So many bolero, so many tears. The latin world is awash with them and each one has its home in truth.
Today I met two little boys. One is two years old and silent, his brown hair cut like a bowl and his eyes big and rich cups of café con leche. Monkey tried to draw him out to play with her blocks and her toys but he wouldn’t move. He wouldn’t come to me when I tried to tempt him from his grandmother’s knees into my warm jacket despite obviously being quite cold there in Nena’s living room. His older brother is four years old, protective and independent. His will be a very big job and already he has assumed some of the manhood he has inherited in tragedy.
Four weeks ago these little boys bore witness to their father’s murder.
He was twenty-seven years old and a hard worker. He was so hard a worker in fact that he had begun to taste the illusive flavours of success. He drove a new car and bought property out in the country in a town where a sister of his lived. She was warned to tell him not to come out to the land but he didn’t get the message in time. His mother recounts to me the story of her grief.
On the day he died he took his wife and two children together with his father and cousin to the land. They worked from early in the morning until about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Bunches of bananas were cut and crops of all kinds readied to load into the vehicle. The family was sat on a blanket spread in the field eating when one by one men appeared from out of the brush surrounding them. They numbered around 30 and the first to speak said “we mean you no harm”.
“No, no, no, no, NO” protested a man from the outer edge of the circle. He elbowed his way in toward the family and the woman would remember that his eyes were red with blood. “You are ALL going to die today. Because I am huuunngrry to kill.”
The woman held her children to her tight and the men were trapped where they had been sitting, more than twenty automatic weapons trained on them. The killers wrested the little boys from their mothers’ arms and held her back. Their father went ballistic, struggling to his feet screaming “Leave my children alone!”
The man of the red eyes said to him with a nasty smile “Because you cannot behave yourself, you will be the first to die.”
The killing began and three men lay dead when it was over. The father died in horror and fear believing his family too would be killed. When the shooting stopped suddenly there was an eerie silence and the deafness of guns shot too close. The returning birds, skittish with their own fright, would behold the sight of two boys, aged two and four, clinging to the bloody corpse of their father as their mother held him in her arms helpless. Finding no fun in the prey of a distraught mother and two young children, the killers moved on to the car, sitting in it, opening the hood and going over it like a prospective purchase, their laughter ringing out to meet the hesitant renewed birdsong. Weapons slung easily over shoulders now, AK47s and pistols. The dead man’s gun was propped, useless, against a tree far away from the killing circle, where it would be found later by investigators.
“Una lágrima por tu amor… Una lágrima lloraré” ~A random bolero on the radio the day I was told this story.
When the police arrived to collect the bodies, they were met with enemy fire. One officer fell that day, leaving another woman widowed and more boys orphaned. It would take seven truck loads of police and security officers to reclaim the bodies of the four men who had only hours been fathers, loving and hot-blooded, the fierce protectors of their children.
As the grief-stricken grandmother recounted these atrocities in Spanish, repeating parts I did not understand in English, Nena wept, her own tragedies forgotten. The youngest boy with the coffee eyes would not leave the grandmother’s familiar knees. I looked on the beautiful child and saw a story too often true.
Just Friday night a young doctor was killed outside a discotheque in Tegucigalpa. He was from La Ceiba and visiting for the graduation of his younger sister in the nation’s capital. In San Pedro that same night a friend of my family too was gunned down. Then there was the cousin a few years ago who was kidnapped by the gardener and murdered, another who was assassinated on the highway, and still another that was murdered on his boat on the high seas.
This is a land where tears are shed and moments of life are treasured, guns are in pretty handbags and waistbands and life taken for cheap. It is the land of beautiful orchids, fierce faith and delicious food, the power of friendship and the orphans of tragedy.
The four year-old with a growing gravity to his carriage told his grandmother days before our visit “Nana, I know my Daddy isn’t coming back. I know where he is sleeping. Don’t worry Nana, I understand that his body is here asleep but his heart is with God.”