When the Guayacans Were in Bloom

When the Guayacans Were in Bloom

When the Guayacans Were in Bloom

by Nelson Estupiñán Bass

(Chapters 1 and 2)

  1. They Were in Bloom

The first rains had fallen. The ground, which had been cracked by the stifling summer sun, was beginning to become solid again. Grass, bursting with joyous green, was sprouting in the streets.

In the vegetable gardens, the ever punctual cicadas hissed at six in the morning and at six in the evening.

Sometimes, snakes went up into the houses, and at night the shouts of frightened women and children could be heard as they found serpents on windows, in hammocks, in corners of the rooms or between flowerpots.

Small children bathed in the free shower from heaven and, with mud-spattered bodies, ran gleefully through the streets in the rain. Afterwards, they crowded together at the intersections to play with paper boats in the ditches.

The waters extended their loving arms under the houses and pulled out, as if to put on display the residents’ untidiness, egg shells, old rags and discarded papers, cockroaches and wood shavings.

When it stopped raining, the children squatted in the streets to get the coco-chiles, by uprooting the small plants. When they had eaten the fruit-always mixed with mud-they threw away the plants.

The rivers were beginning to swell. Banana trees, uprooted by the fury of the floods, bamboo stalks, trumpetwood and fig trees, sugarcane stalks and the remain of old and young trees came down toward the sea, which was beginning to get choppy.

The river sounded hoarse and threatening. The sea responded angrily. At night, the waves were so loud that it seemed as if the sea would rise and flood the city at any moment. From the steamboat anchorage northward, the sea was rough, as though boiling.

In the afternoon, low-flying clouds floated across the sky. The intense heat was beginning.

On all the hills, the guayacans celebrated their festival of gold.

Eternal guards of the emerging city, as though overwhelmed by the prolonged drought, they gave the impression of proclaiming throughout the region their joy over the arrival of water.

The entire land looked like a beautiful lithograph still wet with the shining ink from the studios.

The guayacans were now in bloom…

Men, young and old, began arriving in small groups in the village. Some were out of breath. Like schoolboys, they wore knee-length trousers. And their shirts, which once were white and blue and now were stained with rubber tree sap, looked as if they had been sprinkled with chocolate. Others came with their trousers half rolled up, revealing sores on their calves.

Others had large bellies because of parasites. Others were yellow, as yellow as the rocks on the edge of distant streams deep in the jungle. Some shivered with malaria and had their lips the taste of the quinine and aguardiente mixture they drank before responding to the recruiters’ call.

Almost all sat in the doorways or in the field covered with new grass. The captain politely greeted the men as soon as they arrived, shaking their hands.

On the ground floor of the house chosen for the meeting, some were already shouting and arguing. It was quite evident that they were getting drunk.

There were approximately sixty men in the nearby doorways and in the field when the individual charged with calling the men together arrived. He stood at attention facing the captain and said: “Captain, almost all the men are now here. The order has been carried out!”

The captain smiled and responded: “All right, all right. Have them come inside. I’m going to talk to them. Give the order, Sergeant!”

“Hey!” shouted the sergeant, a huge black man who was barefoot like all the men who had answered his call. And moving from one side to the other, he added: “Everybody inside! This way to the shop, the captain is going to talk to you! Hurry up…!”

They entered slowly. Some sat on rough wooden benches, and the rest remained standing. The captain stood on the counter.

“I’ve sent for you,” the captain began, with a typical Guayaquil accent, “because an unspeakable crime has been committed in this country. A monstrous crime, which is a disgrace to the Fatherland, a blemish we are duty-bound to remove… A crime which only ungrateful people and criminals can commit! A horrendous crime! Friends, courageous Esmeraldans,” he shouted with greater intensity, “They dragged the Alfaros, as you must know…!”

Among those present there was a look of surprise, although many of them had heard about those events some time ago. However, they all listened attentively to the captain’s speech.

“Yes, friend,” he continued, “They dragged the Alfaros! You must know that already because it happened some months ago. I wonder how many of you fought with General Alfaro and entered Huigra in triumph! I wonder how many of you covered yourselves in glory on the battlefields, snatching the country from the evil of the Conservatives, of enemies who, like jackals, have drunk the General’s blood…!”

The skein of his comments began to weave itself among the peasants.

“Damn, those evil men! How they killed him…!”

“No, no, the word is they dragged him…!”

“Like animals…! And they say they’re civilized…!”

“Even we from here in the jungle don’t do that…!”

“…Brothers! Brave men who love liberty! Men who are the legitimate pride of the Liberal party! This cannot remain like this! You know that when someone commits a murder, he is convicted and sent to prison…!”

“Of course!” some agreed.

“That’s right!” said a black in a loud voice.

“… Because if a great man like the General is killed, and the criminals are not punished, then that means there is no law, that there is no justice, that there is no guarantee for anyone, that anyone can kill anyone he feels like killing. It means that at any given moment the same thing can happen to us. That we, too, can be killed and dragged through the streets. You, especially you, who always supported the General are in danger! You more than anyone else! Because many of you, I’m sure, took part in the glorious deeds, glorious not only for Ecuador but also for America and the world…”

He was finishing these words when three men entered the hall: Juan Cagua, an almost purple-complexioned man, with a broad, coarse face and straight but coarse hair; Pedro Tamayo, a thin-faced man with a yellow complexion, better known by the nickname “El Mulato” than by his real name, and Alberto Morcú, a thin black man with kinky hair, the oldest of the three.

They came up timidly, with a centuries-old fear: a fear that had frown since their childhood, from the time they began to reason-or perhaps from a time even further back than they could remember- when they were told that they were Doña Jacinta’s concierto peons until complete cancellation of their dead parents’ debts; a fear rooted in the depths of the souls of these slaves from the moment their parents, on their deathbeds, surrendered them “in writing” to the widow, Doña Jacinta; a fear that comes from the cemetery from which their parents’ spirits are projected toward them, ordering them to be respectful and obedient to the patrona; a fear intensified under the auspices of the forest, like them, controlled by Doña Jacinta’s insatiable greed.

“Come in, friend!” said the captain as he noticed the hesitancy of the recent arrivals. “Come in!”

The three men smiled. For a moment all eyes were fixed on the three concierto peons.

“Hey, Don Juan!”

“Compadre Tamayo!”

“How are you, Don Morcú?”

The captain continued talking with the aim of freeing the three concierto peons from the gaze of those present:

“As I was telling you, they dragged the Alfaros. It’s necessary for all of us Liberals to stand up, all of us who love freedom all of us who were not born to live in chains! Because, otherwise, the country will return to slavery! To the dark days of domination by priests and nuns! You, sons of a province that is the pride of the nation… Courageous to the point of self-sacrifice… You, the first to march in defense of the border… You… all of you have to help us avenge the death of General Alfaro, the idol of the nation, the man who gave us the freedom that all of us, regardless of race, now enjoy…”

The audience applauded noisily.

“Long live Esmeraldas!” he shouted with enthusiasm.

“Hurrah!” responded the crowd.

“Long live the Liberal party!”


“Long live General Eloy Alfaro!”


“And now I’ll tell you how it happened.  The Alfaros were arrested in Guayaquil and taken to prison in Quito. Later, the Conservatives took them from there and dragged them through the streets of Quito…Then they burnt them in the park… Yes! The conservatives burnt them!”

The men frowned. Their rage, skillfully drawn out by the captain, was beginning to show. They were beginning to feel a sense of outrage and anguish and a desire for revenge, but they had not yet decided on a precise course of action.

“Yes! Like wild beasts, they drank the General’s blood…! But here I am… And here you are to shout to these criminals, to these damned serranos, that this crime cannot go unpunished…That we demand justice, that we have the courage to demand our rights, that we won’t tolerate the country’s return to the time of the priests and nuns, that since the courts are not dispensing justice, we, sovereign people that we are, will do it ourselves by taking up arms. Because we must severely punish those serranos who killed the generals from the Coast…”

“Did he say the serranos?” Alberto Morcú asked Juan Cagua.

“Yes, he said the serranos,” replied Juan Cagua.

And Alberto Morcú remembered the many bad things he had heard about serranos. He had heard that they were hypocrites, dirty, mean, and flatterers. And he also remembered a saying he had heard a long time ago and that went as follows:  “Sooner or later, the serrano will do you in.”

“But,” the captain went on, “everything now depends on you. If you want, this crime can be ignored, and they’ll keep on killing one… and then another… and another… until they do away with the Liberal party… And we will return to slavery…

And we all will be exactly like the concierto peons of fifty years ago… But if you want to, we can avenge the General’s death, and the red flag of liberalism will fly once more over the Capitol, and nobody will dare to lower it ever… Let’s see, comrades-in-arms, strong, brave Esmeraldans, what do you say…?”

The captain began to look at the men. They all remained silent. They looked at one another, avoiding the captain’s eyes. Some began to roll cigars. Others spat in the corners of the large room and hid their heads as if the saliva took a long time to leave their mouths.

“What do you say, then?” he asked smiling. “Let’s see, you, Agapito… You Cipriano… You, Angulo…”

The men kept squirming. Some left the hall, using the stifling heat as an excuse. Others in the doorway wiped the sweat off their brows with their fingers and then shook their fingers until they were almost dry. Then the captain spoke again:

“I know all too well that all of you are brave. There are no cowards in this hall. And this is so simply because no coward has ever been born in this rebellious land… Because Esmeraldas is the cradle of courage. Isn’t it so? And since they’ve dragged the man who gave us freedom and progress, I know that there’s only one path and that none here present will hesitate even for a moment to take it! That path is revolution…!”

The big, terrible word fell, exploding like a grenade in the hall. The men pressed together, and almost all of them writhed as if in a frightful contortion of pleasure and rage.

“Revolution!” he said again, raising his voice above the din of the men’s voices. “Long live the revolution!”

“Hurrah!” shouted the crowd.

“Long live Alfaro!”


“Long live Esmeraldas!”


“Down with the serranos!”

“Down with them!”

“Now, boys, let’s drink to the triumph of the revolution!”

The captain got down from the counter and ordered the sergeant to serve the aguardiente. Glasses, cups and gourds began appearing quickly, the men were happy.

The three concierto peons, at some distance from the rest of the crowd, each had a glass of liquor in his hand. They were going to drink, even though they knew and understood very little, or almost nothing, about what the captain said. They had heard a few things about General Alfaro. Alberto Morcú remembered having once heard that he was a general who had destroyed the priests. Apart from that, when they heard the captain talk about “the concierto peons of fifty years ago,” things became more incomprehensible for them. Could it be, perhaps, that they were concierto peons, that there were hundreds of concierto peons in the province? Was he perhaps so much of an “outsider” as not to know what was happening on the haciendas in the area and in the entire province? However, they had a premonition in their tormented souls of the sweet rumbling of a storm. As when the north winds, entering through the huge windows of the ports, announce the rainstorms that will soon arrive. They sensed that they would have to go somewhere, but couldn’t determine where precisely. They wanted to express their doubts, explain their sad condition as slaves and ask for a clarification. The captain said it was necessary to defend freedom. But, what freedom had they had? They had lived-and continued living-in perpetual slavery. But General Alfaro had given freedom to all. Yet they had been concierto peons since childhood. They were like pieces of furniture on Doña Jacinta’s hacienda. They grew up tied to the hacienda, paying their dead parents’ debts. And they thought that they would have to die that way too, leaving the debts to their children, as if an eternal curse had fallen upon all generations of their families. Where could the freedom given by General Alfaro be? Freedom was probably a woman, in elegant clothes, whose feet, covered with silk stockings and fine shoes, didn’t allow her to enter the labyrinth of the dense forest, where they lived their broken lives without any hope whatsoever. Freedom! Freedom! How strange that word was to them!

The captain approached the three men. Some others moved closer too.

“What’s wrong with you, boys?” he asked them.

“Nothing, Captain,” replied Morcú.

“We’re just looking on,” said Juan Cagua.

“Do you like this? Do you want to go and fight?”

“We’re going to see…,” Morcú answered.

“We can’t go…” said Juan Cagua.

“We’re…” intervened “El Mulato”

At that moment the sergeant approached.

“Captain, should I draw up the list?” he asked.

“Yes! Draw it up!” And turning to the crowd, he shouted: “Just a minute! I have something else to say to you!”

“Silence, the captain is going to speak,” the sergeant shouted.


“Silence, you dirty bastards”

The captain climbed on the counter again. He waited a moment. When there was complete silence, he said:

“Since you’ve said that we’ll avenge the General and since you’ve solemnly promised to join the revolution, then let’s form the battalion. Those who want to join up freely should give their names to Sergeant Mina. He’ll write them down. Then they should go get their things and say goodbye to their families. Tomorrow night we’ll gather here again. I promise to form a battalion that’ll be the pride of the country. Because the best battalion can only be formed with courageous men like you… All right then, boys, get to the list, for the salvation of the Republic.”

Sergeant Mina had difficulty making his way through the crowd.

“Sergeant, write down Pedro Ayoví…”

“Sergeant, write down Manuel Arroyo…”

“Write down Juan Quiñones…”

“Facundo Quiñones…”

“The whole family, right?” asked the captain as he got down from the counter.

“We’re all going on account of the General, and if we die we die, since…”

“That’s right,” said Facundo.

Sergeant Mina was writing down the names in his notebook.

Suddenly Doña Jacinta burst into the hall. She was dressed in black, with a shawl on head and an umbrella in her hand.

“Doña Jacinta!” some exclaimed.

“Doña Jacinta!”

“Let’s see, who’s in charge here?” she inquired angrily.

“Captain Pincay,” Sergeant Mina replied and stopped writing down names.

“Captain my eye!” she shouted haughtily. And raising her voice, she turned to the three concierto peons and added: “All right, Juan, Alberto and Pedro… What Kind of disturbance is this? My compadre Juan José has already told me that two of his concierto peons have run away! What do you think? That we’re going to give you money for your good looks?”

Without saying a word, the peasants began to move toward the door. Suddenly, from the back of the hall the ungainly figure of Captain Pincay appeared. They stopped close to the door.

“What’s the matter, Señora?” he asked.

“These three men are my concierto peons,” she said, pointing to the three peasants who, a moment earlier, had been chatting with the captain, “and, I’m taking them with me. That’s what’s the matter, Captain,” and she pronounced this last word disdainfully.

“Concierto peons, you say Señora?” the captain asked her, raising his right hand to his chin. “But, what century do you think we’re living in? Concierto peons? Is it possible? Repeat it for me so I’ll know that I’m no dreaming…”

The peasants began surrounding them, attentive to the dialogue the two were carrying on.

“I said concierto peons! A word to the wise is sufficient! Don’t you know that?”

The concierto peons began to walk away from the door.

“Hey!” the captain shouted at them angrily. “Have those three men come back in here! Back in here!”

The concierto peons reentered the hall. They began to get worried. How far did the captain’s power extend? Where did Doña Jacinta’s power end? Could it be true, as they had heard from the captain’s lips, that General Alfaro had given freedom to everybody? If that were true, this was then the time to prove it.

“I’m in charge here!” he shouted, boldly confronting Doña Jacinta.

“But not of my concierto peons! They’re mine…”

“Señora, shut up or I’ll arrest you!”

“Long live Captain Pincay!” two intoxicated men screamed at the top of their lung.

“Hurrah!” responded the rest of the group.

“Stupid! Insolent!” Doña Jacinta upbraided him.

“Señora,” he said, moderating the tone of his voice, “what rights do you claim over these men?”

“They’re my concierto peons! Their parents didn’t pay what they owed me… They surrendered them to me in writing until such time as they finish paying… The will of the dead must be respected! For that reason they cannot leave!”

“Señora, the three man will leave with me for the revolution if they so desire… If not, they’ll be free, completely free, and they’ll have no reason to go back to your hacienda. Do you understand me? Don’t you know that debt peonage has been abolished? Don’t you know that slavery ended many years ago? Don’t you know we fought on the battlefields, under General Alfaro, to abolish slavery, and the blood the peasants spilled is the price they paid for their freedom?”

“I’ve told you that they’ll still owe debts and therefore cannot leave… Do you understand?”

“Señora, they’ll leave! And if you’re so much against it and don’t want to part company with them, you can come along with me and that’s the end of the matter.”

Then he called the three concierto peons. He embraced them. In the tone of the voice he used before, he said the following to all:

“Comrades-in-arms! Slavery ended many, many years ago, many years ago. It seems incredible that General Alfaro’s work has not reached here and that now that he’s dead, it falls to me to bring to you a part of his good work. If there are still concierto peons, it is because we believed that they no longer existed. But you can go spread the news through the countryside: debt peonage has ended! No one can be forced to remain a slave! Debt peonage will not reappear, unless you yourselves want it…! Long live freedom…!”

“Hurraaah!” the rebels roared.

Doña Jacinta left. For the first time in her life she had been outdone in the presence of her own concierto peons.

“He who laughs last laughs best,” she said as she walked away.

“Friends,” continued Captain Pincay, “when the revolution is over, we’re going to have many good things. I promise them to you. We’ll put an end to these bad things! We’re really going to clean up the country! Because the revolution that General Alfaro dreamt about must continue forward…!”

He paused. He ordered that aguardiente be served. Then he continued:

“Let’s drink to these three we freed today… To… let’s see…What are your names…?”

“Pedro Tamayo…”

“Juan Cagua…”

“Alberto Morcú…”

“To them…!”

Everybody drank, including the concierto peons.

“Now,” he added, pointing to the three men, “you’re free, completely free. You can go wherever you like! If you want, you can join my battalion… If not, you can stay… But remember: it’s necessary to defend freedom on the battlefields… Because if we lose, the revolution, General Alfaro’s work, will be reduced to nothing… The country will move backwards… And slavery will definitely come…”

The peasants were still indecisive. They couldn’t believe that a chain they had dragged around since childhood was broken so suddenly. They knew Doña Jacinta well and knew all the resources she had at her disposal. She would reach an understanding, as usual, with the governor, with the chief of the police, and especially with the bailiff, who, every year, surrounded by bottles aguardiente and beer, adjusted the accounts and told them how much they still owed her. They were afraid that some punishment would befall them for accepting freedom in this manner, going against the will of their dead parents. It was as if the latter, from the grave, were shouting to them:

“No! No! Don’t accept that freedom! You must pay the debts!”

Seeing their vacillation, the captain said to them emphatically: “You’re free! Free! Don’t you understand me? Free! Free!” “Fr…ee…! Free…ee!” said Juan Cagua as if chewing the word. “Compadre Alberto, we’re free! Fr…ee!” he shouted and began to run wildly, like a madman, across the field that was bathed in sunlight.

“Free!” murmured “El Mulato.” “Thanks, Captain.”

“Free! Free!” Alberto Morcú cried out, taking the captain’s hands in his. “How late it is for me to be free! But, why didn’t you come to these country areas before, Captain? Why? There’re lots of concierto peons here. We’ve built up all the haciendas! And, what do we have? Slavery! But General Alfaro” –now he resented the Liberal party too- “didn’t he know all this? Now, at my age, I’m a bother…! But I’ll fight! I’ll fight to avenge the General’s death! Friends!” he said raising his arms, “long live General Alfaro…!”

“Hurrah!” they all responded.

“Captain,” Morcú said brusquely, “tell Sergeant Mina to write down my name. I’m joining the revolution! Write down Alberto Morcú!”

“And me too!” exclaimed “El Mulato.” “Write Pedro Tamayo, Sergeant!”

“That’s the way!” said the captain, brimming with joy.

“We’re going to get our things. We’ll be back tomorrow morning…”

“All right.” And turning to Sergeant Mina, the captain asked: “Did you write down the two names?”

“Yes, Captain, I did,” he replied.

And the two men, with spirits crushed by same misfortune, went down toward the river.

Night was falling exhausted on the riverbank.


When the Guayacans Were in Bloom

by Nelson Estupiñán Bass

  1. A Man Finds His Way

The forces loyal to the government dislodged the rebels from the plaza. They jumped off a warship on to the beach and made their way through a pile of dead bodies.

The field officers, proud of their victory, strolled defiantly through the streets. Not only did they not try to win friends, but they isolated themselves in their pride. And when opponents of the revolt came forward to give them information about the enemy, they were received coldly and with grotesque ridicule or suspicion. Many inhabitants really were between the devil and the deep blue sea. Declared enemies of the rebels, yet considered suspicious by the loyalist forces, a tragic end seemed certainly to be awaiting them.

The sailors were happy, perhaps happier than the soldiers. This was the case because the former soon would be leaving on their warship, while the latter would be withstanding the rigors of the campaign that was about to begin in earnest. Nevertheless sailors and soldiers found relaxation, aguardiente and dark-skinned Esmeraldan women, whose favors could be easily won.

The sailors and soldiers, apparently with the consent of their officers, plundered the city. All the rich families, abandoning their homes, left for the country. And when it seemed that the government would restore order with its forces, and behold the unexpected happened: the loyalist forces sacked the city. Tipsy soldiers, loaded down with kitchen utensils, sewing machines, bundles of clothing, irons, mirrors and all kinds of tools that the inhabitant left in their abandoned homes, went up and down the streets in astonishing parade.

One morning, the field officer gave the order to dig trenches, since there was need for a great deal of zinc, the same officer ordered the roofs taken off some houses. All this was happening in face of the silent protest of the few Esmeraldans who remained in the city.

Officers drank excessively and made an uproar every night. Officers and sailors pursued the women at night and when they caught them, they beat and raped them and left them lying on the sand.

That morning the loyalist soldiers were ordered to fall in the yard. There was a great deal of dust and rubbish there. Almost all the soldiers were dirty and lice-infested. Some had a yellow complexion: malaria had sunk its first hooks into them. The officer blessed them from the balcony:

“Brave soldiers, defenders of the Fatherland and of liberty! We need to leave this very day to fight the enemy. I appeal to your unblemished courage, to tour spotless honor as soldiers, when I ask you to completely destroy” –and he waved his right hand horizontally through the air, making a rapid cut- “these restless, savage niggers, enemies of civilization, so that the work of our beloved president can be carried out in an atmosphere of absolute tranquility so that there can be progress in the whole country… We write this epic with our blood… Because, one day history will take account of the deeds we are going to accomplish in battle will record them in glowing terms! So, let each one go put his equipment in order! Soldiers, long live the Fatherland! Long live the Constitution! Long live freedom! ”

“Hurraaah!” the soldiers shouted sadly.

Worried, overcome by fear, and with their minds focused on the idea of an impending death, they broke ranks. Their footsteps made a sad noise on the ground.

“Machete-wielding niggers will finish us off!”

“They’ll cut off our heads!”

“And they’ll skin us so we won’t be recognized…!”

“And if the niggers don’t kill us, the snakes will,” and old sergeant remarked to the others.

In a corner of the dormitory, with his head buried in his hands, seated on the edge of his wooden bed and way behind in getting his equipment ready, Gabriel Simbaña, an Indian who had enlisted as a soldier out of eagerness to leave his village in the Sierra and to escape the miserable life of the others, was carrying disconsolately.

He remembered that he had enlisted in the army because he refused to share the fate of his father who had grown old on the hacienda, almost naked and without ever managing to pay the debt owed the patrón. He remembered the pain he had felt-oh, how could he forget it!- when he saw the patrón’s harsh whip open bloody furrows on the old man’s overburdened back, that day when the mayordomo discovered that his father had stolen a bag of corn. It was in that hard and sorrowful winter when hunger seemed to have conspired with the patrón to make the Indians’ lives more miserable.

He remembered that fervent desire to come to the Coast, to live in a distant land, where the patrón’s bloody whip couldn’t reach; to live far from the hacienda and to own his own piece of land where he would build his own home. And then his plan: to call his brothers, to work together, to return to his village later and recover what little was left of the old man, by paying off the debt to the owner of the hacienda. He remembered his desire to live deep in the jungle and to watch the huge rivers flow across the immense plains, or the small ones hurtle trough the gorges on their way to the sea. That’s why he had become a soldier.

The noncom surprised him but didn’t have harsh words for his behavior as he had on other occasions. He said to his comrades:

“Look at Gabriel… He’s crying like a baby…!”

But his comrades didn’t make fun of him. Because, Gabriel Simbaña was, at that moment, the symbolic representation of all of them who knew that they were marching toward certain death and that to rebel against it would have been a crime of high treason.

But why should he have left the village? The pitiless patron’s whip was preferable-he thought- to certain death at the hands of an Esmeraldan black, emerging from a dense thicket, with this eyes bulging, bursting with an insatiable thirst for blood. Why shouldn’t he have remained in the village? How he now cursed all his ambitions! For a moment he thought it could be a dream. But it was no dream. His comrades’ footsteps made a sad noise as they went down the stairs. A few soldiers made fun of Gabriel Simbaña as they fell in the patio. The sun dispelled the sadness of many of them. They left the patio and headed toward the jungle, singing.

But Gabriel Simbaña was sad. He wouldn’t be able to return to his land, he thought. Now, between his village, distant and unreachable, and him, there stood, blocking his way, a thick wall of blacks, thirsty for blood, with sharpened machetes ready to cut off his head at the first movement and to pursue him if he tried to escape across the plains.

They were gradually moving into the jungle. They marched uphill and downhill, they crossed streams, marshes and open plains. Mosquitoes came out to meet them. The soldiers gradually lost their fear because the enemy was nowhere in sight.

They came to a village whose houses appeared, as though frightened, through the dense foliage of an extensive banana field. The officers set themselves up in a zinc-roofed house that had been abandoned by its occupants. The scouts searched the houses, found two black men with machetes and shotguns, and led them tied up to the colonel in charge of the unit.

“Colonel,” said one of them, “we found these two suspects. They look like Conchistas”

The colonel dismissed the soldiers who had brought the men to him. H remained with other officers. The peasants were dumbfounded.

“Why do you have these weapons?” the colonel asked them, without loosening the ropes with which they had been brought in.

The two peasants looked at each other, mutually demanding the response the colonel was requesting. Since they didn’t answer, he insisted:

“I’m asking why you have these weapons, do you hear me?”

Then the older of the two, a silly and malarial black, a thin man known in the village as “Soapeater” because he had developed the bad habit of eating that commodity, dared to say timidly:

“Señor…! Señor…!”

“You’re dealing with a colonel in the Ecuadorian army,” the officer said, using a very special intonation to refer to his rank, as if to make it stand out among his other words, “and not with a señor…”

“Señor!” the man with the habit repeated timidly.

“Why did you have those machetes and shotguns? Do you see this, Captain Torres?” he said, addressing one of the officers who was witnessing the scene, as he passed his fingers along the edge of one of the machetes belonging to the prisoners.

“Yes! I see it, Colonel!” he replied. And to show his agreement, he too passed his fingers along the edge of the same machete.

“Why, then?” the colonel asked once more.

“For hunting, right? For hunting? Ha, ha, ha, ha! All right, why did you fellows make it so sharp?” and once more he passed the tips of the fingers along the edge of the machete.

“And you, why aren’t you talking?” the colonel asked, turning to the other prisoner. “Let’s see…, did you lose your tongue? Or are you dumb?”

“That’s right,” said the other prisoner, “just as Don Miguel says… For hunting and for work…”

The colonel looked at the prisoners from head to foot. They were poor peasants, dressed in clothes that were full of patches. They were barefoot, and their feet were dirty with mud. Suddenly- as if to take them by surprise- he asked:

“And the Conchistas, where are they operating?”

“Colonel, we don’t know anything about those people,” said one with the soap-eating habit.

“Nothing,” corroborated the other prisoner.

There followed a long interrogation, after which, with the colonel and his staff feeling cheated, the two peasants were sentenced to the stocks and put on bread and water for three days so that they would reveal the Conchistas’ whereabouts.

In the meantime, the soldiers had been checking all the houses, sowing panic among the few inhabitants remaining in the village. Almost all of them came back loaded down with bunches of bananas, clusters of fruit from the peach palm, chickens, eggs and turkeys. Others came back driving pigs toward the house in which kitchen for the battalion had been set up.

They had to stay in the village for three days. They were happy again.

But lately the jungle had begun to stir its fury, which had been dormant for some years. It now sounded hoarse, like the skin of a primitive drum announcing the death of a white captive.

Only children and women, who did not consider it advantageous to take refuge in the jungle, had remained in “El Recodo.”

The women watched over the sleeping children. Complete silence reigned in the houses. Only the pungent smoke, fragrant with the odor of tobacco from seasoned pipes and cigars, told of the insomnia of the women in the village.

Near the house of Dolores Cagua, wife of Miguel Bagüí- the prisoner sentenced to the stocks and put on bread and water for three days so that he would reveal the Conchistas’ whereabouts- the rush of a squad of soldiers was suddenly heard.

“There she goes!” screamed on of the pursuers.

“She hid over there!” another shouted in the dark.

“Behind those bushes! Quick! Let’s hurry!”

“Aha, my love!” said a voice overflowing with joy, “I caught you, honey…!”

The girl, still very young judging from her voice, tried desperately to free herself from the soldiers’ lustful hands.

“No, for God’s sake! Please! Let go of me…! I don’t know about those things…!”

The soldiers’ strong hands, made more daring by desire intensified by the somnolence of the jungle, squeezed her.

“You won’t get away, honey…”

“You’ll give in, that’s all, my love…”

“We won’t hurt you, darling…”

Her clothes were torn to shreds. In the darkness, under the trees where she had played with her friends who had gone into the jungle, she was thrown to the ground. She felt the painful movement of the men who took her by force. Five six, seven, eight.

When a new group arrived in a hurry, she was stretched out as if dead. In a supreme and instinctive display of modesty, she had placed her hands over her vagina, which resembled carnations that had burst into bloom.

“She’s no good anymore!” a soldier said sadly, pulling her hair.

“Let’s go to that house…”

“Maybe there’s a young girl there…”

In the dark, the soldiers plunged into the swamps in the area.

A few toads croaked gruffly in the puddles. The men went to the house that had been pointed out. They demanded the names of the occupants.

“Dolores Cagua,” said the peasant woman, boldly facing the soldier who approached her.

“What about your daughters?” a soldier asked.

“What daughters?” she asked, filled with rage.

“Why, your daughters…!”

“I don’t have any! Imagine that…! Damn you…! But here in the jungle you’ll pay…!”

“Ah, you’re…”

“Yes! I’m Dolores Cagua, the prisoner’s wife…!”

A soldier struck a match in her face. She was in a nightgown.

“And…?” he asked.

“Come on, let’s go!” ordered the noncom.

They took the old woman down to the abandoned shop. Amid her protests, they disrobed her. Six men. The old woman lay motionless forever. Next to the counter, as though concerned about her husband’s reaction to her for having allowed herself to be overpowered, she looked, from her humility and old age, like a big, dry leaf fallen to the ground.

Lust erupted violently in the blood of those unfortunate soldiers, who had been brought to the burning hell of the jungle. It was the vapor from the lowlands. It was the odor of tropical resins absorbed by their blood. It was the unbridled rush of swollen rivers. It was the mist that rises during the oppressive nights. It was the nightmare that torments men who sleep in the jungle and wake up and feel, with the lethargy of the first hours has passes, the wild desire to embrace a woman, to possess her once and several times.

It was the land, full of rivers and sunshine, untamed, wild, lustful and diabolical, which had placed the fire in the blood of these poor soldiers.

The next morning the two peasants were brought before the colonel once more. There was no time to waste. They couldn’t stay at “El Recodo” for three days as planned. The colonel had just received an order from the city. They had to move forward quickly.

Once more, the questioning continued. And once more, the colonel’s cleverness and that of his comrades proved ineffective against the peasants’ denial.

“Dumb peasants,” the colonel said angrily, “we come to free you, to protect you from the bandits, which is what the Conchistas are, and you ignorant niggers help them! Understand! Animals!”

“But, Colonel,” Miguel Bagüí dared to say, “we don’t know anything…”

“Fools!” shouted the colonel. “But it doesn’t matter! We’ll shoot all of them and soon you’ll see what we’ll do with all of you… And with your land… Damn land that stinks, land of savage, diseased and malarial niggers…! We want to give you freedom and you reject it…!”

The prisoners were confused for a moment. They had heard Captain Pincay say in the first meeting of the Conchistas that they were fighting for freedom, to bring better days to the Fatherland, to abolish concierto peonage, to bring progress even to the most remote country areas. Could that be true? No! Could what the colonel was now saying be true? No! Then, on which side was the truth? Yes! Yes! Now everything was clear. The captain of the revolt was telling the truth. There was no doubt. Captain Pincay was from the Coast. The colonel was from the Sierra. The captain captivated them all with kindliness.

The colonel was a despot. Besides, they remembered very well the scene in which Captain Pincay, standing up to Doña Jacinta, had freed the three concierto peons. The colonel was a hypocrite. He was lying! Yes! He was lying. And above all, how could they believe that the soldiers were coming to free them when what the soldiers had been doing along the way was well known. The Conchistas, on the other hand, were good. They were fighting to avenge the dragging of General Alfaro and so that priests and nuns would not rise to power. Why, why should priests and nuns be in control?

Besides- and this was the main point- Conchistas belonged to their class, were from their province or other coastal provinces, or were Colombians. As children they had played with the Conchistas in the river. They had played with them at night in the fields. They had learned to build canoes with them. With them they had learned to put together their first rafts to bring rubber and tagua from the interior.

With them they had hunted their first wild pigs and their first deer and had gone deep into the jungle to whistle gophers. With them they had experienced their first snakebites and had been cured by healers. With them they had gotten drunk for the first time and on subsequent occasions. They had fought with them over women of the region with machetes or shotguns, and the machetes had left their indelible and imperishable marks. They had learned to gather tagua and rubber with them.

They were their people. They were the courageous, indomitable people, with Colonel Carlos Concha as their leader, fighting sincerely- according to them- to avenge an infamous act and to secure the endangered freedom. They were the people of the rivers, the vast unpopulated plains stretching deep into the jungle, of areas completely cut off from the rest of the Fatherland, who were fighting directly against the government.

And what great pride it gives a man from the woods, whatever his class may be, fight against the government! Because, throughout history, the governments only remembered the “wild niggers” when it came for the recollection of taxes and the recruitment of “rebellious and courageous men” –now, no longer “wild niggers” –when the boundaries of the Fatherland were threatened by the Peruvian invader. It was Eloy Alfaro, it was Carlos Concha, it was Esmeraldas, it was the Freedom.

The colonel found the two prisoners guilty. He ordered:

“Lieutenant Cifuentes, one hundred lashes each…!””

“I swear by this cross,” he said, making a cross with his hand, “we don’t know anything…! Please, Colonel! Don’t be unfair!”

The one with the soap-eating habit was about to throw himself to the ground to kiss the colonel’s boots.

“We don’t know anything, I swear!” said the other prisoners.

“It’s settled, Lieutenant. Carry out the order!”

The two prisoners were terrified. They tried to lie, to say something to calm the fury of the colonel of the Ecuadorian army-the defender of freedom-but they couldn’t. They really didn’t know anything about whereabouts or the plans of the rebels. And, even if they did, they wouldn’t have told because they couldn’t betray them: it was some time since they had sworn themselves to loyalty in the jungle.

They were taken in bonds to the spot where there was a robust, leafy breadfruit tree, which had been picked bare by the soldiers.

On one side, there was a heap of bloody excrement. Flies darkened the spot. Mosquitoes flew around carrying red balls of blood recently drawn from the loyalist soldiers.

“For the last time,” said Lieutenant Cifuentes, forcing them to face down, shirtless, with arms spread out, each one held down for three soldiers, “tell us what you know… Where are they?”

“We don’t know anything, I swear!” said the soap-eater.

“That’s right!” the other prisoner agreed.

“Then, Chicaiza and Jiménez, get ready…!”

Twenty, thirty, forty, fifty lashes on the prisoners’ backs. They felt horrible pain at first, but afterwards, they withstood the punishment with resignation. Perhaps, as with all unpleasant things, with pain too the most distressing part is the beginning. And the torture continued.

They were lifeless. They each received one hundred lashes that made them writhe close to the bloody excrement. From that moment, although they were suffering cruelly, springs of hatred began to flow from within them through their skin, which was streaked with their own blood. Months later, that hatred would enter the maelstrom of bloodthirsty Conchismo, which was heedless to the surrendered soldiers’ pleas for mercy, was hard-hearted and was guided by dark revenge.

When Miguel Bagüí managed to drag himself toward his hut at nightfall, the loyalist soldiers had already left “El Recodo.” Women and children rushed to help him.

A curassow sang sadly from a nearby guabo tree:

“Ya-cabó. Ya-cabó”

He cast a glance toward the spot from which the song of the bird of evil omen was coming. He felt a shudder of terror. Death? Could death be getting the better of him already? No! He couldn’t die! He wouldn’t die!

He thought: “But the curassow is never wrong.”

In the twilight his eyes glowed in a strange manner.

“Let’s go to the house, Don Miguel…”

“Hold him carefully so as not to hurt his back…!”

“Go to the breadfruit tree where the curassow is,” he said with the shred of voice he still had left. “Get Rosendo! The damn soldiers left him there badly beaten….!”

A group of women and children went in the direction indicated. In the meantime, the curassow kept on singing:

“Ya-cabó. Ya-cabó.”

When Miguel Bagüí, now inside his house, saw that in the middle of the main room they were having a wake for his dead wife and learned all that had happened and that they were only waiting for the coffin to bury her, he felt that his anger was much greater than his grief.

He thought: “Of course, the curassow is never wrong.”

After a while, some women returned with Rosendo. He was carried in hammock, the ends of which were tied to round sticks and borne by two old women on their shoulders.

Stretched out on his bed and motionless while they prepared some local remedies for him, the man with the habit of eating soap understood that he had found his way. His route was clear. He would give up the habit! He would not eat any more soap! He had to live! He had to live! He would live! He would struggle against death and he would conquer it, because later he had to fight against men and conquer them also.

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