Drenched in sweat, Ronaldo lay like a corpse in his shallow grave, eyes shut tight against his own salt sting. His lungs screamed to suck in oxygen in great dragging mouthfuls, but he dared not breathe. He steeled himself against the ants that chewed at the cuts on his arms. Nausea swept through him as an unseen crawler dropped out of the palm fronds pressed to his face and scurried across his mouth and down his neck. He struggled to focus past the pounding of his heart, intent on the chop and hack of the blade. Just feet away one of the guardias searching for him swung a machete through the clumped palmera and the dangling ropes of woody liana.
Twice before, they had come tramping through the undergrowth, chopping through thickets, shooting at the least rustle, driven with bloodlust to avenge their comrade. In the Managua cantina where Ronaldo had first encountered the man, hostility bristled between them. Barely contained, it erupted when the whiskey they had swallowed caught fire. Ronaldo hadn’t even seen the guardia reach for his pistol, only heard him cock it. In a single motion Ronaldo had pulled his own gun and fired. He hadn’t stopped to look at the guardia, saw only that the bullet meant for himself had ripped open his cousin’s chest. Before the guardia’s body had crumpled to the floor, Ronaldo ducked out the back door and vanished.
Now, in the grave he had dug for himself, he waited.
Exhaustion numbing his body, Ronaldo lay still long after the boots and the voices receded. In their wake the air thickened with the whistle of the yiguirro, the bare-toothed shrieking of monos, the chatter and screech of the jungle. When the crickets signaled the coming of night he lifted the fronds that shrouded him and rolled out of the hollow that cradled him. He pushed himself to his feet. His head swam and he toppled to one knee, then sank to the ground.
He knew in his bones he would not see the men again, that the heat of the search led back to Managua. South. South to all that was his life. He would not see Managua again, the rolling finca that was his family home, the landed privilege he knew. A wife just twenty-one, two infant girls he carried in his sombrero, tucked before him on the saddle. To lose all for that haughty mare he had refused to give up at the guardia’s demand! He gripped his head in his hands as if to stop an explosion. Useless to think if he had known what she’d bring, he himself would have put a gun to her head. But if not the coveted mare, soon enough something else. Somosa’s cabrones could take what they wanted.
Rage and despair erupted in a sob and his head snapped up. He glanced around as if eyes might have witnessed his weakness. Shame yanked my father to his feet. ¡Soy hombre!, he hissed through clenched jaw. He walked a few paces fumbling with his fly, urinated while peering through shadows at the dangling seed pods of guava. They would quiet his stomach till morning. Honduras lay to the north.