Inspired by the sad realities of South America's revolutionary past.
Alejandro's consciousness emerged like a submerged log from the depths of slumber. He slowly opened his eyelids, trying to protect his eyes as long as he could from the glaring stabs of the rising sun. It was going to be a sunny day, a sweaty day; perfect for toiling the land.
"Simon? Get up, Simon. We will be late." He stretched a hand towards his brother's pallet, but the fingers met only the rough sensation of the straw. "So that lazy bones's already up. I must really be late."
Alejandro stood up and put on his shirt, probing with a finger the depth of his beard. It felt two days old, or maybe more. "That won't do," he murmured. He skipped to the piece of glass that he and his brother insisted on calling a mirror, tore out a shard and began to clip the bush on his chin. Alejandro blinked at his reflection: that day Juanita was going to serve the men during the midday break at the hacienda, and he wanted to make the best of sweaty impressions on her.
"Simon? Are you here?" Alejandro scanned the yard for any sign of his brother. Only a chicken clucked a reply. "It's easier to convince a donkey to pray as a good christian, than Simon to go working for Don Batista. Maybe he's finally decided to grow up. Maybe," he muttered, picking up his plough from the wall of the shack.
"Simon? Stop fooling around! We're going to be late!"
"I'm here, brother."
Alejandro turned and saw his brother marching up towards him, kicking a cloud of reddish dust at each step. Simon stopped right in front of him, clicking his heels together. Alejandro threw a glance at the piece of wood and metal clutched in his brother's hands.
"A rifle. That's no instrument of toil, Simon. I thought we've been over this" Simon's gaze pierced him with the sharpness of a rapier.
"That's an instrument of freedom, brother. And you can't be over freedom."
Alejandro leaned on his plough, feeling an invisible force weighing his shoulders down. "So you have decided to follow that road. I knew teaching you to read was a mistake. You've filled your head with all that - revolution - manure."
"It's better than to shovel manure for that Don Batista bastard for the rest of my bloody life."
"Don Batista may be a bastard. But he's our bastard. Our family has known that bastard's family for generations. And you know why? Because our masters never left us to starve. They are good masters for that, and we should be thankful."
Simon tightened his grip on the weapon. "Because you can really thrive on the crumbs that fall from his table, while he's stuffing himself like a damn pig with the fruits of our work! It's high time we put them to the slaughter and feed our families with their flesh!"
Alejandro pursed his lips in a smirk "Bold words, boy. But these aren't your words, right? That's the rubbish the men of law with their butts stuffed in a sofa write when they're bored, or when their masters don't pay them enough. Then they make big talk of making history or revolution. But then, guess what? It's we, the peones, the poor men who have to dirt their hands, while the men who read books write their History with our blood and on our hides."
"It's you, the one who doesn't understand, Alejandro. You only listen to what Don Batista tells you. Or what the ploughing priests tell you. And guess what you've got to show for all your - hard work -? This shithole of a shack and a loser's pride!"
"You insolent brat! This shack is what our parents left us!" Alejandro's muscles hardened, struck by a sting of stabbing pain. Simon looked at him with a smile of defiance."You see? You've been breaking your back for Batista, and that's your reward. But for me, no more masters. I'm going to join the revolution, and one day I'm going to tear apart Don Batista limb by limb. And you, and all those who lick his boots like they're made of honey, are going to thank us for that."
Alejandro heaved himself up, clutching the handle of the plough as if it was his last hold above the chasm of insanity. "You don't even know what you're talking about, boy. There'll always be a master, as there's a Lord in heaven. Now, enough with this nonsense. You're young and nae, and that hero Raul Miguel De Alvado, or whatever his name is, just deluded youinto thinking you can be more than a farmer. Well, you're not, and will never be. Throw that--thing away, and get your plough, or we will be late."
"Is that a request? Or an order?"
Alejandro stared back at his brother and felt Simon's gaze clashing with his like steel. "I am your older brother, and you'll have to obey me as long as you live. So it's an or--" A metallic sound reverberated in his ears. Alejandro lowered his eyes, and met the steely gaze of the rifle.
"I don't have masters, not anymore. Not even you. I'm dead to you, you get it? Dead for you, Don Batista, God and whatever greedy leeches are sucking the soul out of the people. I'm going to get my freedom, now, with my bayonet. You can go have your ploughing serfdom all you want!"
Alejandro closed his eyes, losing himself in the reddish dome of his eyelids crossed by the light. He opened them to a new resolve. "So be it, then," he said. Alejandro clenched his teeth and raised the plough over his head.
"What are you--I'll shoot! I've warned you!".
"Don't be silly. Dead men don't shoot the living." Alejandro put the plough on his shoulder and strut towards Simon. As he passed by him, he caught a glimpse of the quivering barrel of the gun, looking at it with the same indifference he would've reserved to a rotting branch.
"Hei! Where are you going?"
"I'm going to work, I'll be late. Oh! And then I'll pass word to the undertaker my brother'd died for his freedom. I'm also sure Don Batista will be glad to hear there's a mouth less to feed." And Juanita a man less to serve he thought, as a mellow feeling melted in his body like a swig of Tequila.
"I'm finally--," Simon panted, cringing in pain as his breath filled the lungs like a cast of molten lead "Here". He opened his eyelids, as he tried to penetrate the coat of sweat that had accumulated in his eyes. His mind pictured it even before he could see it clearly: the Don Batista's hacienda; a verdant strip that looked as if it'd been sewn by God himself on a patchwork of dust and rocks. "Twenty years--" he gasped. Simon couldn't believe that, after all those years, nothing seemed to have changed at the hacienda. It still stood untouched by events, like the portrait of a maiden freezing her beauty in eternity. "Still a monument to injustice--" muttered, clutching the stock of his rifle.
The dirt road that brought to the house of the master cut right through the fields like an arrow shot in a sea of turquoise. Simon gazed at the corn plants, as swarms of men moved back and forth to harvest the fruits of their labour under the watchful eyes of the foremen. "So much blood shed, yet here we go again. Poor people shedding sweat and tears for their overlords."
"Ehi! You there!"
A man ran towards him, and Simon caught glimpse of a gun stuck in a worn-out holster. "What's the matter?" asked, as his hand began descending towards the trigger. "The matter is that vagrants and beggars aren't allowed here. Get off the property, now!" barked the guard.
Simon stuck his eyes right into his, as he was used to do when he was trying to elevate the country's lowest tiers into an elite fighting force. "You know it was beggars who won the revolution for us? This is supposed to be their country now, their property!"
The guard's gaze wavered, then started moving erratically. "I fought in the revolution too, you've got no rights to--," the man's hardened features melted like wax "Wait--General? General La Higuera?"
Simon's heart leaped in his throat. He felt as if a corpse had leapt out of the coffin calling his name. "I am. Who--asks?" The guard's lips opened in a smile "It's me, general. Angelo Mirada! I was one of your men during the assault at the government's barracks. Do you remember? We took the artillery, and that won the day!"
A bullet of memories struck Simon's mind "Yes--Yes! I remember now. It's been a long time. What are you doing here?,"
"I could ask the same, General"
"I used to work here."
"And I work here now."
"Your work for Don Batista?"
"Yes, the master of the hacienda".
Angelo scratched his chin in a puzzled fashion. "The master's Don Alejandro, General." Simon felt his breath flee his lungs. "What did you say?"
"Here general. Do you want me to introduce you?"
Simon shook his head and gazed at the main door; shone under the midday sun as a slab of marble. Only by his old comrade's shadow. He stretched a hand, but his muscles refused to comply to his mind's orders.
"Is something wrong, sir?"
"No, nothing wrong. Rest, soldier. You've still got a long day--," Simon grabbed the handle ", and life ahead of you." The man's shadow disappeared, leaving Simon alone with his thoughts. "Alejandro the master of this house--" He pulled the handle and took a step inside, bracing himself for the impact with that reality.
Simon's skin tickled as the dim light of the interior swallowed him. A string of sounds coming from further inside caressed his eardrums. "A piano?" whispered. The music became louder and louder, until he reached the entrance of what seemed to be the study. Simon closed his eyes: the tunes slowly attuned to the rhythm of his heartbeats. He took a deep breath and entered the room.
The music stopped. Simon's eyes opened and met the pallor of a little girl's face. Her fingers were frozen in mid-air like little icicles, and her mouth frozen in a silent shriek. Simon followed her gaze and realized he was still holding his gun. Out of his blind, spot a shadow leaped and put itself between him and the girl.
"Wait, I wasn't--"
"Raise just a single finger on her, and I'll gut you like a pig."
Simon focused on the figure before him. A woman. Simon's eyes swept her features. Despite a heavy make-up, her wrinkles made her skin look like a piece of parchment, telling him a story of long days spent under the blows of the sun. Simon looked down and caught the glint of a blade pointed at his groin.
"Isabella? Why did you stop? It was a beautiful piece."
Simon's muscles hardened. A man's voice. He turned as a figure emerged from the shadows of another room. Simon's tongue moved swifter than his mind "Alejandro?"
The man looked at him, then saw the woman and the child. He smiled. "Juanita, dear. Take the child's away. I've got business with him." The woman slowly backed away, took the girl's hand and left the room.
Simon looked at him: The image of his older brother clashed with the one he had before his eyes like the wrong pieces of a puzzle. Alejandro wore clothes they once couldn't even begin to dream for, and the beard that once had looked like goat's fur now was trimmed like a lawn.
The older brother turned, and approached a cupboard. Simon froze. His istinct screamed danger to every fiber of his being.
"Take a seat. You must be tired after walking all those miles from the capital."
Alejandro turned, and Simon felt the grip on the gun and on his heart loosening. "Here. That's Irish Whiskey, you know? Good stuff. Not good like a Tequila, but good stuff. It's good for you. Or, as they say at the club in the capital, - it has the most restorative effect - They have such a way with words, those lawyer suckers." Alejandro nodded and showed him to a little table where he put down the bottle and two glasses. He filled both up and offered one to Simon. "I think you should put that thing down first." Simon looked at the rifle, then put the gun on the ground. Alejandro forced the glass into his fingers, and gulped his in one shot.
"You were expecting me?"
Alejandro smiled. No matter the amount of silk he was wearing, Simon saw his teeth were still rotten to the core like old logs. "We've got a free press now, don't we? There's not one in the country who isn't aware of the fact Simon La Higuera, hero of the revolution, is out of jail. But I don't read that trash. One of my peones told me. News fly fast these days."
Simon took a sip: the whiskey washed his mouth like a rain of fire on a field of withered grass. "Not fast enough, it seems. What's this travesty, brother? Where's Don Batista?"
Alejandro poured himself another generous amount of liquour. "Ah! That's a good one. We and the others have been asking ourselves the same thing for--almost sixty years now?" The older brother raised his glass and gulped it down. "Right after you guys took power, Don Batista packed and ran, leaving it all behind. No surprise; weren't you the one who told the revolution was coming to skin him and all his kind? Now he's probably up north with the Gringos, or shoveling dirt in Africa, or maybe under a bed of dirt. I really don't know."
"You didn't answer my question."
Alejandro poured himself another drink. "Well, you know what? You were right about one thing. We didn't need him as master. So after he left we peones, sharecroppers, workers or whoever else was with us in those days occupied the hacienda. And, oh boy! Those were the days. We stuffed ourselves with his food, sucked dry his cellar and did whatever we wanted. But you know those things, general. Wasn't it the what you went fighting for?"
Simon found himself incapable of forcing out a single word. Alejandro smirked, poured him a shot of Whiskey, and then another for himself. Simon felt a nauseous miasma coming up from his stomach, and turned the glass away.
Alejandro drank from his glass, then picked up Simon's. "The thing went on for days, weeks, or maybe more. But then--". A sad expression surfaced on the older brother's face as he shook the bottle. "But then the food was all eaten, and all the wine gone. So many left, to find other places to raze. Only I, Juanita and some others stayed. Then the news that the land was to be given to the people came. And we took it. And we did exactly the same thing we'd been doing for generations: we worked it. And found we were good at it. At working it, and then at selling its products, getting good prices. So the news flew fast; you know how they run fast. And soon, people started calling me Don Alejandro. And, I liked it. And, I think I deserve it."
Alejandro put the bottle down and Simon picked it up, only to find it empty. "You were right. But I was righter. There'll always be a master. And there is a master now, me. Just like there are new masters at the palace in the capital. They know it too. Only you don't know it. And that's why they put you in jail." Alejandro patted his waistcoat and pulled out two cigars. "Because all what it takes to do a revolution is guts. But then, to run a country, or a farm. You need pesos, money! And so the great Raul Miguel De Alvado, your commander and hero of the revolution, started taking money from the gringos, building casinos to get their green leafs. And the stroke of genius is that he blamed you, and other poor sods like you, for that! What were the accusations? Oh, yes! High treason, conspiracy, bribery! You hit the doors of the prison even before you realized what'd hit you!""
"That son of a bitch--."
"You left your home to follow that son of a bitch. I warned you, didn't I? All that - we're born equal - manure. Only yokels like you could truly believe it. But not him. He read books, you know? He knows people're not equal. He knows he can't let other people stand shoulder to shoulder now that he's got the power. First it's rise up, oppressed!, then it's duck! you suckers!."
Simon bit his hand, trying to stop it from reaching his weapon. "Then I guess you're smart too, aren't you? Now that you're the master of all this. How many books have you read?"
Alejandro smiled, and took a book from a nearby bookcase. Laughing, he ripped a page and used it to light his cigar. His rotten teeth flashed red as the flame reached the tip. "You see all these books? I haven't read any of them. But now, you can't even imagine how many ploughing lawyers I can hire!" Alejandro's laugh echoed in the room.
Simon clinched his fists on his thigs. He felt a silhouette under the fabric. His old knife. Just once second, a quick slit, and his brother's derision would drown in a gurgle of blood. The girl's eyes appeared out of his conscience, holding him as the tip of a spear pointed at his chest.
Alejandro's laugh died out. "You're dead, brother. You told me, I know this. You died for the revolution, for all of this. But from your carcass, something good grew for my family. I'm in your debt for that. And I want to give you a second chance of coming back to the fold. If you're willing to pick up the plough again, and finish that work you never started twenty years ago." He stared Simon in the eyes. "You still know how to use a plough, don't you?"
Simon widened his eyes. "What do you mean?"
Alejandro giggled. "How silly of me. Of course you know how to plough. You've become an expert at it. Because, what was it? Oh, yes. - Those who served the revolution, have ploughed the sea-."