18 EDESIO’S NEPHEW TAKES A GUN TO GUISA
18 EDESIO’S NEPHEW TAKES A GUN TO GUISA
Names and numbers are given almost mystical import and significance to many in
In mid 20th century, even in urban areas of
In Taíno Guáchara is trickery. Guáchere is a slap with five fingers. Guabá is the night loving tarantula or sometimes the alecrán scorpion. Guabasa is the fruit that is food of the dead, and Guabate is the cloud shaded place of darkness in the mountains. Guacayarima are those who live in caves. Guabairo is the night jar and its relative the whip-poor-will, both also called goat suckers with their spooky after dark calls. Guabino is the last one standing in final victory.
All these names relates to the noun Gua meaning variously he or she who is, or sometimes as the noun “he who is the shade of death.” Thus it used somewhat like “Himself” the fearful Irish pseudonym for the devil. If one is alert to the differences in transliteration, one hears the word Gua or Guá in French pronunciation of the Igneri Taíno or Carib word "Qualibou," the place of death. Carib transliterations to French can differ for example: coüálioüa, means death; laíncoüa, war; coüáicou, blood flux.
“Gaibá!” is a Taíno order to flee. Guagoniana was a mythical Taíno a stealthy murderer and tricky abductor of women. In the Cuban wars of
In the last and victorious Independence War of 1895 Granduncle Néstor Enamorado Cabrera, son of Rafael Enamorado and Mariana Cabrera was commander of a regiment from Campechuela a place near the western edge of the Sierra Maestra by the
In most of
In the once extremely popular Cuban illegal lotteries called La Bolita or Charada names of dream topics are assigned numbers. This of course is the “numbers racket” an ancient practice from the old world.
Friends tell me that in
Henry Céspedes tells me that his prominent Bayamo family were once Jews who had become Conversos or perhaps still held their faith as Anusim or hidden Jews. For some reason, despite the long past history of Jews in Spain, and their perilous escape from that country to Cuba and other parts of the New World, the ancient numerology of the Hebrew Kabbala (Cábala in Spanish). This almost certainly os the reason why the lists of numerology concordance are sometimes called cábala. In Spanish, the adjective Cabal means precise, or when applied to a person, complete or even wise. Not so in English where the noun Cabal implies group gathered to collude in secret.
Overt, traces of this rich numerological tradition appear only rarely but they are clearly in the subtext of the culture. For instance, as a symbol of a mysterious exotic beauty or cabalística is used in the marvelous imagery of an erotic ode to a lover by Nicaraguan Rubén Darío. The students attending Los Escolapios de Guanabacoa would be required to recite the wonderful verses of that great poet and lecher. We learned:
(Love poem by Rubén Darío to Cuban-Japanese beauty María Cay)
Misteriosa y cabalística,
puede dar celos a Diana,
con su faz de porcelana
de una blancura eucarística.”
“Mysterious and cabalistic
she makes the moon Goddess jealous
with her semblance of pure porcelain
as pure white as a sacred host.”
The Inquisition, with its persecution of the Jews, never took roots in the then wild wooded vastness of the countryside of
In colonial times one inquisitor was sent to Bayamo. He however, he was so terrified of the neighbor’s hostility that he spent his sojourn hiding in his house of residence. Then as soon as possible he fled back to
Dreams link us to our subconscious. In ancient numerology systems different dream topics are assigned to each number. These topics can be the same or different in each Bolita system.
Each vendor of the Bolita, such as Chita Ramos, was then a practical lay psychiatrist. This was a necessity in a society obsessed with sex and subject to periodic fears in each season of revolution and violent death.
On the streets of Guisa, or in the backwoods of the Sierra, unlike those elegant plazas and streets of
This is so since, in some Bolita systems number 1 is the white horse a symbol linked to power and Afro-Cuban religions, to the god Chango and to the dictator Castro:” fire in the eye, fire in the mouth, fire on the roof. You ride fire like a horse” (e. g. Murphy 1993, p. 13).
Number one thus is often used to represent a dictator in power, but it can also represent merely a small fish, which in turn can represent a small phallus. A dangerous ambiguity when one is questioned by the ever touchy and proud authorities that serve a dictator.
Number 45 can represent a shark and an elected president. Number 2 is a butterfly, in Taíno “Tánama,”is linked by ethnic traditions to the release of a sacrificed soul, and in active verb form “Tanamá” the intense fluttering feelings of female sexual pleasure. Number 5 is a nun or the sea, and 33 is the Cuban buzzard or aura tiñosa, a symbol of death.
In the Charada India, 17 is the Mujer Buena, the good woman. In others systems 12 is the Mujer Mala, the bad woman. In the Charada American and the Cubana 64 is Muerto Grande, the death of an important man, and 8 can be Muerto Chico the death of an unimportant man.
News of the death of unimportant man in the Sierra Maestra does not even reach the towns and cities of the plains of
These dead are buried and gone from all memories except those of their relatives.
We escopeteros fighting Batista live in a country and where we are unknown, ignored or at best merely forgotten. As a result, here we strive to be important; we take romantic war names; we take outlandish risks to make our names known; and thus we hope when we die, we will be remembered by more than those closest to us.
This is a story of an 8, the tale of the death of one of our enemies, also an unimportant man; a man who died almost unnoticed and is still forgotten. Even some of those who lived in Guisa at that time do not now recall his passing. Again I do not know his name. He was just a “Muerto Chico, “a mere number 8. This is his history.
It seems like yesterday, that I was told how a "little death” had come to Guisa as it did so often in those times. That warm summer of 1958, was a time of warriors and battle, for I958 was not only a time of passion, as so often was the case in Cuba, in was also a year of war when the sexuality that engenders life and the violence that brings death seemed so terribly linked and so common.
The rebel’s April strike had failed; the Batista forces massive and doomed assault on the rebel main forces in the high mountains of the Sierra Maestra had not yet come. The last battles on the plains of the Cauto were in the future.
For weeks, perhaps months, we had been trying to get better weapons. One day Mojena returns from his perpetual wanderings with a citified boy, a boy perhaps twelve. The boy was too well cared for, a little too assured and weak muscled, to be a Güajiro or a Montuno boy.
The boy, well dressed almost to the point of effeminacy, seemed dazed and very fearful, was saying nothing. This visit is unusual, but we as we are young men still in or barely out of our teens, we ignore the boy; he is younger than us and thus of no consequence, and we go back to important things like eating.
Less than a day later, we see a short, fat, angry woman on a hill above us. She is passing through the gate of the northeast ridge fence and proceeding down towards us on a narrow footpath among the short grass of the pasture. The fat angry woman must have been in her late 40s or early 50s, is dressed (in my imprefect memory) in dark, fully skirted, long clothes, and wearing good shiny black shoes.
A floppy good fine woven light yellow beribboned yarey hat shades her face. She moves down the hill towards us her heavy hips moving with great purpose, her great full pendulous breasts swinging as she strides towards us. What her features looked like I do not remember, only her rage and anger is still clear, still vague image remains of a strong nose and un-plucked eyebrows floats ephemerally in my mind.
As she raged towards us down the grassy slopes, it was so readily apparent, that she was a woman of power and unrestrained emotions. She is definitely a number 12, mújer mala, a bad woman.
We, the Escopeteros of Mojena, are sitting there hidden by the shade of the trees by the open sided penca thatched kitchen of out camp. Our shotguns and pistols are at our sides, our bombs hang from our belts; our hair and looks have turned more feral each day.
That boy is with us. One of us, it must have been the one I remember as Machado, is the lover of the pretty girl of the house that makes her a 15. She could not have been much older, and Machado is also young. Machado is sitting on his rawhide backed taburete; his feet are on the lower rungs of that chair set leaning against a fence post by the gate. Machado gets up and stumbles aside to let that strange woman past. The taburete falls to the ground.
The woman of power ignores us, and heads straight for Armelio Mojena, our escopetero group leader who she seems to recognize only too readily. Even Mojena, his dark heavily bearded face and chunky powerful body is taken a back. He also almost stumbles from his leaning taburete in the dark shade of the kitchen. It is clear that Mojena knows the evil powers of this woman.
The woman shouts. Mojena recoils. Mojena recovers; he starts to play with his weapons, trying to intimidate her. She attacks him verbally again, they are shouting back and forth. It sounds as if they had been lovers. Mojena brings the boy forward, she recognizes her beloved lost son. The number 12 has turned mother or number 82, Mojena again, in less than subtle intimidation, plays with his pistol. She ignores his gestures and renews her verbal attack. Mojena offers his plan.
Now it is clear, this is the Madam of the bordello of Guisa, a head prostitute, a woman to be feared and placated. Hers is a country brothel in an isolated garrison town, not
Mojena’s plan is simple. I did not overhear much of the planning; however I know that we intended to hold her son until the Madam agrees to sneak us into the bordello. This is how I, imagine the conversation for we knew a little of his plans.
Mojena proposes his plan:
I‘Then as the Batista soldiers line up outside, out of the rain, under the high white pillars of the east porch of the bordello at the west side of the town square of Guisa. They wait to enter one by one to satisfy their lust, and to palliate their fears. The soldiers will select their women from those waiting in the parlor. Strong floral perfume will cloud the room and dim the scent of human musk. The soldiers will drink and talk, boasting as they wait, trying to drive away their fears of death by sudden ambush in the hills, and high mountains to the south.’
The Mojena family had always loved the scent of perfume. Uncle Norman’s store and butcher shop in that place called El Jigüe on the east Vega of the upper
Armelio Mojena’s thoughts of the smell of the perfumed women drive him to continue rapturously with his plan. Armelio Mojena is thinking with his gonads, not his usually sharp bandit mind.
Mojena muses on his sexual ardor rising clouding reason even more: ‘The women will embrace the soldiers. The women will rub and teasingly touching the bodies of their clients to entice and ready the soldiers for erotic ecstasies. As the soldiers are aroused and turgid, the women will guide them to the bedrooms helping then strip off their clothes. The now naked ready soldiers will put aside their rifles. The soldiers will lean their weapons against the walls.’
Thus Mojena’s idea, more sexual fantasy then plan, went, on
‘We will spring from our hiding places and take the precious weapons. These tools of death to us worth more than passion for these are weapons with which we will preserve our lives. These are the weapons that will give us fame. Quickly abandoning that dangerous place, we will run to the hills carrying away the precious stolen weapons.’
The Madam must have pointed out the loopholes in Mojena’s plan. She surely said this was not to be the tender, bumbling love-making of young innocents, or the teasing gentle play of caring well knowing lovers. This was an arena of callused brutal exchange of the monies of a well-accustomed clientele for professional sexual service. This plan would not work if would be over too fast the soldiers would be left too alert.
Mojena lecherously tries to continue his fantasy. The Madam interrupts explaining in the crude technical jargon of her trade, that such a plan must have the full cooperation and careful, skillful, direction of her women by the madam is needed and great deal of careful training of her “girls”.
The madam continues. There can be no disorder in the bordello. If this is to work, all the casquitos must fall exhausted, into a deep sleep. If just one casquito awakes to seizes and fire his weapon, all will be over for us Escopeteros.
Mojena agrees. He breathes deeply and blood rises to his flushing face even under his dark skin and heavy black beard. He in his male pride, and excited by the eroticism of the conversation, does not expect the Madam’s next response.
The Madam, realizing that Mojena, now lost in mindless lecherous reverie, day dreaming his lust, does not understand her technical objections to his plan. The Madam knows, but Mojena does not realize, what he proposes is too difficult for her women’s skills. Few if any of the “girls,” recently recruited from the hotter blooded or more desperate women of the countryside, can do what is suggested by Mojena. Yet, Mojena goes on, and on, his lust overriding his reason.
Whatever was really said between Mojena and the Madam, I know what followed. The Madam loses her patience and suddenly shows her anger and fear of Mojena’s original, but not too practical, plan. She yells, and I can still hear her voice screaming bouncing against the silent, gentle rolling hills. Exactly what she said I do not recall, but her words are something to the effect of:
‘Do such a thing, and my women and I will be killed! The soldiers will know I, and my women were involved. The plan will never work! She sneers ‘Where are you going to hide in those little rooms, under the bed, with all that bump and grind above you?’
‘What if one of my women tries to spare one of her favorite customers?’ ‘You cannot make me do such a stupid thing!’ ‘My house’ she screams ‘is in the middle of town’ ‘How do you intend to get away?’ ‘You and your men will run and leave us to those Batista killer monsters!’ ‘Coward!’ ‘What if there is shooting we will be all killed.’ ‘I don’t care if you kill me, or my son, this is insanity!’
After Mojena recoils from that verba; attack he recovers. He is untutored but not stupid; he now sees the holes in his plan. So with his characteristic generosity, and perhaps in memory of past close acquaintance, lets the mother and son return.
They, Madam Mother and son disappear over that hill, through the gate on the ridge, returning north towards Guisa. We are not ordered to break camp, so it is clear that Mojena and the Madam still have some bond, some old friendship. The Madam canny at politics, as her profession requires, will not inform on us. We are safe.
However, Mojena’s agile bandit mind is already working on another plan. He gives out orders.
All, but I, are told to get ready to go to town. Mojena again wisely did not allow me near Guisa. Of all Mojena’s Escopeteros, I was the slowest runner. I felt both ashamed and relieved.
The slight, short, beardless, long-haired, fifteen year old William Garcia, son “nephew” of famed Edesio Hernandez the recently dead legendary Tennis Shoe Bandit, is chosen and sent by Mojena ahead and alone into to Guisa. The kid is to go to a pool hall to capture the M-1 Garand of a Batista casquito. A certain casquito, an unwary Batista soldier (51 is soldier in the Cuban Charada), has the custom, the very bad and dangerous custom, our informants have told us, of wandering too far from the cuartel, the fort-like barracks, where the soldiers can sleep safely.
Reaching Guisa’s south outskirts on the dirt roads that passed for streets of that rough, old fortress town, William, Edesio the Tennis shoe Bandit, the King of the Mountains kin, enters the town. Disguised as a girl, in a dress Mojena must have borrowed from the pretty daughter of the house where we fed, the kid comes to the door of the pool hall.
After a moment when his adolescent shame at his clothing is driven out by heady excitement of the first kill, the kid goes into the pool hall.
In the dark of the pool hall, nobody noticed or cared. Why should they care, the kid seemed just a slight, underdeveloped little Montuna, a mountain woman, a faded shapeless dress, a ribbon belt, thin lanky brown-black hair. A woman, it seemed, not yet it grown enough to have the graceful, full, swinging hips of the Cuban women that so attract the soldiers of the garrison. ‘Why ‘she" was not worth a second glance. The bordello in town had many more ready, and more voluptuous, women.’
All the townspeople, the Güajiros and the Montunos from the hills and the lone soldier ignore the kid in the dress as he moved closer to the soldier. All in the pool hall concentrate the thoughts on the action on the pool table, their drinks and the conversation,
The kid, despite his youth, his attire, and almost delicate looks, is resolute. He is as daring and able as the famed bandit who was his dead father or his”uncle.” William takes out his .38 caliber revolver from where it was hidden, under his dress in the hollow of the small of his back. Without hesitation the William shoots, and shoots again, and again he mortally wounds the soldier.
Then confusing and reversing the carefully practiced score, the kid says "Arriba las manos (hands up).”
The dying soldier, blood filling and then spilling out of his high boots on to the dirt floor does not fall. Blood in the Cuban Charada is 40 but also 84. The soldier keeps bleeding as he tries to walk out alone, very alone, to the street trying to reach the care and safety in the cuartel, which is too far for him.
Uncertain boot tracks outlined in blood follow him, and then stop. The soldier has gone from 51 to become and 8 and he is dead. William has become an assassin and thus a 63. All this is a tragedy or a number 83.
The soldier falls on the dirt of the back road. The dying soldier may have heard and remembered these words "! Arriba las manos! " echoing in his mind in his last conscious moments. In millennial traditional, he must have said the ceremonial prayer, the appeal of a Cuban young man when dying, which confuses his mother perhaps with the Virgin Mary, “! Ay mi Madre!” Perhaps he prays to the Mother of Taíno gods, Earth Goddess, Frog Woman, Atabeyra, Atabey, Atabei. May bet these words consoled him, but I am sure that the soldier’s mother did not cry less for the words having been said.
William runs out of town, his skirts flying carrying the precious rifle to our, Mojena’s, waiting group of escopetero guerrillas. The group gathers around the kid and run desperately together down the dirt road to the south past the ruined church. They run fearful of being following, they fear being hunted down by jeep loads of well-armed Batista soldiers.
The deadly jeeps with their mounted belt-fed machineguns never came. Mojena’s men and the kid carrying the captured rifle keep running south. They run down the wide dirt road trapped between the living fences of trees and the barbed wire that enclosing the road, to the stream at the cross roads of the "El Sordo" the place of the deaf-man.
They run past the white karst rock of the tree covered, cave ridden, hill towards El Sordo, towards and splashing through the tree shaded stream. They run past the open metal roofed shed, where Calvo works to repair lumber machinery. They run by his house where, the ex-patriot Spaniard from
Mojena’s men rapidly leave behind the old truck and the untidy array of tropical fine wood logs and machinery of the Asturiano's repair shop. They run on now on narrow footpaths, and on and on, now tired by the distance run and the strain of running on uplifting, rising land, to the shelter of the rolling, goat-cropped, bush covered, rounded foot hills.
All were safe in our hideout, in the rolling, short grass, bush and rocks of the rounded knolls high above the cross roads of El Sordo and close to the safety of the narrow upper canyon of the Guisa river. All is done; all is safe. We had captured a precious rifle.
We knew better than to blame the kid. We knew well, William did not intend to kill the soldier. The kid had intended to have the soldier raise his hands and, if the soldier did that, to take the soldier’s rifle, and only if the soldier refused the kid was to shoot.
Yet the kid knew it was most important to get that weapon, such a weapon meant survival to us. The rest, the ethics of giving warning, was secondary because the enemy did not share our good intentions. Thus William knew, as we all did, that if on saying “hands up” gave the soldier time to reach and fire his rifle the kid would be dead.
Then in that alternative future, the soldier would have been the killer, and the soldier’s superiors would have praised him for his kill. The soldier and his superiors would have gathered to laugh at William’s incongruous dressed dead body had been lying in the bloodied dirt.
We knew that in that dim pool hall, the stress was too great even for a brave bandit's kin. The mark of Cain is in all of us, it is so easy to kill, the kid was so frightened and so wound up trying to control his fears that his instincts took over.
He shot first and asked surrender later. Only too well we understand what William had done. Fear is our constant companion; survival is our highest priority. To survive we escopeteros are becoming harder.
Headquarters high in the steep mountains of the Sierra, at
Mojena is not happy for this rifle's long reach would have made us safer and reduced our pressing fears. If he had kept such a rifle, he could have done such heroic deeds. And if killed then have a chance to be remembered as a Muerto Grande a 64, and as the ancient Greeks believed, if one was remembered after death, one still was part alive.
Then we still talked about that captain from Las Peñas who died heroically. He over confident in his weaponry had challenging all with his fast firing
This Captain died in a flaming firefight, in a rattle and roar of automatic weapons, far outnumbered and out gunned. He then was a 64, un muerto grande. Now as the years have passed he is long forgotten, even few recall his name, he has become merely dead, a number 8.
The logic of war is cruel and harsh. It is considered good strategy to strengthen the essential main-forces at the expense of the disposable lightly armed screening troops.
This concept is not new. George Washington knew that. Last century during the 1895=1898 war of independence General Máximo Gomez, the head commander of all the Mambí, took the weapons away from what he called the Majases, the lazy boa snakes, the irregulars of the Mambí armies. Now I am not sure that the old irascible general was correct.
In Guisa after our young bandit sporn made his first kill, the town people gossip on the horror of the blood pooling out of the casquito’s boots as he staggered hopelessly down the road to the cuartel.
The Guisa Madam’s women went back to their ‘milking,’ back to their tasks of servicing the casquitos’ lusts. The other casquitos, now worrying about their future survival, return to the brothel and fearing the expected coming of a fight to the death, seek oblivion in drink and carnal delights. The Batista army medics awaiting the inevitable sequel of these activities prepare shots of penicillin.
In the hills above El Sordo, William will never forget that dreadful moment of death, his first kill. Here we, the Escopeteros, plan more deadly mischief.
In all this, the dead casquito is forgotten except as a statistic. He is a mere casualty of war. The dead casquito’s mother cries bitter tears alone and ignored by all but her closest friends and family. There are few others who cry for the killers Batista employs to do his bidding. This does not stop the casquito mother’s tears or give her solace for her pain. Yet, it takes a lot of number 8s, and floods of mother’s tears, to make and end a war.
After such as the casquito die in Guisa, and enough of the bodies of the other casquitos, mere “muertos chicos,” begin to litter the plains, the word spreads that Batista will meet defeat. To the south hidden in the heights of the Sierra Maestra, the forested high slopes of
After the revolution won, in
These main rebel forces, almost all the time until almost the end of the war when we joined them to attack the plains towns and cities, held secure in the highest, rain forested mountains of the Sierra Maestra. Still their pride, power and ungenerous ambition led them to denigrate and despise our contributions; thus even after victory, to these commanders we were still escopeteros, mere number 8s.
Nothing, even fame is forever. This year 2005 hurricane Dennis destroyed both the carefully preserved main Castro rebel 1958 headquarters in the Sierra Maestra cloud forest of
Larry Daley copyright@1997, revised 2000, 2002, 2005, 2006.