Breakfast and a Cigarette: A Novella in Four Directions
(page 7 of 15)
No one spoke as he told the story. Ray watched their faces: delight and fear; relief and joy. In a few minutes it was over.
“They enjoyed it?,” Ray asked Dolores, confident of the answer.
“Yes, it is always good when he tells that story.”
“He's told it before?”
“Yes, many times.”
Ray's surprise was obvious. “Why does he keep telling the same story?”
“Because the monsters keep coming back.”
“I don't understand.”
Dolores ran her fingers backward through her short black hair then folded her hands together as if she were praying.
“Norberto's story goes like this: There is a small village in Africa. The people there are peaceful farmers. Their ancestors had lived in the same village for many generations. Fruit grows on the trees, the land is good for cultivation and there are plentiful springs of cool, clear water and shade from the harsh sun. There is only one mean thing. Surrounding the village are giant snakes that live in the ground. At night, the snakes come out of their nests and sneak into the village looking for food. The snakes will eat a pig or a dog. But sometimes the snakes will eat a child. They sneak into the villagers' huts and swallow children and babies right in their beds. There is no use moving; in every village it is the same. So after many years of living in terror, the villagers developed a special way of hunting the snakes. But it demands courage and skill, it demands heroes. At the hour when the day of the night begins, the hunting party will sneak up on a snake hole. One of the village boys will volunteer to be lowered into the pit feet first by a rope tied around his chest, under his arms. The men dangle him there until the snake begins to eat him.”
“That's incredible, Dolores!”
“No, the incredible part is that they let the boy get eaten to his waist, then the hunters suddenly pull up on the rope bringing the boy and snake out of the pit. They chop the snake in half and the boy is released unharmed. Back in the village, the boy is honored; there is music and dancing till the morning. The snake is delicious and everyone savors eating the flesh of their enemy. The boy becomes a hero, his courage celebrated, and the village rejoices.”
“I don't get it. Why do these workers like that story so much?”
“It's simple. They want monsters they can see, monsters they can vanquish and consume. They want a monster whose head they can chop off.”
“Because their monster, the monster that sneaks inside of them and eats their lungs, that empties their women; the monster that lays its eggs inside their chests and steals their children—no one can see it, no one can get a solid grip on it. Their monsters have names they can't pronounce; chemicals they cannot see, but every evening they can taste it in the backs of their throats, smell it on their clothes, and feel it burn in their nostrils. Yes, it is better to have monsters you can see and fight—and kill; and tell the tales of bravery around the fire at night. Even defeat creates heroes. But in their frustration, these workers tell the tales of other monsters, other victories in lands far away. And that's why Norberto's story never gets old.”
Ray was silent. Then, in a flat and solemn voice, he asked, “And Marisol?”
“Yes, there are many like her. Too many. And some much worse. Many have deformities: missing fingers, thumbs. Some are nearly blind. Many have encephalitis and cholera. Even leprosy, Ray. And the boys, they have trouble with their testes, they don't drop: sterile. No one has the money to test the girls. Only time will tell.”
“But why? Why don't the growers stop using the chemicals?”
“They claim there's no scientific proof, that it's all just conjecture on our part. Look, it's business as usual: profits before people. And farm workers aren't even considered people in this country.”
Breakfast and a Cigarette, Part III continues...