The time was now to deliver the school report and to reach Huatulco had to traverse the thick, tropical forest on foot; then, hop on the first available lorry since there were no other means of transportation in those exuberant trails where you have to clear the track via machete as you go. Behind, stood the village where I worked as I braced for the narrow path through the thicket for lack of roads to accommodate motor cars. Hiked the long distance with no humans in sight over a bucolic trail of amazing beauty populated by varied fauna amid stretches worth the most eloquent descriptions.
After several hours, my walking among shacks told me I had reached Huatulco, the first stop on my way to Pochutla, and then Puerto Angel, where the school headquarters was. According to the plan, arrived in the main plaza to grab a snack at the usual kitchen. Customarily, got to know about local news and transportation options to Pochutla. Also, recharge energies sorely needed to finish the trek by having lunch as I chatted with the bubbling and respectable lady owners.
Overwhelmed by the intense heat and blinded by the solar glare, crossed the threshold of the restaurant sightless but relieved at last by the cool ambience contrasting with the dreadful outdoors Generally empty, the place was now filled with a platoon of soldiers occupying all the tables. I said - buenas tardes - and looked for an empty chair to no avail. All the looks converged upon me since the long hair and ragged outfit gave away my hippie condition, a new fad at the time, and an odd sight in the area I might add. A soldier politely tried to relinquish his chair to me but the captain, who was at the central table prevented him with imperious voice.
Next, he ordered me to join his group and have a seat among them. It was a long table with the captain in the middle. I obliged the courteous, but somehow rude gesture and sat exactly across from the 50-year-old officer. We exchanged greetings and introductions followed by a conversation as sensible as possible considering one of the talkers was drunk, and it wasn't me. Then, what had started as small talk became personal on the captain's part after he realized we disagreed on most topics. He started to aggressively question me all the more, agitated since he didn't like my answers.
It was the 1960s where a generational gap between the youth and the old had been brought about by the inception of the Beatles, the opposition to war, and the beginning of the psychedelic counterculture. All this started to alter the coexistence between these two generations that were now undergoing drastic transformations where the former rebelled against the unlimited adult hegemony and control, and it was precisely this context that triggered the events that put me at great risk that evening.
Progressively frustrated and dizzier, the captain went from disapproving people like me, to openly insult those who wore long hair, dressed in rags, and whose way of life differed from the traditional one. Now kids were rebelling against imposition, wanted to be mentally and morally free, were taking part in an ongoing sexual revolution, acted with disregard and lack of acquiescence for traditional social values, and rejected consumerism not to mention the extended usage of drugs by almost all of the participants.
Nevertheless, the most memorable feature to me was the innocence and candour with which I countered his criticism and reviling aided by logic. It all was like an assertive game and the coolness and humour of my responses made the soldiers laugh discretely. Without trying, my fun assertions left him exposed after each strike. The captain struggled hard to get back on his feet and avoid the ridicule of having been pummeled before his subordinates, but his intoxicated state wouldn't help.
Surprised, I noticed that he felt ridiculed but lacked the wit or sobriety to realize it was he who had put himself in a precarious situation before his team due to his derogatory onslaughts. The factor that aggravated the situation was precisely the presence of his squad: bewildered witnesses who watched how their chief reacted. Incredulous, they saw how a youngster disrespected the infallible and valiant captain while he, the victim of his ego and hostage of a power trip failed repeatedly to stop the carnage.
I must confess I was having a ball mainly because even silent and long-faced, I could still see some soldiers were on my side secretly pleased to see their overbearing boss being defeated by his rhetoric; they watched how this clay idol crashed to the floor in pieces, green with ire because of childish stuff; saw just how vulnerable the commandant was in the face of ideas unworthy of being defended. He no longer was the supreme and sullen strategist with a mentality superior to his warriors'. Now he'd become a confused drunkard livid with anger caused by the unfathomable logic that, being completely unaware of, wielded like a Ninja sword this adolescent truant.
Suddenly hurried, I consulted my watch for it was getting late and had to reach the Port before nightfall. When the captain knew this, kept me from leaving my seat. He said he and his patrol were heading for the port, too, thus there was no reason to worry; that they will take me there. I felt the floor sink while red flags popped in my mind. He insisted on resuming the debate, but frankly, I was done with keeping up with a drunkard. To retain me there he invited me to a beer, which I refused adding to his aggravation. I didn't drink alcohol for one and knew that if accepted, the debate would have continued ad infinitum to only widen our differences.
I didn't err on this last assessment. Increasingly frustrated and wasted, the captain insisted on having the last word and forcibly and almost violently blurted out on my face topics we had already gone through while daring me to give him answers. Alarmed now, I could see all the fun disappear. I was now fearful knowing I had to handle the situation by getting away as soon as possible. The captain's diatribe was getting more stubborn and rancorous, his hatred targeting me.
Was right again. When he saw me resolute to leave the place, he sprang on his feet and with martial voice ordered his soldiers to grab me, which they did in an instant without uttering a word. Immobilized by the arms, thought the official was going to punch me in the stomach when he got up close to my face and almost in a whisper said: “Listen to this you damned bum, I will cease being named by my name if you are not shot dead before sunrise you son of a bitch”. And with that, he ordered the guards to take me to the military truck where I would be escorted to a firing line yet undisclosed.
I couldn't believe the turn of events my work trip had taken! Deeply anguished and helpless saw the town disappear in the night while we left for Pochutla. On the high bench of the military truck, the soldiers had me secured in semidarkness. By their looks of disapproval and scorn, I could tell some of them were with the captain, who rode at the front cabin. Their twisted smiles anticipated the moment they'd execute, at any point over the road this disrespectful brat who had ridiculed their untouchable and cherished commander.
Started narrating my own experience at the Military Academy as a strategy to ease up the situation. It was a way to demonstrate to them that we weren't too different after all and that maybe it wasn't worth being too drastic.
- Oh, Traca-traca?
- Were you a traca-traca?
They asked me incredulously and with moderate interest while their gaze was now somehow softer. Yes, traca-traca in charge of the telegraph and field telecommunications. I could see now in their faces the solemn deference they pay to that army branch.
But that was it. Enough for them to soften their attitude a bit toward me, but the order had been issued and they had to obey. In a somewhat more relaxed ambiance, many fell asleep since they were dead tired. I only prayed in the inside mad against me for having acted imprudently and tactless. Now I had to pay for my daring and no one could save me. I cried one many times in the face of a too short an existence that will end without any major fuss.
It troubled me not to find any special heralds announcing my death; to know that death could be an everyday and trivial occurrence without celestial acknowledging; that it comes to many folks even without notice; that it's not always a glorious event where your relatives say farewell amid blessings; that death could be as anonymous and meaningless as life could. But again, why should it be at all special? I consoled myself by thinking maybe it was indeed special for oneself at the moment of death, but for the people that stay behind memories dissolve quickly into nothing.
Suddenly, the lighted avenues indicated we were in Pochutla. It was dawn and the truck traversed the deserted and warm streets resounding its diesel motor. I couldn't believe I was seeing this city again for I thought they would kill me on the solitary road. That just augmented my gloom, for now, I knew I'd never see Puerto Angel. On the road here I had given up, but now a renewed will to live only increased my desolation.
Seeing the solitary city from the back of the truck resembled a sad movie picture in black and white. I tried to organize my thought since it'd be the last. I noticed the soldiers who had gleefully listened to my confidence about the military academy now stared at me with sadness. Felt my life had come to an end because their behaviour was the corroboration of an incoming execution. Got exasperated by the tenor my trip had taken for it had started blissfully on the trail of the sacred tropical forest to end up instead in a circumstance all too absurd, unjust, and unreal.
The truck stopped. I could see the driver signalling his peers through the rear mirror. I could also see the captain's head pitching sideways still asleep. Braced to be taken to an unknown firing wall. The sleeping cadets were slowly arising and the ones by my flanks ogled me with sudden intensity. I was the most helpless and vulnerable creature convinced my life was to end; that it was literally in their hands. They kept on making signals that only they understood, and then the sergeant said to me almost in a murmur:
- Beat it! – I didn't understand what he had said and he repeated a little louder.
- Beat it!
Hum? So, then it was going to be the fugitive's law, right? Of course, there would be no witnesses and…
- I said beat it, stupid!
Repeated the gallon now exasperated pulling me out of my idiotic cavillations. I remained seated for the last five seconds to see once more the captain slobbering in the front cabin, the driver at a loss still signalling frantically in the mirror, the soldier with intense gaze telling me to flee and the rest of the squad with deadpan faces.
Without uttering a word or an instant of hesitation, I jumped like a cat from the height of the platform and ran like I never had before. Covered 50 yards before two machine gunshots were heard. I slid under a parked car in the darkness. Listened for the truck driving away and not before the silence was completely attained left my hideout with not a single scratch.
Vacated the hotel early and travelled to Puerto Angel. But even though I was careful, as I left the School Office saw the captain coming my way. He was loudly chatting amid some elegant women and important looking men. Frozen, remained put while they paraded by without paying any attention to me; as if I were invisible. Well shaved, donning an impeccable uniform, gregarious and charming gave no hint of having unjustly condemned to death an innocent youngster just last night.