The following short story by Emma Hoffman ’16 was selected for publication by Polyphony H.S., an international student-run literary magazine for high school students. The events of the story are loosely based on the kidnappings of 43 students in Iguala, Mexico in late September, 2014.
Maricela rivets her attention on the ledge of the cliff above as the policeman bangs Damián’s head against the hood of his car with a rhythmic precision. Damián stopped making noises two minutes ago. The policeman continues to beat him while the other officer looks on. A pattern of cracks and silences continues. She tries not to notice the bruises forming on her knees. All she can focus on are the mangoes hanging from their branches, thrashing in the afternoon gusts.
“I may be here on behalf of my husband, Fausto Santiago Castillo, but in truth, I came out of my own desire to be with the people of Chiapa de Corzo on this auspicious day. I wanted to share in the celebration of the workers of Mexico and of Chiapas who have toiled long and hard to ensure the strength and prosperity of our nation. We thank you for your efforts. You are the true face of our people.”
They throw Damián to the ground. Dirt fuses into the ash on his forehead and grass lashes the wine-colored bruises that scale the ridges of his cheeks. One eye is closed while the other gapes at the sky, red parts consuming white parts. Paloma yelps and tries to crawl towards Damián, but the barrel of the policeman’s gun drives her back to where she had been kneeling. Paloma had come to be with him, never expecting any of this. She studied French and watched soap operas in her dorm room when she should have been conjugating, never paying mind to Damián’s rhetoric or Maricela’s petitions. She wouldn’t touch Das Kapital or a picket sign unless it bore the name of one of a celebrity cause she adored. Maricela reaches out and rubs Paloma’s arm. Cold sensations stiffen her palms.
“I thank you all for your time. I promise that I will not take away too much from the May Day festivities. But I would like to first call attention to all improvements that have been made this past year.”
The town of Chiapa de Corzo stands about ten kilometers away. Maricela can see the russet outline of the city behind the palmetto trees, the buildings stacked upon the sage hillside. They had been driving along the Sierra Madre to blow off steam after their exams. They packed light, leaving their usual paraphernalia behind—no pamphlets damning the politicians, no buttons with angry slogans, nothing but overnight bags and a map. They pulled off of the main road and into the Chiapa de Corzo, the last city on their itinerary. A rainstorm forced them to seek refuge in an inn populated by some migrants and a Mormon couple whose friendliness was unnerving. The rain subsided and they ventured out to a bar where they drank pozol and rum and discussed the upcoming senatorial elections with some of the locals. Fausto Santiago Castillo’s policies guided the conversation down several sharp bends. Some of the locals regarded him with hushed optimism. Others viewed him and his Eva Perón, Eulalia, with muted suspicion. Maricela adhered to the latter, albeit in a louder fashion.
Morning came and they were winding down some dirt roads when they were stopped by the sound of sirens matching the velocity of their car. Six policemen ordered them to get out of their vehicle and put their hands behind their heads. They disemboweled the car with machetes and threatened to use them on Paloma if she did not stop crying. A man with a red bandana over his mouth and a gun mashed between his fingers had prodded Rigelio deeper into the mango grove an hour ago. They had not seen him since.
“Together, united in the battle against inequality and insecurity, we have guaranteed that the disabled within our community will have access to benefits that will help them lead healthy lives. Our youth programs have proved successful in promoting citizenship and providing comprehensive drug education. We have successfully maintained the peace, despite the Zapatista’s attempts to drag us back into civil unrest. Generous donations in various fundraisers have opened the possibility of new equipment in our clinics that will aid our doctors in diagnosis and treatment. All of this could not be achieved without your support during my husband’s tenure as mayor and your determination to see Chiapa de Corzo rise to its full potential.”
Suddenly lifted into the air, Paloma’s legs flail and her head hinges backwards, exposing the bronze length of her neck. It burns metallic in the afternoon heat. Squinting, Maricela tries to gather the distorted pieces of the mangoes but she is loosing the image.
Her palpitations quicken. Her heart wants to break free of her ribs. The sound of a shovel thrust into the ground is followed by a gunshot. One of the policeman crouches in front of her, brandishing a pocketknife with a mahogany hilt. Guiding the knife along the straps of her dress, he calls her narco, whore, a Zapatista bitch, and asks whether or not her two friends shared her and if half-breeds make for good fucks. He severs the straps. She wishes for the God she doesn’t believe in.
“On this day of pride of workers around the world, I thought it only appropriate to announce my employment plans for the future. I am pleased to announce that next year I will be running for mayor of this great city.”
Black hair spills over purple and tan skin. Eyelids shudder over their sockets. She is reduced to a heap of limbs and cloth. They had dragged Paloma and Damián’s bodies away. She knows that Rigelio is among them. Footsteps reverberate off of the ground around her but she does not feel the hands grab at her skin or the sensation of being lifted into the air. No, she lies still and pretends she is sinking into sand, sea foam brushing against her arms and calves. Whitecaps swell over her, washing her soiled dress and the grime that clogs the space between her finger and her nail away. Barking noises tear through the sea breezes and shove her back below the mango trees. She hears the men slam the doors of their cars behind them. Emissions invade her nostrils and fill her mouth with the taste of gasoline. The groans of the engines fade into a trail of tire marks and dust. She pushes herself up to her knees. No one is in sight.
Eulalia Reyes Castillo surveys the crowd. She is a small woman, beautiful by most standards. Her dark brown hair twists up the back of her head in a neat formation. Burgundy rouge darkens her face, highlighting it Grecian lines. She wears a spotless white shift and a crucifix trimmed with emeralds. Banners bearing her husband’s face and Mexican tricolors writhe in the air. But they are not cheering for him. She is the subject of their adoration. Soon it will be her face on their banners and pins.
She steps down from the platform and into a crowd composed of farmers and indigenous peasants. They all clamor for her, recite Hail Marys in her name and pledge their support for her cause. She shakes hands with Father Aguilar and takes pictures with a gaggle of elementary students. She makes eye contact with Sherriff Barazza across the square and nods—they’ll speak once the area has been emptied.
Maricela staggers across the field, scraping her heels against thistles and roots and wrapping the remains of her dress around her torso. She can feel her skin reddening and peeling beneath the sun. The expanse of grass appears to be endless; every time she spies the main road it is nothing but a layer of gray soot collecting on the horizon. She wonders if Rigelio suffered or if they killed him right away. She used to dance with him at parties. His feet moved with an impossible fluidity during the salsa and never scuffed her toes. His hands felt nice on her hips. She wipes her eyes, sensing the space where his hands should have been.
The drone of an engine pulses towards her. A red pickup comes barreling down the road, crates of mangoes piled in the bed of the truck in pyramids of red and gold. Half stumbling, half sprinting, she makes a desperate charge. Although her throat threatens to shatter with anything above a whimper, she calls out to it, her high-pitched wail piercing anything in sight. She runs into the road. The truck comes to a stop.
“Is it done?” Eulalia asks, her face expressionless.
“Yes.” Barazza replies.
“All four of them? And you put them with the rest?”
“Just as you had asked.”
“Señora, what will your husband say about this?”
“Nothing. He’ll say nothing.”