There is something I want to complement, brother, before starting with mine. It is in relation to what you said in one of your previous stories. Not only time is, today, our greatest and most expensive asset. Perhaps just as valuable, perhaps more, are our experiences. As well as the infinity of contributions that we have made in silence to this beautiful country… and in the tumultuous time when we did it: the last quarter of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st.
Experiences, achievements and mistakes that must be shared so that the world knows them and the youth can get the fruits that they have for good. There are so many stories from this group of old men, as you tell us, that it is worth listening to them and telling them all. For example, among many, those of old Gordillo. Those are indeed interesting and deserving of praise so that they do not succumb to oblivion in the history of the country. Because he did take to heart that: “…if the case arises, die to defend it.”
Well, now yes, to what we came and thank you for listening to me, even more, for writing the part of my life that I am going to tell you about.
Those black birds that fly over and land on carrion wherever there is a smell of death, guided by a larger one, always seemed to me, as well as being ugly and dirty, a bad omen. Although, according to what they say, their fresh blood is a prodigy for curing cancer.
I confess to you, brother, that I have not shared these feelings with anyone. Today I do it with you because you ask me, so that you can write them down, if you want, and make them known, that if they can help someone, be of any use, so be it. I’m sure I’m not the only superstitious in this country, around here we’re all doomsayers. What happens is that, like many other things we don’t recognize them, we hide them out of shame, for what they will say, wanting to get them out with a hurt cry.
In these subcontinental lands, many of us carry inside that when we get up, the first foot that must be placed on the floor is the right one. Or that pod of not going under a ladder and nothing to do with the number thirteen, much less if it is combined with a Friday. Needless to say about seeing a black cat, a mirror breaking or the bride’s candle going out during the wedding, among a hundred similar Macondian beliefs.
That is why I want to start by telling you about the apparition that I had as a child because I was disobedient there in La Vega, the town of my parents. Experience that I will be basting throughout my story. Do you know what, brother? Today, by connecting the dots and sergeants, I find the premonitory meaning of the matter clear. To recap, I think that if at each particular moment in my life I had given more importance to those signs… things might have turned out differently.
But for the grace to be registered as a miracle, someone had to first ask a saint or a candidate for it. If this occurs without prayer or advance request, it only remains by chance, luck or predisposition.
Therefore, as to my luck, what was, was. As my partner “El Grillo” coined it in his shocking story that you wrote to him, related to your trip to Panama in August of 1979.
The truth is that that ominous apparition, in the form of a giant guala, the size of an adult, the effects of which I still haven’t gotten rid of, was on my mind before and after every vicissitude that came my way in life. I imagine and I hope that it will be there in those that are yet to come.
It has stayed in my head since that evening when, returning from the walk we took with my parents to Laguna el Tabacal, along the royal road, I decided to run to be the first to reach the town. My mother yelled to take me back, that there was still a long way to go. Although I heard her clearly, I disobeyed her. I continued faster until a revolt, less than three hundred meters from the entrance to the cemetery where, on the top of a guásimo, a guala opened its enormous wings.
That apparition was intimidating, it scared me and made me stop the race. I turned to look to feel the familiar protection. Impossible, because the curve of the road that separated us prevented us from seeing each other. I felt that my body began to be subject to an inevitable tremor, however, instead of going back I moved forward. I still don’t know why I did it. Chinese things, I imagine!
In response to my decision to continue, the apparition began to grow, even more, at the same time that it took the form of a woman, a witch! that in a single stride he reached the ground, close, very close, perhaps, to where I was left paralyzed and senseless. When I got it back, the doctor at the health center was making me smell something, maybe it was alcohol.
My parents never told me if the guala was still there when they found me. I also did not ask or tell them anything when they insisted that I tell them what happened. I managed to invent that I slipped and fell, nothing more. By then I was going to be seven years old and as everyone repeated it to me, everyone would begin to have reason, so the following February, I would start primary school.
Brother, I experienced that same feeling of vertigo again, many years later, in 1979, during the break from my studies on the occasion of Easter Week, one year after obtaining the title of specialist in security of air installations. Momentary discomfort and unexpected memory that I had there, in my house in the Muzú neighborhood.
That time, brother, I also ignored such a premonition.
It was 10:30 in the morning when a childhood friend arrived on a motorcycle and invited me to take a walk around the area. I still had the sensation of fainting perceived minutes before when evoking, as every time something usually happens to me, the image of the guala in the guásimo of the La Vega cemetery. However, because of that unstoppable internal motor that runs wild, I ducked on the motorcycle and we set off.
During the tour we met one of that friend’s brothers, as well as other acquaintances of his, all on motorcycles. In the one she was going, outside of the one who was driving her, her brother settled in the middle.
Someone, I don’t remember exactly who, talked about going to a neighboring town to eat nothing more and nothing less than the irresistible stuffed black pudding. Invitation that improved when she said that we would accompany her with chicha. These traditional and famous food from that municipality located in the southern leaks of the capital.
Without thinking twice and with a salivary taste, the product of the monomania that fried food arouses, encouraged by the adventurous spirit, contrary to moderation, care and premonition, we went to my house and I took out, to show off, a leather boot . Minutes later, the motorized and noisy caravan followed the gastronomic destination along the South Highway.
Once our cravings and appetites were satisfied, we bought the vernacular drink to honor our ancestors, the Chibchas, we said and laughed. Not satisfied with that handmade and fermented drink, someone appeared with a bottle of brandy. So, with the irreverence and challenge to logic that seem to characterize and govern the spirits of young people, robbing them of the ability to think well, also seeking to cause harm and defy anyone who urges them to see or prevent them from doing so, We mix the two drinks in the boot.
The ferments of the chicha with which we lowered the frying pan, without realizing it, gave wings to our adventurous spirits. Soon, someone proposed to continue the walk towards a corregimiento of the next municipality. In addition, he insisted that, to make the trip more interesting, we should go to the Military Industry side, cross country, thus leaving the paved highway.
Until then, only the cholesterol from the picada swallowed in one of the awnings in the main square and the ferments of the chicha were working in our bodies. The ignited mixture of liquors, the ancestral and the modern, continued its exotic forge in the boot. No one had tried it yet.
Leaving the town center and taking the car, I observed that a flock of those black birds was on us. One of these, the largest and oldest, even seemed to me similar to the guala of that most beautiful in La Vega.
Those ominous birds insinuated themselves to us, like a subcontinental premonition, as they flew over us in a triad formation. They did it for quite a while. In addition, on three occasions, commanded by the greater guala, they descended and perched, each time closer, never less than a hundred meters ahead, to one side of the battered road, as if wanting to stop us.
I never asked the others if they also saw and felt what I did. I think not. The sign of life, perhaps, was only for me. Repeated indication that on that occasion I did not comply either. If I had, perhaps, I will never know, I would have avoided that ordeal.
When we crossed in front of the guard at the military factory, none of the security personnel told us anything. They just looked at us and watched us go by, so we kept going. A good distance later the passage was impossible. So, we decided to go back, but first we stopped at a flat spot. From there I saw again the flock that insisted on flying over us and there, on an enormous, totally dry pine tree, on the highest branch, the greater guala perched, with its enormous wings open and its eyes fixed on me.
Although at that moment I lodged something strange inside me, which made me savor, once again, the bitter taste of the premonition and arouse a feeling of anguish, I did not pay any attention to the more than obvious announcement either. Much less was he going to share such a circumstance with others. I thought that tying my experience as a disobedient child in La Vega with this event, being already an adult man, formed, was nothing more than a nonsense product of my imagination.
He was no longer the boy who was going to turn seven. He had full use of reason… somewhat affected, yes, by the ferment of the chicha in combination with the euphoria and lack of control that encouraged the polluting passions of that group.
We got off the motorcycles and began to distribute the boot slip. It tasted like burning purslane, while its smell had a slight resemblance to melted burnt brown sugar, so I only took a sip. Taste and smell that I took from the drink, I don’t know if it was because of the bitterness that I had in my soul, caused by the vision of that flock of vultures that refused to leave us, circling above us. Acibar in my mouth that almost made me stumble when I saw that the greater guala perched defiantly on top of the dry pine, without taking away, not for an instant, its penetrating premonitory gaze.
After a few minutes and once the others vacated the boot, we undertook a wild and deafening return to the capital city.
A few meters after rushing past the military industrial complex I heard the rattle of rifles, as well as the magenta hiss of warheads in my ears. Symphony of death that made us panic. The friend who was driving the motorcycle I was on sped up. So did the other four drivers.
As the other bikes only had two people on them, they were able to accelerate to full speed and were immediately lost in the distance. In ours we were three, for this reason it was difficult for us to move with the same speed as those. We couldn’t zigzag either. Fortunately we reached a small truck loaded with milk canteens, we passed it and that was our trench.
Once safe, I realized that the boy who was sitting in the middle, between the driver and me, was passed out. Situation that increased my despair. Even worse, when trying to move to revive him, I felt my left buttock wet. I felt myself and knew that I was hurt.
I looked at the sky and saw that those black birds, commanded by the largest, stayed in the distance. Those pimps were flying in the opposite direction to ours, heading into the distance. The leader stopped looking at me. I felt his emptiness.
Since then and in the repeated times that I have seen them again, even just by presenting them, I review well what I am doing or intend to do. On some occasions they have removed me from obvious particular situations. In others, perhaps, I have not even realized what they have saved or avoided me. Of course, when I ignore them, things never go quite well for me.
Upon reaching the first neighborhood of the capital I felt dizzy, so I forced the driver to stop. He did it, precisely, in front of a police station. That’s where my ordeal began.
Without sense I was admitted to the ambulance. During the displacement, the paramedics revived me and ended up taking me to a public hospital in the center of the capital. From the beginning of the tour, during the admission and stay in that hospital, I was escorted by members of the Intelligence Department of the National Police.
The security of the Military Industry reported that we had spied on their facilities and violated their security. Therefore, they suspected that we were members of some subversive group. Hypothesis arose from military intelligence information they had about a possible incursion, to take place in those days, by urban militiamen, to harass the security of that canton.
I never knew, or wanted to find out, if any of the other members of the motorized tour were members of any insurgent organization. Neither, if the decision to take the road through that strategic and protected military zone was accidental or intentional; in addition, that of having stopped in that place from where one could, in effect, clearly observe the interior of the munitions, explosives, and military weapons factory.
Except for my friend, the motorbike driver, the one who passed by my house and invited me to turn around. From him, through the investigation I was subjected to for such a mishap, I learned that he was being held in the Military Intelligence Brigade. I think his innocence was later proven.
As I told you, brother, that was the beginning of my ordeal. From the moment we passed the military guard on the way, the intelligence alarm was activated in the garrison of the capital city about a possible physical or espionage attack by subversive militias. This situation was confirmed minutes later when, after stopping on the plain and eating the slip, we quickly crossed back without hearing the supposed halt that the sentries would have given, for which they received the order to fire at will.
When my childhood friend and motorcycle rider finally agreed to stop, he did so because he heard me and his brother were hurt and would fall if he didn’t stop immediately. I think he stopped in front of the police station without realizing it. He did so when I screamed at him, seconds before I passed out and fell to the ground, along with the other wounded man, which alerted the station duty officers who reacted immediately when they saw two bleeding bodies lying on the ground.
The uniformed men were alerted by the alarm from the military industrial canton, caused by the supposed insurgent motorcyclist gang who, according to the radio information: “After violating the security of our facilities, they omitted to call a halt, for which we had to shoot, with high probability of having injured at least one.
The agents called the paramedics to take care of the two frankly bloodied, in addition to detaining my friend for questioning. At his request they allowed him to make a call. He did it to his house. Not only did he tell them and ask for help for him and his brother, but he told them to go to mine and update my family.
Finding out in my home, my older brother went to the hospital to make me transfer to the clinic that corresponded to me. The agents who were guarding me were reluctant to make such a change. They reiterated that they would not let me move. They insisted that since I was a member of a revolutionary militia, who had also attacked the security of a military canton, I had to stay in that public hospital. After some clarifications and verifications that they carried out, I was sent, in the company of my brother, to the clinic. There they intervened the two G-3 rifle impacts I received.
The first was in the left buttock. That warhead lodged between a tendon, millimeters from the bladder. The doctor told me that if I had even touched it, my life would be gone in a matter of minutes. The second was on the back. This warhead was embedded between a rib and the spine. If he had touched the spinal cord, he would be disabled. Pair of inseparable friends, these who still remain faithful within my body. They will accompany me until the day of goodbye.
By luck or predisposition, the investigation to clarify the facts and coordinate with the respective authorities was advised by Sergeant Cruz, whom we all affectionately called Natacha, for her skills as good people. We knew each other because he was one of my instructors at the school where I was taking the Airport Facilities Security course.
If it wasn’t for him, maybe I would have gotten more entangled than I was and my ordeal would have ended in crucifixion.
I don’t know why human beings when they are young, and also when they are old, think that by diverting things, by telling lies, by not facing up to the pods as they are, it is better, they avoid the consequences of wrongdoing or of do them secretly. It is mistakenly believed that cheating or muddling it more is the expeditious and effective way to get out of the problem. Well, it’s not like that!
This made me understand Natacha.
The thing was that at first I grabbed onto telling lies about the facts. The ones that I don’t even know why the hell I said, besides being implausible, brought by the hair. I stated, for example, that they shot at us, for no reason, from a black car. That we were in our right mind… By God!
Sergeant Cruz, of course, with all the data collected by the intelligence agents, as well as by the other authorities who were investigating the facts, also knowing first-hand of my obvious innocence in the matter, in front of the string of lies I began to say in the first inquiry, he took me aside and gave me the most vehement and timely scolding that I had ever received, nor received again and that I hope I never have to listen to, much less need. Although one never knows.
He told me, among so many things that I remember today with infinite gratitude, more words, less words:
—Look, Indian son of a bitch, for your sake and that of your family tell the truth so they don’t put you in jail.
Hard, timely, forceful and indelible life lesson.
As it was obvious, when continuing the diligence I said as everything had happened. The only thing I ignored was the pimps and the biggest guala that one. I didn’t think it was appropriate to tell it, not even to Natacha. I thought at that moment that if I referred to those apparitions they would suddenly make me have a good time in the psychiatric hospital.
The other injured person, my friend’s brother, someone told me some time later that the impact compromised his lung. However, it seems that after the surgery he recovered.
In August of that year and once Eliberto, Jorge, Eduardo and one hundred thirty-four other students left for Panama for their last phase of aviation training, those of us who were studying security issues stayed at the school.
Until then they spent five months of investigation related to the incident. Imbroglio of which I was completely acquitted. What allowed me, in March 1980, to graduate and from that moment on to climb in the arduous but beautiful job of security for air installations, until reaching, about twenty years later, one of the highest steps in my profession, before i retire.
I was acquitted of everything from that investigation… except for two things. The first, which was temporary and that today hardly anyone remembers. Not even my partner Luis Sánchez who doesn’t forgive one, nor Iván and I think none of that nice group of airport security. It is about the shameful episode that the motorcycle friends made me go through at school, whom they called to justify my conduct and innocence in that impasse, as a requirement for me to continue in the course, which I came to see in danger. I thought that I would not be able to finish it because of that walk.
These friends, when summoned, arrived, not only on their loud and flashy motorcycles, but also dressed in leather jackets and pants, adorned with protruding rivets of gleaming steel. The academic authorities, after listening to them and verifying my version, as well as corroborating my innocence in the situation, called me aside and suggested that I change friends to avoid getting into trouble in the future.
With directors and professors, the matter remained there, but not so with fellow students and then at work. These, until about ten years ago, after I retired from the security activity, kept raising me for the bizarre appearance of my motorized friends.
The second is related to my two friends, the warheads, which I still have embedded in my body. Like former President Samper, whose life was saved by Jorge, the discreet hero, at the El Dorado airport, after the attack in which José Antequera died.
For these two inseparable friends, not only every time I have to go through a metal-detecting security arch, I have to endure discomfort, embarrassment, delays and give explanations, almost implausible, but I continue, and I will continue to be the perfect target of everything kind of sharp taunts.
Especially those with whom I shared my training in youth, experience and working life. They not only know the intimacies of the case, but they also know the exact location of the first one, the one I have embedded in my left thigh.
Even so, I appreciate them and I will always be attentive and happy in any situation that they may require.
Above all, at this stage of the walk when friendship and the memories of a lifetime are medicinal. The best remedies to trigger and alleviate the sorrows, the ailments and the advances of the maluqueras that, inexorable, are conquering, day by day, the geography of our wandering humanities.