The Island of Refugio Bautista
The sun rises over the drought stricken hills hovering Los Pinos Del Eden, a small farming town borne from the shadows of La Descubierta, Dominican Republic, where Refugio, climbing out his mosquito net, has just wakened from reminiscent dreams of New York City, fantasizing about the corner of 8th Ave and 6th, eating two Papaya hotdogs with sweet onions, ketchup and a piña colada. It’s a bustling New York Saturday night. Fast motorcycles line the Avenue. Women in tight shorts and fat asses walk to Club Bad. The incense man across the street peddles fragrances and who knows what else. Old vinyl records spread across the sidewalk are looking for a home. Refugio is walking tall in tight leather pants, motorcycle jacket, dark shades, five o’clock shadow and mohawk. His Harley is pulled up beside five pimp’d out street bikes. He climbs on his hog, revs the throttle, and shoots north up 6Th Ave toward Washington Heights.
But in this real world, the sun, which pierces the rags that cover a makeshift window of his wooden shack, wakes him up. The Dominican mosquito, which has patiently waited for the sun’s rise, is ready for breakfast, and Refugio’s bare neck looks ripe and warm with rum-tinged blood. Refugio swats, misses, and smacks the back of his neck. “Tu maldita madre!”
He kicks at his bed and curses this morning ritual, vowing to kill that maldito mocito tomorrow.
His wife, Socorro, calls him for morning coffee and crackers. She’s always up way before the rooster to remind him it’s time to crow. Her malnutrition burra, tied to the dry coconut tree, looks like misery on four legs. The shadows of the brittle palm leaves prevent the sun’s rays from shining on her face, disguising the wrinkles on her wrinkles from so many years of toil.
Socorro, already knows this movie that’s about to unfold. She’s seen this scene played out before. Refugio, angry at the world, comes barging out the shack, cursing the mosquito, “y la maldita madre que lo pario.”
“I hate this damn place. No electricity all night. I had to listen to the vecinos fucking, cause they had no TV. No wonder they got eight kids. How the fuck they do it with all those kids around?” “Quietly Refugio. Tranquilito,” Soccoro fires back. “How’s you’re burra doing? I hope you gave her that medicine. She better be doing her job today. Nobody eats free around here. I’m the man of this house. I bring home the meat and the rice. Those are my beans over there (pointing to a pile of dried blacks) and you drinking my coffee. That maldita burra doesn’t want to work? Vamo a ver si eh verda.”
Socorro sips her coffee. “Bueno dia. Refugio. I see you woke up in a good mood again. That’s nice.”
He splashes four heaps of sugar in his coffee and stirs. “I don’t even know what the fuck I’m doing here. It’s like I was sent to hell for all my sins. Things were going so good in NY.”
Socorro, with her tongue fast like a bullet, reminds him, “You’re a criminal Refugio. Have you forgotten why you’re here?” She serves her burra a bucket of water. Refugio bangs his fist on the table and yells, “Callate la boca coñio. Was I even talking to you?” Socorro knows a rhetorical question when she hears one, even though she doesn’t know what rhetorical means. She patiently fixes an empty sack on la burra’s back and looks in the mule’s eyes, “I guess he’s talking to you mi jita.”
Refugio gulps his coffee and snatches the rope from around la burra’s neck. “Let me get the fuck out of here before I bust this woman’s mouth open.”
Socorro smiles, knowing he’ll spend his day in the hills and she’ll have peace and quiet with her routinely chores.
On the dirt path leading up Loma la Matica, a cloud of heavy black smoke, like a cluster of burning shadows, rises from the side of the mountain, near where Refugio keeps his two platano trees and three goats. “Date rapido hija de tu maldita madre,” he snarls, tugging at the mule’s rope, scurrying her along the trail.
La burra is frail. Her lanky legs are consumed to the bone, with knees like four protruding baseballs that can barely drag her weight along the path. She tries to break for a bite of shrubs. Refugio tugs at her rope with one hand, and with the other, he clutches his machete tight when he hears yelling and screaming up the hill.
He swings at the bushes, yanks la burra by the neck and pulls toward his goats. Besides her wobbly legs, la burra is a burra; inherently she’s stubborn.
The distant shrieking and screaming escalates. Refugio, unable to budge the mule, drops her rope and hurries up the trail. “Quedate ahi entonce perra sucia,” he yells and scrambles through the thick brush.
A woman’s agonizing cries bounce around in the woods ahead. Men bellow in a foreign language Refugio doesn’t understand. Gunshots crack the mountain range. Refugio stops. He’s panting. Sweating. Out of breathe. The screaming intensifies and moves closer to where he’s standing. He’s scared stiff. Six more gunshots snap across the hills. Their reverberating echoes remind him of the crackling sound made by a Washington Heights Uzi on a Friday night drive-by. The familiar patter sends him racing back down the path.
The screeching cries hound closer and closer behind him. He grabs la burra’s rope, but she’s so busy being a burra that she refuses to budge. He yanks again. Her chicken legs buckle over. Refugio, suddenly endowed with the strength of two Dominicans on Mama Juana, catches her before she hits the ground. More gun shots. Refugio almost shits his pants after a dribble of piss slides down his left leg.
“Vamonos mamita. Porfavor, vamonos,” he begs her. He’s a nervous wreck. Eerie and hysteria-filled cries surround him in all directions deep in the bush.
La Burra still won’t move. But Refugio refuses to leave her behind. He takes position behind her with machete raised, ready to strike at any danger. The devilish sounds of crackling brush and cries come toward him.
Out the bushes jumps a dark black man, nappy hair, torn jeans, no shoes and covered in blood. He’s crying hysterically in a Haitian Creole as he lunges toward Refugio. “Ede m. Ede m,” he cries.
But Refugio doesn’t speak Haitian Creole and to him this bloody visage looks like an apparition sent straight from el infierno. By instinct, Refugio swings his machete, almost decapitating the man with one blow. Blood, the color of Merlot, sprays Refugio’s face. He panics and chops wildly at the falling body.
A Haitian woman, sweat-drenched and bruised, comes running out the bushes. She stops, looks down at the mutilated body splashed against the dirt and let’s out a piercing scream that resonates down the valley, “Jean-Claude. Jean-Claude. No.”
She looks up to see Refugio towering over the corpse, winded and full of blood. His machete is ready for more swinging. Fearing for her own life, she sprints off. Refugio’s heart races.
Three Dominican farmers emerge from the bushes, two with shotguns, the other a nine mil. They stare at the black mass below them. The man with the nine kicks the body over. Refugio looks to see the dangling head of this teenage boy he just butchered, whose neck is dripping red on Hispaniola’s soil, who’s merely repeating his ancestral history, whose inherited legacy of spilled black blood is what keeps the trees growing strong.
“Ese el numero cuatro verdad?” the man asks, as if he doesn’t already know the fate of the other three Haitians. His chest bulges out like the red-beaked rooster he calls el Diablo, which has won him many cockfights. “They think they’re gonna come choppin down our trees to make this a dessert like Haiti?”
The one guy, who despite the chaos, managed to hold a half-smoked and still lit Cuban between his lips, slings his shotgun over his right shoulder. He spits. “Maldito salvages.” And tugs at the boy’s concrete-like feet. “Vamos. Recojelo,” he roars, “Let’s throw this one into the fire with the others.”
The men pick up the boy’s wilted body. His head separates from the shoulders and rolls down to Refugio’s feet. Still in shock, Refugio stares down at Jean-Claude’s bloodied face, whose terrified expression remains frozen in time; his eyes staring back; his jaw locked wide open, gasping in disbelief that his life ended over some pieces of chopped wood he intended to use for charcoal.
One of the men picks up the decapitated head and warns Refugio to go get clean before the authorities come with their technicalities and too many questions. The men disappear into the woods and head up the hill toward the burning shadows.
At the shack, Socorro hangs fresh, hand-scrubbed laundry across a barbwire fence. Refugio appears on the road. His face is covered in the black boy’s blood; his shirt is patterned with dark red blotches, one of which resembles the silhouette of the Virgin Mary. La burra staggers behind, of course.
Socorro goes limp at the knees and wobbles over to her husband, whose somnambulist figure glares back with deadened eyes. “Que paso Refugio? Que paso?” Socorro yells, frantically searching him for wounds. “What’s all this blood from? What happened?”
Refugio is dumbfounded, but manages to whisper, “Eras solo un bebe. Eras solo un bebe,” over and over.
“Who Refugio? Who was only a baby? You’re scaring me papi. Hablame.” Refugio continues, “Eras solo un bebe. Solo un bebe. I thought it was a demon or something. But… but he was only crying for help. It wasn’t my fault Socorro. You gotta believe me.”
“Yo te creo mi amor.” She grabs a wet rag and wipes the blood off his face, pleading, “Porfavor Refugio. Dime todo.”
Shaking and trembling, without leaving a single detail out for his wife, Refugio relives the tragic moment of his destiny, up there, in the woods. La burra let’s out a horrific moan of agonizing despair.
Refugio snaps out of his daze and looks his wife in the eyes. “Go get the police. Tell el Sargento to come here.” “No Refugio!” Socorro yells. “It wasn’t your fault. It was an accident. Let those men up there deal with that shit. Que mierda eh? Let’s go clean you up.”
She pulls at his shirt but Refugio pushes away, screaming, “Do as I say coñio. Get the police. I’ll be right here. Waiting.”
Socorro drops to her knees, “Porfavor Refugio. I don’t want to be alone again. This time you won’t come back.”
“Ahora dije!” pushing her off.
Socorro reluctantly begins the mile long walk to town. She looks back at her husband, slumped over a table, before she disappears down the road.
Refugio grabs a half-empty bottle of Barceló, pours a drink in a coffee cup and sets it on the table. He toasts, “Salud” to the lonely cup and gulps half the bottle before he tosses it across the yard. Refugio looks up the hill to see the smoke of black folk still rising above the trees like so many souls before them.
Posted on July 3, 2012, in Fiction and tagged black, brutality, Crime, Criminal, dominican, Dominican Republic, drums, Fiction, Haiti, Haitian, latino, life, lynching, Machismo, murder, music, New York City, original, race, racism, short story, society, Wilson Santos, words. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.