Indignadas (Perla and Tanama)

Why did Tanama find her attractive? Could she, really? Perla caught a glimpse of herself in the old hexagonal mirror that had once been part of abuela's victrola and now sat on top of the gavetero closest to the persianas of her bedroom. The wooden slats in the shutters shone stripes of light onto the streaked, dull mirror glass. She could just make out her short, spiky, grizzled hair, her square jaw, her full lips, her big eyes, a bit bulgy. Her eyes had always bothered her as a little girl. Some of the other children called them frog eyes. She noticed that now they didn't bother her any more except when she was in the mood to wonder how Tanama could possibly desire her.
She reached into the top drawer of the tall gavetero, almost level with her shoulders, for her favorite white blusa with the embroidered fuschia and turquoise birds that Tanama bought for her at the Cooperativa de Artesanas in El Pico in her pueblo Caldero close to the Caldero del Diablo thermal baths. The more besotted Tanama behaved, the more anxiety Perla felt. Her abuela used to say, "If it's too good to be true, don't believe it." She slipped the blouse over her head, eased in her arms, and smoothed the blouse over her jeans. As she slipped her feet into flip flops she reached over and pushed the persianas open. She flung open the shutters and let in the sunlight. She took in the fresh air flowing down from El Pico and smiled at this first sighting of the mountain, huge and purple in the distance. Its snow white peak was hidden in a crown of fog. The sky was still dawn pink. The way El Pico sat on the earth, was the earth, comforted her. She felt safe for a second then laughed out loud. "Como puede ser que un volcan me quite el miedo.? She'd have to ask Tanama how it was that a volcano could make her feel safe."
"Que?" Tanama turned over. Asleep she looked almost child like. Perla shook her head. What was she doing con una nina? Tanama was 49 years old. Most of the time Perla could tell Tanama was a grown woman, but not when she was asleep. Perla shook her shoulder gently, helped her stand. This was the usual routine. She walked Tanama to her own room, and helped her into her own bed, without actually waking her. She pulled the brown wool blanket, also from La Cooperativa, over Tani's shoulders, stroked the braids wrapped around her head. She tucked in a length of red ribbon that had come undone. All night long Tanama battled in her sleep. She tossed and turned and spoke and even, every once in a while, she sang. She was humming now as she fell back into a deep sleep.
Perla knocked on Ange's door, pushed it open, and walked in. Her daughter's room adjoined Tani's. She was 39 and not an innocent. Tani always said there was no way she didn't know what was going on between her and Perla, but still every morning Perla moved her lover. Por las apariencias.
She woke Ange up. This was first call. Ange loved waking up and then getting to go back to sleep. She too had become childlike. Perla worried about her daughter. After her live-in boyfriend of eight years moved to the City Ange hadn't gone out on a single date and that had been over three months ago. After he moved away Perla saw that he'd actually been leaving for the last three years. Without her novio Ange reverted to her sleeping patterns as an adolescent. She slept the sleep of the dead for hours.
Perla cut across the courtyard around the small pila where the dirty laundry was piled up, and walked into the front of the house. "Mi paraisito. Her coffee shop Cuentos y Cafe was her tiny paradise. She stood at the counter and turned on the two big coffee urns she'd set up last night. She lit the burner under the milk. She looked at the poster on the wall behind the mostrador and studied the three smiling faces of Pedro, Dario, and Amadeo, the three disappeared maestros. "The eyes in the photo were not dull. They must be alive. Que aparezcan hoy, Senor." This was her prayer every morning. "May los desaparecidos be found today."
She heard Elvira unlocking the front door.
"Buenos dias Seno."
After all these years Elvira persisted in calling her Seno or Dona. "Acuerdate que tu tambien eres duena. You're my partner now, you know."
Elvira laughed loud. She set down on the counter three paper sacks full of panes de flauta and panecitos and sweet breads. "Anoche hubo redadas por Los Callejones del Rio. I heard about the raids las night in the panaderia. They took Silvio and I don't know who else."
She ran her fingers through her mane of gray hair, and squeezed it into a cap. She shoved in the pink and turquoise tinted tips of her curls. Her nieces had put the tint into her hair the night last year when Perla invited her to be her partner in Cuentos y Cafe. They helped her undo her servant's braids and said, "Vamos a celebrar tu emancipacion." All those years working for Dona Perla she'd imagined what she might do with her hair if she were free.
That night last year, right after they finished cleaning Cuentos Y cafe, and were done pouring fresh coffee grounds into the urns for morning, Perla had sat her down. "Empezamos Cuentos Y cafe juntas y lo hacemos todo juntas." By then Perla had been Suarito's widow for three years and she was running out of the money he'd left. Perla knew that as a sirvienta solterona who ate all her meals at work and lived with her sister and her nieces Elvira had almost no expenses and she guessed she must be saving most of what she earned. And that was true, Elvira saved whatever was left over after she helped her sister out. She paid all the utilities and sometimes part of the rent but still, she'd saved enough to buy into Cuentos Y Cafe. With her money they'd built this bigger mostrador with a marble counter, paid off the bills, and still had a tiny cushion left.
Elvira poured their morning cafe con leche and buttered their sweet breads. Perla pushed open the double doors of the sala and placed the easel with the specials at an angle so as not to fully block the narrow sidewalk. Cafe de canela, Bunuelos. Everyone in Coral knew Tuesdays was bunuelos day at Cuentos y Cafe. Elvira fried them the night before and soaked them in syrup. She made the batter once a month, grinding yuca and mixing in flour and eggs, and froze it. That same day she boiled a huge vat of sugar syrup with cinnamon and anise.
Elvira set the tray on their usual table close to the door. The women sat across from each other. Elvira lifted the cafe con leche to her lips and sipped. "Nuestro momento de paz." Perla laughed. "We'll see how long the peace lasts." She tasted her cafe. "The cinnamon is alright." They burst out laughing. They'd learned the hard way how many cinnamon sticks it took to create a bitter mess.
Elvira broke off a piece of her sweet bread. "Ariel at the panaderia said the guardias burst in por la madrugada, broke the latch, scared the children. Silvito ran out of the back of the house dragging the girl and her friend and running along the backs of the houses until he reached calle Lucero where he turned to the Iglesia. Ines held on to the little boy. Ariel said Padre Ezequiel was finding the children a sanctuary.
"Don't ask me how Ariel knew all this already, that early in the morning. I thought I was always his first customer. He was trying to remember how many times this makes that Silvio has been picked up in a raid. I don't know how Ines manages to live without losing her mind.
"Perdoneme Senora, and forgive me for calling you Senora again. Forgive me because I know you went through the same thing yourself. Don Suarito was picked up in a dozen raids, again and again hasta que llego la ultima vez. But nobody ever found Don Suarito's body. No hay que perder las esperanzas." Elvira looked up at Dulce. Tears ran down her partner's cheeks. They squirted from the corners of her eyes. Elvira had never seen anybody's eyes but Perla's do that.
"So it was the guardias. It's better if it's the guardias. They torture but they don't always kill. Pero si son Los Manos Negras..."Elvira grasped Perla's hand. "Yo nunca voy a perder las esperanzas. Hope is my secret weapon."
Perla's shoulders heaved. She sobbed loudly. She didn't care who heard her cry. "Sometimes hope hurts more. It would be easier to give him up for dead."
In that very instant Tanama walked in from the rear of the house and Don Rudy from the street. Tanama placed her hand sofly on Perla's shoulder. "Te vamos a tener que poner La Llorona."
Don Rudy lifted his roller suitcase over the two steps of the stoop and left the case at his table, the one right by the door that Perla and Elvira now abandoned, and Tanama was wiping clean.
"Did you hear?" Rudy sat, leaned his elbows on the table and his face into his hands.
"What?" Tanama set his basket of panes dulces on the table. "There were raids at the Callejon del Rio. They took the pescadores, the breachers. But not to the cuartel."
Tanama threw down the cloth she'd been swirling over Rudy's shiny, varnished table, although the table was already clean. She made fists and shrieked. She looked at these complacent elders and caught Perla's eye. "We're not going to stay here in Cuentos y Cafe, telling stories and drinking coffee." She ran to the back of the house and Perla followed her. "You're not gonna go to Palenque. The encampment at this hour, with all of this going on, is too dangerous." Tanama rushed into her room, grabbed her small backpack and tiny embroidered pouch with some cash and her keys. She read the rage and terror in Perla's big, bulgy eyes, permanently afraid. They liked to joke that Perla had been born asustada. She read the resignation. Perla spoke soflty. "I know I can't make you stay." She raised her voice. "I'm going with you." She ran to the back bedroom for her fanny pack. As she raced out to catch up with Tanama who was heading for the door, she pounded on Ange's door. "Levantate. Ahora si que empezo el dia. I gotta go and you and Elvira are in charge."

Tanama pulled Perla by the hand down the steep Calle de las Escolares. School children ran alongside them, past the school, toward the Rio Guacabon. They couldn't make out what they were screaming. The two women raced with them past the houses, no longer shuttered. With their front double doors flung open the houses spilled their people onto the street. Now they made out the words they screamed. "Donde estan Pedrito, Amadeo, Dario...?" Close to the campo by the Guacabon they caught up with Padre Ezequiel. He wore his short sleeved black shirt with the white collar high and tight on his neck. His long black hair was pulled into a tight single braid. They trotted beside him. "Que paso?' Tanama brought her face close to his so that he could hear her over the chants and screams. He looked at her and his long, brown face broke. He let out a sob and his shoulders shook. "Lo peor. The very worst."
They trotted, pushed ahead by the rushing crowd, this river of people. Half of Coral was already in the campo by the river. They had formed a ring. Padre Ezequiel pushed through the crowd and Tanama and Perla stayed by him. Close to the water, in the center of the human ring, lay three partly burned bodies, three young dark skinned, long haired men. Black hands had been branded onto their bare arms. Their ankles and wrists were bound with rope. They had no eyes, no fingernails.
"Son los maestros." Tanama turned toward the voice and looked up at the tall, dark face of Abi, the periodista who lived in Casa Rocio.
"They're the three maestros desaparecidos.
Padre Ezequiel knelt beside them. He knew these young men right away, despite the partial destruction by fire of their bodies. They had been in his Circulo for many years, among the boys he'd found, as Jesus did fishing men, in the Plaza, hanging out by the glorieta, or flying kites here, in the campo by the Guacabon. He prayed his own secret prayer. "Forgive me Lord. Para esto los concientize? What good was it that I raised their consciousness if it got them dead?" He rose and looked at the crowd. His knees almost gave way. Out loud he said, "Senor, they are ours and they will live in your kingdom and in that of our struggle, our lucha de amor, por amor, our Christian struggle because you want us to make heaven here on earth. You want us to destroy the hell that the rich have made. It turns out that all along hell was a bunch of rich people with armies." He looked at Tanama and nodded. She sang. She found her voice slowly and belted El Grito de Karaya with all her rabia, her righteous rage.
Padre Ezequiel waved his hand and the crowd was silent. "We found them. At last we found them but we must take them before the Guardias get here. Hasta ahora han tenido la verguenza de no aparecerse. They haven't yet dared show their faces."
The Padre looked around at the multitude. He thought, forgive me Lord, but what would Jesus do? He took comfort in that and felt himself possessed by Jesus, his enormous compassion. He let Jesus', even God's, intelligence infuse him. He stood taller, embodied the Lord. "Rudy, you come." He gathered Rudy, and Don Maximo and four young men from his Circulo de Estudio. They materialized boards and they carefully lifted each body onto them and set off in a procession up the Calle de los Escolares toward the Catedral de Coral.
The Padre looked at his people. "A revolutionary loves. A true revolutionary loves. The Mano Negra hates." He spoke the words loud enough for Rudy to hear, who walked alongside him, holding the front of the plank carrying Dario, the oldest of the three martyred boys. They reached the steps of the church and still, the Guardias had had the verguenza to not show up. A woman ran up to them from the plaza, screaming, and brought the Padre, Rudy, the whole procession to a stand still. They set the bodies down at the top of the stairs. The Padre recognized Dona Bertica, Pedrito's mother. Right behind her he saw Dona Sintia, mother of Dario, and Dona Dolores, mother of Amadeo. The women's heads and shoulders were wrapped in the black rebozos of the Madres Indignadas. "Dios nos desamparo." Dona Bertica stared into the Padre's eyes and he felt her gaze like a blow. "You and God killed my son." She fell beside Pedrito, what was left of him, half charred, no eyes, no fingernails. She clutched this stinking mess and wailed. Sintia and Dolores did as she did. The three women knelt, each by her son, held the boy, and wailed. Dolores, the eldest, gently set down her son's body and rose. She spoke to Sintia. "Hold Bertica." Sintia lay her son's body down and walked to her friend. She sat beside Bertica, drew her onto her lap, held her as Mary held Christ.
Dolores stood, watched the crowd, shook and sobbed. "Has anybody ever cried forever? Has anybody died from crying? Cried herself to death?" She stood by the three bodies at the top of the steps. Perla, Tanama, Rocio, Ines, dozens of the mujeres de Coral made their way through the crowd and sat with them. Perla and Tanama put their arms around Sintia, who held Bertica draped across her lap. The crowd filled the wide bank of the steps, the street, and half of the Plaza de Coral, almost all the way to the glorieta where several young men had climbed onto the railing of the bandstand, and others were perched on the roof.
Dolores adjusted her rebozo. She saw two young men climb the flagstaff and watched them lower the City flag and raise the bandera de Karaya, halfway up. The red and black squares floated in the breeze spilling from El Pico.
"Somos la conciencia del pueblo. We are the conscience of our people." Dolores found her voice and her mind the way she sometimes did speaking to a large group, as if the walls between their minds had all come down, and they were one and it just so happened she was the one speaking out loud. "Look at our sons. Not one of us will stop this fight hasta que Karaya sea libre. Let no one dare to stop fighting. Que nadie se atreva a dejar de luchar."