“Getting into trouble with him would be serious business, and if I wanted to come home with my limbs still attached, I’d better remove myself from this risky activity. Sebastian often came to the bar, and he had been known to get into fights. But Sebastian was smart, and he had caught onto what I was doing.”
JULY 5, 1999. 10:00PM
I stood in the corner of a dark bar, smoking a cigarette. I called for the bartender to pour me another drink even though I knew I shouldn’t have. I looked around to find my cousin, Sebastian, playing poker at a nearby table. I caught his gaze and waved.
“Alejandro, come play cards with us,” he called, and I lazily strolled over. “You have any money?” he asked.
I reached into my pocket, my hands touching a warm twenty dollar bill I had picked up at the bank earlier that day. That wasn’t for spending, I remembered, and I pulled my hand back out, shaking my head.
“I must have forgotten it,” I told him, who, judging by the dazed look on his face, had already had one too many drinks that night.
Getting into trouble with him would be serious business, and if I wanted to come home with my limbs still attached, I’d better remove myself from this risky activity. Sebastian often came to the bar, and he had been known to get into fights. But Sebastian was smart, and he had caught onto what I was doing.
“Are you lying just to get away from me?” he said in his low voice, slowly pulling back his chair and standing up.
Backing away, I shook my head. When I realised that he was following me, I broke into a run. I had to get away, back home to my family. It was a warm night, even for Colombia, and I was panting and sweating. I hid myself behind a large dumpster, realizing that even now, there was little chance of me getting away safely. When he leaves, you’ll get into your car and make a run for it, I told myself. But tonight the moon was full, and it was easy to see, even in the dark. A single movement and he would be able to find me, even in his drunken state.
Suddenly, I heard a loud bang, like the sound of a car backfiring. Wincing, I fell to the floor, but not before capturing a glimpse of Sebastian, dangling like an ape from the tree above.
“Adiós amigo,” I heard him call in a raspy voice.
Seconds later, the whole world turned pitch black.
JULY 6, 1999. 2:30AM
It was just past two-thirty in the morning when I got the call.
“Is this Lucia Rodriguez?” a solemn voice asked me.
“Yes. Who is this? Why do you call me at this hour?” I mumbled.
“Do you know Alejandro Garcia?”
“Yes, yes. What is the matter?”
“We have grave news. Mr. Garcia died this evening. Your daughter, Josephina, requests your presence.”
I hung up the phone, bewildered. This had come so quickly, so unexpectedly. Wiping away tears from my eyes, I took a deep breath, quickly slipped out of bed, threw on a robe over my nightgown, and wearily drove to Josephina’s small apartment in the city. The police had already arrived and had begun to bombard her with questions. Pushing and shoving, I fought my way through an endless web of them to reach Josephina.
“Cálmate, calm down, my daughter,” I told Josephina in a soft voice.
Then I turned to the policemen, who were all waiting and disapprovingly watching this spectacle.
“¡Largate! Get out!” I shouted, pointing at the door.
Obediently and with little objection, they quickly proceeded to leave. How careless of them, interrogating a poor woman, I thought, before shouting “NO VUELVAS! Don’t come back!” before slamming the front door. This was a personal matter. Before I could ask any more questions, Josephina began to speak.
“It was Sebastian,” she said in a mix of anger and tears. “Tio Sebastian killed Alejandro!”
All I could do was shake my head in despair. I bent down, trying to hide the tears that were pouring down my face. My first thought was why would mi hermano, my brother, ever do such a thing to his own nephew? But on the other hand, I knew what Sebastian was capable of when he was drinking, and I had been expecting it, although I never quite knew just how devastated I would actually feel.
“Does Sofia know?” I whispered, trying not to wake the sleeping toddler in the other room.
I already knew the answer just by the look on Josephina’s face. Upstairs, I heard a loud wail, and I watched as Josephina wearily walked into the baby’s room. She picked up the baby, and began to rock the baby to back to sleep, humming quietly.
APRIL 1, 2011. 12:30PM
I stepped out of the airport, taking my first gasp of fresh air since I had left smoggy Los Angeles six hours earlier. I could smell the palm trees, see the bright blue sky, and feel the warm rays cast off of the sun. I loved it. Instantly, I saw my aunt calling for me. My uncle followed a few steps behind, lugging a large cart full of gifts that my aunt had likely selected from the marketplace a few hours earlier.
“Hola! Sofia! You are so tall!” Tia Lucia called out in her loud voice as she plopped a large, straw hat onto my head.
She was a short, large woman who always was full of happiness and excitement. Her English was rusty, but I could tell the pure sense of joy she was feeling.
Seconds later, my cousin, Santiago, appeared, carrying what seemed to be a baby carriage. I peered inside and was greeted by the smiling face of my youngest cousin, already covered in the odor of my aunt’s strong floral perfume. I wanted to reach for the baby, to carefully rock it back and forth, singing the same lullabies that my mother had sung to me. But now wasn’t the time for singing. I followed them through the crowd, rushed by my cousins past groups of other reunited families. Loud music was playing, and I could smell fresh fruit being sold at nearby street carts. I saw an old woman selling paella, my favorite dish, but before I could stop, I tripped and fell. By the time I got myself up, my family had already gone. I was lost.
Seconds later, my uncle, Tío Diego, appeared, grabbing me by the wrist and pulling me back.
“We must stick together here,” he said in his deep, plangent voice, before continuing on to catch up with my aunt.
It was then that I noticed just how tall he was. While he didn’t ever bear any expression, I began to realise the difficulty of his job. It was his obligation to take care of me, to keep me safe while I was in Colombia. At that moment, the image of my dead father flashed in my head. I had only known him from pictures, but in that moment, I could feel his comforting presence. But it was that softness that ultimately got him killed.
“We must be strong,” she had told me.
Before we left for America, I had felt that God was there for me. But first, after my father’s death, and then after my mother, Josephina, started to stay out late and drink too much, I began to question his actuality. Here, back in Colombia, with my cousins and aunts and uncles, I felt truly at home.
I stepped into my uncle’s rusty pickup truck. Tia Lucia had insisted that I sit in the passenger seat, and I had obliged. Santiago mumbled something under his breath, and I could tell he disapproved. In Colombia, life was different, and he was not given the same opportunities that I had been given back in America. School was my only hope for a better future, and Santiago didn’t have that hope anymore. As we drove by rows and rows of empty fields on dirt roads, I thought of my abuela. I used to think she was the smartest person in the world. I remember us sitting on the rocking chair on her porch, telling me stories about Paris and London and New York. Back then they had seemed so fantastical, utopian, like faraway dreams. But years later, I now knew that those stories weren’t always true. Moving to America and learning about the world had taught me just how multi-sided the world is. These faraway lands had once seemed like they were fit for fairy tales. It made me bitter and frustrated just thinking about it, about the real truth and our world, full of lies.
Back in the realm of reality, I glanced out of the window to find all of my excited cousins and family members. The car stopped, and I got out, welcomed with hugs and kisses. There was Tio Mateo and Tio Diego and Tia Luciana and Tia Valentina with my eight cousins. Lurking in the corner was someone who I didn’t recognize.
“Meet your Tio Sebastian, my brother,” Tia Lucia told me, and he held out his hand.
I didn’t know why, but both of them exchanged glances. Anyway, I was too tired to find out.
APRIL 1, 2011. 10:15PM.
I grabbed Lucia and pulled her into the kitchen. We had just finished dinner and everyone had finally gone upstairs. I bolted the door.
“What were you thinking, bringing the girl here?” I asked in a hushed voice.
“Sebastian, she is family. We must put the past behind us. I am already doing you a great favor by keeping you here. If Josephina were to find out…” She said, her voice trailing off.
“Silencio, Lucia!” I said, practically growling.
Nobody could know our little secret or it would be the end of me.
“Okay, okay, Sebastian, what more do you want me to do? I secretly kept you in this house all these years. You’d be in jail if it wasn’t for me,” Lucia told me.
She looked tired and was beginning to sound quite frustrated with me.
“Nothing! Just keep quiet, please! The girl can’t know I killed her father!” I didn’t realise how loud I was being.
Maybe I shouldn’t have drank so much with dinner. Suddenly, I heard a noise from outside the door.
APRIL 1, 2011. 10:20PM
I had gone down to get a drink of water, only to find the kitchen door bolted. Hushed whispers were coming from inside. I quickly realised that it was Tia Lucia with Sebastian. I knew something was up with them! Peering through a crack in the door, I watched Sebastian pace around the room indecisively. Their conversation kept on growing louder and louder. Then Sebastian’s voice.
“Nothing! Just keep quiet, please! The girl can’t know I killed her father!”
A sinking feeling took over me. How could he do such a thing? How could Lucia, my precious aunt, have hidden this from me? I was shocked! All these years, it was Sebastian, su hermano, her brother, who had killed my father. I had known something was wrong, but I never suspected it to be this horrible. Suddenly, the door opened, and Tia Lucia peered out. For a couple of moments, she caught my gaze, horrified.
“Aye, Sofia, come back!” she called from the doorway.
But I was already gone.