Life was hard but mostly uneventful in San Joye…until the arrival of Generalissimo Franco and his men. Like everyone in the sleepy village, my father the mayor did not pay close attention to the political unrest in the lowlands of the surrounding countries, and he and the village were surprised when the generalissimo and his rowdy men rode their horses up the rough wagon road into town. My papa was even more surprised when the fat man commandeered our house in the name of “public safety.” My father was only the mayor because he had the largest house, the most llamas, and the most sons – eight, of which I was the youngest. The strangers’ big guns and confident swaggers got them the food and services they demanded.
My father, after quickly moving us into my aunt’s house, took me and my mother to Sister Joan for guidance. As he entered the chapel, he called out for her, and we were not surprised to find her, broom in hand, sweeping the stairs to the second-story bell tower. He genuflected before the cross and – when she joined us – rapidly told her the recent troubles in the town.
Sister Joan’s more pious head spoke quickly as if cutting off the head that swore. “Dom Pedro,” she said with her warm and gentle voice. “This is alarming. Have they harmed anyone?” When he shook his head, she continued. “Then perhaps they are like summer ticks on one of your animals, and they will drop off when bloated.”
Father wrung his hat. “You know our village has not much blood in the best of times, Sister. They must go. We have no police. What will we do? They are former military men, a dozen at least.”
Sister Joan’s heads looked sympathetic. “Send word to the authorities,” she advised, “and wait to see what God would have us do.”
I heard her left head snort and it looked at the right head sharply. Father bowed and thanked her, hoping aloud that the bossy man and his entourage would soon see how poor the village was and leave. Mother and I exchanged worried glances. What could we do? We had no guns, no way to get to the authorities quickly – even if they would come to our remote village.
In the passing days, it was obvious that the greedy generalissimo was settling in for a long stay. Rumors ran rampant about the uncouth manners of the soldiers – some housed with locals expected to feed and take care of them, although they did nothing besides drink and shoot things outside our former home.
I was drafted, along with my brothers still living at home, into being an occasional errand boy and unpaid servant. I was frightened by the things I heard and saw. When I told my father, we visited the chapel again. “They are bottomless ticks, Sister,” he complained.
My mother was more strident. “And we fear for the daughters in the village, Sister Joan. Already these men look at the women like they are pots of honey. Is there nothing the Church can do?”
Both heads of Sister Joan looked anxious. Obviously, the generalissimo was not interested in a brief visit. Most likely he was running from a failed coup attempt and had determined San Joye was ripe for the picking.
Sister Joan dusted off her robes and nodded. “I will visit the general and remind him of his Christian duties.”
Both my parents looked as alarmed as I felt. “But, Sister,” said my father. “They have many guns and obviously no love for the Church.”
“And you are only one person,” said my mother. “We will send to Matarani for real soldiers to help us.”
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