:: Article

Los Halcones

By Ricardo Wilson.

(C) 1971 ERB, Inc. Tarzan (R), Edgar Rice Burroughs (R) Owned by ERB, Inc.


June 1971

The two sit for some twenty-five minutes before the gathering crowd of university students begins to understand. The Mazatec boy is dressed in linen brown with mud, and the other, somewhat older, black-skinned and thick-necked, in a Victorian collar to his Adam’s apple, a large-brimmed black felt hat and suspenders. Even with the morning chill, the Mazatec boy shows a dimple when he talks. He does not speak Spanish and so one of the students ventures from below the steps of the entrance to the gymnasium where the two were found, bundled together against the damp, to find a student from the Sierra to help translate. Of course, all wonder how the travelers got here. And about the odd pairing. But most are more concerned with the vitality of the two youths than the mystery. Strange people have been known to appear, but these are menacing times as news is still echoing in the town of the massacre of students in the capital six days before. Those in this crowd demonstrated in support of the reforms in the very same quad they now stand, but while there had been police there were no death squads. And though they have pored over El Imparcial each morning since last Thursday, men with sticks and youths with mangled faces, they know the death toll from the capital will be worse than the press will ever be allowed to write of. It was supposed to have been the day to celebrate the body and blood of Christ. And while last Sunday some of them were at mass, with demands that gods speak of this violence, here there are two bodies that were brought through something that they can tend to.

One of the students brings tejate from the vendor at the gates to help the boy tell his story in words that are sometimes difficult for the translator to understand, having the language of one brought to the city in the womb. The Deafman, the boy’s moniker for his companion, had disabled one of the foreigners’ vans, the boy says, taken its tires and thrown them to the ravine and loaded a second with pine-oak boards, goat milk and sapote. The Deafman drove them in the van the color of smoldering harvest until they ran out of petrol and pushed it far off the road and buried it in brush and took the key. He points to The Deafman’s collared neck where it hangs on twine made from cornhusks. He, the boy, exchanged their excess for space in the back of mule-driven carts. They walked the last fifteen kilometers in the dark following the glow of the lights from the university’s quad that under federal order had been on through the nights since last Thursday. They found their dark corner to sleep before the students, those coming from far, began to walk in.

He was known to leave, the boy says of himself, to frustrate his elders, but always alone and never this far. This is the first he has seen of this city. He admits that at this point his village will be whistling to the hills for him, and that he will try and find someone from near to his home and begin the return when the market clears in the days to come.

The Deafman sits silent, fingering the key around his neck, his felt hat pulled low to one side and his head turned toward the lightlessness of their cobbled refuge. One of the students, with greasy dark curls falling over his face, whispers in the translator’s ear, urging him to ask of The Deafman’s motives. Given the theatricality of the dark traveler’s wardrobe, it is as if this student is reading Melville and thinking of Babo. The Mazatec boy tells the translator that the teen who looks like a man came with the foreigners and does not speak, and that he considers his accomplice a friend. The skeptic takes a short and gnarled pencil hidden behind his ear and looks past the translator, pointing it at The Deafman. He asks in a raised voice where he is from, attempting to curry support, but he is punched in the arm and cursed silent.

The crowd of students, some sharing cigarettes and many with their books tied in leather for the rains, has more than doubled in size, as if the two were jugglers or fire eaters. Though he knows they will not comprehend, the boy speaks this time to the crowd, telling them that the troupe The Deafman came to the Sierra with may be following on foot, but that The Deafman doesn’t wish to return with them. The translator begins to ask how he and The Deafman communicate but is tripped up by the mention of a troupe. Given the whispers in the town it is of no surprise that the translator thinks the boy is talking of mercenaries making a march to the city. But the boy insists that the foreigners were putting on a show, that they are a theater company of sorts. That they had built a stage and The Deafman sat above on a platform as the group moved slowly in silence. The translator remains steadily unsure if this meaning is precise.

The translator asks the boy if he is aware of the violence, telling him the story of the hawks being sent to kill the students. The boy thinks of his great grandmother and how she talks to the birds of the Sierra. I am not talking about animals, the translator says to the boy’s confusion, this is the name given to the death squads. The translator explains that they, the boy and The Deafman, were thought to be lifeless bodies because of the way they were lying in the nook of the concrete stairs, as if they had tried to find shelter but were taken by the hawks. That they looked like the black and white photos in El Imparcial. The boy says that he and The Deafman are not ghosts.

Ricardo Wilson is an assistant professor of English at Williams College and has published fiction and critical work in Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire, Callaloo, The Common (forthcoming), CR: The New Centennial Review, and Stirring. His first book, The Nigrescent Beyond, was just published by Northwestern University Press. “Los Halcones” comes from An Apparent Horizon and Other Stories, his recently completed collection of stories and novellas. Twitter: @ricardoawilson

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, September 1st, 2020.