Big Men (6)

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My eyes are open, have been for some time, but only now do I realize that I am awake. Men, women, familias are snoring all around me. I make my way outside. It is dark, but the moon is out and it is full and I can see enough to navigate to the alley. I find Silvio there. He is wearing nothing but his leggings. The rest of his clothes are piled up next to his yamas. In the moonlight I can see his scar covered body clearly. He is looking up, at the moon I assume, and turns when he hears me approach.

“Can’t sleep either?” I ask.

“I was asleep, but it is my luminal time, so I am giving my eye a chance to see,” he says. Then I notice that his eye patch is gone and his left eye is perfectly intact!

“Your eye! I thought that you lost it,” I say.

“I did, in a manner of speaking,” he says.

“I don’t understand.”

“I wasn’t always a basurero, Rio. I used to be something else. Someone else. I took an oath. I broke it. Now I wander the wastes.”

“Like Julio Meyer the demon killer,” I say.

“Yes. Just like that,” he says with an annoyed sigh. He never did like how often I brought up the stories I knew. “The punishment for breaking my oath is this.” He points to his left eye. “This eye can never see the sun again.”

“Why?” I ask.

“It’s either that or I poke it out with a knife. I prefer it this way.”

“No, I mean why are you punishing yourself?” I ask.

“Maybe you’re too young to understand,” Silvio says. He walks over to a yama, the one named Bonita, and pets her. “My mistakes. My sins. This is a reminder to myself of what I’ve done. Of what I can never undo.”

“A friend once told me that forgiveness only comes when you forgive yourself,” I say.

“A friend once told me that too. Maybe if I’d listened to him I would have made better choices,” he says.

We talk into the night, a routine for us, but quickly the hour of sleep comes and I head back to my hammock, leaving Silvio with the yamas. I am awoken by a clattering noise. The people around me are frantically gathering their things together. Outside a man is shouting in Spanyol and Yapones something to the effect of, “By order of Senor Zapata, servant of Don Gregorio and the Empire, this building is vacated!”

I wonder if I am dreaming for a moment, but the sound of women and children screaming stirs me to wakefulness and I grab my things in a hurry. Outside I see a man dressed in the livery of a military commander, with a big hat and medals on his chest, sitting on a horse. Behind him a small boy holds a massive flag with the symbol of the house of Don Gregorio, a two headed snake wrapped around a bear, emblazoned on it. Behind them stand a gathering of young men and boys barely older than I holding chains, long knives, and pipes; what I assume are Zapata’s muscle. They wear bandanas and each of them have a patch sewn somewhere on their clothing, the only commonalities among them. It seems as if their only purpose is to stand and look scary while Zapata’s men clear out the Burro and secure the kitchen and ale house.

“What’s going on?” I ask someone.

“Senor Zapata is taking over,” a woman with a basket and a baby tells me.

“It’s that damn bathhouse again. He won’t quit until that thing is built,” a man in leathers says under his breath.

“Why a bathhouse?” I ask.

“It’s to impress the don. He’s going to smash every building on the block just to get the tiniest bit more standing in the don’s court. We barely have enough water to wash our feet and he’s going to build that stupid thing? He doesn’t care at all that people live and work here.”

“The don is going to hear about this. Zapata’s gone too far this time,” says another man, holding his granddaughter.

“Don Gregorio doesn’t care about us. He’s too busy dealing with the folks in Sisco,” says a woman wearing an apron, her hands caked with flour.

I look for a way to get to the alley so I can find Silvio. Then I see the girl with the golden eyes. She is standing with two people, a Yapones man and what looks like a Meycan woman but with lighter skin and a flatter face. They are in front of the Burro surrounded by Zapata’s goons. The woman is sobbing, the man is placid, the girl has tears in her eyes but is fighting not to cry as a goon nails a declaration of eviction on the door.

“Don’t do this, please. This is our livelihood. Our only home,” the woman says to the man on the horse, who I guess is Zapata.

“You’ve had plenty of chances and many kind offers, but the time for talking is past. Look what your stubbornness has cost you. Now Don Gregorio and the Empire will take your inn and you will watch,” Zapata says.

“You disgrace your title,” the Yapones man says.

“Don Gregorio and the Empire decree that you shut up!” Zapata screeches.

The young men behind Zapata get antsy. They’re itching for a fight, or at least something to hit. The air is so thick with tension it is suffocating. The Burro is finally clear and Zapata declares that people go about their business and clear the street. An angry murmur washes over the crowd, but there is no resistance. People start to leave. I am about to depart as well when I see the innkeeper reach into his belongings and pull out a curved blade and scabbard, unsheathing it above his head in an arc.

“In the name of the Midori Clan, I rebuke thee,” he says. His placidity is gone. Now there is fury.

 

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