By Harold Kremer
Translated from Spanish by Jennifer Gabrielle Edwards
EL PRISIONERO DE PAPÁ
EL PRISIONERO DE PAPÁ
I heard the pounding of the shovel on the ground and I reached over and poked Yaira in the arm. Then I propped myself up on my elbows and through the darkness I saw the heap in the other bed that was mamma and Titina. It was still night and the pounding of the shovel continued in the patio. I moved Yaira’s hand over a little and I went back to bed. The moonlight entered through the cracks in the wall forming lines along the dirt floor and the beds. The shovel went chak, chak, chak. I also heard the breathing of the man who was digging. I could tell by the noise that it was coming from the side of the hole where Yaira and me played hide-and-seek. I remembered the little box hidden in the wall.
I sat up and I looked over at mamma again. I went up to her and saw that papa wasn’t there. Then I crawled up to the wall and watched the men on the patio: one was smoking and the other was digging. I couldn’t see them very well, but I knew right away that they were papa and Caliche. Caliche was making the hole bigger. It was very late at night and I was sleepy. In the little box we kept the five hundred peso coin we took from the prisoner. I fell asleep and when I woke up it was just getting light outside. I washed my face, spit out the taste of dirt from my mouth, and went to look through the hole in the wall. Papa was putting stones and pieces of plastic and wood over some crossbeams on top of the hole. Caliche indicated with his hand and papa covered the hole. They finished when the sun was already up. Caliche walked away along the canal and papa went to wash his face and hands. At breakfast time he was sleeping and snoring in the bed.
Mamma often said about papa: “He works late.” He came home drunk and mamma would let him climb on top of her. Papa breathed hard and it seemed like the bed was going to fall down. Then mamma would get up and look through his pant’s pockets and hide the money in the hole in the bamboo pillar in the kitchen. When he didn’t come home, mamma didn’t speak, or prepare meals, or take care of the baby. She sat in a corner of the kitchen with her eyes red, and a belt in her hand, and whenever we got close she tried to hit us with it. I felt sorry for Titina because she beat her with the belt. Once I heard mamma talking with Miss Carmen. Next time she’d kill her, she said, and she didn’t care if they put her in jail for it. Mamma said that when papa didn’t come home it was because he slept over there, at her house. Miss Carmen wore tight dresses and was always laughing. Mamma said that that was how women dressed and laughed in order to seduce men. Yaira and me would go through people’s patios and along the canal to go and see her. Once we saw her sitting on papa’s lap. She had lipstick on and her blouse was unbuttoned. Papa put his face in her blouse and Miss Carmen laughed. She laughed because papa was tickling her. Yaira unbuttoned her blouse, showed me her little tits, and said:
“Chuwhen chui chugrow chuup chui’m chugon-chuna chube chulike chuher.”
Late in the morning Yaira and me went to the hole. Papa and Caliche had filled it. Yaira went looking for the dolls that he brought her from the dump and I looked in the creek to see if I could find the box cars Aunt Leonelia gave me. When we remembered the money, we got some pieces of pottery and we scraped at the ground. But the ground was hard because they had pounded it so much with the shovel. Yaira sat down and cried because she loved her dolls. All of a sudden she stopped and said:
“Chuwhat chuhap-chupened chuto chuthe chupris-chuon-chuer?”
I reminded her that they had come for him and that they were going to give papa a big reward. Being such an idiot, as always she didn’t get it and she started to cry again over her dolls and the five hundred pesos.
Papa told us that he had found the boy in a park and since no one showed up to claim him he had brought him home. He was going to keep him until his parents showed up and gave him a fat reward. What we didn’t understand was why he had him tied up with a chain. He was the same size as us and papa gave him a medicine for the disease he had. That way he slept and didn’t feel any pain. When he woke up we would play war and say to him that that was a jail and that he was papa’s prisoner.
At midday when papa got out of bed, he said that he had handed over the prisoner and that they were going to give him a big reward.
That night he didn’t come back. Mamma went out looking for him and when we woke up the next morning she was sitting in the kitchen chair with the belt. Titina’s crying had woken me up. I poked Yaira and we went out to the patio. Titina crawled behind us.
The night papa came home with the prisoner he took him out from between the cartons and boxes in the cart. He brought him to the patio and he put him in the hole. He explained to mamma and us what happened and said that we should keep our mouths shut: if someone found out they would go and tell about the boy and they wouldn’t give us the reward. He also said that he was going to buy a doll for Yaira as big as her and for me a collection of box cars as big as the cart. Then he went to smoke rock with mamma.
When Yaira and me looked in the hole the prisoner was sleeping. We lit a candle and looked through his pockets. We found the five hundred pesos when I took off his shoes. The coin fell under a plank. Yaira grabbed it, looked at me and said:
“Chui chuget chuhalf.”
At that moment the prisoner started to move and I grabbed a plank and hit him on the head with it. Then we ran alongside the canal and we sat and waited. I put the shoes on and walked around to try them out. Yaira kept saying that half was hers. I said that the coin was both of ours and that it was going in the box we hid in the wall in the hole.
The next day Caliche showed us how to cover his mouth. He told us to keep a look out so that no one else came along wanting to claim the reward. He woke up in the afternoon and we untied the rag so he would tell us what his name was, but he started to squeal just like when Tubby from the butcher’s kills the pigs. I started to hit him with a stick and he squealed and squealed. Then mamma came and whacked him in the head and made him take his medicine. Then she beat us with the belt for taking the rag out of his mouth.
That night papa also beat us with the belt and told us to never go back to the hole. We went back the next day but we didn’t untie the rag. Whenever he woke up we would go running to tell mamma and she would make him take his medicine. Papa told us that it was better that we didn’t know his name.
When we got bored of looking after him we got the idea of playing the prisoner game. We got some sticks and we said that they were the guard’s machine guns. When he woke up, before he could start squealing, we told him that this was a jail and that he was papa’s prisoner. Sometimes Yaira unbuttoned her blouse and rubbed her little tits in his face to see if he would laugh.
Two days ago his eyes started to roll around and white drool started to come out of a corner of the rag. Mamma said that it was because he was hungry, that he slept so much that he never ate: she prepared a soup and made him sip it. But the prisoner choked and the soup came out along with the drool. Then he got stiff and then he went limp. Mamma said that he had fallen asleep and it was best to leave him alone. When papa came home, he and Caliche went to see him and a little while later they said that he was okay now and that that night his parents were coming for him. They made us go to bed and they went to smoke rock.
That night I heard the pounding of the shovel on the ground. The next day papa said that he was going for the money, that hopefully they would give it to him so that he could buy those big presents he had promised us.
In the afternoon, when mamma saw us scraping the ground she told us to stop, that that hole was dangerous for Titina and it was better to keep it covered. She told Yaira to stop crying, to stop being such an idiot as always, and that lots of dolls and five hundred peso coins would be coming soon enough.
Now we’re sitting beside the canal. Mamma is still sitting in the kitchen with her eyes red. Titina fell asleep by a pile of newspapers from crying so much. I thought of the five hundred pesos because we were so hungry our stomachs had begun to growl. But I shouldn’t say anything to Yaira because she finally stopped crying a little while ago. With the five hundred pesos we could buy a coca-cola and a pastry. I tell her that papa is going to bring her a doll as big as her, but she still won’t pay any attention to me.
Yaira gets up and finds two branches, she ties them together with a piece of wire until she’s made a cross and she sticks them in the flattened ground.
Then we sit down to wait and see if papa comes back with the money and mamma, beside herself with joy, sends us to Tubby’s to buy meat.