“I want to tell you a story,” my grandmother said. Even at that moment I knew it was odd; I was always the one to beg her for a story because she never imposed herself. I guess it was the bluntness of her announcement that got my attention. I had been in my bedroom all morning and would not allow my younger brother, whose room it was also, to come in. As my family told the story over the years, I wailed all morning and would not be consoled. My father said I cried and yelled and threw things so that he could not even think. Grandmother finally took charge.
The reason for my angst was that my father had announced at breakfast that we would make our yearly trek up the mountain to spend the month with family in Santiago. We were going to leave in two days from Colon where we lived in those days. We would walk up the mountain for three nights, camping by the streams. Even at that age I new our camping spots by heart. The problem was simple to a second grader; I did not want to leave my best friend Yamileth. We just finished first grade and decided that we would go to school together while we were kids and would be best friends for life, having no other friends, ever. It was a very serious pact and had we known about such things I’m sure we would have sealed it by mixing our blood in a solemn ceremony. Then Yami’s father decided to move away for a better job. You cannot imagine the cruelty of that decision. We had only two weeks to spend together and now, my father said, I had only two days. I’m sure you can understand the problem for me; my behavior was absolutely and totally appropriate. But I’ve lost track, as usual. This is about my grandmother’s story and I will tell it as I remember it. But I must warn you; it is a difficult tale.
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful young woman in a village near the lagunas of the river. She heard all of her life that her beauty was so stunning that none of the men in her town were handsome enough to deserve her. For that matter, neither were any of the men in the nearby towns. Although, all of them, even the grandfathers were so touched by her radiance that they could not help themselves but to fall in love with her. All day long the men would troop past her father’s home hoping for a glimpse of her and sighing as they had to move on to make way for another villager. The young woman, as you might imagine, became quite haughty and disdainful of “mere mortals,” she said.
One day the village was visited by a Federal policeman, Rurales, they were called in those days. He was new to the canton and was visiting each town introduce himself and to get to know the pueblo and to find out if he could be helpful in anyway. On this day he was tracking a very mean hombre and wore his pistola in his belt and carried a rifle on the saddle of his fine-looking palomino. He had a full and beautiful beard and sat quite tall in the saddle. All the young women of the town, except for the beauty of our story, followed him as he walked his horse to the cantina. He spoke to each one of the men in a polite and humble manner and they immediately respected him. When he looked at the young women, some of them fainted at the sight of his beauty. One of them ran to get the young woman. She was busy cleaning rice at the pilon and the prospect of looking at another man did not interest her. “You may be surprised this time,” her friend said, so the young woman went with her friend to stand at a distance from the terraza of the cantina.
Well, how can I say it? When the Federal came out of the cantina, he was smiling from the effect of the guaro and his teeth were brilliant. He carried himself with a confidence the young woman had never seen before, and she felt her knees go weak. She leaned against a nearby tree lest she faint herself. “Oh my God,” was all she said. Her friend ran to get the young woman’s father, but he was unimpressed, or at least, he acted like it. “Impossible,” he sputtered, “Im-pos-si-ble. He is a policeman, he has no money.” But there was nothing the father could do. The beauty of the young woman drew the Rurale’s eye and he stopped, cold in his tracks for several moments. Then he walked toward her and her father knew that all was lost.
The policeman was from the Capital and he spoke of things that the young woman had never heard of before. She could scarcely believe her ears when he told her of the wonders of automobiles and pipes with water in the house. But the policeman was very traditional and he spoke to her father who grudgingly said “okay,” to the request to court his daughter. For a few years their love was “vital” as people sometimes say. They lived in a small house in the village and even though the policeman was gone a lot in his duties throughout the canton, when he was home the couple were rarely seen, preferring to share their love in private. Soon, a baby boy arrived on the scene and the young woman was even more happy and she thought her life was “so perfect,” she told her mother and all who would listen. Then a little girl arrived and the young woman thought she might actually be in heaven. She told everyone, but some people had stopped listening.
One day, her husband came home with news. He had to return to the Capital to a new assignment. He would go ahead, he said, and find a place to live. At first the beautiful young woman expected him any day. But after a few weeks of no word from the Capital, a small current of chisma developed; “The handsome policeman had abandoned his beautiful wife and family,” it said. The current grew into a river of rumor and the young woman thought she might go insane with worry and fear. She no longer looked as beautiful as people remembered. One day she brought her children to her mother and said she was going to the city. Her parents tried, but the young woman was desperate and would not be dissuaded. “Give me some money,” she demanded, and with great fear, her parents did as she asked. That very day the young woman paid a local man to take her by horseback to the city. He left her at the steps of the Government, and she went in to inquire about the policeman. They should know where he is, she thought, but no one could, or would, tell her where he could be found. As she walked away, a smitten young man from the office followed her and told her where the policeman was living. She found the rascal with another younger and more beautiful woman. The policeman would not look at her and refused to talk. But I am the most beautiful woman in the world, she thought, how dare he!
Well, to make a long story short, the now not-so-young-woman, wandered for days around the Capital gradually spending all of her money. Men came up to her wanting to pay her for love. Why not? she thought. I have nothing left to live for. And soon she lost her mind completely and she filled with a terrible rage. After a few weeks she found her way back to the village and took her children from her parents. She went straight down to the lagoon, and holding the children in her arms, she drifted out into the current until she could no longer stand. She released her two children to the water. The three of them drowned in the river that day. Her body was found but not the babies.
My grandmother swore on the Bible that what happened next is true. When the woman’s soul appeared at the gates of heaven, the Lord God asked her, “Where are your children?” The shame of her act overwhelmed her and she confessed that she did not know. The Lord ordered her to find them and bring them to Him. “You may not rest until they are with Me,” He said. One night about a week after the woman was buried, a villager saw a strange and luminescent figure wearing a white burial dress floating over the river. “Ooooh, ayyyyeee,” it cried out. “Where are my children?” Then other people saw the figure, and heard it call out, “Ooooh, ayyyyeee.” The villagers said she wanders the streams and canals looking for her children. Children began to disappear. When my grandmother was a small girl, she saw the figure and it tried to grab her, but she ran, quick as a rabbit, back to her house. Soon it became clear that the deseparecidos were children who were naughty or who cried a lot, and the villagers began to warn their children about the consequences. They gave her a name, “La Llorona,” the wailing woman, they called her, and people still see her to this very day.
So mi Amor, that river is not far from here. Your mother and your father love you so much, as do I and your grandfather. I think you must stop this crying lest La Llorona comes to take you away from us.