Your Humble Pilgrim (part 2)

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Pablo's luck changes in the care of a loving family before he heads for the coast.

Chapter One cont....

Señora Maria Del Pilar is the kindly no-nonsense woman one encounters in the countryside. She has eight children and a small-holding. As none of the children’s fathers stayed around long enough to help very much, the children’s good health and manners, along with the well-maintained while humble dwelling are all Maria’s own work. “My dear good child!” she exclaims as the foreman hauls Pablo quickly from the truck holding him at arm’s length to avoid the stench. Maria Del Pilar and Yolanda Adriana, her second-eldest daughter, quickly and efficiently remove his clothing, which they burn. They then bathe Pablo in a tin bath outside in the back yard next to the pig’s barn. Sores and wounds are dressed, lice treatment applied before Pablo is laid to rest in a hammock swinging on the front porch. The first thing they give him is cane sugar water which he gulps at first before Yolanda Adriana tells him to slow down, “You’ll be sick drinking it that fast” as she takes control of the glass and holds the back of his head. Beans, rice and meat soon follow accompanied by a fried egg skilfully cooked inside a maize casing. “You’re not ready for a ‘full wide-plate’ yet” Maria laughs as she clears away the dishes. As Pablo falls into a warm deep-sleep he can hear the foreman arranging to collect him the next day as Maria Del Pilar insists that he is in no fit state to travel. Her final words drift into Pablo’s semi-conscious mind before he falls asleep. “The poor love just needs rest and care, like we all do.”

Thanks to God dear reader, I am able to speak with you again. You may have seen that my survival has been made possible by the kindness of the Tribe as Father Tomas said it would. Señora Maria Del Pilar was sent by my shepherd to care for me. It seems that I must continue my pilgrimage tomorrow when the foreman returns but for tonight I am safe with this dear lady. Good night and blessings dear reader.

As the sun sets the sweet smell of moist verdant vegetation fills Pablo’s senses while a slow cooling breeze rocks him gently to sleep. Moths accompany Yolanda Adriana and her torch as she checks on Pablo at regular intervals during the night. Pablo remains in a deep long-overdue sleep unaware of Yolanda Adriana’s visits and the many creatures that scurry and scratch over and through the porch.

With first light and the dawn chorus Pablo wakes gently, while stiff and feeling for the first time the many pains of his wounds acquired while serving his time on the streets. In desperate need of a toilet but unable to move he reluctantly calls for help after struggling unsuccessfully to climb from the hammock. A comforting smile born of nostalgia appears as he remembered one of his father’s many funny sayings; “There’s no real dignified way of climbing from a hammock” he always used to say after his evening nap on the front porch. The smile is interpreted by Maria Del Pilar as a sign of a simple mind. “Poor love, let me help you!” as she and Yolanda Adriana lift Pablo between them. “You’re as light as a feather” she says. Pablo repeats “thanks to God that I found you dear ladies” and “blessings on you both”. I am so sorry to disturb you at this hour. The women tell him not to worry as they usually rise this early. “Kids to school, washing to do, animals to feed” Yolanda Adriana comments as she helps Pablo to the straw pile at the rear of their building.

Yolanda Adriana’s almost masculine beauty and consummate skills in house and farm husbandry make her one of the most sought-after women in a very wide area. She will soon move from her family home as she has agreed to marry a local man, Señor Olympus Jorge Garcia Gooday, adorned with wealth inherited from generations of coffee plantation owners and who, at 54 is 31 years her senior. The marriage proposal was approved by Señora Maria Del Pilar once she found it to be born of mutual benefit and respect and admired Señor Olympus’s understanding of the importance of modesty. “What’s the foreman Señor Jairo Alvaro got planned for you then?” she asks as Pablo returns slowly to his hammock.

Señor Jairo Alvaro Sanchez Escobar is known locally as “the foreman” as he is considered to be well-connected and therefore the man to approach if you want paid work or someone to work for you. He is almost single-handedly responsible for moving, or managing the movement, of men and some women from the city to the countryside and back again on a daily basis. As the local market workers know instinctively what produce to accept and reject from farmers, Señor Jairo Alvaro has an instinct for selecting just the right type and numbers of workers from the lines. His pockets are always full of cash for paying workers by hand and while the records reside only in his head he is well respected for paying a fair day’s wage to anyone who is prepared to turn up on time, work hard between breaks and behave with respect. Precisely what the foreman has spotted in Pablo is yet to be revealed.

The foreman’s truck slides to a halt outside Señora Maria Del Pilar’s farm. The delay in journeying to the coast is costing him precious time and therefore money. Despite this his manner remains amiable while business-like. No small-talk is indulged as Pablo is instructed to stand upright on the porch while Señor Jairo Alvaro,squinting from the smoking cigar-butt in his mouth, inspects his acquisition. First Pablo’s teeth and then his arms and torso are manipulated to test his ability to lift. Pablo is declared to be “much cleaner and fragrant” than the previous day however it is decided he would need a few more days’ rest before he can be presented to Señor Jairo Alvaro’s client on the coast. “We’ll feed him till he’s fit to travel but he’ll never be strong enough to work the Palm oil plantations,” Señora Maria observes. The palm oil plantations are the most common destination for any of Señor Jairo Alvaro’s workers if they are being transported to the coast. It often results in hard labour in tropical heat but much-improved working and living conditions for people like Pablo who have experienced life on the streets. Life on the streets in coastal-dwellers’ country however is often a very different prospect as the traditional Tribe fellowship, while not without its uncaring side, tends to result in kinder treatment of those without capacity to fend for themselves. Falling on hard times without food and shelter on the coast however would mean drawing on Pablo’s recent training in the art of confident performance but to a much tougher audience.

As it happens Señor Jairo Alvaro’s client is in the Palm oil business but it isn’t anticipated that Pablo will be expected to fill the usual role. Señor Jairo Alvaro’s coastal workforce work in either the time-critical harvesting of the crop in its perfect ripe state when two (and only two) fruit are seen to fall from the bunch. Or, if they show an aptitude for it, in the mills sifting the ripe and overripe fruit bunches from the green and rotten ones. Generating enormous profit margins, Palm oil fruit could make their growers and mill-owners extraordinarily wealthy. Señor Jairo Alvaro’sclient owns three yachts, two helicopters and a private jet, in which flies his son twice a week to private golf lessons in the North.    

Pablo excuses himself and walks slowly to the straw pile once more at the rear of Señora Maria Del Pilar’s home.  

Thanks to God dear reader I am to stay with this saintly woman and her family for some more days. I feel Father Tomas’s vision and wise words accompanying me on my pilgrimage. Could it be that the coast is where my Promised Land is to be found? It is clear to me from Señor Jairo Alvaro’s words that I have been selected for a special purpose.

The daily routine of Señora Maria Del Pilar and her family continues traditions almost unchanged from the founding of the Tribal nation. Fresh full-fat dairy produce bulges the bellies of her children. Many farms and coffee plantations have been converted to accommodate the increasing number of foreign tourists, who are happy to pay high prices for accommodation in carefully-reconstructed representations of the imagined bucolic setting of the Tribe nation’s origins. Borrowing heavily from the marketing of elite wines and theme parks, central to this imitation is the small-scale craft image of coffee production. Wealthy foreign tourists dress as farmhands, pick small baskets of coffee and return it to a barn where a former farmhand, replete with weather-beaten face, moustache and the nation’s traditional dress, will assist them in pealing, drying, grinding and roasting their coffee beans before serving it to them in small cups; all of which is of course available for purchase. Farmhands have become performers. The act made convincing by an inner belief that they could still work the land if called upon to do so. If both the performer and audience believe that what is happening is somehow real then the transaction becomes complete with the exchange of bank account details and electronic transfer of funds.

So concerned are the department’s public administrators that a campaign has been designed to stem the decline of commercially produced coffee on which the Tribe nation was founded and indeed funded. In an attempt to muster support from other departments within the country, representatives of the government have united with the Coffee-growers’ Guild to declare that removing coffee production from the country would be unthinkable as it symbolises the country’s “pride and reputation” around the planet. Coffee represents the acceptable – indeed loved – face of dependence-inducing granules; an alternative to the powder for which the country was once infamous.

Señora Maria Del Pilar manages a self-sufficient farm and only receives occasional guests at the service of Señor Jairo Alvaro Sanchez Escobar.

Pablo thrives amidst this idyllic routine helping where he can with the daily chores. In the evening he sits with Yolanda Adriana discussing a range of topics. At first Yolanda Adriana assumed, as most people often do, that Pablo was a simple mind. One morning when she arrives to change his dressings and clean his sores Pablo comments on the roses growing in the front garden, "A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose, their fragrance is my final sense during that phase between sleep and awake each night.” Her head full of the day’s waiting chores Yolanda Adriana at first pays no attention and then Pablo’s words make their way through to the other side of her thoughts. “That’s lovely Pablo” she exclaims with a distant expression, “It’s from one of my favourite authors” Pablo assists, “Do you like her work?” For the first time Pablo has Yolanda Adriana’s attention rather than pity. “No, I haven’t heard of her before. How do you know her words?” Yolanda Adriana asks. Pablo tells her about the colossal libraries that were built in his neighbourhood and how wonderful he felt the first time he was told stories from the enormous collection of books they held.

The library complexes, massive learning environments the size of many football pitches, were built as part of an attempt to turn children away from the conspicuous promise of wealth from gang membership to realise there was an alternative. Constructed with the same vision and philanthropy that had realised the Metro, the libraries have become a symbol of hope and support for despairing parents. Pablo describes how he spent time inside what he calls his “alternative world” and how he had wanted to live there after his parents and siblings were killed by the neighbourhood gang following his father’s refusal to hide a gun. Precisely why Pablo had been spared or “saved” doesn’t occur to Pablo as he has been raised to accept that his existence is entirely at the mercy of the Supreme Being. He was first taught to read at Bible studies during his crucial formative years which would cling tight throughout his life influencing the composition of his persona. Further tuition then came from local volunteers who worked in the libraries. Through this teaching and preaching he acquired the air of a kindly priest. Reading was his escape and salvation as a child. He read to know that he wasn’t alone. His reading was voracious and extensive.

At first he read the great works of his fellow countrymen, and then he felt an affinity with Narco literature, which described how drug problems that were once rural had moved into the cities. One volunteer who was a particular fan of writers from the North, got him hooked on an author from his home state. How he had dreamed of being the protagonist of the story set in a rural Utopia. He had at the same time worshiped and despised the story’s young hero for squandering long days with friends, floating on the river free from his own violent world. For some reason the musicality of the words of a famous female author of the early 20th century captured his imagination more than most. The rhythm and cadences of her words appealed to his sense that the world he saw around him was at odds with how he felt inside. During their front porch evening chats Pablo explains to Yolanda Adriana that when he read the author’s words for the first time he felt that he wasn’t alone and strange. The words others spoke and read seemed not entirely connected with how he saw the world. How she put words together on the other hand made real sense and a profound connection. It was one of his ambitions to learn to read in English as he was sure the words he held so dear would mean so much more in their native tongue. Pablo feels completely at ease with Yolanda Adriana and confides in her how guilty he has felt for his anger towards those who visited such mindless violence on his family and friends. How can you possibly feel guilty for such an understandable human emotion? She responds. Father Tomas had explained that such indulgences as anger were part of the temptations he would face on his journey and they are to be resisted. Yolanda Adriana says that she feels embarrassed for assuming Pablo was in some way stupid. We call you Simple Simon, she confesses with tearful eyes. My dearest Yolanda Adriana please do not reproach yourself, most people assume my mind and body are connected, whereas this is in fact the disconnected way I see the world. I imagine it is because people behave towards me and treat me differently that I feel like a detached observer rather than a participant.

It was clear to Señora Maria Del Pilar that the two became very close very quickly however she had no doubt that Yolanda Adriana knew her position as a betrothed woman who would soon take her rightful place in the home and bed of Senor Olympus Jorge Garcia Gooday.

The day has come when Señora Maria Del Pilar declares Pablo fit to travel and advises Señor Jairo Alvaro via her mobile phone held between the side of her chin and shoulder freeing her hands to brush the hair of her youngest child Yaisney in her smart new school uniform. Pablo embraces Señora Maria Del Pilar and then Yolanda Adriana before dragging his few remaining belongings behind him as he leaves to climb aboard Señor Jairo Alvaro’s truck bound for the coast.


 

Chapter two: The Mountain Gods’ curse

The cursed air of the Mountain Gods, which combines magic with reality, has become trapped in the cabin of Señor Jairo Alvaro’s truck during his countless trips to the coast spanning three decades. Because of this mixture of air from the interior and the coast, his cabin now serves as a sort of decompression chamber protecting its passengers from experiencing shock at the stark change of life. Passengers can imbibe the cursed magic air gradually. Travellers by plane from the interior however have still to realise that rapid change, without decompression, is the source of their confusion and unpleasant headiness upon arrival at the coast. Many find the transition impossible to deal with and soon return home.

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