Thursday, 2 April 2009

Chapter 3

Apparently, Bo Nesto was not born, but deposited fully formed by Tralfamadorians on a doorstep in Nether Wallop Road, Grantham. More on that later, but here's Chapter 3!

Chapter 3: Up to the Alto

The next morning she makes a point of waking up early, so avoiding the attentions of Mario. She doesn’t need his assistance anymore. As she cuts through the Plaza Murillo, Sandy notes a large detachment of police outside the Congress building and wonders just who they’re protecting so early in the day. Merely taking up precautionary positions, she presumes.

Then she heads past the Cathedral along the pedestrian walkway that leads to the Perez from where a continuous stream of minibuses leave for the motorway up to the Alto. No question of waiting. Just hop into the first one to announce ‘Ceja’. But, beforehand, she samples some of the delicious herb tea on sale to early risers who have also foregone their breakfast. And then, her hunger satisfied, she settles in to observe the bustling city dissolve into irrelevance as the minibus gains height.

Most public transport takes the same route out and up, passing the imposing beer factory building where an inviting display of vast window space invites the attentions of any stone wielding mob, Sarah intuitively predicts. Thereafter, the motorway proper begins. She relaxes in appreciation of the marvellous view, in a way she has not managed to do on arrival. Jim was quite right. For him, the Alto represents home base. No wonder he’s lodged there. Sarah didn’t doubt they’d be meeting up there very soon…

In the confusion of changing buses at the Ceja, she suddenly feels faint from the sudden increase in altitude. But Sandy doesn’t resent the giddiness– two and a half miles high, as Jim had enjoyed pointing out. Sure, the Ceja itself, with its shoving, heaving crowds is a mess and the roads, a nonstop stream of heavy traffic always perilous to cross. Negotiating the Ceja was a trial to be endured. But once she hits the new roadways (a surprise these) where fully loaded trucks (clearly contraband), avoid customs control and transport police checks, whistling through at full speed, Sarah suddenly feels more at ease.

The briefest of inquiries reveals that the Plaza Redonda lies on the way to Villa Adela, definitely Jim territory (to which he had bestowed the tag of Villa Abdullah in a display of fake homage to its crazy priest and tutelary dervish, Ignatz). Unfortunately the Round Square is also an Ignatz precinct. One of his absurd churches, this time Swiss cheese style, complete with holes, whilst in the square itself a gruesome larger than life statue of a crucified Christ, also complete with its bloody holes, seeps gore onto a huddle of awaiting worshippers. And to cap it all, here is the priest Ignatz himself in person leading a prayer session to precede the meeting. And Sandy has to admit his hold on the assembled congregation appears absolute. But, confronted by this show of personal power, Sandy experiences nothing but antagonism and revulsion. So here’s the bastard who’d had Jim thrown in jail.

But Sarah has underestimated the power of the Alto masses. They grow restive with the tame praying. There are important matters to discuss that concern the neighbourhoods. Evidently limits to Ignatz’s exhortations and prayers exist. Amid booing and catcalls the priest is eventually forced to withdraw.

Before the meeting commences, Sarah is pulled aside by someone who introduces herself as Doña Matilda and mentions Jim by name. “He said to watch out for you, especially if any trouble brews. You’re the only gringa around. So I reckon you must be Jim’s pal, right enough.” Sarah has instinctively taken to the woman in rough working clothes, especially when she has described how they’d arrived at this zone of the Alto. “All of us moved in block when our mine at Bolsa Negra was sold by Goni’s company to a foreign company. Relocation they called it. A nice phrase for not paying fair wages. The Canadians didn’t approve of negotiating techniques. So they replaced us with non-union labour, and we moved here to survive as best we could.”

So Sandy has at least brought Jim indirectly into the conversation but Doña Matilda doesn’t exactly specify where he might be found. “Well, for a start, you could look over there by the shoe-shine boys. That´s his natural bunch”, but they’re all wearing knitted balaclavas that hide their features. So Sandy didn’t investigate further. Or maybe she should have noticed the one talking into a mobile phone. On closer inspection she might have seen blue eyes scrutinising her from within the knitted helmet.

But anyway, trouble was bubbling at the meeting and maybe that’s what distracted her. Too many complaints about Goni and his government’s measures were being aired and transmitted by Radio San Gabriel in their lunch-time news bulletin to the general public. So an order had come from the authorities higher up for the police to disperse the gathering and in the rush to escape from the sudden teargas assault, Sarah found herself dragged to Matilda’s home nearby where she was presented to a sister who, interestingly enough, made a living as a cholita wrestler (whatever that might entail) at a place called the Multifunctional at the Ceja. Sandy saw piles of kids but no obvious husband nor indeed any of the older generation. She was also shown a field of freshly sprouting potatoes (this being summer in the Southern hemisphere, she realized with a jolt) and an invitation to the coming harvest still some time away, but no sign of Jim, nor indeed a single reference to her friend until she asked directly. In the Alto it obviously paid to be direct.

Yes, Jim had been their lodger for a while, though not now.

“Who knows what he’s up to these days?”

Damn it. Yet she couldn’t blame Jim for not showing up in person, could she?

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