Lost Boys on the Train

My friend Julia and I pounded on the subway doors as the train pulled out of the station. We were screaming. We could see our boys looking at us through the small square windows of the subway doors. Their faces were rigid with terror. My Machi’s face was frozen. He’d just turned three. David, going on seven, was fighting not to cry. He liked to think he was a tough kid on our block, but he’d hardly ever been outside Moon Park. The crowd kept surging us away and we pushed back. Our boys screamed but we couldn’t hear them. They clutched the central pole of the subway car, crushed by a hundred passengers heading for other gathering points for the Grito Day Parade. We kept screaming. In the roar of the train and the crowd nobody could hear our gritos.
How did this happen? One second was all it took to lose our boys. We’d had the boys by the hand the whole time; almost the whole time. Almost was not good enough.
How was I going to tell my husband I’d lost our son on the way to the demonstration?
The moment when the crowd parted us from the boys replayed in my head. I screamed again. I willed time to rewind. We’d been standing over the boys, the four of us hanging from the pole in the center of the car. We mothers sheltered our boys from the press of the bodies all around us. At each stop the car took on more people going to the Desfile to watch, or to join the Partido contingent, or the Somos Tainos contingent, or to flank the Parade ready to acclaim or attack the Partido from the sidelines. It was barely possible to move and difficult to breathe. We kept our faces close, our bodies arching over the boys to make as much room for them as we could. We stood directly under a light with the plastic cover broken off, oddly bright.
When the train pulled into the station and the doors opened. Julia and I moved to grab our sons' wrists to pull them out. The crowd surged us away from the boys. They froze in terror to the pole. Some in the crowd surged out; some fought to stay inside; others surged into the car from the platform. Overtaken by the churning human whirlpool Julia and I pushed our arms through the bodies toward the boys but couldn't reach them. Within seconds we were surged away from the boys onto the platform. The boys stayed inside the train, trapped in a press of people.
The subway doors closed. The train pulled out of the station and for a few more seconds I could still see Machi through the two small square plastic panes of the double door. I could just barely see his face among the bodies, grimacing with terror. David I couldn't see at all.
My head filled with a scream and I felt myself screaming out loud, but could barely hear myself in the roar of the people and the next arriving train. I wanted to give up, go mad, pound my head with my fists, rend my garments, throw myself on the ground, thrash, tantrum at the universe, magically will time to stop, rewind.
I wanted to never have been parted from my boy.
Julia was screaming. There was barely room on the platform. Hundreds had been left off the train. The crowd was surging us toward the stairs. Another train screeched and the next wave of humans spilled out. I had never before seen this many people at the Karaya parade. There had been an assault on the Presidio three days before followed by a sweep of arrests in all the Barrios and Karayans were marching in defiance and affirmation.
We fought through the people to where a City Force officer in his black uniform stood on the platform close to the wall by the stairs to the street. We screamed over the crowd and at last he heard us. Our boys were lost on the train; not on this one leaving now but the one just before it. He talked into his phone and said somebody somewhere was alerting the train conductors. The train was computerized. The two human operators could be nowhere near the car where our boys were pressed among bodies.
Julia clutched my arm.“Oh my god, do the boys even know how to explain where they are going?”
We clung to each other for a moment on the sidewalk trembling and crying. Julia looked up at me, grabbed my shoulders and shoved me away. “Es tu culpa. What was I thinking? Why did I let you talk me into putting my son in harm's way with you crazy comunistas? What have I done to my son?”
I grabbed her shoulders and shook her. I looked hard into her eyes. I pressed her to my chest. She got very still. She let me take her hand and pull her through the crowd. She was lost in her terror, useless. We forced our way through the crowds that filled the sidewalks to watch the parade go by. We ran into another City Guardia; screamed at the helpless useless man; pushed our way deeper into the crowd. Both of us screamed in people's faces.“Have you seen our boys?...Two boys by themselves?” We shouldered and elbowed our way through the growing mass of people filling the streets and sidewalks, to the rally point of the Contingente Tomasa y Flor.
Inside my body my every cell was screaming, screaming, screaming…What have I done to my son? But I made the screams go silent and my mind go blank. I pictured facing Ori, telling him I’d lost our son, and my knees gave way for just a moment, and then I pushed myself to keep moving, to return to that blank spot in my mind. If not, I could not keep going. I wanted to throw myself on the ground and scream and cry and have my whole being go blank. Just die, die, die.
When we arrived at the gathering almost the first thing we saw was a very tall, thirtyish, City man, light skinned, with a long narrow face and a thin blondish moustache. He stood close to a banner that was just then being unfurled. The words “Isla Karaya Solidarity Group Presente” were appliqued in bright green against a black background. I recognized my old friend from High School, Danny. He stood in the middle of the blocked off intersection where hundreds of Partido members and friends were being organized into lines a street wide.
He stood with the banner as a backdrop, in a small clearing, surrounded by a circle of Party members. My son Machi hung from his right hand and David from his left. My boy Maceo, my Machi, was there. David was with him. Our boys were there. Julia and I pushed through the marchers forming themselves into rows. Julia fell to her knees and grasped David. Machi let go the man's leg and I bent down to lift my boy into my arms.
Danny was telling the story of how it came to pass that hanging from his right hand was my Maceo, Machi, and from his left, David. Later we heard him tell the story again and again, to us, to Ori, to everyone who approached us throughout the entire Desfile march we spent together. He had been on the same train. From the vantage point of his height he’d seen us be parted from the boys by the crowd. In seconds he forced his long limbs through the crowd.
“I was like a superhero; the power of adrenalin is amazing.” He'd say this in every telling. He managed to get to where the boys were standing, paralyzed by fear, and take their hands.
“I know Marina, I said to them. Oh my God, the look of relief on Machi's face I will remember forever.”
Julia and I knelt beside the boys and each of us clasped our child to our heart. Tears of relief and joy filled us. I had Machi. I did not have to die just yet.
All of this happened before the parade had even taken off. Just minutes after we were reunited we began the march. We waved green and black banners with the words Parade one Day, Poverty Every Day, and Karaya Libre y Socialista, and chanted those words over megaphones and at the tops of our lungs. We marched in rows formed around an enormous green and black Karayan flag, big enough to be seen by all the onlookers who lined up along Central Avenue or looked out the windows of apartment and office buildings to watch the colorful, glittering floats of the official, government sponsored contingents of the Desfile.
Memories flooded me of marching on the Parade on Grito Day with my husband Ori, and then also with Machi in a chest carrier, and later a stroller, and now on his own two feet. Marching elbow to elbow with hundreds of Karayans always moved me to tears. We felt our power as we marched screaming at the tops of our lungs through the main avenue of the colonial metropolis. We screamed for independence for Karaya, The City’s major, oldest colony, all the way to the final rally point by the capitol. Our little family of three had marched in our Party protest contingent every year since The City invented the Parade to co-opt more militant commemorations of El Grito del Cuartel. Back then Leaders of the Partido and the Karaya Liberation Front had traveled especially from Karaya to speak at massive rallies.
In the weeks before the big rally (usually held in Moon Park, my barrio, because it was the highest hill in The City), civil disobedience actions in every barrio shut down bridges, tunnels, and key intersections. Militants from clandestine organizations and underground branches of the public groups staged assaults on The City’s Central Prison, the Presidio, or on the Reef Refinery, emblems of The City’s oppression. Those more militant asaltos replicated and honored the original Grito del Cuartel assault on a Spanish army barrack in the Karaya mountains of El Pico on the eighth of June of 1868 that sparked the liberation war against the Spanish colonizers.
A Grito was a scream, the cry to launch a war, and by commemorating it we kept the scream going across the centuries for a liberation war that won independence from Spain for Ventura in 1898 but failed to free Karaya, the other half of the small Caribbean island. That liberation war still continued against colonization by The City. At the very end of the War of 1898 The City, swooped in, intervened, and re-colonized Karaya. Its troops had never left.
I looked at Julia as we marched. I’d been euphoric when finally this year Julia and David joined Machi and me on the Protest Contingent of the Karaya Parade. And we had nearly lost our boys.
When Ori and I moved to Moon Park Julia was one of the first people I noticed on the block, to wave to, but not to speak to. This had been in my fifth year in the Partido just after the Party Congress, the first to be held in the Territorio Libre in Karaya close to the border with socialist Ventura. The Party launched a mass base building campaign in the City and Ori and I were assigned to organize the Comite del Partido in Moon Park.
To me Julia was real and I was not. (How would I ever organize anyone, anything? How could I be a revolutionary when deep down I lived as if nothing good could ever happen between people, or between myself and the real people?) There was a magic to my unreality that made me slippery or invisible. Unlike the real people, I was allowed to slide by, not have to always go out on Saturday to sell the Partido paper, not be expected to produce a possible recruit for the Friday night each one bring one propaganda events. But Julia had been someone I could almost recognize, imagine approaching. She gave me a big smile whenever she saw me.
In my second year in Moon Park Julia and I had our barrigas at the same time. Julia was pregnant with Liani at the same time I was pregnant with Machi. I thought of Julia, before I knew her name, as the Other Mother and imagined she knew what motherhood was all about. I'd seen her keep up with her young son David as he raced up and down the block over and over on a red plastic tricycle. We waved and smiled and each of us kept to our side of the street.
Our first actual conversation had been the morning we ran into each other at the children's playground in Moon park, on the crest of the hill, and sat together on a bench, where we could see the jungle gym; the River way down the hill; and beyond it the skyline of the City: the sharp concrete shark teeth biting into the sky and the big white square of the Presidio. Our three month olds Machi and Liani lay asleep, hammocked in their strollers. Julia’s eldest David, going on five, dangled from the jungle Jim.
I mentioned I was going back to work and was looking for childcare for Maceo. Julia offered. “I’m home anyway. We can use the money.”
David had run up to us just then, bumped into his sister’s stroller, and knelt beside Machi’s. “A boy. We were supposed to get a baby boy.”
Julia smiled and pulled him against her, onto her lap, where he let himself be held for a breath before he flailed his limbs and squirmed away.
I decided then.“You’re going to have a little boy. Maceo’s going to be spending his days with your Mother.”
Julia decided to go back to work when Liani and Machi turned two. She got back her old medical biller job at a big practice in Center City. Both of us put our toddlers in Pinocho, the family day care our neighbor Elena had just started on the ground floor of her house down the street.
Was that when the pulling apart began, long before we lost the boys on the train? Had it always been there unacknowledged? Two very different Mothers were pulled apart by a forcefield of reciprocal assumptions. Julia was real, a real Islander, a real Taina Karayan who knew how to raise a child, how to be a woman, how to navigate the real world (and still this must mean she was willingly stupid, assimilated, conciliatory, compliant, colluding.)
I was an artist, a poet, a rebel, a cadre, too chaotic, confused and unformed to be a good mother. I was a puppy dropping bitch like the overbred poodle I'd once seen drop one puppy as she walked and keep on walking, then drop another, and another. She didn’t know to make the pups a den, or lick them clean, or nurse them and, according to the breeder, it was a mercy that the puppies died.
Julia turned out to be a Karayan Islander who claimed her Taino heritage. The first morning I dropped Machi off I saw on her living room table she had what looked like a vulva made of clay. She explained to me it was a reproduction of a cemi of Atabex, the Taino force of water and birth. David’s middle name was Agueybana, after a cacique who fought the Spanish colonizers. Liani’s name meant cacique’s wife.

As we marched I remembered the afternoon the mothers were called at work because of the invasion of the Pinocho daycare. A wilding gang of teens erupted into the front door, ran through the playrooms filled with young children; through the maze of climbing toys and sand box and swing in the backyard; over the back fence. They disappeared down the narrow passage between two ten story buildings on the abutting block. They were followed through the house and yard and over the fence by the gang of City Force chasing them.
Julia and I ran into each other on the train on our way back to rescue our toddlers Machi and Liani at Pinocho. When we got there Elena insisted that one of the wilding boys had been David. Julia didn't believe it. How could he have been? He was just going on seven years old.
We squeezed together into a crowded subway bench. I was reading Verdad. Julia leaned into me and read the front headline out loud, DESFILE UN DIA POBREZA TODOS LOS DIAS.
She yanked the paper off my lap and skimmed the story.“Why does the Partido want to literally rain on our Parade? It’s our one day to be proud. Why do you want to take the pride away?”
I was afraid of Julia's wrath. I didn’t argue. I spoke softly. “The Partido is proud too, of nuestra herencia de lucha.”
Julia didn't hear me. I gave up on speaking and just listened.
After awhile she slowed down and softened her tone.“My Papi and Mami were Nacionalistas. One time he almost hit me when I said the City was the best thing that had happened to la Isla. We were standing in the kitchen, my kitchen. I kept their apartment when they went back to Karaya. We were standing by my same green formica table. I said Karaya was small and weak. We couldn’t survive on our own. He raised his arm and then he dropped it. He looked at his hand and started to cry and ran out of the house. It was the only time he ever raised his hand to me.
“But tell you the truth, I was secretly proud my father was a Nacionalista. At night he’d tell me stories about Tomasa Monte and Flor Beltran, Heroinas de la Patria. He said Tomasa and Flor were Tainas who'd fought for independence.”
I broke in again. “We always dedicate our contingent to Tomasa and Flor…”
Should I tell her Tomasa was a socialist and fought not only for independence but for workers' rights, for ending capitalism?
Julia opened the paper to the centerfold where the column to the right, Herencia de Lucha, had my photo at the top and was about Tomasa.”
“You write for them? That's the newspaper where you work? I thought you said it was a community paper.”
“All these years that’s been my job. A newspaper for the Karaya community was the way I put it, I think.”
Julia grabbed the paper and read the first sentences out loud.
“If you are an Island woman living in the City these days, you can do worse than model yourself after Tomasa Monte and Flor Beltran. Few people know that a quarter century apart they each spent many months at a time during the decades long Primera Insurreccion against the first colonizers from Spain, rallying support in the City at meetings and street marches, and raising funds. Few know that Tomasa as an organizer and Flor as a poet both wrote that the fights for independence and socialism were inseparable. Capitalism required colonies. Only socialism could provide the economic independence to make political independence real…”.
She looked up at me and smiled. “You’re a comunista but you don’t have horns.”
She read the article all the way to the end. “Comunista without horns" had been Julia's running joke each time I invited her to join the Tomasa y Flor contingent. This was a long sustained effort Ori questioned. He often told me not to mix up recruiting with making friends. But I thought maybe they could be, should be, one and the same. I liked Julia. She kept David to a schedule, gave him a bath at the same time every day, fed him store bought baby food from jars, and did all the things real mothers did. I believed she knew how to make David feel safe. Did my own son Machi feel as terrified at night as I did?
It had taken me three years of sustained effort to get Julia to maybe consider that the Taino’s liberation fight was still going on; that the Partido's fight was one and the same. The fights against colonization, for independence for the Island, for socialism, were the same fight. The fight she’d embraced to see that all of us Islanders and Venturans were indigenous, that Taino genes, chromosomes, and knowledge lived on in us all, even if we had no consciousness yet of this truth, that fight to reclaim ourselves could not be won without winning the fights for independence and socialism.
Because Julia worked as a receptionist and biller at a doctor’s office, kept an immaculate house, and was a strict, almost harsh, single Mother to David and Liani, I had been shocked the afternoon that I saw David picked up from after school at Pinocho not by Julia but by a dark brown, tall, built up man. He had a shaved head. The Santos’ halo tattoo on his left forearm showed under the lose sleeve of his t-shirt.
David brought him over to me.“Mi Papi.”He introduced himself as Arturo and offered me his hand.
After David and his aparecido Papi left, Elena told me about Julia's marriage. Julia was a dealer widow and Arturo spent more time inside than he did out.
I watched Machi pack his yellow truck into his backpack. “All these years she never once mentioned him.”
Elena adjusted her long, jet black pony tail and moved her rounded, agile body quickly around the play room. She tossed toys into bins and picked up empty juice boxes from the snack table.“Just the way you never told her about the Partido.”
Arturo was back inside the day we lost the boys on the train on the way to the Desfile.

I glanced at Julia marching beside me and wondered if she would forgive me. What did it mean that she didn’t simply take David home but stayed to march? The boys marched between us each holding one end of the banner Julia had made for them, with them, with likenesses of Tomasa and Flor she copied from drawn illustrations in her old grade school history book she'd brought when her family emigrated to the City from Isla Karaya. She'd drawn pencil lines and together, the three of them carefully painted the caption, “Heroinas de la Patria”, and the words “Tainos Presente”.
I felt a terrible sense of loss. I wished I had listened to Ori and not tried to mix friendship and recruitment. Julia was my friend from the block. That would have been enough. She had cared for Machi when I went back to work. I moaned at the memory of how she became his wet nurse sometime during the second month. Machi had been watching her nurse her daughter Liani, who was born a day before he was born, and one morning as Julia lifted him from the crib after a nap he patted her breast. She understood he was asking to be nursed and she became his milk mother. While he was at Julia's Machi nursed and Liani drank the bottles of my expressed milk.
After the Desfile Ori, Machi and I stayed with a group of partido comrades for a bite to eat. I asked Julia to join us.
She yanked David by the hand, away from Machi. “Hasta aqui. No mas.”
She did not forgive me. I had my answer.
Twelve Years Later: David’s Poster on the Street

David’s handsome movie star-like face on wanted posters on every light post and tree on our block a week ago, twelve years after we lost the boys on the train, catalyzed all of us being on the Ferry to Karaya together: Julia, Machi, and David’s daughter Taina.
After I saw the posters I showed up at Julia’s door for the first time since we lost the boys on the train, more than a decade ago. According to the poster he was a person of interest in an investigation into a car-jacking, a crash, a totaled car, and a near death. A young woman, unidentified, was in intensive care.
I banged on her door until she let me in.“I’ve been looking for my Machi for a year. That’s how long it’s been since he ran away from home. Surely you’ve heard about that. And you have to let me help you find David before The City Guardias do.”
Half an hour after I’d pounded on her door that morning I began my search for David in Moon Park, the park that gave our neighborhood its name, seven blocks from our street. Hundreds of people lived in the park since a tornado eight years ago blew off their roofs.
I walked through their maze of tarp shelters, tents, and cardboard shacks. I sat on the same bench at the top of the hill where I sat when I went in there looking for Machi several times every week since he’d punched his bedroom wall, accused me of not doing enough to find his disappeared father, and left home last year. I'd created an obvious search routine because I knew it would get back to him and he could find me when he chose to.
Sitting on my park bench that morning I saw way down below, in the far distance, the expanse of the West River as it flowed into the harbor. I could see the Karaya Ferry, the very mid-morning Ferry we were now on, just floating away from its dock when I saw him running toward me up the narrow path. My son.
He was taller and darker and his hair had grown long and was tied in a pony tail. He had a growth of beard, a bit more than a goatee, on his face. After a year this was my first sighting of him. He was different. Still, I knew him. He ran to me and knelt by me. When we looked at each other we were both crying.
“I've been watching you looking for me for a year. You're not a good tracker, Ma. No wonder you can’t find Pa.”
He spoke as if we had never been parted and put his head on my lap. He let me touch him.
“David’s gone to El Pico and Pa’s in the Camp. You don’t need to know how I know. I do. They’re both on Isla Karaya and we’re going there together to track them.”
I was utterly grateful I had just been laid off two weeks before. I was grateful my jobs were always precarious. I had nothing to keep me, and everything to leave for, because I would go anywhere to be with my son.
The decision was made. Talking Julia into coming was easier than I imagined once Machi persuaded her that he knew David was in El Pico. She left her younger daughter Liani with her father, Arturo, and his current new family, a young wife and a set of three year old twin boys.
On the Ferry
My neighbor from the block, Julia, and I stood at the rail on the prow of the top deck of the mid-morning ferry from The City to the island of Karaya gazing at the green black waters of the West River. She’d dressed up for our trip in her turquoise and purple flower print dress and high heeled, black-strapped sandals. With her heels on she and I were the same height. The wind our ferry was sailing into tangled my short salt and pepper curls but didn’t dent the extra gel in Julia’s short, bleached almost white hair. Next to her I felt disheveled in my son Machi’s faded blue jeans and orange t-shirt, and my red beach flip flops. I’d taken to wearing his clothes the year he was gone.
We stood pressed close together by the hundreds of travelers who filled the forty or so deck chairs under the canvas awning and stood body to body, four deep along the rails. The bottom two ferry decks beneath us were just as crowded.
I glanced at Julia. She was looking at her six year old granddaughter Taina who stood with my 17 year old son, Maceo—who we called Machi—pressed into the portside railing by the crowd behind them. His red t-shirt and her yellow dress made them easy to spot.
“Do you think we’ll get to Karaya before sundown?” The island was 83 sea miles south of The City.
She looked at me. “If we’re lucky with the wind we should make it by late afternoon and Machi will have time to build our shelter before dark.” Julia traveled on this ferry to Karaya every four years for gatherings of her Taino community. I hadn’t been back in Karaya since I’d last tried to live there twelve years ago, just about a year after we lost the boys on the train. I’d barely lasted in Karaya six months.
The Ferry was entering the bluer waters of the harbor. We both turned to face the skyline of The City we were leaving. I could feel myself get numb at the prospect of a ten hour boat ride in a packed ferry with a son I hadn’t seen for a year, a former best friend who’d avoided me for more than a decade, and her six year old granddaughter, prone to meltdowns since her mother died last summer.
We’d been reconnected by a catastrophe last week, the disappearance of Julia’s son David after a series of car jackings in Moon Park. We were heading on a terrible errand to Isla Karaya, to find our desaparecidos, our disappeared: Ori, my husband and father to my son; and David, her son and father to her granddaughter.
We were about to join close to a thousand occupiers to live a la intemperie, in the open air, in Palenque, in what had once been the Ecoparque Playa Coral, a park that bordered the City's Naval Base on the island.
The ferry rode a swell and threw us against each other. She pulled away from me. I saw Julia getting lost in her own thoughts. I couldn’t think of anything to say to her that might not set off her wrath. Standing in our spot on the top deck of the ferry we faced the receding jagged row of City skyscrapers that formed a horizon against a dense sheet of smoke.
I pointed to the skyscrapers of different heights and the protruding spires of the invisible electronic fencing that domed The City. “That skyline always reminds me of shark’s teeth. I can’t wait to be back in Karaya.”
The way she laughed full out at my often not very funny jokes filled me with a warmth I remembered. I never let myself notice how much I’d missed our friendship.
“El mito del retorno.” She said the words and both of us laughed. Karayans in The City called the longing for Karaya we were feeling “el mito del retorno”, the myth we all shared that one day we would return, even if now climate catastrophe threatened to sink our Island or blow it away with megahurricanes.
The smoke suddenly billowed. Julia pointed to the black cloud blowing in our direction. “We’re leaving at a good time.”
Actions last month by Golpe de Clima had shut down the Reef Refinery but the wall of smoke indicated the refinery was back in operation.
She spoke almost under her breath. “None of us knew Taina’s mom was a member of Golpe de Clima. But then why would we have known? It’s a clandestine group and before she moved to North City to get away from David she’d never been political.”
On Grito Day last summer the news had burned through Moon Park, our barrio. Tiny, skinny, 22 year old Gema was dead. Along with three others from Golpe she’d driven a stolen car rigged with explosives full speed into the refinery wall.
Julia clutched my hand. “Gema left Taina motherless and for what?” She dug her nails into my palm. “Look at all that smoke. The Refinery is still there and Gema is dead.”
The passenger to my left leaned forward into the rail and shoved me closer into Julia. This time she didn’t step away. I felt a surge of warmth and kindness for my friend. She let me hold her against my chest for just a moment.
I spoke into her ear. “Let’s pretend we’re just happy tourists waiting for the dolphins to jump the ferry’s wake.”

All of us on the ferry were willing the dolphins to appear. They had returned last year after being absent from the Caribbean Sea for nearly a decade. Conservationists in Karaya had restored the mangroves, cleaned out The City’s naval mines, created nurseries for marine life, and claimed the dolphins’ return as their victory.
I studied the passengers gathered at the portside rail a few yards from us: tourists, would be occupiers in Palenque like us, climate refugees, City Guardias returning to the Base Naval in Karaya. The crowd had swollen and I began to panic when I lost sight of Machi and Taina. I let out my breath when I spotted Machi’s red t-shirt and Taina’s yellow dress. Would I forever be terrified of losing Machi again?
All of us on that ferry waited for the dolphins for the same reason: if the dolphins were not yet extinct there was still a future, there was hope we would not go extinct ourselves. If the dolphins were back it meant we were not yet in the end of days but maybe, like the activists of Golpe de Clima insisted, at a beginning.
As if she were reading my mind or we’d been sharing the same ruminations of extinction Julia stepped away from me. Her small, square, brown face was set in its familiar cold expression.
“I’m tired of waiting for the dolphins. Maybe they’ve vanished from the Caribbean again.”
I shook my head. “The dolphins came back to stay.” I wasn’t sure that I believed that.
Our small group on the deck also waited for the dolphins for our own private reasons. Machi and Taina waited because they were young enough to believe that life was good. The dolphins stood for that. Julia and I were matriarch emigrants from Karaya. I had been chased from Karaya by repression when I’d attempted leaving my now disappeaed husband Ori and moving there with Machi twelve years ago, and Julia was an economic exile, forced to emigrate to The City at 18 for work. We waited because the dolphins were the sign we'd entered Karaya waters and had at last left behind the god-forsaken metropolis, The City.
I glanced at the Guardia in green camouflage fatigues who’d managed to grab one of the blue plastic deck chairs on the front row and sat slumped in it. Was he watching us? Over decades of City repression I'd developed a sixth sense for surveillance. Every time I looked his way his gaze was on us even in the midst of hundreds of other passengers, including City Guardias in uniform like him, and the many who, like us, were traveling to Karaya to find our desaparecidos—the disappeared.
The City skyline was shrinking. “I just realized I’m hoping to catch the very moment when The City disappears.”
Julia tilted her face toward mine. I recognized her expression of delight whenever she discovered we were thinking the same thing.
She came closer to me. “I’m almost holding my breath.” She put her arm around my waist. “I have a good feeling I’m going to find David and you’re going to find Ori.”
Was this my old friend I was seeing? For over ten years she’d crossed the street when she saw me on the block. She blamed me for almost losing our boys on the train a decade ago on the way to a Karaya Desfile, the annual Parade. After five years of trying I had finally talked her into joining me and Machi on the parade protest contingent of the Partido de la Felicidad.
The memory ignited in me again, the way it did in the middle of the night or randomly blindsided me; flooded me; froze me. I was there again. One hundred Partido de la Felicidad demonstrators and parade onlookers burst out of the subway at City Center. I relived the helplessness and terror when the crowd tore my hand from Machi’s hand and parted us, carrying both me and Julia out the door and leaving Machi and David behind. Through the small glass windows of the shutting subway door we saw our boys looking at us, screaming, disappearing in the sea of green and black Karaya flags as the train pulled out of the station. No matter that a comrade had returned the boys to us at the Partido contingent’s convening point, Julia never forgave me.
The ferry swayed and I fell to my right, closer to her. We’d never talked about the Parade and for one instant I wondered if this was the moment. I could feel the gaze on me of the young Guardia in the blue deck chair. From the corner of my eye I saw Machi. He was watching the Guardia watching me. I said nothing.
I pointed the Guardia out to Julia. “What is he looking at?”
She studied him. “Anyone who randomly glances at us might think we’re family or close friends.”
I shuddered in the sea breeze. “If the Guardia is watching us for a reason he knows we’re not just happy tourists.”
It meant the Guardia knew Machi and I were traveling to Karaya to find my husband Ori. And if he knew that it was because he was one of the Guardias assigned to surveil the Partido de la Felicidad. And his knowing all this would tend to confirm Ori had not finally left me but had indeed been renditioned—kidnapped and then taken to a secret black site to be tortured. I shook, picturing Ori being water boarded or starved. It was a secreto a voces, known to all, that the City hid a torture Camp in its Naval Base in Karaya.
Looking at the churning indigo water of the open sea between The City and Karaya I felt my hands go cold with pure fear. “What were we thinking when we left everything to go look for desaparecidos? How on earth will I be able to find Ori even if he is somewhere in the bowels of the Base?”
The City Naval Base straddled the two halves of the island: Karaya, still a colony of The City, and, Ventura, a socialist republic, whose concession to The City in order to secure its “independence” from Spain in 1898 had been to lease them land for a base. Ori, disappeared and renditioned, would be in the Venturan half of that base in the black site, The Camp.
Julia looked straight ahead. “If he’s watching us for a reason does the Guardia also know about David? Would he know where he is?
I looked at my friend with compassion. I had finally found Machi last week but she had only just begun looking for her son, whose wanted poster on every light post and tree on our block a week ago had catalyzed all of us being here, together.
After I saw the posters I showed up at her door for the first time in more than a decade.“I’ve been looking for my Machi for a year. That’s how long it’s been since he ran away from home. Surely you’ve heard about that. And you have to let me help you find David before The City Guardias do.”
Half an hour after I’d pounded on Julia’s door that morning I began my search for David in Moon Park, the park that gave our neighborhood its name, seven blocks from our street. Hundreds of people lived there since a tornado eight years ago blew off their roofs, and I walked through their maze of tarp shelters, tents, and cardboard shacks. I sat on the same bench at the top of the hill where I sat when I went in there looking for Machi several times every week since he’d punched his bedroom wall, accused me of not doing enough to find his disappeared father, and left home last year. I'd created an obvious search routine because I knew it would get back to him and he could find me when he chose to.
Sitting on my park bench that morning I saw way down below, in the far distance, the expanse of the West River as it flowed into the harbor. I could see the Karaya Ferry, the very mid-morning Ferry we were now on, just floating away from its dock when I saw him running toward me up the narrow path. My son. He was taller and darker and his hair had had grown long and was tied in a pony tail. He had a growth of beard, a bit more than a goatee, on his face. After a year this was my first sighting of him. He was different. Still, I knew him. He ran to me and knelt by me. When we looked at each other we were both crying.
“I've been watching you looking for me for a year. You're not a good tracker, Ma. No wonder you can’t find Pa.”
He spoke as if we had never been parted and put his head on my lap. He let me touch him.
“David’s gone to El Pico and Pa’s in the Camp. You don’t need to know how I know. I do. We’re going to Karaya together to track them.”
I was utterly grateful I had just been laid off two weeks before. I was grateful my jobs were always precarious. I had nothing to keep me, and everything to leave for, because I would go anywhere to be with my son.
The decision was made. Talking Julia into coming was easier than I imagined once Machi persuaded her that he knew David was in El Pico.

And here we were on the ferry’s top deck.
There was a loud shout and we both turned toward the sound of my son’s voice.
“Dolphins.” Machi called out from where he stood a few yards from us at the portside rail with Taina clutching his leg.
Since they met a week ago Taina had been drawn to Machi, who told her he was her Papi’s best friend. Since we boarded she had stuck to my son and he’d stuck to her. I was surprised Julia let this go on. The dark brown child with long brown braids was wiry, active. She reminded me of Machi at that age. In the year he’d been a runaway, the year I’d suffered through hope and disappointment from following up uselessly on dozens of versions of where he might be, my boy had grown into a tall, sullen, dark man. But I’d watched him with Taina. With her he showed a softer side. He played with her and listened to her and took the time to answer her questions.
When we boarded the ferry he and Taina went off on their own. The girl was waiting for the dolphins her abuela Julia promised she would see, and he’d been waiting with her. She brought out a tender, protective side I didn’t know he had. Since I’d finally found him, or he found me, last week there’d been many moments when it felt like we’d never been apart and many when I barely recognized him. When boys crossed over into manhood they became somebody else. When he was with Taina I caught sight of the sweet boy who’d crawled onto my lap; or into my bed at night; who’d insisted on walking with his eyes closed on the avenue holding my hand and challenging me to prove I could really keep him safe.
Taina pressed her way through the crowd toward us and he followed her to where we stood. They pushed themselves through the crowd to the edge of the rail. Our spot had a much better sight line to the dolphin ballet. For the first time in our journey our little group stood together. I glanced behind us. I saw the Guardia watching us.
“The dolphins are dancing!” Taina sang the words.
I felt Julia tense beside me. “It scares me when she gets excited. The meltdown can’t be too far away.”
In the week of hasty preparations for our trip I had witnessed Taina tumble to the floor several times screaming for and at her dead mother. I’d watched my son hold her through the rage and grief and terror.
Machi grabbed me and spoke into my face. “We saw the exact moment when the dolphins surfaced.” He grinned. Here again was the boy I remembered, visible through the manly mask, the sparse beard. The feeling of loss pierced my numbness. I felt. I could feel. Tears formed and I turned my face away from him pretending to watch how one and then another and another dolphin jumped the foaming wake.
Taina pointed. “There’s a mommy dolphin and her baby.” She found room among the crowd to jump and turn, and pause. She clutched at the rails and pressed her face between them. “A mommy with her baby.” She sing-songed. “A mommy with her baby.” She jumped and danced in place. “A mommy with her baby.” She sang louder. She let out a terrible cry and doubled over. She screamed and screamed, so loudly the deck became silent except for her screams.
Machi knelt beside her and formed a frame for her with his arms. She pounded into him and screamed into his chest. At last I made out her words. “Y mi Mami? Where’s my Mami? Why did she leave me? Why did she die on purpose? Porque me dejo mi Mami? Porque se quiso morir?”
Were mother dolphins and their young also always on the verge of losing each other? I looked down at Taina still encircled in Machi’s arms. She had grown silent and her small body was completely slumped against his chest. I saw tears running down his face.
I thought that probably dolphins in their pods grew close and distant all the time carried by the currents and tides of their waters. The wind, our water, blew over us. I was thankful for the terrible winds that had blown Julia and me back together just last week and Machi back into my life. I was glad that he and Taina found each other.
I smoothed my short salt and pepper curls back and turned toward Julia. The wind had turned the white blonde helmet of her hair into a soft cloud. I saw the permanently sad expression in her face soften into her abiding kindness. The look was almost the same but I could tell the difference. I felt a tissue of tenderness growing between us and closing over the wound of the last ten years.
Beside us Machi still squatted with Taina. With one hand the girl clutched at the long black pony tail poking through the strap of his black baseball cap. She moved away from his chest and looked up at him, and then at her grandmother, and at me, and at the sea. She and Machi inched their faces closer to the railing and studied the dolphins through the iron bars.
He yelled so Taina could hear. “They're a pod.”
She yelled back, “What's a pod?”
He adjusted her fly away braids with the red ribbons woven through them. “Like us, we're a pod.”
The jumping dolphins' bellies glowed golden in the sunlight.
We were on indigo waters just beginning to shade toward turquoise in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, the City no longer visible, Karaya not yet in sight. The young Guardia with the long brown face and high Taino nose in the green leaf print uniform still watched us from where he sat in the blue plastic chair bolted to the deck. Machi squatted by Taina with his eyes on the Guardia. He stood; asked me for my phone; stepped away from Taina. He walked over to the Guardia, and asked him to video us. The Guardia smiled and reached for the phone. Machi came back to us. Just as the Guardia pointed the camera our way a dolphin jumped out of the water behind us.
The Guardia came closer. He pressed play. “Look at the dolphin.” He'd caught the shiny dolphin in the brilliant air and the moment when Taina bounded with the dolphin yelling, “I can't keep up. I will keep up.”
He smiled and looked straight at me. “You look alike. You gotta be his Mother." His voice was a bit raspy and warm. I could hear the smile in it. "You look like an odd boy, with your short hair and small body, dressed the same as your son.”
I took the phone back. “That’s true. An old boy. I’m wearing an old pair of his jeans and one of his old t-shirts. I got used to wearing his clothes the year he was gone."
The Guardia held my gaze with his small, piercing brown eyes. “He was a runaway?”
Machi gave me a hard look. I shut up. That was his story to tell.
The Guardia turned to face me and offered me his hand. "I'm Franz. Francisco but I go by Franz."
I couldn’t remember ever shaking a Guardia’s hand before. In The City Guardias had license to shoot dissidents and black and brown boys since The City had merged the military and police twelve years ago after an assault by rebels on the Central Prison, the Presidio. Had the Guardia who disappeared Ori two years ago approached him with a smile like this?
Machi squatted by Taina. “I’ll be right back. I’ll get you a hot dog.” She clenched her fist and grabbed her abuela’s turquoise and purple dress.
My son and the Guardia walked away together around the bank of deck chairs to the snack bar. I could just make them out by the counter with their backs to us and their heads huddled together. The Guardia wasn't much older than my son.
I rewound the last few seconds of the video and watched it closely. Taken straight on, the shot showed Machi looking the Guardia over. I waited for the Machi glare but instead he’d smiled at Franz.
I shook my head and turned to Julia. “When has Machi ever been friendly to any kind of cop?”
I leaned against the ferry railing and watched Machi and The Guardia weave their way through the crowd toward us. They’d bought us all hot dogs. Machi squatted and handed Taina hers. Franz returned to his deck chair and kept watching us. Maybe he watched us the way we watched the dolphins, because he thought we were amusing. Machi put his arm around my shoulder.
He whispered. “That Guardia Franz isn't what he looks like. Not like Guardias in The City.”
Machi kissed me on the top of my head. I could tell he believed he was already making moves to find his father. “He crossed the river.” Machi studied me to see if I understood.
“Franz told me that years ago the Rebels in El Pico would stand on their shore of the Guacabon River calling on bullhorns to the Guardias across from them on the other shore. They’d call out, ‘Cross the river and join us.’ Some Guardias waded across with their rifles held high over their heads. His father was one of the first Guardias to cross the river. He said there are hundreds like him in the Base Naval de Coral who crossed the river.”
He turned to face me, put his hands on my shoulders, and looked into my eyes. “There are Guardias who crossed the River working right inside the Camp.” He studied me as this fact sank in.
A dolphin leapt. Machi drew me closer. We were going on a terrible errand to track our desaparecidos, but in the moment I was utterly happy watching the dolphins arm in arm with my boy.

Machi pointed and I followed his gaze. “Mira Karaya.”
This was our first glimpse of our homeland.
He picked up Taina and sat her on his shoulders so that she could see.
Taina clutched his neck. “Karaya quiere decir luna. Abuela said so, for us Tainos Karaya means moon.”
Franz came up behind me and pressed my arm. “Look now. Right now. This is the only moment you can see both Karaya and Ventura at once from the Ferry. That glittering silver line is the border, an actual electrified mesh wall in the middle of the Base, between the colonial Karayan and the socialist Venturan sides of the island. That strange Base, my fucking base, has an actual border crossing deep inside.”
I put my arm through his. “Just like my heart.” I was surprised but not ashamed to be crying. I looked up at his long face. I could feel he was listening. I could feel his mind with mine.
I found myself unable to stop saying out loud things I never said. “That image of the border inside the base is like the wall inside my heart. My father was a Venturan revolutionary who got cold feet after the socialist victory and exiled us all to The City when I was a teenager going on 50 years ago. I’ve only been back once. And my mother was Karayan. So I’m both.”
I looked at my beautiful island, my two motherlands, and longing pierced me both for socialist Ventura and colonized Karaya.
Julia pressed my arm. “In all the years I’ve known you I never heard that about your Dad.”
I looked at Franz who was still looking at me with his benign expression. Who was he after all? What was I thinking? Panic shuddered up my windpipe. I felt a flood of fear and shame.
“Forget what I told you. Don’t believe a word I say.”
I laughed to make this be a joke and stepped away from him. Julia and I stood arm in arm looking at the distant yellow and green crescent of land.
She pointed to the many shades of turquoise of the sea. “Paradise.” She spoke softly and I could barely make out the word through her tears.
I let hope rise and said under my breath. “What if Machi's right and Ori's there, renditioned there, and we find him? What if he's right and David is hiding in Palenque, or the Territorio Libre, or even Ventura, and we find him?”
Machi looked at me and put his arm around me. “Vamos a encontrar al Viejo.” He studied my face. I knew he was looking for doubt. I knew he was willing me to believe. The ferry was turning and he walked portside with Taina on his shoulders and with Franz, to keep Isla Karaya in sight. Julia and I followed as did most of the passengers on the top deck. The view of the entry into the Coral harbor was better here.
Franz touched my arm. He wanted me to trust him and I didn’t trust my own impulse to do so. He spoke softly as he pointed to the green crescent of land. “From here on we are no longer leaving, we are arriving. Instead of the ferry moving toward Karaya, it looks like la Isla is moving toward us.”
The harbor began to narrow and the water transformed from turquoise to jade green. It seemed we were entering a river. Later I learned the Coral harbor was the mouth of the Rio Guacabon.
Franz turned to Machi and they walked away. I snapped a photo of them talking, their heads close.
Taina spun her yellow dress and chanted “Mi Papi, Mi Papi.”
Julia smiled at me. “For one moment let’s be as joyful as Taina. Look how the sunlight makes the water clear as air.”

At the dock hundreds of us disembarked down the ramp that ran the full width of the boat. Groups of families and friends, and lone tourists pulled their rolling suitcases up the cobble-stoned street that climbed to Coral Centro. I looked at the steep narrow street with colonial houses flush to the sidewalks, their windows and doors shuttered and barred. Way at the top of the hill I could see the trees of the Plaza de Coral and the dome and cross of the Catedral. I longed to be among the ordinary tourists climbing the hill. Two dozen taxis and carros publicos waited. Drivers called out, “Hotel Coral, Pension Flor.” Passengers filled them and the taxis proceeded in a caravan up the hill.
I was relieved Franz didn’t leave us. He led us to a dented tan carro publico van parked on its own by the road that flanked the harbor. The short, dark skinned, plump driver leaning against it waved to Franz as he called out over and over “Palenque, Base Naval.”
The driver opened his arms and Franz stepped into them. I saw he was wearing khaki uniform pants and shirt and guessed he was a Guardia moonlighting. They patted each others’ backs.
“Perucho, mi viejo.”
Franz tossed his duffel bag onto the roof rack and then helped us with our four. Before we left The City Machi made the rule, one small duffel bag apiece and one with tarps for our shelter was all we could bring. Later he allowed himself, and then each of us, a backpack as well. Each of us held onto our back packs as we squeezed into the second row of seats. Franz and Perucho, the driver, helped eight other ferry passengers stack their luggage on the roof, several heading to the base, others like us, to Palenque. They squeezed into the two other seats behind us. After they strapped the luggage down Perucho sat behind the wheel and Franz on the passenger seat beside him.
Perucho chewed on an unlit cigar stub. “Todos did a wade-in last night. Smack in the middle of the vigilia.”
Franz turned toward him. “Los mojaron?”
Perucho spit out the window. “Water cannons, sure. Goes without saying.”
I wondered who Todos were.
Franz looked at us over his shoulder. “This is the famous Carretera Naval.” He pointed to the narrow road that ran along the shore line.
We passed a series of docks where small fishing boats were moored and then a stretch of undeveloped beach with clusters of seagrapes. We caught glimpses of Reef Refinery oil rigs sticking out of the water, and of the mesh of the Base Naval’s metal fencing that projected far into the sea. The shoreline disappeared. A growth of mangroves formed a dome over the road. We could still smell the sea but we couldn’t see it.
Taina sang out. “Un tunel.”
Abruptly we were back in blazing sunlight, outside the mangrove tunnel, surrounded by sand and occasional clusters of seagrapes. Only rarely, at a distance, did we glimpse the sea. We’d been driving very slowly on the bumpy road for maybe ten minutes when the van stopped.
Perucho and Franz jumped out and began to unload the roof rack.
They said nothing to us but we all knew to get out of the van. We were in a place that looked like no place, just a rise on the Carretera Naval. All around us was a sea of sand. After Perucho dumped our duffels on the gravel he waved to us, called out “Suerte,” made a u-turn, and headed back to Coral. The other passengers walked up the road toward the base or ahead of us toward where Palenque must be, and disappeared downhill. Maybe they knew where they were going. We just stood there with Franz, lined up by the side of the road.
Machi, our 17-year-old leader, pointed to a plume of smoke. We walked a few yards, following the smoke, to another rise on the road. We looked down at the head of a spiraling path. Spread below us was the cluster of brown tents, blue tarps, wooden shelters, and small pastel houses of Palenque. To the left and behind us there was a wall of green jungle, the foothills of El Pico. Way downhill, beyond the shelters, we could see a crescent of sand, turquoise sea all the way to the horizon, and to the right, jutting out of the water, the mesh metal fence of the Base Naval.
Franz pointed to a big, battered sign. We could just make out the words: Playa Coral Ecopreserve, Ecopreserva Playa Coral. Over those words Palenque was printed in big red and blue and green graffiti bubble letters, the spray paint already chipping and weathered.
Taina sang out. “Mira, el circo.”
Franz beamed at her. “Where did you ever see one?”
But she had run ahead to keep up with Machi, who now stood at the head of the path.
Among the haphazard encampment shacks built of scrap wood there were many more tents than I had imagined, a few made of green canvas maybe liberated from the Base or handed out by NGO's on a resource blitz. Many of the lean-to’s were made from palm fronds, tarps, plastic table cloths, shower curtains. A row of small pink, turquoise, and orange wooden cottages with peaked techos de dos aguas stood closest to the path, maybe former vacation rentals from the old EcoPreserve, or abandoned summer homes.
Taina skipped back to us. “Palenque es como el cuito de abuela.”
Franz nodded. “Taina's right, it is a quilt, a patchwork of people as different as you and me, who refuse to move, to be moved, for as long as it takes, until the desaparecido they're here for is released from the Camp, hasta que Karaya sea libre. Sooner or later everyone you know turns up in Palenque.”
Julia took his arm. “I didn't imagine a happy place."
Franz turned to face her. “Listen." Just then the wind shifted, and shards of music reached us. “We are a happy animal. We can be a happy animal. For some Palenque es la fiesta permanente. La alegria de la lucha...”
I took his other arm. "Can we be as welcome on this planet as Taina's dolphins chasing the Ferry?”
Just then Taina screamed, “Caballitos!” Three small wild horses ran past us on the road heading in the direction of the Base. Franz let out a loud laugh. "Or as welcome as the wild horses of Playa Coral.”
Taina ran after the brown horses. “Mira, mira los caballitos.”
“Vamos. Let’s go.” Machi called to us from where he stood waiting for us at the top of the trail.
Even though Julia and I clung to him Franz announced he had to get back to the Base. He hugged and kissed us all like an old friend. He squatted down and Taina kissed him.
"Don't look sad, Franz." She watched him walk quickly away from us with his dark green duffle bag balanced on his shoulder.
We joined Machi. He turned onto the path to Palenque. We followed.
I felt bereft, lost without Franz, someone I had just met, and a Guardia!
Taina ran ahead of us calling out,"El circo."
Machi kept up with her. There were enough shelters and paths among them to get lost in.
"Vamos a vivir en la playa,” Taina chanted as she ran.
As we made our way through the labyrinth of shelters of the encampment we passed three young men building a frame from two by fours between two other wooden shacks in a narrow space where I would not have seen the possibility of a shelter. They waved and Machi waved back. A few yards from where four men played dominoes on a table made from a crate Machi found an empty spot shaded by a sea pine. He pointed and we set down our duffels in a little circle. We sat on them and looked at each other.
Julia opened her arms. “We are here.” She took my hand. “Now what do we do?” She closed her eyes. She was praying.
I wished I hadn't broken up with God when my family left Ventura and went into exile in the dark, crowded City of skyscraper canyons. I felt my father’s religion made me leave Ventura, the revolutionary future of humanity, to go live in The City in humanity’s imperial past. At 14, I decided that no matter what my father preached, if the City could exist God did not. If God did exist and had made The City, God was evil.
Was I now in the future or the past?
Julia opened her eyes. “We have to eat.”
“You just answered my question I didn’t even ask out loud. We’re in the present. That’s where we are.”
She handed us protein bars from our emergency stash. The sun was three quarters to the horizon.
I looked at my watch and it was just past five. “The beginning of our new life.”
I spoke so that Machi and Taina didn’t hear. “How long can we last here?”
She looked away. I guessed what she would say. “As long as it takes to track them.”
Taina jumped and twirled. “A la playa.”
She froze. She’d seen an iguana for the first time. She stood perfectly still with her hands held up.
“Un dinosaurio bebe.”
She moved her hands to grab the crested lizard and it vanished.
She dug into her duffel bag and chanted, “Donde esta la playa?” She pulled out her purple bathing suit with its ballerina tutu and her hot pink flip flops. She changed behind the seapine.
Machi reached for her hand. When he followed her lead she was overjoyed. Julia waved to them as she spread a tarp on the ground and lay on it with her head on Taina's duffel for a pillow. I couldn't believe that within seconds she was asleep, right here, outdoors, a la intemperie, on the sand.
I jumped up before I lost sight of Machi and Taina. I followed them past the maze of huts and tents on the path along the dune, toward the hum of the surf, ever present beneath the music, bits of conversations, and radio voices kiting on the wind. The path turned onto a beach of white sand and the turquoise sea I remembered.
Taina screamed, “la playa,” and ran ahead.
Machi ran after her. I kicked off my flip flops, rolled up my jeans, and caught up to them just as they reached the water. Taina ran into the surf and Machi ran in after her, wearing the shorts he'd traveled in. I stood and let the waves lap at my ankles.
Taina waded toward me and Machi seized the chance to swim further out into the surf.
She stood next to me and pointed to the sky. “My mami is up there. My mami se llama Gema. Abuela says it means gem and gems are shiny and that’s why when I see the stars it’s my Mami.” She took my hand. “Tell me. What was it my Mami loved more than she loved staying on earth with me?”
Taina clutched me and I felt a tremor coursing through her body.
“Machi said Mami died so that I would have the earth to grow up in.” She sobbed and dug her fingers into me. “I’d rather have my Mami.”
Machi bounded out of the water and squatted beside us. He read the sadness and pried Taina from my arms. He spun her and splashed her gently into the surf.
Machi sat Taina on his shoulders and pointed to the sun slipping toward the horizon. “We don’t have much time to build our shelter.”
In that light the high mesh fence of the outer perimeter of the base loomed over us as it rose from the water. This was not paradise.
I followed him as he rode Taina all the way to our spot where Julia still slept on her back, her head on her duffel, her heart open to the world. Erased of its constant mask of fear I could see Taina’s face in Julia’s, almost sweet.
The thin young man with a long face we’d seen building a frame with two by fours when we arrived emerged from the narrow space among the shelters alongside ours and stood for a few minutes watching us struggle with our blue tarps. He approached Machi. He’d come with hammers, two by fours, nails and rope, and another young man who he introduced as Robles. He introduced himself as Lagarto. Our new friends Lagarto and Robles worked with us past sundown, until we had two blue tarp lean-tos for our home. They helped Machi build us a fire. Robles took Machi him with him into the maze, toward the shore, to show him where to get fresh fish. Lagarto went off the other way. Machi and Robles returned in ten minutes with a big pargo, cleaned and gutted, wrapped in plantain leaves. They lay the fish on the glowing branches of the fire. Lagarto came back minutes later with a stack of metal containers.
He set the tin containers on the hot rocks that framed the red and gray branch shaped coals. “Here’s rice and beans from the Comedor de las Senoras de los Frijoles.”
Machi laughed out loud. “Gotta love that name.” He and the two young men squatted by the coals. They wrapped the pargo in plantain leaves and set it on stones on the fire. When it was done Lagarto gave Taina a small bite.
“It tastes like the sea.” She ate her fill then searched in her duffel bag for her bucket and pail. She found herself a spot by the path and began to dig in the sand. We sat close to the fire in happy silence until Lagarto asked us who where our desaparecidos, the Palenque question we were to be asked again and again.

Irma Wanted to Die Because Her Son Was on Drugs
Uno de estos dias me dio por escribir la historia de mi madre.
Memorias de mi Madre, Anacaona Echegaray
Irma wanted to die because her son was on drugs. She woke up shaking. From the sounds of the madrugada house she could tell Tomas was not home. Had not come home. Last night before he ran out the back door he spit at her and called her cunt. She'd punched him twice in the jaw. She didn't remember hitting him but her younger daughter Tina told her what she saw. He was fisting her bedroom door. She remembered starting out wanting to stop him. She remembered one moment when she felt like killing him. She didn't remember hitting him. He was much bigger than she was. He yelled much louder. She was hungover from her own drunk. She’d been drunk on rage; drunk on her obsession to make her son get straight, clean and sober by force of her own will.
She rose and walked to the window facing the back yard. She knew she wouldn't sleep. She peered through the white metal shutters at the moonlit broad, flat plantain leafs. She wanted to not think of Tomas. She wanted one breath, one moment, she could call her own. She walked barefoot on the cold tiles through the door, not looking at the jagged hole Tomas had punched, past Tina's bedroom where she saw her sleeping on her belly, still hers, still safe. The street was lapping like acid at her door but it still hadn't gotten Tina. She was damned if the street was going to kill her son.
She walked out into the moist sereno air of the yard and shuddered in the coolness, the only cool moment of the day. She studied the unformed green fingers of the plantain fruit then took down Tina's school uniform from the line. It wasn't good to iron clothes wet with sereno. Perhaps she'd become pasmada, stiff like a board, despite her Mother's warnings. She took her time moving the iron, smoothing out the pleats of the navy blue skirt, forming the points of the collars of Tina's white shirt, flattening the buckling of the embroidered Sagrado Corazon emblem on the pocket. This morning she had time to make avena with milk and cinnamon sticks and cloves. She stirred and tasted for sweetness. She grated nutmeg onto the sweet gruel. This was the breakfast Tina loved.
Tina stood before her dressed all by herself in yesterday's uniform. She’d done her hair in two braids. The part zigzagged across the top of her head and marked her as a child who must be her own mother.
Through the small kitchen window she saw her neighbor Adela step out of her small rooms in the back of the patio that would once have belonged to a servant. Adela’s uncle took Adela and her husband in, when her parents kicked her out for being a communist. Adela’s rooms were attached to the big house he lived in, the first and largest of the many houses he’d built in the reparto La Cima he’d developed in his family’s old hacienda of the same name. Tio Nestor was Irma’s landlord. Adela was heading out with her baby to the bodega on the corner. Irma knew her friend’s routine.
She stopped Adela by the path that ran along the main house to the sidewalk. Through the door into Adela’s room she could see her friend from the City, Marina, who held her three year old on her lap. The boy was curled up into her. From where Irma stood she could have sworn the boy was attached to Marina’s breast, still nursing at that age!
She clutched Adela’s arm. "He called me cunt. He lunged at me. I stepped to him. He spit in my face. He punched through my bedroom door. I stepped into him, to stop him. I remember wanting to kill him. I remember hating him as much as I hate his father Ignacio. Except Ignacio is only a husband and when I come to the killing point I ask him to leave. But this one is my son. Little Tina told me I punched him twice in the jaw."
Irma looked away from Adela, and the little baby in Adela's arms. She leaned toward Adela and stroked the baby's tiny hand. "Tomas used to be my baby."
Adela looked into Irma’s eyes. "For Tina's sake you've got to get him out of the house."
She didn't wait for Irma's answer. She'd heard it dozens of times. Irma watched her walk away in silence. A second of silence. She went back into the house, into her bedroom, to her bed, and lay on her abdomen, cheek to the side, arms alongside her body, breathing into the knot in her belly.
The pillow muffled the sounds of Tomas who had just come home and was in the kitchen dragging out of the refrigerator every container of leftovers she'd put away for him from the last five dinners he missed. In a few minutes the kitchen would look like a pig rooted there.
"Pig." She yelled this loud enough for him to hear. She had an instant of hesitation before she was possessed by the demon that drove her to take him on when he wasn't sober. For a split second she could have simply thought the word, or whispered it, but now it was too late. She'd risen and screamed the word over and over. He picked up. And she picked up. Rage was her poison.
Next she found herself in the kitchen, her face against her son's, looking with pure hatred at his drooping face. "This has got to stop."
He laughed. "You've been with those people who have nothing to lose. Well, we do."
He laughed again. He spread mayonnaise on a piece of bread. White globs dropped onto the counter and onto the floor.
"Stay out of my face. It's because of you I do this."
"I pick up the glass and put it to your lips. I roll the blunt and light the blunt."
"You're lucky I don't put my arms around your neck and squeeze." He feinted a lunge. He stepped back and began to lay slices of cheese on the bread. Mayo oozed and spilled.
She screamed louder.
He shook his head. "You're a bad Mother. You're going to wake Tina up."
He walked away clutching the oozing sandwich, spilling mayonnaise all the way to his bedroom. Without looking back he stepped inside and slammed the door.
She stood staring at the mess of containers, spoons, spilled food. She shook. She was hostage to this giant drunken baby suckling on the endless tit of the world. He was sucking her dry. Killing her.
His Father she'd gotten rid a few weeks ago, although he was circling to return. She’d done so several times when at last the desire to save herself overpowered the desire to have a husband, the delusion that she might save a man from the rule of his cock, and yes, the bottle. Ignacio, too, was a drunk although not a sloppy, helpless one like Tomas who had begun so young there was hardly a break between the baby bottle and the booze bottle. Elpido was a drinker who held his teniente job and did his drinking with the others in the military, his peers, his competitors. Those he'd chosen over Irma, Tomas, Tina, Elpidio hijo.
She'd booted him from their home thinking he would see what he was losing and come home, come home thinking. Instead he'd seized his advantage and embraced the opportunity to drink and fuck without the interruptions of a crazy screeching woman. Playing the role of the crazy screeching woman today...was Irma!!!

She put the key in the lock with a bad feeling. Drug addict Mother's sixth sense. She stepped inside. No one thing was where she had left it. The couch had been moved to the middle of the room. Along the edges everything was gone, tv, stereo, Ignacio's old electric typewriter. What could they get for that, these days? On the glass coffee table was her red bowl and in it was a mound of human shit. She screamed. Screaming and shaking she pushed the couch back to its place. She enveloped the bowl into a plastic bag, sealed it, and ran it to the trash by the front gate.
She wound open the metal shutters of all the windows held shut most of the time against the shame. She turned the ac to fan full strength. She worked as fast as she could.
When Tina walked in the door everything was almost back to normal and it took the girl a few moments before she said, "Where's my tv?"
Tina was followed into the room by Lydia. Both girls sat curled alongside Irma on the couch the way they did most afternoons to watch the munequitos with their merienda of grilled cheese sandwiches and lemonade. They stared at the big hole on the shelf where the tv had been. Irma left them and walked into her bedroom. Her tiny tv had escaped the raid. She brought it to the living room, put it in the center of the shelf, and turned it on for the two girls. They lay on their bellies, elbows firm, resting their chins on the heels of their hands to watch the tiny eye.
Lydia took her cue from Tina. Neither girl asked where all the things had gone. Irma knew they could guess. They'd heard her screaming at Tomas. Everyone on the block heard her screaming at Tomas. She shuddered, shuttered the windows again, and walked into the kitchen to make the merienda. Another catastrophe with Tomas' signature made her drop into a chair and sob. The counter was covered with crumbs, spilled food, dirty dishes and bowls.

That first night in Palenque I found Patria. Or she found me. After we’d eaten the fish to the bone and Machi banked the fire I watched him go to his own lean-to a few feet behind the one Patria, Taina and I shared. He stepped inside it and emerged with a garment in his hand. I recognized his sleeveless light blue denim vest. Lagarto handed him a marker and I could see him drawing a big circle in black on the back.
He bent down to me and kissed my cheek and then squatted beside Taina who was digging in the sand and kissed her on the top of the head.
He followed Lagarto and Robles into the path to our right. I watched his shape for the few seconds it took until it vanished into the labyrinth of foliage and motley shelters of Palenque. Was he gone again? I shuddered.
Taina glanced up as he disappeared. She returned to her digging and began to hum loudly. She’d made a shallow hole a few feet from the flap of our lean-to and she began to line it with leaves and shells. Julia knelt beside her and whispered in her ear. Taina put her blue plastic shovel inside her red pail and let herself be picked up by her abuela.
Julia sing-songed, "We’re both going to go to sleep without taking a bath." Julia leaned forward and stepped inside our just built blue-tarp lean-to.
Beyond the flap of the lean-to I could see her helping Taina step out of her purple tutu bathing suit and into her pink sleeping shorts and shirt. I watched Julia slip off the silky turquoise and purple flowered dress she’d traveled in. She dressed her secret, soft, round body in black shorts and t-shirt. They curled up together on their thin gel mats, one luxury Machi allowed the three of us. Julia spooned around Taina and they both crashed to sleep.
I was alone, wired. I stared down at the red branches of the banked fire and tried to slow down my breathing. What if Machi was gone again? A tremor rose through me.
I sensed someone watching me. I looked up and there was a dark brown woman close to my age, a bit taller than me, with long salt and pepper hair woven into a crown of braids. She wore a red and black striped woven blouse. When she saw me her rectangular face, deep sun brown, opened into a wide smile, an expression of warmth I didn’t remember. But I remembered her. How had she come and found me?
“Soy Patria.” She handed me two blue tin cups and a big glass jar full of cafe con leche. “Bienvenida a Palenque. A lean-to warming gift."
I filled the cups and set them to warm on the fire. Right away I recognized her from twelve years ago. Why was she calling herself Patria now when she'd been Irma then? Did she want to be someone else in Palenque? Did she have a different name because she was underground here? She’d been married to a City Force teniente and maybe he didn’t know where she was. Was it even possible shes didn’t recognize me? Had the last decade of repression changed me that much?
"I'm Lagarto's mother." She sat alongside me by the fire. So he had sent her. That had to mean Lagarto had been Machi's friend a dozen years ago. Now that I knew I could see the resemblance. Lagarto was the little boy we'd known as Elpidio Hijo.
She inched closer to me. "I'm a tracker and he told me to come help you find your Desaparecidos. He said you're buena gente."
I handed her one of the blue tin cups. "I think we were neighbors twelve years ago. But you had a different name." I was afraid I’d made a Palenque faux pas.
She took the cup and sat beside me. “Ay si! Por Dios. Marina! I see it now. Your hair was so black and long then.”
I looked up at her. “I recognized you right away but I wasn’t sure you wanted to be known.”
She hugged me again. “Y sabes, Adela’s coming here for Grito Day. She’s become a scholar of disappearance. She always comes for Grito Day with Noel and with Cairi, but this year she’s also coming to present her new book Edad de la Indignacion.”
I had been staying with Adela when I tried to move to Karaya with Machi after Ori and I separated those twelve years ago. I returned to the City. Ori and I reconciled. Adela and I lost touch. I’d met Irma then, now Patria, who lived next door. Adela and I were militants of the Partido de la Felicidad and Adela got me a job with her at InfoDes, the government agency that (supposedly) searched for the disappeared. Irma Patria was the wife of a City Force lieutenant so I mostly ignored her until she came to me at InfoDes to help her find her drugging teen-aged son.
She moved closer. “Back then I used to go by Irma, my middle name. I never liked my first name Patria until I got rid of my husband. You remember him? Skinny Elpidio the teniente? When I got rid of him I stopped being pro Karaya statehood. My whole family had been Nacionalistas. All along my other, more real identity was waiting for me and I stepped into it. Then I loved it that my parents named me Patria. Although I would have preferred Matria if only they’d known the word existed.”
I laughed with her. "I was afraid taking a new name was a secret Palenque ritual I had to pretend to know about. Lagarto has a new name too. He showed up like a miracle as we arrived this afternoon and helped us build our lean-tos. I wonder if Machi and Lagarto figured out they knew each other when they were five.”
Night had fallen and I saw Patria was studying my face in the dim, reddish campfire light. “What might your new name be?
She thought for a moment. “Taino words are coming to me right now when I look at you. Anani means water flower. Atabey is mother water, or mother earth. Cajaya is a female shark.
I grinned. “I’d like to be a bit like a shark”
Patria rose. She took my hand and pulled me up. “I’ll show you something.”
She shone a small flashlight ahead of us and we walked the path toward the sea. The beach was deserted except for a couple sitting by a small campfire far away to our left. She led us to the right, in the direction of the base. I avoided looking at the looming metal fence in the distance.
“Mira.” She shone the beam of the flashlight onto a rivulet of shallow water on the sand. She rolled her pants up to her knees and motioned to me to do the same. I followed her along the rivulet and we waded into the mangrove. As we entered the dense weave of branches I felt a tremor climb my spine. Patria took my hand and I let her confidence contain my rising terror.
I saw the rivulet had begun to sparkle and realized Patria had shut off the flashlight. We waded on in ankle deep water. As we moved further into the mangrove we made iridescent streaks in the water. The branches gave way to a clearing and the water that was halfway to our knees opened into a small pond. As we moved the water glowed. Close to the bank a glowing white flower rose on a tall stem out of the water.
“Aguas fosforecentes.” I bent down toward the flower and the bioluminescent waters moved and sparkled. I touched the flower gently.
“My name is Anani, the flower that rises from the water.”
“That is my thought as well.” She wet my head with shining water. “Te bautizo Anani.”
She led us back onto the beach. “Now I’m wondering how I’m going to break my new name to my son.” Our laughter joined Palenque’s night symphony of laughter, music, speech, and the songs of crickets, and frogs.
When we reached my shelter Julia was standing in her black shorts and t-shirt by the dead fire. She stared straight ahead in the direction of the path to the beach. She saw us and her face broke into a grin. She waved.
“Here you are! I wondered where you’d gone. I’m thinking maybe we need to move our lean-to closer to the letrinas.”
I introduced my two new old friends and Julia kissed Patria on the cheek. “Mi casa es tu casa.”
We stood close together by the fire. “Patria took me to a bioluminescent creek inside el mangle and she baptized me. Ahora me llamo Anani.”
Julia pressed her hands together. “A flower that grows in the water. I spend a lot of time looking at Taino dictionaries to find the perfect words that come to me in my dream.
“I have the dream again and again. The wall in my apartment gives way. On the other side there is a paradise of mountains and creeks and coffee plants growing under the trees on the sides of small cliffs. I hear the sweetest voices speaking perfect words that say exactly what I mean.
“As I wake up the words shatter and disappear. I can’t remember them. I stare at my apartment wall with a broken heart.”
Patria put her arms out to receive Julia. The taller, wiry woman pressed the small, round, blonde one against her chest. “Dreaming el mito del retorno.”
Once again Patria recited Taino words, this time softly into Julia’s ear like a mother’s croon. “Zum zum, hummingbird, yabisi, tree.”
Julia let herself be held. Her tears flowed. “Que falta me hacia llorar. Is this the home I’ve been longing for? Maybe when I climb into the mountains of El Pico to find my son I’ll find my paradise of hills and creeks and coffee trees.”
She kissed us both goodnight, even me. “Now I’m going to the letrinas and then I’m going back to sleep on what my name will be, Yabisi or Zum zum.” She took the path to our left.

We were still standing by the fire when Patria's phone buzzed. She put the tiny screen close to our faces. "Live stream."
I saw a dim gray image. I heard screams coming from the phone. They quickened into chants. First I heard a wall of sound, and then, suddenly, I made out the words. “Sueltenlos, sueltenlos ya."
The image zoomed and a searchlight came on. In the moving light one of the gray figures became distinct, then gray again.
“Elpidio...” Patria pointed to the gray silhouette. How could she tell? All I saw were human shapes with black bandannas on their faces. A row of these darkened shapes faced off with Guardias lined up on the inside of a metal mesh fence.
The searchlight swept them and for just one moment I saw the back of a faded denim vest with the circle emblem Machi had drawn with a marker just before he left earlier tonight. “That's Maceo.”
Patria nodded. “Now we know where they are.”
She set the phone down by her side. “They're good at doing stealth night wade ins to the Camp...”
I was shaking.
Her phone pinged again. She read her son Lagarto’s text message out loud. “Can't reach Anacaona. Can’t post to Verdad from here. Guardia beat R. Didn't seize his phone. Tell her to get pix into Verdad.”
She showed me the photo and I recognized Robles. He'd helped us build our lean-to. His black bandanna hung from his neck and his head was bleeding. What if this had been Machi? I retched and tasted cafe con leche and vomit. I swallowed hard.
Patria switched the phone back to the live stream. The blurry image showed hundreds of people running toward the beach. Silhouettes swarmed; shifted direction; swooped like a flock of strange birds. I couldn't tell how they were signaling intention to each other.
Patria handed me the phone. “Look close. Look at the Guardias.”
I didn't understand. “Are they menacing?” I studied them and began to see.
She pointed to one man and then another. "Can you see that most of them se hacen de la vista gorda? They let our boys be."
I shook my head. “I just don't get it. Are they lazy? Alienated?”
Patria took back her phone. “They're on our side. Guatas. The City Force doesn't own their minds.”
She wasn't making sense. “They crossed the river? Then why did they beat Robles?”
“Where did you hear that phrase?”
Before I could explain I’d met one of those Guata guardias on the ferry the swarm engulfed the place where the Guardias held Robles. When it swarmed away, the Guardia stood alone.
“Did he let Robles go?”
She nodded. “Things are more porous than you'd think between the Camp and us. We have our ways with the Guardias and then the lawyers have official ways.
“There's a lawyers' group in Coral that has lists of who's in there, although the lists are never complete. They're going to file a mass habeas corpus petition on Grito Day and at the same time we're doing a Camp Wade In Invasion. Those are our ways, tracker ways.”
Patria paused. “We'll start tracking Ori tomorrow. There's a wall outside the lawyers' place. Tomorrow if we don’t catch Perucho’s van into Coral, or the once in a million years Coral bus, we'll take the 30 minute walk on the Carretera Naval into Coral and put your husband's picture on the wall. You never know what Guardia will recognize him and let him know inside you're out here looking, and let you know how he is.”
Julia walked past us, back from the letrinas, and waved. I watched her walk into her lean to and lie down. She curled her body around Taina’s.
I pointed to her. “My friend is gifted at going to sleep.”
Patria drained the last drops from her cup and laughed. "We break night in Palenque all the time." She pulled herself away from the tree we were leaning against, rose, and offered me her hand.
“Ven.” I hesitated and she said, “Your friend Julia is here. Machi won't be coming home to nobody.”
I let her pull me up. "So this is home now. No way I’m falling asleep now after all that cafe con leche."

We walked away arm in arm. She guided us through the maze of lean-tos and tents and shacks of scrap wood. Everywhere small groups of people sat clustered around their fires talking, playing dominoes, staring at the small screens of their computers and their telephones. Young couples sat close together sheltered by seapines.
I struggled to keep up with her. “How do you even see a path? Will I ever find my way back?”
She pointed. “There's the Karaya Navy Base fence. You can see it almost anywhere you are. Our hell landmark. And you can ask anybody. They’ll know where you live. We're familia here.”
She pointed to a cluster of handcrafted crosses flanking a sculpture made of a carved tree trunk. I walked closer and saw the rough dark wood artifact depicted a bird rising from the ashes of an actual bonfire. These words were carved on the base of the bird: A los martires caidos en la masacre de Palenque. Presentes.
Patria answered my unspoken question. “The first year of the occupation City Force raided and killed almost 50 of the occupiers. Not long after that we started calling ourselves Palenque. That was more than ten years ago. The year mass uprisings all over the world toppled dictators, even the governor of Karaya was forced to resign. It was the global war between us, civil society, and the City empire with its lackey so-called nations. It was those uprisings established civil society as a global power. They kept massacring and we kept rising. There were a hundreds of massacres all over the world. There was fighting between us and the confused sectors of the working class. But it seems the military everywhere has said no more. There are just too many soldiers who know they are us. We have the empire in check. It’s not a matter of if but of when either they genocide us or they are forced to rejoin the human species.”
Patria pulled me to her. She pressed me to her chest and whispered. “I believe we have already won.

I didn't mention the rapists.
She pointed to a row of small wooden houses on low stilts with small porches. “That red one on the far left is my casita where we’ll soon be eating piña de Karaya.”
We walked behind the houses to a chicken wire enclosure surrounded by a dome of barbed wire. She pointed to the three goats that slept curled on top of the chicken coop. “The nanny goats and the hens we keep. Most of the billy goats and the roosters we eat.”
She took my hand. “Are you hungry? We'll cut the pineapple now and I'll show you my casita.”
I smiled. “I'm relieved you didn't offer to kill a goat.”
We sat in the middle of her kitchen at a small weathered table los muchachos must have dragged in from outside. We faced a small, narrow refrigerator and a small gas stove. I seized the electricity and plugged in my phone to charge.
Patria sliced the pineapple the long way and gave me a wedge. “My father taught me to never cut piña in rings because then just one person gets the sweetest fruit at the bottom. This way everyone gets sweet and sour.”
I started eating at the top. “This one is perfect, sweet and then sweeter.”
She dished some yogurt into bowls. “De chivo."
I savored the cream layer on top. “More perfection. Yogurt de chivo y piña de Karaya.”
Patria opened the small laptop on her kitchen table. “Seeing as the last wireless code Elpidio got from a guata still works, we're starting to track your husband right now. Let me see him."
I hadn't stopped to think how she was getting online in Palenque. I found the Verdad webpage and showed her the photo that went on top of Ori's column. Ori had his long black hair pulled back from his face. His big, black framed glasses slipped down on his curved Taino nose. His lips were downturned in their boundlessly sad expression.
"This is my kind of intake. When did you last see him?"
Patria listened to me with full attention; not interrupting me to tell me her own story, her opinion, her advice; just making room for me to find my thoughts; so here came a thought I'd never told anyone; a thought I didn't like to tell myself.
The thought formed and came out of my mouth. “Ori had reason not to trust me.”
I studied her face. No judgment. I went on. “I’m not sure Ori didn’t just get sick of not trusting me and took off."
Patria pressed my hand. “But if the more likely story is true, why would the god forsaken guardias want to rendition Ori?”
This time I didn't bother with need to know. Or did I redefine need to know? If I was going to be close to Patria maybe she needed to know everything about me. I told her about Ori and me and about us and the Partido de la Felicidad. Here I held back. The need for and habit of secrecy was too ingrained. She didn't press and I loved her more. (I was already loving Patria!)
“Odds are he's in the Camp. Or we have to track based on that theory because it's the best one we've got. Tomorrow I'll take you to the legal place. They can only do so much but they do something.”
I had to ask her. "Tell me this, if you haven't found your own son in two years, why would you be able to find Ori?"
She shook her head. "En casa del herrero cuchillo de palo, is what you're thinking."
She laughed. "We believe that just like there’s a Camp within the base, there’s a secret Camp within the Camp where they keep Bauba Taino desertors. Justice Works says that's why they haven't confirmed my Tomas is inside. Elpidio and I are working on the theory he's in there until we have a better theory. We believe if he were in the Territorio Libre or had crossed into socialist Ventura he would have gotten word to us by now.”
I didn't dare ask her if she ever considered the third, unspeakable possibility if Tomas was neither in the Camp nor in the Territorio.

I noticed the lull in the drums playing in the darkness. “Is the music coming from Beachside or Hillside?”
She stood and took our dishes to the small sink. “Tonight, the hills. It's them, you know, our boys and the others.”
I rose to go and she followed me outside. I looked up. “In the City you forget stars. Here stars fill the sky and rise up forever like my childhood night sky in Ventura. I'd forgotten how I loved that night sky.”
She spoke softly. “When I look up I can feel myself having to decide whether to be reassured or terrified. I comfort myself by imagining each star is one of my ancestros; one of the thousands it took, going back uncountable generations, for me to exist. I like to believe they’re rooting for me, for us, for them, to survive. No, to triumph and thrive.”
We were quiet for a bit. I spoke softly. "In the silence I can hear the secret percussion, the pulse of the surf."
She nodded. "Sometimes at night, in the rare quiet moments, I can feel that the earth sea is a creature, alive, benign, Pachamama. Sometimes I imagine I can feel her breathing.”
I turned to face Patria fully. “I feel that. Sometimes even in the City I can tell I am inside the creature, safe, maybe immortal. It’s been a long time. But tonight, in the laguna fosforecente, I felt it."
She nodded. "Since I've been living here, very late some nights, or in the middle of a wade-in to the base, or even making food with the Senoras de los Frijoles, I've felt a presence inside me that has always lived and never died.”
She looked into my eyes; drew me to her; held me against her heart; spoke into my ear. “Those are glimpses of the creature we might be in a truly human world; the creatures Tomas believes we were before the Primera Colonia and their failed genocidio.”
She stepped away and looked into my eyes.“It's clear to me in those moments that terror is the child of exploitation. At this moment our species has accumulated enough wealth and resources to shelter all of us, offer all of us a good life. Terror has ceased being a creature of nature. It is made by humans. That means it can be ended by humans, by us.”
“Even though we’ve broken nature?” I was sobbing.
“We, with the knowledge of our ancestros, know how to heal nature and we will. We already are.”
Patria! I had a new friend! She said she'd help me find Ori. She knew how to keep a son. She knew how to see the goodness in our sons. She knew that life was good, even here, or maybe especially here.
As I looked into her deep set brown eyes I was moved to speak because I recognized myself in her. I could see she was a powerful woman. And I could see I was too. “Why is it hard for me to choose to see beauty, when here I am in our beautiful Island, this place where one way or another so many of us are taking a stand over terror?”
I turned to face the Base. “I shudder whenever I remember that just a few yards away inside that camp our warriors are being tortured.”
We held hands and I felt both of us tremble. For a minute, with Patria, I let terror rise up. I drew her to me and held her close. I felt the terror fully, coursing through me. I felt my body shake and shake and then the terror subsided.
She pressed my body into hers. "Terror isn't bigger than we are."
As I was about to set off back to my shelter she laughed and spoke in a whisper. “There is great disorder under the sky...the situation is excellent.”
I hugged her against my chest. “In the old days you would never have quoted Mao.”
Patria hugged and kissed me. “Go to sleep. Our boys will be home soon enough. They have each other's backs. They’ve gone from the Camp to the Hills. They’re drumming their terror off. Night time is their time. The world makes more room for them at night.”
She handed me a small flashlight and sent me on my way.

One Month Ago
Colluding With Oppression Hurts (Week 251 in the Burocrazy)
I saw evil at work at work today. First I was vulnerable, coasting on a high, that my project to make some room for good education, got approved; that the guy from the Mayor’s office Lucha met at the adult educators’ conference invited me to a meeting, likes the Reading by Writing project and is interested in supporting it and indicated with coded words (he let drop words like values, empower, collaboration, even popular education) that he’s a comrade of sorts. Solly even invited me with Xiomara to the meeting with the new vendor (who will take over for our current one, have no space yet, descended like vultures on the possibility of taking over our current space). I got deluded by my high that something benign could happen here; that I could keep my sights on the humanity of these people I work with; decide to believe their humanity, is what’s real and not the harshness, the cruelty, the house slavery, the backstabbing.
I saw the notes Solly wrote into Lucha’s report. Already to please Xiomara, Solly has turned on Lucha. It could be anybody. It could be me. The blood red ink on the report said things like,“Is this your job?”, “Why are you talking about this here?” Then:“Why are you writing as if this is the first time you report on this when you met with me one on one and should have written in that context?” Later:“So from now on when one of them is absent the meeting will be rescheduled?” And then later still when the same rescheduled meeting is mentioned in another section: “Get my point?”
The tone of the blood red writing was hostile.
How do you flag, call, identify bullying when the whole culture is based on bullying? Lucha is being bullied. It’s barnyard stuff. It’s pecking order. It’s pack leading and neck biting and belly showing and rolling over. It made me sick. I went into the bathroom, closed myself in a stall and cried. I am made to collude with oppression and that hurts. I am made to hurt others and that hurts. I don’t know how to help Lucha, be an ally to Lucha.
I spied. I saw the blood red report on her desk. I couldn’t tear my eyes away. It was like watching an accident on the road. I rubber necked. I’d gone to her desk to take back my stapler she borrowed the day before. And there it was, set on her chair by Solly, bleeding red ink.
How can I help Lucha? I imagine myself walking into Solly’s office and saying,“I can’t collude with your burocratic bullying. I quit.” And then I remember my mortgage, and my legal debts for Ori, and my wanting to go see Machi if I can find out where it is he is. I am possessed I don’t know by what audacity and I go Xerox the report. I know I have time. Lucha is out in the field. I hoard my copy of the battered document. I go into a bathroom stall and read it. Two days later: Here’s the irony! Solly called me in to her office. And she said: “You’re almost old enough to retire. Why don’t you take a humanitarian lay-off. That way I can keep a couple of the part-time teachers on.” I said, “Humanitarian to whom?” All the while I was worrying about trying to save Lucha!

Braving Coral by Myself
I sat at the table by the blue double doors of La Fonda Migajas, flung open, and stared at the domed green branches of the tamarindo trees in the Plaza across the street. My mind wandered, trying to find itself so I could write. I noticed my heartbeat settle and realized how terrified I'd been walking that red dirt road from the Encampment. The whole way I never saw another soul. I felt a rush of euphoria. I'd managed to get to Coral by myself!
I looked up from my notebook and saw Anacaona step out of the dark doorway of the Catedral de la Virgen de Coral on the other side of the Plaza. She wore one of the blouses she always wore, with faded embroidery at the top. She ran down the wide, crumbling church stairs and strode across the Plaza toward the Fonda. As she came close I saw the blouses' faded turquoise and magenta embroidery around the wide neck had run, tinting the once white blouse an odd shade of very light blue. Although I saw her everywhere in Palenque we'd never yet talked.
She bounded into Migajas and joined me at my table without asking if she could. Were we friends because we both lived at the encampment? She leaned toward me and took my hand. "I've just been to the church to interview the Padre for Verdad. Have you met him? He's a liberation padre and he knows everybody. He can help you find your Desaparecido.” Clearly her mother had told her my story. In Palenque we all got to know each other's stories.
Her face was a narrower version of her mother's. They had similar thick brows and deep set eyes that found and held mine. Like her mother, Anacaona had the gift of making me feel known, as if we'd been close all along.
I held her gaze. "I remember you from when you were seven. I knew you as Tina and now you're Anacaona Novo, the reporter for Verdad, my old job. That was the very job I had just left to come to Karaya back when we first knew each other a dozen years ago."
She focused her intense black eyes on mine and grinned. "You don't know you inspired me! Until I met you I didn't realize a girl like me could be a writer." I let her take my hand.
In Palenque I would see her Beachside talking to groups of people while she sold them Verdad; Hillside heading to or coming from the Comedor de las Señoras de los Frijoles; outside the casita she shared with her mother Patria; or disappearing into one of the paths to El Pico, the rain jungle mountains in the middle of Cayo Karaya. I watched her from the dune where I sat in the mornings. I watched her instead of writing in my journal. A few times I had designed my walks through the mazes of Palenque by following her. Maybe I stalked her! And here we were having lunch together. I stared past her to the wall behind her where a framed print of a blonde Jesus with an enormous bleeding heart hung on the blue-green wall.
She saw me staring and turned to look. She pointed to the painting and laughed. “Jesus was really a brown man.”
She looked at my plate and helped herself to one of my plantains. She called out to Dulce, "Otro plato del dia." When Dulce served her she ate fast, piling picadillo, arroz with black beans, and maduros onto each forkful.
I studied her up close. She didn’t look much older than my boy Machi, although she seemed much wiser. She was entitled but in a generous way as if she wanted to give away her power. Was she arrogant? I couldn't tell, but I forgot to stay jealous or threatened, so maybe she was simply confident. I realized I wasn't used to confident young women. It was our first conversation and I realized I felt a bit intimidated by her. All I knew about her till then was through her mother, Patria, my old acquaintance I'd run into my first night in the encampment. People here liked to say sooner or later everyone in your life turned up in Palenque.
"I waited more than two weeks for your mother to bring me to Coral like she promised when she turned up at my shelter with cafe con leche in a jar, my very first night in Palenque. She and I stayed up talking until dawn. Today I gave up waiting. Late this morning I braved the Carretera Naval by myself. I remembered there were no turnoffs between Palenque and Coral so I hoped I could manage not to get lost."
She laughed her loud laugh. "That's Mami's problem, too many promises. If she could track everyone’s desaparecido she would."
Over our lunch Anacaona told me that Palenque had a Biblioteca del Pueblo and a where lots of what went on got live streamed. "There are people all over the world who are addicted to watching us."
I swallowed a big mouthful of rice and beans, trying to keep up with her. "Really real reality tv."
She laughed. “Yes, it’s one of the best real realiy tv shows. But there are other encamments, and other liberated barrios, and villages, cities and towns that stream their goings on.” Her laughter shook through her.
I leaned toward her. "I remember your laugh. When you were a little girl you used to laugh like that, like a song, and throw yourself on the floor laughing. I remember it because my son Machi used to do that too."
She slapped the grape printed table cloth. "I remember, yes, Machi and I laughing so hard we literally rolled on the cold tile floor of our sala in Colonia La Cima."
She pressed my hand. "Have you been to the Fabrica de Escritores? I swear it was invented for you! We have a Todos website. It’s a living book where you can post your writing."
I shook my head. "Why didn't Patria get around to telling me any of this?"
Anacaona smiled. "What she's good at is one to one, face to face communication. She doesn't pay much attention to all the rest. I’m actually writing her story for her."

Fabrica de Escritores

After our lunch I was relieved Anacaona wanted to walk back to Palenque together. She was heading to La Fabrica de Escritores to write her article for Verdad. As we walked away from the plaza the main street narrowed. We walked in the middle of the street past pink, turquoise, and yellow row houses built flush to the narrow sidewalk, barely wide enough for one person. I stared deep into the darkness of the houses through double doors open wide onto the street and caught glimpses of dark wood rockers with cane seats; shiny moorish tiled floors with intricate filigree designs; and potted arecas with long spiny leaves. I slowed down.
I peered into a house. "I feel like I'm walking through Los Santos where I lived when I was a little girl."
Anacaona pulled at my hand and laughed. "Well, you haven't traveled back in time. You're not in Ventura and you can't be staring into people's houses." She set our pace.
The street became the carretera. I realized I'd noticed almost nothing on the way to Coral. We passed dusty olive green scrub. The road was mostly packed red or ochre dirt but a few patches of concrete survived. She insisted we walk off road into the scrub and past it so she could show me the Manantial under a canopy of tall evergreens with shiny oval leaves. The little spring in the brush had been fitted by the old Ecopark with a spigot long before there was a Palenque, an encampment, an occupation.
We filled our water bottles. I said llave de agua instead of pila de agua for the spigot. "Llave is Venturan Spanish."
She wanted to know all about me being both Venturan and Karayan. She was a good interviewer because I found myself telling her my mother had been Karayan and my Father had been a Venturan evangelist who'd met el Lider during La Insurreccion. “Using one of his evangelistic missions as a cover my Father delivered the money the clandestinos raised to buy the Caiman yacht."
Anacaona stopped and looked at me. "This is history that's never been written. The rebels bought the yacht they used to invade the coast by Palmivilia because of your father! I have to write this story for Verdad."
She set off again. My story made her walk faster and faster. “He risked capture and torture and after all that he dragged you and your mother al exilio?”
I could barely keep up with her. She was almost in tears. “You'll have to tell me more. I have to write this story. Actually, you have to write this story.”
We almost speedwalked into Palenque.
She led me to a circular structure I had never noticed. She spun in the center of the paved circle and pointed to the palm thatched roof held up by weathered palm trunks. “This is la Fabrica de Escritores.”
There were a few people writing on laptops, sitting in wooden armchairs or at small tables scattered in the space.
I joined her and spun slowly in the center of the circle. "It's a kind of tabernaculo! I think I’m home."
There were dozens of power strips and tables of many sizes and heights, movable, set up around an open center where there was a circle of chairs, now in disarray, left in the random grouping made by whoever last gathered there.
Anacaona pushed two wooden armchairs together and settled with her laptop into one of them. She offered me the other one. She helped me make my own page on the TODOS website and showed me how to enter text and embed photos and video. For starters I created two pages, Archivos de Marina and Tiempo Presente. She told me I could create as many pages as I would need.
She looked away from me and bent over her laptop. "I have a deadline in two hours on my profile of Padre Ezequiel for this weekend's magazine supplement to Verdad."
I sat and stared at my laptop as it booted. She glanced at me and asked why I looked glum.
I looked up from my laptop screen. “I do? I guess I feel dread when I write, overwhelmed. I have a deadline too, to finish my story, and the story of my story. I'm old enough to die.”
She shook her head, pressed my hand, and grinned. “We imagine that writing is an isolated act. But we don't write alone. We write with everyone who has ever written. Picture them writing along with us. Writing is a joy. Palenque is the place to find la alegria de luchar, and La Fabrica is the place to find la alegria de escribir.”
After we'd been writing half an hour or so Anacaona called out to all of us in her ringing voice. “There is an empty space, enter it.”
The others in La Fabrica joined us. Two had been writing at small tables in opposite corners of the space. The others, like Anacaona and I, were sunk into big wooden armchairs with a tablet, a laptop, or a paper notebook propped on lose boards.
She looked at each of us and stopped at me. “This, as most of you know, is our way to call a reading. This one is a quick check-in. We share a word, a phrase...remember our minds are connected no matter how singular, even lonely, our thinking can feel...”
The others pulled together a circle of chairs around us. She walked to a bamboo podium and took a stick covered with feathers and stone beads.
She sat and placed the stick on her lap. She read. "Palenque is an encampment of Hope, said Padre Ezequiel."
Just then her brother Lagarto jogged into the Fabrica from Beachside. He waved to me as he sat on the arm of his sister's chair. He was one of my Palenque friends. The afternoon our little human pod of four first arrived in Palenque he saw us struggling to anchor our huge blue tarp; brought us wood and tools; and helped us build our shelter. He'd even brought along a friend to work with us. Lagarto turned out to be Anacaona's brother, Patria's son, the boy Machi and I had known as Elpidio twelve years ago. Thin and tall, in the green t-shirt and brown shorts he always wore, perched on the arm of her chair, he did look like the lizards he was nick-named for.
He leaned over his sister and looked at her laptop screen as she went on reading. “ ‘In the midst of all the chaos and the cacophony, Palenque is an encampment of hope,' said Padre Ezequiel, liberation priest of La Virgen de Coral.”
I expected more but she stopped. She looked at each of us until Lagarto nodded, still studying his phone. When he looked up, for just a second, I saw the liquid brown eyes of the little boy I'd known peek through Lagarto's guarded gaze. She passed him the stick.
He looked at each of us then down at his phone again. “Anacaona tells me some of my text messages to her are poems. She calls them haiku. Maybe sometimes I believe her.”
He looked at me and laughed. “Don't tell Machi.”
I could see his already dark skin darken. Amazing! Lagarto blushed! He read slowly, marking each phrase. “Permanent dark night; Rio Guacabon closes its eyes; River dreams it dreams.”
He passed the stick to the young woman sitting across from him. He didn't look at her. I studied her crown of coiled hair into which she had braided red ribbons. She pointed to the butterfly tattooed on her left shoulder and spoke directly to me. “Me llamo Tanama, butterly in the language of the Tainos.”
She read. “The three boys couldn't resist going into the cave although (or because) they had been told they must not.”
I wanted to know more but she didn't explain. She passed the stick to the woman beside her and across from me.
“Soy Elba Luz.” She must be in her 60s, not much older than me, and had short jet black curls. She read in a loud, firm voice. “Last night was the hundredth night of my candle-light vigil by the Beachside fence of the Karaya Navy Base. We've been hundreds; we've been a dozen; last night, just me. I was discouraged. But how can I be discouraged about things that have not happened yet? Aren’t the present and the future open moments?”
She glanced at me but I looked down. She gave the stick to the tall, thin, brown man to my right. His skin was very dry, wrinkled and ashy. He wore an ancient, pale yellow guayabera, frayed almost see through just above the hem.
Guille bent toward his heavy, ancient, laptop, and read in a discurso voice. “Hacia donde Palenque? Are we coincidence, accident, disruption, fringe situation, or pre-revolutionary mass movement?”
There was no one left but me. He gave me a huge smile that showed perfect, too white, false teeth. He offered me the stick. Anacaona looked at me, saw my fear, and waited. For at least ten years, since I'd started working at the burocrazy, I hadn't read my writing in public.
She took my hand. “This is just a glimpse into your mind, our mind. Read any sentence, even one sentence, even one word.”
I took the stick, scanned what I'd been writing at Migajas and transposing to my laptop. I read. “Do I write the present or the past, the thing I want to notice or the thing I don't want to forget?”

Second Visit to La Fabrica

To write the thing I want to notice or the thing I don't want to forget...I reread that last sentence in my last entry. Actually, that had always been my writing struggle. Maybe my life struggle, to be in the present or to have most of my mind dog bone chewing on my past. I laughed out loud. That explained my two pages: archivos and tiempo presente. I had a rare moment of missing Ori and flinched. He was the one person that would get this joke. It had been months since I’d let myself miss him. I willed the pain away.
It was early in the morning and I was the first to arrive at the Fabrica. I set up my laptop and began to write. I breathed deeply, held by the lovely morning light. Even though I was alone, I wasn't alone. What Anacaona said was maybe true. To experience writing as an isolated act was a delusion, another distortion sprung from the false capitalist narrative that we are alone, always alone. Maybe it would be easier for me to know that truth here in the Fabrica where every day the Todos page grew, exponentially sprouting child pages.
Maybe I would find “la alegria de escribir” Anacaona promised, here in her favorite project, La Fabrica de Escritores, where she got us to write our stories. I'd been afraid I wouldn't find the pageAnacaona gave me on the Fabrica's website TODOS. She made an icon from a photo she took of me with her phone. I found my face embedded amid thousands of other icons: all of us, Todos in Palenque. I found my tiny face framed by my short hair. It was now distinctly gray.
I found my face but I didn’t resist the urge to click on the face of Adela. Her photo was maybe old, or she had barely aged at all. I found a two year old video and listened to her speak at the Trackers Convergence that had been held in the Territorio Libre, in El Pico. I recognized the same dark wood, circular meeting room with windows all around overlooking dense trees and above them El Pico and its constant plume of fog. She and I, and Ori, and her husband Noel, had all been together at the first Congreso del Partido de la Felicidad in the Territorio maybe 20 years ago.
Hearing her voice aroused a warm feeling in my heart I recognized as longing, maybe love. It occurred to me that there had been so many women friends I had attached myself to in the belief that they were real and made me real as long as I was with them. How was it that when they were out of sight, I forgot them. I had forgotten Julia. I had forgotten Irma, now Patria. I had forgotten Adela. I had forgotten the friends, even the cousins, I’d shared a childhood with in Ventura, before exile.
As Adela spoke, I felt my windpipe grow icy. I was ashamed that her confidence, her words, aroused my envy.
“In collapsing capitalism there is no rational work to be a rational world my profession would disappear. We are trackers. In the future human, more rational, world, the world where everyone lives well and not just the few live better, this work will disappear. But in this time of collapsing world empire, there is no rational work to be had. Almost all our current jobs will disappear in that rational world. But now, there is no more rational work than this one: to track and rescue the disappeared. Their disappearance is a cornerstone of empire. Each time we find one desaparecido, free one from the Camp inside the Base, we subvert empire.”
I read a few words in Noel’s page and I dipped into Irma Patria’s story, or actually, her daughter Anacaona’s version of her mother’s story. Amazingly, the random texts I chose, from many years ago, mentioned me. My connections to those people had been more real than I remembered. After a few minutes of webstalking my old friends I bookmarked their pages as a way to help myself out of the rabbit hole of reading them.
I clicked on my face and opened my own child webpage. I’d brought my flashdrives; plugged a random one into my laptop; and dove into the story of my story. After a few seconds of scanning the list of files I looked up from my laptop and gazed through the seapines and the coconuts that surround La Fabrica. A young carablanca monkey perched on a palm frond, maybe a teenager. I truly was not alone. The carablanca poked his pinkie nail into the soft eye of a small coconut. He tilted his head back and poured the coconut water down his throat. He slammed the hollow coconut to the ground inches away from me and swung off. All the while he'd been looking into my eyes.
Late yesterday afternoon, after my first visit to La Fabrica, I’d run into Anacaona again by the beach with her crew of mostly young women who regularly went out photographing the rest of us with their phones.
She called me over. “Our censo. Todos will have an icon on the But you’re one of the ones who show up and occupy it.”
For the first time since I stopped working as a reporter for Verdad twelve years ago I felt I had something that needed doing with my writing.
I brought my backpack to La Fabrica. Just before we left the City for Palenque I'd stuffed it with as many notebooks, appointment books, and photos, as I'd been able to fit in this one bag. I even had some of Machi's childhood art; things I'd grabbed almost at random, as we packed in a hurry. I also had the smaller woven sack with my flashdrives, and I had my laptop, full of files of my writings, videos and photos. I scanned my phone full of images, text messages and emails. Before we left I made a half-formed plan to write some kind of personal ethnography of my wage enslavement life, maybe more a reckoning of my liberator life, and that must include my writing life. I imagined I'd do all this writing in the moments between efforts to find Ori.
Was this random collection of artifacts my life? I had no idea where to begin. I was discouraged; ready to stop before I started. Did I really want to spend my days looking at my past?
What was it that Elba Luz read? “How can I be discouraged about something that hasn't happened yet?”
All my discouragements must belong to my chewed up dog-bone past. I'd been on Cayo Karaya now close to three weeks. All of my whole life led me here, led all of us, todos, here, and yet I could barely make sense of my life before Palenque. What happened? I barely knew and yet my life was nearly used up, gone. Despite this assortment of artifacts in my sack I felt my life was unhappening, storyless.
Since I got here to the encampment I now knew they called Palenque, until Anacaona brought me to La Fabrica, I'd been writing on a dune on playa Coral, close to where my son Machi built our lean-to three minutes away from the beach; and yesterday I'd written at Migajas, the fonda in Coral where Anacaona found me.
I'd been writing in the dark for a lifetime, until Anacaona at last led me to this place, this Fabrica.
I reread her proclamation on the homepage.
We created the Todos page so that by writing our stories of how we found our way to Palenque we'll discover how we have finally Todos figured out our ways out of pseudoreality to revolution. No matter what we thought our life was about, or whether we did this awake or in our sleep, our life was really never about anything else but this, how do we make a world that's good for all of us, Todos, out of this world that's good for a few? Whatever we were doing, we were either making or unmaking the revolution. We want to record what we know, so that if we get lost in pseudoreality again, our stories will be the map to what's real.
When I looked up my carablanca friend was screeching from a high branch over my head. Another, smaller, carablanca had joined him. Both of them looked down at me just as I looked up. They held my gaze and raised their lips into teeth bearing grins. I managed one entry in my tiempo presente page before I gave in to my longing to go off and wander the narrow paths among the makeshift shelters of Palenque.

Day 2 at the Encampment
I was given two weeks notice to wage emancipation and here I am living on a beach. My whole life screeched to a halt. (Or got reborn.)
I'm writing in the middle of the night sitting by the Fire (red branch shaped embers now), on my rolled up sleeping bag. I’m scared and euphoric, at once. Even after my amanecida last night I’m awake again. Will I ever sleep again? I'm alone, in the middle of a maze of shacks and tarp lean-to's, swallowed up by the smell from a dozen campfires, the thrum of congas, radios, voices, and every so often in the lulls, the roaring surf. One moment I recognize a face, the person waves hello, I feel safe. The next moment I feel terror. Is this the group that will kill me?
Only two days ago I left my house, my block, the City. Now I live in the encampment, outdoors on a beach with more than a thousand strangers. Am I crazy? It's some time late at night, our second night here, and my 17 year old son Machi who got me here, is gone. He left just after we ate, with the two young men who saw Machi, Julia and I struggle with poles and a tarp and came over to help us set up our two blue tarp lean tos against the dune, build our fire, and shared the fish Machi bartered matches for. Lagarto is tall light brown skinny with fuzz on his chin and a raspy voice; Robles is dark brown with jet black hair plaited into one braid down his back. He talks fast. Machi is almost as tall as Lagarto and as dark skinned as Robles. Standing beside them I see my boy is a man. With his Father disappeared he had to become a man too soon. All three boys, young men, wore caqui shorts with lots of pockets and wifebeaters (what Machi calls white sleeveless undershirts ). They left together in the direction of the Camp. I heard Lagarto ask Machi if he played soccer and heard Robles tell him he knew where to charge his phone. (Maybe he can charge my laptop?) When they left I moved up to here and I am writing by the fire that Machi, Lagarto and Robles built, red embers now. My friend Julia is asleep in the shelter the boys built from a blue tarp Machi bartered matches for. From here I can see her sleeping granddaughter Taina's small foot move side to side, bang up and down. The girl began the night inside the sleeping bag and now she's kicked herself on top. Her black bangs are stuck to her face with sweat. Where is Machi? How long has he been gone? No way for me to tell time here, no familiar television sounds, no cues from the unfamiliar light. Machi took my watch when he left. But there's a clue now. I see two of the Senoras de los Frijoles, (what Julia calls her new friends, the ladies who sort beans and clean rice every morning and cook enormous pots of food to sell). They are returning from the beach carrying between them a huge pot of beans they've washed in one of the shower heads left over from what used to be the Isla Karaya Eco Preserve Natural Park Public Beach. Why do they come to the beach to do their bean sorting? They do this every morning around 4 AM just before dawn.
Where would he go heading to the Camp that he'd need a watch? Are Lagarto and Robles able to steal power from the Camp? Or do they pirate the lightposts close to the abandoned ticket booth at the access road to the old EcoPreserve the encampment has invaded? Lagarto and Robles know where to find power, here in the intemperie. Machi must have his phone. He can't go long without texting someone. At 17 he thinks he's a man. He is a man! Pobrecito. Where did his childhood go?
Did I believe his thinking or was I just grateful he was willing to let me be with him after being gone for a whole year? I would have followed him anywhere just to be with him. I followed him here to Karaya to this encampment of people, more arriving every day, who are not supposed to be here, who filled up this EcoPreserve that is no longer preserved, and mushroomed around a secret prison Camp that is not supposed to exist. Over time the encampment came to called Palenque, like the enclaves of escaped enslaved in the nineteenth century. I feel raw, rootless, crazy for a second. I followed my son into the street. What was I thinking: that if I followed him into the street I would keep him? That Machi wouldn't have anyplace further away from me to go than the street? And now he's gone. There are recesses in the encampment, Palenque, between the encampment and the Camp, that are further from me than the street, the Camp is the street's street. And he found himself his first two guides. He left after we'd just finished eating a dinner like we might have had at home, in the good days at home when Ori was still with us and Machi still slept in his own bed every night. We ate the fish he managed to get for us that he cooked on the fire he built, and rice and beans he bought from the Senoras. Here the things I know how to do are worthless. Here's a place I need to rely on my street kid. And where is he?

What keeps me from writing is the thing I must be writing about
Back in La Fabrica I sat on the edge of my hard chair and centered my laptop on my narrow table. I stared at the trunk of the coconut palm right in front of me. I was again saved from my writing by Guille who was just arriving with his huge ancient laptop under his arm.
He came right up to me. “I was walking back from El Territorio and I walked right into a young woman I just took to Patria in the Comedor. She was covered with bruises and couldn't remember what had happened to her.”
Tears were flowing freely down Guille's sun burnt, wrinkled. Ashy cheeks, little rivulets in their own geology. “Los muchachos are going to have to expand their patrolling. I think I'll find them tonight and have a sit down with them.
He touched my arm. “Why can't the predators prey on the Base instead? Whoever los muchachos have working on turning the predators has to do better. They have to up their political education game.”
I listened to Guille's discurso on humans hurting humans until he was done. When we first met I was afraid of Guille; afraid that if I listened to him he'd never shut up. One morning he told me of the predators who had been Guardias and were the best trained trackers around. He called them trackers of the dark side who kidnapped encampers and in exchange for their release extorted their families in the City out of their last pennies. I gave in and stopped resisting. I just listened to Guille. I discovered the beauty of his looping, circular mind. It turned out his discursos eventually, like now, did end.
He walked over to his favorite spot, facing Beachside. He plugged in his laptop and settled down to write his discurso blog.
I reached in my sack for my marble notebook. When I had feelings I couldn't hold, too unformed for my laptop, I went to my notebook to write some of them down. I wrote longhand and named my envy of Adela's accomplishments; my rage and anger at my own life of insignificance; my grief for the art I never made; my shame at my inability to figure out work other than to be a burocrat in a rogue burocrazy...I named my terror of the predators...And even named my despair at Adela's insight: ‘in collapsing capitalism there is no rational work to be a rational world my profession would disappear...’
Certainly, my profession, my most recent profession before I'd turned into a tracker, would disappear. I had been one of those who had jobs because other people didn't. I had been part of the massive burocrazy to manage poverty and the poor.
Adela, whose accomplishments I envied, had given me a way to think about my failures as not personal, or not purely personal. She’d given me a way to exonerate my lack of accomplishment. (But why did this add to my sense of failure?)...I had consumed my life in irrational jobs through no fault of my own. But appropriating her insight didn't usher in understanding and self-compassion, instead I envied her that as well...I felt rage that I didn't know it before and I'd wasted so much time feeling bad about myself. All of this distress had to be purged through the act of writing...
As I braced myself to face my laptop I had a useful, joyous thought, a fresh one, outside the gerbil wheel of my internalized oppression...Yes!
Everything that kept me from writing, that was the very thing I had to be writing about. It was what I had spent my life writing about, and it was something. In that light all of my life was about my writing, about my art. I had been an artist all along. Was this the beginning of la alegria de escribir? I renewed my vow to review the notebooks and flash drives and files on my laptop. I would make sense of the patchwork of my writings that happened to come here with me from the vast accumulation of texts from my life. I would use the moments between tracking Ori, to pursue my inquiry in this new Adela revealed light and continue to build my
Coral with Patria

On my writing dune, alone. In that moment in La Fabrica I experienced Palenque in a rare moment of silence. The sun was approaching from the right, over the Base, and the sea pines glistened pink. Sitting still I felt the ocean move. I felt the pulse and breath of Pachamama. My rotten jobs had not been my personal defeat! I made myself think that thought over and over, like a mantra.
After I saw Adela's lecture while webstalking her online, where she said, “in a rational world most of our jobs will disappear”, I had the epiphany that had nagged at my mind for my entire work life. My rotten jobs were not my personal defeat! We were all screwed by capitalism. In collapsing capitalism there was almost no rational work to be had. My writing mission emerged clearly at last: 'the very thing that keeps me from writing is what I must be writing about'.
I’ve been blogging my day to day life in Palenque on my tiempopresente page. It’s getting easier for me to reread old journals I brought with me and select sections to post on my archivos page. In this new light I’ve been able to make some sense of them, feel less slimy, sticky shame about them. I was blameless, and I was in charge! I felt a stirring through my whole being, cells and soul. What was it? I was thinking this must be the feeling of power, la alegria de escribir. I just reread what I wrote about day one of the Encampment. What an endless writing amanecida that was, fueled by Patria's powerful cafe con leche and because I hadn't yet learned to fall asleep while Machi was off swarming. Patria told me she learned to sleep while Elpidio swarmed and I will too. As always, she’d been right.
The time had come. I was resolved to start reading my journals from the early burocracy days, before it went full blown into burocrazy and then rogue burocrazy. I was sorting through my flashdrives, trying to reconstruct which was which when Patria finally showed up at my dune to take me with her to Coral. (And rescue me from my writing penance.)
I'd waited for her the morning after we ran into each other and every morning after that. I'd even taken myself to Coral alone and run into Anacaona there who'd shown me La Fabrica de Escritores that day. I'd just about given up waiting for Patria and here she was, more than three weeks later.
“Palenque time." She laughed. That was what I got by way of explanation or apology. “We have to go now, before the sun gets blazing.
She pulled me up and we walked to my shelter to get Ori’s photos.
Julia and Taina were just leaving and Taina ran to us and hugged Patria's legs.“Viva la escuela outdoors by the beach."
Julia took Taina by the hand and waved to us. “I’m late for my shift at the Comedor.”
Patria pointed to Machi, who lay crashed out in his lean-to. “Lagarto’s crashed out at home too. He’s wiped out from their wade in last night.”
I dug Ori's photos from their hiding place in the bottom of my duffel. I handed them to Patria.
She took them and studied them. “These will do. They show his face even though he may look very different now. We’ll make copies at the legal place and then post them on their wall, and the Iglesia, and everyplace else we can think of in Coral."
To reach the Carretera Naval we walked a different path than we'd taken the day we arrived at Palenque. We made our way through a stretch of the Hillside rain forest, inside a misty dome of low hanging, vine covered branches. The dark path burst onto the sunny gravel road.
Patria pointed to the weathered old Cayo Karaya EcoPreserve sign, almost completely vined over. “Now it's preserving that most endangered species, the vast majority of humans who are not rich.”
I thought about what she said. "It's preserving even the rich. They can't tell in killing us they also kill themselves."
Patria laughed loud. "Yes, I don't think their new planet and that spaceship for their 15 families are ready quite yet."
We stopped at one of the old EcoPreserve's overlooks. Patria pointed to the roof of her casita barely visible by the edge of the forest.
I figured out which of the blue tarp lean-tos were mine and Machi’s among the many clustered Beachside. “The shelters of Palenque look particular now, not a random patchwork like when we first arrived.”
Once again I set off on the Carretera Naval. The narrow two lane road with its patches of asphalt and long stretches of packed ochre dirt, was now familiar. “This road is nothing like its grandiose name.”
Patria explained important traffic into the Base was by sea or air, or from the Arrecife side. There the Base maintained an eight lane highway.
When we got to Coral we by-passed the plaza civica and took a side street to the Justice Works storefront on Calle Escolares, a narrow, cobblestoned street, really an alley, not far from the Rio Guacabon. The double wooden door was bolted and padlocked. I kept meaning to tell Patria I had briefly worked for Justice Works in the City but our conversation always got away. We'd told each other a lot but there was a lot still unsaid.
She peered through the partly opened wooden shutters of the door. “If they're not in it's a good sign that maybe they're actually doing something. Maybe some of them took the ferry to the City to go to the Tribunal. Let's hope some of the others are doing something useful at the Base, or even the Camp, or writing briefs at home.”
She said we would make photocopies at the pharmacy. We walked back to the Plaza and down one of the portales to the Farmacia de Coral. We waited our turn for the coin photocopier and made single copies of David's snapshot and Ori's photo I'd brought with me, the old one from his byline for his column in Verdad. At the bottom of David's photocopy Patria wrote DONDE ESTAS? in big black letters with a sharpie. I gave her Julia's cell number from my phone. On Ori's photocopy she had me write, Han Visto a Este Hombre?...and my cell phone number.
After we made twenty copies of each flyer we crossed the Plaza and taped one of each on the wall by the door to the fonda Migajas, where I had sat with Anacaona.
She waved at the small tables we could see through the open double doors. "The name Migajas sounds pitiful, crumbs. It's such a cheerful place."
I studied the photographs on the wall, mostly of men’s faces. Some photos and copies were freshly put up, others were faded and tattered.
Patria dug among them and showed me the photo of her son Guarionex who used to be Tomas.
I looked closely at the photo of an unsmiling, long faced man. “I might recognize Tomas if I see him. He doesn't look much like the teenager I knew but he looks like his brother Lagarto, with bigger eyes and darker skin.”
She removed Tomas’ photo from underneath several more recent flyers and taped it back on top. “I believe he's in the Camp. Or I want to believe. I keep waiting for Guardias to see him and tell me he's there.”
She led us back around the corner to a small coffee shop across from Justice Works called Cafe y Cuentos. We put up photos on the wall outside and then walked into the dim, cool, high ceilinged room, lit by the natural light coming through the double front door. We sat on stools at a counter built across the middle of what had been the living room when this had been only a home. I stared at the ochre tiles with black filigree designs so like the ones from my childhood home in Ventura. The Senora de la Casa, a muscled, dark skinned, middle aged woman with thick glasses and bulging eyes, came around from behind the counter to saludar Patria with a kiss and then introduced herself to me. Perla kissed me too.
After cafe con leche y pan con mantequilla Perla led us around the counter into her home so we could use her bathroom. Patria and I walked into the space behind the counter, a third of the big sala still used as the family’s living room. I studied the cane seat couch and rocking chairs very much like the ones my family had in Ventura when I was a little girl. I peeked into a bedroom with an iron bed painted green like the one my parents had slept in in Todos Santos, and stared at the old terra cotta tiles of the bathroom floor.
When we were back outside in the bright sunlight Patria set off ahead of me further down hill, away from the Plaza and closer still to the River. “Now, let's go to Guardia hangouts in Coral.”
We put up photos on the wall outside a bar called La Llorona on the Callejon del Rio, the narrow street that ran along the bank of the Rio Guacabon. I could barely see in the darkness beyond the narrow door the two guardias in green fatigue uniforms who leaned against a narrow wooden bar. We walked up and down streets and put photos at bodegas, and quincallas, and on the walls outside places Patria said Guardias on leave liked to stay, the Hotel Coral, The Pension Flor, and the Casa Rocio rooming house.
We were deep in the web of sidestreets of Coral when Patria looked at her watch and said she had to go. I wasn't expecting her to send me back to the Palenque alone. I watched her walk into a side street. She said she had to see a friend, but didn't ask me along.
I was disappointed and felt a surge of fear. I realized that being with Patria I would sometimes forget to be afraid. After awhile with her I felt as if her warmth and tenderness were my warmth and tenderness. I'd assumed we'd be having a long lunch at Migajas. I’d imagines us walking back together and going to her Casita again, so I'd paid even less attention than I usually did to landmarks and whether we’d made left or right turns as we walked. I'd been looking forward to our picking up our constant conversation. If she wasn't bringing me along her friend must be a lover.

Lost, Found!

I felt lost, standing alone on a Coral street corner far from the Plaza where Calle Amargura intersected Calle Esperanza. I laughed out loud, como una loca my mother would have said, because certainly, that had to be the spot in the universe where I most belonged, where bitterness and hope formed a corner. I took a photo with my phone for when I posted this blog.
I headed the way I thought we'd come and soon was literally lost. I didn't care, yet. Coral looked so much like Todos Santos that my fascination overcame even the panic rising in my chest. I walked the maze of narrow cobble stoned streets. I moved slowly along the foot wide sidewalks and looked at the turquoise, pink and orange wall to wall houses with dark brown or black double doors flush to the street. Their beauty made me cry. Like Perla's living room in Cuentos y Cafe, they reminded me of Todos Santos, my first home in Ventura. I guessed Todos Santos and Coral had been colonized by Spain at the same time.
Over the years, like in the Todos Santos I remembered, rain torrents had floated the adoquines, the cobblestones, away from each other and laid them in odd patterns on the streets and alleys. I stepped around huge holes gouged by rain into the patches of hard packed red dirt. I imagined I could find my way to the Carretera without going back to the Plaza by walking toward what I thought was the sound of the surf, which I believed must be the direction of Palenque.
But I found myself again at the Plaza. I reached it from the opposite direction I usually did. I'd been walking in a circle. No longer lost I collapsed onto a bench almost faint from relief. I sat for a few minutes to slow my racing heart by breathing slowly and deeply. I picked a bench across from Migajas, and watched young Guardias go in and out. Some studied the wall of photographs of the desaparecidos.
I was in a trance of watching and hunger when someone sat himself beside me on the bench. He leaned to kiss my cheek. “Doña Marina, bendición.”
I turned to hug Franz, overjoyed to see him. Only then did I realize how close to full-out panic I was. He invited me to join him for lunch in Migajas. Before we went inside the fonda I showed him the photo of Ori that Patria and I had just put up on the desaparecidos wall.
He was welcomed like a friend by the dark skinned, smiling woman I'd met with Anacaona. Franz kissed her on the cheek and introduced her as Dulce, la dueña.
"We know each other." She touched my arm and held my gaze then drew me in for a hug. She remembered I liked the table by the door. She wiped it for us and we sat facing the street, the Plaza, the glorieta, and the Catholic church on the other side of the park. I could see the entrance to the Farmacia where I’d copied my flyers just a couple of hours ago. I looked down and studied the design on the vinyl flannel backed table cloth. Clusters of huge purple grapes floated on a black background. I balanced my knife on my fork and stared straight ahead at the park bench I had been sitting on.
Franz read my mind. “I haven't found your husband yet but that doesn't mean he's not there.”
I searched my bag and handed him one of my signs. "Show them this."
He looked at it closely. “You realize he may not look anything like this.” He asked me for one more copy. “I'm not everywhere. But our people are everywhere. Somebody will have seen him. If he's there we'll find him.”
That phrase, ‘if he's there', silenced me. I could feel him reading me. “Is there a reason he would be in the high security sectors?”
I heard myself moan. He didn't need to say it, the high mortality sectors.
He kept looking at me. “A month ago several Karaya freedom fighters went on hunger strike.”
I heard myself moan again. “What did they do with them?”
Franz had ordered two lunch plates for us and now our young waitress, who he introduced as Rita, the daughter of the owner Dulce, brought a mound of rice and beans and pulpo. Thinking of Ori on hunger strike made me push my plate away.
Franz fed himself a forkful of rice and pulpo and chewed it slowly. “They have them near the Camp hospital, where they can force feed them. We've got people there.”
I didn’t dare ask him who is “we”.


Franz insisted on walking me back to Palenque. He walked with me from Migajas, across the Plaza, and through a different maze of sidestreets of Coral. Just as we reached the old Carretera Naval I caught myself blurting my inner thoughts to Franz again.
I sped up to match his stride. "Machi thinks I don't do enough to find his father. But what does he think? That I can just walk into the Base and look?
Franz slowed down and looked at me. "Maybe you can." He stopped walking and took my arm. "Yes, you can. You can.”
I didn’t know him well enough to know if he was he joking.
The sun was sinking toward the horizon. I was hoping to get back to Palenque before dark but Franz stepped off the road and asked me to follow him past the spring with a spigot where Anacaona and I had filled our water bottles. He led me through dense brush toward a wall of foliage. He ducked, took my hand, and helped me under and through the weave of branches into a narrow passage.
We walked in darkness on uneven ground for what felt like endless time, guided only by the narrow beam from Franz' tiny flashlight. One foot in front of another I kept saying in my head. We came to a small canoe he eased into the dark waters from which a dark mangrove tunnel rose. I climbed in behind him. I don't know how I overcame my terror. I could hear my breathing, almost a pant, and my heartbeat.
Enough moonlight filtered through the mangrove dome surrounding us that I could sometimes make out branches and foliage and see through the shallow brackish water to the silty sand. As the canoe moved in the water I noticed it left tenuous glowing streaks.
Franz’ hand moving in the water made a luminescent wake. “We're in mangrove that borders one of the bio-luminescent ponds in Karaya. My abuelo told me the Tainos called our isla Karaya, moon, because of the moonlight inside the water.”
At last we emerged onto a beach. Even though I had no idea where we were going reaching the beach gave me a sense of destination, of arriving. We hid the canoe in the mangrove and walked onto the sand, close to the dunes. We pressed our bodies against the seagrapes and seapines until we reached the sea and waded into the shallows. We made light in the water as we moved.
We reached the Base and stood at the high steel mesh fence in the sea. Franz and I were doing our own stealth wade in! If only Machi could see me! Fierce adrenalin, unfamiliar euphoria, filled my body and my brain and I was no longer aware of being frightened. I noticed Franz was recording us on his phone. I prayed we were not somehow being live streamed for the Camp command to see, and at the same time I wished that we were and my son could see me.
In the darkness Franz led us to where the fence was breached, cut. “We did a good job getting rid of the mines along this strip.”
I managed to stop myself from screaming. I followed him to a v shaped, jagged break in the steel diamond weave of the fence, clearly here, unelectric. Franz took my hand and again, we ducked and entered.
We were inside the Base. I was inside the Base. I forbade my mind to think of what might happen if I were caught in here. Franz was completely unfrightened and I let myself borrow some of his courage. I thought only that Franz might be about to lead me to Ori.
We walked a few yards on packed sand, past a cluster of shacks, to a larger building. We stood inside the doors until our eyes got used to the small, dark room. There was a bank of monitors along a wall, each with a swivel chair in front of it. There was only one slumbering Guardia sitting at the monitor to our far left. He startled awake when Franz tapped him gently on the shoulder right on his rank insignia. What would an officer be doing here?
Franz didn't introduce us but the man glanced at me and looked me over. It was clearly not a problem to this officer that either of us appeared. He must be a guata. Of course there must be officers who were guatas.
Franz led me to a monitor on the far right. It showed an image from above of three men huddled in a pen.
He pointed to one of them, curled up on a cot. “Is that your husband?”
I peered at the monitor. Franz walked over and spoke to the officer. The camera zoomed in close. The man on the cot’s face was nestled into his arms so I couldn't see. He was bone thin. Could this be Ori? Was this Ori breaths away from death? I leaned in and got my face as close as I could get. At the same time the guardia zoomed in so close that I could see the man's shoulder. The t-shirt hung so loose on his thin frame that I could see the top of his left shoulder blade where Ori had a lunar de sangre shaped like a snail. I was almost sure the birthmark was there. I was almost sure this was Ori. Although I could not touch him, I had found him.
Franz spoke to the man again and I saw him shake his head. “It's not gonna happen."
Had Franz asked if we, I, could go wherever it was Ori was being held?
We retraced our way back to the canoe, but now, nothing was the same. I told Franz about the birthmark I might have seen. We paddled in silence in the dark making glorious luminescent patterns in the water all the way to the end of the mangrove tunnel. We hid the canoe and made our way back through the brush to the road. We walked toward the sunrise and watched the green brush along the road emerge from darkness.
We got back to our shelter from Hillside just as Machi was arriving from Beachside. It must have been close to seven in the morning because Julia and Taina were leaving as we got there, Julia for work at the Senoras' Comedor and Taina for La Escuelita.
Machi rushed over to Franz and hugged him. “I've been texting you and you've been disappeared."
Franz clasped Machi to his chest. “I just got back yesterday morning from the Ventura border zone patrol by the Territorio Libre way up in El Pico where there's no signal.” He rolled his eyes.
We sat by the firepit and I told Machi the story of my tracking accomplishments as if they had been by intention, not the result of two accidents: Patria dragged me away from my writing into Coral and then dumped in the Plaza where Franz stumbled into me.
Franz showed him the video on his phone of my barely visible shape in near pitch darkness.
Machi jumped up, lifted me, spun me. "You did a stealth wade in! You found Pa!"
He took off with Franz and I was alone again. I walked to my dune and sat watching the tide coming in. I recognized my spun around feeling, as if I had been shaken the way my mother used to shake me as a child, and my head had landed off-center back onto my neck.

La Barraquita

Three days went by since we breached the base. Franz was gone again. I texted him over and over. I wanted badly to make a time to meet him, in Coral or anywhere in Palenque. I didn't think Machi had reached him either, not since our (heroic!) wade in. Machi guessed he was in El Pico again doing whatever he did as a Guardia in the Zona Libre by the border with Ventura.
Too restless to stay on my writing dune or even La Fabrica I went into Coral and sat in La Fonda Migajas. I meant to come and write but I couldn't focus on writing and stared at the bench Franz and I had sat in, wanting to conjure him. I walked over to Justice Works (closed). I had cafe con leche and pastelillos at Cuentos y Cafe across the street.
Another woman was there having a late breakfast of coffee and pan con mantequilla. She looked at me. “I think I've seen you in Palenque."
I nodded. "We've been together several times at La Fabrica."
She came over and kissed me. "Si, claro. Marina! What brings you here? I'm killing time.”
I told her I'd been trying to find a Guardia and when she pressed me I described Franz: tall, square face, light brown skin, big grin.”
“Have you gone to La Barraquita?” I shook my head.
She explained there was a sector of Palenque where guata Guardias hung out. They had a couple of bars and stayed there on leave, or hid there in plain sight when they deserted. She walked me one block along Calle Esperanza, off the Plaza, and treated me to the Cine de Coral.
We saw a comedy from Ventura about two brothers who crossed El Pico into Karaya to look for their father, an exilado. The man, never actually shown in the film, was described as having escaped Ventura only to come to the City “a acabarse de joder”. For me it was more painful than funny, too close to my own father's story, but I got completely lost in the images of the city the boys ran away from, so much like Todos Santos I made the woman, whose name was Elba Luz, sit with me for the credits so that I could see where it was shot.
“What and where is Palmivilia?” She explained the City where El Lider had been born was renamed in honor of his mother after the revolution. I'd have to search online to learn what Palmivilia used to be. Elba Luz had no idea.
This time when Elba Luz dumped me in the plaza, after she made me promise to join her in her vigil at the Base, I knew how to get myself back. On the last stretch of open beach just before the dense foliage erupted at the spot where Franz and I went off road into the mangrove, I stopped to watch four wild horses running in the direction of Palenque. Where did they live? Where did they sleep? Would whatever force took care of the wild horses take care of me and mine?
After I got to the old EcoPreserve path into Palenque I decided to stay on the Carretera Naval heading closer to the Base to see if I could find the next entrance to the encampment that Elba Luz said would get me to la Barraquita. I turned downhill at the next opening in the dense vegetation and wandered on a narrow path amid clusters of better built small shacks (better than those in my Palenque neighborhood).
I peered into the darkness of a small bar with a small wooden sign with the words La Providencia in graffiti lettering. Eight Guardias (I counted them) were drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. Three stood at the narrow painted plywood bar and the rest at two small tables. I approached the youngest two, they seemed less scary, and said I was looking for my friend, Guardia Franz Arroyo. They looked at each other and shrugged.
Another young man, older than these two, at the table closest to the door waved me over. “What do you want him for?”
I studied the man and decided not to lie. “He's helping me find my husband who may be renditioned in the prison Camp they say exists on the Ventura side of the Base.”
The man laughed. “Tracking your tracker, there's an irony. I hear Franz isn't cheap.”
I blushed. It never once crossed my mind I should be paying Franz. Had he expected to be paid? Of course. Tracking was highly skilled, hard work. Should I be paying Patria? That was why he hadn't come again. Maybe that was why it took Patria so long to take me to Coral.
Franz had taken me the closest I'd been to my husband in almost two years and I had given him nothing. What was I, raised by wolves?
“He's got a place that way.” The helpful young Guardia pointed me inland, deeper into Palenque then I'd ever been. The plunge into humiliation left me numb so I wasn't as scared as I might have been wandering deeper and deeper among the older, more solid wooden structures and the clusters of official issue tents. I asked every third or fourth person I passed, those I could get to look at me, if they knew Franz and where I might find him.
I asked a boy of maybe twelve who was dribbling a soccer ball by himself in a clearing, aiming it at a goal marked with branches stuck into the dirt. He pointed me to a shack with an actual zinc roof. “Ahi vive la novia.”
At last some real information from someone too young to know he shouldn't tell me. I reached into my pocket and gave him a half peso coin. (I'd learned.)
I knocked and the door swung open. Behind the dark skinned young woman who opened the door barefoot, in a pink sundress, with long black hair in a lose braid, I saw Franz in a t-shirt, sitting on a cane seat rocking chair. His gaze was fixed on the soccer game playing on a small flat screen tv propped on a homemade easel.
I had done it. I had found this needle in a haystack. There was a real world and it appeared that I was in it! Maybe I was learning how to be a tracker. He jumped up to hug me and introduced the young woman as Beatricita.
"I know you." She kissed me on the cheek.
I kissed her back. “Yes, yes. You work in El Comedor. You look different with your hair down."
I'd never seen Franz look embarrassed. “I know, I know, I should have been in touch. Sometimes I hit a wall and get sunk and come here to hide out. I just can't move, go anywhere, do anything.”
I smiled. “Not even a one letter reply to a text?”
He pulled Beatricita to his side, gave her a big smile, and put his arm around her waist. “Cuando me apesta la vida Beatricita reminds me life is good.”
She touched his face. “Yes, if we todos are worth fighting for, Franz, that includes even you.” She kissed him softly on the lips.
She went off to the narrow kitchen counter and spooned into a flannel funnel coffee filter what looked from where I sat like coffee from the Navy Base. She poured steaming water over the filter she'd set into a blue tin pot.
I sat beside Franz as he turned the volume on the soccer game off. I dragged the chair toward him so that we were knee to knee and whispered. “I apologize for not asking you what you charge for tracking. I can be ignorant.”
He put his hand on my knee and shushed me. “Para usted no cobro, Dona Marina. Nunca. Ustedes son familia.”
Beatricita brought us little cups of cafe negro. “Tengo turno en el Comedor.” She redid her hair into a tight braid; slipped her feet into rubber thongs; and left.
I brought my face close to Franz. "Since we breached the Base I've been lying awake nights thinking, what's to stop us from going there for Ori?”
I could see him consider whether or not to answer me. He tipped back his tiny coffee cup and drained it.
“We have an underground railroad of sorts. There's more than a few of us guatas who crossed the river. We've gotten more than a few people out of the Camp into the Zona Libre and even Ventura and the City Force se hacen de la vista gorda. We've approached your husband a few times. He won't budge.”
I stood. “What?” I screamed and the sound I made stunned me. I half growled and screamed again. Franz rose and held me and I kept screaming and pounding his chest and back with my fists.
“You offered to get him out and he refused? He could have been with Machi and with me and he refused? He could have been out and instead he's in there starving himself to death?”
I couldn't stay in an ecstasy of rage and collapsed onto the rocking chair.
Franz sat beside me and held my hand. “He, they, the hunger strikers, there are ten of them, say they have reason to believe from their network of officers that support them that the City's on the verge of a concession.”
I screamed again. “Something significant or so they can save face?”
I screamed louder. “What about me, what about his son?”
Franz waited until I was done.
“Short of shutting the Camp down, the significance of the concession is going to be relative. But they think they can force the City to take some of them to trial, let them see their attorneys."
“Who gives a shit about their trials, their courts, their laws?”
Franz laughed. “Now you're sounding like your son.”
“A stealth escape is much the bigger victory.”
I stood. “You tell Ori this for me. He'd better live. Tell him he is not allowed to die in there. He is not allowed to die without even making them waste a bullet.”
Franz stood, pulled me up, and offered me his hands. I understood he wanted me to push into them. I looked into his eyes and pushed hard into his arms. I screamed. “Tell him it's not his decision whether to live or die.”
I made my hands into fists and pummeled Franz. I collapsed into his arms and sobbed. I pummeled him again and again until I was spent.
“What am I doing here? Why have I thrown my whole life out for a man who could have come back to me, to his son, but chose to stay in there? Is that all my life has been? Amounts to? An accident of negative decisions. I'm here for what? And how did I get here, to Karaya? Would I ever have gotten free of the burocrazy if it hadn't come undone? What if Machi's urgency to go find Ori hadn't coincided with another round of layoffs that included me? Has anything I've ever done in life been mine; from my own thinking; my own choice?”
Franz shoved me, gently but firmly, and I felt another surge of rage, this time on my own behalf. He offered me his hands again, nodded, kept his gaze on mine, nodded, and shoved. The rage coursed through me into my hands and I pushed against him. He took me in his arms, held me hard enough I couldn't break away, could barely breath, had to push harder than I ever had, breathless. I thought for one moment I was going to die. But I pushed, pushed, pushed, pushed until I broke his grip. Or rather he deftly knew he'd better let me win just then. He folded me into his arms and let me cry. I cried longer than I’d ever cried, a moco tendido, wiping the snot on his shirt.
Franz held me and murmured. “You've done your best. We can't just opt out of capitalism one by one. We won't be free until we're all free.”
I went rigid. “Even months after my lay-off a shudder of rage burns through me as I tell you this.”
I pushed into his hands, and beat his shoulders with my fists. “I can't forgive those who still have jobs there even when I feel I was let out of prison early...I am chronically outraged by the injustice.”
He drew me close again. “That’s the biggest injustice, the biggest body we all step over: I have a job while you have none. Why else do you think I'm here? Being a Guardia was the only gig they got.”
I laughed. I was embarrassed to have said so much, shown so much to this young man. I looked at him for the first time in a long while. Again he laughed with me.
I let myself be held. “How did you ever learn to listen so well?”
He shrugged and held my gaze. “We've had to learn to have each other's back. I’ll walk you Beachside.”
We stepped outside. The sun was setting over Palenque. He pointed to our right. “There's the Base fence glinting pink in the far distance.”
I stared at it. “The Base and it's prison Camp somewhere in its entrañas, it’s no longer secret to me. Is Ori really there? Ori is there. I saw him with my own eyes. Or so I sometimes let myself believe. But do I remember him? Do I miss him? Do I long for him?”
I turned to look at Franz. He was looking straight ahead at the path and still I could feel his mind with me. I took his hand. “You tell that motherfucker for me, that he is not allowed to die.” It seemed there were no thoughts I wouldn't find myself saying out loud to Franz.
We reached a rise on the path and there was a break in the trees. Franz pointed to the uncountable tents, lean-tos, and casitas of Palenque. “There is the beginning of the new world. There are a myriad mushroom towns rising up in every city, in every continent, where we are building up the new world right inside the crumbling shell of the old.”
I wondered if he was serious or joking? “I want to see through your eyes, Franz. I want to be like you. You are able to see heaven where I see hell.”
I had this thought, 'Will we build enough of that new world, and build it soon enough to survive, before the old world crushes us?' But Franz had set out again, striding into the maze, heading for my shelter. I felt defeated and I was ashamed of it. There were still some thoughts I wouldn't utter after all.


Today I walked to Coral by myself even though I didn't like to walk there without Patria. I waited for her because she said she wanted us to go together but she hadn't come by mid-morning. I gave up on her. The Palenque Encampment felt far removed from everyplace, but Coral was really only a 20 minute walk away.
I set myself up to write at the fonda Migajas. (That sad name, Crumbs; what was Dulce thinking?) She seemed to like me sitting here for hours at my table with its purple grape patterned table cloth, just by the double doors facing the Plaza; sipping cafe con leche; having the daily special (rice, beans, meat: Monday beef, Tuesday pork, Wednesday Chicken, Thursday and Friday, fish); and then sipping another cafe, black for after lunch. They let me charge my laptop, so this place had been a double find. Today I ate chicken.
On the way here I walked past the Justice Works storefront. Not open. It seemed every time I came here they were closed. I looked at the wall of photos of the Desaparecidos; found Ori's had been covered with new faces; retaped it back on top. Maybe I was becoming a woman of action! I didn't want to hope or expect.
I sat writing in my blog on
People could hurt me, or I could hurt them, those were the only two things that could happen between people. Groups would do onto you or they would stand by and allow it to be done.
I gazed at the tamarindo trees of the plaza, with their umbrella shaped wide domes shading many benches, now mostly empty. I had a thought I didn’t want to write. Patria created an expectation and then she disappointed it. Nothing good could happen between people. I heard my own thoughts and almost laughed out loud. So that was how I went through life! I could almost hear Patria saying back to me: 'Self-fulfilling, Marina, self-fulfilling. You have to change the recordings in your head.'
Dulce refilled my cafe negro and because all the lunch customers but me were gone she joined me for a cup herself. Migajas coffee was thin and very sweet.
I took a small sip. “Your coffee brings me good memories. It's like the coffee I would get as a little girl in La Casa Feliz, in Todos Santos, where I grew up in Ventura. I called it that because the Moreno family who lived there would say yes more often than no when I asked them to let me do things. I was happy there! Mami y Papi almost never let me taste the strong cafe Mami made in the flannel drip coffee maker that looked like an old sock, much as I loved her cafe and begged to taste it. The Morenos made watery coffee just for me by running hot water through the grounds after the grown up coffee was done.”
Dulce laughed. “I run the coffee through my flannel funnel twice too, to stretch the grounds. You know there's very little coffee anymore in the Karaya Hills. There's almost no agriculture left except for backyard plantings. I grow yuca and platano. Growing crops to sell has become almost impossible not only because we're mostly mountains, beach and mangrove, but because the City wants us as consumers. My husband, before he left for the City, was a pescador. But in the last few years the Base escalated bombing maneuvers offshore and made fishing difficult too.”
I spoke before I thought. “Who was the green fatigue Guardia I saw on one of my early morning excursions to Migajas?”
Dulce looked up sharply from her cup. “You saw him in the kitchen?”
I nodded. I'd seen him give Dulce a huge sack of coffee from the Base. I'd tried to look like I hadn't seen the handover of the coffee at the time and now I didn't say anything about it to Dulce and neither did she. But I guessed she too remembered.
I spoke quickly. “I thought he was the Guardia I met on the Isla Caiman Ferry coming here, named Franz. You know him. So I waved hello. But he didn't wave back and when he sat at the table by the door across from me I saw it wasn't Franz.”
Dulce smiled again and took another sip from her tiny cup. “That's what the uniform and the shaved heads are for, to make them look alike.”
She drained the cortadito. “That's Doug. He's enamorando my daughter Rita.”
I had watched Doug, now I knew his name, at the table on the other side of the door, just across from mine. He may have looked like Franz, who was born in Karaya, but when this Doug spoke to Dulce's daughter Rita after she served him eggs and rice and beans, I heard the accent of a City boy. His close cropped light hair was bleached almost white from the sun and his light skin was sun red. He had his looks from being a colonizer, descendant of an ancient rapist, and Franz from being colonized, descendant of an ancient rape.
I remembered Anacaona’s recent blog on the Verdad website.
“You don't base identity just on phenotype. No matter what we look like, we carry the Tainos and the Africans in our chromosomes, our physical and our cultural chromosomes.” Anacaona had written that in one of her blogs on the Verdad website to explain why so many young Karayans in Palenque who looked to be of European descent chose to identify as Taino. Watching Doug I finally understood what she meant.
Again I spoke before I thought. “So that young guardia Doug gave you coffee to court Rita?”
As soon as I spoke I was sorry. Dulce rose fast. I'd gone too far, presentá, and assumed an intimacy that wasn't there. She walked away. Now how would I repair this metida de pata? How would I make amends? Migajas was my best writing hangout yet, second best after I'd discovered La Fabrica.
I looked up from my notebook and as if I'd conjured him, here was Doug striding up the steps and through the always open double door of Migajas. This time he waved to me and smiled. He too had a favorite table, it seemed, and sat once again on the table across from mine on the other side of the double doors. Rita appeared instantly at his side. She had his cafe con leche and pan con mantequilla on a round tin tray. She didn't need to take his order. The courtship must be going well. He was correspondido.
She set down the tray and took two steps toward the open double door. “Mira, mira, Doug, la procesión.”
He smiled and blushed and ran to the door. Dulce and I joined them. Coming toward us was a procession, led by the priest in brown, and followed by a group of women. I recognized some of the Señoras de los Frijoles, and saw Julia was among them. They held up long stickes bearing posters of faces and names.
Julia marched by us. I made out what the marchers were chanting. “Libertad para los presos secretos.” I saw David's photo on the poster she carried stapled to a stick. I waved but she was marching close to the Plaza all the way across the street and didn't see me. As she passed by me I saw Ori's photo and Orestes Mercado in block letters on the back of Julia's sign. Ori. Why didn't she tell me this was happening? Mi marido's name was on her sign. All the photos on their signs were of the disappeared, swallowed by the Camp or lost inside Palenque or the Territorio Libre. Even Julia was leaving me behind. She'd gone into the world of action and left me in the world of words.
I asked Dulce what date this was on the Christian calendar and she shrugged, still not friendly. Rita shook her head.
Doug looked at me. “This procession isn’t really for a saint. It’s a cover for a demonstration to demand prisoners in the Camp be released outright, finally tried, or maybe even just acknowledged.”
Dulce stood beside me. “Why don't you join them. Aren't you here to find your husband?” (Was she trying to get me to leave?)
Doug looked at me. “Do you have his photograph?”
I pulled out one of my crumpled copies of Ori's Verdad headshot.
Doug studied him. He shook his head. “He's looking'd have to drop a good 30 pounds...Don't want to frighten you...But he looks to me like one of the hunger strikers.” I didn't tell him he'd maybe just confirmed what I thought I already almost knew.
I stared at the procession demonstration until the last row of women turned the corner, saying nothing, and then I sat back down to my eggs and rice and beans. I pushed them away. No way I could eat them. I forced myself to look at documents on my flashdrive hoping my brain would stop banging into my skull and my mind would resettle into my being.

Al Fin Paso Algo

The sun had barely risen and the sky to my right was pale pink. The light woke me and I wandered over to my writing dune. I enjoyed having a routine. The light woke all of us. Machi and Taina were already in the water. I watched Taina crawl in the shallow water on her hands and knees pretending to swim. Machi was crawling with her. Julia had already gone to the Comedor. It was one of her early morning shifts.
I opened my notebook and looked down at it preparing to dive in. I heard screams and I looked up.
On the beach there was a huge noise coming from behind me. I saw a mass of teenage boys and young men screaming. No, they were ululating! They ran toward the water, just a few feet away from where Machi and Taina were pretending to swim.
Last night Machi had gone no place and I was relieved. Now my heart dropped. It seemed every gangster in Palenque was on the beach. There must be hundreds of young men and old boys. So many. One boy screamed over the other voices. “El agua esta caliente.” And another one screamed louder. “Te digo que no, está fría.”
They rushed into the sea screaming and jumping and splashing. I spoke my fear out loud. “There goes my son.”
Another invasion came from from the path to my right, just feet away from my dune. Las Señoras de los Frijoles. The boys who didn't sleep and the women who rose early to shell and sort their beans converged. The Ladies bunched up their dresses and tied them up at their waists. They waded to their knees and splashed their faces. Taina screamed Abuela and ran to Julia who was among a group of Señoras just reaching the beach.
Right then a big contingent of women, men, children, all dressed in orange suits to look like the Camp detainees rushed into the water carrying signs: Set them free. We won't go until they're free. The thug boys and the Señoras de los Frijoles formed into a mass behind them and they waded in the direction of the camp, chanting. Were these Los Muchachos? Anacaona's muchachos? Why were they not wearing their usual black? Most of them were scruffy and unshaved. The Señoras ululated a war cry. What else could I do but join them in the water?
So much for hiding in the Encampment. So much for saving Machi from the street.
I studied what was going on with Machi. He was standing, scanning the swarm of boys. He stepped toward them and I felt a rush of fear that I would lose him among the many bodies dressed enough alike that already, from a distance, I could barely tell them apart. I tried to gauge the degree of his interest, the degree of the attraction. But of course, these were his peers, the ones he swarmed with. Would he go live with them in the cave shelters? Would he go with them to the Territorio? I was more frightened now that I could see their faces than I'd ever been when I'd seen them in disguise, or streaming on my phone.
He was focused on Taina who was staring, looking hard at the faces.
She screamed. “Papi, Papi, Papi.”
I saw him then myself, and so had Machi, and so had Julia.
David had just reached the sand just a few feet from where we stood.
We'd found the first of the men we'd come to Karaya to find. He was tan, and strong, and his handsome, oval face radiated joy. His wildness had found its natural home.
Julia and Taina reached him at the same time. He picked up his daughter. Julia embraced them both at once. I was grinning and sobbing. After their first embrace Julia screamed and ululated and fell to her knees on the sand and kissed the ground and screamed some more. It took David and Machi together to lift her off her knees. She fell into David's arms and sobbed and sobbed. He held her. It was beautiful to watch him hold her; to see my friend at peace even if for one moment.
“Donde?” Julia stroked her son’s face and he stroked hers.
“Up El Pico, in the Territorio on the Ventura side, the one place I've ever been where I wasn't being profiled, stopped, and frisked the minute I stepped onto the street. I've been there since I left. This is my first Wade-in to the Camp. Next wade-in is the big one, the Convergencia on Grito Day.”
Hundreds waded past us heading to the Base. David and Machi looked at each other and then at us.
David put his daughter on his shoulders and took his mother’s hand. “Let's go.”
Machi followed. I went along. David took all of us. Taina clutched his head.
We reached the Camp by water. The guards waved. Was it a warning? They aimed their water hoses our way.

After the wade-in was done Julia wanted to feed David. We walked close together, all of us talking loudly, at once, among the crowd heading to the Comedor where quiet señoras serias who stayed behind to cook welcomed us with today's ration of beans and rice and bits of fish. We were all loud and euphoric telling our stories of the wade-in. It was Julia’s day to be the loudest.
After we had eaten Taina clung to David's leg and dragged him to the beach. Daughter and father sat on the sand by the tidal pool and played. I felt my heart burst with love for him, watching him give her his full attention. Here he was, Moon Park's most notorious and skilled car thief, being a loving father.
Taina was thrilled to build iguana houses and tunnels in the sand and share with her Papi her intricate fables about iguanas whose Papis were forever being lost Hillside, then found; whose Mamis were en el cielo. She showed him the tunnels that went all the way to Hillside where the iguanas in her tale had also lost their Papi, and the tower that reached el Cielo, where they found their Mamis. When the Papi came home in the fable both Taina and David were crying. And so was I.
Machi, who had left after our almuerzo, came back with Lagarto and Robles, and then all of them, David too, were gone. Left behind by David Taina didn't want to go to La Escuelita, fought hard, pounded fiercely with her hands and feet when Julia insisted she must go.
David was gone again. Was that how it began, women's search for the man who would make up for that first absent one? And the men? What if they couldn't help themselves? They were soldiers, always called off to some skirmish on one side or the other of the constant war.
After being tantalized with closeness and fullness Taina gave up the fight. She got listless and sunk and cranky and let herself be dragged to school. The muchachos were still gone when she came back from school; gone all day. And here I was writing by the fire Julia and I managed to build without Machi's help. Julia sat silent beside me, staring at the flames. Neither of us wanted to say it out loud. Our boys would probably be gone all night again.

Work but not a job
I don't know how but Machi charged my laptop. He took it last night without asking when he and David left to do whatever it was they did. I didn't know why they needed it. They went to work. Their work was amorphous and self-initiated, not like any job I'd ever had. It was work, but not a job. Sometimes they were out with the thug boys and other times with the demonstrators who wore orange. What did these boys do? Whether or not it was called a job, humans worked. When the boys (men, really) came back early this morning as I was rising, the laptop was charged so at least I didn't have to scramble to do that. Machi was about to tell me how he did this when David looked at his phone, patted him on the shoulder and they were gone again. When did they sleep?
I was still in the notebook, felt like good things were happening in the notebook, so I was afraid to use the laptop now I had the choice. He had been building our fires every night before he left. I was afraid without him, my 17 year old protector. I was afraid to go to sleep in this shelter with no walls or doors or locks, surrounded by hundreds of people who had less than we had in our duffels, and in my secret money belt I kept strapped to my body all the time. I was surrounded by home invaders. How easy it would be to invade a home that had no walls.
They came back again and crawled into Machi's blue tarp shelter alongside mine.

Was one of these men ori/Digging bl 34
Today Machi and David slept in and played with Taina on the beach before they left for the work, whatever it was, they did at night. Digging, Patria had said. How odd this was, to be sitting by a dying fire plugging my flash drive into my tiny laptop. Anacaona just shoved a copy of VERDAD into my hands. I wanted to tell her that when I worked for the City Edition years ago I seldom got to sell or distribute the paper. We were given the weekend off after staying up all night putting the paper to bed. But she was gone, moving fast among the tarp lean-tos.

On the front cover was a photo of the Wade In, the large banner on the front, Sueltenlos Ya!, held up by laughing children up to their waists in the surf of Playa Coral. Above the photo was a banner headline Calling for the GRITO Day Camp Invasion.
The photograph on page three made me close the paper and fold it up. Three emaciated men inside a metal pen like a dog kennel, lay on stretchers with iv's in their arms attached to sacks of fluids. The photo was blurry, blown up from one taken by a cellphone. The caption seared into my mind's eye: Hunger Strikers Force-fed. This was what the Camp called medical treatment. Was one of those men Ori? I opened the paper and studied the photograph again. I was almost positive the man in the cot to the right was Ori. I wondered whether or not to show Machi when (if) he came home.

Haunting b 35
The boys now men had left early in the morning after sleeping less than two hours. Julia went to the Comedor with Taina. I took a walk along the beach, away from the Camp, on the firm, wet sand along the wilderness of seagrapes and seapines. I stood for awhile and watched the strong wiry woman who did yoga hand balances on the beach and never responded when I waved hello. I found my way to the Fabrica through the maze of tents and shacks. Only Guille was there in his usual spot wearing his usual threadbare linen guayabera and his flat straw hat, facing the path to the beach, writing one of his theoretical discursos on his enormous, archaic laptop, muttering the words softly to himself as he pecked at the keyboard with his index fingers.
He waved me over. I stood as he spoke. “They're announcing a hurricane. Marta, it's called, like my first wife. Have you heard? Last night los muchachos started rolling out the dome and setting up las Señoras' emergency kitchens in the shelters and the dome.
“I’m writing my blog on Palenque's emergency preparedness. We do better than even the Base. We protect the infirmary, the communications, the children, the elders..under the storm dome, and the rest of us pile into the caves. Most of our lean-tos and scrap shelters can be rebuilt in a day. We are ecological essentialists. We have only what is essential.”
He stopped to look at me. “Don't be afraid. There are several hurricanes every season and we weather them like the trees in El Pico, bending to the wind.”
I sat at my usual spot, on a straw mat and a burgundy meditation pillow on the concrete floor. I used one of the low benches for a table and plugged in my laptop. I faced my favorite palm and I forced my mind to focus on the screen. I wanted to forget my terror of the wind.
Through the window of the kitchen of El Comedor a few yards behind the Fabrica the hoarse voice of Violeta Silva screamed at her absent lover. "Me abandonaste, traidor."
She played the lead in the radio novela, La Desaparecida. She'd been almost our neighbor in our barrio, Colonia la Cima, when I briefly lived with Adela 12 years ago. She was our barrio celebrity. Adela's aunt and uncle were thrilled when they caught sight of her. If she was in Karaya and not at her beach house or her apartment in Old Town, Violeta was driven through Adela's neighborhood on the way to her gated mansion on the high hill that overlooked La Cima.
The mansion had belonged to her wealthy parents (pro-independence rum distillers) and was built long before our beehive of houses was developed further down the slope by Adela's contractor uncle. Violeta sightings were especially exciting because she made no secret of her pro-independence views.
The women in El Comedor listened every morning for what they believed were coded subversive messages in the radio novela, as they chopped vegetables and built casseroles of plantain and ground beef, and filled pots of sancocho with tubers and bits of meat. Each day's cliffhanger suggested a different answer to where La Desaparecida had gone: kidnapped for ransom, detained for political activities that were barely suggested. The Senoras were especially on the lookout for those times when the novela hinted La Desaparecida might have been renditioned to the Camp. Or had she disappeared herself to get away from her domineering older husband or punish her treacherous lover?
I reread my last entry into my Archivos de mi Vida page on my Todos website, Lost Boys on the Train. I searched in the flashdrive for what came next in the story..David Walks Through the Glass. I couldn't figure out what my image would be for this new childpage so I made a placeholder gray square. Some of my attention was on the flash drive as I readied myself to enter the text. Most of my mind was on the hurricane. I kept asking myself where were the boys, men, right now? When they left in the mornings they never said where they were going.
I'd just found the file on the tiny drive when I heard a roar of voices coming from the path behind the Comedor where the school children were finishing their breakfast. I saw Taina run from the Comedor toward the voices, toward the path, the old path, still paved with stones, from when Palenque had been an ecopreserve. When I saw Julia follow Taina I ran after them toward the noise.
A short white skinned man with a thin, well trimmed mustache, in a uniform of green leaf patterned camouflage cloth took quick short steps down the path into Palenque. He was surrounded by three men, taller, younger, leaning into him with arms spread to block the crowd that pressed against him, screaming. “Vende Patria, Vende Patria, Traidor.”
I was pretty sure I recognized the man I'd seen at the security monitors the night Franz and I breached the Base. I spotted my boys. For one moment Machi and David were right on the man, their faces in his face, until one of the guards pushed into David and he fell into the crowd and Machi fell with him. Taina saw this and screamed and somehow David heard his daughter's voice in all that roaring and screaming. He pulled himself and Machi away from the crowd still haunting and taunting the man and came to us at the edge of La Fabrica.
I looked puzzled. David pointed at the back of the man who was almost disappearing into the maze of Palenque with his bodyguards. “That's the Camp liaison with the Encampment. He likes to drop in on us. He does what he calls 'listening tours' where he does all the talking.”
Machi cut in. “He likes to think he's one of us, like us. He grew up in Coral. We've been haunting him to tell us how Pa's doing with the hunger strike. He's fucking got to know.”
Machi threw himself into one of the wooden armchairs of La Fabrica and stretched his legs. “I'm wiped out. Maybe we can get a couple more hours of sleep this morning.”
I wanted to ask what they were doing but didn't dare and David took the conversation someplace else. “I'd like to figure out a way to make that little Captain Ojeda....”
“Capitan Jodido.” Machi broke in and David laughed and went on. “I'd like to make our Capitan Jodido or Jodon, or Jodeda realize what exactly it is he's doing. Make him know who's side he needs to be on.”
They left toward our shelter before I could tell them I was pretty sure I'd seen him when I breached the Camp with Franz and tell them to ask Franz if Jodeda was actually a guata, on our side. Maybe it was the hauntings that kept him honest. Taina wanted to go with them but David sent her back off to La Escuelita. I returned to my flash drive. But I had taken a phone photo of Capitan Jodido as he strode past and knew what my image needed to be.

Machi discovered the joy of worker b 37

Out of Breath/ Barra Providencia
Writing on the dune, out of breath, heart beating fast. Must be close to dinner time but Julia hadn't come back with our rations from the Señoras de los Frijoles' cooking fest. Airplanes flew low, buzzing us. I watched the three small olive planes painted with green leaves to blend into foliage. How could you fly through foliage? Did they need to be hidden on the ground? The Base wanted to terrorize us and I was terrorized. After the planes buzzed us, I put away the laptop and the flash drive in the duffel bag hidden deep in the lean-to Julia, Taina and I shared. Machi and David had expanded the second lean-to they now shared and moved it deeper into the seapines. We could see them but not hear them. Many nights now Machi spent with David someplace else. I guessed they were sleeping in the shelters Hillside. Machi had shown me a photograph of a design they were trying out for shelters that could collect rain water and solar power. It had just been created in the Territorio Libre
Hurricane Marta missed us. When I saw Guille in La Fabrica this morning he joked his first wife had been the same, many threats but not much action. I joked back there was maybe just one action she’d needed to take.
He bent over laughing. “You’re right. She only needed to leave me once.”
I needed to move my body and set out to walk the maze of the encampment in a direction I hadn't taken before. Most times I walked Beachside, or Hillside. This time I walked in the middle path toward the Base through the small shacks of La Barraquita, the first structures built in the early days of Palenque. The little houses were built so close together I had to stop and turn back several times to find paths between them. Guille had told me these shacks had weathered hurricane Rosa almost intact. I found it hard to tell when I was in someone's space, or in a common. I stopped and turned back and started again. At one point my breathing got heavy, rapid.
I had never before realized, stopped to think, that it had to do with David that Ori and I broke up. The change in my connection to the unnameable cad (whose name I seldom uttered) and the resulting separation from Ori spun off his rescue of the boys when Julia and I lost them on the train on Grito Day; my reconciliation with Ori spun off David's walking through the glass. Because Machi had been sick I was at our old apartment which Ori had kept and happened to be standing beside Ori at the kitchen window watching David and Machi playing out back the very moment David ran through the walls of the glass greenhouse a previous tenant built in the center of the yard. We'd watched David run out, bleeding. We watched him climb over the back fence, leaving our yard the way he usually entered it. He snuck in to plauy with Machi because, after we lost the boys on the train, his mother Julia had forbidden it.
I was in Cayo Karaya to find Ori because of David's poster on the street. It had led to my reconciliation with Julia, to me thinking I found Machi in La Terraza when actually Machi let himself be found, or found me. David was a catalyst in my life.
I was thinking about that, standing in a spot I wasn't sure was a path. I looked to my right and realized that the wooden shack less than a foot away from where I stood was the same bar I'd gone into looking for Franz. I stared and made out the faded sign graffitied onto a piece of scrap plywood, La Providencia. I let my focus soften and soon images emerged, small tables pushed close together and a small counter in the rear. Mostly men in jungle green leaf pattern fatigues gathered at the counter, at the tables, and by the door. A few young women danced together close to a speaker. I stared at them and saw who they were dancing for: a table of men in uniform from the Base. Machi, David, Franz and another young man whose face I couldn't see in the dark were sitting with them.
I turned my gaze away. Now my eyes made out the path. What were my boys doing fraternizing with the enemy? Pumping them? Getting confused by them? Were all the guardias guatas? I approached the door and stood a few feet away in the shade of a tree. I was watching them. I was setting off toward the Base when I saw Machi and David get up and head toward me. I wanted to run away to keep them from seeing me, but it happened too fast. They stepped outside and caught me spying on them, or so I thought it must have looked to them.
I smiled and waved as if I belonged there.
Machi cocked his head and pointed his chin at me and then shrugged. “Wanna beer?” He laughed.
“Ma don't drink.” He was talking to David, Franz, and to the thin, dark skinned, buzz cut young man in a green leaf pattern fatigue uniform.
The fatigue uniform guy looked at the watch on his wrist. “Gotta go clock in.”
He walked out of La Providencia and as he passed me at the door he kissed me on the cheek. I realized it was Doug, Rita's novio I'd taken for Franz at the Fonda Migajas. Franz joined him at the door and also hugged and kissed me. When they stood together they didn't look alike after all. Their faces were both square but Doug was red skinned from the sun and Franz' skin was a deep reddish brown.
After Doug left for the Base Machi, David and Franz walked away from me deeper into the maze. Machi called out to me to follow them, so I followed.
“You wanna know why I'm fraternizing?” He laughed.
I said nothing and waited. He and David were walking fast between lean-tos so close together we could barely squeeze between them.
David cut in. “Doug and those other guardias at La Providencia, are doing a sick out. Doug was due to clock in hours ago. They boycott a day a week.”
Machi talked over him. “I showed Doug a picture of Pa. He thinks he's seen him but very skinny so he wasn't sure. You won't like to hear this. A few of the prisoners on a hunger strike aren't doing well and Pa might be one of them. I let him keep the picture. He promised me he'd find out.”
I asked where they were heading and Machi responded by asking me the same thing. I said I wasn't exactly sure, but probably, I wanted to see the Base up close. In all this time here, other than the wade-in and the stealth breach with Franz, I'd never gotten a good look at the Base, and certainly not in the light of day.
On my way to find the Base after Machi and his friends walked away I soon enough stumbled upon their destination. I saw my son on high ground, yards from one of the Hillside paths, digging a huge ditch. They were all there digging: Machi, David, Lagarto, Robles, Franz and a dozen other young men. Younger boys were carting away piles of dirt in small buckets and two wheelbarrows and pouring them onto a growing mound Hillside. I stood and watched, and took phone photos.
Under a tree a few yards from the digging frenzy I saw some of the Señoras had set up a grill and were cooking bean filled corn masa cakes. The diggers ate them as fast as they were done. I asked one of the señoras, Migdalia, what was going on. She told me the young men were building another communal bank of toilets and showers.
“The ones leftover from the Eco Preserve no bastan. Alto a la defecacion indiscriminada."
Machi saw me then and came over to where I stood. He grabbed a bean cake and pointed to the ditch. “Everywhere you look in Palenque there's work that needs doing. And we are everywhere doing it. A perfect world.”
He kissed me and streaked my cheek with dirt. I stood for a moment cherishing his tender touch. He went back to work and I stood watching and listening to the younger boys sing as they carted dirt away. My son had discovered the joy of doing truly necessary work.
Filled with an unfamiliair feeling and singing out loud, I spoke the word joy under my breath. This was joy! I raced back to La Fabrica to write. Sitting in La Fabrica reading from my flashdrive was not as interesting as watching life on Palenque, a human anthill. I had to force myself to ignore the half dozen people setting up chairs in the center of the tabernaculo; dragging the heavy podium from the nearby storage shed; stringing lights.
Machi had discovered the joy of work! And here I sat in La Fabrica, doing my own sort of work. I wanted to go over my journals about my old jobs. I wanted to find story and meaning in my past. I was more distracted than usual by the commotion all around me in the Fabrica. Tables were being moved out of the way and chairs were being arranged. Was it tomorrow or the next day that Adela was coming to speak and maybe read from her memoir, Edad de la Indignacion? I was apprehensive and thrilled at once, to be seeing her again after so many years.
Vigil blog 37
Elba Luz called out to me when she passed our shelter. This was the third time she'd talked me into joining her for her vigil. The other two times it had been just the two of us, and we sat on the sand with our candles, talked, wrote in our journals, read each other some of what we wrote. Sometimes she shared her coffee with the guardias, when the ones on duty were guatas or those she was cultivating, working to turn guata. She glared at me, not hiding her irritation, while I packed up my water bottle, my dry coconut snack from the Comedor, my notebook, my pen, and the banner Patria, Julia, and Taina helped me make. ALTO A LA IMPUNIDAD: STOP THE ASSASSINATION OF THE HUNGER STRIKERS NOW. I was clear now, my political mission was to help the hunger strikers claim a victory before they starved to death.
Elba Luz was a fast walker, used to jogging and hiking Beachside and Hillside every day, and she was propelled by her constant slow simmer of rage. I struggled to keep up with her. She was strong and wiry. Her gaze was intense. She wore her old uniform from before she'd been given a dishonorable discharge for her vigils, stripped of its insignias. I knew from Patria that Elba's husband Ismael was on one of the first hunger strikes at the Base years ago. He was dead. But Elba Luz had never talked to me about him.
When she read my banner, she nodded. “They are assassins many times over. They killed my Ismael.” She made her hands into fists and let out a scream so loud, from so deep in her gut, that the guardia on the inner steel mesh fence of the Base, closest to where we sat on the sand along the outer fence, broke his deliberate ignoring of our presence, and for the first time looked at us. When she caught his eye her scream became a triumphant ululation.
She told me the story of Ismael. They'd met when they were teenagers. She was cutting across the Plaza de Coral rushing to her after school job helping out at Cuentos y Cafe (where I'd run into her and after we told each other some of our cuento over cafe, she'd taken me to see a Venturan film).
Ismael, a boy she'd noticed at the Coral High School before he dropped out, followed her, calling out piropos. ‘Me gustaría ser una gota de tu sangre, para recorrer todo tu cuerpo y dormir en tu corazón.’ Because her family had just moved back here from the City and Ismael wasn't sure she spoke Spanish, he repeated the piropo in English, ‘I want to be a drop of your blood, to travel your whole body, and sleep in your heart.’ It turned out his family had lived in the City too. That was one of the things that brought them close.
The day they met he waited outside Cuentos until Elba Luz was done and walked her home. She sat in the sala in her home, behind the iron bars of the front window and he stood outside every night for weeks. He could keep a conversation going. He told me he had loved me ever since he'd seen me at La Escuela Superior de Coral at the beginning of the school year, but he had never felt he was good enough for me, and now he knew he was. Here she stopped and sobbed. He told me he'd been born targeted for destruction, one of the 80% superfluous. But he was one of the indispensables now.
I asked her what changed.
Elba Luz said it had been the miracle of concientizacion. Padre Ezequiel found him and others of his crew in the Plaza and hung out with them, got them to trust him, got them into his own literacy class, literacy to read not just books but the world, is how the Padre described it. They saw who they were, where the City wanted them to fit. The Padre helped them see all they had to do was refuse to consent, refuse to collude with their own oppression.
Elba's tears almost squirted.
I wiped my own warm tears off my cheeks. “How I wish my Machi had had a Padre Ezequiel. Will I ever understand where the other boy came from? Street Machi. My red diaper homeboy, red diaper thug. What does he know that I don't know? Where has he been and what has he seen in those places where I can't go with him?”
Elba Luz took my hand. She spoke and she fixed her firm, steady gaze on me. “I wish that Machi had had Padre Ezequiel and that you and I had too. Your son and my husband were among the 80% superfluous. They grew up into a world that has no use for them, superfluous from birth. You and I are of the class who had a job because they didn't, you were part of the apparatus to distribute crumbs to the poor, and I was in the City Navy, part of the apparatus for keeping the poor in line. The City Navy polices the poor of the whole world. My husband and your son are of the class who didn't and never would have a job. Not until we undo neoliberalism. Not unless, until we make the revolution. Ismael was busy doing just that when they renditioned him to the Camp after one of the Asaltos at the Reef Refinery.”
I listened to Elba Luz say thoughts I'd been wanting to form in my own mind, thrilled by her passion. She went on, a natural orator. “And we will make our revolution. We will change the whole thing, change this system in which work is the fewest number of people working to produce the most of what can be sold, so that fewer and fewer get richer and richer. We are already creating a system in which work is all of us, todos, doing what needs to be done to make all of our lives go well.”
She smiled, glad that I was listening, enjoying finding her thoughts with my attention. She went on. “It's clear to me, we need to move away from a world where a few get to live better to one where we all live well. We have enough, so what stops us? I look around me and everywhere there is work that needs doing not being done, there is work being done for no pay....”
The Guardia stood very still behind us. I realized all along, she had been speaking to him too.
I leaned toward Elba. “Will we create a society organized around the work that needs doing so that all of us, Todos, live well, before the society organized around making billions for a few so they live better, destroys us all?"
It was then more of the Todos arrived, hundreds of ululating women, men and boys carrying torches. Elba said this hadn't happened since her first two vigils months ago. A second wave arrived, young men wearing black from head to feet, dressed the way I'd seen them on streaming video many times doing wade-ins, breaching the Base fence.
Elba pointed to them.“I bet your son is with them. Padre Ezequiel's Concientizados. They know each small action we take for liberation, to make the revolution, even simply inside our own heads, is the revolution...”
She found her phone buried deep in her knapsack. There were dozens of text messages mobilizing people to a Victory Vigil, several Verdad news alerts.
She read out loud. “Hunger Strike Victorious: City Grants Demand for Trials in Civilian Courts.” She skimmed the story. “They won the garantia to see their lawyers.”
There was a commotion among the young men. They moved in a swarm and engulfed a man in a City Force uniform, the man my boy was haunting, the man I'd first seen at the bank of monitors when I breached the Camp with Franz. I asked Elba what the swarm was chanting. She pointed to where the young men were pressing the man from all sides, making it impossible for him to move.
“They're saying Capitan Jodido. They like to haunt officers.” She laughed. “The boys call Capitan Jodido or Capitan Jodeda.”
Just then the Captain pried himself away from the young men who swarmed away from him into the water, waded toward the outer fence of the Base, and lined up along it, looking as if they were guarding it, guarding us from them. They unfurled a banner. TRIALS ARE A FARCE: FREE THEM ALL NOW and began to chain themselves to the fence.
Capitan Jodeda came straight to where Elba Luz and I were sitting. His eyes gave me the slightest flicker of recognition.
Elba Luz introduced him as Capitan Ojeda. “He's the base liaison with Palenque.” She paused. “We grew up together, Ismael, Carlito Ojeda, and I.”
“This is a victory vigil now.” As he spoke he stepped in close to Elba Luz. “The hunger strikers won the garantias they were after.”
She stepped away from him. “Who gives a fuck about speedy trials in civilian courts? What do I care about this concession now when Ismael had to die for it?”
Capitan Ojeda snapped his head as if he'd been slapped and walked away, past the ululating women.
I said to Elba Luz. “Who gives a fuck about the trials? But thank God they can stop the strike without losing face. Now they are free to escape.”
I slept for as long as Taina would allow, not for long. She woke up with the sun and ran into Machi and David’s lean-to first. They shooed her away and she came back to me because Julia was already at the Comedor for an early morning shift. Taina never wanted to go to the Comedor with Julia early in the morning since David was home. She wanted her Papi to take her to school. I dragged myself after her to the beach where she sat on our dune, kneaded a small mango, bit a tiny puncture at the bottom end, and sucked on the fruit. She'd done the same thing yesterday, her new breakfast routine. She sat sucking on her mango gazing at the sea. She looked proud and pleased to have organized her own breakfast.
“I love living a la intemperie." She repeated a phrase she'd heard me say. “I love my Escuelita.”
I kissed her. “Joyful, whole and complete being, I love you."
She moved my laptop to the sand and draped herself across my lap. She looked into my eyes then up at the sky. “I love the sky. Mi Mami esta en el cielo. My Mami's in the sky and my Papi was in the hills but now he's home. Will she come home too? Do you think people in el cielo can come back?"

I was glad she didn't wait for my answer. She pointed to the mountains, jumped up and ran to the tidal pool. She waded for a bit then settled down to dig her tunnel to where she said her Papi used to hide Hillside.
I settled myself with my laptop which I was free to use now that I knew I could so easily recharge it at Patria's or the Fabrica or the Comedor or the Fonda Migajas. Elba Luz had given me a new code to access the Karaya base wireless internet. She got the code from a Guardia. After last night I guessed it was Capitan Jodeda. The code was still good!
I webstalked Adela some more, on a larger screen. I was relieved that her book about Indignacion was a memoir and not a novel. I didn't know why but because of this fact I felt less failed. Maybe Patria had a copy I could get my hands on.
Taina ran past me back toward our shelter and I scrambled after her. “Ya nos vamos pa la fiesta?” I'd forgotten about la Fiesta Elba Luz was having at El Comedor to celebrate the Triunfo de la Huelga which she was claiming for her vigils.

B 39 Healing
It was way too early for any Fiesta but since Taina was up I helped her choose her clothes. She wanted to wear her new turquoise dress with the full skirt and rhine stone straps made for her by Migdalia, one of the Senoras de los Frijoles who was Palenque’s costurera. She reminded me there was no Escuelita today. I realized it was because of the Fiesta Julia had left for the Comedor before dawn even earlier than usual and tucked the sleeping girl beside me. The Senoras were doing a double early morning shift to prepare plantain and yuca fritters for the party.
I dropped Taina off with Julia at El Comedor and made myself go work at La Fabrica. I settled into my spot by the coconut tree and wrote my tiempopresente blog. I wanted to write down what I remembered of last night's vigil, the swarm of the young men in black, the “triunfo de la huelga." But I kept thinking I needed to find Franz again. Now that the strike was done we had to go for Ori, get him into that underground railroad Franz talked about. I wrote as long as I could bear it, but the more I thought about going for Ori and how I might do that, the more restless I became.
Without actually deciding to I packed up my laptop and jumped up from my usual chair in La Fabrica. I startled my carablanca friend perched over me on a coconut branch. She almost dropped her baby coconut. She scurried into the palm fronds.
When I got to the Comedor I saw Patria balanced high up on a tall ladder. She was hanging a green and red flag from the high beams, as wide as the room. It reached just above the heads of the women who were pushing the tables to the side to clear the center of the dining room. I studied it and did my childhood mantra to tell the flags apart, green sides, red center Karaya; red sides, green center, Ventura. Of course it was the Karaya flag.
Food in platters was already set out on the serving table. Tanama played her guitar and sang full out in her fierce voice. Her dark brown face shone with the intensity of her singing against the deep turquoise of her embroidered blouse and the jet black of her crown of braids.
I stopped to listen to the lyrics. “El susurro del pueblo, se vuelve nuestro Grito, el susurro de las olas, se vuelve huracan, ay, ay, ay...El Grito de Karaya, ay ay ay...”
Patria and Julia sat eating at the long table closest to the kitchen. Through the back door I saw Taina and her friends from La Escuelita arranged in a circle, holding hands, singing. "A la rueda rueda de pan y canela dame un besito y vete pa la escuela si no quieres ir acuéstate a dormir." I watched them throw themselves on the ground each time they sang ‘dormir’.
I'd been having lunch with las Señoras de los Frijoles almost every day, unless I went to Coral and had lunch at Migajas. But Elba Luz' Celebración de la Vigilia Victoriosa was a special day. She came from the kitchen with a huge sheet cake frosted white. The word VICTORIA was written in the center in green and red letters. She set it down by the platters of rice, red beans, and fried fish. She came to me and hugged me hard.
I sat with them and watched the room fill with women who came up to congratulate Elba, kiss all of us, get food, and settle down to eat at the tables that had been arranged along the walls. Tanama had stopped singing and was playing sweet Karayan danzas on her guitar. Two women playing drums joined her. One of them was Franz' novia Beatricita in a bright green dress, and the other Tanama's close friend, Inaru, who had her brown hair braided into her imagination’s Taino crown of braids. We had to pull our chairs together and bring our heads close in order to hear each other.
I walked to the serving table and caught a glimpse of Taina and her friends spinning and dropping to the ground in the yard as I filled a bowl with enough slices of mango, pineapple, and mamey for our table. I sat back down, shaking my head, laughing.
Julia reached for a wedge of mango. “What's funny?”
I sat beside her on the long bench and chose a deep pink slice of mamey. “Just one of those moments when it gets to me, how weird my life has become. A moment of the absurd. After my first try living in Karaya I never imagined I'd come back, let alone imagine I would live a la intemperie by the Playa de Coral. I came to Karaya with Ori when we were first together, for a Congreso del Partido, and with Ori and Machi when he was six years old. This is where Machi nearly drowned in the undertow. I wonder if he remembers that. And I came here with the unnameable cad.”
I paused, saw that the women were listening and went on. “The cad brought me here, to dump me.”
Julia slid closer so that we could hear her over the drums. “I remember. I cornered you outside the bodega just after you'd gotten back from Karaya that first time. I'd just heard you'd left Ori and screamed at you, told you you were insane, with a good marriage and taking up with a married man.' And you said, 'Eso ya es historia.'”
I nodded. “You were right. What was I thinking? I barely remember what I longed for.” I looked down, awash in shame.
Patria pressed beside me me and took my hand. "You barely remember it because you probably longed for what you lacked as a very little girl, those ancient, frozen longings for papi y mami."
I looked at Julia, then at her.
Patria smiled. “It's good all these things get said. ”
Tanama, Beatricita and Inaru's music became louder and faster. Some of the women at the tables stopped eating and began to dance in the space that had been cleared in the middle of the room. Taina and three other little girls ran into the Comedor and took the center of the dance floor. They continued their rueda rueda game, going round and round, and dropping each time they screamed acuéstate a dormir.
Several women with us at the table dragged their chairs closer to our bench and brought their faces close so that we could hear each other speak.
Elba Luz looked into my eyes. “So the unnameable cad was married?”
I looked up from the wedge of mamey from which I was carefully, slowly spooning sweet pink pulp to savor. “I liked to pretend he was as good as separated. He told me he was. But it turned out he was married, very married.”
Elba looked down and spoke under her breath. I had to bring my face right up to hers to hear her. She repeated her words, this time in a loud shout so her voice carried over the music.
“What did you think of that? Of being with a married man?”
The very moment Elba shouted her question Tanama and the drummers stopped playing. In the silence Elba Luz' shouted question filled the room.
A hand came from behind me so quickly I thought for a second I was back in my childhood and my mother was about to hit me.
The hand reached past me and struck Elba. “Mucha revolución pero siempre hablando de maridos y queridas. Stay away from my man.”
I often saw this woman jogging early in the morning on the beach when I sat writing. She had very short black hair, sun browned skin, lean strong arms and legs. She sometimes stopped and sat on the edges of the tidal pool doing stretches, then rose and did complicated yoga vinyasas with triangles and side planks and moon poses and warrior poses, always ending with arm balances and a long headstand facing the sea. I was curious about her and always waved to her but she never waved back.
She had Elba Luz on her back within seconds. Elba blocked and rolled and struck back.
Patria reached them and knelt beside them. She began to pry them apart. “Parece mentira, Raquel.”
The wronged wife moved to strike Patria but Patria blocked the blow with her forearm.
The wronged wife screamed.“Ya era hora de confrontarte. La guerra es la paz del futuro. I should have stood up to you long ago. War is the peace of the future. It's you who should be ashamed. Posing as revolutionaries while you prey on other women's men. Or welcome them with open legs when they prey on you. You talk about solidarity but for everyone except us wives. I have no use for any of you or your revolutions. I have no use for him, for that matter, not unless he takes responsibility for himself, for our marriage. But as long as women like you are there willing to give them a back door, they never have to face who they hurt.”
Elba stared at her, silent.
I asked Julia and she told me in a whisper who the woman was. “Raquel. La mujer del Capitan Jodido.”
Patria waved to them and Tanama, Beatricita and Inaru started up the music. They led us out of the Comedor to the tabernacle of La Fabrica. Once there, almost in unison, the women and the little girls waved their arms, stomped their feet, turned and leapt.
Patria stood with her hands at her waist and spoke directly to Raquel who was running to the path. “No te vas.”
She and another woman I'd seen a few times in La Fabrica, who must be Raquel's friend, drew her into the circle of drum fueled movement.
I saw Elba Luz standing motionless. I guessed she must be terrified and signaled to Julia. We each took one of her hands and joined the dance. The drums reverberated through our bones, my bones. I let myself move, jump, spin, holding hands with the big circle or paired with Elba, Patria or Julia, or alone. I danced entranced until I felt clean.
The drummers stopped and Patria gave us each a sheet of paper. “Write something in your life story that you want to heal, want to change. Find a time when you were the oppressor, when you caused the hurt. We are in Karaya to claim ourselves as the heroines of our own story, las famosas de nuestra pelicula.”
I sat in a circle of women gathered in the deepest center of La Fabrica's tabernáculo, to keep away from the thunderstorm downpour, wind and rain all around us, that the drumming and dancing must have conjured, for what Patria called a life story circle to heal the rift between Elba Luz and Raquel. I welcomed being asked to write, something familiar to do. She had us place our folded pieces of paper on a pyre in the center of La Fabrica. She motioned to Elba Luz and Raquel to join her by the pyre. These women had all done this before and knew the steps Patria was choosing not to explain.
Patria took Elba's hand. “You are in the center of the healing circle.”
Elba Luz yanked her hand free. “I won’t accept this. I want some of you thinking about me. Not just Raquel, because she is the wronged one, or thinks she is.”
Raquel shouted and waved her fists at Elba. “Take some responsibility, why don't you?”
Patria stood between them. “Follow the structure, Raquel, let's keep this safe. It's Elba Luz' turn right now.”
Elba Luz looked at Patria and then at the rest of the women. “I want somebody, some of you, all of you really, thinking about me.”
Her words brought tears to my eyes. Isn't that what I had always wanted but had no words for? Somebody to think about me; to think well about me; care about me.
Elba looked down. “It is wrong to love another woman's husband, yes. Is it wrong to love? Carlito is my childhood friend. I've known him since before Raquel came to Coral; since before he married Raquel and I married Ismael. We played guerrilla games Hillside and he taught me to surf in Arrecife.”
She sobbed and Patria held her. “And yet I understand what Raquelita says, as long as Carlitos has me he doesn't have to face what's happening in their marriage. I think that all the time myself and then I think, but there would be another woman, a worse one than me, with no history with him. I truly am his friend and he truly is my friend.”
Patria turned to Raquelita who spoke with her hands in fists. “Fairy tales, excuses, lies. Can you blame me for wanting to beat her to a pulp? He's an emotional batterer whose actions batter my soul and he has this woman to collude with him.”
Elba interrupted. “Maybe he's sick of being berated and battered verbally by you.”
Patria put her fingers gently on Elba's lips. “Raquel's turn now.”
At this kindness Raquel sobbed, llorando a moco tendido. Then a wave of fury rose through her. She lunged at Elba and it took Tanama, Beatricita and Inaru to hold her back. In their embrace her tears and fury turned to shaking.
Someone spoke behind me. “Le entró el santo.”
Raquelita collapsed in Patria's arms. “I'm left with no one. I don't have the man, and I don't have the women.”
The same woman called out behind me. “Because you stay victim.”
Patria called out to the group. “What do we tell Raquel and Elba? How do we teach them?”
The woman behind me spoke again. “When the men betray us and our women friends betray us, think of it as not quite them.”
She went on. “It's the oppression coursing through them. It feels personal but it's a hideous machine we're caught up in.”
I turned to see who was speaking. Beatricita! Franz’ partner who worked in the Comedor stood with her legs spread wide and her hands in fists.
Tanama walked up to Raquelita and Elba and took each one by one hand. “If they could, they wouldn't do it. Their true Taino warrior self wouldn't have done it. Their beautiful, good, true Taino warrior self, don't forget it, don't give up on it. Don't give up on theirs, on yours. That's what we fight for. To create a world where oppression is gone, our true Taino warrior selves emerge, and we stop hurting each other.”
I was surprised Julia stepped away from where she stood beside me and spoke next. “Be as angry as you have to at what they do, the pain they inflict. Even decide to have nothing to do with them. That’s what I did.”
Tanama drew the two women closer. “Ultimately, it's not about them. We keep our minds on how to make our own Taino warrior selves emerge. The other pieces of the puzzle will fall into place.”
Patria handed Raquel off to Julia, Elba to Tanama. She said she would partner with me and then invited the rest of us to find a partner, and in pairs, tell the stories of our sexual betrayals, those we perpetrated and those perpetrated against us.
She put her arm around me. “This is Marina's first Healing Story Circle in Karaya.”
I laughed. “Not counting our first amanecida conversation when we stayed up all night catching up on each other’s stories.”
Patria held my hand as she spoke. “In the Healing Story Circle we tell our stories to heal them, to transform them, to take charge of them, fully embody ourselves as protagonists, heroines of our own lives. We let ourselves feel the grief, the shame, the rage, the terror we didn't have the room to feel before, not to relive the pain but to resolve the riddle of the hurt.
“These things we did and that were done to us are real. The hurts we received and caused are real, and must be healed. The paradox is, until we know we are completely blameless for the hurts, both as perpetrator and target, and at the same time completely in charge of healing them, we can't fully claim our power to heal our own hurts and be healers of others' hurts. Only as we heal do we begin to make different choices. Even, sometimes, we may decide to make amends or to confront. But think of the joyful power we have, to be both blameless and in charge at once. We are utterly blameless for how systemic oppression courses through us and emerges as our choices, what people used to call our individual psychology.
“But even though we are blameless we are responsible, for who we hurt, even for who hurt us. And certainly we are responsible, just as Tanama said, to keep our focus on healing our own hurts so that our own Taino warrior selves emerge. Feel the power of our position. Who knows what we will figure out to do then? The more we heal, the smarter we get.
“Because we can only heal together, we get smarter together. What will we figure out to end injustice? The adventure continues, the marvelous unfolding of how we will birth and birth again and keep birthing, the world where there is no oppression, no exploitation, where we get better and better at thinking well about each other, the world where everyone lives well and not just a few live better, and there is more and more room for our Taino warrior selves to emerge. It is our privilege and power to think well about both Elba and Raquel, all of us.”
Patria pulled two of the wooden arm chairs side by side facing each other. We sat with our faces close. Patria took my hand. One on one with her I had another of my raptures of disclosure. The relief from years of secrecy compelled me to keep talking.
I launched into the tale, unable to stop myself. “I remember the cad first tried to dump me in Moon Park, during the intermission of a touring summer musical. I still can’t bring myself to say his name. I made a scene there, smashed a beer bottle on a big boulder in the ground. Listen to me! Dump is the word I've used about myself. Why would I show you what a fool I was? I was humiliated then. I felt ashamed as if I’d been smeared with shit. Why am I humiliating myself now? Why am I sitting here in La Fabrica talking with you, not writing about the present? Just this way this morning I had my head in the past and not on the beautiful dune where I was wanting to write, the perfectly calm sea where I was not swimming, the dawn pinking the sand I wasn't seeing? I feel shame even as I say this.
“You are listening, and without eyebrows slightly raised in judgment, the way I am used to women looking at me when I tell them of my affair while I was married, with a married man. You have your usual benevolent, nada humano me es ajeno look. That’s not the way you used to look when I first met you. What changed?” (But it was my turn so Patria said nothing, simply offered me her mind.)
“I smashed the beer bottle on one of those big rocks by the park concert hall after he told me he was going back to his wife. He'd gone back to her already. He told me after the fact. Part of my mind always knew he’d never left her at all, he was just getting even for her lover and having some fun of his own while he waited for her lover to lose interest in her. Why he didn't lose interest in her is a mystery, even though he must have known it was only a matter of time before one of her lovers took. I heard she did leave him for another man in the end. I don't know how many times she and I met but she never remembered me.”
Patria laughed. “You are memorable, believe me. If you're sleeping with my husband I remember you.”
“As I was smashing the bottle I was screaming, 'What is it, does she have ridges in her cunt?' How could I tell you this? You just looked at me and I felt washed clean of some filth of shame I've carried with me."
I realized that I was sobbing, shaking, that my fists were clenched with rage. “In those days, when I thought I wouldn't be with him again I got dizzy.”
Patria pressed my hand. “And now?”
I laughed so hard I could barely get the words out. “I think Ted Bundy passed me by. He had me in the parking lot, standing there with his fake broken arm, and when I was about to get into the killing volks another woman more like the one in his mind's eye caught his attention and here I am, still alive. Pobrecita ella. Now, I'm dizzy, dizzy and ashamed. Dizzy with shame. Sometimes I still wake up with that thought and feel as if I'm careening through air on my own sawn off tree limb.”
I sobbed when Patria put a finger gently on my cheek. “You didn't leave for him. You were looking for something in yourself, about yourself. You're right that he was a mirage.”
She leaned toward me and put her arm around me. “Who am I to judge? You're looking at a woman who had three children with Elpidio and was an army widow most of the 15 years I was his wife. For half of those 15 years it turned out he had a second family at the same time. He has a third new family now and he’s stayed with that woman now five years so he figured something out, but too late for us.”
She pressed my hand. “You are blameless. And here's something you probably aren't ready to hear, that cad is also blameless of the oppression coursing through him.”
I pulled back and tore my hand away. She shook her head. “Blameless and completely responsible for his choices at the same time, with the same power to become conscious, acknowledge his privilege, his domination, claim his power to make a different choice. He’s blameless for the oppression and completely responsible for it at the same time. He’s completely in charge of acting to end it.”
“I don't intend to forgive him.”
“I said nothing about forgiving. You have to be angry and erupt the anger until you are free of it. Who knows what your mind will find on the other side of that. I know this, your mind will surprise you.”
I looked at her. “Who are you? Not the woman I knew twelve years ago.” I looked around at the others, speaking with heads close together, or arm in arm, or holding hands, completely rapt in the telling or the listening, laughing, sobbing, shaking. “Who are we?”
She smiled. “Taino warriors in training.”

Life with Jimmy
From my Short story folder
Clipping of a cartoon: a man in a tootoo skipping and the caption, Desfile un dia, pobreza todos los dias…

Marina and Ori slid into opposite sides of their usual booth at the diner.
Ori collapsed onto the bench, laughing. “I can't believe I underestimated the amount of copy on the op ed page.”
He wiped away laughter tears.“You saved the day with that cartoon we stole from that glossy magazine, with the man in a tootoo skipping.”
Marina smiled at Elsa, their usual waitress, who brought cafe con leche for Ori and decaf con leche for her.
“No, you saved the day with the caption. 'Desfile un Dia, Pobreza Todos los Dias.”
He nodded.”Let's say it was a collaboration.”
But now his laughter was gone.“Sometimes I wonder about that slogan, you know.”
He stopped and stared out the window where a man was tossing bundled daily papers onto the sidewalk by the newstand.
Marina watched him think. “The people love the Parade and maybe we shouldn't alienate them.”
She sipped the decaf con leche. Elsa deposited her over easy eggs and Ori's omelette, and their whole wheat toast with the butter on the side, just the way they no longer needed to order it.
She put down her fork.“Maybe that slogan is not the way for the fish to swim in the waters.”
Ori listened to her, and then smiled.
She chewed quickly and swallowed her food. “The Partido doesn't do Mao, I know.” She laughed and Ori laughed with her.
After they were done he walked her to her door a few blocks out of his way. She climbed the narrow stairs.
Jimmy had been out when she came home from the amanecidas on the last few Thursday nights. She didn't know where he went, maybe even to his old apartment with Marlen. He usually returned to their place around the time Marina woke up after her all nighter in the middle of the afternoon.
Today when she came home she walked into their small living room. Jimmy had built another loft bed there for them so that his four year old Osmani could have Marina’s old loft bed in the small side room. This bed he'd suspended from the ceiling over the wooden couch so there were no legs wasting space underneath. He'd built a ladder with pegs jutting out from each side of a piece of railroad tie he'd scavenged from the abandoned docks and bolted into the wall to support the loft. The found piece of railroad tie had been exactly the distance between the narrow couch he'd built into the wall and the new bed.
She sat on the couch and stretched her legs and let her gaze move around the room. She loved the high desk Jimmy had made her from a shiny, inlaid veneer door he'd found on the street. Later when she woke up she'd sit to write on the stool Jimmy had rescued and reupholstered when Kwasi, the bartender, decided it was too beat up for the Waterhole.
The avocado tree Jimmy had started from seed on the first day he moved in with her lay on the middle of the floor. She had been making herself not look at it. But now she looked. The leaves were limp, the roots surrounded by loose dirt. Jimmy must have pulled it out by the roots and thrown it onto the middle of the floor like a proclamation, probably many hours ago.
The first thing she thought to do was call her party comrade Sandra, who had just finished the amanecida too, but would still be awake, winding down from the caffeine and adrenalin of the all-nighter to put the paper to bed.
“My avocado. He killed my avocado.” She threw herself on her knees, and stared at the tree, and cried, deep old tears. Sandra listened until she was done crying. She didn't need to say a word.
Jimmy was gone, and this time he wasn't coming back. She knew exactly where she would find him. She stood, dusted the dirt off her blue jeans and walked toward the door. This time I get to be the man, she thought. I get to be the one with something in my life way more important than my “relationship.” She was elated for an instant before a wave of shame made her retch.
She was so tired she felt like she was walking underwater inside a blister but she walked all the way to the harbor to Osmani's secret playground. She got on her knees, crawled under the cutoff fence, and made her way to the warehouse where Jimmy had shown her his makeshift home almost a year ago. She pushed open the metal door and stood there looking into blackness. After a few minutes she made out the familiar figure of passed out Jimmy. Unlike a year ago when it was on the floor, the bedding was now on a platform. There was a camping stove and a cooler and now as her eyes fully adjusted to the darkness she saw a tent and inside it a cot, Osmani's room. How long had Jimmy been working on his home improvements? How long had he been getting ready to leave her?

Verdad full page cover photo from the highest bleachers of the sport arena, an oval of thousands of people and in the center, lit bright, the gathered speakers and artists at the closing of the Karayan Independence Solidarity Rally.
Marina stood all by herself, surrounded by 20,000 people who had packed the sport arena for the Karayan Independence Solidarity Rally the Partido had been working on for the last year, feverishly for the last three months. She clutched the clipboard she was taking notes on. She had been promoted twice, first to reporter, and last month to managing editor. How could any written report capture this? The dozens of speakers from every movement in the City, including mainstream figures from politics and the arts, Island performers and even Pedro Biaggi, that famous becrazed crossover Karayan singer and, recently, movie star. He was singing right now. He was belting, “The world is in flames” and the audience was singing with him. Marina's voice joined in and the power of the voices coursed through her.
She was not alone. She was no longer uprooted. She never had been. That feeling had never been reality. She was not a woman with no nation, not Venturan, not Karayan, not a citizen of the City. The struggle was her nation.
Danny walked over and stood beside her. She saw tears on his face. She wanted to tell someone her amazing realization, but Danny was not the one, and anyway he was gone back to where the Solidarity group contingent was sitting close to the stage. She walked among the aisles, looking at the audience, wishing she were a photographer or filmmaker and not a writer. She understood why rallies and gatherings were important, transforming, reminded us we are not single beings, or not only single beings, isolated; that when we are together we are something different, a different beast that knows different things than we know when we are alone.
She heard her name, and turned to where Jimmy and Marlen sat together, holding hands. Osmani jumped from Marlen's lap and ran to hug her, the little diplomat. She had been just a bump in their marital life. Jimmy had spent a few weeks in his warehouse but gotten tired of the homeless life and gone back home, to his real home. She would not be telling Jimmy her realization.
She had to tell her insight or she would forget. She would tell herself. She wrote on her clipboard.“Mi nacion es la lucha.”

b 40 arrecife casino
Just as the healing story circle was almost over Anacaona showed up with a young woman I hadn't seen, fresh from la Capital or Arrecife, or even the City. The young woman had big, deep set eyes, and a sharp nose, features that in her harmonized into beauty. She dressed like Anacaona, in jeans and an embroidered blouse. She had a young girl around Taina’s age by the hand who had her eyes. The girl ran on her own to where the teacher, Rosa, and two of her helpers were with the playing children just outside El Comedor. Two girls played hopscotch; Taina and a wiry dark brown boy her age, Lorenzito, tumbled off stacked boxes onto a thin foam mat; two boys ran at each other with swords they had made from branches; two girls wrestled on another foam mat. I saw the new girl climb the stacked boxes and throw herself fearlessly onto the mat as Taina and the boy applauded her.
Patria motioned to Anacaona and her companion to join us and they sat together, paired up, on the floor close to where Patria and I were sitting, and close to Tanama and her drummers, who were their age.
Patria knelt beside them and took first Anacaona and then the other woman in her arms and held them close. “We're telling stories of infidelity, betrayal, times we hurt others or were hurt.” She paused. “You can use the listening time however you like.”
Anacaona slid in closer to her companion. “We can sure use the listening time, but we're here because los muchachos want our help.”
After we were done with the tellings, as Patria was beginning the closing, Anacaona raised her hand and said we had to hurry.
Patria nodded to Tanama who led us in a chant. “Completely blameless for oppression; Fully in charge to end it; We have the power.” As we chanted, the drummers began to play, building and building until Tanama led us in a victory Grito. I was beginning to learn how to move my throat so I could ululate!

Anacaona told us we were going to Arrecife and didn’t yet need to know what we were going to do. As many as we could fit piled into two borrowed yipis. I rode in the one Patria was driving with Julia, Anacaona and the other young woman. Rosa the school teacher and several of the Señoras stayed behind with Taina and the other children. They waved to us as we drove toward the Carretera Naval.
Anacaona, who sat between us, pointed to her friend. "Look at Guada. Do you know her?"
I looked hard and recognized the long, dark Taina face, the oval eyes, the long black hair pulled back. "Little Lydia! Little Lydia, Adela's second cousin."
Patria laughed. "My son Tomas' wife."
In the second jeep following behind ours Tanama drove Elba Luz, Beatricita, Inaru and unimaginably (to me), Raquel.
Neither Julia nor I had ever been to Arrecife. Patria hugged the mountain wall as the narrow road curved along the very edge of Karaya around places where the cordillera central, El Pico, dipped its toes in the sea. Julia screamed at the turns, exclaimed at the amazing views of the water, the giant waves, and now and then, groups of surfers. She asked what the barriers placed all along the road were for, green and red in the colors of the Karaya flag.
Patria let go the steering wheel and waved at the barrriers. “The Cayo Karaya Grand Prix. Marquito Palomo who won it the last three years is racing day after tomorrow. For the first time this year the race is making the whole circuit around both Karaya and Ventura.”
Anacaona pressed my hand. “Do you see in the distance, always watching, those City Navy ships? Doesn't the way they hover on the water remind you of barracudas?”

We parked in the underground garage of one of the luxury condos of Arrecife's Casino Row. Our car was the first of our small convoy to arrive. Tanama's car arrived as our group was getting in the elevator. We gathered and rode, saying nothing, keeping our faces down, hidden from the cctv cameras.
Anacaona let us into an apartment on the 20th floor. We gathered on the balcony. Far out on the sea the lights of two ships glowed in the mist. One festooned like a Christmas tree must be a cruise ship. The other barely visible, belonged to the City Navy, one of the barracudas. The lights of the seawall outlined the crescent shape of the Arrecife coast line. High waves pounded the seawall across from the condo. Tourists in fancy evening gowns strolled along it, or stood looking at the water not bothering to duck the spray.
Three limousines pulled up across from the condo. From the middle car some personage in a tuxedo and a woman in a long red gown, stepped onto the wide sidewalk by the wall. Ahead of them, behind them, on either side, men in suits lined up.
Anacaona leaned over the railing. “Marquito Palomo, mira mira Marquito Palomo y Viviana. They're here for the gala before the race."
She motioned us inside, straight to a master bedroom with a giant bed and an enormous window with a view of the sea. Anacaona, Tanama, and Inaru took evening gowns from the closet and spread them across the bed. There were the right number of gowns and the right sizes. Mine was purple and made of something tight but stretchy so that I found I could easily move. Julia's was navy blue and gauzy. The younger women wore very short dresses.
For a few minutes we were young girls playing dressup, making each other up, braiding each other's hair, trying on earrings and glittering necklaces. We had our roles explained: Impersonate tourists from La Capital. We memorized our spots on a diagram of the casino. We were to be standing there when the time came for whatever it was. We had our cellphones in our tiny, shiny purses. Our one exception to our gambling lady disguise was our shoes. Anacaona insisted we wear flats, shiny and full of rhinestones, but snug on our feet and grip soled for running.
As we walked to the elevator I whispered to Julia, who was speechless with terror. “When I breached the Base with Franz, after awhile, enough adrenalin washed right through me that I felt no fear at all.” I laughed. “At least not until I got home and shook for an hour as I sat on my dune, pretending to write, not able to crawl into the lean-to and sleep.”
Anacaona put a finger to her lips. I needed to learn to shut up, but I wanted to reassure Julia who looked almost faint from panic. We crossed the avenida to the paseo along the seawall and walked the few feet from our condo to the Casino. Like the other strollers we didn't duck the spray from the huge, crashing waves. When we reached the Casino we crossed the avenida again. We climbed the wide, lit up staircase meant to look ancient and roman. We laughed and joked like we imagined real gambling ladies from La Capital or the City would, a bit tipsy from wine with a good dinner, ready to try their luck.
Julia and I were in Inaru's group along with Beatricita. I knew Beatricita was Franz' girlfriend and we had in common that we both loved that guata Guardia. I barely knew Inaru. I'd seen her at the Comedor a few times and playing drums with Tanama. I liked to watch her drum but whenever we women gathered I went quiet in the face of her confidence and Taina cacica beauty. She was tall, with strong arms, and a smooth skinned oval face. She almost always wore a perfeclty constructed crown of black braids threaded with red and purple ribbons. She and Beatricita understood each other's glances, arched eyebrows, particular smiles. I thought it made no sense to team us up until I saw how calm she and Beatricita were, completely confident, relaxed, at ease, perfect to shepherd novices like Julia and me.
We stood close to a one armed bandit and Inaru demonstrated how to play. I could barely make myself pretend. Gambling was the most impossible addiction for me to understand even long enough to play-act. I decided to imagine I was Inaru's mother trying to save her from herself. (That role I was familiar with!)
I tugged at her arm and whispered. “Nena no juegues...dijiste que vinimos para la gala y el show del cabaret.”
Inaru's eyes smiled even as she shook her head. “Mami siempre me quieres controlar y yo quiero perder control.”
Later, when I admired her improvising she told me she was an actress, practitioner of Teatro de Liberacion, and taught improvisation classes in La Fabrica for anyone, but especially for los muchachos. "But it's not acting, it's rehearsing for life and for revolution."
Everywhere security people lurked, dressed up like gamblers and tourists just like we were dressed up. I was getting a better nose for them. That woman in a tight black sequined dress who had taken the slot machine next to ours, she must be wearing a government issued body shaper. Bulletproof? I was dying to say my joke out loud to Inaru, especially when she looked up from the slot machine to see why I was laughing to myself.
Just then, los muchachos, in full black, invaded. There were so many of them swarming I couldn't find Machi, or Lagarto, or Robles, or David, if they were among them, not with their faces half covered in black cloth. I couldn't see what they were doing. Although I was here I half prayed my son wasn't. For all the contradiction to oppression Machi got from direct actions, I couldn't stop my terror of him being captured, imprisoned, tortured.
I thought of Ori. I'd heard from Capitan Ojeda through Franz that, mercifully, after they'd declared the hunger strike victorious, he'd accepted intravenous feedings and he should soon be able to eat solid food. He was at the Base hospital (according to what Ojeda had told Franz), and soon would be recovered enough for el rescate. I hoped that by being here, escalating my exposure to terror, I was training myself, steeling myself, for the rescate operation. (Unless I myself was caught and ended up at the Camp).
A voice, electronically transformed to resemble el Gobernador's, blared through the casino's sound system. “This money you are wasting in your vapid alienated display of excess, we want you to voluntarily donate it to la causa. Bet on the future, yours and all of ours, el futuro de todos, this game we all win or we all lose.”
I didn't recognize the actual voice. Some patrons appreciated the humor of making the voice sound like El Gobernador's and laughed. Several, but not all, of the hundreds of gamblers placed money and jewelry in a sack passed like a church offering plate to them where they stood, motionless. And then los muchachos were gone into the night, strangely unpursued. I wondered in a whisper to Julia if the whole world consisted of rebels and guatas.
She asked me with her eyes what the hell a guata was and I whispered back.“What los muchachos called guardias who are secretly on our side.”
Julia told me it was the Taino word for lie and laughed.
Later when we were all sitting in the balcon of the condominio looking out at the sea, I asked Anacaona why, and what it was we were here for? She just rolled her eyes. Elba Luz and Raquel, who were standing close together, talking quietly, looked our way and laughed. (I could barely believe my eyes, after their rumble over Jodeda in El Comedor).
Raquel turned to me. “It's porous between us and the other side.”
Elba Luz walked toward me and sat on the arm of my chair. “More porous than anyone realizes.”
Inaru walked into the living room and turned up the volume on the television set where a City action film about superheroes was interrupted for a news flash. We crowded by the huge flat screen on the wall. CCTV footage of los muchachos in black swarming the stairs into Last Domino cut to a commotion of young men in black in the casino lobby, swarming a man heading to the Bar with his hand on the elbow of a tall young woman in a long red gown.
Inaru pointed to the pair. “Marquito y Viviana."
As the image flashed I saw two young men were with him shoulder to shoulder. I could swear the third man behind him was my ex-lover Jimmy, one of my first political mentors. What was he doing there? I saw the woman in red yanked away by one of the young men.
The news reader stared straight into the camera, at us. “City Force confirm Marquito Palomo was abducted.”
Now the image showed Gobernador Travieso in his press room. “The Cayo Karaya Grand Prix will go on as scheduled. We do not capitulate to swarming and abductions.”
So our tax collection had been a distraction. That much effort for such a brief occupation of Last Domino now made sense.
There was a loud banging on the door, two fisted, and then as if with a hammer, not stopping.
Patria pushed us into the bedroom. “City Force?”
Anacaona shook her head. We looked at each other and at the bedroom where there was nothing to indicate we were anything other than vacationing women. The diagram of the Casino had been disappeared.
Just as Anacaona reached for the door and opened it a key turned in the lock and a woman in a red gown stumbled into her arms. She flailed against Anacaona's tight grip, pulled herself away and stood there. Tear smeared black eye makeup ringed her eyes, striped her cheeks like war paint, hair fell from what had been, earlier in the night, a professionally built knot of braids. She had the transparent silver heeled shoes, the ones she’d been bannging into the door, in her hands, heels out.
She lunged into the room, threw herself onto her knees on the plush white carpet, and banged at it over and over with her heels. “You're staying in my place. You're wearing my dresses, and all the fucking while you were coming for him, for Marquito.”
She began to slowly turn, looking into each of our faces where we stood, in a circle that we tightened around her.
“You know where they have him and you are taking me to him.”
Anacaona stepped toward her. “Viviana, listen to me. We'll let you go on with your eruptions in a minute because we understand you need to erupt for awhile before you can think again, but tell us first, where are your people? Marquito's people? Do they know where you are? Do City force know you've come here? How long do you think we have before they think to come for you here?”
Viviana shook her head and didn't answer. She tried to hit Anacaona with her shoes, and Inaru and Beatricita pried the shoes from her hands and, along with Tanama, they restrained her, by making a frame with their arms that she could push against.
Anacaona let the young woman push into her hands and whispered close to her ear. “Viviana, presente, Viviana presente. Tell me where your people are.”
The woman thrashed and flailed in their firm grip, and screamed, spitting and squirting tears until fury, terror and grief were spent, at least for this eruption. “I'm asking the questions here. You betrayed me.”
Anacaona looked at each of us. “We have to assume your people, or even the City force, are on their way and be ready to be gone.”
Patria and Julia set to gathering the cotton make up swabs, the tissues in the trash, the protein bar wrappers. We undressed, hung the dresses and put on our jeans and T-shirts. Viviana watched us entranced, silent.
Within minutes we were done and Anacaona helped Viviana change, then led her to the bed. "You know, as well as we do, about need to know. You know there is no way we knew they were coming for Marquito. There is no way any of us here need to know where he is so we don't know.”
They were now collapsed on the huge bed. As Inaru cleaned off Viviana's face with cotton balls and cream Viviana sat up.“Need to know.”
She grabbed Inaru’s hand. “Marquito knew. Did Marquito know? I saw him offer no resistance, wave his guys off. Far as I could see he went with them of his own free will, leaving me standing there in the middle of the swarm. Nothing he'd like better than to blow off the race and have himself a season in the Territorio or even Ventura.”
She laughed and the laughing became louder and escalated into a second, lesser eruption of flailing, pummeling, shaking, sweating, screaming, and tears. "That hijo de puta. When I get my hands on him."
She began to laugh as she shook and finally collapsed in Anacaona’s arms.
Afterward she sat up on the bed and leaned against the headboard. She called out to Patria who was scanning the room for any remaining signs of our presence. “The City Guard are not coming. I’m angry but I’m not stupid. My guys are already here in the common balcony at the end of the hallway, contemplating the sea, waiting for me.”
Soon enough the young women were laughing together on the bed. We elders left them. Back on the balcony Patria told Julia and I that Viviana had spent several months at Palenque in the spring, tracking her mother, who was desaparecida during the Segundo Presidio sweep, gone as long as Ori was gone, only to get word she'd been rescatada to Ventura. She tracked her mother there and met Marquito one afternoon she’d taken for herself and gone to the beach. He’d been in Ventura for rest and recuperation. Viviana and Marquito were never apart since then. Maybe later she would tell us the story. I remembered having seen photos of her with Marquito dressed up and glamorous at casinos, and premieres, and on romantic strolls at beach resorts, for all the months their whirlwind romance was the cover story of La Mirilla. Never once did I read they first met in Ventura!
Tanama came to us elders on the balcony and stood facing us with her hands in fists at her hips. “There's no sleeping now.” The young women, Tanama, Beatricita, Inaru, Anacaona, Guada from la Capital, and especially Viviana, were adrenalin wired and wanted to go out.
It was only then, when we gathered on the balcony, that Anacaona's friend Guada and I first remembered together the days when I'd known her as Adela's little cousin Lydia and she'd known me as that odd woman from the City with a wild little boy.
When Anacaona was little Tina Lydia had been her best friend. Adela and her husband Noel lived in what would have been the servants’ quarters in the once grand mansion of her uncle. Lydia’s mother was Adela’s cousin. Adela had taken the girl under her wing after Lydia's mother eloped with “El Asesino”, what her father called her much older prometido Domingo behind his back, unable to get past his having killed a man in self-defense in a bar brawl when he was young. Lydia grew up and took the Taino name Guada and became the wife of Patria's Desaparecido son Tomas. Anacaona had brought her to Palenque for the Grito Day Convergence Wade-In. I remembered little Lydia as a waif with uneven bangs and a scraggly pony tail. I didn't tell her I used to think of her as Little Match Girl, because she was so thin and so sad.
Tanama led our procession along the seawall promenade across from the Last Domino, to Arrecife old town. The young women were looking for a place to dance and marched ahead of us women elders. They were followed by the three short haired, muscular young men waiting outside Viviana's door whom she introduced as Tirso, Fausto, and O.
I was walking with Jimmy, the elder man with them. The moment Viviana’s guys joined us I saw he was indeed my old lover Jimmy. In seconds we were hugging and crying. I could see he was in better shape than when we parted. His nearly black skin was tight on his bones, not puffy from hard drinking. Our gazes held for a moment and we smiled; Jimmy and I, always close.
He called over the shortest of the young men, who called himself O. “Here's my son Osmani.” He was dark brown, much lighter than Jimmy and had the thin lips and pointed nose of his white mother. When he smiled I saw the four year old I'd known close to 20 years ago.
Jimmy and I walked together, arm in arm, for all the world a vacationing couple happy to have won at the slot machines. He spoke as fast as I remembered. “I told Viviana she doesn't need to worry herself over Marquito. Believe me the City force isn't going to bother with this.”
He could still read my mind and he answered me before I asked. “Marquito grew up with me. I took the place of his desaparecido Dad, one of my comrads from Reparations Movement, who was drafted to the Island Wars and never came back. You probably met Marquito as a boy. I took him in, all of us in Reparations did. But I was the one stood in for his Dad. He was good friends with Osmani so after awhile he lived with us. And when his racing blew up he took me on as his manager.”
I raised my eyebrows and he laughed. “Viviana does all that, the administration part. I'm the visionary.”
I told him Ori was desaparecido and Machi and I were living a la intemperie in Palenque.
He drew me closer.“That's a change. I couldn't get you to even sit on my makeshift bed in that old abandoned warehouse Reparations was squatting in, remember?”
Tanama knew a spot for dancing. The wide lawn where the seawall abutted the high rock wall of the Morro fortress from Spanish colonial times, protected from development as a historic landmark, had been claimed as a people's space. Small lights were strung around and between tall ancient trees that framed the square. A small band played at the far corner with the fortress wall for a backdrop. At least 200 people danced In the open space in the middle. We added ourselves to the human garland. Soon all of us, even Viviana's keepers, even Jimmy, were dancing. What a huge relief to be surrounded by bodies, moving, stomping, garlanding steps, entrancing our minds, wordlessly joining minds, as our bodies sweated out the terror hormones, integrated the surging hormones of our power.
After a long time we sat on a wide ledge at the far reach of the seawall, facing the sea, all of us women, Patria, Julia, Elba Luz, Anacaona, Tanama, Inaru, Guada and our men, Tirso, Fausto, O and Jimmy.
Anacaona called out. "Telling our stories is revolutionary work. Telling our stories to transform them. There's an open space, enter it." She picked up a stone. "Our talking stone."
She handed it to Jimmy. He grinned. "Well, going on 20 years ago I came over to Marina's one day to return twenty dollars she had loaned me and never left her place, never went back home to my family. How amazing that all our old joy and pain and drama now is just part of our story."
He had one of his surges of joy I remembered and had loved him for. He stood up and almost sang out. “We get to keep the love! I've always known sex could be free of love and now I know love can be free of sex.”
We held hands. The tide was low and the wide expanse of arrecifes by the wall glistened when the search light swept, then shone black when the light was gone.
Viviana took the stone from his hand. “Here we are, having lost everything, even our chains."
Anacaona was beside her, holding her hand. They clutched the stone together. “Yes, yes, yes. That is the beauty of Palenque, it is the place where we go when we have at last lost everything but our chains. We are free to learn at last that our true wealth, all we have, all we ever truly had, is the shelter of each other.”
I nodded, thrilled with this realization. I leaned toward them and cupped my hand over their hands. “So this is why in Palenque we spend so much time telling each other our stories.”
Patria pried the stone from our hands and looked at me as she spoke. “It is as if we finally have enough information, or have gotten rid of enough error in our heads, to make sense of our stories at last.”
Viviana laughed. “So much for need to know then. We need to know everything. Or maybe, we already know everything.”
Anacaona took the stone and placed it in the center. “La piedra de todos." She looked at each of us. "Well that's just it. Turns out we actually do need to know all of it. That’s why we tell our stories.”
We told our stories until dawn.
Anacaona took the stone. "Although we women most often tell our stories with no men around, we found new and different aspects of our stories as we told them with the men listening. After our entranced dance we welcomed the men's attention devoid, on this night, of domination."
She lay on her back, snuggled with Viviana, looking up at the sky. “I love these moments.”
Viviana sat up. “Yes, these are our little vacations in the future.”
We watched the sunrise in silence. Without directly planning to or even talking about it, we had nonetheless decided what we had to do next.
Viviana spoke our intention. "We won't stay in Arrecife for the start of the race. Why bother without Marquito? We will go back to Palenque and make sure to be there on Grito day, do some tracking, and head to the Territorio if we have to. That is what Marquito and los muchachos would want."
Tanama stood up and offered her hand to pull Anacaona up with her. “I'm starving. After all that dancing I can finally tell again that we have bodies, we are in them, and they are hungry.”
“I know just the place for breakfast.” We headed toward Arrecife Viejo with our escorts.

Maraton Madres de la Matria
I didn't need to know where Viviana, along with Jimmy, Osmani, Fausto and Tirso had vanished once we got back to Palenque from Arrecife. So I didn't know and didn't ask. I guessed they'd gone Hillside, heading for the Territorio Libre. We'd parted just outside El Comedor. Julia and I rushed back to our shelter where Machi, Lagarto, and Robles were sitting by the fire watching the Karaya Grand Prix race on a tiny battery tv set, propped on the rocks that framed our fire pit. Taina was cradled in the crook of Machi's crossed legs. The new little girl was cradled in the crook of Lagarto’s crossed legs.
When we left for Arrecife we'd left Taina with her school teacher Rosa, whom she adored, but she was overjoyed to see Julia, ran to her, clutched her legs. Machi had taken to telling me next to nothing of his actions with los muchachos other than to sometimes show me whatever they had posted on the web. He waved me over and after we kissed, he showed me on his phone a short clip of the very moment when Marquito waved away his guys and said to los muchachos, “Vámonos.”
He laughed. “This one went viral.”

In the bars in Coral, at la Providencia in Palenque, on the tv set in El Comedor, and on a large screened tv set up in La Fábrica, on radios and television sets, on telephones and laptops, everywhere, all of Cayo Karaya was watching the Grand Prix even without Marquito. I heard the resonant voice of the sportscaster narrating the race as I passed each shelter on my way to La Fabrica where nobody this morning was actually writing.
Anacaona and Tanama were hanging a banner and waved to me from their ladders. Still, I'd come here to write and I would write. I found my favorite spot with a view of the Hillside jungle through the coconut trees surrounding the tabernáculo and began to write the tale of our Arrecife adventure. I had a couple of hours before the launch of the marathon reading of the writings of the Madres de la Matria, the independence organizer Tomasa and the poet Flor, one of the yearly lead-ups to Grito Day held on Flor's birthday, June 12. Patria had told me already that Adela was coming for this. I was almost, almost ready to see her again.
I wrote steadily, not bothered by the commotion. I started a contagion of writing. Elba Luz, Tanama, Guille and Lagarto all set themselves up close to where I was sitting and we were a cluster of deeply concentrated writers surrounded by chatter, laughter, dragging of chairs, hanging of extra lights and banners. In honor of the Huelga de Hambre Victoriosa this year's Maratón would focus on Tomasa and Flor's writings in prison or about prison.
When the music started the five of us went across the coconut palm grove to El Comedor to grab some food and joined the general conversation about El Secuestro de Marquito Palomo. Guille set down his huge laptop and stood. “There are lots of rumors in Palenque about where he is but I just got back from the Territorio and I actually know.” He lowered his discurso voice. “Marquito is being held in El Pico and a Canje de Prisioneros is almost in place.” I almost jumped off my chair. “A canje? Is that the point of all this? And how do I get Ori to be part of that?”
As we walked back to La Fábrica Guille caught up to me and spoke so nobody else could hear. “Talk to Capitán Jodeda. Talk to Padre Ezequiel. They are the strange bedfellows who can help negotiate something like that.”
When we got back to La Fabrica from the Comedor people sat in most of the chairs and even our writing chairs had been added to the semicircle. Those on deck to be part of the first hour of the Maratón were seated in the other half of the circle, with the rough wood podium in the center. Over the course of the 24 hours everyone's places and roles would change. There was no one who didn't get to read Flor or Tomasa's words. Anacaona was just finishing her introduction to the event.
Just as we walked in she sang out. “There is an empty space, enter it”. We all stood to sing Despierta Karaya, the old song about indigenous resistance to the Spanish conquerors that had been adopted as the Himno de Palenque.
The first reader was the winner of the Flor y Tomasa essay competition this year in Rosa's Escuelita. I'd never seen so confident a 13 year old. She was tall, thin, with long jet black hair in braids, dark reddish brown skin, and wore a special dress of red fabric with black stripes woven by Hillside artisans from El Pico. She began by reading the poem by Flor Beltrán on which she had based her essay.

Presidio # 7
En la barriga del Morro
vi las catacumbas
y pensé
así se sienten los pecadores
cuando llegan al infierno
En el rostro del guardia
ví demonios
y pensé
el diablo somos nosotros
Prison #7
In the belly of the Morro
I saw catacombs
and thought
this is how sinners feel
when they first arrive in hell

In the face of the guard
I saw demons
and I thought
we ourselves are the devil

After she'd finished with the poem everyone applauded, chanting, “Tomi, Tomi, Tomi.” Guille leaned over to me and told me the young girl was named after Tomasa. She looked at each of us and waited for the applause to end. She read in a clear, firm, high pitched voice.
“If Flor is right, and the Presidio stands for hell, and we ourselves are the devil, that is good news for us in Palenque. When I read this poem I cried. I cried and cried. My Mami Paloma came to my sleeping bag and asked me if I was sad. I said, “No Mami, I'm crying because I'm so happy.” She crawled into my sleeping bag beside me. She said, “Tell me, why are you so happy that it makes you cry?”
I read her the poem. I said, “Mami, If the Presidio is hell and we ourselves are the devil, if hell and the devil are made by us, then it means that so is heaven. Then it means that we ourselves can be angels. We can be angels if we choose, and if we choose we can make heaven. Right here in Palenque, if we choose, we can make heaven.”

Tomi passed the reading stick to Elba Luz. She stood tall in her woven lilac floor length dress from El Pico, and read.
“First my forms were filled and stamped in a small room with a small window and some light. I had been in the catacumbas several days. How to know how many? And when I was taken out I assumed it was for another round of questioning. My greatest fear was for my eyeballs. I prayed over and over that I would not die from having my eyes plucked out. Next, I feared being given a vaginal douche with acid. These were true forms of sadism that had killed some of my comrades.
“But this was not to be the day. Instead, my paperwork was being done by a burocrat of terror. I could study the man closely because he barely looked at me, never made eye contact for one moment. He was thin, had the sunken cheeks, pursed lips, and yellow fingers of a heavy smoker. He wore a thin gold wedding band. Knowing what he knew, doing what he did, how did go home every night to his wife and children? For one moment, before he looked up and finally spoke to me, I wondered about her, his wife. Did she touch him? Did she love him? Was she able to not know, or forget what he did here?”

Seño Rosa arrived then with the children. There were maybe 20 of them, ranging in age from five to 15. The older girls and boys helped Rosa shepherd the little ones. They filled the center of the semicircle and sang a song they'd written for Tomasa and Flor. One by one, each child stepped forward, said the Taino word they chose, and mimed it....

Tanama mariposa
Yamuy cat
Yabisi tree
Tiburon shark
Tonina dolphin (This was Taina's word....)
Rahu children
Qemi rabbit
Nana girl
Nanichi my love
Maja snake
Manatee cow of the sea
Maca tree
Macana club
Mucaro owl
Zun zun hummingbird
Moin blood
Hura wind
Huracan center of the wind
Cuyo light
Cocuyo lightning bug
Caona gold
Ana flower
Ama river
Guey sun
Karaya moon
Taino good people (here they waved their hands in a circle that included all of us)
These are the things Tomasa saw
The things Flor saw
When they were free

After the chidren's song Julia came to get me. She was done with her shift in El Comedor, and we walked home with Taina to spend some time on the beach. Taina wanted to wear her pink dress with the long skirt for the gala portion of El Maratón, with the celebrity readers. We got there before the switch to more pomp and almost as soon as we'd sat Anacaona ushered Julia to the podium, handed her Tomasa's Monte's Cartas y Memorias del Presidio, and pointed her to a paragraph in the middle of a page in the middle of the book.
I was surprised by Julia's confidence. She'd changed, or become more her true self, since we'd lived in Palenque. She looked at each of us and spoke in a steady voice.
“Revolution will be unstoppable when it is everywhere. From where I sit in my tiny cell our petty differences appear clearly as parasites of the enemy's thinking lodged in our own minds. We must purge our thinking of their thinking. We must develop the ability to know our mind from theirs, cleanse our thinking. When we are purged it will become more and more clear that there is no real opposition between our liberations, all of us around the world. The only opposition is between our oppressions. Then we will simply step away from the oppressions and toward each other, toward liberation. We will at last withhold our consent....”
As she finished her paragraph Julia caught my eye and gave me a smile of complete relief. It had grown dark and the small lights that had been strung earlier in the day came on now, glowing like cocuyos.

My turn. Anacaona passed me Flor Beltran's Poemas Breves, the same bilingual edition I'd left on my desk in the city, open to one of my favorite poems, Small Geometry.
Blue square
Gray square
The stories
of the hands
that laid each brick.
We work
to make prisons.
My square grief
My lone zun zun
visits my lone
square window

After I was done a spotlight was shined onto the podium and without introduction a woman I recognized walked toward the light. The ex-wife of the biggest Karayan crossover movie star, Pedro Biaggi, had embraced full time activism after their divorce. Her hair was now a white crown glowing against deep brown skin. She had the same unlined face and confident serene expression she'd had when she'd helped me get Ori released after he'd been imprisoned during the repression sweeps that followed the first Asalto al Presidio. Julia handed her the Prison Letters. She stepped to the podium to read.
"Soy Ana Marta Biaggi."
“From my small square of real estate I had a better understanding of the world than I had ever had when I was free. I was forced to reflect and my forced labor in the laundry left my mind free to think. I didn't lack information because my guardia Blanca Rosa brought me Verdad and smuggled the books I requested from my lawyer Don Pablo, and kept them hidden in her own locker. I had a vision, one that we humans are born having, but are oppressed to forget. One that every child has, one that we fight to remember and often forget. We are born free, born to be free, born to let others be free. Tyrants rule because we let them, because they convince us we are alone, make us forget we are free. They make us forget we can win, make us forget our freedom is not something we can lose, only something we consent to forget. More and more of us, individually and collectively are remembering. El pueblo unido jamás sera vencido. There are no legitimate differences between us. There are no human enemies, only oppressive systems. These rigid, unthinking false constructs are carried out by human agents and these false constructs have armies. But no matter, the agents and soldiers (like my own Blanca Rosa) have a human side, are ones of us. All we must do is free ourselves, mind by mind, step away from our false personas. And we are freeing ourselves mind by mind, organizing ourselves into forces here in Karaya, but not only here, all over the world, country by country, city by city, campo by campo, calle por calle, block by block, building by building, prison by prison, workplace by workplace, home by home, mind by mind.”

When she first stepped onto the podium my first thought was, this must be Adela's daughter, but of course she had no daughter, and this was Adela. When she looked up into the light I saw the marks of age on her after all, a softer jaw, lines at the corners of her eyes. Her hair was streaked gray, still in a crown of braids. She wore a Hillside artisan embroidered blouse from El Bajío, the same kind she often wore when I knew her. She waved to a man and a boy settled on the floor right in front of her. The tall, thin, dark brown, balding man was Noel and the boy must be the unborn child she was carrying when I last saw her the day before I returned to the City just after the Primer Asalto al Presidio. Just before she began to read she saw me. Our gazes held for a moment, and she smiled. Together forever.
As she began to read I recognized my very favorite of Flor's poems, one that Adela and I had read together on the beach near La Morada one of the days years ago when instead of driving to work at InfoDes we'd kept driving, escaped to la playa.

"Soy Adela Barro.
Dream of a General Strike
This is the morning
We woke
Finger snapped from our hypnosis
Thunder clapped alive
They told us it was the rapture
the resurrection
all along it was this
of a general strike
Everywhere, at once
history at last
washes us
onto the shore
of the real
we step away from every lie
we say in unison
at 3 o'clock
in the pouring rain
We no longer consent
to our chains
we put down your arms
make our peace
The assembly of all of us
declares ourselves free

The poem always made me think of Ori and Paco and all of us with our dreams of a general strike. I remembered how in the end, a series of general strikes had won the Venturan revolution, won victories that arms might have made possible, but had been unable to win.

After she was done reading Adela looked at me and made a slight wave with her hand and I followed her away from La Fabrica. We stood under the coconuts in the moonlight hugging, crying, shaking in each others' arms. We looked into each other's eyes again. Together forever. For that moment words weren't necessary, there could never be enough of them.
She held me closer. “Juntas en Palenque.”
She said she was here just for tonight, for El Maratón and was leaving right away next morning for the Territorio Libre where she was chairing the planning committee for the Trackers Convergence, but we'd make some time together when she got back to Palenque for Grito Day after that.
We realized what Tanama and Inaru were singing and rushed back inside. We stood listening with tears in our eyes holding hands. They'd created a lovely melody sweet and fierce at once and put to music Dreams of a General Strike.

Everybody wants to escape
Marina came early to pick Adela up for work. She knocked softly. She kissed Adela by the door and whispered, "Let's go to La Morada. Let's not go to work. I want to escape today." Adela put her finger to her lips. Noel was still sleeping. He slept through everything. She slipped into her bathing suit, patted her rounding belly. "It's a bit tight." Marina shrugged. "You barely show." Adela pulled a lose flowered dress over the suit, kissed Noel softly on the cheek, and walked outdoors. The dog Clotilde raced past her. She sniffed the driveway for traces of her own scents. Adela lingered a moment as she shut the door. She liked to watch Noel sleep. He slept on his belly, the sheet tangled in his legs. He stirred and his white boxers slid below his waist. In this blue light, the curve of his lower back, the small ridges of his backbone, aroused her tenderness. Her life was good.
Walking down the driveway they heard Zuleika yell at Lydia, "Diantre muchacha levantate." The women picked up their pace, threw themselves into Marina's car. Clotilde jumped into the car and settled between them. Zuleika screamed louder. "Devil child wake up." Adela covered her ears. "Let's get away from here." Marina lurched the car and screeched her tires. "We're escaping. Everybody wants to escape."
They set out before dawn. Marina was a fast, careful driver. In the early light she drove in silence to the sea. She'd just come back from a silent retreat at the Manantial Paraiso Spa. She liked silence. Not until the sun they were chasing to the West burnt the morning sereno and shone into their faces, did Adela want to speak. "One day maybe I'll regret wanting to turn my back on the Party." She spoke more loudly than she meant to. Marina turned sharply to face her, nodded, put her eyes back on the road. She could show she was listening without saying a word. Her silence made room for Adela to go on. "Last night Betzaida came by and when she was gone I wanted more than anything to feel my revolutionary hope. Tomasa Monte never wavered."
"Do you want to stop by Nati's?" Adela shook her head and they drove past the turnoff for the center of La Morada. Her sister Nati would be getting Guille ready for school and Guillermo would be on his way to Old Town with a carful of La Morada artesanias to sell to tourists in his cooperative store. "Sometimes their domestic bliss is too much. How did my sister get herself such a normal life?" Adela stared at the small pink, turquoise, lavender, bright green and yellow wooden houses on the edges of La Morada, peered into their dark front doors, open to the morning breeze. "This is where Noel and I should live."
"With the baby, pretty soon you'll be needing a place of your own."
Adela stroked Clotilde's head resting on her lap. "Betzaida's going to be pissed both of us are out today." Marina turned right, toward the beach. "What's the point of escaping if you're going to worry? What goes on at Infodes that can't wait until tomorrow?"
"All those women who can't find their husbands, those mothers who can't find their sons."
Marina said nothing. They both knew Infodes almost never found anyone.
They walked to the low sea grape. Clotilde knew their usual spot, ran ahead and waited, well planted on all fours. Marina spread a blanket in the concave sand by the roots. They lay on the faded, striped cloth and watched Clotilde chase a crab, burrow her snout in the sand after it, and jump away, not used to its claws. The tide was coming in but the sea was still far away from their burrow.
Adela told Marina everything. She told her thoughts she didn't know she had. "I'm afraid to be a mother. If I get a girl I'm afraid I'll kill her the way my mother almost killed Nati and me. "
Marina listened.
"If she's a girl Noel will love her more than he loves me. The way Leo loved me and then Nati more than he loved Elsa. It's going to make me want to kill her. One day I'll find her dead by my side and it will have been me who killed her without knowing I was killing her."
Adela sobbed. Marina held her.
"The way your cousin Zuleika is killing Lydia."
"Every day she does a bit more killing and not for stealing her husband but because a daughter wasn't enough to keep him. Now she's alone stuck with a girl."
Marina kissed Adela's cheek. "It's good to have a friend like you who doesn't need to pretend." She pointed to the sea. They rose and walked hand hand into the radiance, to the water. Flat stones in the sand glistened in the sunlight. "The ocean is still, a mirror, after last night's storm." Marina stepped into the water. "We'll be friends forever. We'll grow old together. I'll never have to be alone because you, Adela, are with me." Marina's father was a protestant preacher and she liked parodying his sermons. "I don't believe in the christ out there. I believe in the interior christ." Her loud preacher intonation rose over the sound of the waves. They laughed hard.
Adela sang a made up lullaby for Pulgarcito with a tune half hymn, half bolero. "Christ is you," she sang.
"You and I are christ." Marina joined the song as she threw off her dress and ran into the water in her panties and bra. Adela stripped down to her bathing suit and followed. Clotilde ran back and forth along the edge of the surf. They floated on their backs, eyes closed to the sun. "The universe is red," Marina said. The water was pulling her away. Already she was several yards closer to the reef.
Adela felt the sea pulling her to the deep, to the corals. "There's undertow." They tried to swim to the beach but couldn't fight the pull of the corriente. Adela thought of Pulgarcito. She wondered what Noel would do when she never came home.
Two young fishermen returning with their morning’s catch lifted them into their small boat and returned them to shore. Clotilde met them in a frenzy of leaping and barking. Her small body trembled.
"You are our miracle." Marina took off her gold hoop earrings and gave them to the taller one, the one who'd pulled her out. "For your novia."
Adela gave her earrings to the shorter one, her rescuer. "For your novia." He held in the palm of his big hand the tiny silver orchids which once had been her mother's.
After the young men were gone Adela lay on her back under the seagrape branches. "I shouldn't have given him my mother's earrings."
"No. That's good. That's better. Spread her inheritance. Maybe her spirit made them come by precisely this morning, precisely this moment."
Clotilde lay in a ball at their feet. She whimpered and barked softly in her sleep. Her body still trembled.
They ate the sandwiches they’d packed for lunch at work and stared at the water, so smooth, so treacherous. They drove home in silence. As Marina pulled into Tio Nestor's driveway Adela could see Noel was not at his studio. "Thank God he's not home. I won't have to tell him yet I almost got his child drowned."
Lydia was screaming. They jumped out of the car and ran to where Lydia lay on the edge of the porch, pounding her legs and arms up and down, screaming. "Mami, no te vayas. Mami, no te vayas."
Zuleika climbed over her daughter and walked out the front door.
She saw Adela. "Llevame." Not waiting for an answer she headed for Marina's car.
Adela looked at Marina, willing her friend not to let Zuleika commandeer her car. "Almost drowning was enough telenovela for one day."
Lydia jumped up and ran to where her mother stood by the car. She grabbed onto Zuleika’s legs. The woman raised an arm as if to strike her daughter but she stopped herself. Instead, she knelt and whispered to the child.
"Te voy a mandar a buscar."
Lydia's screams grew louder.
Zuleika shook her off. "I'll send for you." She climbed into the back seat of Marina’s car.
Adela stood by the car door, torn between loyalty to the child and the command of her cousin. She remembered all the times she'd gone along with Zuleika, as cover for dates she didn't want Nestor to know about. She'd been her lookout and stood guard by the kitchen window of their old house, before Nestor became a successful contratista, so that Zuleika could neck in the back yard with Chucho, one of her first novios. They'd been dropped off together at the movies by Nestor, but Adela had watched the film alone, while Zuleika met one novio or another. This was one time she should tell her to go on her own. She should tell her to do whatever she would have done if Adela hadn't shown up when she did.
Now Matilde was standing beside them. Lydia clung to her grandmother's legs, her face pressed into her thighs.
"Si te vas vete ya que por ahi viene ya tu padre." Matilde bent down, put her head into the back car window and commanded her daughter. "If you're going you'd better go now. You're father will be home any minute." She pushed Adela into the car. "Llevala." Marina backed the car onto the street.
From the back seat Zuleika spoke.
"No aguanto mas. No aguanto mas." Her voice got louder, close to a screech. "I can't take it one more minute."
Domingo was waiting for her in his old, shiny Lincoln, at the intersection near the dog racetrack, a few yards beyond the bustop. Zuleika jumped out of the car and ran to meet him. She didn't say goodbye.

By the time Marina dropped Adela off at the curb Noel was in his studio, painting. Adela walked up the driveway. The house was quiet. She imagined Matilde and Lydia were curled up on her king size bed eating arroz con leche. She entered the studio quietly, kissed Noel softly on the cheek, and sat in her rocker, to watch him work. She didn't break his absorption. Inside his ignorance Pulgarcito had nearly drowned and Lydia had been thrust into the horror story. She envied, she hated, his absorption, his ignorance. She no longer competed with his art, no longer walked into his studio to do a "Papi mirame" the way she used to do in Leo's study while he wrote his lectures on steno pads.
She thought: "What I envy is that he knows what to make. What is my artifact? She felt a rush of gratitude that she and Marina had not drowned. She felt Pulgarcito in his own safe sea. She closed her eyes and listened for his blood inside her own. For now this secret creature was artifact enough.

Adela in the center of La Fabrica, reading from Edad de la Indignacion
Anacaona persuaded Adela to do a small reading from Edad de la Indignacion in the morning before she left, and more of us than I expected came: the Fábrica regulars, the Señoras from the Comedor who provided cafe con leche and pan con aguacate. Even Machi showed up!
Most things are less terrifying in reality, than my terror of them before they happen. I’d been reading some of Adela’s story on her website. I was inoculating myself from the pull to measure myself against her. What state is the opposite of terror? Peace, ignorance, connection, love, disclosure?
That morning Adela and I were in each other's arms again within seconds, as if we'd never been parted. And, at least for that moment, nothing she had done, nothing she had accomplished, took anything away from me. On the contrary, it was as if I was part of her triumphs...and maybe, maybe she was part of mine. Because to her, she said so, my very being here in Palenque was clearly a triumph of some kind. How wonderful to see myself through her eyes, victor eyes, even for that short moment before she began to read.
It seemed, amazingly, that Machi remembered her, the way young people remember adults they knew briefly when they were very young, adults who had been able to be fully with them. Adela was fully with all those five and six year olds then, her second cousin Lydia (who was now Guada), her neighbors Tina (who became Anacaona) and Elpidio (now Lagarto), even Machi whom she’d been around for just a few months. She hadn't forgotten what it was like to be young. She was able to follow the young peoples' minds, not ignore or invade their minds the way most adults did.
We met her 12 year old son, Kairi who had his mother’s dark skin and the long face and small amber eyes of his Father Noel, desaparecido after the First Presidio. The sweeps after that Asalto in Isla Karaya had been harsher than those in the City that had first taken but quickly released Ori. I needed to ask Adela how Noel had found his way back to her, what Patria meant when she said he'd found himself. Or maybe I could ask him. All those years ago, just before I returned, I had stumbled into Noel at El Manatial just after the Rebels had, maybe, released him.
I hadn't expected to see Noel and Kairi with Adela but here he was. There was little time but he and I spoke for a few seconds and remembered together how we had seen each other at El Manantial right after the Rebeldes had maybe released him there. He told me that after almost a year he had turned up at Adela’s sister's in La Morada, on the faldas of El Pico, after he escaped, or was allowed to escape, not from the City Force they had all believed took him, but from the guerrillas who had taken him because they thought him a security risk for what he knew, whatever that might have been. Maybe the whole story was in her book? Later I discovered Noel's own TODOS webpage.
Adela stood in the center of La Fábrica, her book propped on the rough wood podium. After she introduced her Anacaona said, “There is an empty space, enter it,” and invoked us all to write for five minutes, and then to read or say one word, one phrase from our own writing, our own mind. In unison. I wrote: Most things are less terrifying in reality, than my terror before they happen. What state is the opposite of terror? Peace, ignorance, connection, love, disclosure.? I read the words: terror and connection...
A wash of sunlight shone through the tall branches around La Fábrica's Tabernáculo and we were one mind with Adela as she read.

Edad de la Indignacion, Adela Barros
Yo soy de donde
el pueblo dijo basta
y echo a andar

Where I’m from
I lay alone in my crib
smelling my own baby piss
screaming til my heart froze

Where I’m from
I dreamt the crib
was the Guacabon Bridge
I swung from the railing
fell into the abyss
plunged into the black water
a las bocas de los cocodrilos

Where I’m from
I lay in the crib and shook

What if I put beans into my mother’s nose?
what if I packed a bomb
into her suitcase?

Where I’m from
I was the professor’s daughter
in the ironed pink dress
I was the little wife
in the professor’s bed

My shoulders bore the marks
of my mother’s nails

Where I’m from I kept on
carving my heart sculpture
of ice
if god wouldn’t help me
then no one could hurt me

Pero llego el dia
la edad de la indignacion
Rage cracked
the ice of my heart’s shell

La rabia mia
la rabia de todos

Where I’m from
we are all rabiosos
y luchadores

dijimos basta

where I’m from
el pueblo dijo basta
y echo a andar

After the reading there was a breakfast at Justice Works' space in Coral. Most of us made the 20 minute walk and a few of us rode in battered four wheel drive yipis. I was among the walkers along with Elba Luz, Tanama, and Guille, my writing partners most mornings. By the time we arrived the patio behind Justice Works, open for a change, was crowded. It was hard to push my way to the food and coffee table, and the thrum of voices was so loud you could barely hear the guitar trio's bolero with lyrics about revolución.
First time I'd seen Danny in years. The unnameable cad. I saw him and Patria standing by the long table in the patio where the café con leche was being served. He leaned his thin, tall body toward her, and stood with his feet and legs spread wide so he equalized the difference in their heights and their faces were close. I saw. I knew. He and Patria were lovers. Danny was the mysterious friend she visited late at night and at odd hours of the day! What had become of his wife, or ex-wife, the Karayan activist lawyer Amina Díaz?”
My mind realigned my relationship with Danny in seconds. For one, I could think (and now write) his name. Yet another incarnation. He'd been high school friend and high school boyfriend, ex-lover who broke up my marriage and then dumped me (so cad whose name I couldn't utter); rescuer when Julia and I lost our boys on the train on Grito Day; employer at Justice Works in the City; and now, I saw, he was just the catalyst, nothing more. My life, my marriage, had been shattering on its own. Maybe he was reborn yet again as someone who must be my ally, was my ally, who must help me find and rescue Ori.
I ran away. The patio and storefront were packed with people and it was easy to step outside unnoticed and set off walking back to Palenque.

[Noel also reads from his webpage]
Fui un Desaparecido
I crossed the street, away from the blue car with the tinted windows that had been following me for two days. La Tula and her querido stood screaming at the top of their lungs on the corner, sun beading her black skin with sweat and glinting off the bottle of aguardiente she waved in Homero's face. “She took the money from the box and you let her,” Tula repeated this as she raised and lowered the bottle. She stood several inches taller than he. The bottle came closer to his face with each swing. Homero waved at me, “Hola Noel.” He had an imploring look, as if I, or anyone, could save him from Tula in a rage.
I walked faster to my own corner. Violeta Silva, of the telenovela Almas Libres, glided past. She was the neighborhood celebrity, and because she was famously pro-Karayan independence we always watched the soap for hidden subversive messages. She was flanked by two little girls, around eleven. I wanted to do her portrait and considered approaching her. Her hair was a brighter red than on screen, her face was scrubbed and glowed. “She's only twenty but she has HIV,” the taller girl said. “How does that make you feel?' Violeta gave the girl her full gaze, total attention. She didn't seem to notice Tula and Homero's drama across the street. I thought that Tula and Homero and Violeta and those girls weren't even in the same dimension, on the same planet.
I walked into my gate, toward the studio in the shed behind the house. I stepped inside the studio. I saw Adela. She had fallen asleep in the rocker she kept in my studio, to watch me paint. I bent down and kissed her forehead. She stirred, woke up, her eyes lit up and she smiled. We smiled. I rejoiced that my very being had the power to make one person this happy.
In my mind's eye I hold the image of the sidewalk I just walked on, lit bright by sunlight. There was a shade to the gray, a texture to the cracked, patterned cement. Decades ago it had been embossed with a filigree design...
It made me recall another sidewalk from my mostly forgotten childhood in Ventura. I noticed and it made me smile, that those memories stand in my mind for “the real.” Everyplace else is “the false.” I wanted to give that texture, that shade of gray, that quality of light, to this troublesome painting I've been struggling with since after then Presidio. Since I'd been warned my name was on a Mano Blanca list, surveillance by the Guardia had stepped up, and my contact with the Brigada Tomasista had completely stopped. I shuddered as I mixed the paint, wanting to fill my mind completely with my quest for the exact shade of gray.
I brought my mind back to my task, tried to empty my mind, but the voices persisted in filling it.
I heard the voice of Cristina, my student this morning, who came in late, with make up covering her bruised life. When I stood beside her at the easel she whispered, “My son.” It wasn't the first time her son hit her. He hit her whenever she confronted him on his d and d as she called it, in between his binges. She called it d and d and not drinking and drugging and laughed, because she knew how to use laughter to cleanse her fierce spirit.
I heard my pursuers. Before thePresidio surveillance of me had been bad. After the Presidio it was everyplace I went. Adela didn't know. She believed we'd have no problem getting away from the Tomasistas. I knew they would not easily release us to the delights of domestic society. They'd released her, the pregnant woman, but not me, the impregnator. As if my job as a parent was done when it had barely begun.
I hushed my mind. I brought my awareness back to gray. Then a voice in my mind screamed. “What kind of father will you be?”
After the Presidio everybody wanted me. The surveillers for what they thought I did. The Tomasistas for what I hadn't done. I stood before my easel and let the terror shudder through me. I shook. My teeth chattered. Adela woke up and stood beside me and drew me into her arms. I sobbed. She was used to my painting sobbing. She held me whispering, “yes, yes, yes.”
Sometimes after I cried and while Adela held me I fell into myself like the stones I used to throw into the center of the pond in El Pico close to my abuelos', where my parents sent me to be raised like a feral boy. Today was not one of those days. I bounced against the walls of my own terror afraid of the paint the brush and of the hand that held the brush, afraid and confused.
“We fight to lose,” was the slogan of Tomasa Monte's that floated into my mind. I needed to fight here, right here, wage this struggle with this paint. I needed to fight even if, more than likely, I would lose. It wasn't a business deal, or a gamble. I had to fight now. My job was to provide a memory of fighting for the future fighters who one day would win. Just as the patriots of Grito Day gave us a memory of fighting. I didn't think that victory would come to me. Not me. I saw Adela bent over her potted plants outside the shed that was my studio. Adela my wife, carrying my, the husband committed to a losing fight because these losses of today were the memories that would ignite the fight of those who will come later when the conditions created by this defeat and all the others defeats will have made victory possible.
In these defeats were the seeds of victory. But I didn't want to fight to lose. I didn't want to fight at all. This was the defeat. I wanted a sure thing, a guaranteed reward for my effort.
I spread the desperate gray paint onto the canvas.
Tomasa envisioned a time when the indigenous people of El Pico, her people, would no longer be invisible, would have power in the government, would be valued as the builders of almost everything that stood, as the birthers of the spirit of Cayo Karaya, the indigenous name before the colonizers divided the land into Ventura and Isla Karaya.
Tomasa fought to lose, but now after the Presidio, the Brigadas Tomasistas were calling for a plebiscito on indigenous rights and it looked like Governor Jerez would capitulate, had to capitulate, following the Presidio there had been protests all over the world, not only at the road access to el Pico and by the Mansion del Gobernador in Ciudad Vieja, not only in El Caserio.
Days after the presidio Comandante Guille left the Territorio, snuck into the City and flew from there to an International Conference in Europe, where she issued a Declaration calling for all Islanders, Karayan and Venturan, to unite for the liberation of the indigenous people of El Pico.
My mind was not on the paint, the brush, my hand, the woman bending over the plants, the child swimming inside her, but on the car that had followed me everyplace I'd gone since the Presidio. And on what escalation the Tomasistas would orchestrate now that Jerez had refused to send observers to El Pcio where Popular Councils were being held on how to end the war.
I walked across El Parque de Los Zinzontes on my way to the Galeria Relampago. I had my folder with the Cuadros Grises slides. The back of my neck bristled with the humiliation that always preceded trying to sell my work. Adela would say, “See it as a gift. A gift you give.” But I didn't feel big enough, bigger than Solano, big enough to accept that to others it was not a gift, but a product, like a shoe from Italy, maybe...a line of shoes they might not want to sell or had reason to foresee no one would buy.
Solano me saludo con ganas. That was a good sign. Things went better when I caught him after a good lunch and maybe one or two mojitos. I glanced at the large paintings of rifles and other dismantled weapons and big men in jungle camouflage, big men with guns. Who wanted to hang one of these things up in their living room? A too thin woman in a City cut black dress was leaning toward Solano's desk, her cigarette resting on a ceramic ashtray, smoke floating up to the the fat black ancient ceiling beams. She was writing a check, lots of zeros from where I stood. As she left she waved to me as if she knew me, recognized me, and paused to look at the largest of the canvasses where the figure of a dark skinned man emerged from foliage and his weapon projeced from this mass of green like a giant cock. Just then I wished that the earth would swallow me and my Cuadros Grises slides.
Isaac Robledo didn't have a clue about real weapons, real shooting, real corpses. His images were voyeuristic, exploitative. If this was the shit Solano wanted for his Galeria Relampago I might as well spin on my heel and get my self out of there. This shit was saying exactly what about war? This was the game I wasn't going to play. Especially now. Just this morning the Gobernador announced a cese unilateral. Most people might consider that surrender. And everybody already knew, everybody listened to the one AM broadcast of Radio El Pico, or if they didn't listen they knew somebody who did and told them what was said. Everybody knew the Tomasistas called a truce after the Presidio which by the way they repudiated, did not take responsibility for, perhaps it had been Insurgencia Urbana or even Jerez or the City or the Mano Blanca...
Whenever peace mirages floated into view Isaac Robledo got a gallery show of his killing men.
Now Solano waved me to a chair. He pointed to the steel carafe of cafe. I poured myself a cafecito, hot and sweet and sat where the skinny check signer had sat. I pushed my binder with the slides toward the person who could make or break me. He leafed the pages and nodded quietly, then slowly began to shake his head. “Porque ahora Noel?” He turned his hands up.
Why should it matter that my inner world was not attuned to the market? That my best was not something he wanted to sell, or skinny cigarette smoking woman in well cut too hot City black dress wanted to buy.
“Your figurative stuff...” he waved his hand at the paintings on the wall, “Que paso con aquello?”
I stepped back into the sunlight. Maybe he was right. I fought an enormous desire to cry. I walked along the narrow cobblestoned street, close to the building walls, there was a lmost no sidewalk. Maybe Solano was right. There was something I wasn't confronting, not looking at, in my work. The Gray Series probably sucked from self deceit and it was Robledo who was really looking. I fought the urge to toss the slides and sped up heading toward the sea wall. I stood by the thick stone wall looking at the sea many feet below. Foaming narrow white crests of foam hit the rocks upon which the fortress was built five centuries ago by the Spanish colonizers to defend their war.
I walked along the wall away from the ancient guard tower. It was said Jerez kept lots of the detainees following the Presidio in these colonial dungeons under the sea wall, carved by the Spanish into the rock.
I wasn't heading for El Caserio but there I was, standing at the place where the sea wall turned to follow the sea and over the years footsteps had paved their own narrow path. I saw the path wind down into the heart of a hive of homes built by squatters, some as solid as any built by contractors in El Llano, others thrown together from scraps of billboard, tin, wood, cardboard. I should paint this. I shall paint this.
I didn't at first recognize the young man who walked past me, and waved, until I saw him from behind, gaunt, long-haired in a pony tail at the neck, baggy pants, and giant shirt, disguised by the uniform of his age. It was the desaparecido Tomas, my young neighbor, who'd been gone since not long after the fire, after a scream fest by his mother Irma. “You can not do drugs and live with me.” So he had gone and she had gone more mad from the terror of losing her son altogether.
The black Lincoln car couldn't follow me into El Caserio. I saw the driver standing at the seawall, considering whether or not to follow me on foot. I wondered what my pursuer thought of Robledo's men with guns? Should I ask his opinion of my Cuadros Grises? Bang on his tinted windows and get his aesthetic point of view? Aesthetics is to art what ornithology is to birds...Some artist said that...I'd been wanting to enter El Caserio all my life, enter this parallel world that existed in its own right on its own terms. All my life I'd searched for solace, sanctuary, worlds constructed independent of the false world made by and for the Isaac Robledos, the Solanos. I longed for worlds on the margin to assert themselves as centers. I longed for a world of many, many centers, not this world of imperial iterations, false repetitions of an original meaningless and corrupt at the core..Everything real and solid in the belly of the beast was what workers had made...and we artists are workers too, damn it...
I followed Tomas. He'd turned left from the main path onto a narrower trail between shelters, and then left again into an alley between two winding mushroomings of tin houses barely wide enough for me to pass. The crash of the surf against the reefs on which Ciudad Vieja was built came louder. The sky was that blue pale and brilliant at once and the light...the gorgeous light..I longed for the brush and the paint in my hand, a nearly or fully erotic rush. It came from that same place in me that longed for a just world. Was that why I painted? To make little rectangles of justice? Worlds I could control? Make right? Little gray rectangles of justice...The day word hit la Capital that a group calling itself Brigada Tomasista had taken the provincial capital of El Pico, the nearby Barranco, a village of maybe 30 families, that the Tomasistas laid siege to the Cuartel de la Guardia for 24 hours before Jerez ordered his City provided planes to bomb, that day Adela and I joined the thousands who converged, with little prompting from the Partido or the Frente, at the Parque de los Zinzontes...and so we started the Third Island War. Tomas, I'd heard from Iris, had been deployed. And then I'd heard from her he'd gone AWOL. So what was he doing here, in El Caserio?
But not really. As Guillermina said, paraphrasing Tomasa Monte, “We didn't start this war...It's been waged silently against us for centuries. We are being killed by poverty, dying of diseases that have long ago been conquered in the City's first world, of hunger, of addictions..Those are all acts of war.”
I looked around. Chasing Tomas (why was I?) I'd walked myself into a callejon sin salida. Impossibly miserable huts surrounded me. They smelled poor. The scent of old coffee grounds, wet dirt, sunburnt dust and scorched sweat I'd noticed in my friend Carifeo's house in El Bajio when I was a boy wafted from the shelters. The smell of pain. I'd surprised that scent in my parents' house, my childhood home, the moment I stepped in the door the first time I came home from la Universidad. Then it suddenly dawned on me we'd been poor, we were poor. I'd somehow never figured that out.
I realized I'd lost sight of Tomas completely. Would I dare tell Irma he was living somewhere in El Caserio? Spending his days in the Parque de los Zinzontes?
All the spaces among the huts looked the same. I turned slowly, trying to figure out which way I'd come into this dead end. It was then a thin man approached me, grabbed me by the elbow and drew me between two of the shacks into a wider alley, wide enough for the small green car he shoved me into.
“Expulsaron a cinco curas de El Pico. Jerez suspendio las mal llamadas Negociaciones de la Cordialidad. Supimos que estan a punto de arrestarte...”
“Quieren impedir que la caravana salga de Barranco hacia la Capital para la manifestacion de manana?
“Y yo que les importo? No soy nada, no soy nadie...”
Neither the man who took me, nor the driver of the small green car, said a word. Of course all three of us knew why the Seguridad wanted me. The green car wove deeper and deeper into El Caserio, downhill and unexpectedly up again, and stopped The taller man, not the driver, led us up a slope. Under our feet I could see the ochre arrecife on which the centuries old squat was built. The wind picked up. I smelled a gust of sea breeze, salty, fishy, clean. I looked up. The wind drove clusters of clouds toward the distant Pico. They were that yellow tinged shade I thought of as global warming gray. I'd never been able to mix paint to match this apocalyptic, dystopic, sci fi hue, at once fierce nature and desperate petrochemistry. The leader stopped by a strange structure. This house did not look makeshift although like the others it too was made from scraps, billboards, even license plates. It looked more cerebral and less organic than most of the huts I'd seen. We stepped inside.
“Jerez flipped out since Quintero broke away from the official line and met with la Dirigencia.” Tall Man motioned me to a raw wood bench. “Met with them right in El Pico, came to us!” Short Man sat on a straightback chair, the caning was cracked on seat and back. Noel sat on the bench and looked around. The storm had broken. The ceiling had been made of undulated scrap fiberglass, also global warming yellow gray. I saw it was slanted to pour off rainwater into a cistern made from an old Ron Pico barrel which in turn poured off into another and another and another making at once a fountain and a water supply.
The man who approached me now I recognized. “Carifeo?” I rose and we met in the center of the room. Nos abrazamos, held each other tight. How was it possible I recognized as a man a boy I grew up with in El Bajio, whom we called Carifeo because of his fair skin, green eyes and City anglo beauty?
“La pasabamos como monos trepados en los palos.” Carifeo sat on a low duho, almost squatting. I nodded, “The Carablancas started to think we were their own.” The rain had stopped and the sci fi yellow gray sky was flat blue, its brilliance visible even through the opaque translucence of the fiberglass ceiling. I jumped up off the wooden bench I was sitting on when a fat rat scurried over the fiberglass ridges. Carifeo banged the ceiling with a long pole. “We've got to keep those rats from falling into our water. And they do. We've got to have someone assigned to rat-catch after every rain.”
“Noel aca,” Carifeo pointed to me as he went on with our story. As a boy he was our storyteller. “Noel could recreate the petroglyphs from memory, do you believe that? No matter how many zig zags or curlicues or goddess cunts or god dicks...or unidentifiable frog like squiggles we'd seen, when we got back from the cuevas to El Bajio he took out the drawing stone we found in the cave and drew the things on big flat river rocks we'd rolled to where the river never rose, and then we used the chisels he'd chipped from stones, copied from one we found in one of our first excursions...
Tall Man, Miguel, my driver, leaned forward. “Those are the El Bajio glyphs that had that ethnographer drooling? You've got to be kidding me.” Carifeo rose. “Jose Cordero thought his academic career was made. He showed up here wanting to be a guerrillero but it was all we could do to keep him from running back to tell the world his find. I had to carve a section myself in front of him to get him to believe this was the work of the boys of El Bajio led by our artist.” He waved in my direction. “Our artist with the photographic memory.”
Carifeo led me outside and walked me around a huge outcropping of ancient coral arrecife. A few yards ahead stood an enormous old stone structure. I arched my eyebrows and Carifeo responded. As in childhood we barely needed words. “They say it was a pirate's landfall refuge, one of the few houses anyone ever built on this side of the seawall, too steep, pointing right into the sea storms.” We reached the house. “It took a lot of storms to wear this down,” I said. We stepped inside. The walls held up an entire section of the high beamed ceiling overhead, still covered by rows of stacked, curved, clay tejas. He led me inside into the next room, cave cool. The tiles were intricately decorated with black moorish filigree on a deep blue background, so beautiful it made my eyes begin to tear. The stockpile of weapons stacked against the far wall of the room, big enough for a formal ball or even a rally, stopped my breath. A shudder of terror climbed my spine.
“My name is Maximo,” Carifeo said, “Mi nombre de guerra.”
I shook my head, confused for a moment, then understanding. So Carifeo was Comandante Maximo, never seen without a red and black bandanna on his face. I couldn't understand why they had sought me out, bothered to pick me up. Now I did. Because my childhood friend Carifeo believed I have a photographic memory, total recall of whatever I saw, no need to write down things best never written.
“We couldn't let them detain you. Just because you have no idea what it is you know, what your memory remembers, doesn't mean they wouldn't if they got it out of you.”
Carifeo, I couldn't get used to another name, led me to the old courtyard where the old pila still flowed. Where was it drawing fresh water here on the arrecife? I'd always wondered how El Caserio got potable water. A network of pipes extended from the uphill side of the pila. Maximo (Carifeo) moved a wheelbarrow to one side, lifted a weathered wooden lid and eased himself into the ground. I followed him into a rectangular, earthen room, damp, brightly lit. At one end cots were lined up. Young men lay asleep on three of them. Tomas lay sleeping on the cot closest to where we stood. “We tell them to be revolutionaries they've got to be clean. They've got to have their minds to win. Drugs are land mines put right inside their heads. Sometimes they hear me. Most times they see an old man speaking.”
We walked beyond the dormitory into another room. I had to touch the ancient stones lining the walls. “An old catacomb from the old convento. We stumbled onto it. If only we'd begun our digging a few yards this way we would have spared ourselves several tons of dirt. Who would have dreamt there was soft dirt so close to the arrecife, and water? The early colonos missed this too. But we're lucky we stumbled onto this catacumba as soon as we did. He tapped the walls. “The graves of fetuses fathered by priests on nuns.” He shuddered as he led me into a square room with a table under a dangling light. “The tunnel goes on and on, underground, up the hill. We can exit near the Parque de los Heroes, what you call the Parque de los Zinzontes, inside the compound of the abandoned Convento de la Aparecida. He grabbed two from among the many folding chairs stacked against the sweating stone walls, and we sat facing each other across the table built from old time blackened planks.
I looked at him hard. “I've got to get back to my wife, my life. By now I'm overdue by several hours. She won't know where I am. She's pregnant.”
He gave the slightest of shrugs.
“You didn't show up where you were expected the night of the Presidio. It's a good thing nobody died because you didn't show. Now you know why you're not dead.”
Sleep betrayed me, overtook me as I lay curled on my side on a cot by the wall. I'd lain in a white rage at Carifeo and resolved to keep a vigil, my mind on the terror Adela must be feeling and how our baby was swimming in it, a victim of terrorism before he (I always imagined a boy) was even born.
The scream, “Jumpbacks” merged into my dream (I was dreaming of buying a hotdog with sauerkraut and onions) and woke me. I sat up and saw a tall skinny man striding into the dormitory from the seaside door. Again he hollered, “jumpbacks.” The young men sat upright one by one on their cots. Five others ran in from the courtyard door.
We lined up (eight of us) in the center of the huge tiled ballroom and saluted, “Comandante Omar, Relampago, Barra Cecilia, presente. Each man said his name. Rio. Manantial. Serpiente. Amanecer. Diluvio. Terremoto. Fuego. Relampago. Canon. Cueva. I noticed Tomas was Relampago. Fitting name. Comandante Omar looked into my eyes. He said, “Sendero.” I repeated my barra name.
Omar marched us through the catacombs up the ladder into the brilliant sunlight of the courtyard. He lined us up and led us through stretches, jumpbacks, jump forwards, handstands. All the while he chanted, “to have grace first you've got to have faith, to have faith first you've got to have grace, grace, faith, grace, faith....”
I was close to collapsing when he stopped, drenched in sweat, stumbling. Carifeo, Maximo, pulled me away from the other men. I stepped close to him, this stranger Maximo who'd once been my best childhood friend. “I've got to get back to my wife.” I had a sharp image of her womb waters overheating from terror, Pulgarcito swimming like a lobster whose home seawater had turned lethal. “She's pregnant.”
Carifeo gave me his back.” We'll make sure she's taken care of. You're too hot out there. We can't chance it.” He turned to face me. “This isn't something you just walk away from.”
I noticed the younger men file into the building across the courtyard. I smelled cafe and heard the din of dozens of forks hitting metal plates. “Faith, grace, faith, grace.” Maximo walked toward the dining room. I watched him, hands in fists, and let tears of despair stream my face.
That night Omar led us rooftop to rooftop. First he marched us through the catacombs, past the rows of fetal sarcophagi. I ached to paint that brown black earth, to fix this thing being birthed through a canal of centuries packed earth and stone. I could no longer bear to think of Adela's pain. Faith, grace; grace, faith. Except when suddenly, like now, her face floated into my consciousness, clear like a snapshot. Una aparecida. Omar led us out into the overgrown courtyard of the abandoned Convento de la Aparecida. Adela la aparecida. Noel el desaparecido. Omar hissed, “Faith, grace; grace, faith.”
A star strewn, deep blue black sky wrapped itself around us as we followed Omar onto the slanted, tile rooftop of the old convento, whose nuns fornicated in the rooms where now the Barra Cecilia slept, whose dead babies lay interred in the catacomb walls.
Most of the blood red tiles were gone and it was important to keep looking down to avoid stepping through the holes where the colonial timbers had given way.
I wasn't thinking. I was an aching machine of muscles pulling bones and jiggling organs.
Tomas, Relampago, still pretended now to know me. It was impossible that he didn't. Maybe he was unsure of my rank in their Barra. My standing. Was I prisoner or recruit?
None of the young men wanted to run away. There were opportunities as they stepped across narrow spaces between old crumbling colonial structures, or simply stepped over low adobe muros between houses that shared a wall, or as they carefully climbed over high muros whose tops had been inset with broken glass shards, many already dulled by decades, even centuries, of rain and wind.
Why didn't I escape? I felt as underwater as Pulgarcito, my vision blurred by exhaustion and sweat. Only now, after what must be weeks of this, I occasionally experienced unexpected surges of adrenalin. I'd gotten addicted to the morning jumpbacks and whenever my mind wanted to think of my old life, my old room, my warm-bodied wife, of my leg over her hips as we spooned at night, my hand cupped over her rounding belly, feeling through the taut drum of its surface the vibration of my son (Adela too was sure she was carrying a boy), instead of those images and sensations, my mind was filled by Omar's incantation: grace faith; faith, grace...
We stood for a moment. Our black clothed silhouettes and black painted faces disappeared into the dark night, overlooking the human pageantry, the milling night people in the Parque de los Zinzontes, by the Pabellon de los Heroes. We were directly over the statue of La India Cecilia, a cacica who defied the invaders, the Spaniards, after whom their Barra was named. Down below the humans swarmed, pretending they didn't know there was a war.
So now we'd proven we could penetrate Ciudad Vieja and remain invisible. And it was time to prove we could get back to our base. Omar led us along another route I (Sendero) didn't remember taking before. It involved parading through the center of the Pabellon de los Heroes, hidden in plain sight, like a guerrilla theatre troupe, or a band of post-modern performance artists.
We strode through, in a file, our Barra of ten, counting Omar. Those watching us froze for an instant, paused their own performance, midway to a novio kiss, reaching for a cigarette, handing over a tiny bag of marihuana, looking up at the sky. The war had come to them, for this one moment.
We emerged from another exit of the catacomb tunnel at a place in El Caserio I didn't recognize. We filed in the full moonlight still in blackface and black clothes. A woman in red sat nursing an infant in front of a shack. She looked straight at us, glazed eyes, unseeing. I'd seen her begging at El Parque de los Zinzontes. Blonde and shriveledw ith her blonde and shriveled child. I shuddered and came close to colliding with a boy with no legs I'd seen begging in the park. He was pushing himself across the narrow path we were crossing, with his arms, on a wooden cart.
It appeared we were invisible as we passed what I imagined was the Escuela de Pordioseros I'd heard say existed in El Caserio. Later I would ask Omar, Volcan.
I awoke to screams. How long was I sleeping? There was no light in the dormitory in la catacumba. Black as a tomb or a womb. A dim light filtered under the door from the kerosene farol in the hallway. I saw I was alone, rose and followed the harrowing yells. I hesitated outside a massive wooden doorway and only stepped inside when one of the young men, still in black, pulled the door open, away from me, and stepped outside.
“Entra, Sendero.”
I saw the young men, most of them sitting huddled together on the floor. Three of them held Tomas' legs. Two held his shoulders. Maximo himself leaned over Tomas, looked into his face. “Relampaguea, hombre. Dejate tronar.” Tomas screamed from the pit of his lungs. The sound shuddered through Noel. “I wanted to kill him for hurting my Mother. I did. I hit him.” Tomas flailed his body, pushed his fists and arms into the two men holding his limbs.
“I was afraid I was going to kill him. El gran Teniente. Mi propio padre.” He screamed again. “I was younger and smaller than he was and when I saw it, the terror in his eye, I felt I'd done it. I'd killed my own father. Killed him as a man. He was dead to me.”
Maximo held him when he cried. Tomas collapsed into him. He sobbed and shook. None of the men holding him let go, but now there was a tenderness in their holding I'd never before seen among men. When Tomas next spoke it was just above a whisper. Still I could hear him clearly over the silence.
“He was as good as dead to me. But then, I'd never really had a Father.”
Still holding Tomas, Maximo said, “That was a hairy moment tonight when you paraded through the Parque and Tomas let himself be provoked by his old pana Duque, and Rio (Maximo patted the young man to his left, stocky and muscular, his blackface streaked where tears had run), Rio did good holding you back...
“But you did good too, Relampago. That's part of the reason we go out there, to find out what our triggers are...
He looked at each of us. “There are landmines the system's put inside us, so they can play the rage they put inside us, get us to deploy it against each other. We're going to reclaim that rage and aim those mines where they belong, when the time is right.” He looked into Tomas, Relampago's, eyes.
“Thank you for finding a landmine. This is how we take the fuse in our own hands. The biggest war is for our minds.” Maximo sippped hot water. The young men had left and he and I stayed behind and were facing each other, sitting on folding chairs, our feet propped on the folding table between us.
I looked up at a sudden eruption of sound. Maximo laughed. “They're ready to make music now, dig deep.”
“I remember now. Relampago's from El Llano and he write lyrics. My wife told me she ran into him once in El Pico, heard him and his friends play.”
“She'd be hearing a change in his lyrics now.”
“They have a studio down here?'
Maximo nodded just as a deep base sound, loud enough to vibrate the stone walls, reached us. As I walked back to the dormitory I recognized Relampago's voice.”
“Refuse to be defeated, Claim your rage, Aim your rage...”
A vivid image of Adela arose in my mind. I thought she must be thinking about me, aiming her energy my way, trying to make contact. I saw her deep set eyes, the bump on her nose, the soft wave of her brown hair. I knew she now knew I was alive and well, almost well.
“You're picture's up everywhere. All over El Llano and Ciudad Vieja and El Parque. Underneath your face, in fat black letters it says DESAPARECIDO.” I saw Adela and my mother and Tina and Lydia and Elpidio taping them all the way to the entrance to El Caserio. I saw them think about it and then not dare to step inside.”
Tomas (now I knew why he was called Relampago) had struck me with news from the outside I wasn't ready to hear. We were heading for the basketball court. How many times had I seen women trailing children, posting pictures of their desaparecidos? After the Presidio photos and signs grew like fungi on the posts and tree trunks and muros. And now, my picture was on one and my wife and cousin and friend were the ones making the sad procession.
On the court I elbowed and pounded and found myself on top of someone, maybe Rio, about to bite him before my arms and legs were held and Maximo took my head onto his lap, and in the grip of his tenderness and his firmness, I, Noel, Sendero, screamed, bellowed, from my gut, deep, loud.
“I want out of here. I want my life, my wife, my child. You told me you'd get word out to her but she's out on the street posting pictures of me. Her womb is cooking my unborn child with terror. I don't want to abandon my child. I swore I would not be one of those men. You can't make me do this. I set up my whole life to not be one of those men.”
I bellowed. My body shook. I flailed. This force uncorked in my middle. I knew that I could kill.
“I'm not one of those men. I'm not one of the men who kills. History's not making me a killer. Not you Maximo Carifeo Mother fucker. I am not a killer.”
I heard Tomas, Relampago. “Claim your rage. Aim your rage.” A chorus rang out, “Claim your rage, aim your rage.”
I fought Maximo with all my strength and all the while the men were chanting, “Claim your rage, aim your rage.” After a few minutes my rage was spent. They lifted me and carried me as if I had triumphed, chanting all the way to the mess hall.
I could barely breathe and still I put one foot in front of another on the ochre soil. I looked a few feet ahead of me and down to the ground and not at the wall of ochre mountain to my right, or the precipice to my left, the valley deep below where I knew I might catch a glimpse of La Morada and of the turquoise sea.
We had been walking for days, stopping at night in the maze of caves that opened from this Eastern side of El Pico, the side nobody but insane City rock climbers and rebels visited. It was said there had been rebels here for centuries and that some of them had perfected kite gliders inside which they could fly. Long ago I had constructed and painted the giant kites I imagined those archaic rebels had flown in. I pictured myself flying into the boundless sky. I looked down the cliff and thought I might vomit. I could not take one more step. The load on my back, bedroll, food, change of clothes, weapon, I pictured hurling it off my back into the bottomless ravine.
There was a call of “Alto.” I dare not stop. I'd never be able to move again. But I must. An order followed to move forward slowly. There was an expanse of a few yards of flatter ground and deeper vegetation. Those ahead of me had gathered around Fuego, the Comandante of this expedition. Fuego faced forward, his arms out from his chest as on a cross. Only when I turned a corner did I hear the percussion of automatic guns. I stood three men deep and swallowed the screams my throat was forming, bent forward and puked. I'll never erase what I was seeing.
We'd reached Cima, one of our destinations. But so had Jerez' army. We'd stumbled onto a massacre. Civilians had been lain on the ground on the narrow dirt street that must be the center of the caserio, and they were killing them as they lay.
My gaze fixed, froze, on the bodies from which blood, guts and life were seeping. Men, Women, Children.
The veterans in our troop were ahead of me and when Fuego gave the signal with his first shot, they opened fire. I did not think. I pointed my automatic rifle the way I'd done on the firing range, and fired.
It was not like in the movies because of the smell. We were downwind from blood and carnage. Why didn't we all just stop? Both sides. Drop the weapons. Insanity gripped our minds, arms, hands.
I saw a soldier take aim at a little girl who looked like my wife's second cousin Lydia who lived with us, like my neighbor Tina. She lay on the ground belly down, just feet from where I stood. Relampago bolted ahead, jumped the soldier from behind, wrestled him down, kicked the gun away. Tina was his sister. But then the remaining soldiers had surrendered to Fuego's fusillade and his command. I knelt beside Tomas, Relampago, and took him in my arms. The little girl he saved sat motionless, staring ahead, past her rescuer. Tremors coursed through her body. Tomas pulled away from me and extended his arms to her. She crawled into them, closed her eyes, held her fists to her ears and shook.
Fuego and his two tenientes Cueva and Amanecer were lining up the soldiers, cupping their hands behind them, stripping them of any weapons they'd retained, knives strapped to their ankles, grenades strung at their waists, guns hidden in their boots.
War was homicide. Homicide was insanity. Exploitation and oppression were war. How did we untangle these threads? Where did we cut the chains? How did we humans manage not to scream in rage and terror all night, all day?
Cueva and Amanecer led the prisoners into one of the thatch roofed houses, close to the cliffside, away from the river. I lay on a hammock watching Relampago bring up their rear. I looked straight up through the branches at the sky. So many stars! Adela would be curled on their bed now, around her belly, cradling Pulgarcito in his private sea. The dog Clotilde would be curled up against her back. I felt the pierce of her aloneness. I remembered our first night together, right in the main house while her uncle Nestor and Aunt Matilde were away, not yet imagining we would one day live together as man and wife in what would have been the maid's quarters of the once grand (now fighting shabbiness) mansion. We made love on the tile floor. First we tried my tiny apartment in Ciudad Vieja. My. roommate was in. We wandered around Ciudad Vieja holding hands, and ended up leaning against the ancient wall of El Castillo on a flat expanse of lawn a few yards from where the cliff fell off toward the sea below, kissing and drinking bootleg rum from El Pico. And then Adela remembered her uncle and aunt and cousins were gone to the campo for a week. Adela knew they never locked the back door. We'd necked on the bus all the way there and ended up on the cool tile floor of their living room reluctant to use any of their beds. Little did we imagine that night that we would one day be living in what would have been their maid's room and that I would have my studio in their shed. Afterwards we lay on the hammock in the back porch holding hands and telling our stories, reconstructing them in the light of our meeting that redeemed each of our previous pains. Those pains had all been leading to this, we'd thought. We were each other's fairy princess and prince.
And now here I was, swallowing this bitter drink. I did not want to be here. Not in this place not with these people. Not in this moment. In captivity. Captive to my own choices.
And still the beauty of the night sky lulled me. I betrayed my pain, the pain that certified my loyalty. It wasn't possible to sustain pain forever and I surrendered to this now. I rose from the hammock, carefully sat up into its center and lowered my legs and walked to where several of the men sat around a small fire.
I looked at the redlit faces around the fire and I listened. I was not alone. Here was the closeness I had longed for as a little boy, had glimpses of then with our inseparable crew led by Carifeo, but had never found in my groups as an adult. Was it only that after the terror came the bond? Ice cold alienation snaked around my wind pipe. I did not belong. I was an impostor. I longed now to run home to hide. I longed for Adela. For Pulgarcito. After what I'd seen today would I ever reenter that other world. If I lived...
“You've got to be ready to die and I'm not...” Those were the first murmured words of Relampago's Noel heard. Omar leaned toward him. “None of us fully is. We need both to be ready to die and to want to live.” I wanted neither...or the wrong want came to me at the wrong moment. I rose and made my way to my hammock, cocooned myself, gazed at the sky and wanted my life to be other than at war. I made my mind form Adela's face so I wouldn't forget it. Made her face inside my own, eyes to eyes, until I slept.
I woke up with the morning birds and found my way through the brush to the river. I pulled the rope I'd hung from a sturdy branch a few days before, straddled the knot , crossed my thighs, hugged the rope against my chest and I flew. I flew. My body remembered! I floated over the glistening, smooth water. It had been more than two decades since I'd done this, maybe from this very tree, with Carifeo, long before he was Maximo. I could hear our boy yelps and war cries now, in my mind's ear. My body remembered the movement. My mind remembered the elation.
I flew and at the peak of the propulsion I let go, soared for a split second and then felt my feet slice the mountain cold water. I let my body sink, opened my eyes inside water, turtle green from the bottom silt my body displaced. I swam a few strokes underwater, looking at the smooth long stones of the river bed I'd imagined as a boy were petrified crocodiles. I shuddered from my boy terror that they were merely sleeping and might any moment wake and strike. Then I knifed to the surface and gulped air. I swam to the shore and climbed the bank, humming all the way to the camp. I'd have to spend the rest of the day in wet clothes but didn't care.
“Where the fuck were you?”Comandane Omar's voice felt like a punch to the gut. I was five years old. Omar was Abuelo venting wrath, towering, terrifying. “We're striking camp.” I saw the others had rolled their hammocks and cooking tins into their shredded plastic rain tarps. The ashes had been raked into the ground and covered with strewn branches.
“We're not playing war.” Noel saw a flicker of fear in Omar's eyes. The terror of the powerful. Did every action he did not control appear a challenge? I held his gaze. I wanted to go flying, is what I wanted to say. I didn't. Omar stepped toward me. “This is not la Capital, for armpit revolutionaries with a book in your sobaco. Insubordination here means somebody can die.” He looked at the other men, standing at attention, their gazes on the ground. No gazes shared his, validated his outrage. I saw his gaze harden and then give it up. The Comandante spun on his heel and left them all standing. Relampago ran to my hammock, loosed it, quickly packed my gear. “You're wet,” he said after he set the load on my back.
We trudged through the jungle alongside the river along a narrow path being hacked out of the dense wall of foliage by Fuego in the lead. Like walking through matter, a thought only Adela would understand. I wanted to be left alone for months in my studio painting through this wall, and the one I was being pushed through in my mind. I was afraid to be led by a man who felt cornered and was frightened himself. I wished I hadn't seen Omar's terror. It should have made me know he's human, feel closer but instead, it made me afraid. What a time to discover I actually imagined my leaders were better than me, invulnerable. Hadn't I known better given my father who vanished and my battering grandfather? Had I seen Abuelo's terror as a boy? I must have. Here was the origin of my terrible aloneness. Adela once had said, “I had to be my own mother and you had to be your own father.” Now I began to understand what she meant.
I could barely raise my legs. I could tell through the dome of branches the sun was overhead, noon. Still we marched. The prisoners in the middle, just behind me. Omar, Volcan, didn't order us to stop. We had no food so there was no purpose in stopping. I sank into myself and just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Misunderstood. Omar feels misunderstood like I feel misunderstood. Only nightfall made him at last stop the march. Thank God for night. Relampago helped me set up my hammock and then set up his own a few feet closer to the river bank.
Fuego produced a small jutia he'd killed sometime during the trek. He squatted in a small clearing of the brush, skinned the rodent, gutted it. I watched from where I hung between two trees too tired for hunger. I'd been made to be here and now I was dying. Relampago handed me a small piece of the roasted rodent flesh. I chewed the smoky sweet meat slowly and then the world went black.
I dreamt of deserting. In my dream I wandered off from the rear as the others moved forward, and was able to find my way to El Bajio where Abuelo's thatch house was not razed flat by the Mano Blanca (as it had been in the waking nightmare that was life), but was the way it was in my childhood. I saw it all: the picture of the Sagrado Corazon against the dark brown planks. I used to watch that picture, to catch the heart pulsing, In this dream it pulsed at last. A boy much like myself lay sleeping in a cot along the riverside wall, where he could hear the cooking sounds and smell the cooking smells from the kitchen, coal burners on a table on the other side of the wall. In the dream I thought I would bring Adela and Pulgarcito to this world, which according to the dream, was my real world. My dreaming mind thought this just as Maximo burst into the dream room. They shoot deserters. This dream thought shook me with terror and I woke up to the first paleness of dawn, before the pink. Through the branches I watched the pale sea shell orange tint spread across the sky.
Why was I here? But this was a very old thought that was always with me, had been with me as a boy in El Bajio a,s an adolescent in the Ctty, when I lay beside Adela. God forgive me, the thought never left me for one breath now that I was a conscript of the insurgence.
Adela said it wasn't my fault, “The lot of the colonized, survivors of genocide, wage enslaved....” But I didn't understand. I watched Relampago and Fuego build the morning fire. I couldn't make out their words but heard their laughter. Did they have no doubts? At least for this one moment, they had no doubts.
I lay on my belly. I gasped. How long had I forgotten to breathe? All the making ready had been for this. And I didn't want to die. Maximo said all the training was so that I didn't care whether or not I lived or died. And yet, I cared for life.
There had been a gunshot. Maximo's gun. An ambush we set, a battle we began. I kept my face close to the ground, breathing dirt. I thought of kickball games in the school yard in the City. How I wished the concrete would split like in sci fi movies and swallow me, que me tragara la tierra, before a ball was kicked my way.
My job was to cover Relampago whose job was to run to the wooden shed that was actually an arsenal for the Mano Blanca, guarded by a boy whose face I could clearly see. He wasn't ready to die either. The boy had just now seen Relampago approach. Relampago, my same neighbor Tomas who'd offered me a blunt one late night of insomnia when I had been standing sleepless at my studio door. He'd seen me as he prowled behind our adjoining houses trying to sneak into his home by the kitchen door. I took a toke, the first in years. We'd sat on my rockers which we took out into the patio, rocking and watching dawn slowly begin to pink the blue gray sky.
I could see the boy, the Mano Blanca's dupe, aim at Tomas. I aimed. I fired. I hit just above the Mano Blanca boy's head. I wanted to hit anything, anywhere so as not to kill. The boy dropped his weapon and Relampago reached the shed. We took the cache of weapons and the boy.
I assumed my position guarding the back of our weapons cache which was dug into the ground and should have looked like I was guarding nothing at all. Somebody died but it wasn't me. Diluvio whom I barely knew. Very young. Someone Relampago, Tomas, brought in. “Not madera de lider,” Fuego was saying. This was later and we were sitting by our small fire. We'd cooked a tiny rodent and were sharing its tiny limbs. I listened as Fuego went on. “He smelled of fear. You didn't want to stand too close to him.” Fuego didn't often talk about the men. Lluvia laughe. “He was too scared to pay attention so he walked into that bullet.” He crunched on the tiny rodent bone. I sighec. “Surae wish I could believe there was something I could do to avoid that bullet with my name on it.” After I spoke there was a long silence and at last Maximo sent us all to bed.
This was the safe place. The spot under the cupola of branches where his hammock was tied between two trunks was that were stronger, it seemed than their width had promised. The trees were narrower than Adela's tiny waist (before Pulgarcito set up camp inside her). I'd notched the bark for each day here wanting to keep track of her pregnancy, not able to fully imagine how her waist would swell. I'd known aunts and cousins who'd been not pregnant, pregnant, then not pregnant again and barely noticed them. I'd cherished Adela pregnancy, our shared pregnancy, feeling the child growing inside me as well as in her. I clenched my fists. This was taken from me, from her, from our child, our Pulgarcito, our boy. I felt burnt by rage. Who did I hate more, Jerez, the City, colonization. Did I hate Carifeo, the fool who held me captive here? There were many forms of captivity. Or in a world held captive by imperialism isomorphism dictated that all states implied a captivity. Or this was the human condition, flesh captive to mind, mind captive to flesh.
Overhead clouds parted and the sliver of moon emerged. I took a deep breath. Adela's friend Marina, half Venturan, half Islander and City bred, had told us once after dinner as we sat in the patiecito in the rockers watching her son Machi and Adela's little cousin Lydia run in circles, that she used to dream perfect words and the words vanished the moment she awoke just as she was about to capture them. The pain of losing the words made her want to not be a poet but a revolutionary instead, she'd said, whatever that had meant. I'd never wanted to be anything other than a painter. I'd been captured into being a revolutionary. So then what was I?
Tomorrow we will bury Diluvio whose birth name I never knew. Would his mother, his sweetheart know he's dead? Would they ever know where his body lay feeding sap to what trees? I breathed deep and my mind found whatever is more real than mind. I sank into that reality for a few breaths. I welcomed its welcome. I felt Adela and Pulgarcito had arrived in the mind free place too, we would all arrive there now and then, and in that place we remained one, united, together. My eyes filled with tears, joy and pain at once.
Pre dawn ambush
Predictably, a ragged troop of Jerez' troops announced its approach. They were predictable because they never strayed from the trodden paths of El Pico or those its bulldozers had broadened to admit yipis and tanks. Their mechanical rumble announced them as did their air cover. Technology gave them away. My job as usual was to cover Relampago who called out, “Alto, Territorio Libre. No hay paso,” as Fuego shot the air from behind. This time the young City Force Sargento dropped his weapon and raised his arms. We joked that battles with no shooting were best but taking prisoners was tiring. Relampago led. Fuego took the rear. And I marched alongside the disarmed caqui clad guardias.
The others commandeered the huge cars, loaded the weapons onto them and maneuvered them in front and behind the rest of us on foot. We walked for hours until we reached Punta Gorda, as close to our camp as vehicles could go. I saw the third guardia on the line bend down, fish a gun strapped to his calf and aim it at Relalmpago. Not thinking I shot it from his hand. I saw the terror in the guardia's eyes but didn't kill him. Let Carifeo decide.
This terror was like the holographic terrors of my civilian life but naked and sharp. All along this had been itssource, war. Here it was exposed, original. But it was all war. That was what life in capitalism was, a kind of invisible shrapnel that rained on everybody all the time. Those unendurable and inexplicable morning terrors of civilian life that I had to believe didn't afflict only me were the pulsing and bleeding from the shrapnel we couldn't see.
I awoke to the terrible din of music. Probably Tomas, Relampago, accidentally unplugged his earphones from his boombox. I swung my legs from my hammock, landed them on the ground and eased my butt off the hammock. I looked straight ahead and saw a girl step out of Fuego's tent. I caught her eye not meaning to and she averted her gaze. She wore fatigues. I remembered her, the campesina daughter of the peasant who had sheltered us just beyond El Bajio. Had she joined, or been robada? I walked to the river. She was already there, washing herself, washing off the traces of fuego. I could only see her head. She squatted in the shallow water behind a mound of stones. I shrugged. After I'd killed (I didn't know that any of the deaths had been from my bullets so I took responsibility for all of them), I no longer judged. I had tolerance for human flaws.
I squatted where the water spilled over the banks and formed a shallow pool, far enough away that she couldn't see me. I stripped and slid into the waters of the Guacabon. The cold hurt just for a moment but now I had tolerance for pain. Then I sat on a flat stone in a shaft of sunlight until I was dry enough to dress. I faced a narrow path I knew led to El Bajio. It wouldn't be impossible to get from this East Slope of El Pico to the more inhabited slope, El Bajio, where Carifeo and I grew up. I could find my grandfather's old place. From there I might reach the Eco-Preserve, or the ashram. I might take shelter in any one of those places. I might let myself be rescued by City tourists. I pictured myself walking down the narrow sidewalk to my house, turning onto the cracked concrete driveway, walking on the weeds pushing through the cracks. I saw each detail, the bougainvillea arbor Adela's aunt Marcela slaved over, the barren dust patches by the door to our small apartment that would have belonged to a maid or a cook for the wealthy family who once had owned this house. Adela's spindly plants could never bloom there. I saw the turned up red dirt where the stray dog Adela rescued buried goat hooves she found in one of her escapes back to the street. I saw Adela standing at our door. I saw her eyes willing to hold their questions, able to show pure joy that I was home. I saw myself kiss her lips and drop onto my knees to hug her belly. Pulgarcito, his life engulfed by invisible shrapnel but still protected in the sea of her womb. I felt tears on my cheeks.
I heard gunshots. I turned to where the girl now stood, her eyes huge with terror. I wanted to run into the river path. Instead I slowly climbed back to camp. The girl, Zoila she said her name waas, close beside me. Two rebel bodies lay belly down in the small clearing where our campfire had been. I stoped short and held Zoila back with my arm. We had no weapons.
There was another burst of shots from the brush. I jumpled flat onto the ground and brought Zoila down with me.
“Tiren las armas.” Fuego's voice. I'd constructed the story wrong. We'd won. Even ambushed (and without me...I laughed to myself...)we had won. God must be on our side.
The lights of El Bajio, like set diamonds, glowed way below in the break between the dense weave of trees surrounding us since we made the turn at Revuelta and began our descent from the East slope of El Pico toward El Bajio. That way lay La Morada, la carretera, my home. But I was not the free invulnerable deserter of my reverie. We had set off after Fuego decreed we were burnt and ordered us to break camp. His troops and prisoners guessed where we were heading as soon as we sawa the lookout at La Revuelta. As we approached patriotic music reached us broken into bits by cliffs and wind.
The anniversary. The anniversary of El Grito. El Grito del Bajio. For it had been from El Bajio thata the men and one woman, Tomasa Monte, had launched their assault, their attempted assault, on the barracks ata El Presidio almost 120 years ago.
Gritos were the cries of that hidden war, the places where the veil was torn and the war poked through on our terms. Gritos stood stood against the shrapnel, contradicted it., if even for one instant, like the broken sounds now reaching us through the trees.
Relampago brought Zoila with us. She kept up with the march and knew the paths. She walked just ahead of me. I watched her learn to walk with her new boots. We reached the rally and stood together listening to Carifeo whom I recognized even with a red bandanna covering his face. He spoke from the tarima. Fuego had his arm around Zoila's waist.I stared at him. I held back an urge to shake him, punch him. “What are you going to do with her? For her? She thinks you're serious. But are you? She's an inocente. She wanted a mate, a helpmate, a partner.” I addede Fuego to the long list of my enemies, those I'd thrown out of the human circle. In the dim yellow light from the bulbs strung around the plaza of El Bajio I saw Fuego's head bend down as Zoila tilted hers back. I saw them kiss. An innocent, loving kiss. Who was I tu judge their love? For a second I saw through this ancient drone my mind endlessly replayed. Long ago, had it been true? Had I been surrounded by enemies as a boy? My mother had been my original enemy. Or I thought she was because she was the one who left me to my abuelos in El Bajio so she could go Norte, to the City. I remembered sistting by the dry well, leaning against the splintery wood that framed it, hiding from El Abueolo who wanted me to help set out the cafe to dry, sitting there feeling a pierce of longing for Mami and then willing the hatred, making myself hate her, my enemy. Only years later I learned it had been Papi who'd been the villain. My Abuela sat me down in the kitchen and began to rant about all men, worst of all my father who knocked her daughter up then left her to go Norte but never came home. Who had anogther woman and anothe3r family by the time my mother saved up enough to follow him. Another enemy.
I clenched and unclenched my hands. “Revolution needs making. It is a kind of work. Our work,” Carifeo, Comandante Maximo, said from the tarima. Was that just the same drama on a larger stage? Did I truly care for justice? Did I leave my family to fight for justice? Or was I another vanishing man, another abandoner, perpetuating the contagion of abandonment and betrayal as I reenacted my revenges against those who betrayed me?
I pushed through the crowd. A rally. Big enough to get lost in. Like the others, like Maximo, I wore a bandanna over the lower half of my face like movie cowboys. As I went deeper into the crowd I looked at their rapt faces fixed on the tarima and saw I was unseen. I allowed the bandanna to slip down. Maybe ten minutes later I heard my name spoken in a near whisper close to m y left ear. I turned and I saw Sonia and Marina, Adela's coworkers, wearing long dresses and wrapped in striped shawls. “We're at the ashram, at the Spa Manantial.” Marina got right up close to me. “Adela se esta volviendo loca.” Sonia grabbed my hand and hugged me. “Jerez is hanbging by a thread. He's getting pushed out. La cosa esta cambiando. We're getting thousands of calls at InfoDesaparecidos.”
I stood unmoving, taking in these women, their excited, enchanting goodness I'd never seen before.
“We gave her a shower for the baby. We tell her life goes on. You can't fall apart, mujer. Now you're a mother.”
“Tell her I'm alive. I'm well. I think of them night and day. I haven't forgotten them. I didn't go with the rebeldes by choice. I was on a Mano Blanca list.”
“She remembers the blue car.”
I will never understand why I didn't simply join them, hide in the trunk of their car. Why I didn't let them abduct me back to my old life the same way I was abducted away from it.
Marina said, “This peace caravan has been marching its way through the villages of El Pico. We've come three times. El Partido sends delegations. Adela came twice. She never said, but we knew she was hoping for this miracle, that she'd find you. You were either detained or with the rebeldes and we'd heard rumors.” She shoved his shoulder hard. “Hijo de puta no pudiste avisarle a tu mujer encinta?”
I looked down to hide my shame, my tears. “Of course I sent word. What do you think I am? They told me they told her as much as they could tell her of where I was and that I was alive.”
Sonia shoved me from the other side. “No te hagas el inocente. Ahora te vienes con nosotras. No se que excusa tienes.”
I recognized Relampago's hand pulling me away. I looked into his eyes. I could choose to seimpluy leave him, leave them, go with the women. Relampago would let me desert. I didn't move for two long breaths. Relampago shook his head. Or did he. Why didn't I take the chance to escape. I turned to the women one last time but they were gone. Opportunity was bald, my mother always said, and you had to catch it by the hair.
Carifeo didn't tell us we were heading to the Refugee Camp nor why. I'd stopped asking or trying to figure out why he did what he did, took us where he took us. Relampago overheard while standing outside one of the makeshift shelters where he was guarding Maximo, a meetingbetween him and a Clandestino about a new Declaration calling for Jerez to step down, and a combined plan between the clandestinos and the alzados in El Pico to attack Jerez Palacio de Gobernacion.
Cese de Fuego. The Peace Caravan was calling for a complete cease fire. Relampago told me his news where we lay, wound into our hammocks close to the ground over a hollow made by the roots of two facing trees. We said nothing for awhile. A cese would mean we could go home but I wanted to and Relampago did not.
Early the next morning screams awoke us just as the sky was beginning to go pink. We sat up, grabbed our weapons. Relampago held me back. From our hollow we saw the massacre we were powerless to stop. Our only options were to hide or die. The paramilitares had circled the Camp and shot into the structures made from poles and Refugee Administration issued canvas. A woman who ran out of a shelter straight ahead from us locked her gaze with mind and was felled. Her three year old daughter clutched her mother's knees and was felled beside her. I couldn't save them I was too afraid to die myself. Relampago's choice came from wisdom, mine from terror.
We waited until sundown to make sure the paramilitares were gone and then we walked among the dead. Maximo and the Clandestino were not among them. We dragged the bodies to the center of the regugio, a small clearing used for meetings and distributions of supplies. Tears poured from my eyes. I saw the shot out eyes of a little girl, like Lydia. I bent over to vomit. My body moved on without my mind, tenderly laying the bodies. In the end we counted 45.
We had no orders but after other massacres Maximo had ordered mass cremations. There were too many bodies for burials, too much danger of disease felling whomever the bullets had spared. Without speaking we walked the woods, gathered branches, built a pyre. We scavenged the through the warehouse tent and found a red tin with kerosene. Noel stood poised with a lit torch. “Reza.” Relampago bowed his head. He began to chant one of his lyrics.
“Nos quieren para matarnos, nos tienen para matarnos, pero no nos van a vencer, no nos ban a vencer.”
Noel set fire to the pyre and joined Relampago's chant. “They have us so they can kill us. They want so so they can kill us. And we refuse defeat. We refuse defeat.”
Relampago left me standing guard by the smoldering pyre. There were skulls and bones and bits of flesh that the fire had not yet burnt down. Relampago would scavenge for gasoline and round up other survivors who must have hidden in the hills. He had to find Maximo, Carifeo. I sat by the ashes. The skulls. The bones. So much death I could not take it in. I didn't want to. “No somos nada.” I thought of Domingo, the man who had killed, the man little Lydia's mother ran away with. He'd been forever marked by just one killing. How many bodies had my bullets ripped apart from their souls? What was it to be alive? Where did life reside? I'd seen dead body upon dead body, some had a lifelike glint in their eyes, a trick of the light. I could take the life out but not put it back in.
I sat for hours waiting for Relampago. Late afternoon bled into night. The smoke from the pyre created a fierce red sunset. I didn't move. I faded, became porous and coreless. Had I ever been this alone?
My mother had told me the story of my birth. Maybe then, right at birth, I had been this alone. But that had been her aloneness. I'd been born into her aloneness. She'd traveled to the Captial to find my father, her husband. When she arrived at his family's, long, deep house in Old Town she was told by his mother, who should have been her mother-in-law, that Vicente had already gone to the City a buscar ambiente. He'd just left the day before. The old woman Serafina, and my mother Damasa, sat in cane seat rocking chairs, in the dark front room, shuttered against the night. “La oportunidad la pintan calva y hay que agarrarla por el pelo,” Serafina said. She said this with a bit of compassion. It was her explanation for why Vicente hadn't bothered to come to El Bajio before he left. Through a friend of his father Manuel, Vicentico had gotten a free berth on a merchant ship in exchange for labor because at the last minute a crew member had gotten sick. “There wasn't time to say goodbye. He dreams of sending for you.” But Damasa my mother didn't believe her. Vicente didn't dream of sending for them. His dream was to run away. At last he'd gone to the City.
Damasa lay on a folding bed that Serafina opened and pushed against the wall of the room Vicentico had been sleeping in, his brothers' room. The three young men shared one bed. They seldom came in to sleep. They worked nights, or partied in Old Town's many dives. It had been the eldest of the brothers, Manolito, arriving from his night shift with the Old Town police, who heard Damasa moaning by herself, facing the wall, curled around her huge belly and alerted his mother with one of his police officer bellows.”Serafina. Ustedes las mujeres estand dormidas.” Of course they were asleep. His mother rose and at once woke the three sisters from the bed they shared in the room across the hall. Manolito bellowed again. “Mama, Julia, Juana y Josefa, levantense que esta mujer esta al parir.”
He borrowed a car from a neighbor who used it as an illegal taxi and was glad to have Manolita owe him. Serafina and the eldest Julia each stuck a shoulder under one of Damasa's armpits, let her lean on them almost full weight, pushed her into the car, and piled in on either side of her. Juana and Josefa got into the front seat with Manolita who started the car and drove madly fast while the sisters and Serafina mocked my mother's ignorance of all things female, such as holding on to a man and giving birth.
She gave birth moments after arriving, barely made it to a room. “You tore me open when you were born.” How many times did I hear her say those words? I pictured myself placed into the unloved and loveless arms of Damasa. I'd been born into aloneness, into the brittle air of an unwelcoming world.
Just then I heard the moan. I turned. A man had crawled to where I sat. He was drained of color, probably drained of blood. He clasped my hand and fixed his cloudy gaze on mine. He was about to die. He had not wanted to die alone. I let his cold hand clutch mine, burning now. My whole body burned. Where did the dead go? Did we live in an atmosphere made of expirations, in a sea of ghosts? As soon as he expired the man's face settled into an expression I imagined showed peace. I sat him down, pulled him onto the pyre.
I now knew exactly what I must do. I found enough kerosene to torch the body. I watched it burn, trying to pray, praying as best I could pray. And then I set off in the direction of the Manantial Paraiso.
I don't know how many hours later I walked in on Carifeo and Relampago sitting in the thermal baths. “Hombre, duchate y metete.” Carifeo was happy to see me. I did as I was ordered. I stripped and stood naked oin the cold shower then eaased my body into the hot spring. I sant into the water up to my neck, closed my eyes, and forgot the world for the next few breaths. Raging at these two idiots could wait. Telling them that I was leaving, going awol, deserting, defecting, committing treason...going to my wife before she like Damasa had to give birth by herself...could wait.
I opened my eyes and the huge full moon hung overhead. I'd walked from one night to the next. I'd stopped to sleep for a few hours in the house of a peasant who fed me rice and yuca and beans. But mostly, I'd walked. The charnel ground faded from my memory. Was it possible to be human and hold on to the memory, the knowledge, of death?
I turned to look at Carifeo, Comandante Maximo. He was looking at me, smiling.
“Jerez has been assassinated.”
I couldn't take this in.
“He was assassinated only because the City wants him dead. Wants a change. His successor is David Robles Garrido, his deputy. He was shot as he left his mistress' gated mansion at five in the morning, the same morning of the masacre del refugio del Bajio.
“Robles' first action, and this is how you know the City wanted Jerez dead, was to reestablish las garantias.”
I must have looked bewildered because Relampago shook me. “Do you understand? You can go home.”
I slept. Carifeo and Relampago led me to a clean bed in a small cabin. I could hear the river. I slept. Next morning when Carifeo, Relampago and I sat down to eat I saw Sonia and Marina in the dining room of the Spa Manatial Paraiso having a breakfast of miso broth.
As if I was among the living I let myself be herded into Sonia's car. I said almost nothing on the drive back to El Llano. My eyes devoured the jungle road, reclaimed the familiar, delighted in the pastel houses of La Morada. I shook when cars zoomed past, terrified by their speed.
Not wanting to intrude, Marina dropped me off at the corner of my old street. I walked slowly on the newly paved sidewalk. Despite the war Adela's Tio Nestor had kept on building. How would he do under Robles Garrido? Probably not as well as he'd done under Jerez.
Adela stood at the end of the driveeway, just in front of the door to my old studio, tossing a red frisbee to Lydia. The dog Clotilde leapt straight up and caught it mid-air. Adela's belly was huge. I turned onto the path. For an instant, just before she turned and saw me, I pictured myself in her gaze, gaunt, bearded, tanned, a stranger. I should have thought to shave.
But now Adela was turning to face me. Lydia was screaming. “Noel, Noel, Noel.” Adela's smile was the reason to paint human faces I'd never understood til now. I let myself be held.

Blog 43 Taina and Yuissa meet
I walked slowly to the shore, slipped off my sandals, and walked barefoot on the packed wet sand. The sky was pinking as the sun fell into the sea that glistened now, flat and calm. But this day I remembered its other face, the giant waves and ravenous undertow that had almost taken Machi when he was Taina's age, that had almost taken Adela and me a dozen years ago. I never got around to asking Machi if he remembered almost drowning. I was afraid to. I had failed him as a mother at risk of his very life. My heart felt bound. I pictured it in mummy rags.
I looked away from the sea. To the right in the far distance I made out the high fence, the coiled barbed wire at the top, of the outer perimeter of the Base, almost erased by the light. I longed to pierce through it, see the prison hidden deep within. Paradise and hell side by side. Was Ori really there? Was the wizened figure curled on the narrow cot I'd seen in the surveillance video screen when Franz and I breached the base really Ori? Had I really seen the birthmark on his shoulder?
I felt my mind try to make room for him, for thoughts of him, for his proximity. Machi had made me come to believe Ori was alive, held at the Camp. Just for this moment I let myself believe that whatever they had done to him, there would still be enough of Ori left in Ori that I would find him when I found him.
I stood with my feet in the surf watching my son and Taina walk toward a little girl barely dressed in a small top and shorts, exposed skin burnt dark brown, short curly hair scorched by salt water and reddened by sun. She dug with fierce concentration without looking up from a deep hole in the sand that had begun to fill with sea water. I recognized the new girl who’d come with Guada and must be Guada’s daughter.
Taina was a few feet ahead of Machi pulling him by the hand. She threw herself onto her knees beside the little girl who had shifted her efforts to patting into shape a row of sand columns, molding them with her hands.
Taina moved close beside her. "Hola Yuissa. Can I dig here?"
The girl pointed to a second, shallow hole alongside the deep one she was digging.
Taina pushed her hands deep inside. She looked up at Machi. "I like sand. It's like dirt but not dirty."
The girl pointed to a row of narrow seed pods she’d collected and dropped her voice. "Los Desaparecidos. We'll put them in the hole." She brought her head close to Taina's. “My Papi's Desaparecido.”
Taina hugged her new friend. “Mine was too. He got found.” Taina dropped her voice. “But then he always disappears again.”
The girls stood and twirled all the way to the water, fell in, splashed, and rolled on each other, laughing.
That night Taina made our pod move camp next to the tent of her new friend Yuissa, Patria's grandchild, daughter of her desaparecido son Tomás and his wife, Adela's little cousin Lydia (the one who'd taken Guada for her Taino name). They'd been my neighbors twelve years ago. Guada and Yuissa had come to Palenque both years Patria had been here, for Grito Day. This was their third Grito Day here. This time they’d pitched their tent behind Patria's casita.
When Marina and her pod showed up at her casita Patria ran to them and helped them choose the spot for their new shelter. “Sooner or later you were meant to move to Las Casitas but it took a six year old to lead you to roll up your tarps, pull up your stakes and carry your duffels through the maze all the way here. Not too soon, either. We're coming into storm season and you don't want to be living in a tarp when it's time to roll out the storm dome.”
It took Machi, Lagarto and David much less time to rebuild our shelter than it had taken to build it months ago. They found an open stretch of ground close to a sea pine a few yards beyond Guada and Yuissa's tent. The spot was exactly big enough for the lean-to Machi shared with David. I was relieved they hadn’t decided to move their shelter to where Lagarto had his, by the caves.

Julia and I stood by trying to find a way to be helpful and just watching Lagarto expertly pierce stakes into the ground and angle the tarps against rain and wind. Today, in the sunlight I smiled at his resemblance to the lizards he was nicknamed for. He was tall, thin, and yellow skinned. Young men stood around boom boxes in the commons behind the casitas drinking beer. When the work was done Lagarto bartered some of Machi's matches for beers from the boombox men.
He offered Machi one of the beers. "In Palenque the party starts at seven at night and goes until seven in the morning."
Machi glanced at me and waved the beer away. "Later. Maybe later."
Anacaona and her sister-in-law sat outside Guada’s tall canvas tent at a wood plank picnic table hand stitching the seams of black hoods. Guada bent her narrow brown face over her sewing. With her long black hair pulled back into a tight, high pony tail she resembled the somber, too wise little girl I'd known as Lydia.
I slid into the bench alongside Guada. "I'm still amazed that you're Adela's little second cousin."
Her face opened into a grin. "And, Anacaona's sister in law, Tomas' wife." She pointed me to an orange mameluco on the table.
I threaded a needle and picked up the orange cloth. "I like the sound of the name Guada. It suits you."
She handed me a thimble and showed me how to use it to get the needle through the stiff fabric. "I wanted a name that didn't remind me of struggle but of winning. So I picked something I do to live as if we'd already won. Guada means garden. Tomas and I still live in Patria’s old house, the one you lived next door to with Adela. I’ve filled that little courtyard where you used to sit and write in the mornings with cilantrillo and other herbs, tomatoes, ajies, onions, garlic. I call it my sofrito garden."
Machi left Lagarto and the other young men drinking beer by his lean-to and joined the sewing women. As he approached us I noticed a new, easeful confidence in his stride. He patted the picnic table. "Y esto?"
Anacaona set down her mameluco, looked up at him, tossed her head back, and laughed. Her many rows of brown braids danced and the colored glass beads woven into them shone in the firelight.
"We dragged it one night from the Playa Publica of the old EcoPreserve. We were euphoric on endorphins and adrenalin after one of the actions, celebrating that for a change none of us got arrested, and we decided we wanted some real furniture. Gracias mil to the Eco Preserve."
Guada patted the bench beside her and motioned to Machi. He sat between her and Anacaona. "Ayúdanos. We're chaining ourselves again to the Base gate tomorrow morning."
I held up my first mameluco. I was done with it. I fingered the thin, stiff orange fabric, not like anything real prison uniforms would be made of. It had taken me no time. Anacaona had shown me how to make two rows of big, but efficient stiches. She pointed to the tent. Just inside the mesh flap covering the entrance, on top of an air mattress, was a pile of orange mamelucos waiting to be stitched alongside a pile of finished ones. I folded and stacked my finished one and picked up a stack of unfinished ones to bring to the table.
Deeper in the tent Taina and Yuissa sat on the other air mattress. They were whispering. Yuissa's dolls were napping inside her cartoon princess sleeping bag. I peered at the bag in the dim light. "Who made that princess have brown skin?"
Yuissa pointed to the princess' face. "I wanted her to be a Taina. I used the fabric crayons Mami gave me to make T-shirts at my birthday party. It wasn't easy to make brown skin and Mami helped me. But it was easy to make the braids be black." They each put dark brown doll babies on their laps and bent over them, their heads very close.
Machi took one of the fish he'd bartered for and he and his muchachos cooked it over the fire pit. He called Taina and offered her a small piece.
She turned her face away. “It still has eyes." She put the bit of fish into her mouth all the while looking into his eyes for courage.
Julia who had been sewing black hoods in silence caught my gaze from across the table. “We have a life here. I can't remember the last time I thought of my City life."
I followed her gaze. The young men cooked over the fire, the women sewed mamelucos at the table, the girls held their small brown baby dolls. "You're right. I haven't thought about the City for I don't know how long. Just this way I forgot my Venturan life when my parents went into exile in the City. Does our block even exist, or my office? Are they on the same planet as Karaya, Palenque, the fire pit, the sea water fish?"
Julia tried on one of the black hoods, adjusted it so she could see through the eyeholes. "Anacaona convinced me to wear an orange jumpsuit and a black hood."
She stood, tried on the orange suit, then took it off and trimmed an inch off the legs. "I'm going but I'm not chaining myself to any fence. I've done more demonstrating since I've been in Karaya than in all of the nearly 20 years I've known you."
She folded the suit, put it in her sack, and reached for another hood. She sighed. “I didn't know how good it could feel to live a la intemperie and how sweet night by the sea could be. Julia pointed to Anacaona who sat under a tree with Machi. We watched them talking quietly, heads close.
She raised her eyebrows and stared at me hard until I looked away. She went ahead and spoke the hope I was afraid to feel. “I wish him una buena mujer.”
I pointed in the direction of the beach which was now much further away. "Even this far from the water we get a sea breeze. Listen, the drumming stopped. You can hear the sea lapping against the land. Look up. See beyond the branches of that sea pine. Night’s fallen and there's another sea of stars.”
Julia laughed. “I know you when you try to change the subject.”
After their meal the girls ran themselves dizzy around the fire and settled into the sleeping bag with their dolls. They fell asleep in Guada's tent, sharing Yuissa's princess sleeping bag.
Machi glanced at the sleeping girls and gently tucked the bag around them. He came to me where I sat on the bench sewing an orange mameluco and kissed my cheek. "Me voy. Tengo que ir a un sitio."
After he, Lagarto, and David were gone, we women sewed for hours, until we worked our way through the pile of orange suits, our stitches longer and loser with each mameluco. We were finally done. Patria, Julia, Guada, Anacaona and I pulled Guada’s air mattress out of her tent onto the sand and lay on it to watch the stars.
Julia took my hand. “Con los pobres de la tierra quiero yo mi suerte echar. What made me think of that Marti poem ?"
We elders rose and kissed Guada and Anacaona goodnight. Julia, Patria, and I walked into the casita arm in arm. Julia and I moved our duffels and sleeping bags inside into a small bedroom in Patria's casita she was letting us have. Patria insisted Julia, Taina and I take one of the two small bedrooms in her casita where several of Anacaonas much laundered embroidered blouses were hanging in a narrow closet, and let the young men have the lean-to. Taina let us know she intended to sleep in the tent with Yuissa.
Julia offered me the narrow cot closest to the small window. "Para ti, porque no duermes. You can count the stars during your insomnia."
I hadn't slept indoors on a bed for many days and didn't expect to fall asleep. I remember noticing my feet, how they were at once numb and tingly, and next thing I knew daylight was filtering through the shuttered slats of the small window.
Taina and Yuissa were tugging at my sleeping bag. "Machi came back with a man. A very tall man."
I followed the girls outside. My son walked toward me and a few steps behind him was the cad I'd had that affair with years ago, the man whose name I wouldn't think or say, who had been my only high school friend when I was a teen-aged exile, my political mentor when I was a young adult trying to save the world: the man who found the boys when Julia and I lost them on the train, then became the lover who exploded my marriage to Ori, who then dumped me summarily; the man who helped me find Ori and free him when he'd been picked up in the sweeps after the first Presidio; the man I'd just figured out was now Patria's special friend. Danny. His name was Danny. I made myself speak the name out loud.
I squinted against the sunlight. What was the unnameable man doing here? Was I always to rely on him to find and free Ori? I realized the sitio Machi went to last night was the office of the Justice Works Suelténlos Ya Campaign. Until now Machi insisted lawyers were never going to free his father. What made him decide it was worth it to find a lawyer? Did he want to get official confirmation Ori was in the Camp? And this was the lawyer he found. Danny. I made myself form the name again in my mind. I shuddered. I should have guessed he'd be involved in the Campaña. This was what he was good for, good at. It was the best possible use for his gift for predation. Maybe the only good use. I walked toward them and put out my hand for Danny to shake.
Machi pointed to the man. “This is Daniel Macneil, a lawyer from Justice Works.”
I looked down, barely able to hear my son say that man's name.
Daniel bent toward me from his height. "Otra vez. Good to see you.”
I looked up at him. I had forgotten how the man's owning class social skills had carried our many relationships over the years and compensated for my inability to be light; how I had mistaken his charm for love. What a mark I'd been; victim; prey. And how quickly it had bored him that I chameleoned; that my colonized mind tracked his dominant mind. Maybe after a while, as soon I'd been digested and he was blood sated, I had felt to him like nobody was there.
What was I to do now? What would a human do? I hated the man. But I could ride his social skills to the next place. I had devoted months of my life to hating him, to plotting my revenges, and then to living as if he didn't. Truly, I had forgotten him. I thought I had forgotten him. And yet he reappeared in my life, a bad dream.
He turned up when I was with Jimmy, was there again and again because he’d been Jimmy’s lawyer and they’d become friends. When Jimmy and his drinking let me down Danny and I had our first affair. And then for years I managed to never run into him, except once, he was revolving out a bank door as I was revolving in and there had been no chance nor need to acknowledge each other as we spun.
Another time I almost collided with him on a subway platform. Months later he left me a drunken three AM voice mail on the phone. Just my name, said three times, but I knew his voice. I forgot him. Ori took me back when he decided to believe I had been out of body, in a fugue state, a multiple virtually, when I took up with the man; when he came to accept his own neglect and emotional absence contributed to the break-up.
God help me if Machi ever knew this was the man I left the family for; the reason I was the woman who taught him to hate women and fear them; no matter that the man never truly mattered; that it had been to save myself I left. Maybe that made my offense more terrible. The man over whom I'd caused so much pain, had been but a figment from a dream.
The man was speaking. I wasn't listening. I asked him to repeat what he just said. The Campaña was doing some kind of mass habeas corpus petition. Of course, the Sueltenlos Ya was running the habeas corpus petition campaign Anacaona was covering for Verdad.
Legal papers were being filed in the City Court soon, to coincide with Grito Day. Anacaona influenced everything. She was why Machi was willing to consider legal tracking. She was why the others were chaining themselves to the Base fence even as we stood there chatting. Machi was asking if Ori could somehow be included even now, even this late. So now I was to rely on the man again for hope of getting Ori out.
I stood up straight. This was another time, another need, and he was the person who could get me to Ori. Could I start over with this man, a new, different relationship yet again? I knew how to compartmentalize the past. What was important was saving Ori. The man, Danny, took my hand, studied my face, looked into my eyes with his bright piercing little blue yellow eyes. What did he want? I pictured myself through his eyes: haggard, not a mystery. No. He did not want me in that old way and besides he had Patria. As we spoke the hating receded. It didn't matter now. Was I truly another person?
Machi led me to the picnic table. Guada had given in and taken Yuissa and Taina to the beach. Patria and Julia were dressed in their orange jumpsuits and waited under a sea pine for the meeting with the lawyer to be done. There were always people outside the casitas and today there were many more, dressed in fake orange jumpsuits. No radios were playing for just this moment. A breeze flowed from the sea. I sat on the bench at the picnic table facing Beachside. The man sat across from me.
Machi stood over us. He leaned over the folder Daniel set on the picnic table and unbound. My son spoke with new authority. "What is to be done?"
We watched the man take out papers and spread them out. I shuddered. One more thing to think about, to figure out. Machi grabbed the papers before I could reach them. I let him take charge.
Machi scanned the papers. "These are their names?"
The man nodded. "These are the names that we have. There are many more renditioned detainees in the Camp than we've been able to track."
Machi pointed to the bottom of the third sheet. "He's here."
I felt nothing. Was it that I needed to be alone to feel? That I was past hoping? I looked at Machi and Danny. Their heads were close together.
What did it mean that Ori's name was on the list? I had the thought and heard my voice ask.
Danny looked up. "He's listed among those who have been assigned legal counsel. That means I should be able to track him down."
He rose. "See you at the action?"
I stared at his back as he walked away toward a cluster of palm trees where Patria and Julia stood waiting for him at the head of the path toward the beach. I could see the impatience in both women’s faces. They were eager to get to the beach and catch up with Guada and the girls.

Anacaona, dressed in an orange mameluco, ran up to Machi and me as we approached her at the seapine she’d been leaning against close to Machi’s shelter. "I wanted to give you time with Daniel. We all did. I waited for you. Get ready. We're late. We've got to go."
We walked past El Comedor and La Fabrica quickly; walked the maze of shelters; reached the dunes. We caught sight of the women and the girls splashing in the shallows.
Anacaona handed us the small orange jumpsuits for the girls. Just then Patria, Julia, Guada, Taina and Yuissa saw us and ran out of the water to join us. The girls, drenched, walked past and barely noticed us, searched in Julia's cooler, and pulled out cartons of fruit punch.
Guada wrapped them both in one big beach towel and rubbed them dry. "We're going to find agua dulce."
Guada pointed to the public beach. "We'll use the showers in Playa Caracol, the few that still work."
She and the little girls set off toward the Playa but Anacaona called them back. “Forget the showers, put on their orange mamelucos and get to the Camp now.”
As Guada dressed the girls Machi and I scrambled our limbs into our orange jumpsuits and marched toward the base as fast as we could, barely keeping up with Anacaona.
I saw Anacaona look at Machi. Their gazes held for a second. They were becoming friends, maybe more than friends. Of course it must have been Anacaona who told Machi about the unnameable man; vouched for Daniel; encouraged him to try all means of tracking his father, even official means. Anacaona jogged ahead of him on the sand. When he caught up to her they both took off at a full run. The rest of us followed as fast as we could.
There was a swarm of people dressed in orange jumpsuits close to the main gate to the Base. Guards stood at three feet intervals along the inside of the fence, staring past the demonstrators. I worked myself through the crowd, got close to the metal grid, tried to see past the uniformed soldiers, who looked as young as my son. Was I hoping to catch sight of Ori?
I felt a surge of rage and with the others I screamed as loud as I could.“Suéltenlos.” Screaming across the fence made me feel my power. Free them now...I screamed until I was hoarse.

Machi left right from the demonstration and never came home. He’d been gone two nights. This was his longest absence since I’d found him in Moon Park. I didn't know if he was with Anacaona, Lagarto, Franz, or with Daniel. Had he found himself some other targeted for destruction young men to get killed with? Or had he gone to the Territorio Libre with David?
I lay on my narrow bed in my sleeping bag on the thin horsehair mattress that smelled faintly of mildew and ancient urine. I looked through the open shutters of the tiny window, through a clearing in the branches of the sea pines, at the stars. I was alone. Julia was sleeping in the lean-to with Taina.
Just as I had as a child I took comfort in the stars. They confirmed the universe was benign. I saw so many stars. There were as many as I remembered from my childhood Venturan skies: a depth of stars, layers of them, seas of them, swirls of them. I understood why the ancestors found patterns in the stars and named them. I wondered what my Tainos had named the stories they divined in their stars.
My eyes found stars to form a noose; to form a woman hanging from it. I saw a woman curled to shield herself from blows; a woman bent over the baby she was drowning in the river. But there, in that other cluster, I saw a woman standing up, arms raised, fighting back. I laughed out loud. Was my mind ready to give up its familiar beaten woman pose, battered woman pose? Was I ready to give up waiting for a man? All my life I'd been waiting for a man: father, then lovers, then husband, now son. Nothing was as hard as waiting for a son. I made myself look at the fighter, that star image of a warrior Taina cacica.
When he came home Machi was drunk. Drunk again. It had been so long since I had seen him drunk I had come to believe he was done with it. I heard him stumbling outside. He banged into the table where the pots and pans and utensils for cooking in the fire pit were kept. The crash as they fell over woke me. I stood at the kitchen door and watched him.
I wanted to have drowned him at birth so that oppression didn't get the chance to kill him. I wanted to die. I couldn't live knowing my son was a drunk. He passed out in his sleeping bag in the lean-to. How had it come to pass that the little boy who sat on my lap, clung to my neck, took long walks with me, closed his eyes and gave me his hand and made me guide him unseeing along the avenue, charged me with keeping him safe...had become someone who got drunk every day..every day of his life, sometimes a little bit drunk, other times very drunk.
Here I thought he was done with it. I thought revolution had cured him. And here he was, drunk again. In that instant I saw what I had not let myself see all this time in Palenque, drunkenness was a frequent thing. I couldn't live. I couldn't bear to live.
I went back to my cot. I curled up into myself and sobbed. I made my hands into fists. I writhed. I could not bear this pain. I had not kept him safe and oppression had taken him. Oppression had taken my son and I couldn't get him back. I couldn't save him. I might not be able to save my baby.
I could never cry for Ori like this. All my losses converged here. My little boy, sitting on my lap, clinging to my neck...Running and playing and climbing me to nurse whenever he felt the need, clinging to me in his sleep. That little boy lay here on his belly dead to the world from drink. Was this the way he lived when he wasn't with me, night after night after night? And now he was showing me, doing it when he was with me as well. I could not live for having seen this again with my own eyes. How could I help him? Surely there was some way I could get Machi back from hell. But what was the way? Everything I tried made things worse.
I wanted to die because my son was a drunk. I understood exactly how Irma (Patria, now) had felt about her drinking, drugging son Tomas when I first knew them all a dozen years ago. I remembered my boy on my lap, hanging from my neck. The memory was tactile. I could feel his small, bony body, the strength in his arms. I sobbed, writhed. How had this come to pass? Why couldn't I go back in time and undo the harm I'd caused him that made him come to this? My little boy.
I remembered when he almost drowned, not yet six years old, pulled by the undertow in this very island, on this very beach when it was still the EcoPreserva. Three beach boys had skipped into the surf and pulled him out. Where were the people now to help me save my drowning son?
I spoke in the empty room. “Somebody help me. Somebody help me. Everyone drop everything and come help save my drowning son.”
Did I sleep? I felt the sunlight through my eyelids and awoke nauseated from terror, my mind scanning for what the bad thing was. Machi. Drunk again. I sat up in my cot. I couldn't bear it. All my life marked by drunken men: Jimmy who drank because he couldn't get a job and couldn't hold a job because he drank; Ori who white knuckled himself to sobriety but drank around Machi for most of the time I was gone. Even Mirta, my Mother, turned out to be a secret drinker and died of cirrhosis of the liver. None of them prepared me for the helplessness, rage, and shame of watching Machi be a drunk.
I stood in the sun by the picnic table staring at him passed out on the ground. He'd rolled off the sleeping bag and lay outside his lean to almost on the path. He sat up as if my thoughts had wakened him and stared straight at me with the surly morning after look I dreaded, a look I now saw he'd had many mornings since he'd been back. Had he been drinking and I'd chosen to not know it?
He glared at me. "What are you looking at?"
I turned away from him and fixed my gaze on my bare feet. The toenails needed polish. My little toes were curved and calloused. My toes were too long, like fingers.
"I get drunk every day of my life. You should know that. It's tribal. I do it because my tribe does it. All tribes do it."
He lost steam. We both knew this was no longer true. He no longer got drunk every day. When I said nothing he stood. When had he gotten so big?
He towered over me."That mother fucker I got drunk with last night after the action; that mother fucker I beat up last night; that asshole who can’t wipe my father’s shoes, is the man you left my Father for? You left me for?"
I felt my body go cold. I shuddered. He told Machi? What had Danny told Machi? It never once crossed my mind that he might. I thought of my story with Danny as mine. Danny was barely in it.
He punched the air. "You want to know why I drink? You want to know why I rage? I do it because you went away. I do it because you left us."
I couldn't think of what to say. I felt tears run down my face. Even if I knew that he was trying to push my buttons, manipulate me, and hurt me, wasn't there a kernel of truth in what he said?
I stepped closer and faced him. "O my God Machi, if I'd known then what I know now it wouldn't have happened. I regret it. I apologize. It wasn't about that man anyway. He was an accident, a catalyst. It was...”
Machi looked away.
How did I tell my son I'd had no self with which to be a mother? It wasn't that I'd gone away from him but toward some bedrock in myself that was absent and kept me absent even when I was physically there. How did I explain that my bedrock was taken by internalized colonization and genocide transmitted through my mother's blows and my father's absences and his excessive love; that it was further smashed and eroded by exile, by the pain and shattering loss of being an emigrant; and that the detritus, the sand of the bedrock was further washed away by all the compromising, colluding, submitting to dominant minds I'd had to do to survive being an immigrant…
There had been nobody there to be his mother and the longing to embody myself in order to be a good enough mother for him had been pinned onto that man, because the longing had been for my Papi and for the mother I never had.
How did I tell my son something that probably sounded like this...You were so not enough to keep me home... that the man I left you for was nothing to me, wasn't even real, was a waking dream.
How to tell him I had never grieved enough and raged enough for all the submission I had to do to survive and the submission I had to see on my parents and grandparents, all the way back to the Tainos who chose to swing from trees...How much rage did it take to become one of the other Tainos who drowned the colonizers to see if they were indeed gods?"
We stood inside a pool of light. The shadows of the flat sea grape leaves moved softly in the sea breeze.
My voice was barely audible. "What did that man say?"
Machi turned his back to me. He made fists, growled, and brought his right fist to his mouth.
He bit his hand. "What do you care what he said? He said enough and I filled in the blanks. We were at La Barraquita. He was buying me and David beers. First he told me he was the one who found me and David when you lost us on the train. Then he told me about you and him."
Machi writhed and punched the picnic table. "He thought I already knew. An ego like his couldn't imagine you had never told me about him at all. That in our family he was a blip. That his name went unmentioned. So he told me man to man and I punched him in the face."
I said nothing. Half the time with Machi I didn't know what to say. Then some words surfaced. I remembered that it mattered if I said something, anything. "I'm sorry. It doesn't make it not have happened, but I'm sorry."
"I've heard it. If you knew then what you know now..." His hatred, the face he made when he was hating me, reminded me of my own raging face. Was this what he had seen on me? What I had seen on my mother? What I had seen on the faces of the Guardias at the camp? What Ori must be seeing every day in the faces of his captors?
I stepped toward him. "Can't we decide to make this stop?"
Maybe his face had softened, but maybe it hadn't. How many times after one of these fights with Machi had I thought things between us had changed? But here he was again, drinking, fighting, blaming me. Try as I might to change my own face, I couldn't change the raging face of oppression that gazed constantly upon my son.
He got up and walked toward the beach. I considered going after him but didn't. For men there was always the public sphere to go to, even for men as targeted for destruction as my son, as marginal to the wheels of empire, there was the corner. Here he had already found his corner men. In the encampment we were all corner people.
Before he made the turn around the dune I saw Anacaona catch up to him. She put her hand on his shoulder and then they both disappeared. Maybe Anacaona could save him.

You've Seen Todos
Days went by and nothing; no word from the unnameable. Maybe, after the fight with Machi, he'd do nothing. Machi was gone every night. He came by in the afternoons for Taina and Yuissa. I didn't think he was drinking. After we’d eaten and banked our fire I sat on the picnic bench with Guada, Patria, Julia, and Anacaona, darning and patching orange jumpsuits and black hoods, and watching the stars. I listened for the surf under the many kinds of blasting music playing at once. I tried to listen to the sounds as one.
Guada stitched the torn sleeve of a mameluco and knotted the stitch. "Todos attacked again last night. Set fire to an army van parked in the plaza."
Anacaona nodded. "Todos cut a new hole into the side of the Camp. How do they unelectrify the wire?"
Julia looked from one woman to another. "David came to see me last night. A stealth two in the morning visit like always. He showed me the palm of his hand. I could barely see the T tattooed into his lifeline, almost invisible."
Anacaona rose."Let's go walking."
I followed and the other women stayed behind. The younger woman walked fast, along a path she knew I couldn't see among the lean-tos, tents, shacks, the gathered crowds.
She slowed down for me. "I knew only you would come walking. You're the one I want."
We reached a hill. I did what Anacaona did. I lay flat on my belly with my head at the edge of the cliff. We overlooked a deep, wide bowl carved into the mountain by torrents, wind, and time. Far below us young men in a circle moved toward the center and away. Two men in the center sang and talked. I saw two others bent over a boombox calibrating beats. We watched in silence as the group, at least 50 of them, circled and moved in and out.
I couldn't understand the pattern for when and how the men at the center changed. Then it was Machi and David.
Anacaona took my hand. ""Beautiful, isn't it?" There's no denying that."
There was something benign here. Was this what Machi meant by his tribe?
Anacaona beamed with pride. "They somehow use the alcohol and weed to release this beauty."
She pointed to the foothills of El Pico, what we in Palenque called Hillside. “When they're done they go into the shelters they've dug up, our storm shelters. They live there because their whole lives are storms.”
Anacaona was rising now and pulled me up by the hand.
I stood beside her. "They release beauty, but at what price? I wish you could convince me alcohol is not genocide."
We walked back a different way and made our way to the water. We stood on the beach watching the tide come back.
She put her arm around my waist. "You know you've just seen Todos."
I said nothing. My mind couldn't hold one more thought.
As we reached the casitas I saw the unnameable man walking toward us. Anacaona went into her mother Patria’s casita and I sat down on the bench of her rescued picnic table where the man motioned me to sit. His name was Danny, I had to bring myself to say it. He had his folder and he opened it on the rough wood surface. I'd never noticed the splinters just waiting for my hand. He barely said hello. I remembered that when Danny was working he didn't waste time on small talk. Or this was his way to avoid talking about his fight with Machi.
He looked up from the papers. "The Camp authorities asked me to approach you about talking to Ori."
I didn't understand. After two years of denying he'd been disappeared they were now acknowledging he was in the Camp. The man, Danny, put his hand over mine. Was he having sex with me? I didn't think so. I didn't move my hand.
He pressed my hand. "You would get to see him. They would expect you to persuade him to want to talk. Or even if you don't say anything to him about naming names they would expect that simply to see you, to remember life outside, would make him see reason. Reason from their perspective."
I pulled my hand away and rose and walked as fast as I could around the table toward the path to the water. I could feel him walking behind me. What was I to do? What would Ori do in my place? Already I could feel my mind moving toward the decision that I would see him. At whatever price. I would do anything to see him. They knew that. Was this one more submission, one more chunk of my bedrock, my integrity, gone?
After the unmentionable man left I crashed; went numb; into the fishbowl. I walked all the way to the beach, past El Comedor, La Fabrica, our old spot where someone else had already built a lean-to, and sat at my dune, facing the sea, listening to the surf, trying not to seem to watch Machi talking intensely with Anacaona by a sea pine close to the beach path. She was pulling her body away from his. He was leaning his body toward hers.
Anacaona knew things Machi didn’t know. I feared for him. Anacaona could hurt him, hurt him without meaning to, simply by being better than he was, by having found herself to a better lock of the canal, a better pen, a better pack. As a Karayan young woman she'd been less targeted for destruction by the City than he'd been as a Karayan young man. Then I felt fierce hope. Could Anacaona turn out to be the strong woman my son needed, that Ori got to have in me, that men of Ori's generation managed to hold onto? What had happened to mating between humans?
I felt bewildered, desperately let down, completely alone, lost. Was this what waiting for Papi to come home had been like? I was flooded by the memory of sitting alone inside the house in Ventura after my father had decided we must go into exile, while all my friends were off in the mountains in the revolution’s literacy campaign. I'd been under parental house arrest from January when the campaign began until September when my family left. Vibrant history flowed around me, exploded around me. Everywhere people were engaged, part of things, while I was alone, lost, waiting, making all of reality out of my own thoughts…
I rose and headed for the beach. As I passed Machi and Anacaona I heard her throaty laugh. I imagined I could smell the pheromones. “I’m not ready. We’re not ready…” Anacaona had moved closer to him so that their shoulders were touching, but she looked away from him. Neither of them noticed me walk by them.
The sea was calm, or looked calm. I stepped out of my yoga shorts and top (in Karaya most of the time I wore a bathing suit underneath). I waded into the surf, unexpectedly cold. I faced the horizon. There was so much I wanted: Ori’s freedom, world revolution, a good world for Machi, for Machi to stop drinking. I swam toward the horizon wanting so many things I could not make come to pass. When I turned back to face the shore I saw that it was far away and when I swam toward shore I could not. I thought of Machi pulled to sea by the undertow so many years ago. Didn't I know better? I tried to push into the force of the water. How was it I hadn’t felt the current at all until now that I tried to move against it? Time to drown.
I wished beach gigolos were bounding in to get me the way they’d come for Machi when he almost drowned on this very beach when he was barely six years old. I was always longing to be saved. But this was the time to save myself. I threw my body into the current. The water pressed into me, my muscles burned and gave way. Was there no way? I felt Atabex was gripping me with her hands, pulling me back into the water that birthed me.
Then a thought formed, came to me like a voice, a woman's voice. Was it the voice of my longing for a mother who loved me? Later Julia would insist Atabex spoke and saved me.
Atabex spoke from the sea. "Swim parallel to the shore. Swim parallel to the shore until you’ve swum away from the fingers of the rip tide."
I turned my body and swam away from the Base, followed the yellow shoreline until I no longer felt the current. I swam and stopped, and swam and stopped, pushing until my body gave up, then starting again. I didn’t know how long I swam; far longer than I thought I could sustain; far less than my fear expected.
I reached the shore, stood, and stepped onto the packed wet sand. My knees were liquid, gave way. I climbed up the steep beach to where the sand was dry and sat down on a dune. The sky was a flat soft blue, almost bare of clouds. I felt a breeze and in the distance to my right saw a rain of leaves or a swarm of butterflies (was there such a thing?) catching the light. Did Tainos believe gold rained?
I saw Machi and Anacaona approaching me hand in hand. I didn't think they had seen or they would have come in for me into the sea. They sat beside me. His body was warm as I leaned into it. He put his arm around me. When he touched me I trembled. I leaned my head into the hollow of his shoulder and sobbed. I wondered if he'd forgiven me...or if his rage was simply banked, waiting to flame?
"Daniel has a message from the Camp about Pa. He wants to encourage you to go see him even if the price is you have to tell Pa, or pretend to tell Pa, to talk to them."
I sobbed.
Anacaona knelt before me, cupped my face with her hands and raised my chin so that she could look into my eyes. "They are letting you see him. Make it a victory."

The Base
We left the encampment before sunrise in the rented jeep of the man whose name I had to make myself say. Danny. I made myself say it aloud when I greeted him. He negotiated with the guards at one of three security booths of the main entrance to the Base. Once inside he drove a zigzag of straight roads to the Camp as if all of this had been easy and this moment that seemed to never arrive, barely exist even as possibility, was just one more moment, the next moment.
I sat in the passenger seat looking out the window at the squat wooden buildings. The access road was almost deserted except for two young men in caqui uniforms sitting outside one of the huts. Machi sat in the back seat tapping his foot. How he planned to get Machi in to see Ori was a question the man, Danny, had not yet answered.

I sat on a plastic chair in a small waiting room inside one of the many metal bunkers we’d driven past, with other silent people, mostly women. Machi sat next to me, and the man next to him. I didn't want to count the women. There were more of us than I could see when I looked straight ahead. We sat in the middle of the middle row, the only empty chairs we'd found when we arrived, too early for our supposed appointment, but later than hundreds of others.
I was afraid to speak, and the others were also afraid. Was the window to our right as we faced a long brown formica table, one way glass? Were we being watched for some sign? Every now and then, at unpredictable intervals, a deep male voice through a speaker on the wall called out a series of numbers. I wondered if my own number had been called and I had not heard it.
Could I show one face to the Camp authorities and keep my own face, my own mind? Was this yet one more acid bath to corrode me? Had I kept my face while putting on the mask of bureaucrat in my last job? Most of the time I thought not. But Soli, my colleague, then friend, and finally boss, said I had.
Many times Soli had said the same phrase. "You keep us honest."
What did she mean? It was a job I didn't want, to be the conscience of the literacy group. I laughed. I was a beta human. I survived by submission, not by dominance. Or I was not alpha enough to survive, to hold on to my mind. I felt the rabia sorda of the subjected...of the submitted..of the beta.. So in my life, nothing happened.
We didn't sit long in the windowless waiting room stinking of cigarette smoke but empty of ashtrays. Had they only recently forbidden smoking? The smiling officer entered from the far door and approached me with his hand held out. I gripped his hand hard and watched him give Machi a rigid charming smile. They wanted something from me, from us. I was not the only supplicant here.
I had no idea what it must have been like for Ori to have been in the Camp for two years. I was embarrassed that my images came from movies and childhood magazine photographs of tortured men and women.
I muttered to myself. "Por dos años a Ori solo lo vi en sueños." I had said those words to Anacaona last night. We'd sat together until almost three in the morning at the table by my casita. Both of us were unable to sleep. Both of us were waiting for Machi. Both of us were at once hopeful and afraid of finding Ori.
The smiling man brought somebody in. From Machi's sharp intake of breath I understood that this was Ori. For two years I had only seen him in my nightmares except for that one glimpse at the bank of monitors when Franz and I breached the camp. And I was never certain that man had been Ori. I was never more glad that my son was with me; that the man Danny convinced the camp authorities it would go better if both of us saw Ori.
I was almost certain this thin man with cheeks sunken around missing teeth, was indeed the man I'd seen on the surveillance screen curled up on a cot somewhere in the bowels of the Camp. He stood perfectly motionless by the door for just a moment before he stepped into the room and walked toward me. I saw he had no idea he was unrecognizable and that was good. To himself he was still Ori.
The three of us were alone in the small room although the smiling man and others must be watching through the square window that must surely be one way glass. Machi stepped between us and pulled his father into his arms. Now Ori was the smaller one, frail inside his burly son's embrace. Machi's arms were crossed behind Ori's back and his hands were spread, enormous on both sides of the curved spine. Ori melded into Machi, gave way, collapsed into him and made a sound I couldn't name, between a cry and a growl. He sobbed. I moved toward them and put my arms around both of them. Ori was still Ori if he could cry. I remembered before the separation how eight year old Machi choreographed family kiss ins, getting us all to hug and kiss at once.
On the other side of the glass the watchers must be waiting for me to deliver the message. Another thing I must do I didn't want to do. Had I ever done anything other than comply? Were all humans bound together by terrible twining coils of compliance? Surely the smiling man didn't want to be smiling. What was there to smile about when you worked in a torture camp? Complying. The man was following the order to use a prisoner's wife's need to see her husband as pressure so that she complied with your request to get her husband to comply, to collaborate with what? They called their tortures interrogations.
Ori raised his head from Machi's chest and offered me his gaze. "Como estas?"
His eyes were huge now in the shrunken face. They were liquid and showed terror and confusion and still the fierceness I recognized as Ori's essence. For a long time I simply looked into his eyes. I felt his mind. They hadn't killed him. They had hurt him but they hadn't killed him. He remembered me and I remembered him.
He held my gaze. "They expect me to inform."
His voice was unlike his voice coming from that reduced chest. His voice was softer, hoarser but still his voice, the words connected to the thought, the words uttered just a heartbeat more slowly than most people.
The moment was over and we were outside in the bright sun standing with Danny. His name was no longer impossible to think or say. I doubled over about to vomit. My body trembled. My was face hot with tears. I pushed my face into Machi's chest and screamed. The wrenched, wretched sounds were muffled against him. I clung to Machi and he held me hard. Danny stood by. He looked down at us from his great height. His long arms hung limp from his oddly square shoulders and then he raised them and put one arm around Machi and one around me.
I raised my head and looked up at him. "Is there any fucking way on earth to get him out of here?"
He said nothing. I watched him think. I wanted him to fix this the way I'd wanted Papi to fix things. Papi couldn't. I was still waiting. On the drive back to Palenque I sat in the back seat and neither Machi nor Danny spoke. I imagined I looked too sunk, unreachable. We drove away in silence past little wooden houses with little front lawns shrunk and transplanted from a City suburb. Outside one of the houses a thin blonde City Navy wife stood over a pig tailed pale toddler on a tricycle.
I wanted to grab the woman and shake her and scream. "Do you know what your husband is doing? Do you know where his hands have been just before he puts them on you at night? Make him stop." But I said nothing. I wondered if I would ever manage to say anything again.
Machi's voice reached me from the surface. It was Danny he was speaking to. "You know my Mother is Venturan. Is there something you can do with that?"
“It's possible. Every so often El Mandatario wins a mass canje. This is how I see it. They’re still negotiating a canje for Marquito Palombo We try every legal angle: City law, international law, pardons. Just last year Padre Ezequiel brokered a one for one exchange. One hundred City force prisoners captured in Ventura during incursions exchanged for one hundred renditioned rebels in the Camp. You try every tracker angle: vigils, breaches, rescates, extraofficial canjes. We throw them all. Sooner or later one will stick.”

Danny pounded on the door of the bedroom I shared with Julia. "Marina. Despierta."
I bolted awake and stood. In Palenque I wore 24-7 clothes, yoga pants and T-shirts I could live and sleep in. I glanced at Julia’s empty bed. She’d already gone to El Comedor. I told Danny to come in.
He stepped inside. "Gotta go. Right now."
I made a stop at the bank of toilets and we were in his ancient four-wheel drive within minutes. On the way to the Base he explained that after our last visit Ori had resumed his hunger strike. He’d been vomiting whatever he was forcefed and tearing out the iv.
He clasped my hand. “They want you to try again. There's something they think he knows.”
I shook my hand lose and clenched my fists. I brought them to my face and screamed in silence. "Something they want him to know."
I watched the lavender sunrise through the windshield. The glass had been grayed by seasalt. We got to the Base before I was ready. I paused at the steps to the shack and noticed the peeling beige paint. A small iguana caught my gaze for a second before it scurried under the small porch. Danny squeezed my arm. He sat on the porch railing and waved me in the direction of a young smooth skinned guardia who had clearly been expecting me.
The guardia and I stepped off the porch and left Danny on his perch.
I followed the young guardia beyond the compound of small shacks on a path of packed sand until we reached what looked like oversized dog crates. I proceeded behind him along a passageway between rows of crates. I was not looking. I was not wanting to look but seeing nevertheless from the corners of my eyes the wire mesh pens and the men inside them who were turned away from me. They wanted to not see me or to not be seen by me? Were they too humiliated, broken, and shamed to be seen? I couldn't let myself feel anything, least of all knee buckling horror, in this moment.
This was how they were kept! The cells were cages, mesh on all sides and overhead. In some of them three or four men sat on narrow cots or stood. Their heads almost touched the overhead grid, or the men bent forward. Or they squatted. It was better not to see much. I followed the guard who led me down a maze of passageways, an unending series of pens surrounded by the blue sky and yellow sands of paradise.
Now the young man leading me approached a wooden structure, a house. He climbed up the steps leading to the narrow porch, like the one at my abuela's house in the Venturan campo. I followed him up and through a narrow door. There was a front desk but nobody guarded it. We made our way along a hallway with doors close together on both sides. He pointed to the last door on the right and stepped aside and waited. I understood and pushed the door in and walked inside.
Ori stood with his back to me, facing a window. His shoulders were rounded and his spine was stooped. He turned toward me and I approached him and stood inches away from him. He smelled of laundry soap, the castilla soap from my childhood. His hair, now short and quite gray, was wet. I looked into his eyes and drew him to me. This stranger was my husband and the father of my child. We were face to face. I remembered having to look up at him, before.
I took his hand and drew him toward the bed. My knees were giving way. I needed to sit down. I sat and he stood beside me. I drew him toward me and he surrendered onto my lap. I held him like Mary holding Christ. This person, once my husband, was skin and bones and shaking in my arms.
I whispered into his ear. "They want me to make you want to do whatever it is they want from you."
I felt him sigh. His shoulders rose and fell and I understood that he was crying. He said nothing. I don't know how long I held him before the guardia knocked on the door and took me back.

B 47 Sleep was impossible

For days I sat at at my writing dune facing the sea. At night I sat surrounded by the sleeping breaths of the encampment. At dawn I sat taking in the few moments of near silence before Palenque erupted for the day. I didn't bother to go to our casita. Would I ever sleep again? I couldn't alight, lie down, close my eyes. I couldn't get myself to La Fabrica, couldn't bear to write with Elba Luz, Guille, Tanama. My mind cascaded images and thoughts of my old life with Ori. Was this life the same as that life? Was this man that man? For the two weeks following the conjugal visit I had not once slept, truly slept. Thoughts ambushed me. Sometimes exhaustion overtook me and my eyes and mind dimmed down, but never shut down, never stopped. Inside my mind my eyes remained open, just like Ori's eyes, enormous in his shrunken face.
Sleep was not possible, and less necessary. I only left my place at the dune late at night. Anacaona came to get me and we made the pilgrimage to the overlook to look for Todos. But for more than ten nights there had been no Todos gathering and no Machi stumbling home. And Todos had been attacking everyplace, everything. Or everyone assumed it was Todos. There were continous reports of actions, massive demonstrations, small disruptions, all over the world. All of us in the many encampments everyplace watched each others’ livestreams.

Where are all the People that Mattered?
There’s a world out there, continents, heritages, distillations of thought, art genius. I’m not in it.
I woke up remembering my dolls, my coleccion de munecas. I left them in Ventura with a little girl, one of the little girls I mentored in my secret belief I knew how to treat young people, my conviction and commitment that as a 13 year old I was preparing to remember what it was like to be young when I became an adult.
I knew, in the same way I assumed I would control my future, be in charge of my future remembering of the knowing of being young, that I would come back to Ventura for my dolls very soon.
But this morning I woke up 45 years later wondering what became of my dolls. Did the little girl Oria keep them in the comejen dissolved legal shelf I painted with leftover fat blue wall paint? There were two of those glass fronted shelves and in them I jammed in the dolls my father brought back from his preaching travels. I left the collection intact because I knew I’d be back for them soon.
I failed myself.
I can barely stand to imagine how the little girl dismantled the integrity of the collection and then dismembered the dolls limb by limb.
It’s Monday.
I can barely get up.
I want to vomit but I don’t. I don’t vomit Monday morning anymore. Only drag myself out of bed vaguely nauseated.
Facing a sea of Mondays. Hating my work. How did it come to pass I wasted my whole life and none of my dreams came true and I fulfilled not one of them, and now I see even my dreams were not dreams at all, but the hopes of a child for a life of static well being, for an endless maternal tit, for safety.
Even my dreams were not dreams.
The revolution didn’t happen.
Where are all the people who mattered?
I long to find them in some livestream, someplace on planet earth.
I’d give anything to have them all together in one room, like the dolls.
Patsy, my first enemy
Orlandito and his blonde sister whose name I can never remember (Gladys? maybe her nickname was Chuchi)
Mari Laura
Mary Alice
Roberto (I heard he died)
Nelson (I know he died)
Here is how the sad stories go
Sherry, I don’t know why I kicked up our garden
Anita, you scared me, I knew about class from you, that you were better than I, your father a general or some such and my father hiding urban guerrillas in our living room
Elizabeth I liked. Americanita. Nice to me. Plump
Tomm every girl had a crush on and I liked to pretend I didn’t but I did.
His mother taught third grade and was Venturan but spoke perfect English, almost unaccented, and smelled of American cigarettes. She smoked Camels I think. When I couldn’t take it any more and complained about Patsy’s bullying of me and pony tail pulling on line Mrs. Harper put a stop to it.
Marlene had powerful legs and blonde hair. She was an agua de violetas girl. Class powered and confident and a thrower of spitballs in geography class, a tormenter of the disempowered declassed man, maybe depressed or alcoholic or cuckolded who couldn’t get control of the primero de bachillerato class.
Polly was one of the few people who ever came to visit me in my house in Nuevo Santa Fe who negotiated the travel somehow. Years later I did see her one more time when I went to Ventura with Machi as an infant for the anniversary of the Victoria and she found me. She was a reporter and I was too. She for the revolution’s newspaper and I for the Party’s newspaper.
Cristinita was a reiteration on the block of my cousin, always planning randezvous with her novio who was Bebito’s older brother. While I served as lookout she and Chucho necked on the concrete paved square of yard just by the door of the kitchen. I stood by the kitchen sink window ready to tell her if Chucho’s mother arrived, watching them kissing the way they kissed in Hollywood movies
Gracielita was another little girl I championed and treated well, a tomboy short and plump, who played the Broderick Crawford role in patrulla de caminos games. She rescued my dog lasi from a hunger strike the time my brother and I went to mi campamento while my mother got to go with my father on a preaching trip for a change. Lasi refused to eat a thing. Her grief was overwhelming until Gracielita came by and got her at last to eat. Were it not for Gracielita I would have come home to a dead dog.
Later when we gave lasi away to the bodeguero in sta fe because we were going al exilio lasi came home, broke the rope and ran away and found our house
So zoila kept her after all I wonder if she committed suicide successfully after we vanished after she chased our car past the traditional first farol and we failed to keep our part of the bargain, do our role in the game,
We never came home again.
Will Machi ever come home again
Ori will never come home again
Zoilita was my close Presbyterian friend she and I lay in bed late at night during a sleepover talking about our sexual policies. She intended to encourage her novio to go to prostitutes so that he would be less likely to pressure her into sex before marriage neither of us would kiss or neck before we got married I know she’s dead out of the blue her brother called me only a few months ago to tell me he now is also an exile, of a fresher vintage than myself and zoilita too escaped salio de ventura only to die of a stroke in mexico
Orlandito and his blonde sister whose name I can never remember were the first people I personally knew whose father had gone into el exilio their mother pounded on our door early in the morning looking for help she knew my mother worked at the military camp for the americanos installing microondas for comunicaciones I don’t know if my mother was able to help the sister was blonde and not my closest little girl friend she like to play with the whitehaired marie antoinettish doll with the ticking clock for a heart. Orlandito left me a love letter in the back fender of our car. When I asked him what it said it was garabatos he said I don’t know I can write but I can’t read
Gildita was the other of the quartet of girls with Gracielita, Lourdes, and the long faced girl who lived on the avenue Her father was a glamorous piloto her mother liked to eat avocado sandwiches gildita was energetic and vivacious and reminded me most of me at her age She was Bebito’s cousin and came to get me the last day I ever saw him He’d already moved back to the center of the city his mother couldn’t stand it in the reparto and he was in the milicias and he showed me his gun. We walked in the empty lot between my house and the avenue and the gun was enormous He no longer planned to go to medical school because the revolution needed engineers. I explained I was leaving because my father had gotten a job in Switzerland I don’t know exactly what I said but I me le declare and he rejected me He told me he intended to only have one novia the idea was he had to wait until he was much older and closer to actually getting married before he would even bother Still he looked me up when he came back to the reparto I was his novia of sorts
Beatrizita was my parents servant she came to the capital every year to try again for the nursing school exam although she had no pull and had taken no special test prep courses and had no chance at all she told me what perder la honra meant and after that I was terrified whenever I talked to a boy that I would spy through his pants his penis getting hard The tell tale sign he liked me
Mary Alice Juch took me to her run down mansion. We drove by a band on the street and she started to call out in the car, Hurray for the band, and her father or grandfather who was driving said, Mary Carol, it’s a funeral.
Mary Alice like Felicita I think must have been a jew exiled from Europe and the camps. Felicita was tall and didn’t know how to play and made me jealous of her lunches by making me believe the black paste in her sandwiches was chocolate. Later I figured out it was mashed black beans
Angelita I was passionate about in boarding school she was smart and a revolutionary and had zealous fierce convictions she explained to me that certain novios and novias were together for lujo not love.(What did she mean? Did she mean pretence or lujuria? She had fascinating thoughts I had to think about.) I locked myself in the laundry room to scream curled on the floor pounding into the laundry sacks despairing rages about her rejection of me I imagine she is a big leader of the revolution
Bebito was my love I hacia posta on my bicycle sometimes with Beatrizita sitting on the handle bar Mostly he ignored me But it turned out my postas were a kind of noviazgo because he came to say goodbye to me when he heard I was going into el exilio
Eugenio se me declaro and I said yes not meaning to because nobody else had declarado their love
Roberto (I heard he died) He se me declaro too and I said yes to him too because I didn’t quite know what to do he was blonde and skinny and had a big pompadour and somehow I knew I could tell he was even more poor than we were Later I heard he died of cancer
Nelson (I know he died) We stared at each other in the bible group. I adored him. He was thin and dark and had long eyelashes and he was a preacher’s kid. He never said a thing to me. The nurse gave me reports when I went to her at the infirmary. He was always not going to class because he was sick. Years later in the City after we were both exiles , not so many years later actually, maybe one, but centuries later in the river of space time, he told me, soy un tipo enfermizo I thought he was bsing. He complained that when he kissed me I was too passive, just letting my mouth be a lax receptacle. I was supposed to be doing things with my tongue. I was disappointed. It was too late for him to pay attention to me now that my whole real life was beginning as I went off to college. When I needed him in boarding school he ignored me and part of me wanted to get revenge. I intended to get myself another novio as soon as I got to college in a week or two from our kissing walks to randall’s island. He went with me to buy the blanket my long hairs later stuck to with static electricity grossing out my American roommate who plagiarized my paper got an a minus when I got a b plus. She was put to room with me to the horror of her mother I figured out later, because I was Latina and she, although she had the hugest breasts in creation and was blonde, was jewish. Two nonwasps in a presbyterian college.
I want them all in one room
My dolls in their flat blue comejen shelf
I want to know what happened to them

One More Thing to Throw at Freeing Ori
This morning I saw Anacaona walking toward me from the beach, still wet from her morning swim. She sat by me on the dune and took my hand. “Todos are demanding a canje. This offensive they're doing got the ear of El Mandatario. And there's Marquito Palombo willing to be exchanged."
I turned to face her. “One more thing to throw at freeing Ori.”
Anacaona stood and pulled me up. “Another thing. We try anything and everything. We take on all the fights that are worth winning, not just the ones we know we can win.”
I took big steps to keep up. Anacaona kept several steps ahead. “We're going to Coral right now. We've got to talk to Padre Ezequiel, get him to put your husband on the list.”
We walked the Anacaona way, fast enough to break a sweat, just a hair short of being breathless. The faster we walked the less my mind churned thoughts of where Ori was, who he now was, what he had become.
I trotted to catch up. “You walk faster than some people jog.”
She laughed her deep laugh that reminded me of Machi's laugh.
I tugged at her arm and got her to slow down. “Lento pero seguro, that used to be one of the Partido's slogans in my day.”
Anacaona shook her head but slowed her pace just as we reached the first houses on the edge of the town. “The Padre should be done with mass.”
Dozens of women, men, children lined up on the church steps. Anacaona pulled me toward the line. "Clearly word of a possible canje got out."
We took our place at the end of the line. She swung her arm around me and pressed her cheek to my cheek. “Bet you didn't realize tracking is a full time job."
The line was slow and we did what many others had already done, sit on the steps. I put down my knapsack, heavy with my laptop and my stack of fliers with Ori's photo, the one I now knew was obsolete.
I showed her one of the photos. “Not just a job. Tracking is almost a spiritual practice. Each step as we walked here took me closer to the Ori of the present...Tracking is the myriad things we do on faith, blindly, surrendering control over the results, not knowing which action will yield our miracle.”
Anacaona shook her head. "Yes and no. We track to find them. We track with intention. We do it to win."
I took in a deep breath. "A weight I always carry just got lifted. You know more than I do."
She let out her loud laugh. "Yes, yes, yes! I do. Machi does. We all do. We are worthy of the torch you've passed on to us. The view is better for those of us perched on your shoulders. Now all you have to do is let us lead you."
The line moved and we scrambled to our feet not to lose our place. We were two people away from the sanctuary entrance when a brown young girl with long black braids, maybe twelve years old, emerged from the darkness of the sanctuary.
The girl twirled to show off her long patchwork dress, and sing-songed. "Mami dice mala suerte. el Padre ya se fue. He’s gone for the day." She twirled again and skipped back into the darkness.

Grito Day
At last Grito day came. Anacaona came by to our casita early that morning and handed out the orange mamelucos we’d made that somewhat resembled what the inmates wore in the Camp. The Señoras had made small ones for the children. Machi and David were not home yet. Where had Todos been last night? There had been a blackout on the live stream. The rest of us dressed quickly, went over to the Señoras' Comedor, and downed cafe with real goat leche Patria had left in their refrigerator late last night. Taina was herded into the young people's contingent which was to lead the Wade-in to the Camp. They raced to the beach with Seño Rosa who had taken on the task of keeping them in four lines six wide. Taina and Yuissa were in front, holding the banner. Free them Now.
We amassed. The children, the Señoras. Machi's crew and the others raced down from the hill dressed in black pants and T-shirts with red bandannas, the colors of the Partido de la Felicidad; but did they know that? They ran down screaming, ululating, and surged into our group in the water. Within minutes the whole encampment joined us and half of Coral. Dulce, from Migajas, her daughter Rita, and Padre Ezequiel arrived together. They had taken a carro publico along with many others from the town.
We made a formidable mass, slowly and firmly wading toward the partly submerged Camp fence. We stood on one side and Guardias stood on the other. For several minutes, before the order was given to hose us, we held the gazes of the Guardias. I stared at one young man. I believed he wanted to cross the river. I didn't see Franz or Doug among those guarding the fence. I saw others like them. I believed that many had wrested their minds free, even if this was the best gig they had. The military industry, like the prison industry, was among the last few still standing.
My Guardia nodded slightly and I knew the hosing was coming. We were ready. We ducked under water, turned our backs and headed straight to the shore. Machi had Yuissa in his arms. David had Taina. Seño Rosa saw to it that each child was in the arms of a young man in black.
The Guardias stopped the hosing as soon as we turned our backs to them as Anacaona had told us they would. It was not my imagination that they were on our side, some of them, maybe most of them.
On the beach we formed a circle around Anacaona.
She had a sweet, firm, confident, powerful voice. “Another victory.” She paused. “Small maybe. But it is small victories like this that build to the critical moment. Did you see the Guardias holding back? How different than last Grito Day's Wade in when they wouldn't stop! On this side of the fence we know we have already won. And on that side of the fence, I think they know. They are tuned into digital todos and are just waiting for Zero One to give the signal: Now. They are poised to cross the river.”
We crowded into the Comedor. A few Señoras, among them Julia, had stayed behind to fix a breakfast feast for after the Wade-in. The Señoras' had scrambled eggs that were usually only for the children, with green chilies from the garden. We ate goat butter spread on bread Dulce brought in from the bakery in Coral.
I looked around for Machi and saw him sitting at the far end of the long table where the food was laid out, talking with Anacaona, their heads very close. If only they truly found each other! How I wished my son the love of a good, strong woman. After our meal Julia, with several of the elders, and Seno Rosa, led the children off to the Grito Day Festival de los Niños. Young adult women from La Escuelita organized games of soccer, or la rueda rueda, just feet away from the caves where they could shelter the children if they needed to be kept safe.

B52 Convergence
Convergence, Grito Day.
I lay in my narrow bed in my Casita. Machi erupted into my room and woke me from a deep sleep in which I had been dreaming I was in a circle of women, sobbing. I touched my face. It was wet.
He knelt beside me and spoke to me gently, waking me up the way I used to wake him up when he was my little boy. "Llego la hora! The time is now. Zero One signalled. All over planet earth."
He waved his phone in my face.
I stared at an image he'd frozen from the livestream of the Wade-in, taken from Hillside, high above, of hundreds of pods swarming, swarming. It was taken by one of the drones liberated by guatas who’d crossed the river. He pointed to the place where the camera zoomed and happened to capture our pod (our original one had grown: Patria, Anacaona, Lagarto, Robles, el Guardia Franz, Tanama, Elba Luz, Guille were with us. I recognized even Adela, Noel, Jimmy, Danny, Capitan Ojeda...There was Julia's Liani! Even Julia's daughter Liani had come for the convergence.

I looked at Liani now, snuggled asleep alongside Julia in the narrow cot,barely able to fit. I stared at the image on Machi's phone, the moment when we joined the myriad of pods in the swarm and let ourselves be embraced by Todos.
He swiped the screen. "Now look at this."
Images of swarms all over the world flooded his tiny screen...The time of the convergence had arrived in the far reaches of our planet, all of us, todos...I sat on my little bed a few feet from Julia and Liani listening to their even breath.
I tried to breathe through the surging of my sushumna, the galloping in my windpipe, the force of terror and joy bursting in me, out of me...Breathe, breathe, breathe and watch...I saw the reeling in my mind...All of the people that mattered, those beside me now and those who were not...I saw them converge...Soli, Lucha..those I loved and those I did not love and those I hated...It didn't matter now.
If hell had been a bunch of rich people with armies, then heaven, the rapture, was all of us, todos, putting down arms. This was the moment when we all woke up; when we all stepped outside pseudoreality; when we went from unreal to real, from darkness to light; when we all, todos, ceased to comply. That moment was now...
Machi roused us all.
The day you lived for all your life and half imagined would never come, that you sometimes dared to hope for in order to keep fighting, except that the hope was constantly eroded, it resorbed into the bruised core of oppression that you and myriads constantly fought against; this day was captured on the livestream so that no matter how it came out, what happened, no matter if the empire had another move, even after this day when I could see on livestream all of their troops and officers crossing the river, reclaiming their place among Todos, this day could not be forgotten or turned back.
We surged on. We reached the now unelectrified perimeter of the Base, the metal frayed in many places. We joined hundreds and trampled the steel mesh where a huge expanse of the wall had fallen.
Our swarm breached the Camp...
This was the day when all over the planet, and the live stream showed this, nation by nation, city by city, block by block, pod by pod, all work stopped, all commerce, all traffic. Each pod, joined by all pods, erupted into the street..Here in Palenque and on the Base Guatas and guardias put down their arms.
At last our dreams of a general strike came true...
We erupted. We shouted, ululated.
"We withhold Consent, we claim our freedom because we are free... Your enforcers now know they are todos. You cannot enforce your terror. Your time has come to also be todos, be your own pod, or climb into your spaceships...We reclaim planet earth..."
Everywhere the scene replayed
Prisoners walked free, guards set down their arms...
We were neither the first pod to reach the Camp, nor the last. I learned to breathe, overcame my claustrophobia in the midst of hundreds of human pods swarming.
Would I ever find Ori in this mass?
I had faith. I found faith. Machi and David stayed beside me, and Julia, and Patria... We reached a compound of small wooden huts.
Machi pulled on me and yelled above the thrum of voices and drumming. "We've breached the Camp within the Camp."
He pointed to the huts. "Is this is all there is to it?"
Patria pushed ahead of us through the crowd, toward the tall, dark man with a long black beard who jumped off the narrow porch and ran toward us.
She forced her way through the crowd. "Tomas, Tomas."
Mother and Son ran into each other’s arms. We joined their joyous embrace, Machi and I, their triumphant ululations.
Tomas knew where the recovering hunger strikers were held, a makeshift infirmary built for them. He led us as there. We pushed through the rejoicing masses, dancing, singing, embracing.

It was Ori who found us.
He appeared. I felt his presence before I saw him standing beside Machi.
We embraced and I felt his back, his arms, his chest. "You have some muscle on your limbs, some flesh on your face. You're almost Ori."
I stroked his face, oddly clean shaven.
He spoke into my ear. "This moment we had barely been able to imagine, is at last the present. Que te parece, the empire began in time. It took many of us with it as it fell. But it began and it ended. And I, we, todos, are the lucky ones who got to make it happen and live to see it. Quien lo hubiera dicho?"
We held each other, heart to heart, our heartbeats one with the triumphant drumming.