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When I Was Elenaby Ellen Urbani Hiltebrand
Chapter 5. Elena?s Story
It would be simple for me to allow this tale to digress and then degrade into a scathing denouncement belittling and chastising the Hispanic male. I admit my bias plainly, and if you have not noticed yet you will see soon, again and again, the tortured roots from which my proclivity springs. It is my hope that in being forthright my prejudiced statements may be judged on a balanced scale that takes into account the troubled experiences that birthed them.
My father-in-law once remarked to me, in reference to his tour in Vietnam, that when he first returned he couldn?t speak of it at all. Then he could speak with nothing but anger. These many years later, he says, finally, he has acquired the right perspective. I fought no war per se, but I empathize with his statement. When I left Guatemala I swore I would never return?the plane couldn?t leave the tarmac fast enough!?and I stubbornly refused to look out the window, hoping only to banish the sight of her from my eyes and mind. I would have woven for you a furious yarn had I dared, at that time, to put pen to paper. But the years pass. I would like to go back now. Tell the land I forgive her, and thank her, too.
Would you believe that on a recent Sunday morning, over a cup of juice, wiping the sleep from my eyes, I found the name of one of the towns where I lived next to the AP byline in the weekend edition? How I gobbled up the words! It was a silly story about some circus dolphins stranded in a tiny pool in a highland town when the man who stole them from the sea ran off and left them behind. ?Oh, I know how you feel,? I thought, touching the page of printed words, ?you fish out of water, you victims of some villainous man.? But while my heart bled for them, I also had to laugh a bit; only in the Guatemalan mountains do dolphins swim in the village reservoir.
And then it struck me: I have gotten to that place where, looking back on my own experiences, I mostly just want to laugh, too. I can picture it easily: The bad man having run off, a gentle one remaining behind, not knowing any better, slipping a tamale to the marooned mammals. Giggling with glee when they splash him. Running home to his family, throwing back the front door, yelling with delight, ?I have caught for us the biggest fish!?
What I am trying to say is that there were a few good men.
A number of them lived in Linda Vista, and here is how I know.
Midway through my mountain sojourn I hiked down to San Marq to replenish my supplies. Toilet paper, peanut butter . . . these things ebb more quickly than you might think. In the tradition of all good alpine travelers, I waved goodbye to everyone along the path out of Linda Vista, shared with them the purpose of my trip, told them I would be back before sundown. Eben shuffled downhill, the empty duffels tied to him with chaffing ropes, prepared to haul back my own goods and the perishables for which every family had pressed into my palm one quetzal, fifty centavos??A bag of azúcar, ?sugar,? Miss, if it is not too much trouble? With the humblest gratitude might I request a small bit of rice???hat in hand, twisting skirt edge between gnarled fingers, passing to me their last few pennies. Eben would return loaded down.
I made good time and visited friends in San Marq, purchased supplies, packed the horse to overflowing. I started back toward the mountain at 2 PM. Barely moved one hundred feet.
?Elena!? a small child screamed, rushing up to me. ?Come now, come now! There has occurred a horrible accident! We need you, come!? she sobbed, tugging my dress. Cali ran ahead of us, Eben moored to a tree. The far-off screams crescendoed in piercing decibels as we thundered over the cobblestones back toward San Marq. I galloped to keep pace with the panicked child, who steered me across the back porch of my old house and into the yard of the elderly neighborhood thief. The one who had requisitioned my bed. The old woman lay on the ground next to a roaring fire, wailing an agonal moan. An immense iron cauldron canted, disconnected, from the brace that supported it over the flame. Tipped on its side, the massive pot leaked the last few spoonfuls of boiling corn mush, the rest having coated the woman?s bare legs from groin to toes in a hissing, bubbling, cooking mire.
Four other women arrived just as I did, beckoned by the cries.
?Water!? I screamed, and pointed to the pila uphill in my former yard. I reached to scoop the steaming soup from the old woman?s thighs, but it sent searing pain roaring through my hand, and I reflexively retreated. Yanking the little girl?s shirt over her head, I used the material to swipe off the top layer of ooze. The four women raced back from the pila, a tiny half-full plastic bowl of water in their collective eight hands.
I glared at them furiously?this itsy token to vanquish the floodburst of fire?
?No hay nada,? they said simultaneously, meekly, ?there is nothing else to bring you water in.?
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