SECOND WDC: "I could never in a hundred summers get tired of this." -- Susan Branch
| Camila, once a high society, Mexican beauty queen, had hope of her life returning to normal. The explosion left her blind and broke. She was now completely alone in the world.
She could hear the doctor beside her bed. He appeared to be writing something perhaps on her chart.
"Senorita Condo I must discharge you today to the public wards because your insurance is expiring. I must say that it is a surprise that a woman of your standing is unable to pay for continued treatment."
Camila, lying in the hospital bed in her pajamas, felt suddenly very vulnerable. She distrusted the tone in the doctor's voice and being blind imagined him sneering at her. She would not go to the public wards. She would go home now that her main injuries were healed. The doctors had said that her eyes were intact and could not explain why she could not see. She had no family or friends that she could call. Her mother had died in the explosion, her father was long dead, and her brother had disowned her when she had moved to Mexico City. He regarded her as a ‘whore’ who had betrayed her Catholic roots by doing so. Her so-called friends, in high society, had quickly deserted her after her lawyers had fleeced her of all her savings and declared her bankrupt. She did not even know if she still had a home to go to, but it was all she had to cling to.
She mustered as much dignity and strength as she could and declared to the doctor, "I will be going home today Doctor, please call me a taxi."
Arriving at her home she paid the taxi driver. Taking the small bag of her possessions she climbed the familiar steps towards her Mexican townhouse and put the key in the lock. The key did not fit. She knocked on the door and the door opened. She heard a gruff man's voice declare.
"Senorita Condo, this is no longer your home. It was sold to pay off your debts and my family acquired it in the subsequent auction."
"But I have nowhere else to go."
"That is not our problem, good day Senorita."
With that, he shut the door. Camila collapsed on the step sobbing realizing this was perhaps the worst moment of her life ever.
She cried for a full two minutes before a friendly female voice sounded behind her.
"Senorita Condo, please allow me to help you in your current predicament at least until you can get back on your own feet."
Camila just cried all the more but then the same friendly presence approached her and laid a hand upon her shoulder.
"Don't cry, my brother has a big house in a community of people who together own a lot of lands. He supplies protection and a home for a great many people like you, who are victims of our broken society."
Camila stood up again, trying to muster some dignity, and said, "I can offer no hope of repayment, I am blind and useless and totally unsuited to survive in such a brutal world. What would your brother have from me?"
"We ask nothing in return. God is smiling on you Camila, look a little with the eyes of faith and you will see there are tears of love looking down on you."
"Where will you take me?"
"To a place in the mountains east of the city. Our truck is parked just across the road and now I see that my brother has returned from his shopping."
Camila listened across the sounds of traffic to the sound of a heavy sack of things being loaded into the back of what sounded like a truck. Then she heard the heavy footsteps of a big man approaching across the road. A car honking him as he did so.
"Hey sis, so you found Camila Condo, the most beautiful woman in Mexico." The lady laughed and the footsteps stopped in front of her.
Camila smelt him as he drew nearer. He had a strong body odor like that of a man who was sweating. Yet he smelt somehow honest, it spoke of a man who worked for a living. She thought to herself that just a month ago she would have made a show of holding her nose. But all her arrogance and vanity had been burnt away by the explosion and a month of defeats since then. The man spoke and it was as though his voice came from the sky. She loved his voice, it was so strong and deep and reassuring.
How tall is he, she wondered, that he speaks from heaven itself?
"Hello my name is Francisco Balderama, I am a great admirer and here to repay you for brightening up this city with your beauty for so many years."
"Francisco you big brute, you will scare her with such talk just tell her she is welcome to stay with us and that we will look after her. That is what she needs right now."
Francisco's next voice was softer and sounded worried.
"I am sorry Senorita; I did not mean to scare you. I was a soldier for many years and though my sisters try their best I have still to learn the social graces."
"You did not offend me kind sir and I am grateful for your compliment and for your offer of help. I have nowhere else to go," Camila spoke into the darkness but it no longer seemed so empty now that he was here. Indeed, he seemed to fill it to overflowing with new hope and energy.
"Fantastic, then you must ride upfront with my sister and me. Is that all your luggage?" He touched the hand with which she held her small bag of possessions.
"Yes, this is everything I have left in all the world. Everything else was sold to pay off lawyer’s fees."
"Forget such silly things, you are safe now and we can give you all that you need."
Some three months later Camila was in the mountain home with three of Francisco's young sisters. She was singing a song with them while they did their chores. She was given dishes to dry and then stack in piles around her. It was simple work, but she loved these times with these women, the endless banter and jokes and songs. This was her life now. After finishing they were all going swimming in the mountain lake. On such a hot day as this, there was nothing better than the cool waters that flowed from inside the heart of the mountain. Francisco would be joining them today.
Camila asked the girls a question that had intrigued her for many months, when they finished their song, "What does Francisco look like?"
She heard a few giggles as the girls at once read her interest in their brother and she felt herself blush. But she wanted to know.
"I mean I know he has a heart the size of a cathedral, that he is a good man, that he is big, strong, and powerful but what does he look like? I imagine him with the face of an angel, and I wonder why he is not married."
At that moment she heard Francisco come into the room. She also heard a deliberate hush amongst the women there as if she had asked a taboo question.
So it was Francisco who answered her.
"You are Beauty Camila, and I am the Beast. I am seven feet tall, all muscle, bone, and covered in scars. I was in the Mexican army for many years fighting the drug cartels and I was wounded many times. One large explosion burnt half my face. They put it back together and it made me look quite scary and then on my next mission some guy cut my face open with a knife. So, I have scars upon scars. When I stand next to you though I look especially ugly because you remain the most beautiful woman in Mexico."
Camila started to cry and standing she reached for Francisco who held her at a distance with her arms.
"You poor man, so much pain, but I do not believe you when you say you are ugly, I hear the real you and you are the light in my darkness."
That broke the reverent silence and she heard the sisters giggle again and then in a more serious tone, the oldest one said.
"You know Camila, you are the perfect woman for Francisco and maybe the only one who sees him as he really is. My ugly brute of a brother has a beautiful soul. He has saved so many people from abject misery and rejection because he knows what that feels like. He has fought for his country against the cartels at great personal cost. He never talks about it, but he was in the elite Fuerzas Especiales del Alto Mando unit. Our estate here is populated with single mums, controversial intellectuals, refugees from the cartels, and all because my brother has a heart that does not know how to stop giving."
Camila smiled and called Francisco.
"You are going to help me swim aren't you?"
"Can you swim?" asked Francisco.
"Yes but probably only in circles if you do not help me. We already have our swimsuits, so we just need you to take us to the lake now."
At the lake swimming in the waters, Francisco and Camila swam off on their own.
Camila rejoiced in the feel of the cool waters under the hot sun and the fresh mountain air.
Francisco spoke, "Camila, I have some contacts with the government from my time in the military. I have been investigating that explosion that ruined your life and it seems that it was done by one of the cartels. Three days ago, my old unit took this cartel out and most are now dead or in captivity."
"But why did they target me, I was just a model."
"You were on TV supporting the candidacy of a man who was targeting the cartel. You were with him in that conference room when the bomb went off. You were collateral damage."
"Wow, just collateral damage hey. But I guess I cannot complain too much, I would never have met you without this explosion."
Francisco laughed and then kept laughing. His laughter was infectious, and she laughed too and suddenly she realized that she loved him. She reached out to him.
"Hold me a while."
She put her arms around his shoulders and wrapped her legs around his waist. She could feel his movement as he kicked to support her in the water as well as himself, his hard muscles straining with the extra effort, and she heard the increase in his breathing and even his heart thumping, it was a big strong heart. Her hands reached upwards for his face and she found the scar. She reached with her lips and kissed it. She heard Francisco sob and that made her cry also. As she cried with him, she prayed for him and her heart was overwhelmed with emotions. Suddenly her eyes were filled with light. She could make out blurs at first, the shape of Francisco, the mountains all around, and the flat of the water. Then she saw his face, and yes it was burnt and scarred and rugged. Nonetheless, as her eyes focused it was the most beautiful sight in all creation to her.
"Francisco, God has given me back my eyes, I can see you and you are beautiful to me.
I could never in a hundred summers get tired of your face."
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