The Test (Peruchito Ibanez)

Sargento Ibanez stretched in his hammock behind the front desk. "De noche en el cuartel se oyen las ranas, los sapos. Es una sinfonia de chirridos y erutos anfibios." Everyone on the overnight shift ended up talking to themselves. He closed his eyes in the half-light. The dangling bulb in the front foyer was on all night and made a fan of light on the floor where the door to the front office stood half open. He hated the midnight to 8 shift. Hours dragged. He fell into a hole in time. This must be what the Padre meant by eternity or Profe Nunez meant by infinity.
After a few minutes he couldn't take it any more and jumped off the hammock, walked outside, lit a cigarette. Nothing happened in Coral at night. Not even the rebels were up conspiring or whatever El Comandante thought they did. He walked back inside and looked on the desk for his English book. His pana Miguel had called him again from the City just before his shift began. "The City force is hiring. You'd be better off being a cop over here." He hated English class. He'd never been much good learning in school which was why he'd become a guardia in the first place. El Comandante grew up with his father, came from the same caserio in El Pico, so Peruchito never really had to pass the test. And now Miguel had gone ahead and signed him up for an online test, in English. This was the fourth time he signed him up for the test but the first time he'd offered to take the test for him. Another or other? He filled in the blanks. "After you're living in the City for awhile you'll just learn English by osmosis." What the hell was osmosis, anyway?
He jumped. The scream shuddered through the walls and through his body. "De noche en el cuartel se oyen los berridos de los torturados." When El Comandante tried him out, Peruchito had vomited at the sight of the fingernails someone else had pulled and the eyeballs someone else had gouged. It was only because El Comandante was also el Gallego Sanchez from el Caserio, best pana of el Sargento's Dad, el Toro, that Peruchito kept his job and his rank and got assigned the front desk. Maybe that was worse luck. Maybe he would have been better off if he'd been fired, even if being a guardia was, as his father Toro said, the only gig they have.
The berridos of the tortured drowned out the chirridos of the toads, filled his head as he walked to his half finished cinder block house by the Guacabon. Lilly was wound up in the sheets. She'd fallen asleep with her fountain pen clutched in her hand. Her notebook had fallen on the floor. Her fingers were smeared with green ink. Asleep you couldn't tell she was a revolucionaria and only the green ink gave away that she was a poet. Asleep he could let himself love her, fill up with love for her. He checked his email. There it was. He was certified to join the City force. Miguel said they basically were taking anybody. Lilly stirred and dropped the pen. She stretched in her sleep like a cat. He missed her even when he was with her. She lived in eternity. He remembered the screams and shuddered. He lived in hell. Of course there was no way that she would go with him to the City. So what was he to do? Die here sitting in that cuartel listening to the toads and torture victims. Die in the City without Lilly.

Two days later his orders came by email. He didn't need to go to the City at all. He was called to a warehouse on the outskirts of Coral, up a side road on the El Pico side, a mile inland from factory row. He'd only found it with the GPS. He was shown to a windowless room with rows of formica desks with arms. He found a left handed desk and sat on the next to the last row, by the left aisle.
"Everything becomes easy once you decide to do as you are told." He said these words under his breath but the young woman beside him heard and laughed. He'd never seen her. When he looked around he saw that of the close to 40 people in the room (almost all the seats in the five rows of eight were taken) he recognized nobody else from Coral. "Me llamo Candita. La Cabo Candita." They shook hands. She had very short hair, bleached almost white, with inch wide jet black roots, a gold nose ring, a very thin ring on her lower lip, very long red fingernails, gold rings on every finger. He studied her. She nodded. "I know. I know. Look at the captain." She pointed to the muscular man who was wiping clean a wall sized white board at the front of the room. His face was shaved close and his head was scraped nearly bald. She pointed to her rings. "He already told me all this has got to go."
The Captain was from the Base Naval, a City man. His name was Davis.
"You are never going to tell anybody what you are seeing here or doing here and believe me we will know if you have and then, instead of being a Watcher, you will be one of the watched."
Sargento Ibanez, Peruchito, wiped a tear. Only now did he realize how badly he had wanted to have gone to the City, gotten away from Coral. How gladly he would have given up even Lilly. Why didn't he leave anyway? Nobody took a risk unless he had to, and now the choice to take a risk was gone.
Captain Davis told them his father and his grandfather before him had also been a Captain Davis at the Base. Coral was just as much his as it was anybody else's who'd been born here even though because he was born in the Base he technically had been born in the City. He took them on a tour. There was room upon room filled with computer banks. "This is the heart of the City's digital surveillance." He looked at his 40 charges all clustered around him. "Your security clearance is this: If you squeal, you're dead. I trust you value your lives." He waved at the computers. "Every conversation in the Somos el Mandato demonstrations is recorded here. Every inch of footage recorded from cars, from helicopters, from roadside cameras, by drones, on phones, is here. Every post on social media. Like this room there are many others. Like your crew there are many others. There is nothing that rebels of any stripe have done following the election, in any moment of the El Mandato demonstrations, that is not recorded here. And you and thousands like you must sift through these. While you are watching them, we have other, better, smarter crews watching you."
After the lunch break a woman approached Perucho at the bench where he was sitting in the smoking room, against a windowless wall with a giant poster of huge waves, the surfing portion of Playa Coral. She had buzz cut black hair, no make up. "Cabo Candita." She doubled up laughing. "Me limpiaron." She dangled a baggie with her finger, nose, and lip and finger rings. Perucho looked around him. "Do you suppose we're being recorded right now? Do you suppose they record me when I go home and make love or don't make love to my wife?"
Candita put a finger to her lips. "That is one funny joke."

Peruchito walked into his living room, still almost empty of furniture. His wife Lilly and her friend Tanama were on the woven can seat couch that had belonged to Lilly's grandmother, their only possession. They stopped talking as soon as he walked in. He didn't care. He knew that Lilly's and Tanama's secrets from him were political, and not about another man. For reasons he couldn't understand but had come to fully accept, Lilly loved him. They became novios when they were still innocent of the bloody political divide: pro becoming a state of the City, or pro independence and socialism for Karaya. They'd met in el Caserio and become novios in the days before the rebels camped near by and circulos de educacion politica were gathered most nights by Don Angel, Lilly's father, in the small room just behind the bodega that filled what would have been the living room in a normal house.
Where were the cameras? How were they spying? Were they watching right now?
Lilly closed her notebook. "Tienes hambre?" She walked to the kitchen and Tanama and Peruchito followed. She handed him a dish with breaded fish, tostones, greens from the Granjita Permanente, and brown rice. "You'll be happy to know Tanama cooked." They sat around the small blue table, around a kerosene lamp. "How was the new job?" He shrugged. "Como siempre." He hoped she'd ask no more. He heard a roar through the window, coming from overhead. Was that a drone recording them now?"
"At least your hours during the training are 9 to 5 and your week is five days like normal people's weeks." Lilly liked to find a good side to tribulations, even to him being a pig. How he wanted to tell her everything.
"Porque no aprovechamos y el Viernes nos vamos al Pico a quedarnos unos dias en el Caserio?"
He stood up. "Tanama you're a genius. Can we borrow your brother's truck?"

They stopped the truck in a thicket. The last stretch to El Caserio they had to negotiate on foot. They didn't have a donkey. They walked through dense, primal, primeval vines. Perucho could not imagine the City had yet designed a drone that could penetrate this rain forest. Just before they reached the clearing, the first cluster of houses, he stopped Lilly and Tanama.
Inside the shelter of the vines he told them everything.

Lilly looked at her husband in the dark. She could just make out the glint of his eyes. She took both his hands. This was the biggest moment in their life together. She squeezed his hands tight and pressed them to her chest. She embraced her husband, took his face in her hands, and looked him in the eyes.
"Perucho, this is the moment when you crossed the river*, when you finally took a side, I mean intentionally took a side. And you took ours."

*Crossing the river is Karayan slang for when City guardias switch sides and begin to fight with the rebels. It originated during a battle fought on both banks of the Guacabon River on the foothills of El Pico during which the Rebel comandante called across the river over a megaphone, to the City combatants, to "cross the river" and take the revolutionary side.