Tanama y Caridad

Caridad stood on the rise, under the sea pines. She watched Tanama run on the beach. Tanama was completely unafraid. Cari watched her zigzag, running from surf to beach and back again. She played like a child. Halfway between the waves and the horizon Cari saw Silvio's fishing boat, bright red. She could make out the silhouettes of three other boats already far out to sea.
Caridad ran down the sandy hill toward Tanama. Together they raced into the waves and then swam beyond them to the pozita. A sand bank had shaped itself into a semi circular pool. All around them waves rose and crashed, but here, in la pozita, the sea was calm. They floated on their backs side by side.
"The water is holding us and the sky is holding us too. Un abrazo de dos brazos, cielo y mar." Tanama spoke the words and then sang them. "Un abrazo de dos brazos, cielo y mar." She sang them again and this time Caridad sang with her. "Cari que no se nos olvide. We came to play and now we found a new song."
Tanama sang again, at the top of her lungs.
"I wish I was like you, Tani. Unafraid. Quiero cantar donde quiera. Tocar tambor. Fumar tabaco."
When they stood the water came up to their waists. Tanama pulled Caridad in for a kiss and Cari pushed her away. "Cari, Aqui no nos van a ver." Cari waved at the fishing boats in the distance, and then at the shore. Las Senoras de los Frijoles were arriving on the beach the way they did every morning after they started the beans and viandas for the noon meal at their comedor. Two of them walked by the water. Two others did sun salutations on the sand. Several sat drinking café con leche at the wooden picnic tables under the sea pines.
When the young women walked by the elders gathered at a table going over menus for the next few days, one of the Senoras called out. "Las vemos esta tarde en La Barraquita." Tanama waved back. "Verdad que si. I forgot it's Wednesday." Every Wednesday afternoon they gave a drumming workshop outside Palenque's bar.
"But first don't forget to go vote."
Tani and Cari found their beach dresses under the sea pine where they'd left them. They slipped the dresses over their heads and set off for Coral on the Carretera Naval. Abi pulled up his old black Plymouth beside them. He'd shaved off his afro and trimmed his beard and his blue black skin glowed. Most mornings after he dropped off his Tia at her puesto he gave Tani and Cari a ride into town. "Van a la demostracion?" Tani said yes and Cari said nothing. They drove in silence and Abi dropped them off at Cuentos y Café. They sat at their usual table close to the door. The two young women watched the owner Perla, a stocky woman with very short gray hair, balance the tray with two cups of café con leche and a basket of panes dulces. She set the tray down and gave them a big smile. She took a look at each of them and didn't say a word. Cari drank her milky coffee, Perla always remembered she liked it very light, and wouldn't look at Tani. She broke off a piece of bread and dunked it. She looked up. "Tani you're not afraid of anything. Yo le tengo miedo a todo."
Tani had a tear running down one cheek. "I can't take your secrets any more. Yo no puedo mas con tus secretos. No puedo seguir asi."
"Me estas dejando? Are you breaking up with me?"
Tanama shook her head. "No. You're the one who's left me."
Cari smoothed her short black hair, still wet from the beach. Wet curls framed her long, deep brown face. She ran out in tears and Tani followed her.
"We've got to go to the polling place." Cari sped up. "Tani, you just broke up with me. Am I supposed to act like everything's fine?" They walked together. Cari sobbed. "I can't be with someone who's ashamed of us."
Cari sped up again and Tani caught up. "You're punishing me because you're better than me. Not everyone can be so brave."
A crowd had already gathered at the corner near the polling place. Abi stood at the edge, observing, taking notes for his column in Redencion. Their three fellow drummers were already there with their drums lined up. Cari reached them and sat by her tambor. Tanama joined them and broke into song. "Las elecciones de la colonia son pa jodernos, por eso hay que votar."
The polls closed and the demonstrators dispersed. Abi helped Tani and Cari load their drums into his trunk. Most Wednesdays he drove them to La Barraquita for the drumming workshop the young women ran for children in the encampment. Palenque was his beat for Redencion. Most days he spent a few hours at the bar, a nerve center of the encampment where Palenque men and guardias from the base converged and news got made.
Tanama sat in front saying nothing. Cari stared out the back seat window. She was dead. Dead again. She watched Tani and Abi. Tani was saying the fascist City candidate was sure to win. Abi was saying the collapse was speeding up and it was going to fall on all of us. They were certain. They knew what they knew. Cari didn't know one thing. She'd fooled Tani into loving her for awhile. Tani had loved her by accident. Now she didn't anymore and Cari was dead.
They reached the rise on the road above the old section of Palenque. From up here Cari could see La Barraquita, a small hut, one of the old rentals from when this was still the Playa Coral Ecopreserve, before protesters overran it and occupied it years ago. Half a dozen boys and girls were already gathered outside, waiting for them, snacking on slices of guava paste and white cheese that Las Senoras de los Frijoles had set out for them on the table of meriendas they brought for them every week. Abi and Tani each carried a drum down. Could they tell that she was dead? Could they tell that she walked through the world a hollow shell, muerta de miedo? She followed down the narrow path among casitas and tents and lean-to's, and past the old Ecopreserve baths.
Without speaking Cari watched Tanama set herself up by the darkened door into La Barraquita. As soon as he heard Tani's drum, Melchor, who owned the bar, turned off the jukebox. Most of the girls and boys clustered around Tani. Cari found her spot a few feet away. She saw the skinny figure of Ari appear by her side, her regular. He stood very close, brought his long face toward hers, looked through his thick glasses into her eyes. They saw each other. He was a little bit dead already too. She smiled. He smiled. We are both dead and we come alive when we drum. He pulled up his own chair and she adjusted his hands on the drum. She liked to watch him discover rhythms, find his pulse in the tight drumskin. For a few moments she forgot Tani had dumped her. While Cari worked with her one boy Tani held court with the others, gave them a raucous group lesson. Their laughter made a song with their beats.
A loud crash and a roar of voices erupted from inside La Barraquita. A short plump body hurtled out the door onto the packed dirt of the path. Cari saw it was her cousin Peruchito, a sergeant from the Guardia station in Coral. She recognized Abi's voice from inside. "Aqui no vengan a hablar mierda facista." Tani often teased him that he made more news than he covered. The Sergeant, taller than Peruchito, beer-bellied, stepped out of the bar and approached his corporal. He offered him his hand and pulled him up to seated. Ari and the bartender Melchor stepped out of the bar and stood beside them. Melchor's tight red t-shirt showed his muscles. He worked out a lot, did judo with the muchachos from Palenque. He ruled his bar.
"Ustedes saben las reglas. You know in La Barraquita guardias are welcome but no City talk. His smile showed straight, white teeth against his dark brown skin. He reminded Cari of the way a dog showed its teeth.
"You say whatever you want." Perucho slurred a bit. The Sergeant pulled him all the way up.
Melchor nodded. "Yes. That's how it is. When we talk it's political education. When you talk it's cerebros comidos hablando mierda. We don't want to hear your brainwashed fascist thoughts in here. And if you want to drink in La Barraquita that's the law."
Cari looked at Tani. These people who were always certain had their rules. No fascist talk. No secrets.
The look Tani returned era de amigas y no de amantes. Tani was looking at Cari like a friend. Cari turned back to Ari and joined him on the drum.

"Siempre como si nada." Tanama said these words to herself as she put her drum into Abi's trunk. But Cari heard her. "What do you mean, always like nothing's happened? Do you mean me?" Tanama shrugged. Cari understood. She nodded. Abi honked his horn. "Tengo que llegar a Casa Rocio." He didn't want to miss his homecooked dinner at his rooming house.
"It's not your secretiveness that bothers me. It's the secret behind your secrets." Tanama put her palm on Cari's belly just above her pubic bone. "This." She patted her. "And this." She patted Cari's head. "Has no connection to this." She patted Cari's belly at the navel. "What do your organs have to say? Why is there no connection between your vagina and your head? Que te paso? I don't know and maybe you don't know what happened to you, but something happened.
"Pero Cari no te siento. And if I don't feel you, I can't love you."
This time Cari sat in front. All the way back she and Abi talked about la pelea en La Barraquita. In the back seat Tanama sang softly.