El Hombre Que Cavó las Tumbas
The sun crawled toward the horizon causing the sky to turn a hideous cerise. As was unlike the occasion for the season, the wind could barely be detected in the treetops of the adjacent forest. Storm clouds held off in the periphery leaving the farmland exposed in the light, saturated red. The heat from the day was held captive in the thick moisture of summer air. The atmosphere was held in heated suspension above the fray. The chorus of the chicharras ran through the small village, whose emptied and silenced dirt streets echoed the haunting call. Now was the time of day when the sounds and smells of a tiny community entered its crepuscular stage. Instead, what was heard was the lamentations of women, the crepitation of conflict, and the scant laughter of men.
Junior Teniente Coronel Antonio Luis Roman stood atop an M1 Abrams, one of many gifts from El Padre to the military. The hunter green and black striped mechanical juggernaut sat humming amongst the crops, the words: EL QUE TRAE LÁGRIMAS: hand-painted in white, the letters quickly applied and thence inchoate, giving way to an impression that they were melting in the tropical fever. JT Coronel Roman observed the landscape; his paunch looked ready to burst through his olive green shirt darkened by sweat. The top half of the shirt was unbuttoned (against protocol) exposing his browned skin and dark wiry chest hair. A pearl neckerchief found itself wrapped loosely around his glutted throat. It had small lines of roses diagonally printed across it. Antonio’s mother gave it to him before he went off to war.
Sargento Solos walked up to the feet of EL QUE TRAE LÁGRIMAS with a man in tow, held at gunpoint. He stood at attention and saluted. “Report,” the JT Coronel said. “Eighty to our fifteen currently. Most have fled into the trees. The rest are being handled.” JT Coronel Roman nodded. He then acknowledged the stranger standing next to Solos. The man wore an old t-shirt and shorts. He wore one flip-flop. His clothes were filthy, covered in dirt and a small trace of blood. He had a cut above his left brow; the blood coagulated into black crust along his rough, wrinkled eggplant face. JT Coronel Roman observed his cut. The man would not take his eyes from the earth. He was one of these outback bastards of the old world. The roots of his blood dug much deeper into the soil of the country than Antonio’s. Heart of the jaguar. Soul of the raptor. The rest of the nationalist claptrap that was well familiar to him. The enchanted history El Padre invokes so often in his speeches. He came across so few of them in person. They regulated themselves mostly to the pastoral regions of the state, not urban locations like the capital where Antonio grew up. Though there was Chacha. She was part of his boyhood. She was half nativo.
The sergeant spoke: “This was the man you requested.”
JT Coronel Roman asked the man. “Hablas mi idioma?”
“Good. What is your name?” The man was silent. JT Coronel Roman looked to Sargento Solos. Solos asked the man in his natural tongue. Still silence. Solos grew enraged. He got in the man’s dark face, pressing his finger into his soiled shirt. He pointed back to JT Coronel Roman and flailed his hand about some more. The man remained mute. Antonio held up his hand to pause the sergeant. “You do not have to give me your name. But you do understand what I am trying to do here, don’t you?” The man stood still and remained focused on the ground. Antonio continued: “We have been given very explicit orders from the President himself that this area is to return to the order of the state once and for all, and to remove any belligerents in the process with the utmost hostility. Allies are to be pardoned and returned to the capital.
“On the one hand, you have assisted us in the duty of disposing of the traitors’ carcasses as well as leading us to the sites where our fallen brothers lay. For that, I could see to your absolution. On the other hand, Sargento Solos and his men here inform me you were seen burying soldiers of the state, while the terrorists stood idly by. It appeared you were operating in conjunction with the enemies of the state. This is punishable by death. So now you see the predicament I am in, no?” Silence. Antonio sighed. “You do not have to speak, but I will have to assume the worst as a precaution.”
The sun began to sink behind the tops of the trees turning them a dark green and casting the men in pale light. JT Coronel Roman watched what little of the man’s face he could witness appear to struggle with thought, or transforming such thoughts to words. Perhaps he did not know enough of the state’s language to translate his consciousness. JT Coronel Roman signaled to Sargento Solos who roughly translated to the man in his old tongue. The flamethrowers walked up to the tank. One of them said they were ready. The colonel approved their mission and they turned toward the village.
“I did what you asked,” said the man in the language Antonio understood.
JT Coronel Roman shared a look with Solos. The man’s gaze still did not break with the dirt beneath him, but his body implied a tremor. Sweat passed along his face; his hands clenched the sides of his shirt.
“Yes. You did. But you also aided the enemy. You see, don’t you?”
“I did what you asked.”
He wasn’t saying it as a question but JT Coronel Roman wondered if he meant to. It would have been understandable. It may have been all the JT Coronel was capable of repeating, too, if… well… but that was not the case. For only one was holding the gun, and in that moment history was on his side.
“If you were in my position, what would you do? Would you let a potential enemy of yours escape? If so, how would you explain that to those you answered to?”
“I did what you asked.”
“Indeed. But one good act does not undo a bad one. If you have supported the terrorists up to this point, one afternoon of assistance does not change this. You agree, no?”
“I never hurt anyone.”
“That does not matter here. You did not kill these men. No. That is probably true. But you did dispose of them as if in alliance with the terrorists. And if you are not responsible for it well then, who is, hmm? This did not start because of you, yet here you are, in the middle of it. You are a participant. You may not be responsible, but you are guilty. And although the punishment for the guilty and the responsible should be different, here, now, it is not. We have orders after all. I believe you understand. I will promise you this, I will have them make it quick.”
JT Coronel Roman waved his hand. Soldiers grabbed the man and brought him to his knees.
“You will be cursed,” the man said. He looked up at Antonio. His eyes were beautiful, and filled with pity.
Junior Teniente Coronel Antonio Luis Roman laughed. He pointed to the horizon.”When the sun rises again, there will be nothing here to remember. Just crops and ashes. People will come and know there was a story to be told, but no one will know where to start it, just that they came after the end. And in one-hundred years time, I and all my deeds will suffer the same fate. So, we are all cursed, my friend.”
The sun was nowhere to be seen, but its light still fought back the darkening sky. The heat remained unbearable. A single crack split the air and then disappeared into the homogeneous sound of the chicharras’ chorus that enveloped the land.