. He put his hand through the iron bars and scratched the chiva's head.
"I remember how he used to run home, desaforao after school, to tear of his Mother's blouse and jump up on her lap to mamar." Nacho had beaten Cari. That was amazing enough, but what was even more amazing was how loud Papi was laughing. Gaby couldn't remember ever hearing Papi laugh that hard. Even Mami was smiling as she stepped out of the room with La Nina in her arms, covered with a shawl. As always, La Nina was sucking away. He sucked harder on his bottle. Only Gaby and la Nina weren't laughing because how could you laugh and suck at the same time.
At last Cari tugged on his hand. "Muchacho, suelta la botella." She pulled Oscarito away from the goat and the three of them marched down the long hall. She and Oscarito were going to llevarlo a pasear. Oscarito had a beat up car that rattled but Gaby was excited sitting on the edge of the back seat looking out the window at the sights of La Capital. He couldn't remember ever riding in a car. In Los Santos they walked everyplace, la Iglesia, la Escuela, la bodega, la casa de Peri, even el Rio were all places he could get to just by walking. There were many more places in La Capital. When he came to La Capital with Mami before La Nina, he'd traveled with her on buses and tranvias to the dentist, to buy shoes. So far the car wasn't making him want to vomit like tranvias did. It didn't have that terrible burnt smell. He stared out the window at the houses with porches that gave way to buildings with three, four, five stories, each with balconies, and then to buildings that looked as old as Los Santos houses but with many stories and little iron railed balcones barely big enough for one chair.
Oscarito pulled up right onto the sidewalk, so narrow it barely held Gaby's two feet, and parked. A car squeezed past him heading for the corner. Cari was very excited. The food they were about to go eat was called "pizza." Gaby had never been to a restaurant before except once when Peri's Mother had taken him and Peri to La Tertulia to merendar after school and Gaby had eaten a rosca and very light cafe con leche. They had to step down into the place which was dark and smelled like the panaderia and like garlic. They sat at a small round table. Most of the other tables were taken and the people looked very big and talked very loud. After the pizza came while Gaby chewed the bread and cheese and tomato very slowly because it was both strange and very delicious, Oscarito got up and sat at a table close to the kitchen door with two other men. Gaby saw him take a folded envelope from his guayabera pocket and give it to the man closest to him, by the wall.

"Te gusta la pizza?" Oscarito sat back down and patted Gaby on the back. Next time Gaby looked the other men had gone. Cari looked down at her food and didn't look at Oscarito for awhile. This was one of those times Gaby couldn't tell what it was made grownups upset. But now Cari had stopped eating and so Gaby too stopped eating the strange flat bread. Oscarito was mad but he wasn't saying why so maybe he was like Papi who got mad when Gaby let food go to waste. The ninos pobres would want this pizza.
They drove home with nobody saying anything in the car and Gaby putting all his mind on the houses and the faroles that were lighting up, some lighting just as they drove past. Cari was in no mood for jokes. She left Oscarito standing at the porch, and gave him no beso and pulled Gaby after her by the hand. She marched into her bedroom and turned Oscarito's picture on her night table upside down.
That night while Gaby fake slept Cari sobbed harder than ever. "Se va a ir. He's going to go. He's going to leave me for los Rebeldes and go to the Cordillera Vertebral."

Gaby couldn't see when he woke up. He held back a scream. He should never have let himself fall asleep. He felt his neck; his head was still attached but maybe the eyeball gouging soldiers had come in the night for his eyeballs. He shook in the heat of the room as if he was cold. Now Cari was running a wet towel over his eyes. What was he to do now that he couldn't see? How would he cover his empty eye sockets.? Cari scrubbed harder, wet the cloth again and again, and at last he could see from his right eye, and then his left.
Because he was sick Cari brought him pan con manteguilla to their bed, and goat milk with brown sugar in his baby bottle. He put the nipple in his mouth and lay down on the bed and curled himself into a baby ball and closed his eyes and sucked the sugar milk. The sweet milk filled his mouth, stayed long and went down slowly along that part of the roof of his mouth close to the back of his tongue where food tasted the sweetest but didn't stay long. "Muchacho, you're too big for that." Nacho strode into the room and broke Gaby's milk trance. He took the bottle and hid it under the bed.
"Dejalo. He's enfermito. His eyes were stuck and I had to wash off gobs of yellow pus." Cari made Nacho leave and rescued the bottle but before she let Gabi have it she made him eat a bite of bread. Then Oscarito walked into the room. He turned his photograph right side up and gave Cari a grown up look Gaby couldn't understand,a little frightened. "Comprendeme." He kissed the top of Cari's head and she let him. Oscarito reached into his guayabera pocket and took out something white. He handed it to Gaby and he saw it was a tiny kitten. Cari peeked at the kitten. "Look. It's eyes are still closed the way yours were this morning." She rummaged in her dresser drawer for a gotero. She filled the dropper with some of Gaby's milk and wiggled the tip into the kitten's mouth and squeezed one drop. She lay on the bed with Gaby at her side, the kitten in between them and Oscarito watching, sitting at her feet. "I heard it squealing in a sack in the callejon by my house. La gata was nowhere, so I took him." He squeezed Gaby's foot. "It's for you if your Mami will let you." Gaby gave Oscarito a pleading look. He wanted to say, don't tell her, she won't let me. Right away he had fallen in love with this tiny sightless cat. Oscarito read his eyes. Oscarito understood everything. "Don't worry, Cari will find the right time to tell her."

Even curled around his tiny white kitten Gaby wasn't sleeping through the night. He stared at the kitty with his ojos duros and got up often to feed her with the dropper. He named the kitten Mota. Mami didn't say no. If Gaby took care of the cat he could keep her. She said if he didn't the cat would die. "La gata es tu problema, Gabriel." Papi only had eyes for La nina. Mami had eyes only for Papi. Not Gaby. Not la Nina. Gaby had eyes for Mota.
Next morning he got up from bed trying to look like he had slept. He'd never sleep again. No way was he going to run into Simon's head again trying to tell him something without a throat and vocal chords. He needed to get to the bathroom, otherwise he would just stay in his bed all day. Cari was already dressed and she sat on the bed feeding Mota with the dropper.
He felt himself about to scream and saw his own hand punch Cari's bedroom door. The hand had its own life and went right through the slats. He looked at his hand. The knuckles were bleeding. He felt pain only after he saw the blood. He was in big trouble now. Cari was screaming. "Mi puerta." He felt a hot energy rise up from the middle of his chest into his hands and he punched through the persianas again. He turned back to look at Cari who was coming toward him. Before she could reach him he punched the slats again. Mami burst through the door. "Estas loco?" She screamed for Papi. She came at him. "Crazy malcriado." She raised her arm and brought her hand down hard and hit him on his shoulderblade as he turned away, in front of Papi who'd rushed across the hallway with La Nina (crying as usual) in his arms. Mami had never hit him in front of Papi before. Maybe at last Papi was going to make her stop. She hit him again, in front of Tia Catalina and Abuela Rosario who'd come out of their rooms and stood staring at the shattered door.
Maybe now they would all stop her. But here was Nacho screaming, "Yo le meto mano a este muchacho malcriado." He towered over Gaby, grabbed his arm and yanked him into the hallway through the ripped door. Gaby looked to Papi but Papi was bouncing La Nina and patting her back. Nacho began to beat Gaby where Mami left off not being careful where the blows landed. Gaby felt himself spying the beating from above. His body was very far away from him and the aching in his ass and shoulders reached him from far away, like a movie about his own life.
Abuelo Elpidio shook his head as he studied the slats. "Calmense. Todo tiene arreglo." Abuelo could fix anything. "Suelta al Muchacho." Even though Abuelo said to let him go, Nacho kept dragging Gaby toward his room. Just then Oscarito arrived. "Sueltalo. Me lo llevo yo." Gaby had no idea why Nacho obeyed Oscarito but he let him go. Gaby ran and hid his face against Oscarito's legs.

First Oscarito and Cari took Gaby to the Parque de los Generales. Oscarito flew on the swing looking up at the blue, blue sky, pumping his legs hard. That burning energy that made him punch the door now surged through his arms as he pulled the chain toward himself and flowed into the swings, propelling him higher and higher. He could see Cari and Oscarito leaning into a tree, nuzzling and kissing.
He pumped harder and harder and pictured himself on the bus back to Los Santos, just him and Cari and Oscarito.But probably Tia Catalina wouldn't let Cari travel with Oscarito on the bus through the night. He pumped harder when he thought he would get to ride on the bus alone with Oscarito. Just him and Oscarito on the bus wouldn't be bad at all.
Oscarito took them to the frita stand and bought one for Gaby. Because Cari told him Gaby had never eaten one before Oscarito watched the boy as he took his first bite of the round bun and the skinny, salty patty of meat covered in fried onions and crisp fried potatoes no thicker than spaghetti. "Look at that face. Is there anything better than a frita from the Parque de los Generales?" Cari kissed Gaby on his head. They sat down to finish their fritas in the middle of a lawn facing a little lake Oscarito said had been dug up by men, including his Uncle Fabio whom Cari said was in the mountains now, con los rebeldes. Gaby wanted another frita and Oscarito said yes and while Cari went to get it a man came over and Oscarito got up to talk to him closer to the water. The man was younger than Oscarito. Gaby wondered if he was already a man or maybe still a boy. He talked very fast, moving his arms around. By the time Cari came back with a second frita for each of them and with bottles of pina soda, the boy man was gone.
They stood on a long line for the very smelly bathroom Cari said was only better than dying because you had to go and then Oscarito said. "Vamos al cine." It was a long drive back into the old part of town. Gaby got to sit in the front seat in between the novios. He curled up with his head on Cari's lap staring at the blue sky through the windshield, watching the drifts of clouds. He felt a strange warmth tingling through his body and realized this was something he hadn't felt for a long, long, time. The feeling of not being scared at all.
La pelicula was de vaqueros. Gaby waited for the moment when the famoso de la pelicula sat on his white horse behind a clump of bushes and a big round rock ambushing los malos in their black clothes and dark horses. He was almost sure this was the very same bushes and rock he'd seen in every cowboy movie, that the spot was as fixed as the corner outside Abuela Rosario's house, or the meadow by the river, or the entrance to the Parque de los Generales. Now suddenly the scene shifted to the house and el famoso was kissing the woman so Gaby turned his head away. He'd had enough kissing with Cari and Oscarito who had barely looked at the screen once during the movie. He saw the man walk down the row just behind them and pat Oscarito on the shoulder so he finally had to let go of the endless beso. After the man was done whispering into his ear Oscarito whispered to Cari, ruffled Gaby's hair, got up left.
Cari moved next to Gaby, clutched his hand, and began to sob. Gaby kept his eyes on the screen. More than anything he wanted to know how el famoso got el malo and prayed Cari didn't make them get up and go. He never got to know because not long after Oscarito left the movie went off, the cine was pitch black and suddenly swarmed with police men wearing the same navy blue uniform Tio Justo wore, pointing flashlights, swinging their night sticks and telling everyone to leave.
Outside the movie house Gaby stopped short at the sight of swarms of people carrying signs and banners. He saw that almost all the stores were now shut. Cari yanked at his arm. A woman beside them who had also come out of the cine said this was the huelga general the rebeldes had been threatening. Cari began to sob again as she led them into the throng of people flowing like the Rio Caiman. They were chanting and at last Gaby made out what they were saying and began to chant with them. "Abajo la tirania." He didn't know what they meant. But he thought of how he'd like to bring down the grownups who ran his life and for even a little while be the famoso of his own pelicula. Cari too began to chant. It was a long time before Gaby again wondered how in the hell they'd get home or where it was they were heading. They walked and screamed and waved to the people hanging out of windows and balcones and looking from sidewalks. Lots of the people watching joined in as the march went by.
La tirania didn't have enough policias or enough horses to flank the swelling march. Gaby could see the scared face of the young policia high up on a horse. The horse reared like in the movie. He saw the boy policia raise his gun and shoot. Cari pulled Gaby into a side street with a tributary of people who were starting to be crazy. She ducked into the doorway of a shuttered store and pressed Gaby against it. People were running, screaming, falling, getting trampled. A policeman got trapped in a wall of humans. Gaby watched men and women beat and kick him. The pelicula had spilled into real life. Gaby willed his eyes to close but they wouldn't.

Cari knew the way to walk and told Gaby they would get there and he believed her and let himself be led by the hand. He was very tired and he felt his small body moving on its own, separate from his mind which he let shut down as if he were getting a beating from Mami or having a bad dream. At any moment the Rio Caiman would appear and all he would have to do is resist the dream command to jump into the jaws of the caimanes. They didn't have to walk the whole way home, though. When they got to the beginning of the Doblevia a car pulled up beside them. The driver was one of their vecinos and the people in the back seat made room. They each sat on somebody's lap, Cari bent almost double with her head leaning over the front seat and Gaby squeezed into the door. Gaby listened to everybody in the car talk at once. The huelga general was now in its 7th hour and General Olebre's army was conducting a masacre. The way they said masacre he knew it belonged with guerra, revolucion, tortura. He turned his face toward the talkers. "Que es eso? Que es masacre.?" He knew Oscarito would tell him if he was there. And now a young woman squeezed against the opposite door looked straight at him like he was human too and said. "Cuando la tirania mata y mata y mata gente." He saw her clench her fists and bring them to her face and start to cry.
And then at last they were home. He ran in and Papi who was standing on the porch steps swept him up into his arms and kissed him and handed him to Mami and she hugged him and kissed him too and then everybody was hugging and kissing everybody, everybody who was there, Rosario, Catalina, Abuelo Elpidio. Gaby didn't ask where Tio Justo and Nacho had gone.
They walked together down the hallway. Gaby saw Abuelo had already fixed the slats he'd punched through in Cari's door. Abuela Rosario fed Cari and Gaby on the long comedor table, rice and beans and carne with olives in the sauce. No food ever tasted better. Mami and Papi didn't say no when he followed them into the bedroom. Mami was by the dresser folding La Nina's clothes and Papi was stretched out on the bed next to La Nina. Gaby crawled alongside her. He waited for them to say, 'No la toques,' but nobody said a word. So he lay with his face next to La Nina's. She was awake and she wasn't crying. Gaby looked into her eyes. They were light brown, the color of brown sugar caramelos, and they had a deep light coming from inside. Watching his hermanita he felt the most wonderful tingling feeling from his chest to his fingertips. He kissed her tiny forehead and took her tiny little hands in his and kissed them. He wished she'd smile at him but he could tell she was loving him too anyway from the light in her eyes and he thought, La Nina knows everything she just doesn't have the words.