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.”