Se Llevaron a Papi

There was a loud knock on Elba Luz' bedroom door, which was really Mami y Papi's bedroom door. She recognized Dona Zoila's three tap knock and called out, entra, from the tiny alcove off the bigger room where her bed was, the one she only slept in if Papi was in town. She yelled again, "entra." She looked up from her drawing of a woman, looked back down and erased the nose for the third time. She made another curved line, and two small dots. She'd squeezed herself on the floor in between her bed and her old wooden dresser. Her little alcove was her hideout. She thought it was her cueva de lobos. Only last week Mami had finally let her get the dresser painted pink and Abi had helped her, or maybe, really, had mosly done it for her. He'd dragged the dresser to the patio by the pila. It had taken them most of a Saturday to paint two coats of glossy pink. Mami had traded a week's free rent with Don Rudy the quincallero for the paint and five calcomanias of roses and lilacs and helped Elbita place them exactly where she wanted them, one for each of the three drawers and two on each side of the mirror. Dona Zoila pushed the door open. "Nina, donde estas?" Elbita laughed and gave away her hiding place. Zoila walked past Papi y Mami's big bed and stood with the blue dishdrying rag in her hand. Most nights she helped Mami Rocio do the dishes from dinner. She looked down on Elbita who lay on her belly on the floor. "Que haces?" Elba jumped up and showed Dona Zoila the drawing of a woman she'd been making on her lined notebook, the one left over from second grade, half-unfilled, that she used for her life story in pictures. "Es Mami. Do you like her nose? I'm working on my coloring book for when I'm old" Zoila bent down and kissed her. "Que ocurrencias, nina bella." "Te buscan en la puerta de la calle."
Elba Luz pulled shut the door to the room she loved because she got to share Mami's double bed with her when Papi was away, and skipped down the long hallway to the front door.
"Hola Silvito. Entra." Before she'd finished asking him in, he'd run inside. His straight black pelo de guiro was wet and so was his dark blue t shirt and so were his brown shorts and so were his stocky, muscly arms. "Entra, entra. You ran all the way!" She stepped aside and let the boy into the wide hallway. He stood by the areca and swiped the long pointy leaves off his face. He was out of breath. She studied his face in the dim light of the lightbulb that dangled from the dark high beams. It swung in its metal and glass shade. "Que te pasa? Tienes miedo."
He was shaking. She took him by the hand and led him all the way to the kitchen where Mami took one look at him and said, "Sientate." She motioned to the small table where she prepared meals and where the family sometimes sat for private meals away from the huespedes. La familia was Elba Luz and Mami and Papi when he was in Coral and not away wherever it was he went. Elba Luz wasn't supposed to ask. Chocolate was a remedio for everyhing. Once Mami was having a chocolate late at night with Dona Zoila (who also sometimes sat with them; she'd lived in Casa Rocio so long she was, really, casi familia). Elba Luz had woken up. When she didn't find Mami in the bed they shared if Papi was away, she'd wandered half asleep to the kitchen to find her. She'd heard Mami and Zoila in one of those conversaciones de mujeres she wasn't supposed to listen to. Mami was crying. Zoila said, "Y porque no han tenido mas hijos?" Mami laughed and cried at the same time. "Pero cuando vamos a hacerlos? Antonio siempre conspirando." She walked away as quietly as she had come and didn't get caught. Elba Luz was on alert to catch the grownups talking about those two things again. She'd asked Silvito what it meant to make babies. Wasn't it god that made them? And she asked him what conspirando was. He stood up tall and made a knowing face his Papi Silvio often made and said, "Un dia lo vas a saber." Of course that meant he didn't know himself.
Mami Rocio pulled out the chair at the head of the table for Silvito. "Sientate y les hago chocolate." He sat and let out a long breath. "Mi mama me mando a hablarle a tu mama."
Rocio served the children hot chocolate in heavy brown mugs and sat alongside Elba Luz, facing Silvito. The boy said, "Dona Rocio, es que se llevaron a Papi." Silvito's sobs were quiet and the tears gushed from the corners of his eyes. ELba Luz watched them. She'd never seen eyes almost squirting. His shoulders were shaking. "Se lo llevaron. Se llevaron a Papi y mi Mama no sabe que hacer y dice que usted conoce a todo el mundo."
Mami waited until he stopped sobbing. She gave him a clean servilleta to wipe the tears and the long strings of mocos hanging from his nose. Pobre Silvito. Elba Luz had never seen him cry, not even one tear, not even when he slipped from the flat rock at the end of his yard and landed in the Guacabon and the river started taking him into the white foam and his Papi dove in and fished him out and his Mami kept shaking him as she dried him with a frayed tohalla, saying over and over, "Y si pasa cuando no esta tu padre? Entonces que te hubiera pasado?" Mami kept holding his hand. When he was almost quiet she said, "Cuando?"
He looked up at her. His eyes were huge and very wet. "Ni acababamos de comer."
"Cuantos?" He raised three fingers.
Mami looked at me. "Ponte los zapatos." She undid her big barrette, ran her fingers through her long black hair, and clipped it tight at the nape of her neck. She grabbed her wine red rebozo and wrapped it around herself. She almost ran to the front door.
"A donde vamos?"
"Ya vas a ver."
We walked very fast up to the plaza, and then across it, not even on the path with the lit faroles, but in between the trees. Elba Luz had never seen Mami wear her flat zapatos de casa outside, nor had she seen her walk so fast. She and Silvito were almost trotting behind her. They crossed the street, walked under the portal, and knocked hard on the huge black shuttered double doors of the farmacia. They could hear Don Maximo's heavy footsteps running to the door. He pushed his always slipping glasses with no rims on his nose and stopped grinning when he saw Mami Rocio's face. "Que pasa? Se cayo la nina?" They followed him. Elba Luz studied his tall, strong body from behind. Papi said he wished he had the time to work out with weights like Don Maximo did. "Como no tiene ninos," Papi said. He led them behind the counter into the back of the house. Elba Luz had only been back here once when she had fallen on pieces of broken glass while running in the Plaza after dark during a retreta. Papi brought her for Don Maximo's wife Catalina, who was a nurse at the clinica, to darle cinco puntos. She still had the scar. She looked around. This back room was where Don Maximo kept lots of small jars and three huge marble mortars with pestles. She studied the mortars Papi said were for grinding remedios. She heard a clang in the room beyond this one and caught sight of Catalina, holding a bar with metal disks at each end at her chest. raising it over her shoulders, and bringing it down hard onto the floor. So a woman could do that too!
"Los guardias le llevaron a su viejo."
Don Maximo nodded.
"Pues vamos."
He smoothed his camisa and called out, "Catalina vamos al cuartel." His wife came running. She glanced at the old streaked mirror on the wall behind Don Maximo's shelves of vials, and patted her very short hair. She grabbed a sweatshirt with a hoodie and thrust her arms into it as they headed for the front door. "Yo tambien voy."
Maximo nodded. "Mientras mas somos, mejor."
They set off in the cooling night and walked along the portal past the Cafe Plaza, where Elba Luz could see groups of men drinking beer at a long bar, and families having postre at small tables as if they didn't know there had been a tragedia. They reached the corner and climbed down the three steep steps to the street, crossed the street, and almost ran. Silvito and Elba Luz could barely keep up with the grown-ups. Elba Luz clung to Silvito's hand. "No sabia que sabian correr."
They arrived at the gate of the Cuartel de la Policia. If she ever needed to walk on Calle San Lazaro she always walked on the other side of the street. Even now that she was a nina grande de ocho she was still terrified of that cuartel, of the men in dark blue uniforms who stood outside it with what Papi called armas largas (huge ametralladoras) hanging off their chests. Even though Mami had told her many times that what the scary Bruja de Cien cuidante who watched them during school recess said ("Portense bien. Bad children will be taken to the cuartel") was not true.
Don Maximo walked inside, motioning to the children behind him. "Corran ninos. Hay que apurarse."
They stopped where a huge black desk blocked their way. A young guardia sat behind it. Elba Luz studied him. He had a blue cap pulled tight over his shaved head, a tiny mustache, thin lips, bored eyes. He looked up at them.
Elbita was finally inside this place she had walked past so many times, afraid to be caught looking and be grabbed by one of the men with armas largas standing outside.
"Exigimos ver una orden de detencion." Don Maximo said.
First the young man looked scared and then he began to laugh, covered his mouth, and walked into a dark doorway as if he wanted to hide an ataque de risa.
He came back with a taller, dark brown man, with a round belly, and a very big mustache.
"El Sargento." The young man pointed to him and then took two steps back.
Don Maximo cleared his throat.
"Exigimos ver una orden de detencion."
He motioned to Silvito who said. "Es mi Papa. Se lo llevaron los guardias. Se llama Silvio Cabrera."
The sargento looked at papers he held on a wooden clipboard. He flipped some pages. He moved his index finger up and down. He shook his head.
"No tenemos ningun Silvio Cabrera ni en las ordenes de detencion, ni en las listas de los detenidos." He took one step toward them, leaned forward, and stood very straight. Silvito felt a tingle up his spine and couldn't stop himself from trembling. It felt like the man with his buggy out eyes and tight square jaw and very tight big muscles had hit him. Silvito touched his own long face and dark skin, pointed to his black, oval shaped eyes, and touched his left eyebrow where Papi had a scar and he did not. "Tiene una cara larga, piel prieta como la mia, los mismos ojos que yo, una cicatriz aqui."
Maximo stood up very straight and raised his chin.
"Queremos hablar con el teniente."
The round man shrugged. "No esta."
"Pues con el oficial a cargo."
The sargent stepped toward them again and Silvito stepped behind Don Maximo. How could a person hit you without touching you?
"Con respeto, pero no me venga a decir que es usted, Sargento Ibanez." Don Maximo lowered his voice. "Mira que te conozco de cuando eras Peruchito. Y tambien me acuerdo cuando viniste a la farmacia con tu mujer..."
The sargeant walked around the table, tapped Maximo's arm and the two of them stepped outside. Elba Luz could see them standing in between the gate and the scary front door. They were talking with their heads close together .
Don Maximo motioned them all to follow and when they got to the street, he squatted down, and looked right into Silvito's eyes. "Tu Papi esta bien. Ahora vamos a hablar con tu Mama."
Elba Luz could tell her body was very tired. This was way past her bedtime on a school night. But at the same time she felt like she was lit up from inside. They were walking just as fast but now she could keep up very well. The cuartel was on the river side of Coral and they were not too far from Silvito's house.
When they got there Silvito's mother kissed Elba Luz. "Que bueno que nos vuelves a visitar." She said. Elba Luz saw that Mami heard her, glanced at her. "She raised her eyebrows as if to say to Elba Luz, despues hablamos. Maybe given this tragedia Mami would forgive her coming here without permiso.
Silvitos' mother Ines led them to the middle room, the one with the two big iron framed beds. Silvito threw himself into the sagging middle of the one he shared with his brother and sister. His sister sat with her two pony tails almost undone and her curls wild around her head, huddled with their plump little brother against the iron frame of the metal bed. Inesita still wore a frayed yellow dress over blue shorts. Fede, the almost baby, was asleep, curled up against her in his striped t shirt and brown shorts, his plump arms and legs folded. He melted into his sister. How Elba Luz longed to lie down with them right then and there and fall asleep. She sat on the edge in the same exact spot she'd sat in just a few days ago but this time the windows were shuttered.
The grownups were talking and she tried very hard to keep listening the way she made herself listen long after her body wanted to go to sleep, to the telenovelas Mami, Zoila, and the other huespedes watched late at night on the tv in the big wide hallway, in the salita del pasillo Mami had made so that she could let out the proper sala and saleta at the front of the house to the huespedes.
"Hicieron una limpia," Don Maximo said. "Se los llevaron al Cuartel Mayor. No los tienen en la lista asi que a los abogados les va a costar trabajo. Manana temprano pongase lista. Vamos a donde Don Henry Limon."
Elbita barely heard Dona. "A eso de las siete cuando mande a los ninos a la escuela me aparezco en la farmacia."