Start writing here…In 1927 Colombia, East of the Andes, a boy of eleven tore through his village. He had to warn her, hide her, protect her. She was the only thing that could make him forget his most primitive instinct- survival, though he didn’t know why. He had a notion, but from what he knew, love was still just a word.
He ran along one side of the coca field, took a sharp right in the gravel and a foot slid out from under him but he caught himself with a hand and lost no speed. He ran past the big tents, took a sharp left, pelted up the middle road, and stopped at the top of a huge hill. He had come to the house of Nora. He saw candles flicker behind the hides, shading those windows that hadn’t glass. Built like the others, this house was made of cinder blocks to withstand large storms. Inside, wood from Teak trees was prevalent. This was the biggest and best house in the village. That didn’t mean it was big, just more so than the others.
Nora was considered middle aged at thirty-two but she was strong and healthy, never required for hard labor but willing to work hard in what ways she was skilled. Short and thin, she had dark hair, reddened by sun-bleaching. She was loved, even feared, by everyone. Her house rested peacefully that night and the young girl he meant to save was just beyond the uneven boards of the front door, calm in ignorance of the danger coming.
I centered myself, as usual, on the round rug in the great room and sewed tiny stitches through my canvas, attempting at a rose bud. Mending needed doing but that was tia’s job. My red skirt pooled around me and white flowers had been embroidered along the hem. I sat with legs crossed, the tip of my tongue helping my concentration by poking out the side of tight lips. I was looking for the next place to pierce the canvas by candle light. My hair kept falling in my way. Unmanageable because of its variety of straight, wavy, and sometimes curly locks, ’I wish I had gotten my mama’s long, straight hair instead of inheriting the wild Irish type from my father,’ I thought with no little frustration and an irritated glance toward heaven.
Cabello flew through the door and slammed it shut behind him. Mi tἱa was in the kitchen to his left, shucking maize at the table.
“Cabello? What’s wrong?” She asked, sounding in demand of any situation.
He didn’t answer. He strode ahead over the knicked floorboards, limping like he rolled his ankle. He reached me before I had time to register that I was his target. He grabbed my wrist and pulled me to my feet, causing me to drop my work. He pulled me roughly to the wall of loosened planks between the kitchen and bedroom. I gave tia a startled glance.
I had been told that I might need to hide from Edgardo someday. Until then, he had thought me dead along with my parents. I was reluctant. I had seen inside the wall once for less than a minute before turning away. I told myself it wouldn’t need use, so long as I kept my mouth shut. Small dark places made my heart race until all I could do was stifle my urge to scream and try to see beyond the dark spots that were darker than the small place I was in.
After prying a few boards loose and making a hole big enough for me to fit through, Cabello picked me up and set me inside. He boarded it up again but not before seeing my terrified eyes, lost behind the last plank. I could tell he had seen my fear because the last thing I saw was the blood that left his face, expression turning from determined to remorseful. He threw down the tapestry hanging on that wall, covering a few slits of light and air I needed to keep myself sane, a state in which I began to waver.
A loud BOOM came on the door, making my heart plunder over an unseen step in the dark. Through the cracks between boards, I saw a flash and then heard a louder BOOM that crackled at the end. Sheets of rain came down on the metal roof. Cabello’s old military jacket wooshed as it whirled about him when he spun on his heel to walk into the bedroom, closing the door behind him.
Tía went to the front door, threw back the latch, and jumped away. They came in at the same moment and slammed the door into the adjoining wall. One of the two thugs was unfazed when the door bounced back and hit him in the arm. I watched her rush back to her seat as they advanced into the room, muscles flexed to intimidate. Both were blackened by the sun, burnt to the color of charcoal mixed unevenly with blotches of tanned leather. One thug had a high forehead, a box-shaped face, and one thick brow above both eyes. He squinted hard into the room as if he could see through walls. The other had two brows but looked no better for them. His forehead sloped over a round face. He sported patches of beard and looked around with bloodshot eyes. I thought how very much he resembled a gorilla. His eyes bulged as he scanned the room, resting on mi pobre tia (my poor aunt).
“Where is she?”
The latter barked in a voice that scraped his larynx. He towered over her. I noticed that the one talking to her had shot a nearly imperceptible flash at the bottles lining the wall under the great room window. They’re fear of her “magic” kept her safe from harm but she emitted a glow filled with gentle understanding and the thugs exploited this attribute, thinking it a weakness. She looked down at the half-shucked corn in her hand, unsure of how it came to be there, and dropped it before she moved back on her stool. The man was a rabid dog, about to bite her head off without the hindrance of a blood vessel. Her eyes darted around in search of something to inspire a lie but found nothing. She wasn’t a good liar at the best of times.
“She’s gone… in-into the jungle,” she stammered, ending her statement with the hint of uncertainty, leaving open the question as to whether he’d believe it.
“You let her go into the jungle in the middle of the night, alone?” he asked skeptically.
A person need not be intelligent to know that was a bad idea.
“She’s not alone.”
She paused, trying to think of what to say.
“She’s... with a friend.”
Deciding this was safe enough to say, she repeated it more confidently.
“Yes, with a friend.”
Then, as any good mother would, I assumed she reasoned that if “my friend” was another child she’d have to be twice as irresponsible to let a couple of children go meandering in the dark with venomous reptiles and insects. Without considering that these men probably wouldn’t make such conclusions on their own she added,
“A man… that is her friend… with experience… for wild things,” and concluded triumphantly, thinking herself a successful fibber.
I hit my forehead with a palm and felt a blush rise in my cheeks for her. Then she perceptively began second-guessing her prideful moment.
“Who is this ’friend?’” he asked, sarcasm dripping all over the table.
She opened her mouth to tangle herself up more in this web of lies she was making for herself when he cut her off, suddenly uninterested in this imaginary gentleman. Without looking away from her, the ape man barked,
“Matἱas! Check the house.”
The thug with the square face passed in front of me without a sideways glance. I flattened my face to the boards so I could see if Cabello escaped through the window in the bedroom but I couldn’t get a good view from my angle. I only heard Matἱas smash pottery, did he just turn over the armoire? and strip the sheets from the neatly made bed. He suspected me of hiding in the pillow case I supposed. He stomped out and climbed the ladder across from me and gave the same treatment to my loft. The head of my Andean teddy bear flew over the banister and rolled to the base board at my feet, its red/brown eyes staring up at me. I was mad enough to spit and would have if I thought there was space enough to spit anywhere other than on my shoe. Thunder shook the house.
“There’s no one here, Nikelas,” Matias told him in a voice that croaked through phlegm.
I relaxed a bit and saw tia’s shoulders relax too, though her and Nikelas were still eye to eye. Cabello wasn’t anywhere in the house then, gracias a la madre (thank the mother).
“Fine. Count on seeing us again.” Nikelas gave the house one last look from where he stood with narrowed eyes and they left.
I didn’t call to tἱa. Heaven knew I wanted to say “Hurry!” or “Get me out!” But either of those would have been pointless since she was in a hurry to get me out. I worried too
that my own desperate voice would invoke panic beyond what I could bear. I closed my eyes, took some deep breaths, and told myself to stay calm. She had only gotten so far as to roll up the tapestry before Cabello came from the bedroom. Soaked, he squished to my rescue, crowbar in hand. He hooked a board and pried it off in one swift movement.
There wasn’t time to chat but tía took a moment to tell him that she was impressed by how nimble he had been, “climbing out of that window the way you did without using a step stool.” She was always proud of him, even when hr did some small good. He didn’t show his gratitude, but because he removed the first two planks, I could see a crooked grin flicker at the corner of his mouth.
I was trembling from terror but I was relieved too. I felt the emotions well up from my toes and they came out as tears. My friend lifted me carefully from the wall. I held on tightly to him and cried into his shirt, mixing a pinch of salt and a glob of snot with the water that was already absorbed into the cloth. He held me until I got a hold on myself. Even then, I rested my head on his shoulder and sniffled, staring behind him at the black velvet nose on my decapitated teddy bear, realizing that my life was about to take a drastic turn… again.