The Girls, Part III - Papa

    Don Aurelio was used to having power. He didn’t consider himself a greedy man, but he did enjoy the comforts that having money gave him. While in the mountains, up in his fields where he grew peanuts, corn, vegetables and fruit, he was a king. He could sit atop his horse under the shade of the biggest tree, and survey the lay of the land. It was often a colorful view: men bent over weeding, reaping, plowing, hoeing, clearing, burning, working, all for him. They called him “Patron”, and the very word made his heart sing.

    How many years had he dreamed of these moments, when he would be a powerful man! A man who could command an entire village into doing his bidding, a man who had more money in the bank than most of his workers would ever see. But he was different from his father. He always tried to distance himself from his papa. He knew that it was his Papa’s dark side that led him to destruction and demise, and he had to be smarter than that.

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    How many times had he accompanied his papa, proud to be el baron (the boy/son), following in his footsteps, thinking that he could be like him one day? What about that day when he saw just what kind of man his papa was? The man’s shirt was a lurid purple, he remembered thinking he had seen his mama wear a skirt in a color like that once. The man was small, but he was quick. Being small was a problem, as he also tired easily, and one day he took a break and sat down in the shade of the cane stalks.

    Papa was off his horse quicker than Aurelio could blink. He was thinking it was very hot indeed to be working in the dry dusty cane fields. The other workers quickened their paces when they saw their boss slide off the stallion. The purple-shirted man didn’t see but he certainly felt the horsewhip land on his back. And again it sang through the air, and crackled as it landed, this time on his forearm as he tried to defend himself. And yet again. Aurelio closed his eyes in shock, but he remembered thinking it strange that the man didn’t cry out. When he opened them again, he saw the purple had turned nearly black as red blood seeped into the shirt. The man was curled up at Papa’s feet, no words coming out of his mouth, but clear hatred in his face. Papa kicked him once, and snarled at him to get to work or leave

    The man got up gingerly, and dusted himself off, and started walking off the field. Papa turned an unhealthy shade of purple, just like the man’s shirt before it got soaked in blood. He grasped his whip and started to follow the small man, but something stopped him, and the few workers who had dared to stop and watch quickly got back to work. Aurelio thought he heard a hissing whisper follow in the air over his father’s head. To this day, he believed the man had cursed Papa.

    Shortly after that incident, Papa got sick. He couldn’t tend to the fields properly, and slowly, his workers became lazy, and money stopped pouring in like before. Soon, papa lost most of his cane fields, and only the land in the west remained. That was Aurelio’s inheritance and it was what he lorded over now.

    Now Don Aurelio felt that his father’s curse was being passed on to him. His biggest regret was that he didn’t have many sons. Five daughters and one son (el baron). How was he to pass on his inheritance to his only son, when he didn’t even know what kind of man he was? He spent a lot of time with him, but he was a quiet sort, not assertive or even aggressive. Was he meant to give land to his daughters? And what happened to his beautiful girl, his shining flower, Mercedes. He had been especially proud of her, and her beauty. He was not surprised when his second in command Alfonso had also set eyes on her. See, now a man like him, Aurelio respected.

    Ambition, like so many generations before him, was a thing to behold. Aurelio saw the desire and hunger in Alfonso’s eyes, as he traversed from one end of the field to the other. He had a strong stance, and could control a large crowd of workers without resorting to violence. Aurelio liked that, and he saw to it that violence never touched his farm, or his home. In the village, everyone assumed he was a ruthless and callous man. With emotions, perhaps he was crude, but people would be surprised to know he was not that a violent kind of man. Where many men went home and drank themselves into a stupor, and hit anything that moved, he remained reserved, dignified, and to many, aloof.

    However, he was still an ambitious and greedy man who was never satisfied with the amount in the bank, or the yield from the earth, or even his daughters. There was always more to be had. But for a while, he eyed his main man Alfonso as his ticket to forming a stronger family hold over land and money.

    Then Mercedes died. Don Aurelio could not begin to fathom the reason why she died the way she did, but he had suspicions. And suspicions, on a weaker mind, tend to wear away at the bravado, and soon, his mind became muddled. Perhaps Alfonso had shown his true colors to his daughter. He wondered if Mercedes, as beautiful and sensitive as she was, saw something he hoped she would miss. He couldn’t even begin to guess the workings of the feminine mind, but he figured a woman would be so sensitive as to end a relationship in the most tragic manner, if only to make a point. His mind grew ever more confused.

    He lay in his hammock, wondering just how his life had gotten to this stage. The loss of Mercedes was a blow to his ego, and now, Alfonso was gone. He had stormed in earlier, saying he would be leaving. He said he needed to go away – perhaps for a while, but Don Aurelio knew he would not be back. He had to find a new right-hand man, one with just the right touch of ambition, who could train alongside him and his son. He had four daughters left. The family could still grow. His fortune could still prosper.

    Thinking of his fortune had him thinking of the one that lay in the bank. He dreaded to think of losing it, but Alfonso being his right-hand man meant he sometimes would head into town and help by withdrawing payroll. Don Aurelio panicked as he thought of losing his money to the man who just that morning had professed to being heartbroken. Ambition was one thing, but stealing was another. He had to get his money out.

    That night, he could scarcely eat. His family was still fragile, so talk was low and murmured. Then AnaMaria asked for some manpower to get more raw materials. She could drive the pick-up to the river, where the soft slate lay in waiting. Aurelio promised four men and her brother even offered to accompany them. She refused. She was colder and more reserved than ever. Don Aurelio knew she would never let anyone disrespect her, and once again, he wished she had been born a boy.

    He announced plans to go into town to deal with some business. Carmen and Selena begged to go with him, and Araceli asked if they could get some new supplies. Before he knew it, Don Aurelio had been roped into a family outing – with the exception of AnaMaria. He barely slept that night.

    Town was eventful as usual, filled with sights and sounds that always held a sort of magic to those who didn’t venture much into it. The girls and their mama did some hasty shopping, and supplies were gathered and loaded onto the vehicle. Aurelio then left them to their own devices as he headed over to the bank to settle his business.

    Selena wanted to see new embroidery threads, while Araceli lingered in the colorful book section of the first big store they entered. Mama went with Selena to pick out colors of threads, and Carmen lingered on her own. As she looked and wandered, a handsome young man caught her eye.

    Martin Magana worked in the superstore because he had to. He needed money to survive, and he had dreams he just had to achieve. Survival was important. He was slight, but had a strong face and thick black hair worn long. He scowled often in the store, and barely anyone asked him for help, but that fateful morning, a young girl did ask him for help. He smiled for the first time all day, and it was all over for him.

    Don Aurelio took out the majority of his money from the account. He was the sole financial man in his home, so there would never be any questions. The large stacks of bills were heavy in his knapsack, but he held on to it for dear life. He felt freer than he had in months. He would no longer have to worry about Alfonso stealing his money, and he knew it would be safer at home than anywhere else. His home was his fortress. It would be well taken care of. In his paranoid state of mind, it all made sense to him.

    The family unloaded their purchases, and the girls went to the workshop for the first time all day. There they saw the new materials that AnaMaria and the men had brought in. A fresh stock of slate stones lay in waiting, and for the first time in months, they all smiled and felt a thrill of anticipation. This was what they did, and they were ready to start something new.

    Later that evening, Selena took some coffee for her Papa while he rested on the hammock. She feared him a little, but she also loved him a lot. She set his coffee down on the small table and came over to where he lay, and she knelt at his feet and took off his shoes. Then she removed his socks, and placed slippers on his feet, so he wouldn’t catch a chill. Then she took the coffee and served it to him. Don Aurelio looked at her steadily, smiling slightly as she did her routine movements. Something took hold of his mind, and he knew it was the right decision.

    He took the knapsack that was in the hammock with him, and in a gentle voice asked Selena, “Do you love your Papa?”

    “Of course I do. You are my papa.”

    “Will you take care of something for your Papa, then?”

    “Yes, papa, I will.”

    The knapsack exchanged hands, and Selena, her mind newly opened to the wily actions of grown-ups, walked out of the room with the bag full of money, looking for the perfect place to hide it.           

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