El Sabino (English) – Pedro Torres

The boy, only about thirteen or fourteen, but already, with the face of a jackal, dismounted his burro and began to undress under the row of scraggly trees that lined the creek near El Sabino, where he lived. He had an old pistol with him, tucked in the waistband of his sun bleached cotton trousers. “de la revolución…” he thought when he found it in the ashes of Don Fermin’s house last month. Although he had nothing to do with what happened, he was in the garden with Josefina when it caught fire, he knew that everyone thought he was to blame.

He found out that a nephew of Don Fermín, Jacobo, was looking for him. A man of twenty-six, Jacobo was short, but strong, with a broad back like those of the cows he carved up in his butcher shop before the Cristiada began. A ladino Indian, Jacobo was in León fighting for his rights as a Catholic, taking up arms with priests against a government that he had helped put into power ten years ago. A government that, for reasons beyond his understanding of the world, had decided to become secular. When news reached him that his beloved uncle, his father’s younger brother, was dead, cooked alive in the house where he grew up, he left León for El Sabino. Riding with such strong anguish that he swore he could feel his uncle’s ashes in his mouth as he urged his horse onward.

His horse, a beautifully imposing American Quarter, with a caramel colored coat, was a spoil of war. A battle hardened bronco, that took months to form a bond with. Jacobo had taken the horse from a bullet riddled federale in Jalisco a year prior, on the eve of the rebellion. When the idea of fighting in churches still seemed as far off as a Mexico without Christ.

Now undressed, the boy submerged himself in the water of the creek. Scrubbing himself with the brick of soap he used to wash his clothes, he thought of Josefina. He thought that even with his eyes closed he could find all the beauty marks that decorated her skin. He thought of getting married, and making her a mother. But he knew it would be impossible. Josefina was already married, and Josefina was already a mother. He sometimes saw her with her two children at the market. Her husband, a rancher, dressed them in clothes embroidered with colorful flowers, and in black shoes that seemed to catch any glimmer of light, no matter how dim, and reflected it back in a way that he didn’t think leather could. He thought of returning to El Sabino in six months, his pockets swollen with American money, and taking her to the capital. Away from the murmurs of a war that, in the plains at least, seemed to have been raging since time immemorial. He thought of the time, two months ago, when his cousin told him about the business he did with white men at the border, exchanging bottles of tequila, pulque and mezcal for ten times what it cost them here. Before his cousin left for Celaya, he told the boy that whenever the boy decided that he was ready, he would take him to Juarez, and that they would be partners. That night the boy began to pack the few things that belonged to him, and in his sleep he even shared a dream with the old white men on the American bills his cousin had with him. He thought of his cousin, Enrique, twenty years old, but with a whole life behind him. He thought of the time, while drinking outside Enrique’s parents’ house, how his cousin still laughed and sang as the procession of a man from his town passed by. “ya callate Quique. No te pases de gandalla.” Laughing, Quique replied “ay primo, si supieras a cuantos he picado y tirado en el río…”

To feel nothing, even when death itself was staring you in the face, even when the gray sullen faces of those left behind in its wake stared you in the face, searching for respite in the face of a stranger out of desperation, seemed impossible. The boy felt so much. At times he felt so much that he would go to the public garden, right outside of town, where he and Josefina would meet twice a month, and sob quietly in the rose bushes without ever really knowing why.

He would often sneak onto the train to Villagran, and dangle his feet from the car that he secretly shared with goats, or chickens, or whatever the ranchers were going to the city to sell that month. Seeing the milpas go by in seconds, he could feel his heart in his chest, and a pull so strong, as if his mind were tricking his body into jumping. And he would wonder what strange reasons his mind would have for that, and why it wouldn’t share these secrets with him.

When he arrived in the city, the boy would engage in robberies. With a knife in hand, and his belly full of alcohol, to get rid of his cowardice, he would pounce on tipsy couples that he saw wearing fancy clothes, and shined shoes as they stumbled out of bars or dance halls, where laughter and music seemed to stay suspended in their smoke filled interiors. Days, or sometimes even weeks, later, he would return to his town feeling raw, and almost always without money, having spent the little he stole on drink.

In El Sabino, word quickly spread of his misdeeds, and that’s why they didn’t want him. He could have cared less, had it not been for his grandmother. When he was younger, and still thought of his parents often, and would ask, his grandmother would simply tell him that his father left them for a younger woman, and soon after his mother left them for an older man. His grandmother, a short woman with a wrinkled face, hunched back, and always in a rebozo with a scapular in her hands, did what she could, but even she felt that her grandson had been born rotten, and perhaps, if his parents were here, things would be the same.

When Jacobo arrived in town, with eyes red from sleeplessness, he rode directly to the wreckage of Don Fermin’s house. Crumbling remnants of adobe walls, painted black with soot, gave way to dirt floors covered in ash, littered with the charred bits of furniture, and what used to be the wooden frame supporting the roof, that was now all but gone. Jacobo stumbled over the fragments of his life before the wars and rebellions, as a small crowd of peasantry gathered outside. Some of the more emotional peasants began weeping, and some of the others began murmuring things like “si hubiera sido mi tío, hasta le daría un balazo a la abuela…” When Jacobo finally spoke, “¿y dónde está?” They told him the boy was near the creek, bathing.

Jacobo arrived shooting at the boy from horseback. The crack of the rifle fire splitting the air gave the boy such a fright, he almost drowned. Maybe it was luck, or because of Jacobo’s sadness that he kept missing. Upon reaching the old revolver he had stolen, the boy shot blindly at Jacobo, hoping the noise would scare him away. He kept firing even after the cylinder was empty, deafened by the noise, he only realized he was out when it no longer bucked as he pulled the trigger. When the boy finally opened his eyes he saw Jacobo sitting on his horse, mouth open, and eyes blank, as if he were in the sun too long without water. Blood poured from a hole in his chest, spattering the honeyed hide of his horse. Losing his strength, Jacobo slipped. The sound of his skull cracking frightened the animal, and it took off, galloping toward the town.

The boy approached Jacobo’s body, still twitching. “tal vez sigue vivo…” he wanted to think, but when he got a good look, he knew that he was beyond help. Jacobo’s brains came out of his nose, and the part of his forehead that had hit the stones was pierced, letting the boy see what they both had inside. As the boy looked into Jacobo, Jacobo looked into the sky, and noises the boy had never heard before poured out of his nose and mouth, carried by rivulets of blood. Watching how Jacobo babbled, the boy felt something thunder inside him, like lightning in his heart. Perhaps it was God finally condemning him to perdition.

When he finally was able to tear his gaze from the hole in Jacobo’s skull, the boy looked up across the plain, and in the distance saw how the horse raced towards El Sabino. The shooting must have been heard by the entire town, and if not, the horse would arrive bearing the news on its hide. Trembling, more from fear than from being wet, he robbed Jacobo. He took his rifle and his boots, and dressed himself quickly. The boy untied his burro, seemingly unaffected by the events that had just transpired, and started the long journey to Celaya where his cousin would take him to Juarez, and where he knew no one from El Sabino would find him.