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  • Traveling to another country where I did not speak the language was huge for me. I had to buckle down and just make myself do it. Scared to death, I had managed to survive immigration and customs without having a panic attack, and even learned what to do when you are crazy enough to choose to fly through Newark International Airport, and miss your connecting flight. But missing a flight in Newark, and huddling in a dark corner after a bomb and listening to what could be the beginning of a massive battle are two different things. My mind focused back into present time and the haze of the past lifted, bringing the sick feeling back into my stomach. I became intensely aware of each noise, including my own breathing. The quieter I tried to breathe, the louder it became, until it felt like I would suffocate altogether.

    “I’ll be right back.” Cesar said as he started for the front door. “Here, keep this with you.” He put the machete down on the floor parallel to my leg. “Milka, stay.”

    “Where are you going?”

    “I’m just going to walk down the road to see if I can find out what’s going on.”

    “I’m coming!”

    “No you’re not!” Cesar hissed to make himself understood but without being too loud. “Stay here out of sight. I’ll be right back.” He disappeared out the door, and my heart went in my throat once again.

    I waited. I waited until the fear started to die down enough so my head would get fuzzy with sleep. I waited until the air in the now closed off house became stifling hot. The clock on the wall ticked loudly. I could hear nothing. No yelling, no gun shots, not even any motorcycles passing by. They had all gone racing down to the bomb site. It had been long enough now with no other bombs that it was safe to assume the one bomb would be the only one. But where was Cesar? He had been gone too long. I couldn't sit on that tile floor anymore. Besides, I had to pee. I won’t flush I thought. Then it will be safe if anyone is lurking around the house.

    I brought the machete with me. Boogiemen always hide in the bathroom at night, especially when you already have reason to be scared. I sat in the bathroom for a long time, listening for any hint that Cesar might be back. I’m going outside I told myself. In five minutes, if he’s not back I’m going outside. I waited. Five minutes passed. I crept to the door and opened it without causing the rusty hinges to make a sound. I peeked down the road. There was no one there. My panic filled me to the hilt. The doubts began to fill my already consumed mind. What happened? Where was he? He should be back by now.

    I started to pace. Surely he knew by now. It had been almost an hour! Now my fear was metamorphosing into anger. How could he leave me for so long? Doesn't he know I would worry? The pacing increased the heat, the heat increased the nausea and just as I was about to lather myself up into a full blown furry, the door opened and he walked in. The anger melted. He was o.k.

    “Where have you been?” I asked him desperately, pleading for a detailed explanation that would justify all my worrying. “ You've been gone for over an hour.”

    “Yeah, I know. I walked down the road and some paramilitary guarding, pulled a gun on me-“

    “Are you serious?!” I asked as if I had just found myself captured inside some movie and had to make sure this was part of the plot.

    “Yeah, idiots. He tried to pretend like he didn't know who I was. I told him, come on man, you know who I am, I’m the pastor who lives just up the road. I've lived in this town most of my life. He backed off after that.”

    “So what’s going on?”

    “A bomb, just like we thought, right at the gas station across from the red light. It was the guerrillas, of course. They filled a truck hauling swine with dynamite. Luckily two thirds of it didn't go off because of the rain. It was too wet. But what did go off did enough damage. Twenty-three injured and one dead.”

    “Oh my God! Oh my God, that many?” I held my hands over my mouth in horror and disbelief. Cesar stared at me blankly for a moment. It was an odd expression, so void of response, it actually offered one in its own silent way.

    “I was actually thinking that that wasn't too bad.” Cesar sunk lower into the living room chair. Suddenly he looked small to me in that big tall room. “I guess I have seen too much of this in my lifetime for twenty-three to seem like a large number.” Our worlds had collided offering a sense of reality to each of us but in totally different ways. Twenty-three was a small and a large number all at once, depending on where you had grown up. We sat for a moment in the darkness, with only the moon shining in through the closed curtains now that the rain had stopped and clouds had momentarily cleared.

    “Who died?” I finally said, breaking the strangeness of the moment.


    “Which Pedro?”

    “Jamilas brother Pedro. The one you met last week.”

    “Oh no. Does she know yet?”

    “I have no idea. I just know it was him. He was right there at the light when the bomb went off. He lost both his legs and arm and an eye. It was bad. He was still alive for a while and they tried to save him. He kept asking why he couldn't feel his legs.” Cesar’s voice broke slightly. “The ambulance was carrying the guy who drove the truck in with the dynamite. They tried to get him to the hospital because he was wounded. The paramilitary stopped the ambulance. They told the drivers they would handle it from there.”

    “Oh- what did they do?”

    “Exactly what you think they did. I know they probably didn't kill him right away. They got information from him first and then had fun with him.”

    “O.k.” I said, “I don’t think I can handle any more.

    “Yeah. Well, the town is not infiltrated, so we are safe. It’s after midnight, we should go to sleep. But just in case, put some clothes and shoes by the side of your bed.”

    “In case?” Cesar looked at me as if to say, yeah, you know what I mean.

    We rechecked the locks on the windows and doors, gave the panting dog and cat fresh water, and went about our usual nighttime ritual of brushing teeth, shaking the bed with another sheet to get all the dust from the day out, and adding powder to give dryness and softness to the top sheet.

    We climbed into bed wordlessly and lay there facing each other with the glow of the flashlight lying between us. We held each other tightly and listened to each other breathe. Only a thin sheet covered us. Cesar fell asleep first. He always did. I listened to his breathing change, though it took a while, and wondered what the morning would bring. What would we find as we arrived at the bomb site? Who would need help? The questions filled my mind like cement and I finally sank into an agitated sleep, often waking to listen for impending danger, but there was only the sound of a loved one lightly snoring, the wind in the mango trees outside, and an occasional passing DT 120 Yamaha.
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