She spoke in Spanish. “Take the blindfold off, then leave,” she ordered.
Without a reply, an ominous looking Latino man dressed in a dirty camouflage suit came up behind a young man tied to a chair. He slid a large knife up the back of the captive’s head under the cloth blinder and pulled abruptly. The young man gave a short grunt from the pressure. The blindfold trickled over his nose and chin and fell onto his lap. Then the Latino man, looking at no one, walked out the door.
The young man shook his head and blinked his eyes. He knew he was in the mountains because of the trek after he was kidnapped from the school. Two men had taken him at gunpoint, blindfolded him, and driven him away without explanation. The grinding sound of the engine down geared at frequent intervals and the tilt of the vehicle indicated they had been ascending and later the snaky trail on foot was predominately upward. By now he had lost all sense of time and was without any explanation for his predicament. His confusion was compounded as he began to focus on his surroundings. He was in a large room with unexpected amenities. There was a stone fireplace, several cushioned seating pieces, and a long dining table with chairs and a sideboard.
He turned his head and caught a glimpse of a kitchen. There was an open door to the bedroom next to it. The opposite wall was full glass with a sliding door in the center. There were shutters folded back inside. Beyond the glass wall a large veranda overlooked blue grey clouds with mountains humping up between them. The view was spectacular and he began to relax. It must be some joke. Then from behind, he heard the woman speak again, this time in English.
“Don’t be feeling too secure by how you see things,” she said. “I can kill you anytime I want to.”
She walked from behind him now in full view of the man and sat opposite him in a cushioned wicker chair slouching down holding a long barreled revolver on her lap. Her fingertips tapped on the trigger guard. The young man was astonished. She was very beautiful. Her skin was smooth and clean, the color of a fawn, and her black hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She wore a pair of khaki shorts, a casual plain shirt, and sandals. His eyes followed up her stretched out legs to her evident breasts and to her face and eyes and he wondered if she was wearing a bra.
“Before you kill me,” he said. “I would be grateful if I could use a bathroom.”
She got up and walked behind him, still with the gun. She held the barrel to the back of his skull, pulled a knife from it’s sheath on her hip, and severed the cord binding him to the chair.
“The bathroom is through that door,” she instructed, pointing with the pistol. “There is no escape from there and if you ever escape the house my men have orders to slit your throat.”
He walked toward the bathroom rubbing his wrists. This is beginning to appear as though it may be no joke, he thought.
The bathroom was surprisingly accommodating. There was a conventional toilet, shower, and sink with hot and cold running water. On a shelf, he noticed a man’s razor, shaving cream, after shave, and a comb. When he was through with the toilet he washed his hands, dowsed his face, and dried with a fresh towel hanging beside one that had been used. The he combed his hair and returned to the room he had left.
The woman was seated as before and gestured with the gun for him to sit in the chair where he had been tied.
“Oh, very good,” she said. “You have cleaned your face and combed your hair. I see you are a very pretty boy.”
“Was that man your husband?” he asked.
“Of course not. I am with no man. He works for me and he can be quite ruthless.”
“My family is not wealthy but I suppose some ransom money could be arranged if you allow me to contact them,” he offered.
“So you think you were kidnapped for money?”
“That’s what you people do, isn’t it? Look, I am not a rich gringo. I am a teacher. I am with the Peace Corp. teaching English to children. My term of service is over. I leave for the United States next week. What do you want?”
“You have no understanding teacher. You teach English to our young people. What else do you teach them?”
“To write. To create stories. To tell what they see and feel. To help them think.”
“To think in English? To think like gringos?”
“No, they write in Spanish.”
“Do you know Spanish so that you can teach them.”
“Yes, I read and speak Spanish. It was my major in college.”
“A college in Estados Unitas?”
“Yes, the University of Michigan.”
“Do you know I studied in your country too, pretty teacher?”
“No, how could I? Where?”
“In Miami. I studied the science of politics. Many kinds of politics. Tell me, do you teach about politics to the children?”
“Just to write and learn English?”
“No. I teach arithmetic too, to calculate numbers.”
“Good. Now I think I will not kill you.”
“I’m grateful,” he said and gave her a nervous smile.
She kept staring straight at him. Then her mouth curled in a sneer and her eyes went flat and cold.
“Tell me pretty teacher, do you have cajones?” she asked.
“I ask are you a real man?”
“I think so, in both ways I mean.” He had no thoughts of being flip now. She appeared quite menacing.
“No, I don’t think I will kill you. Maybe I will just shoot you in the cajones and see if you are still a man,” she said and she leveled the pistol at his groin and cocked the hammer.
Suddenly she shifted the pistol slightly to the left and fired past his right hip, the bullet singing off the wall behind. He gave an almost imperceptible start but continued to sit staring. She dropped her right arm over the arm of the chair, the gun now pointing at the floor, smoking. She relaxed her body, and began to smile.
“Very good, gringo,” she said. “Now I will let you live. You are too much a pretty man to kill.”
His tension was ebbing and he returned her smile. She sat stretched out as before and the feeling began to flush through him. He was certain it was with her too and she would not ever kill him. But, the one thing about which he was not certain was how it all would end.
After a few moments of silence she stood up, still with her smile, and walked toward him, her eyes fixed on his face. He watched her, the graceful feline way she came toward him, and the feeling came like a surge now. She stopped and looked down at him. The pistol remained in her hand but hung, without threat, at her side.
“My God, you are a pretty teacher,” she said. “I will call you pretty teacher.”
“I have a name,” he replied.
“No! There will be no names.”
“Then what should I call you?”
“Whatever you wish.”
“I think I’ll call you the Dragon Lady.”
“Why do you choose such a name?”
“It was the name of a woman in the comics in my country years ago. My father gave me some old comic books he had when he was a boy. Like you, the Dragon Lady controlled a group of men, a gang that was somehow involved with taking from the system. She was also, very beautiful. Do you know about comics?”
“Yes, but I don’t know about this one with a Dragon Lady. I think you made up such a name. Use it if you like.”
He watched her move away toward the kitchen. She stopped in the doorway and looked back. “Put a fire in the fireplace,” she ordered. “The sun goes fast in the mountains and the warm goes with it. I will go to the cocina and make us some cena.”
There were papers and matches in the wood box and he laid the fire, checked the damper, and lit the papers. Within five minutes flames were leaping from the wood and the chill that had crept in was gone. When he looked through the glass wall it was almost dark. Only a faint afterglow hung beyond the distant peaks. He could smell the cooking coming from the kitchen and wondered what they would eat and hoped it would not be Iguana. They said it was like chicken but people said that about all kinds of bizarre food from animals.
This is all very surreal, he thought. A beautiful woman has had me kidnapped, threatened to kill me, and is now cooking us supper. Whatever the rite of passage, I must have passed.
A few minutes later she came in by the fire carrying two plates with food, rice and beans and slabs of a white meat covered with cooked vegetables.
“Pollo, —chicken,” she announced.
“Tree chicken or ground chicken?” he asked with a smirk.
She set the plates down on the dining table. “True pollo,” she said. “But it wouldn’t matter. They taste much the same.”
Then she ordered him to follow her to the kitchen. There she gathered silverware and napkins from a drawer and told him to open a cupboard and choose a wine. “One to be good with chicken. I don’t know about vinos,” she said.
He was amazed. There were forty or fifty bottles laying on their sides, separated, whites from reds. He thought about a Chardonnay but decided on Pinot Noir. Among the reds, he found a nineteen seventy-eight Chambolle Musinay Bonnes Mares. He was astounded to find such a premium wine and thought it was too good for chicken but then realized he had no idea what would be after tonight. The Dragon Lady had brought two wine glasses from a cupboard and laid a corkscrew on the counter.
He opened the bottle and sniffed the open neck. “You know vino, pretty teacher?” she asked.
“Quite a bit. I traveled in France one summer during my college vacation.”
“This is a good vino?” she asked.
“Excellent. How is it that you have it here?”
“It is not for you to know, pretty teacher.”
She went to the dining table and placed the napkins and silverware. He followed with the two wine glasses and the bottle. During dinner when she sipped her wine she looked at him over the rim of her glass with desiring eyes and he felt the flush come again. The only light in the room was from the fire and then he realized there was light from a bulb in the kitchen.
“How is it you have electricity?” he asked.
“Too many questions from you teacher,” she replied.
When they finished eating she got up and went by the fire carrying her wine glass. “Bring the wine and come where it is warmer,” she ordered.
She took a cushion from a chair and sat on the floor. He found another cushion and slipped down next to her and poured some more wine into her glass and drained the bottle into his. They sat, without speaking, for several minutes watching the capricious dancing of the flames, sipping their wine. It was not long before the urgency was with them both.
She spoke first. “You said you were a real man, pretty teacher. I think now it is time for you to prove it.” She stood up and began to disrobe. “The bedroom?” he asked.
“No, aqui —here, now!” she commanded.
He had been with four women before, two girls at college, clumsy first times for each, and later a prostitute in Boston and recently another in San Pedro, both too perfunctory. He had wondered if sex with a woman was not to be the exquisite pleasure he had anticipated. But now, with the woman he chose to call the Dragon Lady, it was different, warm and generous with no questioning or guilt.
She was the first to get up, rising slowly stretching up like a cat. She looked down at him and smiled and he looked back and thought there could be no woman on earth with a body as beautiful.
“It is time for the bed now,” she said. “Time for sleep. Put the screen for the fire and come to bed.” And she walked away to turn off the kitchen light and then close the bathroom door behind her. For the first time, he realized the pistol was nowhere in sight.
He was asleep when she slid in next to him. When he awoke he was alone. He could hear her in the kitchen and see the morning light through the window. Even though he needed to use the bathroom he did not get up for several minutes. There had been a frustrating dream he had been glad to leave. It was still vivid to his recall and he felt compelled to search for a significance.
He had stepped out of a forest into a clearing. In the sky far off an airplane had begun to stall and suddenly it fell straight down beyond a hill. There was no sound but it must have crashed and then black smoke had curled up from behind the hill. He had stood watching and thinking what he should do. Other people must have seen it, people much closer to where it fell, he had reasoned. They would not need him and there had been no way to communicate. In his mind he had known he was fearful to witness the carnage and he had no training for dealing with such a disaster. But, after a few moments, he had started to run through the fields toward the hill, determined to do whatever he could to help. His legs seemed to be made of lead, he could barely lift them. Then suddenly the hill, which had seemed so far, was right in front of him. He had labored to the crest, fearful of what he would see, but he was certain there would be others and he would do what he could. At last he had stood on the summit and looked down and there had been nothing but fields as far as his eyes could see.
He lay a few more moments unable to sense a meaning and then he got up naked and walked quietly into the bathroom.
She heard him and left the kitchen holding a terry cloth robe like the one wrapped around her. When he came out she held the robe out to him looking only at his face.
“Here pretty teacher. Put this on,” she said. “Breakfast is ready. We will eat outside on the balcony and talk.” —-
He carried their tray of breakfasts from the kitchen following her to the sliding door in the wall of glass. When he stepped outside he was astonished to find the balcony was cantilevered over a deep gorge. At the base of the gorge a river with pockets of white water cavorted southward. He could see boulders rising up through the foam. He set the tray on a bistro table and waited for her to sit in one of the two chairs before he sat down opposite her. He sipped his glass of orange juice and stared out at the clouds and the mountains.
“Eat your eggs and gallo pinto before they get too cold,” he heard her say and for a moment he thought it was his mother’s voice. Then he realized and smiled.
He looked at the tangled yellow of the scrambled eggs and the rice and beans on his plate steaming in the cool morning air and thought about summer mornings at the cottage on Lake Michigan and wondered when that might be again. What if she were to come home with him or follow later and they would get married and he could teach and they would have a couple of kids. He knew his family would accept her and his friends too and wherever they went people would look at her and think what a knockout.
She watched him eat and sensed his far away thoughts and asked, “What is it in your mind, pretty teacher?”
“Nothing really. What did you think of the United States when you studied there?”
“I was only in Florida. The weather was the same but there were too many people and too many cars. Everything was too fast.”
“It’s different where I live.” He said. “It’s a small town not much bigger than San Lucas and we have four kinds of weather; cool and wet in the spring with trees getting leaves and the grass and flowers beginning to grow, and the summer is warm and sunny like here, and then there is the fall when it gets slowly colder and the green leaves of the trees turn red and yellow and drop to the ground. Winter starts just before Christmas, Navidad. It gets quite cold from late Deciembre until the end of Marzo and we have snow, nieve.”
“I would like to see snow,” she said. “It is very cold to have snow?”
“Sometimes fifteen below zero, diaz menos centigrado.”
“Oh! So cold. How do you stay warm in the time of snow?”
“We dress with heavy coats, boots and gloves and hats.”
“I think I would like to see snow but not stay long when it comes with such cold,” she declared.
She left the table and went to the kitchen. He sat staring at nothing, thinking about their cultural divide. He knew he would probably remember her for a long time and that would have to be enough. He had been thinking of her as a trophy, someone to show off. This was her land. She would never leave and he saw his future with another woman someday, far from here, in the United States, in his own culture. But for now he would take what was offered and hope things ended well.
The Dragon Lady came back with a steaming pot of coffee and poured their mugs full. They sat quiet now watching hawks sail in and out of the shape shifting clouds and listening to the faint rolling sound of the river far below.
“You like the river, pretty teacher?” she asked.
“Yes, rivers, lakes, oceans, all bodies of water.”
“Good. I will make some almurezo and we will go down to the river later and eat. We can also swim. I know a trail.”
Later that morning she packed a hamper of cold chicken sandwiches and fruit, melon, bananas, and watermelon and told him to pick a wine.
The trail was only a narrow path serpentining down the side of the gorge. She went first and cautioned him several times at particularly precarious spots. He heard the rising sound of the rapids and wondered where they could swim safely. At the bottom of the gorge the trail broke out onto a flat area of boulders and sand with the river just ahead only lightly turbulent now in a broad channel. She set the hamper down on the stretch of sand close to the water, took out a folded piece of oilcloth, and laid it out placing the plate of chicken and the fruit at the center. Next she removed the knife from the sheath on her hip and handed it to him.
“Cut the fruit into sections, pretty teacher,” she ordered.
He did as she told him, noting she had been comfortable to give him the knife and wondering if she had the pistol in the hamper. The air just above and over the river was filled with the flutter of butterflies; red and black, vivid yellow, and blue morphos. He caught sight of a toucan winging along the far shore. He laid the slices of fruit, rind down, on the oilcloth and placed the two bananas next to them. She divided the chicken pieces onto two waxed plates and handed one to him.
“Cut your chicken into pieces to eat and give the knife back to me,” she told him.
They began to eat when she looked at him and smiled. “And what about the vino, teacher?” she asked.
“I put it in the hamper but I’m afraid I forgot the corkscrew.” She handed him the bottle and then the opener.
“Was last night too much for your memory, pretty teacher?” she said. “What good vino did you chose?”
“A nineteen eighty three Gewurztraminer from Alsace, in France. It’s very good,” he declared. “I don’t suppose now you could tell me how you have so much good wine.”
“No,” she answered.
He pulled the cork and held the bottle out to her. “I forgot glasses,” she said and he passed the bottle to her. She took a long drink swallowing it slowly then passing the bottle back to him. He almost, by instinct, wiped the neck of the bottle but did not before he drank. They finished the chicken and then ate the chunks of melon leaving the bananas for later. “We will have bananas after we swim,” she said.
His eyes followed the butterflies and then he looked at her and asked, “What do you intend to do with me?”
“I am uncertain, teacher. But know I will never hurt you.”
“Why do you do this?” he asked.
“Do what, teacher?”
“Kidnap, run a gang, steal, whatever it is you do.”
“To help my country. To protect the people from the corrupt oppressors that control our government. From the death squads. My God, teacher, are you blind.”
“I haven’t heard about any death squads in San Lucas.”
“Have you been in the north, in the countryside, with the poor?”
“No, I flew directly to San Pedro. We spent a week being oriented and then I flew to San Lucas. There were rumors but I didn’t see or talk to anyone about such things. Besides, how do I fit into this business? I’m a teacher. I got along fine with the people of San Lucas, the people with more and the poorer alike.”
“This much I will tell you and no more. The north of the country is controlled by the corrupt. Me and my men are from the south. The south is still primitive, much of it with rugged mountains and deep jungles with the Jaguar and dangerous snakes. We get no services for education, no water for our villages, no hospitals and only a few doctors who come to help us because they care. Our roads are dirt trails. We refuse to pay taxes. But there is good timber and two years ago some gold was discovered. There are some foreign persons who buy these and some have lived among us. Most are fair and have helped us. Soon we will build our own hospital for all our people and already we have begun some schools. But the leeches who control the government want to take our resources. San Lucas is a town at the border of the north and south. Most of it’s people are with us but there have been rumors that death squads have come, secret groups of army persons. Their job is to put down unrest among the poor by terror and killing. My men have been in San Lucas since you were kidnapped, spying, to see if it is true.” She had become animated then stopped. With cold eyes and her jaw set she said, “If they come to the south our people will meet them in the jungle and the mountains and they never will return. This country is for all the people. We will take it back.”
“I ask again,” he began. “What has this to do with my being kidnapped?”
“You are a gringo and it is rumored that some men of your CIA have helped train some of the army. If my men are caught I have you to bargain with.”
“Great, I came to teach, to help your people and I’m caught up in your politics. Answer one question. Are you and your people communists?”
“No! All you gringos think about is Castro spreading communism. We are for true democracy. What is now is a democracy in structure only. The corrupt are in control. There is no true justice.”
He watched her as she spoke and felt she was sincere. “When your men return what will happen to me?” he asked.
“Too many questions, always your questions, pretty teacher. Come, follow me, I know the place to swim. And bring the bottle.”
She led him a short distance over some tall boulders onto a thin ribbon of sand next to a small cove in the shoreline. She began removing her clothing. He watched the casual unabashed way she did it.
“I think I’ll go in with my clothes on,” he said. “I’ve worn them for almost two days. They need a wash.”
He removed his shoes, took a swig from the bottle, then handed it to her. When he walked into the water he went under almost at once in the close drop off. She laughed and plunged in behind him.
When they came out, she looked at him, smiled, and said, “You drip like a drowned agouti. Let me fix you.”
She unbuttoned his shirt and released his belt buckle. “Don’t be shy, pretty teacher,” she said. “Put your clothes over that big rock to dry.”
When he turned back he heard a macaw in a tree above and looked up. It’s vivid colors were brilliant in the full sun and he watched it a moment. When he dropped his eyes he saw her lying on the sand.
“Come down here with me, pretty teacher,” she ordered.
He knelt down next to her. “I can’t believe all this is happening to me,” he said.
“Have you ever done it with a woman on the sand in the sun,” she asked.
“It is a first time for me too. I like the first time for things,” she said.
The trek back up the trail was arduous. They were hot and tired when they reached the casa. “Go out to the balcony,” she said. “I’ll get us cold cervezas.” He slumpted down in the balcony chair. She came and handed him a beer and sat in the other chair. Shortly they were both asleep. They were awakened by the light chill of late afternoon. The sun was almost on top of the far mountains. They went inside and she walked lazily into the kitchen.
“I will cook some covina for us tonight,” she said. “Come, pick a wine that goes good with the fish.”
He found a nineteen eighty six Sancerre and put it in the refrigerator.
“With garlic and butter, is all right with you teacher?” she asked.
“Fine,” he answered. “If my breath from garlic will not offend you.”
She smiled at him with lazy eyes. “Go make a fire,” she ordered.
After they ate they sat by the fireplace finishing the wine as they had the night before. The food and wine combined with the exertion of the day made them languid. They watched the hypnotic play of the flames in silence. Later she got up, cat like as before and gave him the look.
“You’re kidding,” he said. “Again, here, like last night. My God!”
“No, tonight, the bed, pretty teacher, the usual place.”
He watched her walk toward the bedroom. His eyes followed up her long legs to the soft curves of her hips and to her black hair hanging loose to the middle of her back and his laziness left him.
It was still dark when he was awakened by the sound of voices. The Dragon Lady was talking to a man. A few moments later she stood in the doorway of the bedroom, fully dressed.
“Get up, teacher,” she said sharply. “We are leaving at once.”
“Why, what happened?” he asked.
“You and the questions again. Never mind. Just hurry.”
When he came back from the bedroom, the man was gone. He noticed the pistol lying on the table and the knife was in the sheath on her hip. “Turn around it is necessary to blindfold you again,” she said.
“You can’t be serious.”
“Very serious, teacher and place your hands behind to be tied.”
He did as she asked and began to worry. Maybe she would not kill him but about the man in the camouflage suit, he was less certain.
“We go now. Don’t worry I will guide you, nothing will happen to you. Now you are to stay silent until I speak to you again. It will be a while. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” he answered.
Then he heard her speak to two other voices, both men. Soon after he was led away and he sensed they were descending along a narrow path and he was certain it was the path they had followed when the men brought him. Somewhat later they stopped and she instructed him.
“We are at a vehicle, now. Step up with your right foot. I will help you get in and stay silent,” she added.
The engine started and he felt the vehicle jostle him over the rough terrain but this time he was going downward. He could feel the Dragon Lady’s presence next to him. It seemed to take longer than before. Suddenly he lurched forward as the brakes grabbed in a grinding squeal. Moments later he felt the coldness of the steel blade as the knife cut away his blindfold. He looked around. The day was at the edge of dawn and the Dragon Lady was cutting the cord loose from his wrists. The camouflaged man and another sat in the front of the battered jeep looking straight ahead. They were at a divide in a crude road.
“Get out,” she ordered. “You are free to go. Follow that trail about a quarter kilometer to the main Carretera and go left. It will be two kilometers to San Lucas. If any authorities interrogate you tell them you were blindfolded all the time and don’t know why you were set free. I trust you to do that.”
“But!” he began.
“No questions, pretty teacher, please.”
She was looking directly at him and he watched her eyes. They told him that he had been good. It was a silent thank you, a sweet goodbye, and good luck. Then she turned away and the jeep drove off. He watched it for several moments but she did not look back. Then he turned and began to walk toward San Lucas.
10 YEARS LATER
The snow that had fallen all through the night was crystal white from the deep cold when Tom Stafford walked out to the mailbox on that Saturday morning. He waited until he was inside and warm before sorting it, piling his wife’s letters and catalogs at one end of the dining room table and his at the other. One envelope for him had a foreign stamp with no return address. He opened it first. It was an invitation printed in Spanish. He stood staring at it for several moments before he noticed Emma in the room.
She watched his absorption and waited until he looked up. “Big news?” she asked.
“Not really. Just kind of a surprise.”
“Well, what? Let me see.”
“It’s in Spanish. It’s from the faculty and students where I taught when I was in the Peace Corp. They built a new school and are inviting me to the dedication.”
“That’s great. When?”
“Next month, the tenth. Too bad it’s right in the middle of the semester.”
“You’ve got personal days coming. How long would it take?”
“Forget it, Emma. I couldn’t leave you and Sarah alone in winter weather.”
“Listen Tom, after ten years those people still remember what you did to help them. That’s a tribute to you as a teacher, an honor. You can’t disappoint them.”
“I suppose you’re right. I’ll talk to administration Monday. I still feel uneasy leaving you and Sarah alone.”
She knew administration would okay his request and so did he. She also knew his concern for their daughter and her was sincere and she liked that in her husband. She would have to think about putting that worry to rest over the week-end.
On Monday afternoon, Emma heard Tom’s car pull into the driveway. She left Sarah watching cartoons on television and went to the kitchen.
Tom came in and she looked at him, and waited. “I got five days and the week-end,” he said. “But I still don’t feel right leaving you alone in the country with a three year old in the winter.”
“You won’t have to,” she replied. “I’ve got it all worked out. The three of us with fly to Miami. Dad and Mom can pick up Sarah and me at the airport and you can go on from there. How many days will you need?”
“Four and I can be back in Miami.”
“Good you can spend a couple of days with us in Hallandale before we fly back. And you know what? Dad wants to give us the round trip to Miami.”
“You called your parents already?”
“Sure, I knew you’d get the time off.”
“You didn’t ask your father to buy us tickets, did you?”
“No, honestly. It was his idea. Now give me the places you need to go and I’ll make all the reservations with the travel service tomorrow. I checked your passport from our honeymoon. It’s still valid.”
Tom shook his head and smiled. “Sometimes I wonder how I functioned before you,” he said.
Her parents were waiting for them at the luggage carousel in Miami. Sarah cried when Tom said goodbye and headed for his flight to San Pedro. That bothered him at first but then came the waiting, the check in with the passport business and more waiting before they finally boarded. He had a window seat. Emma had seen to that.
About a half hour into the flight the stewardess came by with lunch and asked him what he wanted to drink. He opened the lid on the box and looked at the sandwich. It had white meat and he told her vino blanco. When he finished with his sandwich he munched the plantain chips, sipped his wine, and looked out at the cloudless azure sky and then down at the flat blue of the Caribbean and thought about his life with Emma. There was no equivocation about her. She was decisive and willing to plan and handle the details. He hated the details that resulted from decisions and so he agonized over decisions. He had an intellect that saw the gray of issues and he could balance the pros and cons and rationalize the best probable course, but it was his wife who acted. Without her they would not have the place in the country they both loved, or have had Sarah quite so soon, and he would probably not be going back to a place that held memories he had shared with no one.
As he tasted the vino he thought about that splendid cache of wine in the casa in the mountains years ago and then about the woman he had called the Dragon Lady, and then about Emma and he tried to block the time of ten years ago from his thoughts. He felt to remember it all would be like committing adultery in his mind. He closed his eyes and dozed off.
When he woke he looked down and saw the jet was breaking over the coast line and soon there were mountains with the big plane that had flown so flat over the ocean now jostling lightly in the turbulence rising from the terrain. He felt small flutterings begin to work in his stomach. He knew he was back.
Fifteen minutes later they began to descend and the stewardess spoke instruction in Spanish and then in English and his ears were plugging and his stomach flutters came a little faster. He was surprised at the breath of urban sprawl around San Pedro. Just before touchdown he saw the little church by the runway flash past and he was glad to see it was still there. The plane braked to a stop, turned, and taxied back toward the terminal and he could see the covered passenger ramp waiting unlike the portable steps he remembered walking up when he left. There was very little of the airport terminal that he recognized. So much of it had been upgraded. Immigration was handled politely and efficiency and he saw no soldiers as before, only a scattering of policemen. Since his return to the United States he had followed the reports of civil strife, the work of the death squads, and had been relieved when finally leaders from neighboring countries had intervened and the fighting stopped. He had followed brief reports in the newspapers about open elections and large reductions in the army and some arrests for crimes against the people and a process for general amnesty. They were always inside articles not journalistically dramatic enough for the front page and that was a good sign he had thought.
Emma had booked a room for him at a Hampton Inn not far from the airport that the travel people had told her was new with a restaurant nearby. He towed his carry on to the taxi area and told the driver the name of the motel. The driver began a conversation in halting English and Tom answered in fluent Spanish.
“I try for English,” the driver said. “We have many turistas from Estados Unitas and Canada. Now too from Europe.”
Tom dropped the Spanish. “You’ll have to learn French and German too,” Tom laughed. “Probably Italian also.”
“Now for only English,” the man replied. “One only now.”
When Tom left the cab, he gave the driver four dollars and the driver started for change but Tom waived him off.
“No, para tu.” He said.
“Mucho gusto, Senor,” the man said and drove away.
From the airport to the motel it had gone from twilight to darkness. Tom registered, locked his bag in his room and walked to a restaurant next to the motel. He ordered Mahi Mahi and a small carafe of Concho y Toro white. The food and wine made him feel sleepy. When he finished he paid and walked back to the motel. He put in a call for eight, went to his room, and directly to bed. Within moments he was asleep.
The pulsating ring of the phone wakened him promptly at eight. He was surprised he had slept so soundly and so long. By eight thirty he was showered and dressed. When he checked out he was told there was a shuttle that would take him to the airport for his flight to San Lucas. It would leave in twenty minutes so he ate the continental breakfast provided in the lobby while he waited. Things here are becoming too like the United States, he thought. Maybe that was a good thing. Peace had meant outside investment and tourists; good if it didn’t go too far.
The domestic airline waiting room was in a small building apart from the main terminal. It was as it had been ten years before except for the crowd of tourists. He checked in at the ticket counter and waited. The plane to San Lucas was scheduled to leave at nine forty five. They called for boarding at ten thirty. One thing has not changed, he thought.
The plane was a fifteen passenger commuter type aircraft and all the seats were filled. It took off, banked to the south, and rose over the mountains, it’s two engines pulsating in a monotonous drone. He remembered that he thought the mountains looked like green brown humps of whales breaking the ocean’s surface when he flew over them ten years before and, looking at them now, he thought the same.
The plane flew between two of the tallest humps and then began to descend over the far slopes. He could see the ocean and begin to feel the humid warmth rising from the coastal plain. They left the mountains and flew low along the coast a short distance. He looked at the crescent shape of San Lucas bordering the wide harbor looping in from the ocean. Then the plane banked and dropped onto the macadam runway nestled between rows of palm trees.
When the propellers died the passenger door was opened. He stepped down and waited for the baggage to be unloaded. He grabbed his bag and walked toward a small cinder block building with a tin roof that served as a waiting area. He wanted to ask about transportation into San Lucas. There was no building at all ten years ago, he remembered. Before reaching the building he heard a young woman’s voice calling his name.
“Senor Stafford, here,” she shouted and waived her arm, smiling brightly.
He walked toward her, studying her face, searching his memory.
“Do you remember?” she asked. “I am Teresa Vargas. I was a student with you.”
“Yes, of course I remember you. But I wouldn’t have recognized you. You’re all grown up.”
“Come,” she directed. “Over here.” She led him to a polished new van with “Escuela de San Lucas” lettered on the side.
“What’s this?” Tom asked.
“For the new escuela. To bring the little ones too young to walk.”
All the way into town Teresa never stopped talking. She told him she could not wait for him to see the new school.
“Are you with the school?” he asked.
“I am a teacher for the elemental ones,” she declared. “Do you know all the time I learned from you I was wanting to be a teacher. And now, you see I am a teacher.”
She took her hands off the wheel and gestured. The road was unpaved and full of curves. He held onto the armrest and wished she would slow down and watch the road, but he kept quiet.
She took him directly to the school. “The dedication is at mediodia manana,” she said. “You must say some words.”
“Do I have to?”
“Yes, of course. Now come let me show you.”
She took him to her classroom. There were tables and chairs and a big blackboard and numbers and pictures of animals on the wall and a large map of the western hemisphere. “I have the mapa to show them where we are and to show them where the teacher of me when I was little now lives.” And she pointed to the spot in Michigan. “This is not like when you taught us is it, Mr. Stafford? No floors of dirt and the roof does not leak the rain.”
“Please call me Tom,” he said.
“Oh no. I could never do that,” she replied. “You were my teacher.”
Teresa drove him to his hotel. “It is new built about four years ago for the tourists mostly who come to catch the pez vela,” she told him.
“I read that some of the best sail fishing in the world is off the coast of San Lucas.” He opened the door and stepped out of the van. “Thanks for the transportation. I’ll be at the school by eleven forty five,” he told her. She smiled and drove away.
He went into the hotel, registered, and took the elevator to his room. The room had a balcony facing the harbor and after relieving himself and unpacking his toilet articles he slid the glass door open and sat outside. He looked down at the flow of traffic in the street below and then out across the harbor to the ocean shimmering blue green in the hard sun. The pinnacles of rock offshore were sticking up as he remembered them with the swells of the sea smacking against their sides spewing foamy white into the air. It was hot. The sun was scorching the balcony and he put on his sunglasses and wondered if the Dragon Lady could be down there somewhere in San Lucas. It would be more likely she was in prison or even dead, he thought. To think so made him begin to feel melancholy. It was quite possible she had survived the war and was living happily somewhere far from San Lucas, perhaps even in a foreign land. She was very attractive and intelligent. She could survive anywhere. The memory of her had faded over time. There was Emma now. But, here again, in San Lucas, after all the years, the days in the mountains were in his mind as clear as if their time together had been only yesterday. The unanswered questions he thought he had dismissed were back and with them, some guilt.
The heat had become unbearable and he needed to change things and shake the memory. He went inside, rinsed his face, and went down to find the barroom. The barroom was dark and air conditioned and he drank beer until late afternoon before going back to his room to lie down and wait for supper. He woke up hungry from having had no lunch.
The dining room at the hotel was on the roof. He arrived before most of the other diners and sat at a table where he could see the sunset. He decided on a glass of white wine and asked the waiter to come for his order later, when he finished his drink. The sun dropped slowly into the Pacific; fat and red sending up a lingering play of colors, yellow and mauve woven into the lead blue of the scattered clouds. There is a sadness to a beautiful sunset, he thought, the quiet beauty that ends something. Shortly, the soft lights at the edges of the dining room came on and he signaled the waiter for his dinner.
He ordered a tenderloin of steak and a small carafe of red wine. As he ate, a group of men came and sat at a large table arranged nearby. He could hear them talking about the day on the water and the sailfish. “Our boat boarded six,” he heard one of them say. “We had five and Jim had a marlin that broke line right at the boat,” another chimed in. “Son-of-a-bitch,” he heard Jim blurt. “The guide said he was at least four hundred pounds.” Somebody else drawled. “The Marlin grows by the hour,” and they all laughed.
Tom finished eating and had called for the check when one of the fisherman noticed him alone. “Hey, you’re all alone. Wanna’ come have a drink with us?” he asked.
“It’s good of you to ask but thanks anyway. I’m supposed to give a speech tomorrow. I’ve got to go back to the room and make some notes.” The man waived and turned back to his friends. Tom signed the La cuenta and went back to his room. He sat out on the balcony in the dark thinking of about what he would say at the dedication of the new escuela and then he went to bed.
When he awoke he looked at his watch. It was a little after ten o’clock. He was startled and then realized he had not yet set his watch back an hour. He showered and dressed and decided to walk through the village to the little restaurant with the walls of latticed flowers, where he once had eaten breakfast most every morning. He looked for familiar faces as he walked but he recognized no one and people passed taking no notice of him. As he approached the restaurant, he hoped his old friend Esteban Caceres was still the owner and would remember him. He slipped into a table by the lattice and waited. Then he saw him, big and slow as before but with hair quite gray. Caceres lumbered over to his table and held his order pad ready to write.
“Como esta, Esteban?” Tom said matter of factly.
The big man looked down. “Tomas!” he exclaimed. “Bien, bien and how are you? I heard you might come for the thing at the new school.” Tom stood up. Caceres stuck out his hand and pulled him into a big hug.
“I’m good and very happy to see you are still here.”
“Sit,” Caceres said. “I’ll bring you a breakfast. You want the same?”
“You still remember?”
“Sure, like the elephant.” He walked away to give the order to the kitchen and returned with a large glass of orange juice. “I have to take care of some customers,” he said. “When your breakfast comes I will come and we can talk.”
A young girl brought him a plate of fruit and then a few minutes later, scrambled eggs with sausage and a pot to pour him a cup of rich, dark coffee. He smiled at her and said, “Gracias.”
“You are welcome,” she answered.
Tom was almost finished eating when Esteban came to the table and sat. “How long do you stay, Tomas?” he asked.
“I go back on the last flight this afternoon.”
“I am sorry to hear. I wanted you to have cena with me and my wife at our casa.”
“Maybe another time, my friend. I need to return to my school in the United States. I still teach.”
“And you teach well like you did here, I am sure.”
“Tell me, Esteban, I don’t see anyone I know. I thought some of my students might recognize me. Teresa is the only one I have seen.”
“Most are gone to San Pedro, more opportunity. I don’t know, I loose track of people. It is tourists and fishing now.”
“And better with the war ended, I am sure.” Tom said.
“Yes,” Esteban began. “Now we argue politics with our mouths and not with guns.”
Tom got up. “I’ve got to go,” he said. “How much do I owe you?”
“Don’t insult me,” Caceres said. “For the old days.”
Tom laid two dollars on the table. “For the girl then,” he said and held out his hand.
Esteban pulled him up in another hug. “Be certain to come again someday, amigo,” he said.
“Sometime, maybe. Take care of yourself, my friend,” Tom replied and walked away.
It was only a long block up the narrow street to the schoolyard. At the school no one was in sight except for a man on a platform that had been setting up for the ceremony. He was stringing wires from a microphone to speakers sitting at each end of the platform.
“Buenos dias,” Tom said.
“Buenos dias,” the man replied not looking or stopping from his work.
Tom looked at the new school and thought about the time when he taught in the little building with the dirt floor and the roof that leaked and about the children. It was the children that made him want to be nothing but a teacher.
Still caught with the reflection, he began to sense the presence of someone behind him. The odor of soft perfume told him it was a woman. Before he could turn to see her he heard her voice.
“Hola, pretty teacher,” he heard her say.
He was not certain about the voice but it had to be her. Only she had called him pretty teacher and he carried her image in his mind as he turned. But, when he looked at her, for a moment, he was not sure. There was no long dark hair in a pony tail, no khaki shorts or long bare legs, no sandals or linen blouse. Her hair was short and styled and she wore a bright print dress and leather pumps. His uncertainty left, however, when he looked at her eyes, dark and piercing that stared into his and at the small supercilious grin. It was a look from before; the look of the controller.
“Yes Tomas, it is me,” she said.
“I have no doubt,” he replied. “But you have the advantage of knowing my name.”
She kept the look, letting the grin go to a smile. “I have known your name even before the time in the mountains.”
Her eyes moved to something beyond Tom and her expression changed. “Senorita Vargas is coming to us,” she continued. “She is going to introduce us and then the business of names will be even. Be sure to play the actor. What we once were is known to no one.”
Tom looked over his shoulder. Teresa was fluttering across the soccer area, obviously distressed. She stopped next to them, trying to catch her breath.
“I am so sorry,” she apologized. “I had intended to be here to introduce you to each other.”
“And you’re just in time for that,” Tom said. “We’ve barely had a moment to say hello.”
“Oh, muy bien, very good then,” Teresa replied. She took several deep breaths before going on. “Senora Vasquez, may I present to you Senor Thomas Stafford, the teacher from the United States who helped us with our school over ten years ago. I was one of his students.” She paused a moment before taking another deep breath and continuing. “Senor Stafford, may I present Senora Elena de Vasquez. Senora Vasquez is the wife of our provincial representative to the legislature. The legislature is in session and Senor Vasquez must be in San Pedro. Senora Vasquez has agreed to represent her husband at the dedication. Senor Vasquez was very important for our getting funds for the new school. He is one of the committee for education.” Teresa reported all this almost with one deep breath.
“I am pleased to meet you, Mr. Stafford,” Elena held out her hand, smiling.
“Mucho gusto en conocerla,” Tom replied. He held the tips of her fingers, briefly.
A crowd of students, parents, and other villagers began to gather around them and Teresa escorted the two guests to the doorway of the school. The village priest had already begun to flick holy water around the entryway mumbling the blessing as he circled the area. When he finished, Teresa thanked him and introduced Tom.
“Father Curro, may I present Mr. Thomas Stafford, my first teacher in San Lucas I have told you about.”
Tom waited to see if a hand was offered but the old priest gave him only a brief nod, remaining solemn. “We are pleased to have your presence, Mr. Stafford. Thank you for coming so far to join us.” Then he turned to Elena.
“Senora de Vasquez, it is not often I have the pleasure of your company.” He fastened his eyes on Elena and she stared back, not smiling. Then she nodded her head to the old man.
“Father,” was her only reply.
Tom caught the subtle censure and disaffection between Elena and the priest. He was surprised all was said in English. Father Curro had been coldly polite to him and he wondered if Elena had ever gone to him for confession, but he dismissed the speculation. She was not the type to see evil in what they did and if she ever had confessed to a relationship out of wedlock, he felt she would not betray the name of her lover.
Teresa was anxious for the program to begin and asked the three participants to follow her to the platform.
She presided over the ceremonies. The two guests, and the village priest were the only other people on the platform. Father Curro gave the invocation asking God to show favor on the school of San Lucas in the name of the patron saint of the village, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Tom watched Elena as the priest spoke. She sat quietly, with no emotion and when the old priest finished and the arms in the crowd standing before the platform rose and fell and went from shoulder to shoulder her hands remained in her lap.
Teresa spoke first and was uncharacteristically brief. When she finished she asked Elena to speak on behalf of her husband.
Elena was also brief. She explained her husband’s absence and assured the people of his dedication to public education.
“It is a pledge I give to you on his behalf. Education is a right of all people and my husband will never abandon his commitment to that principle,” she concluded. There was generous applause and then Teresa introduced Tom.
“Mr. Stafford was a teacher from the United States with the program of the Peace Corps ten years ago. He was my teacher and taught us to love education, the importance of knowledge, and to take pride in our learning. We asked him to join with us today to see that those things he taught remained with us and what we dedicate today is not just for a building but for the example he gave to his students and the people of San Lucas.”
Teresa and Elena both had spoken entirely in Spanish. Tom had prepared his remarks in English and then translated them. He understood it was a courtesy to speak in the language of their land. There was polite applause as he walked to the microphone, thanked Teresa and started to speak.
“After much struggle, and at a great price, your nation has become a democracy,” he began. “In a true democracy every citizen has certain rights but also has certain obligations, the most important of which is to know the issues presented by those who campaign to represent you and to vote as your judgment tells you. But, a person who cannot read, cannot write, and cannot calculate numbers, cannot carry out that obligation and can be either controlled or ignored. The greatest power an individual can possess is knowledge, and without the ability to understand and communicate, that person can never be truly free. The foundation of democracy is the education of it’s people. What you dedicate here today is far more than a building; it is a pledge of freedom for this generation and those that follow.”
“Ten years ago, when I taught here, the school building was little more than a shack with a dirt floor and a roof that leaked rain. Supplies of books, pencils and paper were almost nonexistent, but it was a beginning and I congratulate all who had a hand in the progress since that time. Yes, teaching in San Lucas ten years ago was often a struggle but it was a reward beyond measure. I learned from the children that, no matter the difficulties, their desire to learn could never be suppressed. It was, in those years in San Lucas, that I came to realize I would always be a teacher. It was a gift to me and it is a privilege to share this joyous occasion with you today. Thank you for inviting me.”
There was a warm applause. All during his speech Elena had sat demurely. When he finished she stood applauding with the crowd and as he returned to his seat he saw her watching him. She gave him a smiling nod of approval and her eyes were quieter than he could ever remember them.
As the crowd began to disperse, Teresa turned to Tom to explain that Senora Vasquez wanted him to join her for lunch.
“It has been arranged that after the registration of the children I will come to the restaurant and drive you to the airport for your flight,” she explained.
Elena had already left the platform and stood waiting. When Tom started for the steps he noticed a young boy approach and speak to her. He stopped briefly and watched. When their conversation ended the boy left and Tom moved down the steps to join her.
“Did Teresa explain about my invitation for almeurzo?” she asked.
“Yes and I thank you. No blindfolds and rope this time though, I hope.”
Elena laughed. “No more of that,” she said. “But first I must go see about our little girl, Johanna. She is frightened by her first day at school. I need to go to her. I will be back quite soon. I am sorry.”
“Please don’t apologize, I understand,” Tom assured her.
In a few minutes Elena returned. “Is she alright?” Tom inquired.
“Yes, she is calmer now. Teresa is watching her. Come, the restaurant is not far. We can walk. It is new since you were here.”
As they walked through the streets of the village several people spoke to Elena, most politely and with deference but he did not recognize any of them. Twice Elena introduced him explaining that he had been a teacher in San Lucas ten years ago and had returned for the dedication of the new school. Both had smiled and responded with polite indifference.
“It seems strange that I don’t recognize anyone from before,” he said.
“Most were not here back then,” she began. “In the time of the fighting, after you left, San Lucas was a killing place for the army and the death squads. Our guerilla forces were determined to stop them here before they infiltrated the south.”
She stopped and sat on a bench overlooking the small park at the edge of the harbor. “Sit Tomas,” she ordered. “And I will tell you.”
Tom studied her. It was like the day in the mountains when she became so animated. Life has changed greatly for her, he thought, but her fierce passion remained. “Go on, please. I need to know,” he said.
“Two months after you left the army came. They were everywhere in San Lucas. We would come to raid them in the night. Our men would slit the throats of their guards and steal their ammunition. We threw grenades in their barracks, and one time kidnapped some officers. Always we knew where to strike. Their commanders were certain we had spies among the people and it was true. Then they brought the death squads. People they suspected as spies disappeared. The casas of many families were burned or bombed. San Lucas was a place of blood and terror. The mayor was assassinated and also some of the village council. We saw all this and realized it would not stop unless we ceased our guerilla attacks. We retreated and waited. Six weeks later they invaded into the south. But the roads they never built made it impossible for them to bring heavy equipment and soldiers in trucks. Their forces had no knowledge of the terrain and we played hit and run. The morale of their men became bad and many deserted. Some even joined us. This began to cause unrest among some of the powerful families in the north and the government was pressured to withdraw the army. A truce was negotiated. Then came the intervention from our neighboring leaders and peace talks and later, open elections with inspectors and as you see now things are changed.”
“You ask where are many of the people you once knew in San Lucas. Many left from the terror and never returned. Whole families left. Others were murdered by the army or the death squads. San Lucas in that time lost it’s soul.”
“I had breakfast this morning at the place of my old friend, Esteban Caceres,” Tom said. “He never spoke about those things. Do you know if he stayed in San Lucas during that time?”
“Yes, he was there. He was a spy for us. But someone betrayed the name Caceres to the army. A death squad traced the name and killed a young man by mistake. It was Esteban’s son. He will never speak of that time with anyone.”
“My God!” Tom said. “I had forgotten about his son. I’m glad I didn’t ask him. His name was Federico, I think.”
“Yes, Federico,” Elena answered. She got up and looked at Tom. “It was a terrible time Tomas but it’s been over for nine years. San Lucas is well again and we need to eat. I think you will enjoy the restaurant. My husband and I eat there often.”
The restaurant was on an open terrace overlooking the mouth of the river where it emptied into the harbor. They were seated at the edge near the water where they could see far across to the curve of land that formed the southern perimeter of the harbor and at the empty buoys waiting for the fishing boats that were still at sea. A flock of pelicans skimmed the water, eyes searching, rapier beaks pointing down, and the wind came in warm from the southeast tossing wisps of Elena’s hair. There was a small garden of hibiscus, bird of paradise, and bougainvillaea rimmed with impatients on one side of the terrace and palm trees loomed over the other. Very shortly a waiter was at the table.
“I am having broiled camerones with rice, a salad, and copa of Chardonnay. I can recommend that,” Elena offered.
“Sounds perfect. I’ll have the same,” Tom said.
The waiter nodded and in a few moments returned with the two glasses of wine. Elena took a long sip from her glass and looked at Tom. They eyes were back.
“Tell me, Tomas, have you a wife?” she asked.
“One, a little girl, three years old.”
“Are you happy, you and your wife?”
“Of course, very happy.”
“That is good. You are a good person. You deserve to be happy.”
Despite her graciousness, her eyes did not change. Tom knew she was holding control. He watched her a moment before looking across to the far shoreline of the bay with the loose “V” formation of pelicans rising above the land and sinking out of sight to the ocean beyond.
“Do you know each year there are fewer pelicans in Florida,” he remarked. “They remind me of the hawks that soared in the clouds in the mountains when we sat on another terrace once. I wonder if they still do that. I wonder about other things from that time too. I would like some answers, Elena.”
Elena looked beyond Tom. She was calm but stone faced.
“Ask if you have to. I will answer what I can,” she replied.
The waiter brought two more Chardonnays and Tom said nothing until the man had gone.
“How did that house get built in such a remote place and how did you and your insurgents get use of it.”
“It was built by a rich Canadian man. He was in the business of tropical woods and he and his wife spent their winters in our country. Much of the material was delivered by helicopter. My mother was their housekeeper and cook.”
“When the unrest and the fighting began in the north they went back to Canada. Later he wrote to say his wife had died and he would never return and the casa was a gift to my mother and me. He had been very good to us and had give me money for my education in Florida.”
“There was only one bedroom in the house. Where did you and your mother stay?” Tom asked.
“In a cottage back from the kitchen door before the opening in the trees for the helicopter. The Canadians were too old for the trail. They came and went by helicopter. You did not see this because of the blindfold.”
“What became of your mother?”
“When I decided to go with the freedom fighters I returned her to the village we came from, Puerto Blanco, far in the south where she would be safe.”
“And then where did you go?”
“To the casa in the mountains. I was put in charge of the two men and told to mingle with the people in San Lucas and to make contact with some I could trust to spy. We knew the army would come sometime and our people needed to know when and where they would be.”
“You were in San Lucas during the year I was teaching?”
“Yes, Tomas. I saw you several times.” She smiled and watched for his reaction. He grinned and shook his head.
“You talk about your mother. Where was your father?”
“I never knew my father,” she replied coldly. “Now you know it all Tomas. I think I see our food about to come.”
“One more question, Elena. Why didn’t you write and tell me? The school had my address. I would have come back?”
“Tell you what?” she asked casually. But she was sober faced and seemed glad for the diversion of the waiter when he brought the shrimp.
Tom didn’t answer at once. He cut a piece of shrimp and chewed it and told her it was excellent. Then he sipped his wine and watched her. He knew she was struggling to hold her nonchalance and that he now held control.
“Who was that young boy who came to tell you about your little girl?” Tom asked.
“Why is that important to you?” Elena questioned.
“You know why. Just tell me the truth.”
“His name is Emilio. He is my son.”
“No Elena, that is only half the truth. He is our son, isn’t he?”
Elena sat staring past Tom at some butterflies fluttering among the hibiscus. “What makes you say that?” she asked.
“My God, it was almost like looking in my mirror twenty years ago when I saw him. How old is he? He should be over eight.”
“He is nine and he is my son. It was not my intention for you to see him.”
“But I have seen him and I feel some responsibility.”
“You have no responsibility.”
“How can you say that?”
“Tomas,” Elena began. She looked cold and deliberate, no longer disconcerted. “Why do you think you were kidnapped?”
“You explained. As a hostage in case your men were discovered by the army in San Lucas.”
“That was only part of the truth. Good enough for my men and for you too.”
“And the other part of the truth?”
Elena smiled. “When I saw you in San Lucas, you were such a pretty teacher and you were also intelligent. You were a teacher. About the cajones I found out in the casa.”
“You needed a man? It was as simple as that?”
“Not just any man for what I wanted.”
“Yes, to have a child. It was the time for me to have a child and I wanted a particular man for the father. I was among several men. They were all brave but not both handsome and intelligent also.”
“With fighting about to break out, you wanted a child?”
“Yes, it was time. I could be captured or killed. It was important to leave something of me behind. To have a child is a special feeling for a woman. It is not always possible for the time to be perfect. Now, Tomas, I don’t want to talk any more about such things. No more about how things came to be. Know only that I am now very happy.”
“Except with Father Curro I think. Or is it God?”
“No God. It is the church and many priests who stayed silent through the time of oppression. They told the oppressed to pray and worry only for their souls. One brave priest in San Pedro spoke out for the poor against the government and they killed him. I told this to Father Curro and he tells me to pray. So sometimes I don’t go to mass with my husband and the children and he asks where I was and I tell him I was in my casa praying for the poor.”
Tom smiled for a moment and then asked. “Do you think what we did together ten years ago was a sin?”
“No, for me it was to give life and God is for life. For you there can be no sin. As I told you, I was responsible for everything.”
“But, how were you responsible for your unborn child and yourself during pregnancy?”
“When we retreated to the south, I left my men and went to stay with my mother in Puerto Blanco. I knew there was a doctor at a clinic there.”
“What about your men? Didn’t they question your leaving?”
“Always questions from you, teacher. I will tell you how it was for me and Emilio. Then no more questions, please. Two years after Emilio was born, my mother died. The fighting was over and I took Emilio back to the place where he was created; the casa in the mountains. Quite soon I met Eduardo Vasquez. He hired me for his office in San Lucas. I told him I was a single mother, nothing more. We married and he has been a good father to Emilio and we now have Johanna. And, we are happy.”
Tom sat silent studying Elena closely. He noticed things about her. A slight fullness had developed beneath her chin, tiny lines showed at the edge of her mouth and eyes, and there was a touch of a fuller matronly look to her breasts. He realized she was older than him, perhaps ten years older.
Elena finished her shrimp and caught his pensive look when she raised her wine glass to drink. She filled her mouth with the Chardonnay and swallowed as Tom looked away.
“Don’t feel bad teacher,” she began. “You were very good and there were moments. But let it all go away. Don’t spoil what each of us has now. Go home Tomas, to your wife. Make a son with her for your family and leave things as they are. Please do that.”
Tom nodded. He knew what she said made practical sense like the things his mother use to tell him. But, he also knew that Emilio would never completely leave his thoughts.
“What do you tell your son about his father, Elena?” he asked.
“I tell him his father was killed fighting for democracy for our country. I tell him he was very intelligent and very brave. I also tell him his father was a handsome man.” Her eyes were wide and shining and she smiled.
“And your husband?” Tom asked.
“I tell him the same—So, you see teacher, I lie only once and tell the truth three times.”
Tom grinned. “I’m flattered by your three truths,” he said. “But I’m really very grateful for the other is a true lie.”