The truth was that my parents simply couldn’t feed us. Almost every weekend Mamá would scrape together forty centavos for bus fare to Aguacayo. From the time I was about four to seventeen, she would take me with her to visit the relatives. Tía Marta, her little sister, was what you might call the common-law wife of a rich old man. He had many women, but Tía Marta bore him nine children and managed his hacienda. She would feed us and send us home with food to sell or to eat—and a little money as well.
Mamá was ashamed to come—it was pitiful. Now I understand: our family was twelve people; we had nothing to eat, much less to bring to the tía. In any case, we couldn’t arrive at Aguacayo empty-handed, so Mamá and I went to the market anyway. Late in the day, people don’t buy fish anymore and the vendors don’t want to keep them to sell the next day. There was a lady whom Mamá knew very well, who sometimes went out selling blankets with her. And so Mamá would say to the lady, “Niña Josefina—Niña Fina—can you give me five pounds of fish? I can pay you later…”
“Of course, Almita. Don’t worry about it!”
Then we went on to a bakery. If there was stale bread or burnt bread, they’d give you a lot of rolls for one colón. We ourselves didn’t eat bread at home, and at the tía’s hacienda they didn’t bake bread, they only ate tortillas. If you wanted bread you had to go into town. And so when we went to Aguacayo Mamá would bring a colón’s worth of stale rolls and five pounds of yesterday’s catch—all on credit. And she could say, “Here, I’ve brought you this!”
The bread was for my cousins. They loved my mamá and never made faces when we came—it was so nice that they never scorned her. On the contrary, as soon as we arrived they cried out, “Tía Alma! Tía Alma! Yay!” and they set upon the rolls. They’d say, “Tía Alma is here with fish!” It was their favorite food for Saturdays. The house smelled of fish—the whole house—and the cousins would say, “Yay, the tía brought fish!” And the first one to eat would be their father, Señor Inez. And he’d say, “Thanks for the fish, Almita!” In this way Mamá could come with gifts, and leave with a lot of food and money so the family could eat—and she could sell some, too—to survive another week.
Mamá and I visited Aguacayo every week or two, all year long. It all depended on whether my father was drinking. If he wasn’t drinking (and was bringing home money), Mamá could wait longer before going to visit. She went to Tía Marta as a last resort.
It was strange, but once Mamá was out of the house, my father didn’t drink. We usually took the bus on Friday at two o’clock in the afternoon. On Saturday morning Diego would wake up from his cirindanga—his usual drunken binge—and ask, “Where is Alma?” My siblings would say she went to see the tía, and it was like magic for my papá. He knew that she would come home with money and food, and so he stopped drinking. It was as though Mamá was his motive for drinking himself into a stupor. Sober, Diego would go to the market and he, too, would ask for bread on credit—and that was the only time my siblings ate bread. He’d promise to pay on Sunday evening, because he knew we’d be returning then and Mamá would have money.
Tía Marta had fled from my grandmother, Sara, when she was just thirteen—soon after Mamá had left for the city. A much older, very wealthy man, Señor Inez Guzmán, was obsessed with her, and asked her to come and live with him on his hacienda. It’s a strange story: Señor Inez’s father, Señor Matías, had been one of the neighbors who liked to visit in the evenings with Sara and Joel. He was a very rich, important man; his brother was the mayor. When Marta was born, Señor Matías looked at the baby and told his 27-year-old son that one day she would be his wife. “Ya nació la esposa de Inezito!”
How could this be? By then his son Inez already had his house and wife and children. Many years later, that wife must have died—but he still had lots of other women in the vicinity. He built a little house with a backyard for each woman and gave her a couple of cows to provide milk for her children.
Although he was much older than the tía, Señor Inez didn’t look like an old man. He looked very strong. He was tall, robust, and he had a little mustache like the one Hitler wore. That’s how he looked when I knew him. He had a powerful voice, what we called un vozarrón—you could hear him from a long ways away. Señor Inez said that he was the head of the household, and the tía was just a person who had to do what he said. So she got accustomed to doing things his way.
They lived in the big house on the hacienda where Sara had grown up, elevated upon the little man-made knoll and surrounded by thorn bushes, piñales. The Guzmáns had bought it from her parents long ago. There was no electricity; the house was located in an isolated place surrounded by trees and horses and cows. However, it had everything right nearby—a river, wells and springs, even a pigpen. There was a place for animals, a place to sow vegetables, and a little orchard. They had different types of banana trees—huge clumps of bananas simply for the cutting—and the yucca plants were about three blocks away. Everything was right there, you just had to bring it up to the house.
Inside the kitchen was the loft or attic, chock full of dried corn and loaves of brown sugar. Sometimes, hanging down from the ceiling, there would be a piece of meat being smoked, and sometimes nets full of the big dried shrimp that we called chagales. These were a bit more expensive; you might give chagales to a worker you liked. The shrimp are salted, and they provoke a lot of thirst so that you’ll drink enough water and stay hydrated. All of this was up by the ceiling. There was no electric light, so when you went up into the attic you had to bring a lantern. Usually it was the zipotes who scampered up the ladder, because they were the ones who could bring things up and down. (A zipote or zipota is any boy or girl, up to age 18.)
When I knew Tía Marta she was in her early forties. Mamá had me at thirty-nine, and so Marta would have been thirty-seven at that time. She was plump, robust. Her legs were terribly afflicted by varicose veins, but my aunt almost never sat down; occasionally I saw her resting in a doorway. Both sisters had been raised to have a lot of kids: the tía had nine children and Mamá had ten. And so when I knew her she was an extremely busy woman. She was the lady of the hacienda and there was a tremendous amount of responsibility on her shoulders. When we came my mamá always dedicated herself to helping her sister.
By the time I woke up at six in the morning, Tía Marta had already gone down to the river to bathe. She would have taken a candle and gone with the elderly servant, Señora Marcos, or with one of the kids, los zipotes. Señora Marcos would already be grinding corn. What time had the aunt gotten up to put the corn on to cook? I don’t know. But the old lady Marcos was already there grinding, helping her. Marcos had worked for Señor Inez and Tía Marta all her life. She lived nearby, but sometimes she stayed to sleep there with the tía, to start work very early in the morning.
So Marcos was already making tortillas or breaking the corn kernels. “Breaking the corn” means just giving the kernels one pass of the pestle. Then you have to give them two or three more passes on the grindstone so that the masa will be smooth, cuentecita. After that the tía would prepare the breakfast for ten or twelve mozos, the field workers. She also fed those who worked nearby, including my cousins and other boys they called meseros. The meseros were teenagers who worked in and around the house and yard. They would cut firewood, carry water, gather the eggs, feed the goats, and sweep the patio. Every afternoon they picked up the dung, so that this important organic fertilizer wouldn’t be wasted. They lived in el rancho, a little bunkhouse with a big silo where they stored fodder for the animals.
On the hacienda it was a little strange that people didn’t eat a lot. Small portions were measured out for each child or other member of the household. They never were accustomed to gorge themselves, but each received an amount that the tía considered sufficient—and, of course, it was by order of the tío, Señor Inez.
After serving breakfast, the tía would breathe for a bit, and then take some laundry and either give it to a woman to wash in the river, or go down along the path herself to help. Then they’d come back to prepare lunch. They had a burro to carry water, and a mule they would load up with saddlebags and ride out to bring lunch to the workers in the fields. Kids of thirteen or fourteen would be responsible for this. No longer did they carry it all on their heads, as Mamá had done.
Nonetheless, life for our cousins was very hard. Although they were children, they still had a lot of work to do. The difference between us was that they didn’t have the basic services that we had in the capital, such as electricity and public latrines. But they always had food.
My cousins had to work the land—but at least it was theirs. They got up at four-thirty in the morning to milk the cows and water them, collect the eggs, check on the seedlings. The girls had to go down to the river to wash clothes, and use a stone to grind the corn for tortillas. To wash the corn they sometimes had to go down to the river again, and they’d take advantage of this and bring along a water jug to fill up. They would go to school and study in the afternoon. When they arrived back home from school, they, too, had to pick up dung. They did this constantly, every day. It was a lot of work in a single day, but they knew they had to do it.
Strangely, my cousins always went out to do their work in ragged pants that showed their heinie. They went out like this to bring the food to the workers, to herd the animals, to do all the outdoor chores. Their clothes were all in shreds because they did very rough work. Sometimes they had to cut down corn stalks in the hills and make big bales of fodder. I have seen machine-made bales of hay out in the fields of California, but back in Aguacayo they made them by hand. The cousins had to tie up the bales with wire and store them in the silo that was part of the rancho. And at noon the tía was already preparing the lunch they’d need to bring back out to the workers.
On the hacienda there were all sorts of animals that would scare regular city folks, including enormous pigs that wandered around free. My cousins and I had to climb up in trees to poop, because feces attracted the pigs and it could be very dangerous. Sometimes the kids would raise piglets and sell them. Señor Inez was the only one in the area who raised brahma bulls and cows. When each boy turned eight or nine their father would designate a calf for him, to start his own herd.
The children had school in the afternoon, but when they left the house they were all cleaned up and well dressed, with a lot of money in their pockets. On Saturday afternoons and Sundays my cousins would sometimes go into town to eat, or just to see something different. They were very lucky: their father owned the farm.
Señor Inez’s daughters were older, and he sent them into the capital to be educated. They became professionals: one of his daughters became an important secretary in the court system, and another in the tax service. The boys, however, received only a basic education and were trained to work on the hacienda. In later years, three of Señor Inez’s sons became judges. My cousins were very loyal, and were always ready to help me.
Out in the countryside, everyone carried a gun. Señor Inez began to teach his children how to use a pistol as soon as they began to talk. My boy cousins each wore a brace of pistols when they started school at five or six years of age. When my women cousins came to visit they each had a rifle. It was a tool like any other on the hacienda. There were dangerous snakes around, and everyone could shoot deer, armadillos, rabbits. My mamá was a skilled butcher and could field dress a deer, or skin and butcher a cow if one fell down a ravine and couldn’t be hauled back up.
At meal times everyone would take off their guns and lay them on the table, or put them up high to sit down and eat. Unfortunately, arguments often ended with pistols drawn. One time when Señor Inez was arguing with one of his sons, he started shooting at him inside the house! Tía Marta sprang upon her husband and quickly disarmed him. She grabbed his pistol and shot the last bullet where it wouldn’t hurt anyone, then gave it back to him empty. I was a city girl—and I was scared!
At night my littlest cousins and I had fun telling each other the same stories over and over. They liked to light a campfire in the summertime, or if we were in the patio we’d light a Sterno candle. The nights were very pretty in that place and we’d stay awake, admiring the stars. With a beautiful moon we gave our imagination free rein.
Mornings were thus very busy for the tía and my cousins. By the time Tía Marta finished making lunch and the kids had gone to school, it was one o’clock in the afternoon. Now the tío was up, in front of his little mirror, having slept all morning. He always ate alone at a big table, looking out the window at his property. The rest of us would eat at another big table. When my grandfather, Joel, came out to the hacienda to visit, he could eat with the tío.
Señor Inez was starting to get sick with Parkinson’s disease, but still he visited one of his women every day. He’d say, “Martita, I’m going. I’m going to so-and-so’s house, what can I bring to her?”
The tía remembered who each woman was, and how many children she had. She’d say, “Ah, okay. Take this…” And she’d make up a whole load of food and clothes for the woman and her kids. The tía might say, “Oh, there’s cheese.” They had put huge wheels of cheese up in the attic to dry. These were two or three feet in diameter, about eighteen inches thick. They made this cheese very salty so that it would keep. And so she might tell one of the zipotes to go up and bring down two pounds of cheese.
Besides that, Tía Marta nearly always raised majonchos, a type of banana that was like a small plantain. There are many, many varieties of bananas in our country. For us there’s the yellow banana and then the plátano macho, which is harder. The majoncho is in between these two. The poor people in our country have almost nothing to eat; they might eat a fried or grilled majoncho with coffee at night. This might be your dinner, because it’s heavy like the plantain. Country people eat it complete with the peel. The banana indio is very sweet, and there’s another one we use to make a type of dessert. And so Tía Marta would go and cut down a couple of enormous clusters of majonchos, and store these also up in the attic. She might send one of the zipotes up to bring down four bunches to give to the woman. Each bunch might have up to twenty-five majonchos.
She wrapped everything up in huge banana leaves and gave it to the tío. “Okay, here you are. And this, too—here are these shrimp chagales.” Or she might say, “There’s smoked meat.” The tía filled up his saddlebags, and off went the tío on his special mare with its dancing gait.
The tía knew that Señor Inez would go and sleep a while with this woman and give her the supplies, and okay—the tía could breathe. After he left she sat down for an hour to rest, knowing he’d come back around nine o’clock at night. She’d perch on the foundation of the house and lean her back against a pillar, extending her feet and her poor legs full of varicose veins. Beside her were dozens of ears of corn to shell. She’d give a strange whistle, and within five minutes the patio would be alive with hundreds of chickens and doves, and perhaps fifteen or twenty turkeys. The native turkeys or chumpes are very delicate and die with the least provocation. The tía would shell the corn and throw handfuls out to feed the poultry.
This was the time that my mamá took advantage of. She wanted to arrive at the tía’s house when her husband was gone, when she knew perfectly well that the tío would not see. Señor Inez liked my mamá. We would get up on Saturday morning and he would be there and say, “Alma, how nice to see you!” But he didn’t like that we were coming.
When the tío had ridden off, Tía Marta would load us up, too, with tons of food and a little money. There was corn, sugar, coffee, cottage cheese, beans, and a lot of fruit. Sometimes she sent the zipotes out to pick oranges from the orange grove, and we’d bring home a net full—as many as three hundred oranges to sell. Or we’d go to the little orchard that was within the hacienda. It was full of fruit trees, and there was even a special avocado tree that was called aguacatevaca. These avocados were huge—a foot tall—creamy as butter, and delicious. They had just a little seed inside. It was a special hybrid that someone had developed especially for the uncle. They were easily bruised, and so Mamá would wrap up each avocado in corn husks and make bundles of them in big banana leaves. Later, she would go to the capital and sell them, sometimes for two colones apiece. And so she had a little business.
During our visit the tía would stockpile all our supplies at a friend’s house in town, so that the uncle wouldn’t see. She always gave Mamá a bit of money, too, so that once we got to the bus station in the city she could pay for un pico—a pickup truck—to bring everything home.
Things were somewhat different in Aguacayo before I was born, when the abuela Sara came to live at the hacienda. Marta had spent two months in Señor Inez’s house at the coast, and came down with typhoid fever when she returned. They sent a letter to the telegraph office to tell Sara, and she came out to the hacienda to care for her daughter.
The abuela had been living alone. Her son Lorenzo had fled because he had witnessed his cousin killing an important man, and now his own life was in danger. After that Sara would see ghosts in her little house, usually the ghosts of her enemies. She didn’t want to go back there. And so my abuela ended her days back at the hacienda where she had grown up, about ten years before I came along.
Back then my mamá would sometimes go and stay with them for two weeks. At that time she had fewer children. She’d bring the littlest and leave the others in the care of Mama Tina, my other abuela. My father’s mother lived in a tiny mesón next door to ours, so that she could help look after the kids. She knew it was a benefit for everyone.
There was more help in those days. Mamá said that as soon as her mother moved into Tía Marta’s house, she would say, “Alma, today I’m going to give you some sacks of beans.” And it wasn’t twenty-five pounds, like the tía intended; the abuela would give her a hundred pounds of beans. Although Sara had been terribly cruel to her children, while she was in prison Mamá learned that her mother actually did love them. In later years, without a man in her life, Sara became understanding and even affectionate, and tried to make up for the past by being very generous.
As always, the uncle would leave in the afternoon, and then the little kids went off to school. But these were the kids of just Señor Inez—they weren’t the children of the tía. They were very young, three kids that Inez had had with other women, who then tossed them out for the tía to raise. There was one boy that I knew, and I had to call him “uncle”. He was Alfredo Mejía. He got polio in one leg, so he walked strangely. The others were Miguel—Miguelito; and Pablo, whom they called Pablito. And Tía Marta raised all three of them.
Since these little kids slept in the room with Abuela Juana, she felt that she had authority over them. When they went off to school, she would give them the sacks of food and tell them, “Carry all this and leave it with my friend in the town.” Sometimes they put the kids on a horse, because they were the children of the señor owner of the hacienda. They tied the goods onto the horse’s haunches—and sometimes they added three bundles of sweets, or a paper cone with two pounds of dried shrimp, or twenty-five pounds of beans. They brought all of this out to the abuela’s friend.
In this way, when Mamá left Señor Inez’s hacienda after two weeks, she herself carried only a basket with some fruit that she had picked. But everything that they had sent all week long would be waiting for her in the town. It was a lot, because the grandmother told her, “I don’t believe you have anything to eat. I know that you don’t come just to see me, but you come out of necessity.” And so the abuela even gave her ground coffee, a huge cube of rich brown sugar, and more.
I think Sara felt bad that she had not ensured an inheritance for her children. She had refused to marry my grandfather, never thinking that she would suddenly find herself abandoned with her children. Mamá and her siblings would receive nothing at all from their father because he was machista.
The abuela had had a lot of shocks in her life, and that’s why she said you should never do things for love. You should think before saying that men are better than women, that they deserve everything. We women think that love will last forever, and for that reason we rely heavily on men. But a time comes, she said, when there is no more love nor trust: What’s yours is yours, and what’s mine is mine. And so you have to think ahead and prepare to ensure that when love dies, you can still survive.
Every November on the Day of the Dead, Mamá would bring flowers out to Aguacayo to decorate Sara’s grave. Only one time did we go to visit my grandfather, Joel. When I was five or six years old we went to the house where he lived with Herminia, the hateful woman with whom he had taken up when Sara was in prison. My abuelo was a very tall, robust man with fair skin that was completely covered with thick brown hair. I remember his little honey-colored eyes and his long eyelashes. When he was young he had had another woman, and stole her house. The woman’s mother gave him the nickname “Little Mosquito Eyes” because his tender eyes were so small.
I have never known anyone on earth who loved money more than he did, and he wouldn’t share it with anyone. Joel would guard each centavo as if it were his greatest treasure. One day something marvelous happened and he gave one centavo to me—something which, for him, was a great thing. I just laughed, because with one centavo you couldn’t even buy a caramel! Unfortunately, that’s how he was. He ended his days working away and guarding his money, never knowing it would all be squandered by one of Herminia’s sons.
The day we visited them, Herminia had already had a stroke. She offered us nothing, not even water. Her children and grandchildren didn’t work—except for one who made chicha, a type of corn beer. For some reason the whole house smelled like cheese.
Regardless, for me it was wonderful to go out to the place where my stingy grandfather made toffee and brown sugar candy. He was a master of the process. The time of milling sugar cane began at the end of October and lasted until January. They used the trapieche, a rustic mill with a grindstone turned by bullocks that walked in circles. You could smell the sugar and hear the screech of the mill up to a kilometer away. The sweet syrup comes out when you crush the cane, and all that’s left is set aside for the animals to eat. Then they boil and boil the syrup to make loaves of brown sugar, hard toffee melcochas, and molasses.
People loved to come and watch the sugar mill, and this fascinated me. It was fun to go to such places during that time of year, although it was very cold in November and December. Everyone came—the owners of the grinding mill, the workers, and the people waiting their turn to process sugar cane. Up close, the air was sickly sweet, cloying.
My grandfather was a specialist in the process of making candy. He knew the perfect point to which the syrup must be boiled. He would dip his bare hand into the boiling cauldron to sense whether it had reached the right consistency so that the sugar could harden and be made into loaves. The process went on for a very long time, sometimes three days in a row. Joel would sleep for a day and then come back again to his work. He was one of the best workers of his time.
In those days they didn’t measure the sugar cane by kilos or tons; my grandfather might process two or three cartloads. With the first two they might make loaves of brown sugar, and with the last cartload they made the melcochas and the batidos. The decoction of the honey is much different in each case. Batido is a kind of typical candy, and if you have money you make batido with milk, anis, and nutmeg. You make these candies in very pretty wooden molds, and you can break them apart by hand. Batido made with milk is very special and takes a lot more work. This is made mostly for the family. Melcochas are hard toffee, like Sugar Daddy candy bars, but without the stick. The melcocha was the last thing they made. It’s really just made from the foam that is left. It’s formed into a large, flat oval the size of your palm. The edges are thinner, but the middle is a bit thick. It’s light brown in color, like brown sugar—lighter still if it contains milk. To break the melcocha into pieces you have to smack it against a wall. Melcocha is for the peons to suck on as they work in the heat of the afternoon—this is what Mamá had carried in her knapsack out to the fields, pieces of melcocha.
Our family was very fortunate to have Tía Marta to rely on. Many other poor families had to find other ways to survive. My people—Oh God! How sad my people live out in the countryside, in houses of straw where by night women who breastfeed their children sometimes wake up with a snake at their breast. Their hovels don’t even have doors. The men work from six in the morning to six at night for a salary of three colones a day. Is this any kind of life? No, I never understood this inequality.
When October arrived, many rural families traveled to different fincas, or plantations. It was the time of the zafra—the cutting of sugarcane. Men and women—and let’s not forget the children, too—all work to cut it. The work is very hard, and you have to bear the tropical sun, over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit, all day long. You need to wear strong, hard clothing, since the leaves are of a tough consistency and their edges are like double-edged knives that cut your skin if you brush against them. You can get an infection very easily. The rozadores or cane cutters themselves must load it all onto a big truck and then take it to the mills. There were big mills or ingenios, larger operations than the simple mill my abuelo used. Sadly, they have modernized and left many people jobless.
Many families travel to coffee plantations when their children are out of school. The harvest season lasts three or four months. Mamá said that she went once with her father, and she didn’t like the experience. Joel was employed as a foreman, and he went just for a change of work; for a double salary he would direct all the workers. But he kept Alma’s pay, too—she never got anything. The only food they were given, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, was a big tortilla with beans. She asked why? Why go and work so hard and be half-starved?
It’s all very well to hear songs from my country written by someone who may have been his own master, owning the fruits of his labor. I just can’t see the joy in waking up at three in the morning, with the cold that exists in the mountains where the best coffee is grown; waiting for an open truck to take you even higher into the mountains to a place at ten or fifteen kilometers distance. You use big baskets we call canastos, and you cut the red beans first, and later the green ones. Your hands get full of the sweet juice from each coffee plant, and it makes your skin hard and black with dust. Then, when you fill the canasto, you have to sit down to sort the beans and put them into sacks. You have to pick as many beans as you can, since you’re paid according to what you pick. Your eating hours are deducted. When the time comes for the truck to pick you up, you have to carry all that coffee out to the road, no matter how far away it may be. You carry it on your head or on your shoulder, whichever way you can.
If you’re not a neighbor of the finca, the owners let you sleep in an open shack made of wood, with an earthen floor. At dinnertime you have to be grateful for a big tortilla with only a few, undercooked beans and a pinch of salt. (On most fincas these tortillas are for the dogs in normal times.) You get a cup of “coffee” which is actually made with corn that is toasted or burned and then ground.
Many families wait anxiously for these harvest days. They work terribly hard and suffer all this deprivation. Then, when January comes, they have a little money to buy books, shoes and uniforms for school, which starts in February. However, many people who worked like this as children don’t want their own kids to suffer as they did.
It hurt me so much to see people, not even my relatives, come back with malaria from the mosquitoes; or others with anemia, diarrhea or dysentery. Still others were bitten by strange insects. In my mother’s family, there used to be some relatives who always worked the harvest and as children would never get sick. But when they reached adolescence, they began to come down with a bad cough. The diagnosis was tuberculosis: the hardships of sleeping on the ground and suffering the cold and malnutrition brought them to their end. One died at the age of seventeen; the other during her first pregnancy, at fourteen. It’s a shame, but I think that they finally tired of this life so devoid of pleasure. I think, however, that if such a life is yours to live, it’s best not to cry. Even this life is much better than the alternative.
Throughout my childhood there was a lot of coming and going to Aguacayo, and maybe because of that I came to love all of my boy and girl cousins. Even though we were so different, never in their house did I feel even a bit of superiority on their part, or scorn for other people. I was their cousin, my brothers were their brother cousins, and that was that. Sometimes they did say that they had a notion to darle con la verga de toro to one of the grownups—to whip them with the terrible penis bone of a bull. They had their papá’s proud character, and like some of my brothers they thought they were big stuff—the difference being that my siblings and I had not even a box to get buried in (which is a saying in my country).
By the time I was in my teens—around 1978—my sister Ondina had fled from her husband and had gone to live on the hacienda with Tía Marta. By then Señor Inez had passed away and the armed conflict had begun. My cousins had come to the United States, or had moved to the capital. Rustlers came and took the goats, and then all the livestock. Then the guerrillas came to Tía Marta asking for two hundred pairs of shoes. She went to buy them, but her son told her, “If you give them two hundred pairs now, next time they will want a thousand. They will take everything you have, until you are left in the street.”
And so the tía moved into the capital without anyone suspecting. Little by little she began to bring her clothes and possessions to town and leave them with her friend. When she left the hacienda at last, she carried only her purse. She went to live in a poor little mesón in an ugly barrio for two years. Bit by bit she sold off the land and finally bought a house at the Playa de Renderos. Over the years, earthquakes wrecked the big house and left it in ruins. For a while a cousin still lived there, and patched a piece of the house with corrugated tin. I visited the hacienda three years before emigrating. Now no one lives there and it is abandoned. Only gangs are free to roam the area.
That was the end of my family’s life in the countryside. By the time the tía left, my sisters had begun to come to the United States and send money back to Mamá. We no longer had to depend on the charity of Tía Marta, and the pilfered bounty of Aguacayo.