Writings and Letters

A blog oeuvre… a "bloeuvre"

Category: Conquista Todo

…Conquista Todo

El Hombre Que Cavó las Tumbas

 

The sun crawled toward the horizon causing the sky to turn a hideous cerise. As was unlike the occasion for the season, the wind could barely be detected in the treetops of the adjacent forest. Storm clouds held off in the periphery leaving the farmland exposed in the light, saturated red. The heat from the day was held captive in the thick moisture of summer air. The atmosphere was held in heated suspension above the fray. The chorus of the chicharras ran through the small village, whose emptied and silenced dirt streets echoed the haunting call. Now was the time of day when the sounds and smells of a tiny community entered its crepuscular stage. Instead, what was heard was the lamentations of women, the crepitation of conflict, and the scant laughter of men.

Junior Teniente Coronel Antonio Luis Roman stood atop an M1 Abrams, one of many gifts from El Padre to the military. The hunter green and black striped mechanical juggernaut sat humming amongst the crops, the words: EL QUE TRAE LÁGRIMAS: hand-painted in white, the letters quickly applied and thence inchoate, giving way to an impression that they were melting in the tropical fever. JT Coronel Roman observed the landscape; his paunch looked ready to burst through his olive green shirt darkened by sweat. The top half of the shirt was unbuttoned (against protocol) exposing his browned skin and dark wiry chest hair. A pearl neckerchief found itself wrapped loosely around his glutted throat. It had small lines of roses diagonally printed across it. Antonio’s mother gave it to him before he went off to war.

Sargento Solos walked up to the feet of EL QUE TRAE LÁGRIMAS with a man in tow, held at gunpoint. He stood at attention and saluted. “Report,” the JT Coronel said. “Eighty to our fifteen currently. Most have fled into the trees. The rest are being handled.” JT Coronel Roman nodded. He then acknowledged the stranger standing next to Solos. The man wore an old t-shirt and shorts. He wore one flip-flop. His clothes were filthy, covered in dirt and a small trace of blood. He had a cut above his left brow; the blood coagulated into black crust along his rough, wrinkled eggplant face. JT Coronel Roman observed his cut. The man would not take his eyes from the earth. He was one of these outback bastards of the old world. The roots of his blood dug much deeper into the soil of the country than Antonio’s.  Heart of the jaguar. Soul of the raptor. The rest of the nationalist claptrap that was well familiar to him. The enchanted history El Padre invokes so often in his speeches. He came across so few of them in person. They regulated themselves mostly to the pastoral regions of the state, not urban locations like the capital where Antonio grew up. Though there was Chacha. She was part of his boyhood. She was half nativo.

The sergeant spoke: “This was the man you requested.”
JT Coronel Roman asked the man. “Hablas mi idioma?”
“Si.”

“Good. What is your name?” The man was silent. JT Coronel Roman looked to Sargento Solos. Solos asked the man in his natural tongue. Still silence. Solos grew enraged. He got in the man’s dark face, pressing his finger into his soiled shirt. He pointed back to JT Coronel Roman and flailed his hand about some more. The man remained mute. Antonio held up his hand to pause the sergeant. “You do not have to give me your name. But you do understand what I am trying to do here, don’t you?” The man stood still and remained focused on the ground. Antonio continued: “We have been given very explicit orders from the President himself that this area is to return to the order of the state once and for all, and to remove any belligerents in the process with the utmost hostility. Allies are to be pardoned and returned to the capital.

“On the one hand, you have assisted us in the duty of disposing of the traitors’ carcasses as well as leading us to the sites where our fallen brothers lay. For that, I could see to your absolution. On the other hand, Sargento Solos and his men here inform me you were seen burying soldiers of the state, while the terrorists stood idly by. It appeared you were operating in conjunction with the enemies of the state. This is punishable by death. So now you see the predicament I am in, no?” Silence. Antonio sighed. “You do not have to speak, but I will have to assume the worst as a precaution.”

The sun began to sink behind the tops of the trees turning them a dark green and casting the men in pale light. JT Coronel Roman watched what little of the man’s face he could witness appear to struggle with thought, or transforming such thoughts to words. Perhaps he did not know enough of the state’s language to translate his consciousness. JT Coronel Roman signaled to Sargento Solos who roughly translated to the man in his old tongue. The flamethrowers walked up to the tank. One of them said they were ready. The colonel approved their mission and they turned toward the village.

“I did what you asked,” said the man in the language Antonio understood.
JT Coronel Roman shared a look with Solos. The man’s gaze still did not break with the dirt beneath him, but his body implied a tremor. Sweat passed along his face; his hands clenched the sides of his shirt.
“Yes. You did. But you also aided the enemy. You see, don’t you?”
“I did what you asked.”

He wasn’t saying it as a question but JT Coronel Roman wondered if he meant to. It would have been understandable. It may have been all the JT Coronel was capable of repeating, too, if… well… but that was not the case. For only one was holding the gun, and in that moment history was on his side.

“If you were in my position, what would you do? Would you let a potential enemy of yours escape? If so, how would you explain that to those you answered to?”
Silence.
“I see.”
“I did what you asked.”
“Indeed. But one good act does not undo a bad one. If you have supported the terrorists up to this point, one afternoon of assistance does not change this. You agree, no?”
“I never hurt anyone.”
“That does not matter here. You did not kill these men. No. That is probably true. But you did dispose of them as if in alliance with the terrorists. And if you are not responsible for it well then, who is, hmm? This did not start because of you, yet here you are, in the middle of it. You are a participant. You may not be responsible, but you are guilty. And although the punishment for the guilty and the responsible should be different, here, now, it is not. We have orders after all. I believe you understand. I will promise you this, I will have them make it quick.”

JT Coronel Roman waved his hand. Soldiers grabbed the man and brought him to his knees.

“You will be cursed,” the man said. He looked up at Antonio. His eyes were beautiful, and filled with pity.
Junior Teniente Coronel Antonio Luis Roman laughed. He pointed to the horizon.”When the sun rises again, there will be nothing here to remember. Just crops and ashes. People will come and know there was a story to be told, but no one will know where to start it, just that they came after the end. And in one-hundred years time, I and all my deeds will suffer the same fate. So, we are all cursed, my friend.”

The sun was nowhere to be seen, but its light still fought back the darkening sky. The heat remained unbearable. A single crack split the air and then disappeared into the homogeneous sound of the chicharras’ chorus that enveloped the land.

… Conquista Todo

El Pueblo

Once during the war, what my people now call La Agitación Civil, there was a small farming village unfortunately located in an important part of our country. The village was situated in the Valle del Universo, the cultural and historical birthplace of the nation, where the farmers tended the valuable soybean crop. It was also strategically located near the edge of the forest where the government believed a majority of the EEP guerrillas lived and operated.

Due to the soybean crop, the nation’s primary agricultural export, the land was of immense importance to the government. It was estimated that prior to and during the war, the soybean was almost as valuable as the country’s oil and iron ore, approximately responsible for three-fourths of all agricultural exports. (Not until the Great Chinese Panic would it lose its value.) As such, the EEP would perform small attacks to either steal harvested crops, or set fire to large sections of the farmland, often killing off many of the National Army (EN) soldiers in the operations. Since the Villalba-Peña government was fighting factions in practically every region of the country, the EN was not as effective in eradicating any of the factions. By the time the war reached its second year, and all sides realized the end was nowhere near its point, the EEP changed its tactics slightly. It focused on the export business, too, and stopped burning the lucrative crop.

It planned mostly successful missions to kill off EN soldiers and leach large quantities of the soybean crop through the blackmarket, which in turn funded its resistance. Due to the unorganized, chaotic command of the EN (by the President himself), it took sometimes as long as a month before new troops could return to the area and reclaim control of the land. This way, the village changed hands on a regular basis throughout the war. On one or more occasions, the EN would overrun the guerrillas and lay claim to the territory in the morning, only to lose it again that very night.

This carried on for some time.

President Villalba-Peña was convinced the reason for his army’s consistent failures and constant back-and-forth was because the villagers were assisting the EEP. The truth behind this was a little different and more difficult to determine. Setting aside strategy and just focusing on the relationship between the guerrillas and villagers, the complexities reveal themselves through the horrible poetry of this conflict. We will never know exactly how these farmers viewed the fighters on either side, or the war that pitted them in the center of a maelstrom.

In truth, they were most likely relieved when the EEP stopped burning the crops, which drove them into further debt with Monsanto and threatened to destroy their homes and livelihood; but this did not mean a majority of the villagers favored the guerrillas, especially to the point of becoming militarily involved. No, some were likely sympathetic to the revolutionaries while others were nationalists. At least one or two sons must have been drafted to protect the government, while others (including daughters) ran into the forest to join the resistance. More so, they were almost certainly concerned whether the drought would extend into its eighth year, or if those goddamned langostas would make their way further west through the valley towards their crop. They probably hoped that year would be a little less hard than the previous one, fully expecting the opposite.

They existed in the world at a time that was much like the rest: cruel and indifferent about it: and their lives ended in much of the same way as all the other nameless faces positioned out in that vacuum of the empty past. They suffered at the hands of the human struggle and their voices were never heard. Their stories will only be remembered through the conjuration of history.

And yet, this does not make their lives any less real, or what happened to them any less wrong.

… Conquista Todo

La Silla

Alejandro Francisco Villalba-Peña sat in a white leather chair next to his daughter’s bed. The chair was handcrafted from a Peruvian Almond (though the tree was not from Peru, nor did it produce almonds). As his mother used to tell him, Alejandro’s grandfather walked out into the forest determined to change his life. “There was no work in our village or even in the nearest city, which was not much of a city at all. Your grandparents struggled to feed us six children. One day, your grandfather just left the town. He never told your Abuela where he was going, he just left. He was gone for almost four days. She thought a jaguar ate him, or some bandits killed him. I was just a baby then, but I remember distinctly waking in my mother’s arms as she cried to the policeman and neighbor about how he was missing and they needed to find him. They kept saying there was nothing they could do. Then, in the middle of the night, he returned. Oh! was your grandmother outraged. She beat him with a broom and kicked him out of the house. She was smaller than me, and your grandfather was like you: tall and strong: but she beat him out of the house anyway. He even still had his ax in hand. She did not care! The next morning, though, she had calmed down and let him in. He told her of how he found the biggest tree in the forest, and how he worked on chopping the tree down. At first he didn’t know why he was doing it, maybe sell the wood for some money in the city. It took him all day to chop this tree down, some seventy to one-hundred meters high and almost three meters wide—though the tree grew more when your Papa was drunk,” she would wink.

“When the tree finally fell, the earth shook. He was in awe of this magnificent, huge fallen beast. It was too beautiful to be turned into simple firewood. Plus, when he was chopping it down, he realized he guessed the wrong tree. The wood was so hard, it was perfect for furniture… now… at this point in the story, your Abuela was almost at his throat again. ‘You don’t know how to make any furniture!’ she yelled at him. I don’t remember this, but your Papa always told me it happened. He remembered raising his voice to her, telling her how he would find a way, God willing. Then he stormed out of the house with some other tools and his ax. But these weren’t carpentry tools, no. He took what he had, even stole Abuela’s favorite knife, and disappeared for a week. When he returned, though, he had the most-beautiful chair my mother had ever seen. It was still crude, he needed to sand it and treat it, but it was beautiful. He sold it to a wealthy businessman in the capital. That first chair saved our family, and started the Peña company.” His mother usually sat back in whatever piece of furniture, usually the chair Papa made for Abuela on their anniversary. “He used to tell me, of all the chairs he ever made himself, the ones from that first tree were the greatest, and none better than the first. It was a magnificent work of art, Alejandro. Forged from a most desperate man, in desperate times. The Lord moved through him out there in the forest. He made him more than he ever was.”

Alejandro had additions made to the chair. It was now tufted with white leather and the top rail and arms covered in gold trim. The leather was a gift from the owner of the richest cattle farm in the nation. The gold came from the country’s mines. It had been molded into figures of ancient gods and peoples, long gone but etched into the collective memories of Alejandro’s people. The figures were designed so whenever he sat in the chair he was surrounded by the legends of his country and the people who came before him. The metaphor was lost to Alejandro. He wanted jaguars, the newly christened national animal, roaring and fighting one another all around him. He had dreamed of such things since he was a boy.

He was insulted when his wish was not met. He knew he was unambiguous when he gave his instructions. It was a slight against him. But the jeweler was his brother-in-law, and the work done for free, so he could not reject the final design. Every time he sat in the chair with his daughter, though, he was reminded of this disrespect and furthermore he was indebted to his brother-in-law for it. This was the first chair of the Peña legacy. It was the one his grandfather could not buy back, nor his father will it’s return. No amount of money, or might, could return the chair to his family. It was not until Alejandro became El Padre that the chair was returned to the rightful owners. He was supposed to sit upon it in the Great Room, where he would run the country, but the disrespect was too great for him to ignore. So the chair was moved to his daughter’s room.