Dancing in a Cemetery A Novel about Colombia
Copyright ÂŠ 2015 Varouj Pogharian All rights reserved
Cover Illustration Copyright ÂŠ 2010 Carlos Cepeda All rights reserved
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The authorâ€™s career in law-enforcement and criminal intelligence with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police spanned over thirty years in Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean. He worked in the areas of international drug trafficking, money-laundering, and National Security. This is his first novel. He can be contacted at SoledadsJourney@yahoo.com
Untitled acrylic on synthetic mesh 0.90 x 0.50 mt, 2010 by Carlos Cepeda. Carlos Cepeda is a Colombian artist who paints on net, a technique which allows light to feast on his colours and patterns in a way which not only suggests motion but actually captures it. He painted the cover immediately after hearing a news report about a bombing which had claimed several civilian lives. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
1 BELLA CIAO
Beáta Florian was one of the leaders of the student uprising against the communist regime in Budapest which began on October 23, 1956. Soviet tanks entered the city the next day to battle armed protesters and soldiers who had sided with the revolt. The fighting raged for five days. Beáta panicked more so than her boyfriend Andrzej. She was fearful of being arrested and forced to inform on her friends. Andrzej’s pleas to wait and see what happens did not sway her. They did not advise their parents that they intended to flee in order not to burden them. The decision was difficult as neither had a sibling. They managed to get to Austria and then crossed to Italy. In Genoa, they looked for a way to cross the Atlantic and reach Argentina where one of Beáta’s uncles who had left Hungary before the communist takeover worked as a football coach. The cheapest option was a cargo ship which was about to sail to Panama. It had reached the limit of 12 passengers. By law, the captain of a cargo ship needed to have a medical doctor on board once the number of passengers exceeded 12. Their funds were limited and they desperately wanted to be on their way. They made their case to the captain. He agreed to take them for free. He told them not to come on deck until the ship left port for he risked a hefty fine by not logging the passengers. The November air at sea was painfully cold. The afternoon waves shook the ship from side to side. Beáta and Andrzej became seasick and stayed in their windowless cabin. They saw the other passengers when they forced themselves to go to the cafeteria in the evening. Like the ship’s crew, they were middle-aged Asians and Africans. Captain Yani Papantoniou visited them on the third day. He had the long fingers of a pianist and the body of a flamenco dancer. He sat next to the open door and lit a cigarette. “Everyone is entitled to get sick except the cook,” he said in jest. “I see that you have no experience being at sea. It’s normal to get seasick and
throw up. Meteorology can only predict so much. If this keeps up, your voyage won’t be easy. So let’s hope the waves calm down. You’ll find comfort only when you sleep so please sleep as much as you can. Dehydration is the most painful way to die. Drink lots of water. One more thing. Be prepared for your mind to play tricks on you. Even experienced navigators, scientists, and poets fall prey to the sea’s mythical figures. I hope you’ll feel better soon.” He finished his cigarette and left. They stayed silent for the longest while. When they spoke, it was about their parents, friends, and places back home especially the palatial Gellert thermal baths in Budapest which their families visited often. “Communism is the best form of government,” the chain-smoking captain told them the next day. The Hungarians were shocked. Hadn’t the captain heard about the tanks that Hungary’s puppet communist regime sent out against their own people? Didn’t he know about Stalin’s purges, executions, deportations, and show trials, and the brutal repression by Stalinist parties across Eastern Europe? Beáta was about to argue when she felt Andrzej’s elbow. “Greeks and also Armenians and Assyrians suffered massacre after massacre in the hands of the Ottoman Turks. We lost Constantinople. When the Mongols were finished with us, it was the turn of the British to kill us. Then the Nazis. I was a teenager during the German-Italian occupation of Greece. We lost 250,000 people just to starvation imposed by German and Italian generals. In the town of Kalavryta where many members of my family used to live, our freedom fighters took 80 German soldiers prisoner. In reprisal, the occupying army took away the men and boys who were over 12 and killed them. The Germans returned three days later and set the town ablaze. What cowards! In total, about 700 innocent civilians died in Kalavryta. Our tragedy didn’t stop there. After our liberation from the Nazis, we got into a civil war orchestrated by the Americans under Truman. To win Washington’s favours, our generals chose to become vehemently anti-communist. I joined my father on the communist side to fight against both the Nazis and Greek fascists. The icing on the cake was the Americans and the Brits, instead of appreciating our efforts for fighting fascism, fought against us.” The communists lost the civil war. His father and others were dragged off to face a firing squad. Yani, too, was captured, tortured, and buried alive with a tube in his mouth for what seemed to be several days
before he was pulled up and banished to one of the islands. The captain didn’t hide his love and passion for Greece but said that he preferred to live on a stinky ship than in a fascist country. “Only God knows what more evil will fall on the Greeks. Washington and London had already intervened several times across the Middle East to control the flow of oil but our civil war was the first time after the Second World War when the Anglo-Saxons interfered in the internal politics of another country. Mark my words. They will wage many wars in the next 100 years to support oppressive regimes.” “I’m sure I saw a naked woman in that cabin,” Beáta said pointing to an open door as they headed to the cafeteria for breakfast. “It’s the sea playing tricks on you,” Andrzej said although he, too, had seen the Made-in-Japan inflatable human-sized pink doll with large pointy breasts, thick lips, large eyes, blond hair, and legs which opened outward. “Communism is the greatest virtue that society can bestow,” the captain told the incredulous Hungarians on his next visit. “It allows individuals to make sacrifices for freedom and peace and become a closed fist when they stand up to the wickedness of the bankers which govern the world.” It occurred to Andrzej that the captain was coaxing them to go back to their homeland and not suffer a life of exile like he had. Beáta was upset and wasn’t going to keep her mouth shut. “The problem with communism, captain, is that it forces everyone to think alike. Disagreements and contradictions, even if trivial, are not permitted. The secret police go to great lengths to shut down dissent no matter how small. They clamp down on freedom of thought and expression. Newspapers and the radio spew the official line without a hint of criticism. The regime always denies and covers up. No society can accept that for very long.” “Is that so?” “Yes, it is so. My father used to say that communism is for bums who can’t find a job. A communist who finds a job stops being a communist.”
“Perhaps. The other part of that saying is nobody stays an atheist when running a 40-degree fever.” “Just so you know,” Andrzej said with a smile, “there are atheists who are better Christians than the leaders of some of the Christian churches.” After the captain left, the conversation between the two turned argumentative and morbid. Would the captain throw them overboard if authorities boarded the ship? Was rape and robbery in the minds of the merchant marines and the other passengers? A crew member had his shortwave radio on in the cafeteria. They heard the breaking and crackling broadcast on BBC World Service that the Soviet Army had sent 17 divisions to invade all of Hungary. Thousands of civilians had been killed or wounded and many more were fleeing. They were filled with shock, anguish and melancholy. They were tempted to ask to borrow the radio. “We will reach Colon in the morning,” the captain told them that afternoon. The couple were dismayed to learn that the dense Darién jungle inhabited by a few indigenous tribes was the missing link in the PanAmerican Highway. The only way to travel from Panama to Colombia was by sea. It felt like they had been at sea for a month. “I’ll cross the canal like my grandfather did before me. The malaria was so bad then that he had to pump out the ship’s oil in the locks to kill the larvae. Tonight, I want you to enjoy bouzouki music.” He produced a reel-to-reel Magnetophon tape player. “The batteries should be good for an hour at least.” He held up a half-full bottle of Ouzo of Plomari. “This is the symbol of Greek culture. Drink, dance, and savour your youth. Nothing else should matter to you, my young friends. I wish you luck for the rest of your journey.” They were happy that he hadn’t gone on about the virtues of communism. In the middle of the night after they had finished the ouzo and the winds calmed down, Beáta thought she heard her name. Andrzej, too, was up battling anxiety thinking about the situation at home and what awaited them in the morning. It was the captain’s faint voice singing the anti-fascist song Bella Ciao in its original Italian.
This morning I woke up, o bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao. And I found the invader. Oh partisan, carry me away, for I feel I’m dying. And if I die as a partisan, you have to bury me, o bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao. But bury me up in the mountain under the shade of a beautiful flower. So the people who shall pass by will say: what a beautiful flower, o bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao. The flower of the partisan who died for freedom.
“One of my teachers was convinced that Mussolini had syphilis and was a heavy drug user,” Andrzej made conversation. “Probably true. He and his lover must have looked nice hanging upside down in Piazzale Loreto.” At daybreak, the captain sent a messenger that they will receive a signal to get off before security and sanitary officials came on board. They returned the tape player. Tall cranes and large warehouses came into view. Ships with peeling paint and flying the flags of Greece and Panama waited at sea to transit the canal. The Hungarians stepped out into pandemonium. The air was hot and humid, and the sky was the bluest they had ever seen. It felt good to be on land. There were voices in Spanish, English, Italian, Arabic, French, and Hebrew. Men with papers in their hands walked in different directions. A throng of mostly black labourers loaded and unloaded cargo, and spoke and shouted at each other in hard-to-understand English and Spanish. The Africans they had met in Hungary were timid university students. Beáta looked back. She thought she saw Captain Yani behind a window pane. “Bella ciao,” she whispered. Her life was to change forever. A large woman balancing a basket of fruits on her head walked up to them. She lowered the basket and gave them two bananas each. “Eat!” she ordered. “You dehydrated.” She clipped two coconuts with a machete, inserted straws, and handed to them. The soft taste of coconut water energized them. She led them to a food stand. The smell of fried fish opened their appetite. They ordered two soups and shared a plate
of fried sea bass and rice with coconut. Andrzej gladly parted with some of their precious American dollars. A late-season hurricane had just gone through the Caribbean. Sailboats and ships were readying to set sail after being idle for days. They opted for the cheapest two-day journey to Cartagena with a stop at one of the San Blas islands. Beáta felt uneasy as soon as she stepped on board. There was no life raft, and from what she could see, not enough life vests for the two dozen passengers and three crew members. She suspected that the marine VHF radio might not be in working order. “What happens if there’s an emergency?” Her voice was shrill. “I’m sure the crew has done this trip many times and can do it with their eyes closed. They probably rely on their senses and don’t need any equipment.” Beáta settled down once the boat was over calm waters. Having spent their lives in a landlocked country, the turquoise Caribbean overwhelmed their senses. Islands came into view. Naked children waved at passing ships. The smaller islands had a few palm trees. Some of the larger ones had churches of cement. Once the novelty of the sail wore off, the two felt the familiar pangs of seasickness and went in and out of the filthy toilet. Some passengers bought bottles of rum and dry cheese from the cook. “We will soon go over good fishing grounds,” a crew member explained as he set up outriggers and multiple lines for troll fishing. He pointed to a flock of dive-bombing birds in the distance. “The pelicans are our aviators. They tell us where the sardines are moving. Where there are sardines, there are big fish. We will have a good lunch,” he promised and ran off a list of fish: bluefish, swordfish, marlin, barracuda, tarpon, grouper, yellow fin tuna and the smaller black fin tuna. The Hungarians got the gist without the need to understand the types of fish. Sure enough, within minutes there was action. “Blue marlin! Blue marlin!” the Panamanians shouted.
Two sailfish leaped out of the water and flailed to shake off the hook. Suddenly, one broke loose and regained its freedom. The other reels screeched. Andrzej grabbed one and with great effort pulled in a yellow fin tuna. He took part in removing the hook and cutting up the fish. He hadn’t been that happy in a long time. “The tuna must have weighed a tonne!” he said proudly. With all the excitement around him, he had forgotten about Beáta. He could see that she was in a bad mood. “You ripped a fish out of its natural habitat with a hook in its mouth. It’s sadistic! That fish with the spear fought to death.” “But darling, they were caught for food. They live in a harsh environment. Fish don’t feel fear or pain or even psychological pain the way we do.” “How do you know that?” she shouted. “Killing other animals is part of life, part of nature,” he started but stopped. Beáta had every right to be upset about everything. Pieces of raw tender tuna meat were passed around. The boat docked at one of the 300 San Blas islands which were home to the Guna Indians. A small crowd gathered as if to witness an important event. The women wore long brightly-coloured skirts with geometric figures, and gold necklaces and rings pierced in their nose. There were a few small shacks next to trees. One had a hand-written Hotel sign. A few boxes were removed and two new passengers got on. “How I wish we could snorkel even for a few minutes in the clear waters,” Andrzej said trying to break the ice between the two. The white sandy beach and the tall palm and coconut trees which provided shade were inviting. “I need to eat something,” Beáta said. She hadn’t had the tuna or the marlin. She put her head on his shoulder. “I apologize for my outburst.” They were surprised when a middle-aged American showed up to pick up an envelope from the captain.
“Where can we buy some food?” Andrzej asked on behalf of Beáta. The American whistled. A man came running. “You should visit us someday, ya hear?” he said with the spontaneity of an American while he looked at Beáta as a predator would its prey. “I’ll get the permission from the cacique.” Within minutes, Beáta was served pickled chicken for a late lunch. At dusk, the skipper went below deck and returned with two bottles of Johnny Walker whisky and several cartons of Marlboro cigarettes. The passengers, except the two Europeans, understood that the ship was transporting contraband. Andrzej and Beáta had no clue why the skipper made a fuss about the blue label of the whisky. They declined a glass of whisky but accepted a carton of Marlboros even though they did not smoke. “In case we run into our friend,” Beáta quipped remembering the chain-smoking captain. Beáta and Andrzej were sleeping uncomfortably facing each other on a single berth when the skipper who was built like a wrestler with a wide neck, entered their cabin. He was drunk. He lifted Andrzej from the collar, threw him to the ground, and moved on top of Beáta. Andrzej got up and grabbed the assailant from behind. He took an elbow on the side of his face and fell against the wall. A passenger called for help. Only when the small and bony cook arrived and put a knife to the skipper’s throat did he stop. “You fucking pig!” she shouted. “Get away! What do you think you are doing? Fuck me like you used to if you can get it up. Come on!” In the morning, Beáta felt awkward and Andrzej had a swollen cheekbone. The lush shoreline had disappeared. The skipper tried to be invisible. The cook waved to them from her corner and made the motion of a knife cutting off a penis. The waves played with the boat. It sounded as if the boat was scraping against reefs. Andrzej and Beáta were the only ones who were terrified. They spent the entire afternoon in their cabin as they had done the
previous week struggling to keep their stomachs calm. They wondered if the brutish skipper had the proper skills to pull out of the storm. They did not get a wink of sleep. “Maybe there is a God,” Beáta said seeing the bright morning sun. Cartagena came into view in late afternoon. To the right rose a modern city. To the left, behind the ramparts, there were colourful colonial roofs and towers. The skipper waited at sea for nightfall. The boxes of contraband would be offloaded under the cover of darkness and the protection of customs officers. They checked in at the first hostel they saw. Beáta urgently wanted to wash up. In the morning, young and old, women and men stared at the couple. Being out at sea for ten days had made Beáta’s hair blonder. When they spoke in their language, they became an even bigger attraction. They were in no mood to play tourist by going to the Old City. They had to keep moving if they wanted to reach Buenos Aires. They bought some fruit and cheese, made a promise to return to Cartagena, and got on the first bus for Bogotá. When they woke up, the bus was climbing the majestic mountains of Santander. Passengers with clothes impregnated by smoke from woodburning stoves, dampness, and the smell of wet dogs and farm animals had replaced the perfumed bodies which had boarded in Cartagena. In Bucaramanga, passengers got off, new ones came on, and a new driver took over the wheel. A winding road took them to the bottom of the Chicamocha Canyon. As the bus made its way up the steep road, it broke down. Everyone got off into the scorching heat. The driver and his assistant put some stones and leafy branches a few metres behind and in front of the bus, and slid underneath it. Beáta and Andrzej stood under a tree and listened to the rumbling of the Fonce and Suárez Rivers working their way through the canyon. A fellow passenger offered them a paper bag with something to eat. Hormigas culonas, she said with a smile and added afrodisiaco. Andrzej was at a loss to explain what it was that he had put in his mouth. It was tasteless. “They’re the abdomen and paws of large ants, fried and unsalted,” Beáta helped out. “If our parents knew what we were up to, they would go insane.”
The bus got back on the road after an hour. In San Gil, it pulled into a garage for repairs. In the soft light of late afternoon, they crossed the green tapestry of Boyacá. Here and there, ploughmen worked their fields. Streams ran through uninhabited fields. Peasants, either very young or very old, walked on the road wearing the traditional handmade ruana, a woollen poncho, and a brimmed hat and rubber boots. Their skin was burnt by sun and cold, and their bodies looked calloused. “Can you picture me wearing what those humble people are wearing,” Beáta said referring to the ruana. “It says so much about the person wearing it.” “This is how I imagine the world to have been back in the 18th century,” Andrzej said. “The landscape evokes images of early settlers on mules. Maybe we should get a piece of land one day and return to the basics in order to enjoy physical and spiritual peace.” “We weren’t born with a hoe in our hand, but we can give it a try. I’m with you.” From the time of the Spanish conquest, large areas of central Colombia were cleared to open the fields to grow barley, wheat, carrots, and potatoes and obtain wood for construction and cooking. “I wonder how the treeless hillsides hold up under heavy rainfall,” Andrzej said. “I don’t see any reforestation projects. It isn’t inconceivable that without trees, the force of the water during the rainy season would remove the thin topsoil, raze the ground and create flood conditions and cause droughts for the rest of the year.” The bus stopped in the city of Tunja. Two of Colombia’s most important battles for independence had been fought in the area. The first and bloodiest was at the Swamp of Vargas. The second was at the Boyacá Bridge where in 1819, Republican forces under Simón Bolívar and assisted by English legions set out from the plains of Casanare, crossed the Andes and after 77 days engaged and defeated the royal forces at the bridge. Gran Colombia came into being which was subsequently broken up into Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Peru, and Ecuador. A large monument visible from the road commemorated the battle. Five allegoric female
statues symbolizing the countries which succeeded Gran Colombia held Bolívar on their shoulders. The Europeans were surprised that there was no bus terminal in the capital city. They felt intimidated by the hustlers walking among the passengers. They decided to keep on going and took a bus for Cali. They reached the city of Armenia at noon the next day. Due to landslides, the eight hour trip had taken them 12 hours. It took another three hours to reach Cali. A passenger had been observing the restlessness of the foreigners. He insisted that they stay with him and his wife. The couple craved for a shower, mattress, and human company. They agreed. After taking a shower, they sat for a supper of fresh seafood from the nearby Pacific. Juan Manuel worked as a driver for a California-based pharmaceutical company. Over the years, he had picked up a good deal of English. They retired to the bedroom and slept right through the night. Unbeknown to them, Juan Manuel, the son of Japanese migrants and his wife Juanita, a dark-skinned Paez Indian, had given up the main bedroom to the visitors while they slept in a small room behind the kitchen. Two of the couple’s children and their children came over for breakfast. It was Saturday and Juan Manuel didn’t have to work. The Colombians were all ears. Juanita was the most curious. She asked through her husband about the trains and highways, tall buildings, houses, public gardens, and the castles of Europe. Beáta was taken by the perky Juanita who exuded pride and confidence. “The Jesuits who claimed to be God’s soldiers failed to convert the Paez Indians,” she explained. “The Lazarists succeeded recently and only because many of us got tired of resisting.” They went out on a city tour. The hosts boasted that Cali had proper urban planning unlike other Colombian cities and towns. Even the poor neighbourhoods had infrastructure and social services. The visitors were impressed by the city’s cleanliness and tranquillity. As they approached the centre, they saw broken windows in many buildings but did not ask about it lest they embarrass their hosts. They visited small plazas and churches before reaching the large Gothic Church of the Hermit which overlooked the Cali River. An 18th century painting known as Lord of the Sugarcane inside the church was said to have miraculous powers. The church was closed. They went to the market behind the church. They had many choices for lunch: soup, meat pie, seafood, fried fish over rice, and
blood sausages. Juanita recommended the shark with rice and a variety of molluscs. They visited more parks for the rest of the afternoon. The last one had llamas, and doves and birds inside small cages. The Hungarians had no way of knowing that Cali had suffered a huge tragedy three months earlier. Army trucks loaded with ammunition including dynamite parked downtown, had exploded in the early morning hours killing more than a thousand, half of them in the nearby army barracks, and wounding at least 12,000 of the city’s 120,000 inhabitants. A three-block radius was razed. The crater from the explosion which had registered 4.5 on the Richter scale and was heard in distant towns was 50 metres wide and 25 metres deep. The mystery blast could have been triggered by an overheated truck, human error, or sabotage. President Rojas Pinilla blamed it on the liberal and conservative opposition which had just signed a power-sharing pact to replace him. Most Japanese migrants to South America had gone to Peru to work as farm labourers particularly in the cotton fields. Juan Manuel’s parents had migrated to Colombia with the wave of 1928. He was born the following year. He didn’t know why his parents and the rest of the small community had ended up in Cali. During World War II, detectives frequently came to search their home, his parents, and the three children as well. When his father was taken away to be interned in Fusagasugá, a municipality near Bogotá, Juan Manuel being the eldest took responsibility for the farm and operated the large farm machines. He went to the bank once or twice a month to wire transfer money to the guards who demanded payment to feed the internees. “Did they think your family was spying?” Beáta asked. “Spying on what? The government was responding to Washington’s request.” The Japanese government was considering offering support to the Nikkei such as providing scholarships to their children to study in Japan. Juan Manuel hoped that his grandchildren would benefit from those scholarships. “They’ll have to learn Japanese I suppose,” Andrzej said. “Japan has a university which instructs in English. We are sending the grandchildren to an American school here.”
Back at the apartment, they listened to tropical music. “Our rhythms come from Cuba which, like us, has sugarcane plantations and a hot tropical weather.” “How did Cuban music reach all the way down here?” Beáta wanted to know. “Shortwave radio. After the abolition of slavery, former plantation slaves moved to the cities in large numbers particularly to Cali which is the largest city close to the Pacific. Caleños heard and loved the music played by other former slaves using African musical instruments.” Beáta and Andrzej received a crash course on dancing the mambo. Andrzej, unlike Beáta, struggled to combine hand and feet movements with skipping motions. Seeing that he was having a hard time getting rid of his fear of dancing, the hosts gave him one piece of advice: just listen to the music and have fun. The music and rhythms at Sugarcane Park were unlike anything the Europeans had experienced. They hadn’t had a night out for months. People danced furiously moving their arms, hands, fingers, and most of all, hips. The women were sent into spins and pirouettes. Yet, all movements were smooth and understated. Andrzej’s eyes wandered toward the scantily dressed caleñas with different shades of skin colour young and voluptuous older women, some of whom could have been twice his age, who looked back and smiled. Beáta teased him. Juan Manuel, who had had a few beers, pulled Andrzej’s leg with a straight face saying that there is a law in Cali which required women to have sex only with their husbands, and that the first time that happens, the man’s mother must be in the room to attest to the bride’s improbable virginity. “Let’s see if you are brave enough to translate that for Juanita,” Beáta said. “I’m not that brave.” There was an altercation at the entrance. Two black men were punched, kicked, and thrown out of the club by staff. Beáta and Andrzej had their heart in their mouth from fright and wanted to know what was happening. Juan Manuel explained that the bouncers hadn’t allowed the black men in.
“It is unusual for black men to refuse to leave quietly,” Juanita said. “Probably, they are drunk.” “But there are black women in the club,” Beáta said surprised. “And we are in 1956!” “Why does racism exist in Colombia?” Andrzej asked over a cup of tea back at the house before calling it a night. Neither Beáta nor he had been able to get over what they had witnessed. “The unequal relationship between the whites and blacks is a legacy of slavery and colonization. We are a mix of many cultures yet racism is rampant. I’m told that on the Caribbean coast, it is more brutal than here. The white elite inherited power and received royal title to thousands of hectares. They, like their ancestors, enslaved the Indians and brought in blacks to work the lands. To protect their good fortune, they designed a society which reaffirms the colonial structure by granting themselves sole access to political, social, and economic power. The indigenous and black populations which make up the majority here are excluded from every privilege.” “Exclusion!” Beáta exclaimed exposing her Marxist education. “The few excluding the many.” “The whites not only inherited the sugarcane plantations and other large land holdings, gold and other mines, but the superiority complex and laziness of feudal lords as well which still flow in their veins. They enjoy and will continue to enjoy the fruits of their ancestors’ illegal gains. They feel entitled.” “They see themselves as civilized, cultured, and decent,” Juanita had her husband translate after getting a summary of what he had said. “When they travel to European capitals, I imagine they are able to act like citizens of the modern world. On their return, they revert to treating their black and Indian servants as slaves and expect to be served like in colonial times.” “Can this go on? Isn’t it a matter of time before they are dethroned?” Beáta asked. “The encounter of the two worlds was a huge disaster, Juanita is saying. One hundred and fifty years after the removal of the Spanish
colonists from the continent, our schools continue to teach children to idolize the former masters instead of teaching that they massacred entire dynasties and tribes, and killed their slaves through exhaustion. Today, Cauca’s territory is being gobbled up by sugarcane plantations owned by a few white families. At the rate we are going, many of the communities won’t have land to live on. The end result will be ever-deepening social problems. If I, a simple chauffeur, can see all that happening, how can our leaders not see it?” “What was your father’s experience as a newcomer?” Beáta asked. “My father early on concluded that a Colombian individual is more intelligent than a Japanese, but two Japanese are much more intelligent than two Colombians. You understand what I am getting at?” He laughed. “My father started as a labourer and became a foreman on a sugarcane field before he bought his own small farm. He saw opposing groups of liberals and conservatives displace the peasants and each other for lands which originally had not belonged to them. Contrary to what is supposed to be happening with the reforms in land ownership, the elite still manage, as they always do, to acquire more land instead of going along even slightly with the government’s redistribution plans. What is a constant is the killing by both the liberals and conservatives of large numbers of peasants. If the past is an indicator of the future, we cannot be very optimistic about the future of non-whites in this country. We won’t see a black or Indian government minister, a general, admiral, a diplomat, banker, or cardinal for a hundred or more years. Most of us were convinced that under General Rojas Pinilla, things would get better. It’s been three years since he came to power. In many ways, Rojas Pinilla is a visionary. He’s building airports all over the country even as far away as in San Andrés, Leticia, Quibdó, on both coasts, and Nariño. As far as I know, he’s the only Latin American military man who took power without a coup. The politicians themselves decided to put him at the helm. Things started off well and change was in the air. Unfortunately, what we are again seeing is corruption in the president’s inner circle. It’s always the same story. Power and corruption are perfect bedfellows. The politicians who put him in power are now betraying him and want him out.” “In time, the wealthy whites will kill each other over their dubious possessions,” Juan Manuel translated for his wife. She then asked him to tell the visitors about the explosion of the military truck.
The visitors woke up feeling groggy and with ears buzzing from the loud music. Their finances had taken a beating as they had paid for all the drinks at the Sugarcane Park. To show their immense gratitude to their hosts, they went out to the San Andresito contraband market and bought a Grundig transistor radio, or an imitation of it. Juanita packed a snack and gave them a blanket. The Hungarians left Cali with the best possible impression of a Colombian household. The New Soviet person, the one who was supposedly blessed by a selflessness nurtured by communist ideology, already existed in at least one household in Cali. They wished that one day, they, too, would have in them the ability to extend unreserved kindness to strangers. The bus stopped at the first of several checkpoints on the city’s outskirts. To comfort Beáta, Andrzej said that the roadblocks were meant to prevent robberies. At the third checkpoint, all passengers were ordered off the bus. Andrzej’s and Beáta’s hearts throbbed. When the soldiers saw the European driver’s licenses, they showed utmost respect and told them in gestures to go to the other side of the bus. The other passengers were questioned and patted down. The bus climbed to higher grounds and the temperature cooled. Andrzej was glad that they had left the risk of malaria behind. The ride was bumpy especially for them sitting in the rear. The bus took a long detour on a dirt road because of a mudslide. The panorama of gently rolling hills and the rich vegetation were spectacular. Outside the town of Toribío, there was another checkpoint. The foreigners were again sent to the other side of the bus. This time, they heard the soldiers’ harsh orders. “I think they’re stealing the passengers’ money,” Beáta said. “Don’t look!” Andrzej advised. “Look at that tree.” He pointed to a giant red cedar on the side of the road which he hadn’t expected to see in the relatively warm temperature. “And after you have finished looking at it, look up to the sky. We have never seen a sun this radiant.” A young police officer peeked across from time to time. Beáta wasn’t looking up. She looked back. “And you thought the checkpoints were there to prevent robberies. If the police are robbing from the poor in broad daylight, what else could be going on in this country?”
The bus returned to a paved road at Totoro. A young man boarded the bus at Popayán and sat on their row. He introduced himself. He spoke functional English and was keen to practise it. He was a university student on his way to visit an uncle in Ipiales for the Christmas holidays. His parents lived in Villavieja at the edge of the Tatacoa desert. He said there were some Germans there who got together on market day on Mondays to drink beer and speak in their own language. There was also a reclusive Russian woman who painted in watercolour. He was very surprised that the foreigners hadn’t travelled to nearby Popayán. “It’s the Jerusalem of the Americas. It’s known as the White City because of the colour of its historic centre. Thousands of the faithful travel to the city during Holy Week to commemorate the death and passion of Jesus Christ. A magnificent procession carries the images of our Lord and the Virgin past numerous churches as they head to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Asunción. The devotion of the faithful is seducing. The job of bearer is hereditary and is considered an honour. My older brother inherited that honour.” “Tell me something,” Beáta said. “Hasn’t the country become secular and people less believing?” “It’s all part of tradition, Beáta!” Andrzej jumped in. She had touched a sensitive subject. “The celebrations of Holy Week demonstrate otherwise, señora.” There was a change in his tone. “Holy Week in Popayán takes one very close to divinity. The procession is a reminder that like Jesus at his moment of death, we, too, can enjoy an immortal life next to God.” The student turned passionate again when he described Tierradentro’s underground tombs and the archaeological park of San Agustín with its more than 400 enigmatic statues dispersed over a large area. “From the late 19th century to the beginning of the 20th, the Colombian state did not consider the removal of archaeological pieces out of the country illegal. Treasure hunters and looters, many of them professional archaeologists, removed a large number of the statues to auction them off in Europe. Many statues are on display in museums in Spain, Germany, and the US, and more disturbingly, some are in the hands of private collectors.” He was embarrassed to mention the Vatican.
“The statues you described must weigh hundreds of kilos. How can they be removed without proper authorization?” “I don’t know how they do it but I can assure you that in my country, smuggling anything of any size is not difficult. Even if the statues have the ability to harness the spirits of the dead and the power of the supernatural world, they’ll be helpless before a Colombian smuggler.” They woke up to a magnificent view of sharp peaks, precipitous gorges, deep green valleys, and more than a few cascades. Their friend was wide awake. “We are crossing the area where the Andes split into the Western, Central, and Eastern Ranges. The rain forest here is the source of the Cauca River which you see below. It flows into the Magdalena to provide most of its water and together they lumber northward like the Nile River, between the Central and Eastern Ranges to the Caribbean Sea.” “Are there thermal springs in this area?” Beáta asked and looked at Andrzej with a smile. They felt a twinge of nostalgia for the life they had left behind. “Yes, At Coconuco not far from here there are thermal baths. The Central Range is home to several volcanoes. We are in an active volcanic zone.” Inside a valley was the city of Pasto with its skyline dominated by the Galeras volcano and its cloud-covered summit. The couple made a spur of the moment decision to get off. If they had missed Popayán and San Agustín, they weren’t about to miss more sites. In addition, Andrzej was uneasy with the idea of crossing the border into Ecuador without any sort of travel documents. They needed to give it careful thought. Their Colombian friend was delighted and gave them a hug. He gladly received the carton of Marlboros. “You should visit the cathedral near Ipiales. It’s not very far,” was the student’s final piece of advice. They took a room in a small inn a few blocks from the central plaza with a private bath and hot running water. Since leaving Hungary, they had only had cold showers. They had the best coffee they had ever tasted. Outside, they were awestruck by the rich colonial architecture in the city
centre the likes of which they had only seen in textbook photos and illustrations, and very briefly in Cartagena. There were a dozen large churches among them the main Cathedral and the churches of Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, San Felipe, and San Sebastián. They were told that there were another 54 churches of medium importance and another 123 smaller ones across the city. Each time a pastuso befriended them, a small crowd gathered. It felt like they were befriending dozens of people at the same time. A few spoke English or French and asked interesting questions. The Europeans were impressed by how savvy the people were. Their first lunch was cuy, a mix of guinea pig and rat. They watched as the animal was sacrificed, dropped into hot water to remove its skin, slit open to remove the innards, seasoned and grilled over coal in a barrel cut in half. They enjoyed the greasy thin layers of meat and, most of all, the friendly atmosphere in all of Pasto. They lost the feeling of being isolated. They hadn’t had any contact with their families. They knew from the little bit of news they heard that the Soviets had rooted out revolutionaries and all insurgent holdouts. They didn’t need to be told that the authorities would be inquiring about them, especially Beáta. She needed to stay as far away as possible while the communists remained in power. After four days, feeling completely rested, they decided to take a trip to one of Colombia’s largest and most beautiful lakes, the Laguna de la Cocha located less than an hour from Pasto. The bus took them up the green mountains of the Colombian Massif where several rivers were born. The bus descended toward the lake’s mirror-like water. “This is an amazing sight!” Beáta said with excitement. Pine forests skirted the lake and Swiss chalets dotted the landscape. The view reminded her of Europe. “It looks like the Amazon jungle has been halted by the mountains and the lake. In Europe, a beautiful area like this would have been turned into a world-class resort featuring several sport facilities.” Lunch was a garlicky rainbow trout. They enjoyed the chirping of the birds and the view of the Bordoncillo volcano on the other side of the lake. They returned to Pasto, paid their hotel bill, picked up their one small suitcase, and returned to the lake before nightfall. They had decided to end their journey in the most peaceful and isolated place they had ever known. Buenos Aires would have to wait. Budapest with its large avenues and bridges, the Danube, and beautiful buildings and parks had to be relegated to memory. The approaching New Year would be their new beginning.
They found work at Nestlé. In the midst of the busy holiday season, the dairy product plant needed more production-line workers. They rented a small cottage in the Encano neighbourhood. To access the cottage, they needed to cross a number of small bridges over navigable channels. The cool temperatures were pleasant but it took some time to get used to the cold showers. In their spare time, they practised primitive agriculture and grew their own vegetables in the backyard. Other than potatoes, vegetables weren’t readily available in the local markets. They considered taking their surplus produce to market until they found out that intermediaries had set up cooperatives to control prices and keep most of the profit. They directed their energy to learning about the Awá, Quillacinga, and Inga indigenous groups and their customs, and the many legends about the lake. They read any book they could get their hands on and methodically questioned anyone with historical information. As a hobby, Beáta took up decorating vases and wood and leather handicrafts with relief of flowers, horses, and landscapes using the rubber-like resin from the boiled seeds of the mopa-mopa plant. Most Sundays, they hired a boat to go for a picnic on the forested, oval-shaped, and breezy island of Corota in the middle of the lake which was populated by frogs, wild mice, and butterflies. The water was too cold and dark to swim in but they took in the island’s energy. Occasionally, they saw native groups holding traditional ceremonies. Andrzej patiently sketched the trees, flowers, and bushes which he found and identified on the island: alnus acuminata, eugenia, clusia, hesperomeles glabrata, drymis granantesis, tibouchina, weinmannia tomentosa, and saurauia sccabra in addition to a variety of orchids and bromeliads. Two years on, their Spanish was functional. The locals had their particular accent and spoke without moving their lips or jaw much which had made understanding them difficult at first. They felt very much at ease and started to have thoughts about starting a family. Everything changed when Andrzej, longing for an intellectual challenge and remembering his days as a student of architecture, decided to write a book on Nariño’s architecture. A co-worker old enough to be his father agreed to drive him to the Gothic-style Sanctuary of Our Lady of Las Lajas, one of the most important architectural works in Colombia which he had heard from many people, including the student on the bus, to be magnificent. Beáta was uneasy but did not object.
“You have lived among us for a few years already. You must have noticed that insubordination plays a big role in the culture of Nariño.” Andrzej was all ears during the drive. “We pastusos handle the Spanish language perfectly. We consider ourselves more intelligent than the rest of Colombia. We even enjoy telling jokes about ourselves. Geographically isolated Pasto was extremely religious and a royalist city unlike the rest of the country. The inhabitants did not want independence from Spain. It turns out they had good reason. In the 150 years since independence, the country has gone through more than a dozen regional civil wars and eight national civil wars. We probably would have been better off without independence. My ancestors were happy to live and work with the Spanish. They understood that the Spanish Crown was the only obstacle to the voracious appetite for power of the local elites. The Crown, for all its faults, looked after the weak unlike the Creole feudal lords we ended up with. My forebears formed militias to defend not fight Spanish rule. Viva el Rey! they shouted as they defeated Bolívar who was forced to come back with an English battalion to take Pasto on Christmas Eve 1822 when the inhabitants were drunk. The rest of Colombia is infatuated with Bolívar but we consider him a ruffian who ignored the law and a Freemason who spent time with his South American revolutionary peers at the Great American Reunion lodge in London plotting to end the Spanish empire. We hold him responsible for the massacres in Nariño. Because of that stance, to this day the rest of Colombia considers us untrustworthy.” Before them stood the majestic cathedral deep inside the gorge of the Guáitara River embedded into the mountain. The grey and white sanctuary had been built nearly a hundred years ago to honour the Virgin Mary on the spot where in 1754, the image of the Virgin had appeared to a deaf-mute indigenous girl. Pilgrims credited the sanctuary for as many miracles as Lourdes in France. Andrzej took in the beauty of the structure and its setting, the cascades and some wildlife he saw in the distance before he began to sketch. After an hour, he went inside the cathedral. They then drove ten kilometres to the naturally formed Rumichaca Bridge on the border. Rumi chaca in Quechua translated to bridge of stone which is what it was. The two nations’ Customs Houses faced each other on the short bridge surrounded by eucalyptuses and pines. On both sides of the border, there were taxis, hawkers, money changers holding bundles of notes, clerks sitting behind typewriters offering to process customs documents, and a few visitors who moved slowly taking photographs. They grabbed lunch at a
food stall. The Colombian suggested driving to Tulcán a few minutes across the border. Andrzej didn’t want to take a chance by crossing the border without proper travel documents and without Beáta. They veered to a country road in order to explore the bottom slopes of the still-active Galeras Volcano. “That’s the second way to bring in contraband from Ecuador,” the driver said when they came across horses and mules carrying merchandise. “The first way was at the bridge where thousands of trucks are made invisible, or a single manifest is used to bring in multiple shipments.” “What are they bringing?” Andrzej asked. “It can be anything. Rice, cooking oil, or even weapons. The merchandise is transported all the way to Medellín. Most of the country is covered by the Andes. We have some of the world’s most complicated borders with Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, the Amazon River, the Pacific Ocean, and the Caribbean Sea. No wonder Colombia is a smugglers’ paradise.” Along the way, the two Nestlé workers were kidnapped. After a week, the kidnappers contacted the company. Negotiations quickly got off the rails because of the military’s unsolicited interference which caused the inexperienced kidnappers to lose their nerve and abort the negotiations. The caller was hostile, aggressive, and threatening as he needed to be to get his way. The soldier on the other end of the phone was even more hostile, aggressive, and threatening. Beáta was panicked, confused, and had many questions. She blamed herself for not having insisted that Andrzej not wander off the way he did. At first, she imagined Andrzej agonizing in a small dark space. Andrzej would know that she was worried and suffering immensely, maybe more than he. After a few days, she forced her mind to think differently. Yes, Andrzej has developed a friendship with his captors. He trusts them and they trust him. He is discovering new mountains, forests and rivers. At night, he sleeps in a hammock and gazes into the night sky trying to hone his knowledge of astronomy. She wanted to believe that the captors would have given him a radio so he could listen to music and the news, and brought books of his choice to read, and fresh underwear. She hoped against hope that they would allow him to contact her on her birthday. She had a hard time to bring closure. During a Sunday picnic, Andrzej had expressed his wish to be buried in Hungary even if the
country were still under communist rule. She could not fulfil his wish. Her nights were lonely and cold. She had to reach deep down to find the strength to live in La Cocha. The months and years rolled by. Life as she knew it would never be the same. Two decades later, kidnapping went from being a latent risk to an industry. Guerrillas, paramilitaries, drug traffickers and other criminals, and also politicians used it to make lots of money or as a weapon to exert pressure on the government and on each other. The wealthy were forced to purchase ransom insurance, receive training, and implement meticulous security measures. Dubious crisis-management consultants profited by playing on the fears of the victims’ families. Oddly enough, being kidnapped by the guerrillas’ well-oiled and sophisticated machine was a blessing in disguise since, unlike criminal gangs who were known to be brutal and stupid, they generally kept their victims alive. Andrzej’s disappearance was the first of a series of devastating events. She received news from her uncle in Buenos Aires that her father, a completely apolitical person, had been arrested on trumped up charges and sent to jail. The news followed that he died while in jail and her mother entered a mental asylum. She was at a loss what to do. She learnt that Andrzej’s parents moved back to Serbia. She had no way to contact them to let them know of his disappearance. There had been talk of better employment prospects but the hoped-for foreign investments and projects never materialized. The region’s milkmen expressed their displeasure with the rates that Nestlé paid them. Nestlé held firm and refused to better the rates. In response, the milkmen organized a cooperative to compete with Nestlé and paid higher rates to the milk suppliers. Social unrest grew and dark clouds gathered. The military’s presence became more visible. Beáta decided to regularize her Colombian residency. She took the bus to Pasto numerous times and went from office to office in vain. Someone finally advised her to return to her port of entry to undo the mistake of her illegal landing. That was the push she needed to leave. By relocating to Cartagena, she was in a way keeping the promise she had made with Andrzej to return there. She looked forward to a better job and more importantly, a better social life. The bureaucratic run-around was worse in Cartagena. Three months into the process, agents from the internal security agency, the
Administrative Department of Security, DAS, which had the responsibility for migratory controls, took her into custody on immigration charges. She spent the night in a holding cell. In the morning, an agent whispered that the only way she would be able to get her papers sorted out was by meeting with the governor of Bolívar in a hotel room. “Dress nicely,” he instructed her. The DAS was created recently under the tutelage of the CIA to be the eyes and ears of Colombia’s president and serve Washington’s needs as well. It reported directly to the president. So it was that the governor, a large and boisterous man with bad breath sent a driver once a week to pick up Beáta and take her to a different hotel room. Each time after he finished showering, he gave her forms to fill out and sign, and assured her that the process was moving forward. Soon, friends of the governor from as far as Bogotá and Medellín met Beáta in hotel rooms. Try as hard as she did, she could not recall at what point she started charging for her services and when customers started calling her Belleza, beauty. She obtained her residency papers thanks to one of her Bogotá regulars, not the governor, and at the same time lost her elegance. The blond European trophy was frequently seen in the city’s best restaurants with paying customers for lunch and dinner and enjoying expensive wines. Her nights usually ended in a casino and a suite at Hotel Caribe or another luxury hotel. She had champagne breakfasts in bed. With the advent of the breakfast buffet, she started putting on weight. In the lobby of Hotel Caribe, an American woman from Chicago approached her. Beáta enjoyed the interaction in English. The American asked her about life on the Caribbean coast. Beáta consciously lied. “I was divorced last year. I wanted to get away from my previous life by moving here.” The two women moved to the bar. After a couple of drinks, the American made her move. She invited Beáta to her room to meet her husband. Once in the room, the woman gave a wad of American dollars, more than what Andrzej and she had in their pockets when they left Hungary, for Beáta to have sex with her husband while she watched.
Newspaper accounts about Hungary and Nariño often caught her eye. Ranchers and businesses were fleeing Nariño as the guerrillas expanded south. From Rumichaca all the way up to the line which divided Cali between its rich and poor areas, and extending east to the borders with Peru and Brazil and west to the Pacific, southern Colombia was stuck in a state of backwardness, poverty, violence, social and economic inequality, unemployment, and lack of educational opportunities. She chuckled when she read that a bi-national project for a concrete bridge at Rumichaca was taking such a long time to complete that the word Rumichaca became a metaphor for unjustified delays in infrastructure building and public works. She wasn’t entirely surprised to read that the FARC had forced Nestlé to abandon Nariño. The company had relocated to César state not far from where she was. She was excited to read that Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty was to visit Colombia. She thought of travelling to Bogotá to get a glimpse of her hero, maybe even touch him. The anti-communist cleric had bravely faced his enemies and had been arrested in December 1948. He was taken to army barracks where he was tortured. When he fell ill, he was put under house arrest. During the fleeting 1956 revolution, the cardinal had continued his push for freedom. At the exact time Beáta and Andrzej arrived in Italy, the cardinal took refuge in the US Embassy. He stayed there for 15 years until he was granted refuge in Austria. As the date of the Bogotá visit approached, Beáta felt unworthy of the cardinal and cancelled her own travel plans. The bombshell news about perestroika and glasnost heralded the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite states. The Soviet regime hadn’t been able to introduce much-needed economic reforms and implement political freedoms. The surprise development was bittersweet. In retrospect, she considered her student activism infantile. Her life would have been so different had she just minded her own business and not gotten involved in the protests. On the day Hungary broke from Moscow, she felt a void like never before. Alone in her apartment, she put Zorba’s Dance in the CD player, tied together two coloured scarves around her large waist, closed her eyes to slow down the tears, and imitated the dance she had seen in the movie. She stepped forward with her left foot, tapped the ball of her right foot and kicked her right foot forward. How she would have liked for Andrzej to be next to her so they could put their arms on each other’s shoulders and dance! With arms raised, she went round and
round. The melody of the next song sounded Greek but the lyrics were in English.
I am your shadow. You are my rain. I am your madness. You are my tears. I am your sadness. You are my dreams. I am you. You are me. We are one. Forever and after.
The music stopped. She looked at the CD cover. The song was ‘Tango to Evora’. The tango had originated in the brothels of Buenos Aires, the city which should have been their final destination. She made up her mind to obtain either a Colombian or Hungarian passport and find the courage to one day travel to Hungary.
Guerrilla attacks inside the major cities were practically eliminated. There was optimism that the FARC had finally lost their battlefield advantage. Cartagena’s tourism sector was projected to grow vertiginously. Foreign and local investors were lining up to receive ten-year tax holidays to build hotels. Residents of Bogotá and Medellín talked about travelling once again to Cartagena by road. The city’s real estate prices showed no sign of slowing. Beáta went with the flow and invested in real estate. She bought a decrepit building in the Old City which she sold two years on to an hotelier and made a good profit. Next, she bought a condominium in Bocagrande for long-term rental. Her fifth acquisition which was her most expensive investment was a penthouse under construction in the country’s tallest building. The 50-storey building had a defective footing and started to tilt before it was completed. The structure had to be dismantled and rebuilt. The episode caused Beáta anxiety. A frigate captain convinced her that she could become rich by investing her money with him. She had seen get-richquickly schemes prosper all around her and had no doubt that in Colombia, people could become rich overnight. She started out with small deposits.
Her money nearly doubled after the first month. The naval officer convinced her to reinvest the interest instead of withdrawing it. The monthly statements she received continued to show a staggering growth. She started to sell her real estate holdings one by one to make more deposits. A year hadn’t gone by when the pyramid scheme hit the headlines and instantly collapsed. Her only remaining property was in the Getsemaní district of the Old City. She managed a small night club on the highway to Barranquilla. At the start of the new millennium, she opened a brothel in Getsemaní. Her clients were no longer the city’s powerful politicians, the wealthy, and high-ranking military, naval, and police officers. A client from Bogotá remained loyal to her through thick and thin. His name was Ignacio Barrera or Nacho for short. He was a widower who struggled with bouts of bi-polarity. More than any of her clients, he appreciated her intelligence and laughter, and ability to discuss a wide-range of topics. He, too, called her Belleza. Their first encounter had taken place in a cabin belonging to the Navy on Múcura Island in the San Bernardo archipelago 40 nautical miles from Cartagena. Ignacio knew an admiral who authorized access to the officers’ cabins and provided transportation to the island. The Navy’s presence on the island provided the wealthy residents protection at no cost. Before they had time to undress, Beáta was stung by an insect under her blouse. She screamed from the excruciating pain. A soldier on guard duty rushed to the cabin. The quick-thinking soldier asked for a description of the insect and, using knowledge acquired from his ancestors, ripped her shirt, laid her down on the floor, and urinated on her large breasts. The scene was unforgettable. He then ran out to bring some leaves to rub on her breast. Nacho pushed the soldier aside and took over the chore. Nacho’s monthly visits to Cartagena were a joyful occasion for both. The two sometimes returned to Múcura to enjoy the white beaches, soft breeze, and the translucent multi-coloured waters. Their island hideout changed when new arrivals built large mansions. The most luxurious building was Club 100 built on three hectares. Its owner was Salvatore Mancuso, a powerful and admired paramilitary commander from Córdoba. It had an artificial lagoon, a pool, a heliport, launch pads for boats, and ten bedrooms with a Jacuzzi each. Some years later, Mancuso tried to make restitution to his victims under a demobilization process by offering the property. The government ruled that Múcura was public land and properties on the island could not be used to make restitution. Mancuso
wasn’t about to be allowed to set a bad precedent for the rest of the islanders. Nacho and Beáta were planning a trip to Paris, Vienna, and Budapest to celebrate his 65th birthday when he stopped visiting her. “Our knees are still good,” he had said. “Let’s take advantage of them before they, too, go to waste like our brain.” She was at a loss to explain what might have happened to warrant the sudden absence after decades of friendship. She called his mobile phone until the message box was full. She tried to get her hands on Bogotá and Bucaramanga newspapers to read the obituary section.
Published on Sep 13, 2016
Gritty stories interlace real characters and events with fictional ones to reveal the complexities of Colombia, the brutality of its many co...