of Love

[Ciudad de Los Virgines, Central America] They leave me alone in the hot room. Dust and spittle. Puce walls, horse-brown floors. There are two chairs, one with its back splintered, and a couch with fluff leaking out of its underside.

I sit and watch the wall. There's a picture of El Caudillo up there, with his rabbit cheeks. Another head-of-state who will rule, disfigure, ruin, rob, and bludgeon his fellow countrymen, and then pass on so that someone else can rise up to do the same. He wears a military sash that once must have been blue and red and white, but the heat has faded the colors to a grey-green. His eyes are sharp, austere.

As a child I would lie on the floor in front of the fireplace and look at the portrait of Grandfather Ignacio. As I stared at it, after enough time, the room around me would begin to soften, and his head would come to look sharp and alive. If I looked long enough, his lips would begin to curl up or curl down, and he would begin to speak to me. His eyes would move; the lids would flutter. His name was my own, so when he began talking, he could just as well have been talking to himself.

"Why are you unhappy, Ignacio?" he would say.
"Don't worry," he would say: "You're only afraid of one thing, anyway... "You won't be found out. Stop worrying."

And his eyes would narrow, and he would nod his head, and smile, and just as I started to be afraid, his face would fade back into the canvas, the lips and eyes and head would turn rigid, just like before; or, rather, almost like before, because there was always something different about him, and the picture, and me, after he talked to me.

I know that if I study El Caudillo's face long enough, he will begin to speak to me, begin to tell me why they don't want me in this country, or maybe why he has been able to stay in power so long, why he is so intent on ruining and disfiguring his countrymen, robbing the middle class, making the poor even poorer, making the rich more powerful. "Why do you do things to such excess?" I'll ask him. "Why can't you just steal a little bit, and help the poor a little bit? Why do you have to bring more misery on those who are already miserable?"

I know if I look at his picture long enough and hard enough, he will begin to move his lips, his rabbit cheeks will fill out, his eyes will light up as he tells me the secret of why he does what he does. "Everything we do, we do for love," one of the martyrs to his reign once said. "Love comes in many forms --- even out of the barrel of a gun," he said, before they murdered him.

Greed is easy to explain, easy to trace, I think. But fear --- fear is more complex. And love: why it's the most complex of them all. "Perhaps El Caudillo does what he does for love," I think.

--- from The Buddha of Boystown,
by Ignacio Schwartz

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