"…But I am the Comandante."
This story is comprised of two scenes from Chapin!© (working title). To read the previous excerpt, click on "1--Trust" in the Menu. Previously, Doctor William was taken to a village by an Indigenous man he called "abuelo." The scene was of a massacre by soldiers and there were no survivors for the doctor to treat. Over the course of their day together, each began to trust the other. At the end abuelo admitted that he knew the guerrillas and William asked him for an introduction. In this excerpt abuelo has brought someone to William's house at night. The first scene is from the POV of María, William's Indigenous stepmother.
"...but I am the comandante."
She left the door and hall lights off as William instructed. Except for Pakel, who had been desaparecida for years, William was her oldest and now, with her husband Gustavo and Pak and most of the others gone, she treated William like what he was, the papá of the family.
The house had a sloped front yard, rising almost 8 feet from the unpaved street to a stoop at the front door. The back door entered at a lower level, almost a walkout to the back flat yard that spilled into another empty lot creating a little pasture. A small garage-like bodega stood about 50 feet from the back door. As one entered that door, a short flight dropped to the floor. A tall man had to stoop a little.
The room was not a true basement. Sane people did not build houses over a hole into which the house might collapse with the next temblor. The lower level had room enough for a bed, a small bath and a sala, a small sitting room. A couch flattened itself against the wall separating the bath from the rest. Its front legs rested on the edge of a rolled cotton weaving of Indigenous design. On the other edge of the rug floated an upholstered chair that at one time claimed to be Spanish Colonial.
She waited at the base of the two steps so that when the knock came she opened the door quickly.
"Pase adelante," she said.
"Grácias, comarada," the first man said.
"As you wish, comarada."
"Beel-yam," she said louder, but still as quiet as might be heard.
"Welcome to our house" William said, "be careful around the windows, I've left the lights out until we get to a room without windows."
"That's smart comrade, very smart."
The newcomer was a big man, obviously not Indigenous, and he carried an olive drab canvas sack over his shoulder. Something heavy caused it to roll against his back. The abuelo followed him.
“Can I take your load señor?” William asked.
“Later, Don Doctor.”
She watched the three men move into the alcove where they kept the big table, then she lit an oil lantern. William took the old man by the shoulders and asked how he was.
"Things are the same, Don Doctor."
“You got back to the village?”
“I did Don Doctor.” He looked down, then back to William, “Thank you Don Doctor.”
William nodded and held his gaze to the old man as though waiting for more. There was none.
Her son shook the hand of the other man who was mature, perhaps a little younger than herself. He was trim from his time on the volcán with a bearded face. She could see the smooth skin of a scar glint beneath it, rising from the corner of his mouth and terminating between the left eye and ear.
Something important would be discussed tonight; she knew without asking. At one time she might have been curious, even frightened, but no longer. Now she had William to lose, and her daughter if she was not already gone. And her youngest son, he must have 22 years now, she thought. He had fled the farm after his second brother had been desaparecido, and joined the guerrillas, the EGP, in Alta Verapaz, El Ejercito Guerrilla de los Pobres. They must do what they do, she thought.
These days her own life was of little consequence; she only wanted that it should matter for her family, and possibly her lineage. If not her life, then perhaps her death might count. William had been clear that he would pick up the struggle that Gustavo and Pakel had started. It had been so many years since she had seen him she was unsure what he might do. But he settled that, the first day back and now she felt settled also, as though her life once again had a course she understood.
After her youngest son left to join the guerrillas, the judicials came with a court order to take Gustavo's big farm. Though it had already been several years that her father, the shaman, was in the Other World, his spirit came to the then head of their lineage, the new shaman. He asked her if the villagers should kill the policemen out of respect for her husband Gustavo, but she said "No."
María went to live with her daughter Lise and her Ladino husband in Antigua until William came back. Her son-in-law could barely tolerate her presence and he insisted that she sleep in the maid’s quarters. Her daughter seemed merely embarrassed and she could not tell if the embarrassment was for her or for her husband's behavior.
At first she thought that Lise’ stress came from her discomposure with María’s presence. She always was…breakable, she thought, especially about her Indigenous roots. For a moment the agony of those years returned, the pain of Lise’ rejection by changing her name from Itzel, the name her mother gave her to Lise Winifred, after her German grandmother. But it became clear that her presence was not the only source of Lise’ upset. Maria's son-in-law kept another woman and that knowledge kept her daughter perpetually off-balance. The husband was outrageous, dining with the woman in public. But when María saw her, she saw that the woman was quite young, with a child no doubt, she has to take care of her self. She felt empathy for the woman that she could not share with her daughter.
Lise was captive to the Ladino quest for propriety and her husband’s behavior was pushing her to a bad state; a good state being a periodic thing, even in the best of circumstances. There was little María could do; she had thought William might speak to her son-in-law, insult him and change things, on the first day he arrived in Guatemala, but he did not. She was proud of William, he was, in so many ways, like his father Gustavo, but Gustavo would have struck the man and William did not. Gustavo, she thought of him, he loved the people, but he would not accept an insult. Now, here was Gustavo’s son, the doctor, the little boy she had nursed for his mother from his first day, talking with a rebel comandante.
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She left the men and walked into the lighted kitchen, dipped three bowls of soup, the caldo with pieces of chicken, William's favorite and took them to the men along with mugs of steaming coffee.
"Gracias Comarada," the comandante said. He slashed at the soup, spilling almost as much as went into his mouth. María saw that his wrist did not bend in the proper manner. They ate without talking for ten minutes. She brought a loaf of hot bread, which disappeared within a few bites except for a thick crust left to sponge the remaining soup with that awkward unbending wrist. The rebel smiled at her with genuine affection.
“Your housekeeper is a good cook.”
“She’s my mother.”
Curiosity flattened the rebel's face, “Now that is interesting.” Suddenly he placed both hands soundly, palms down on the table without taking his gaze from William.
“So, Doctor, I took a big chance coming into Reu. Why am I here?” The rebel asked. Then held up a hand to stop the reply, “I think I trust Balam here, who thinks he trusts you. But let’s spread a little more trust on the bread.”
“I saw what happened.” William spoke as though his motivation was self-evident. The rebel just looked at him. Not good enough. “Okay señor, how do I call you?” The man just smiled, held up one hand flat and made a motion like spreading peanut butter with the other. William smiled in spite of the challenge.
“My father was a German socialist. He was hassled by the other Germans when he came here and then by the government until 1967 when they murdered him. After that they got my older brother and then another who tried to fight back. We found all of them except for Pakel, the oldest. Our farm was taken by the government and sold to a loyal family.” William hesitated watching the man whose gaze had not wavered, “My youngest brother, if he still lives, serves with the EGP. I’ve been planning to come back and pick up the struggle ever since I left for medical school.”
Neither spoke. The abuelo was nodding, understanding maybe, or with amazement; his eyes round. After a moment, William held up one hand flat and made a spreading motion with the other.
The rebel’s hands turned to fists and banged the table together, the plates jumped, and his shoulders shook with a laughter that would have been heard all over town had he not stifled it. He wiped his eyes with the hammy heels of his hands. Both fell back to the table.
“Comandante Raúl,” he said, “former history teacher, former headmaster and current survivor of NP-6. It’s not my real name but it’s how the local authorities know me. Raúl the Red. So….” He said it like a complete sentence, “if you want to fight why not come up to the volcán? It’s simpler.” William made an instinctive move with his hand towards María and Raúl nodded, that’s not it—exactly, he thought but since Raúl seemed to understand he said nothing more.
The two men got down to planning. William thought briefly about abuelo’s presence but it did not seem to bother Raúl. He was seriously curious about how the doctor might serve and William had planned his answers to that. He would remain a doctor in the city. He could spy, pass information, treat the most serious wounds under certain circumstances. He may be able to embezzle medical supplies and other things of interest to the lucha, the struggle, he called it. The word brought a smile to Raúl’s face. “Just remember that I am a doctor. That is how I’m willing to fight. Nothing more.”
Raúl nodded and smiled ambiguously, “Could you from time to time, hide a compañero?”
“Yes,” the doctor paused checking his answer. “Yes, we have room for one or two for a day or two. But in this house, I am in charge.”
“I agree to that. And your mother…?”
William looked at María and opened his hand as if it’s too late to be asking that.
“I can see you trust her, I trust her. But the police won’t go easy on her,” Raúl said.
“I will see that she is prepared if they come for her.”
Raúl nodded and said that he and Balam would have to leave soon.
“I’ve thought about that too.” William looked at Balam, “We need a peon to keep up the house and maybe help at the hospital.” Both men watched Balam. “Would you do that and be my point of contact when we need it?”
He returned the look. Raúl nodded affirmatively and Balam said, “With pleasure Don Doctor. My oldest son serves with the Comandante already.”
“I would like to call you Abuelo. Your other name may be a problem.”
“Now,” Raúl said, “may I ask you to hide these?” He jerked his thumb to the sack lying against the wall behind him.
William stood and walked to the sack. It was heavy, thumping as he pulled it away from the wall. He reached in and withdrew one of about a dozen hand grenades.
“You don’t waste time, Comandante.”
“No. I rarely waste time.” He tapped the cup with his spoon, “You are the doctor but I am the comandante.”
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