|Oct/Nov 2006 Fiction Special|
In the centre of the city, the Generalissimo prepares to leave for home, to go to his villa in the hills, the compound. The General's driver is ready. The General's bodyguards are ready. His motorcycle outriders are ready. Their uniforms are crisp, their black boots polished. Their dark visors gleam.
Maria is finishing the dressings for the old man. At home her husband will be washing his hands, preparing to go to work. He is a baker and works nights. Maria and Tomas meet for one hour in the evening and share tea in the morning, when Tomas comes home and before Maria goes to the hospital in the city.
In the city centre the streets are wide and clean, but there are no people. Then there are the good shops, with shining windows and satin shelves, with cafés. Sometimes, down a side-street there is a murmur, like music.
The General stands up.
Maria stands up. She smiles at the old man who is dark and brown and wrinkled after many, many years of the fields. She will see him tomorrow. He is called Juan and has lost all but one of his teeth. Juan grins and his big last tooth hangs like a white sword in his dark mouth. Maria laughs a little.
As the General leaves his office, Maria leaves the old man and walks from the hospital. At home in their kitchen,Tomas makes bread for his wife. His hands are covered in flour.
Two American motorcycles, then a car, then the General's limousine, then another car, then two more motorcycles, rush along the wide streets. They are like a black, very shiny animal. Maria is in her little yellow car and as she leaves the hospital, stops at the main road, turns, the fat black snake approaches her, here where the roads are not so wide as before, where the people must make way.
Maria knows--everyone knows--to move aside when the General and his bodyguards approach. The motorcycles have bright lights and make a noise, and it is for the cars to get out of the way, to bump up the kerbs and wait for the general to pass.
Today? Maybe Maria is thinking of the old man's one big tooth, or of Tomas, her husband at home (whom she still loves); or maybe Maria is thinking of her son who took photographs but two years ago, went out for an hour, and never returned.
Behind Maria's little yellow car come the black, shiny motorbikes and the dark, shiny cars. Maria should see them, but she doesn't. She is thinking, not looking in her mirror. Maybe she is pretending and enjoying the softness of the evening when it is less hot. Maybe Maria thinks of a beach, of her son as a boy, playing, oblivious, before his pictures.
But all cars must get out of the way. An outrider comes alongside the little yellow car, leans a white gloved fist, and hammers on the bonnet. Maria jerks in fright, remembers, then quickly pulls off the road. The black cars hush by, dark windows. Dust rises, floats, settles.
When Maria arrives home, though she is pleased to see her husband and kisses him, she does not soften in his arms. Tomas feels this and wonders if it is because of their son. No, Maria tells him, but yes, she is a little sad. She had remembered something, it was nothing, but it made her happy for a while and she was daydreaming. It was her fault. She did not see the General coming. A policeman banged on the top of her little yellow car, and there is a mark where he struck.
Tomas gives Maria a cool drink. He goes into another room, comes out with the boy's camera, goes outside. He has to fiddle until the camera will work, then he takes a picture of their little yellow car and the place where the policeman struck it with his gloved fist. Many streets away he hears a dog bark and another dog reply. An old woman sits outside a house, her gnarled fingers on a gnarled stick.
Tomas goes back into the cool of the house. On the kitchen table, he puts down the camera, then sits with Maria and holds her hand until it is time for him to go to the bakery.
It is three more years. The general has rushed through the city a thousand times more. The people have got out of the way, and when they have not, a policeman has banged on their car.
But now the general is dead, and his body has been dragged through the streets. There is another General, and people hope he will be a better one.
When Maria is at work, sometimes Tomas looks at the photograph of her little yellow car and the mark of a heavy fist.