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The Swallows and the Bats:       

 

Ana’s Story

 

By Mercedes Paz-Carty

 

(Fictional Historical Narration)

 

“Le vrais paradis sont les paradis qu’on a perdus.”

 Marcel Proust

 

         “Ana practice your lessons now! I mean now, as in this moment! Señor Kaminski wants you to work on your finger posture. Your technique needs much improvement, your teacher says. For heaven’s sake Ana, listen to me!” The nanny stood firm like a drill sergeant. Her sturdy figure clad in an impeccable light blue ensemble, she uttered words ten-year old Ana chose to ignore. The girl pushed back her abundant curls and remained seated on the carpet, casually straightening the folds of her skirt.  Her deep black eyes glanced absentmindedly at the only window in the room.

       The afternoon sun had filtered a dim light through the glass, accentuating small cracks on the centuries-old upholstered walls.

        Directly across the entrance of the room, suspended above the wainscot partitions, family portraits looked on, untouched by feather dusters. Suddenly, Ana noticed the flypapers which the servants had stuck above the window panes. She gave a quick look at the struggling insects, sighed deeply and mused.  “Poor creatures, caught unawares in their death trap.” 

         Accustomed to Ana’s frequent opinions, especially her riddle-talk, the nanny said nothing in response. Recovering her authority, even more determined now, she yelled, “On your feet, Ana, right away!” Her small, resolute mouse eyes nailed the girl’s every movement.

      “Leave me alone, Daría, please,” Ana replied. “I’ll never be a pianist. I’ll be a writer, perhaps a poet, or a storyteller.” The girl stopped briefly.

        With a savoir-faire expression raising her eyebrows, Ana made a whimsical slit- eyes grimace, and looking down her nose, curled the corners of her mouth disdainfully-- imitating the affectation of literary friends of the family and with innocent irreverent mischief she added “I can certainly assure you, my dear Madam, that in the foreseeable future I shall write about you,” Uncomfortable with the prospect and the haughty attitude of the girl, the somewhat amused nanny drew a hidden smile.

      Ana had been sitting for hours on the faded Tabriz carpet of the parlor.  In an upright position her white-socked, skinny legs entwined, she browsed curiously among the pages of leather-bound books she got from the shelves of the antique secretariats. Although frustrated by Daría’s demands, she gathered the tomes carefully, and placed them on a small marble top table nearby. The nanny reached for them quickly and began to read the titles: Napoleon’s Dreams, Madame Bovary, The Count of Monte Cristo. Disguising her anxiety she grumbled, “Not on your life, little girl! This is unacceptable! I have a responsibility. You are not allowed to read grown-up’s material.” Straight away, dropping the books back on the table, she placed both hands on her temples, and looking up, implored,” Good God, help me! This child is aging me prematurely!” 

       Confused by Daría’s agitation, Ana started to walk slowly toward the threshold of the door connecting with the barely used sitting room. A mythological pastoral French tapestry occupied a large portion of the wall above the black upright piano, almost forgotten among the scattered inlaid rosewood tables and chairs. Gold letters read “Rönich” between the piano candelabra. A peach, green-stripped silk-covered divan with cherubs on the arms and legs, stood across by the opposite wall. The girl slumped and snuggled on the sofa, always vigilant for the nanny who remained in the parlor, straightening the bookshelves.

         She then reached for the circular piano stool with her foot, rolled it over toward her, sat on it, lifted open the piano cover, and started playing. After a few attempts at the excruciating   Czerny études, her small fingers were tentative as she tried Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 -- a piece she had never learned to play formally. Joyful memories of her fifth birthday came to life. She was dressed in rose taffeta and tulle, sitting by her father on the piano top. Liszt’s emotional composition floated in the air, as her father created magical stories to keep her interest in the music he played marvelously. “Lassan”, the giant,  ”Friska”, the forest princess.… Ana could still hear his strong baritone voice within the silence. Mind tricks of time played distant rhythms in her pounding heart.  Ana’s tears dropped onto the keyboard from her long, dark eyelashes. Abruptly, she cleaned her cheeks with the back of her hand, pressed the lower keys, and stepped on the piano pedals with force. A dissonant sound traveled through the house into the oncoming night. A servant walked into the parlor and lit the kerosene lamps. “Should I light the piano candles, ña-Ana?” he asked hesitantly, in view of her watery eyes.  Ana gave a negative shake of the head, shut the keyboard cover, and walked out. 

    The scent of eucalyptus moistened the evening air. Garden yellow pansies and blue velvet violets hid their dewy petals inside clay pots sitting on the terracotta tiles of the open courtyard. Swallows in the darkening skies were replaced by bats from the old abandoned carriage house. “How strange,” Ana pondered, always noticing the unusual. “When in flight, one cannot distinguish the rodents from the birds.”

    “Anita, come to supper, mi amor. Everyone is waiting for you” her mother called, pretending not to have heard the girl’s earlier fit in the parlor. She understood well the hidden pains crouching in the secret corners of the heart.   Ana walked into the dining room, and chose a seat next to grand-mother Matilde. She looked around and intuitively knew she could not escape the early preamble of this somber day, The heavy mahogany furniture, paintings of dead pheasants hanging upside down in pairs next to static assortments of fruit, Papá’s empty chair, standing like a memorial at the head of the table, brought back the mourning of his death five years past.  Ana remembered family and friends dressed in black, holding back tears in their restrained civility, small cousins innocently skipping white and magenta funeral garlands, in the patio corridors, Padre Francisco emitting unintelligible words next to Papá’s coffin. “A Latin requiem,” her mother had explained to her, while she stood anguished and confused in her new white piqué dress.

          “Soup ña-Ana?” the servant startled her. “Should I pour some in your bowl, Niña?” he asked, while holding the ladle and the soup tureen. Ana managed a faint thank you and began to eat slowly, measuring every spoonful. The clock on the wall struck eight times. “Uno, dos, tres….siete, ocho,“ Ana counted to pass the time. She then picked eight morsels of fish from a serving dish, counted them, and ate them. She did the same with carrots, cauliflower, and string beans. Her family was concerned. They wondered what she was doing.  Was she seeking attention? The servants were amused. They knew Ana’s ways of coping.  After all, they had taken care of her all of her young life.

            A tangled seasonal scent of jasmines, lilies and honeysuckles, entered through the open windows, making a startling presence amidst the otherwise mundane dinner chat. “The aromas of the garden are wonderfully strong tonight!” Grandmother Matilde exclaimed in her high-pitched-voice. Then she asked, “Anita, pass the potatoes, please.” Uncle Matías noticed Ana’s apparent aloofness, and he quickly reached for the potato soufflé and passed it to his mother.  Uncle Matías took charge of the family after his only brother’s funeral. As a lawyer, he divided his time between overseeing the hacienda and his legal practice in the city. He gave Clara his wife, sister-in-law, Luz-María, his mother Matilde, young Anita, and a host of servants born and raised on the hacienda, a sense of care and security within a structured, orderly existence.

    Life went on, seasons followed, birthdays were celebrated. Summers at the hacienda were peaceful retreats for everyone, away from the city’s societal conventions and traditional obligations.

    Ana loved the countryside. She rode thoroughbred horses. Other times she rode a mule or a donkey for fun. She swam in the small cement pool, whose drained waters irrigated the orchard. She skipped stones and splashed in the nearby river, chased butterflies in the lush alfalfa fields, and caught bright fire-flies at dark. The peasants’ children were her constant companions. Ana had a special feeling for the natives, who continued to till the soil, as they had for centuries: sowing, earthing-up, reaping the crops. She was fascinated by the women squatting in circles, their colourful llijlla mantels spread out in front of them and threshing maize using shellers hand made of cobs standing on end, and tied together with metal rings. Sometimes Ana sat among the tillers with a small cob- sheller that Tomás, a peasant boy, had made for her. She thought she was helping, to the amusement of the group.

    November between spring and summer in the dry inter-Andean valley was a month of Inca rituals and celebrations for the peasants, a time to thank Inti, the Sun-god, and Pachamama the Earth-goddess, for a plentiful harvest from which, ironically, they would receive only a very small portion in their neo-feudal society. On those occasions, women displaying their embroidered tops and scorching red, green and blue pleated pollera skirts twirled like wildflowers in the fields to the hypnotic rhythms of pentatonic sounds. Their black hair braided with dyed woolen strings waved gently in the wind. Men in rainbow ponchos and chu’llu-hats dangled white handkerchiefs in their earth-bronze hands, dancing cuecas with the women to the music of Andean panpipes. In circle, children tapped their small feet in leather sandals earnestly, to keep their step. All this had become a living image etched in Ana’s heart forever.

           “¡Señora , señora!” Pablo, Matías’ house servant in the city, cried out running inside the house leaving a mud trail on the rugs. ¿”Qué pasa Pablo? How did you get here?” “Oh, it’s urgent, Señora!” he stuttered-- out of breath. “I ran, Señora. I ran four Kilometers without stopping, after taking the train from the city.”  

            “Calm down Pablito! Someone bring him something to drink. Quickly! “

    “Revolution”, Uncle Matías had written in the note Pablo handed over, “unlike any other, strange happenings, lots of reports, blood everywhere. Official buildings seized by revolutionaries. Men are being taken from their homes to unknown places. Chaos and fear prevail. Do not come or send anyone here. It’s extremely dangerous. Try to keep calm. I’ll be in touch somehow.”

             Aunt Clara was beside herself. She could only guess the danger in which her husband might be and cried inconsolably. Family and servants kneeled around the life-size-Virgin Mary, standing next to the double-domed armoire in Abuela’s bedroom. Clara handed out the rosary beads she kept in an old cigar box. They prayed in unison. Padre nuestro que estás en los cielos…. Dios Te salve María, llena eres de gracia….” Ana wondered how come the beautiful, miraculous Mother of Jesus could be wearing such a worn-out robe.

     No more news arrived from Uncle Matías. Sobbing, Abuela stared for a long time at his photograph on the chinoisserie cabinet of her room. Ana wrapped her thin girl’s arms around her Grandmother’s fragile figure. In an attempt to cheer her up, she would, on occasion, cut yellow tea-roses, Abuela’s favorites in the garden, and then place them in a vase in her bedroom.

    The servants traveled unnoticed in their native attire and brought unsettling reports from neighboring rural towns. The battery-run radio in the hacienda broadcast only one station. All others had been shut down by the officials. It recited the same message over and over again: “This is the voice of the people’s revolution, compañeros. You must recover what has been taken from your ancestors. The patrones, compañeros , have stolen your land, and have treated you like animals for centuries! Rise up, compañeros! Your time has come! It is NOW!” The broadcast would switch to Quechua, their native language, proclaiming the same things. The house servants were scared and confused. After all their forbears had lived parallel lives with their patrones ancestors for generations. They considered themselves like family. What would they do on their own? Serving was all they knew. They would remain at Ana’s home until the end.

    Juan, the chauffeur, brought news that the government was distributing guns to the peasants, who, in turn, were crying their slogans all about the towns and cities. Juan also heard that Los vallunos, the valley peasants, notorious for being vicious, had tied up patrones, poured gasoline over their bodies and set them on fire.” Don’t worry señoray.” Juan tried to reassure Ana’s mother, “patrones in those regions are cruel. They beat the peasants with horse whips, work them to exhaustion and for the smallest of things, lock them up in cold, stone granaries, and shave their heads with sickles. You are good patrones, señoray. You have nothing to be worried about.”

        “Thank you, Juan,” Luz- María replied, disguising her profound concern.                        

    Still, they heard no news from Matías. Servants told the family that the new government had set up roadblocks and checkpoints, and sent officials to nearby towns to form paramilitary units. Apparently, some of their own hacienda peasants had attended these meetings. On their return, their speech was agitated, and according to Juan, they swore not to work the fields of the patrones anymore. “We are a militia now, a militia!” they boasted, firing bullets into the air to assert their new status.

    Jatun tatas jallph’aykita suanku qankunamanta.” They believed it was true that the patrones had stolen their lands from them. After all, the president had announced that the land was always theirs:  “Chay presidente nisqa chay jallph’an noqanchaj patapuni kasqa.” Paykuna chinsitullamanta chichinacusqanku. (They whispered in secret)

        Luz-María, Clara, Matilde, young Ana, and the servants were paralyzed with fear. Luz-María, tried to help Clara and Abuela Matilde keep their sanity. From the deep sorrow she carried after her husband’s death, she had somehow learned how to take care of the living. Ana seldom left her mother’s side, her carefree innocence wounded by events she did not understand. One terrifying night the incessant barking of the dogs awoke the entire household. Juan and Rosa ran into the bedrooms, making sure the patronas got up.¿Q pasa? ¿Qué pasa?  “Luz- María cried out.

             “It must be urgent,” Ana thought, because the bedrooms were off-limits to servants while patrones slept.

    "Señoray, señoray, the peasants from the valley have made their way here!" Juan screamed. "They're outside with their guns. What can we do? Some of our own people are with them. They're going to kill us all! The vallunos are ferocious! I ought to know. Sometime in my past a valluno chopped off my friend's ear in a fight. It was horrible!"

            “We wait, Juan. We wait! Everyone to the parlor!” she ordered in a low, hoarse voice hardly concealing her fear. “Anita come mi amor. Let's all stay together," bringing the scared girl, still wearing her pajamas, close to her.

             "We're done for!" Clara whimpered, Abuela, trembling in her nightgown, mumbled inaudible words. Ana grasped her mother's bed robe, following all of her movements.

             "Light all the lamps, and open all the doors!" Luz‑María ordered the servants, who appeared to be trapped in a time warp.

             "Open the doors?" Florentina, the chamber maid, asked in disbelief.

            "Yes Florentina. We're not afraid, are we?"

            "If you say so, señora ......”said Florentina.

            Daría, the nanny, pushed Anita gently toward the window curtains, perhaps trying to hide her. The rest of the help stood in bewilderment for a few moments. Hesitantly, they followed Luz‑María's orders and opened the doors wide. 

    Confused and surprised by this unexpected, daring action, the peasants outside looked at each other dumbfounded. But, as they gained more confidence, some of them climbed the few steps into the entrance of the parlor. Many followed.

           "Who are you? What do you want?" LuzMaria's voice thundered, confronting and defying the astonished crowd.

             "We have received reports that you are hiding weapons to fight the government, and we have come to search!" a short man answered, his face almost completely covered by his ch'ullu‑hat.

             "Go ahead! We have no weapons, search!" said Luz-María.

            --“Maypitaj qosayki kasan...manachu kaypi pakasqa kasan?--"Where is your husband, isn’t he hiding here?"  --

            Dead! My husband is dead!"

            About ten more men entered the house. They felt invincible with their guns. They forced family and servants against the walls, insulting Juan, Rosa, Dorotea, Florentina, Pablo, and the nanny, as traitors serving the oligarchy (a new word they learned in their recent indoctrination).  Clara began to pray softly.

             "Stop, Clara!" Luz‑María whispered in her ear.

             In frenzy, the vallunos started to smash everything. They broke the glass of the bookshelves with the butts of their rifles, throwing books all over the place. A cleft‑lipped man, apparently the leader, asked his followers for a machete. They gave him an axe. He walked into the sitting room and with a vicious smile more distorted by his handicap, gave downward ferocious blows into the piano with his axe. Keys started to fly; vases, lamps, framed photographs, ornaments, all broken into pieces. His companions slashed paintings and family portraits on the walls. Tables and chairs were also crumpled with brutal force. Next they walked into the remaining rooms of the house, repeating the same horrific actions. Amazingly, the vallunos left the statue of the Virgin Mary in Abuela's room intact.

            This is the end!" Daría moaned, and pressed Ana into her bosom. Ana felt sick. She was about to throw up. They all figured they had no possible exit.

            At the sight of her daughter's terrified expression, Luz‑Maria's voice rose empowered, explosive like a cannon detonation. She was about to take the most daring risk of her life. “Indios de mierda!" she screamed with her strongest patrona authority. "Ignorant bastards full of shit!  Sent by the so called new government to do their dirty work! And you, idiots, don't even see it!  Listen, you know‑nothing dummies, this won't last long. And when it's all over, your heads will be planted like potatoes by the next patrones!   Go ahead, stinking long‑ear asses, bray all you want! I feel sorry for you. You're too stupid to understand what is coming to you!” There was a frozen silence in the room. The risk was unthinkable. Everyone was astonished. The confused peasants talked to each other in faint sounds.

             The startled hare‑lipped man paced about the room, stopped for a few seconds, and shouted, "Mana ni imata tarinchejchu, suthin i? Jacurripuna cumpañerus! We haven't found anything. Let's go!" he commanded, breaking some figurines they had missed before, trying to save face. The mob of valley peasants seemed to be concerned. They bent their backs burdened with the weight of five hundred years of humiliation. Their fragile egos were destroyed by the centuries' old resonance of the patrona's voice. They became nobodies, non entities within an irretrievable void. One by one, group by group, the vallunos left. The peones, workers of the hacienda, and the by the year hired hands, watarunas, slowly retired to their dwellings, not knowing what to think.  The house servants, frozen in place, did not attempt to move. Ana’s mother's, Abuela's, and Clara's faces resembled casts of death masks. Young Ana appeared to be in a stupor. Daría sat among the debris, placed Ana on her lap, and stroked her head silently.

             Ironically, the psychological tools of a hateful past saved the lives of Ana’s family.

              Despite the horrendous ordeal, the family took another risk after the vallunos disappeared into the night. Servants and family were loaded into the hacienda truck by Juan. He situated Abuela, concealed with a native llijlla cloth, in the front, next to the driver’s seat. In order to hide family and servants in the back, he placed a tarpaulin perfectly arranged in the same manner in which he transported produce or livestock.

            Abuela insisted upon taking the Italian statue of the Virgin Mary with them. Reluctantly, they agreed. Later, the statue was donated to Padre Francisco's church.

    Juan drove for hours through rural roads he knew, crossed creeks and fields, avoiding small towns where peasants were drinking near their recently acquired guns. The trip was exhausting. Ana slept on her mother's lap most of the time. Upon their arrival in the city, they found the heavy wooden door of their downtown house painted with a large skull and two crossbones. The words "Death to the Oligarchy" were printed below. The doors, still locked, gave them some reassurance no one had broken in. Inside, they noticed woolen mattresses standing against the windows facing the street. They assumed that Matías placed them there to impede bullets from getting through. But where was he? Was he safe? They searched for some kind of a message, to no avail.  Normally, they had a well stocked pantry for Matías' trips to the city, during their stay at the hacienda. He had used most groceries, leaving enough for a few meals. But no one was hungry. Fearful and tired, family and servants retired to sleep, although the new day was beginning to rise.

     "A message, a message tucked in my dresser drawer!" Clara screamed. Everybody gathered around her. Her voice trembling, she read: 

Dear Clara and family,

I pray that with God's guidance, you had a safe return to the city at the right time.

Friends with connections to the new regime urged me and others secretly, to drive incognito to the capital to seek asylum in an embassy. Our names appear to be on some sort of list. No one seemed to know the reason. We were told that every man the officials arrested disappeared without a trace. Rumors have it that some were pushed off cliffs, and that others were shot by firing squads of government hit-men. Get in touch with Padre Francisco. He will advise you on what to do. Clara, there is enough in our American banks to help the family for a while. Don't worry, this situation won't last long. I'll try to communicate through the church.

Love to all, Matías

P.S. Do not remove mattresses from windows. Peasant militias seem to be having fun with their guns all about town. Avoid going out. Do not answer the phone. Use it only when needed. I already unplugged it. Send Juan and Florentina out for errands. Dorotea is too naïve. Keep her in the house. Do not worry. It won't last.

    But the new regime did last, longer than a decade. Helped by the super powers, which in their economic and political interests, aided a misguided revolution. Years of terror ignored by the world, thanks to the revolutionary government's many disguises.  Immeasurable hardship followed. The loss of her ancestral land was too much for Abuela to endure. She died shortly after. Money in the bank was not enough to last for such a long time. Since old families were "the enemy," one needed a special permit to work or practice a profession, showing membership in the governing party, an impossible task. Some traded their soul for profit, and spied on others unnoticed. For the family to survive, Clara and LuzMaría sold their valuables through people they knew, namely, American officials living in the country—fine old bone-porcelain, antique cut crystal  chandeliers, opaline lamps, silver, jewels, original colonial paintings, gilded French mirrors, rare books, fur coats. Later, as an adult, Ana became teary-eyed viewing displays of similar objects when visiting museums in Europe and the United States.

    Once in the city, after the incident at the hacienda, Ana continued attending the same Catholic school, this time as a boarder, as did many  other children of old families in need of protection from the unexpected. “The loneliest years of my life,” Ana wrote in her memoirs. Clara and Luz‑María lived in fear of new rumors of urban reform. The thought of losing their house, all they had left, horrified them. Anything was possible under a regime which drove the country to a financial disaster, a wrecked nation, a casualty of deplorable, ill-fated government resolutions. A new cast of nouveauriche officials surfaced, still using the masses as political flags.  "A Nation on the Cross," a well known diplomat entitled his book, written in exile.

    Armistice came as a surprise, perhaps advised by the superpowers. Ana's uncle, Matías, returned. He had aged considerably; his broken spirit never recovered. Juan, Rosa, Florentina, and Pablo started their own families and trades. Daría and Dorotea   remained in the family house. Ana remembered innocent, half‑witted Dorotea asking her if she would still be a servant after death, because, she added, "There were long stairways in heaven, and she very much disliked waxing stairways." All of them remained deeply bonded forever.

            In another world, perhaps another dimension, Ana survived. Through the nuns of the European school, she was granted a scholarship to study Linguistics and Anthropology in Paris. Uncle Matías and her late father, Eduardo attended the Sorbonne in their youth. "Keep the family tradition Anita. It's a matter of importance to us!” frail Uncle Matías commanded.

    Ana became engaged to a young Frenchman named Pierre, Paris was certainly the city to fall in love. Ana’s fiancé, as a historian and a writer, was very much in tune with her professional interests, nevertheless “The City of Lights,” seemed so faraway from her home-land and the many people she loved.  "I would like you to visit my country to meet my family Pierre. It is very important to me," Ana addressed him with that forceful and yet innocent air, kept since she was a child, which Pierre, with the soul of a poet, found irresistible.

    On their summer holiday they flew across the seas and over the magnificent Andean mountains and valleys. Their arrival was joyful. Pierre was liked by everyone. Feelings were reciprocal. They all spoke French, to the servants' fascination.

            After giving Pierre a few days to adjust to the new culture, Ana was eager to see what was left of the old hacienda. "It is too risky, Anita," her mother claimed. "We never went back. We heard that everything was in shambles. It would probably break your heart”_ But Ana was determined; after all, she was her mother’s daughter. She arranged for someone to drive them.  They traveled on abandoned dirt country roads, overgrown with weed. They crossed wheat fields, corn fields, waded rivers, got lost.

            They arrived at last. Ana’s heart trembled with anticipation at the sight of the old house. The fence, the iron- gate, the garden, the orchard behind, had all disappeared. A lone bougainvillae hung from a broken structure. No one seemed to live inside the house. Natives believed that occupying the patrones' premises would attract bad luck, so they built huts around it. The entire façade had been vandalized ‑‑ doors torn down from heavy hinges, frames pulled out from windows. In sum, everything useful had been taken.

    The peasants observed and assessed the visitors from a distance. Moments later after a brief exchange, the old natives recognized the young woman as a grown-up "ña Anita," and approached her with great affection. Giddy women offered them boiled corn in clay bowls. A stumbling drunk woman wanted to share the akha she was drinking. When Ana refused the fermented corn beverage, she still wanted to honor the visitor somehow. She took over center stage and sang a Quechuan song off-tune. Ana understood every word, even after all those years. As a child the servants used to address her in their native language when the patrones were not present.  Pierre stood by Ana somewhat overwhelmed and confused. He asked her if it was safe to eat the corn. "This is mut'i. It has been boiled for hours, Pierre. Every bug is probably cooked by now," she answered him with a playful smile. The hired chauffeur turned around and giggled.

    "Ña Anita," a sad‑faced old man addressed her in a hoarse voice, "I am Andrés. Remember my son, Tomás? He was your age. You used to play together, remember him?" Ana recalled the bright‑eyed copper‑skinned boy with a row of pearls for teeth. "He made sling shots and other things for me, Don Andrés. I certainly remember him. Together, we caught jamp'atus in the pond," she spoke in an untarnished Quechua. "But the froggies always slipped out of our hands and back into the waters of the qhocha. It seems like another life, Don Andrés," she paused and sighed deeply. 

     "He is a doctor now, ña Anita. He attended the university to be a real doctor, not a janpiri, although I admit he uses the old shaman secrets sometimes. My son takes care of all of us," The man continued. "He works in the town’s hospital," and looking forward, his eyes half closed, bringing remembrances inward, he told her, "Some things were good for us with the revolution, ña Anita, although the river gods were angry and claimed most of the land."   Andrés watched the group heading toward the abandoned hacienda house. "Do you have to go there, ña Anita?" he asked with obvious discomfort. Ana stopped, their eyes met with intensity. In an instant, both recognized their soul stirring connection.

              Ana, her heart pounding inside, reached for Pierre's hand before entering the house. Her whole childhood appeared in front of her, and she wept. Surprised, she noticed a few old family books among the debris left by rats. She collected them with great care one by one, as if performing a sacred ritual. She pressed them against her chest and walked out. The evening was approaching. Swallows were still being replaced by bats. The words of Don Andrés were echoing in her mind: “Some things were good for us with the revolution ña-Anita.......“   Ana closed her eyes for an infinite   second, and Tomás the boy with the whitest smile, made an appearance in her mind jumping triumphantly over his catching the loveliest ugly frog in the pond for her.

    Ana, Pierre, the driver, the group of peasants, and a small number of romping, smiling children headed in the direction of the visitors' vehicle for the return trip to the city. Suddenly, a group of women ran toward them, some carrying their small children in llijllas on their back, their colourful pollera- skirts swinging in their celerity. They brought two baskets, partially covered with burlap, containing a chicken and a red‑eyed white rabbit, like the pet Ana had growing up "These are gifts for you, ña Anita," an old woman with a goiter addressed her with affection, and pointing at the rabbit, she added: "Noqayku yuyarikuyku angulitay jimamtapis”. "We also remember your rabbit," Ana translated for Pierre.   For an instant, Ana thought about Uncle Matías telling her as a child that goiters were caused  by lack of iodine in their drinking water. But did they know? Did Tomás, the doctor, know?   Ana embraced the woman and held her tightly, since natives only kiss their young children.

         Then, in an impeccable Quechua,she reciprocated, "Sonqhoy ujumanta agradisiyki. Tata Diusninchej astawan qosunkhachaj”  [From the depths of my heart, I hope God will give you more in return.]

        Pierre was astounded trying to figure out what was going on in that beautiful sounding language. The chauffeur, a native, had no time for sentimentalism. After accommodating the rowdy birds and rabbit in their baskets inside the crowded vehicle, he groaned, "It's getting late, Niña. iVámonos!" and started the motor.

       The peasants waved their last goodbyes, Tinkunanchiskama sumaqrisuchuin (Happy traveling 'til we meet again). Their stoic faces concealing emotions that Ana understood so well.

         With tender vigor, Pierre drew Ana closer to him, gently pressing her face against his chest, aware of the surfacing of her longtime- kept hidden tears.  A serene feeling of completion filled Ana’s soul. In the distance, the tall white poplars lining the dusty road disappeared into the fog amongst the beloved spirits of her past.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

I am a Bolivian living in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  My early retirement gives me the opportunity to pursue the love of writing I have had since childhood.  My own experiences in South America, and my exposure to several other cultures, help me in my work to explore and come to terms with the duality of the human condition:  its beauty, its horrors, and the transcending mystery of the human spirit.

I have published editorial comments concerning Hispanic issues in local newspapers, and have been awarded first and second prize in two poetry competitions.  My short story, The Gift, and various poems were published in The Riverside Currents, a collection of poetry and stories.  My work has also been included in a poetry anthology titled The Ebbing Tide.  I am also a member of The Virginia Writers Club, and have just recently completed a play which starts in modern Peru and goes back for resolution to the Incan Empire.

Mercedes Paz-Carty 
P.O. Box # 84
Fredericksburg, Virginia, 22404-0084
E-mail : mercedespaz@worldnet.att.net