During the World War
Juan Carlos Torquemada y Torremolino bore an unbearable name. The oldest crones claimed to remember his great grandmother, who thought she was Spanish, they would say when the coven convened on fiesta days. Imagine! The “y.” She was arrrogante. The r’s roiled in malice. This grandmother was chocante, striking, which did not help matters, and when she announced her son’s name she sealed her own demise in the river of chisma. She murdered her lover in the capital, the gossip said.
The Rurales, who might have testified to her identity, preferred to visit her instead. Soon, other men did as well. She had come to the volcano with her boy child, Juan Carlos’ grandfather, and whatever her tattered pretensions, they did not survive the life that followed. She died with them before the newest Juan Carlos was born.
She bequeathed two gifts to her rustic neighbors. The first was the line of eye-fetching Juan Carloses and the second, a small plant that made a fruit. “It is a fresa,” she told Juan Carlos’ grandfather. “Keep it in the family.” But the latter proved impossible.
The crones spotted the Devil immediately. That fruit causes good Catholics to do unmentionable things, the coven gleefully reported. Indeed, the average morality of the average Católico did appear to suffer after tasting the fruit. When some noticed that the new generation seemed to be less of “something” than the previous, the crones purrred knowingly.
Like his father and grandfather, each a “Juan Carlos,” Juan Carlos the Third gratefully accepted the nickname, ToTo. In fact, he was known as ToToTercero. Like both his ancestors, ToTo3ro prospered as a hunter and as a grower of the little plant, which his neighbors envied. This year he attained 17 years and had already learned to amuse himself with a local widow. To be expected, the chisma said, he brings her fresas.
Today ToTo3ro waited at the top of the long unforested slope called the derrumbres, or sometimes the flores, whenever a name was required. Well beyond he could see the hamlet of Palo Seco where the original squatters gathered for consortium and security. The area was on the western slope of the saddle between the great moribund volcanos, a place of some mystery to the original squatters. The area was an oval some 500 meters long and 300 meters wide surrounded by primeval forest. A few skinny pines grew there but the wild rhododendrons flourished in great patches. They formed a low landscape with natural trails in which game and men must pass.
Late morning and the dense clouds from the Sea gathered to the northeast obscuring the coastal plains below. The stiffening trade wind raised them ominously to eye level, then higher. Within the half-hour that same wind would roll fog over the great saddle for the remainder of day and most of the night.
ToTo3ro awaited the foreigners who had purchased a great portion of ancient forest and the derrumbes between the volcanoes. They seemed nice enough. He had “No complaints,” he told his neighbors. “They are refugees like us, religious but they are not Católicos. Vamos a ver.” Since the neighbors were squatters and had been treated fairly by the new owners, they agreed to wait and see before squatting once again.
He saw the newcomers emerge from the forest below. They led horses that like the men themselves were short of breath at such an altitude. His perch on the crest of a massive and mostly buried rock offered the only full vista of the peculiar landscape. The newcomers had not yet seen him and it pleased ToTo3ro to coolly gauge their progress through the narrow trails in the great verdant swaths.
These people were new to the country, but they were not greenhorns. They had science and they did experiments with the soil. They even chewed the grass in the area of derrumbes where the few thin trees grew. They told him they wanted to raise milk cows. Milk cows! Sure. They will thrive here, but what will they do with the milk? He and the other settlers lived by hunting tapir and deer and eating the fat strawberries from the little plant. Vamos a ver he thought again, they would wait and see. If the milk spoiled, there would be plenty of meat for everyone.
It took the company 20 minutes to cross the expanse of wild bushes and volcanic rock. When finally they saw him they shifted to his direction. The clouds billowed over the great gap between the volcanos, but the sulphurous odor from the soil would not reach them until the vapors had steeped the ground for a few hours. Early on, visiting hunters had established that the smell was diabólica and it explained why no one had built a dwelling in the otherwise obvious spot.
“Ho-la, ToTo3ro,” the lead Gringo said in accented Spanish. “Is there water close by?”
ToTo3ro pointed toward the Eastern Sea and down, to the hot water spring. “El grifo alto,” he said.
The men trekked another fifty yards to the first of several steaming springs feeding a stream.
“Whoa!” one said to the horse that backed suddenly. “That’ll scald’ya.”
“Muucho caw-lor,” the leader said to ToTo3ro.
“Si señor, aguas calientes,” the taciturn youth said and offered a wry smile, mouth bent curiously in the corners. “Aguas calientes.”
“Ag-guaas cal-lentes,” the man repeated thoughtfully. “Ag-guaas cal-lentes. Sounds like a name.”
“And that is how the Aguas Calientes Cloud Forest got its name,” ToTo would tell researchers in their own language years later. In the intervening age, life changed for ToTo3ro. His grandfather’s soul had already passed through the largesse of sacrament into the Ether-of-the-Eternal-God. And then his father died and passed in the manner of his father, just a few years later. More than one saw his earthly vapor ascend into the thatch and hesitate before swooshing to Heaven. To-To3ro became just ToTo.
With his father’s passing descended an invisible mantle, El Castellano. Only the crones had ever spoken the word in regard to this matter and, in truth, ToTo could not have expressed it himself. Any vestige of whiteness bequeathed by his great grandparents had evolved to the swarthy moca of his neighbors. But the oily chisma of the crones had polished the lineage of Juan Carloses with irony. People began to treat the new ToTo, the Spaniard, with the respect due a paterfamilias.
My wife and I arrived in rural Central America just before it signed the Free Trade Agreements, and concurrent with the explosion of digital media. Watching the culture change has been fun and rewarding at many levels. Prólogo is an excerpt from my new novel, El Peon, in revision. It is another saga-type tale about three children who grow into adults, and what happens then.
This book is also an attempt to write portions of story in the style of Gabriel Garcia Márquez. I would appreciate your comments in the comments section. Feedback is invaluable and hard to come by. I wish I had a T-shirt or mug to entice your comments, but alas....