Chapter 38

This entry is part 39 of 44 in the series Smile

Chapter Thirty-Eight — Another Election

For three days Connie and I wandered up and down the coast like a couple of gypsies. We went to Port of Corinto and inquired about the machinery, and found it had not arrived. On Sunday we went to Leon, one of the oldest towns in Central America and one of the most attractive. The church we attended covered most of a city block, and was built of heavy adobe walls several feet thick and stained dark with age. There were no cracks in any of the walls. The roof was tile, also dark with age. On the top of the building was a steeple holding twenty or thirty bells, and above that, a golden statue of Jesus Christ. Over the main entrance door were the numerals 1561. A church four hundred years old! Four hundred years ago the people in this community must have been much better off financially than they were now.

On the evening of the third day we arrived back at Mama Morales’ feeling like children returning from a picnic. Mama cooked a big dinner and I brought in a bottle of Flor de Caña. We had a delightful feast. Customers who were dining, drinking, and dancing to the music from the juke box added a glad note. The most popular records were those of Nat King Cole, sung in Spanish.

The evening was warm and after dinner I was sitting alone at a table on the outside patio. I looked up at the sky. There wasn’t a cloud nor a star in sight and no moon. It was very dark. Mama Morales was busy with her patrons and Connie was waiting on tables.

Finally I managed to say to her, “I have to go now, Connie. Chuck and Jock will be worried about me.”

“Don’t leave just yet,” she begged. “Mama Morales will join you soon. Please wait for her.”

She sat down at the table and poured a drink for me.

“Stay for just a little while, Joe.” She seemed nervous.

I sat there for about an hour and the bottle was about empty, but I wasn’t. At last, Mama Morales, appeared on the patio looking very serious. Ignoring me, she motioned for Connie to follow her. They halted by a doorway and began whispering. After a minute of this, Mama hurried to a couple of tables and said something to the people there which made them leave quickly. I stood up wondering what was happening.

“Good night Connie, I’m going now,” I told her.

She rushed breathlessly up to me. “No, Joe, you would be in danger! I can’t let you get hurt! Mama Morales has just told me! Tonight there will be a revolution!”

“What’s she been doing, reading the stars again?” I laughed. “There isn’t going to be any revolution Connie. I’m going back to town, so goodnight.”

“No, you will not! You will come with me to my room. We will both be much safer there.”

She clutched my arm.

“Now, listen here, Connie. I would love to spend one more night with you, but it’s impossible.” I started to pull away.

“No, no! You must not go! Please — please!”

She threw her arms around my neck and began sobbing. There came an explosion — a big one. It sounded like a mine blast. This was followed by many popping noises. “See!” cried Connie, “It has already started!”

“Aw, hell,” I said, “those are firecrackers. They’re only celebrating.”

Then there was a different sound — a “rat-a-tat-tat” not far away that did sound like machine guns. Now we were standing a few feet from the table when a hail of bullets came pouring through the fence, shattered the bottle of Flor de Caña on the table, and then buried themselves in the opposite wall.

I threw Connie to the floor and fell on top of her. There came another explosion, then all the house and street lights went out.

“Are you all right, Connie?” I whispered.

“Yes,” she whispered back. “Are you?”

“I’m okay.”

She took hold of my hand. “Come with me,” she said quickly.

We crawled across the patio and on back to the dwelling quarters. She reached up and opened a door, and we crawled across a room. “The adobe wall is very thick in here,” she told me. “It is much safer.”

It seemed as though we were under something. I reached up and felt boards.

“What’s over us,” I asked.

“My bed,” she whispered back.

It was like all hell was breaking loose outside the building. Sirens screamed and people yelled. It reminded me of the night at Talpaneca, only these were not firecrackers. Half a block away, a shell hit the church steeple and bells made weird harmony as they came tumbling down over the roof to crash on the ground.

I had never been so scared and Connie was trembling violently. Slade, the newspaper man, wanted something to write about, so here it is, I thought.

The shooting seemed to be getting farther away and we began to breath a little easier. Then suddenly it was getting closer — too darn close. There was a terrific explosion just over our heads. It must have been from a mortar shell or hand grenade. It landed on the roof and the heavy red tile was blown skyward, then all the same tile came crashing down on us. Tons of it!

Connie screamed. Something hit me on the head and I thought I saw stars, moons and rockets, and then I passed out.

How long I was unconscious I don’t know, but it must have been quite a while. The first thing I heard was Connie’s sobbing.

“Joe, talk to me, Joe!” She was shaking me, “Please talk to me!”

She started to pray. I was coming out of it fast and things began to make sense.

“Are you all right, Connie?”

“Oh yes, Joe, I’m all right, but you have been hurt.”

I raised a hand to my head and felt a big lump. My hand came away sticky.

“I’m all right, Connie. It’s just a big bump on my head.”

She continued to sob hysterically. “I thought you were dead! I thought you were dead!”

I shook her just enough to get her attention.

“Look here, Connie, if it’s written in the stars that you and I will be married and have one blue-eyed baby, you should know I’m not dying.”

She stopped crying, but there wasn’t anything to do except stay where we were. The shooting was coming closer again and it seemed the revolution was going full speed, giving the town everything it had in the way of weaponry.

Connie started to pray again, first in English then in Spanish. She kept repeating some names — names I had never heard.

“Who are you praying for?” I asked.

“My two cousins,” she whispered. “They are fighting for the revolutionists, and I was praying that their lives will be spared. They cannot win, but they will try. They are very brave.”

“How do you know they will not win?”

“The Army is too strong. They have many soldiers, big guns, tanks, airplanes. No, the revolutionists cannot win.”

“Do they know that they can’t win?”

“Yes, but they will try. They will go down in history as ones who tried.”

“Good Lord,” I thought, “people out there fighting and dying and knowing they can’t win. Just for history.” This I couldn’t understand.

“What are they fighting about?” I asked.

“For hundreds of years our people have been fighting — fighting for something better and they will continue to fight. That is the only way that they know how to try to better our country. They cannot vote, and this is the only way there can be a change of government.”

“A hell of a way to get voting privileges,” I thought.

“Who’s side are you on?”

“I am not a rebel,” she said simply.

I lay there trying to figure the thing out. Nothing made sense. Maybe it was the blow on my head.

Mercifully, mother nature played her hand. Rain began to pour down on us. It seemed as if the sky opened up and fell in on us.

I had seen rain in this country before, but nothing like this. It came down in torrents. Within a few minutes, water was running everywhere and we were darn near drowned. We started to pick our way out of the building, throwing aside broken roof tiles as we went. There was one thing for sure. If Connie and I hadn’t been under that bed, we would have been killed.

I could see a little better now for daylight was breaking through.

Finally we got out and Connie’s first thoughts were of Mama Morales, so we went to her room. She had crawled under her bed, but it had collapsed, pinning her beneath it. I worked frantically throwing the tiles aside and at last got her free. She was still alive, but one leg was horribly twisted.

Part of the house had escaped damage, so I carried her there and we made her as comfortable as possible. With the downpour of rain, the shooting had stopped. Thank God for that. Neighborhood women came in to help. One of them went to find a doctor. I couldn’t do any more for Mama Morales, so I said to Connie, “I’m worried about Chuck and Jock. I’m going to try to find them.”

The Palace had several bullet holes through it, but the engine ran. I started it up and headed for the city. I was stopped a few times — the Army was everywhere. I waved my little green passport at them and they let me through. I drove up to Fermin’s, parked and went in. The place was crowded. Chuck and Jock were there and so was Slade.

Slade was saying, “I’m disgusted. It looked like we had a good one going, then that damned rain. Hell, these people won’t fight in the rain — just like a ball game, they got rained out. They were doing damned good too. They blew up the bank, got several million cordobas, then took the fort at Diriamba. Then that rain made most of the rebels quit and go home.”

“The Army has sixteen or the revolutionist leaders cornered in a schoolhouse and they’re holding the kids as hostages,” he continued. “The rebels have offered to give up if the government will give them political asylum. I could have made some real money if they had kept going. Now what the hell am I going to write about, the rain?”

This guy was making my blood boil. I walked over to him. “You like to write about a fight don’t you, Slade? Write about this one!”

I hit him in the belly and he staggered backward. I walked up close and grabbed his shirt-front. “Come outside, Slade. I don’t want to mess up Fermin’s clean floor.”

He only stood there. I gave a pull and he still didn’t move, but his shirt did. I threw it on the floor. “Are you coming, Slade?” I reached out and grabbed his belt. “You coming?”

I was looking into the eyes of a coward. He was big, he was strong, he liked to write about a fight all right, but he was yellow to the core.

I pulled him close by his belt and slapped his face. He began to mumble and beg. I twisted his belt tight and pulled closer. He was naked from the waist up now. I grabbed a handful of hair just above the belt buckle and gave a yank. He groaned then. It was like picking a duck. I started with the hair at the navel and made a path clear to his Adam’s apple. He began to whimper as little drops of blood ran down his belly.

I let go of him. “Get out, Slade! You make me sick!”

He headed for the door. As he weaved away, he turned around and faced me. There was a look of hatred on his face. “I’ll get you for this! And, I’ll get you good!”

I laughed at him as he staggered off.

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