In the late afternoons, when he was back from helping his father and brothers, the young Juan Marcofr
equently listened to the sizzling of his mother’s cooking as she prepared inexpensive but nourishing
meals assembled mostly from ingredients grown on the land by their own hands.
“Very soon we will get lucky. We will have a crack season when we birth enou
gh cattle and harvest
enough crops, and I’ll buy a—” The elder Machado’s planning would be interrupted by a bout of coughing, the early signs of the tuberculosis that, untreated, would seal his fate. “Eeeghem, we’ll buy asmall place in town. We’ll even ge
t a small TV and a car. Those will be the days, going together to get a
cold cerveza, smelling the tangy sweetness and toasting to our freedom …”
He would turn and look toward the powerful mountains in the distance, eyes glazing over as he assumedthe faraway gaze of memory mingled with hope and salted with despair. A much younger Juan Marcohad cherished those moments when his family was seated together on the porch in the homemadechairs and looking across the massive plains toward the towering Andes
this was his home. A mist rosefrom the plains. Relieved as another scorching equatorial day released its hold on the land, the wildanimals moved about more freely and openly. The mountains turned slowly red, then purple. The snowcaps turned a fluorescent pink before the small pinpricks of stars came out, covering the sky in a blanketof shining diamonds. They would smoke unfiltered, hand-rolled cigarettes from tobacco grown in theirlittle garden out by the kitchen. The sweet, pungent smell took them together to a different place.
“Here he comes.” Often a mouse or a rabbit would run breathlessly through the compound. “He’s only afew minutes away,” the meadow creatures would say to Juan Marco, solidarity with their co
-inhabitantsof the land overcoming their natural timidity at talking to humans. They were, naturally, referring toEnrique, the overseer
whom they hated as much as did the peasants, for his cruel traps placed to catchunwitting rodents for his evening stew.
“There you are, lazing around again.
I pay you too much.” Too often, their simple camaraderie wasinterrupted by the dreaded snarling voice of the landowners’ primary enforcer. Enrique lived in thesmall village at the center of the finca. He’d been hired by the landowners to manage the finc
a and allhis peasants, officially making sure that they were paid. But more importantly, he and they knew,though it was never formally written, that his primary job was to make sure that the peasants wereregistering each calf born and each kilo of crop harvested
protecting the compounding wealth of thelandowners.Machado remembered Enrique as a brutal, hard, dark man with thick black hair and a thick black beardwhose own parents had been peasants but who had curried favor with the landowner family through hisexcessive loyalty tinged with fanaticism and his unjust sense of justice. He often went beyond the call of
duty, making a habit of going around to each of the peasants’ households and demanding an increased
share of their crops
for himself, naturally
times even a “private moment” with one of thepeasant’s daughters in exchange for giving a good report back to the landowners in the capital.“I’ve come to inspect your finca.” Enrique never cared at what time he came to the Machado home.“But
that smells good. I think I’ll join you for dinner first.”