You were thinking of formalizing your relationship. You were even planning to bring together both sets of parents to announce your engagement and the wedding plans for the following year. If I was going to do something, the time was now. I contacted a lawyer to start setting up my business. My strategy, from the get-go, was to meet only those people I had to meet.
My lawyer’s first task consisted of writing up a contract detailing total silence, a habit I never gave up. Considering the salary I offered him, he accepted right away. Then he set up a number of private corporations, all of which were connected to my firm in the United States.
Through third parties, I contacted an American specialist. I needed to know everything about your boyfriend Marcos. I needed to know what he did, where he ate, who washed his clothes, on which side of the bed he slept, where and when he saw you and what you both did.
And there was still the “issue” of what to do with my family. Somehow they would find out that I had returned.
And there was still the “issue” of what to do with my family. Somehow they would find out that I had returned. I didn’t want to simply bump into them because of those stupid coincidences in life and have to say more than I wanted.
One day, I went to visit them without warning. They were shocked to see me. I gave them an overview of what I had been doing in the U.S. and, also, about my new job as a rep for a U.S. company. That’s why I would be traveling a lot and have little time to see them.
I was surprised to learn in passing that Rebeca had suddenly gotten married during her last year in college. With anger and shame they told me about her pregnancy. My nephew was now two years old and he also had a little brother just about four months old. At least the husband came from a good family. Very politely I said to them that this didn’t mean the world had ended and then I boldly lied by asking where she was living, said that I would love to see her.
I came up with all kinds of excuses not to give them my phone number or any other way to contact me.
I had to do something. I couldn’t spend days on end shut up in my house or in my newly established office, thinking about where you were, trying to come up with a good excuse to see you. This would simply ruin my plans. I got my only employee to hire a couple of other people with the plan to start a business involved with buying and selling.
Soon enough, I discovered your boyfriend’s weakness. Both of you had medical degrees. You worked in a public hospital. He was the perfect example of the Good Samaritan. Every week he would travel inland to see patients with little or no money. My agent was quite clever. He found out that in that clinic, he had once treated patients with bullet wounds and he began to investigate if he belonged to one of the guerilla organizations.
He discovered that the armed forces had him under suspicion. If the army decided to act against him, he would either have to leave the country or commit himself to a more radical path or join the guerillas as a medic. This played into my favor. Given this information, you wouldn’t be able to tie the knot so quickly. More so, this was a lucky break. He could die at any moment.
Still, I didn’t want to submit myself to the vagaries of chance, of this I was sure. Further, I worried over how much at risk you yourself were. I gave strict instructions for two specialists to watch over you twenty-four hours a day. Above all, they had to be discrete. You could not be aware of their existence and confuse my precautions with being watched over by the security forces.
The American proved to be a real gem. He charged a lot, but I spared no expense. He got himself hired as a military advisor to the government. The perfect alibi to justify his staying in the country without awakening suspicion. His role as an independent U.S. government official was the perfect hire for an army whose access to American arms was frozen. Although the army was already being helped by the Israelis and certain South American countries, my man had enviable experience.
His main role as an “advisor” was transformed into detecting any action against you.
Soon it became clear that I had to meet up with you. If something happened to Marcos, I had to be by your side to help you put yourself back together and open your life to me. I had to change plans because of Rebeca. Once she found out I was back, she had to see me. I, on the other hand, had not gone back to see my uncles. She continued being more or less in touch with you and once visited you twice in the same week. The visits of my cousin appeared in the reports I had commissioned.
And without the slightest hint of decency, she took out one of her gorgeous tits and began feeding the kid. “Are you embarrassed? I can’t believe it. Besides, you’ve seen them before.”
I had no choice but to go see Rebeca. I had a sneaking suspicion as to why she wanted to see me. I called my uncle to get her phone number. I decided to go over to her house the following afternoon. She met me in the living room, with the baby in her arms. After greeting me, she gave me the kid. I had never in my life held a baby. Drawing on all my patience, I bore an hour and a half of her talk. She told me about her interrupted studies, about the “accident” and how everything was so hard for her. She much regretted having revealed so much to me…
From the start I noticed how her eyes glistened. The attraction I had always held for her was still there. When it became more and more obvious, I tried to leave and then I felt regret. We hadn’t even mentioned your name and that’s why I had even bothered coming. She realized that immediately. “You’re leaving so soon. Why, I haven’t even offered you a drink. But you have to give me a minute. I have to first breastfeed Juanito.”
She left me alone in the living room. My patience had almost run out. How long would she be? I was surprised to see her return so quickly, simply wearing a silk robe. And without the slightest hint of decency, she took out one of her gorgeous tits and began feeding the kid. “Are you embarrassed? I can’t believe it. Besides, you’ve seen them before.” At first her boldness surprised me. I changed the subject and asked after you.
“I haven’t seen her in a long time. She’s still with the same old boyfriend. I think they are planning to get married. Someone told me that. You haven’t seen her yet? I would have sworn you have.” I confirmed my suspicions, her lies betrayed her. I was sure she had called you up to find out if I had gone to see you. So now I knew that you were aware of my return.
Juan Fernando finished suckling one breast and she offered him the second, without even covering the first breast up. As she did this, her robe opened up completely, showing her silk, almost transparent, lace underwear below her stomach. Before I could come up with any excuse to leave, she asked me to come closer. “Sit next to me. Don’t be a fraidy cat. Do you know something? I regret having been a coward with you that night…” She boldly spread her legs. I stuck my hand in and began caressing her with all my knowledge. When I sensed she was about to come and before she asked me to do something more, I stood up. “Sorry Rebeca, but if before I wasn’t good enough, now it’s worse. You’re married, I travel all the time, and this is simply wrong,” I said, as if I gave a shit about appearances. She begged me to come back soon. “As soon as I can,” I answered coldly. Juanito didn’t even react, just kept on sucking the whole time.
So I took a job as a rep for a U.S. organization that was going to donate medical supplies to the hospital where you worked. I needed to go see the hospital. Make it a casual visit.
I acted as surprised as you when we met. You looked so beautiful, gorgeous. You worked in pediatrics, though that wasn’t your specialty. Your smile was the perfect antidote for the undeserved pain of my childhood. The intervening years had treated you well. And I, standing next to you, wasn’t capable of putting together two or three coherent thoughts.
It didn’t matter. That first encounter had by necessity to seem unplanned. When I said goodbye to you and added that I would be seeing a lot of you in the next few days, I was seized by a kind of idiotic happiness.
I forced myself to think clearly. I had to be vigilant. Any mistake would drive you away from me.
But I calmed down. I needed to avoid being consumed by silly confidence. This was the first step and nothing convinced me that in the end, this charade wouldn’t have its intended result. Still, I was consumed by a backwash of conflicting feelings for days thereafter. Something told me that very soon you and I would hook up, but when? The answer drove me crazy.
I forced myself to think clearly. I had to be vigilant. Any mistake would drive you away from me. You accepted my invitation to drink coffee. That’s when you filled in the details of your life that my research had failed to reveal. I listened stoically to how charming your boyfriend was and how you would soon tie the knot. You learned about my make-believe studies abroad, my new job, and my delight at being able to solve, however slightly, some of the problems in our country.
We got together two or three more times. You liked spending time with me. I, however, became overwhelmed by odd feelings I couldn’t really control. Then one afternoon I bumped into you and you seemed worried. You had a personal problem you wanted to discuss with me, once you were sure it was a problem. What had I missed? I asked you for details since I didn’t have the luxury to speculate on the causes of your anxiety.
I had to act quickly. Days later, I was terrified to read the report. You were pregnant. They even gave me a copy of the results of your physical exam. At first my confusion led me to lose perspective. It was obvious that you now had to marry immediately and I would lose you forever.
It took me a few hours to calm down and I began to strategize. This new information needn’t change my plans. Now I would have to raise your child, something I hadn’t counted on, but my goal was still the same. To be with you.
I had to act quickly.
I had to come up with a good excuse to stop over and see you. How had I learned so quickly about the kidnapping? A useless preoccupation since you let me in on it a few hours later, crying wretchedly. At first I was surprised, but then I understood. You wanted me to investigate the kidnapping. You guessed that I would have some contacts with the U.S. embassy, maybe I knew someone important there. And everyone knew that if the gringos got involved your boyfriend would reappear.
I promised to move heaven and earth till I found him. I went over to your house to get more information. Some things shouldn’t be discussed over the phone. I asked you if Marcos was involved in any shady businesses. A couple of times he had treated a couple of wounded comrades, you told me, but this was many months ago. You were convinced he wasn’t a true militant. Maybe he supported the cause, but he wasn’t an active participant.
We embraced and you cried on my shoulder for more than an hour. Amid tears, you confessed your fear of having him disappear into thin air, like so many others. Simply vanish without a trace, never to hear anything else about him, not even having a body to bury. You couldn’t take that.
That was part of the plan. I only had to modify it a bit.
The following day we went together to a few hospitals. You wanted to go to the morgues, but I didn’t think that was a good idea. The U.S. embassy now had his photo. They would contact us if they heard of something. I stayed with you until you went home to sleep.
Wednesday came. I remember it oh so well. I rang your house buzzer at 6:30 am. As soon as you opened the door, you began shaking your head and screaming. You imagined the worst seeing me so early—there was no way you could have read the expression on my face. But there are things you just can’t hide. I made up a story about knowing some cops to explain why I was the first to know. I was the one who had to tell you—I had asked the authorities to contact me as soon as they found the body. They came and called Marcos’s parents’ house from yours, to give his family the news. I asked you if you preferred for me to bring back his body, but before I had finished asking, you insisted I take you to him.
There he was, stark naked, lying on a stainless steel cot. He had two bullet holes in his head and his wrists had been bound.
You asked me to pick up his parents so we could go all together. Three endless hours of silence, weeping, and sorrow followed. This was one of the greatest challenges of my life. I refused any doubt I had about the right course of action. There was no other way. We had to adapt to the future. Didn’t someone say that love conquers all? Well, what happened was the irrefutable proof of the truth of that well-worn adage. This was an act of love.
There he was, stark naked, lying on a stainless steel cot. He had two bullet holes in his head and his wrists had been bound. There were no signs that he’d been tortured. It was a clean, clear-cut murder. You fell on top of what was left of his body, as if in a desperate attempt to bring him back to life or to warm his cold, dead body—hell if I know. Marcos’s parents embraced each other and cried loudly. I went out to handle the details regarding transporting the body as a way to let them all grieve in privacy.
I called the top funeral home in the country. Naturally, I covered all the expenses. It was a fabulous morning. From the city park the lake looked dazzling and the sun glowed. Twenty minutes later your father-in-law came out. He struggled to speak, and asked me if I knew from where he could make a phone call. I told him that I had taken care of the burial arrangements. It had all been worked out. Then I accompanied him to the hospital office, where he telephoned his house.
You didn’t leave the body until the service people showed up and took care of all the legal issues. Even though I bribed officials, an autopsy had to be performed. At least they did it quickly. They put the corpse in a coffin, also made of stainless steel, and then placed it in a fancy black limo.
By then his relatives and your parents had showed up. You went in the car with your parents. I stopped to eat at a fine restaurant on the way back, ordering the best bottle of wine they had. I drank a mere two glasses. I didn’t want any surprises on my trip back home. Savoring my dessert, I thought slowly and carefully about my next step. It had to be measured and diplomatic.
I was extremely discreet, though I didn’t leave your side during the whole funeral. Always alert to handle any of your desires. To embrace you at just the right moment or to give you a Kleenex if you needed to wipe your nose.
If before I clearly knew the value of discretion, that day I perfected the art of not being intrusive. To be always at your side, but without being noticed, not to awaken the slightest doubt. I managed to succeed. No one said a word to you about me.
Javier Mosquera is the author of four short story collections and two novels. In 2011 he was selected among the 25 Best Secret Writers of Latin America by the Guadalajara International Book Fair and in 2012 his work was included in Sergio Ramirez Mercado’s groundbreaking Central American short story anthology, Puertos Abiertos (Mexico: FCE Publishers). The selections printed here, translated by David Unger, are from his novel Figuraciones, published in 2011 by F y G Editores in Guatemala. His work has been translated into French and Galician, and in 2013 he translated David Unger’s novel The Price of Escape into Spanish. He will be in New York on April 22, 2014, reading with other Guatemala writers at New York’s Americas Society.
David Unger is the author of four novels and a children’s book. Though he writes exclusively in English, he is considered a leading Latin American author. His latest publications include Precio de la fuga (Guatemala, F y G Editores, 2013), La casita (Mexico: CIDCLI, 2012), and Para mi eres divina (Mexico: Random House Mondadori). Unger is completing work on his new novel, The Mastermind, which will begin to be shopped around next month. He has translated fourteen books of poetry, fiction, and children’s literature from the Spanish and believes that Figuraciones is perhaps the best Guatemalan novel published in the last ten years.