Macho Caballo Page

Las Aventuras De Macho Caballo

THE FRIAR'S WARNING: Mamá worked at the big house, at the rancho. She walked there, early every morning, out the compound, down the road, and through the gardens to the hacienda. This morning there was a lift to her step she could not explain. Her son was home, afflicted with a terrible curse, yet the cool of the morning and the sounds of birds greeting the breaking day filled her with elation. She felt good. She walked along the rows of the garden, amidst the scents of cavendar, lilac, and sage. Berries and melons grew in the open spaces, while beans and scallions and tomatoes flourished in the rows. Don Pedro was generous to all who worked for him, and he would give them any of the fruits of the garden. But while she admired the abundance, it never occurred to her to accept the hacendado's offers to take what she wanted for her own family. She preferred to bargain for vegetables at the town market. Don Pedro had a guest for breakfast at the large table in the dining room. "Your son is well, I trust?" said the visiting Fray Fernando. "He is healthy, and eats like a horse," Mamá said, "You knew he was home from the school?" "Yes, and I must speak to you about this," said the friar, drawing her aside, "I fear we may have caused some trouble for you." "What could the church possibly do to give a mere mother concern?" Fernando coughed lightly, an affectation he had assumed to gain him some relief from the occasional demands placed on him at social functions. "The friars at the school are very proud of your son," he began, "and they were concerned when he left without waiting for their permission. They... Ah... sent a message to the mission to tell us to Ah... request that he return as soon as possible. They say he has great promise as a scholar." "I am pleased to hear this, but I could have told them that." The friar smiled wryly. "Unfortunately, as you know, Seńora, all messages must past through the offices of the Alcalde. It is a mere inconvenience, usually, a delay as some clerk shows off his education. The... Ah... Alcalde decided that your son must be made an example, to show others what happens when they disobey." "But - Fray Fernando - " "Shh. We are doing everything we can to correct this, but until we do, I suggest that you keep your son at home." "I must talk to the Alcalde at once!" Mamá sputtered, "Ramón should not have to skulk in his home because of some idiotic clerk!" "It... it... Ah, it's not that simple, I'm afraid. We have already objected, only to be told that it is out of our hands. The order has been given to the Seargeant to find Ramón and arrest him, for some theft." "Madre de Dios! Oh, forgive me, Fray Fernando." "It is acceptable to express yourself, my friend. Especially under the circumstances. I would like to vent a few choice words, myself, were I permitted. We at the mission have sent a message to the school, but until they respond, your son will be in danger." It was later than evening when Ramón hurried to help his mother with the bundles of cloth and sewing supplies she had brought home. "I have talked to the padre while he visited at the hacienda," she started, "He tells me that the sergeant is going to try to catch you." "Me? What did I do?" "The padre says you are accused of stealing something from the school. You did not." It was not a question. "The people at the school sent a message for the padre to ask you to return as soon as possible. The Alcalde intercepted the letter. This the padre told me. The Sergeant has decided to treat you as a criminal." "A criminal?" "If you are to remain free, you must hide, for a little while. The padre says they will have the matter resolved in a few days." Mamá lifted the pot from the fire. "I will go to them and explain," protested Ramón. "They will not listen. We can be certain the fathers did not lie when they said they had simply asked the Sergeant to tell you it was time to return to the school. But now the Sergeant is looking for you for a crime you did not commit. They do not want to sent you back to the school. They want you for some other reason." Ramón pulled himself up from the chair, to peer out the small kitchen window. "I have done nothing," he said. Mamá had a cup of steaming water ready. "I know," she said as she poured it over him. Ramón felt the change as his mother seemed to shoot up several inches and his clothes pressed in on him in different places. He looked up at her, a question in his eyes. "I am thinking you may go about freely as a girl," explained Mamá. "But first, you must learn to act like one." "I cannot act like a girl! I would die first!" Ramón protested. "Look at you, you are so stubborn. Like the donkey. How can it hurt to play-act for a little while?" "I will not priss and prance about like some showpony!" A look of determination came into the woman's face. "There is more to acting like a lady than 'prissing and prancing'," she said, "We will start by dressing you properly." "I *am* dressed properly." "For the jailhouse?" Mamá favored the girl with a hard smile, "Show your face as Ramón and they will put you away so quickly that you will not have time to 'act like a man'." "I will not wear a dress!" Ramón had been pushed as far as he could stand. This was indignity piled upon indignity. "Machita, listen to me," she drew the young girl close to her face and said, "If I lose you, man or woman, I shall die. Except for your father, I have no one but you. You are my future, my reason for living. I will not lose you because of your stubbornness." "Mamá, I would rather hide as a man than roam free as a woman," Ramón gulped, "Leave me some pride!" "I cannot," Mamá took her in her arms, looked deep into her eyes, and sighed. "The heavens help me, I cannot. Soon, the soldiers may come and search every house. They know where we store things, the hiding places. What they do not find, someone who knows may tell them about. If you run away, they will chase you with the Navajo trackers. If you hide, they will find you. Only if you are *not* you will you be safe," she clutched the girl's shoulders tightly. "They must *not* find you!" Looking up, Ramón saw his mother's eyes blurred with tears. He drew his arms around her waist and sighed, "Mamá?" She shook her head, lips pressed tightly together. "Okay, Mamá... I'll do it." Mamá patted her gently and held her a while longer. "First," she said when she finally spoke, "you must learn to wear the dress. Do not stiffen so. It is not torture." Ramón nodded glumly. He had other opinions on the matter. "I have some dresses I was making for the hacendado's granddaughter. She is about your size, I think they will fit nicely." From the shelf in her sewing nook, Mamá drew a white garment with red and yellow flowers and green vines embroidered about the bodice. After making certain that the curtains were drawn and privacy assured, she turned to Machita. "Take off your shirt," she instructed. "What!?" "Take off your shirt, child. How can I put this on you with your shirt on?" "But I'm wearing nothing underneath!" "Don't you think I know this? Would you take off your shirt as a man?" "Well... yes." "I have seen you without a shirt, baby, boy, and man. I am your mother. I am a woman, I am not offended by the sight of the breasts. Now, take off your shirt." Ramón did so, reluctantly, feeling chilled and vulnerable. Involuntarily, he looked down, and a blush spread from his face downward. "Now, though it is a shame to bind up such beauty, we must fit you with a halter. And you should wear some underclothes. You are going to have to remove your pantalones." Seeing the blush deepen to a brick red, she added, "I will turn my back." "Is all this really necessary?" Ramón sighed noisily as he complied. "Believe me, child, it is the only way. And this is only the first of many things. You must practice to sit, stand, and walk naturally and with ease. We must do your hair. And tomorrow I must go to the market, and I want you to go with me." When Mamá had finished, the dress fit perfectly, though Ramón squirmed in the unaccustomed clothing, wanting it off. The fabric brushing against his legs sent shivers of agony up his spine. Mamá offered him a mirror, but he pushed it away, refusing to see himself. "You look... Well, you are really very pretty," said Mamá, and seeing the rebellion beginning to flare up in the girl's eyes, she added, "And a little like a wild stallion in an evening gown." The image of a horse enduring the indignity of a skirt struck Ramón as so comical that he laughed in spite of his humiliation, and soon Mamá was laughing with him. It took some of the discomfort out of his own situation. TO MARKET: At the plaza, going from shop to vendor's stall, Ramón crowded close to Mamá, watching the faces of passersby. He had never felt so exposed, so naked. Soon, someone would recognize him and say, `Look at Macho, everyone! How foolish he looks in a dress!' The noise of the marketplace was a steady murmur. Some booths were bordered on the sides by low walls, others were merely tables laden with produce; all were sheltered by brightly colored awnings supported by poles. It seemed everyone in the local country was there. "Come out from behind my skirt, little one," said Mamá, "I cannot bargain properly while you are under my feet. And do not skulk." "I do not wish to be seen," protested Ramón. "Nonsense! Why, this is the best place to be seen! Come, help me carry these beans." She concluded her bargaining with a farmer's wife, collected a large bowl of fresh bean pods and handed it to Ramón. His arms seemed shorter and thinner than they should have been, but by jamming the side of the bowl against his abdomen, Ramón managed to grab both sides of it and hold it steady. When his arms began to ache with tension from supporting the heavy burden, Mamá added to his discomfort by piling several yellow squash onto the heap of green beans. "Mamá!" cried Ramón, "I can't hold this very much longer!" "Then place it on your head, child. Here, I'll roll up this scarf to make a cushion and help balance it." The bowl balanced comfortably on his head, Ramón found he had a different problem in keeping his neck and upper back straight so it would not tip. After a few near spills, he found a way to keep the bowl still by keeping his upper back stiff, moving only the lower part of his back and swaying carefully as he stepped through the crowded market, one hand balancing the bowl. There were many people, going to and fro. Children played among the stalls. Old folk sat and gossiped on benches thoughout the plaza. Then Ramón nearly lost his entire burden when he saw the boy looking at him. It was Antonio, from the other side of the rancho. They had played together during the summers, years ago. He peered straight at Ramón as though he recognized him. Ramón's breath stopped, and the weight of the bowl and its contents made his knees shake. But Antonio simply stared at him, and made no move to jeer. "Is he sick?" Ramón wondered. "Is who sick, child?" Mamá had heard him. "Antonio. He just stared at me." Mamá merely smiled, "No, he is not sick. He is a boy." "That's no answer," Ramón continued to puzzle over it. Finally, he stopped, grasped the bowl carefully with both hands, and turned fully around. His heart stopped for a second. There were two more boys with Antonio, the three just looking at him. Gawking. "They have *got* to be sick," he decided, before carefully turning about to follow his mother. Before they reached the end of the street, there were more boys, and a couple of men, some glancing at him then quickly away, others staring openly. "They are so rude!" Ramón fumed, his earlier embarrassment forgotten. He glared at one, but gave it up when the recipient of that glare simply grinned goofily back as if he had been awarded a prize.
"Why are they *doing* that?" "I have told you before, and you would not believe me. You will not listen to your mother. So let them stare. They do no harm." HOME AGAIN: Lucita drifted along the trail to the big road, scuffling her bare feet in the dust and searching the skies for nothing in particular. The spring rains were late, and the dew was fading quickly in the warm sun. On the big road, there were some men. They were filling a hole where winter rains had washed away the stones. Rain stopped to watch. The woman she tried to think of as her 'Mamá' had warned her to remain in the house, but she was impatient for them to return, and 'Mamá' and the other person were late. There were birds singing to her from the brush, and rabbits pushing through the grass. The dust felt cool upon her feet. She paused for a moment to watch the workers. They were straining to move a boulder which had fallen into the roadway, levering it over to the ditch beyond. Suddenly, she couldn't breathe, and the movement of the large stone filled her with dread. When she heard the boulder roll into the ditch, breaking tree limbs and crushing rocks, she screamed and fled. Ramón was weary by the time they had walked from the village to the house. The bowl seemed to grow heavier by the mile, and at last he lifted it down and carried it in his arms to relieve the strain on his neck. "But why were they staring at me?" he asked, "They did not know who I was." Mamá smiled her mysterious smile and said nothing. "And Antonio. Dancing like a rooster. It was as if he *wanted* me to watch him." "Perhaps he did," agreed Mamá. They were within sight of the house when they heard Gentle Rain's high piping shriek. Ramón started to run, found the bowl an inconvenience, hurriedly sat it down spilling beans and squash and ran on. "Rain!" he called. They found her huddled under a bench in the main room, stiff with fright. Ramón lifted her up and held her and she clung tightly while Mamá went back to get the bowl. Rain would not release her hold on Ramón's neck until Mamá took her and put her to bed, singing softly to her. VISITORS: It was late in the afternoon, between the gold of the day and the purple of the dusk, when they had a visitor. Hearing the sound of hoofbeats, Mamá looked about worriedly. The horse stopped just outside the patio. "Machito! You there?" called a female voice. Ramón released his breath. "Estrellita!" he said. "I will go out and talk to her," said Mamá, pushing him toward the earthen jug filled with drinking water. "You must get out of the dress, first. Then, douse yourself before she sees you." Remembering his condition, Ramón hesitated. His first thought was to face the hacendado's granddaughter and tell her the whole truth. She had always been a friend. His second thought was to run for his life. "You hurry and change. You were about to go straight out there, weren't you? How would you explain the dress?" Mamá asked, with a trace of humour in her voice. She did not add her thought, [And how would you explain who *you* are?] She hurried out the door to talk to the rancherita, knowing that otherwise Estrellita was likely to invite herself in. Ramón found the buttons awkward to manage, placed as they were on the back of the dress instead of the front. As he struggled to get them undone, movement in the mirror caught his eye. He froze, seeing himself in the reflection. The girl in the mirror lifted her hand to her cheek, her large eyes echoing his own shock. He turned away hurriedly, to scramble into his own clothes and dash cold water onto himself. Estrellita, the hacendado's granddaughter, had come to visit. She was still mounted when he came out, a slim sandy-haired girl on a handsome buckskin pony. "Well, I heard you were back," said Estrellita as he closed the door, "Look at your wet hair. Did you work that hard, or did you fall into the water?" "Estrellita?" Ramón said in surprise, "You sure have changed. I thought you were still a pip-squeak." "Humph. I am no mouse, silly. Hey, I have just got back from Mexico City, myself. I want to get out and see the ranch. You want to go riding? I brought your favorite, Trueno." She indicated the second mount, a black mare with gray speckles. "More like Truena. She's a mare, why can't you give her a mare's name?" he joked as he took the mare's reins, waved good-bye to his mother, and scrambled into the saddle. "When she was given to me, I was too young to know the difference," she pouted. "Machito!" cried Mamá, "Don't forget... Do not be seen." "What was that about?" asked Estrellita as the horses picked their way out of the compound. "The sergeant is looking for me," said Ramón, "I don't know why, and I'm not going to ask him." "We'll stay away from the village. I know some back trails." "Yeah, I bet you do. You won't get me lost, this time." She pouted prettily. "It's more fun when we get lost once in a while. I wouldn't mind." "Well, I would. Besides, I can't take a chance on coming up on someone who knows me. Let's stay close to here." "We won't get out in the open." She paused, then added, "It would be even better if we hid in a cave." Ramón regarded her, enjoying the view. Estrellita was blonde, hazel eyed, and built like a... well, she was good-looking. Her honey blonde hair was braided instead of shoulder-length like her mother preferred, and she held her back straight so her chest would be more noticable. He remembered her as being a pest, forever following him around until her grand-mother would tell her to come home and leave him alone. She had been a thin child with large eyes and mousy hair, but she had matured during the year he had been gone. Obviously, she had developed some mature ideas about what 'play' constituted. They rode through the brush and trees toward the mountains, away from the houses. The sagebrush was blooming and flowers were everywhere. "You like to live dangerously, don't you?" Estrellita said, catching him in a moment of reflection. "Not me. I try to be very careful." "Are they really after you?" she rode closer. "Mamá said she heard it yesterday at the hacienda. But we didn't see anything earlier, today." "Oh, my! You walked into town with them looking for you? That doesn't sound very careful!" "No, I..." he had almost blurted out something about 'disguise'. Better to quit talking now, before he said too much. "We need to go back," he said, "Mamá's worried about Lucita." "Oh, yes. I didn't know she was your sister. I thought she was Elizabeta's daughter." "My sister?" "That is what your mother is telling everyone to say. Why would she do that?" "Because the soldiers may come and get her." Estrellita laughed. It was a musical sound, and he liked to hear it. "You sound so serious! Why would the soldiers want to take a little girl?" "I don't know," admitted Ramón, as they turned the horses toward home, "There are some bad things happening here, and I am worried." "Well, you shouldn't have to worry about *that*. Soldiers don't go around kidnapping children." "I don't know," Ramón repeated, "But the Sergeant is after me, and the soldiers took away Lucita's parents. I am afraid they will take her, also, if they find out where she is staying." "Then I won't tell anyone," she promised, "Although I can't believe that they would be so cruel." They rode in silence back to the compound, and Ramón turned to her after stepping down from the saddle. "Thank you," he said. "De nada," she smiled, and bent down to kiss him lightly on the cheek. He stood holding his cheek while he watched her ride off leading the black mare, then he walked back to the house. "Hey, you got the chicas, ain't you?" called a familiar voice. "Hullo, Gordo." "Hey, what's this? You sound like you ain't so glad to see me." "Did you know where my pop was taking me?" "I don't know nothing, hombre. He tell me to meet you and take you to this place, someone else will show you the rest of the way. Then, I go home. We had corn again. How about that, hombre? You got some luck with the chicas, or not?" Ramón considered his friend for a moment, then relented. He nodded his head, which Gordito took for assent. "Hey, what *did* happen to you, you got such a long face? Some kinda punishment, or something? You come back from school too early?" "Yeah, some kind of punishment, or something. You're sure you don't know?" "Nada, man. Hey, you been to town, lately?" "No, I've been laying low. I think the Sergeant is after me," Ramón answered evasively. "Hey, no shit? You are *something*, man! Back in town two days and already got the law after you! You are really macho!" "Don't mention it," said Ramón sourly. "Hey, reason I asked... Antonio tells me there's some hot new chica in town. Said he saw her at the market." Gordito was not watching closely, or he would have seen the emotions racing across his friend's face. The shock of surprise. The pale of fear. Elation, then doubt. "He says this new chica is hot, man. She wags her ass like nobody's business. Said she even smiled at him. I bet he was lying. He can't get into *anybodies* dress. But I bet you could!" "Not me," grinned Ramón shakily, "I'm too macho to get into a dress." Gordito looked at him with puzzlement in his eyes, until he realized what Ramón had said. "Oh, yeah! That's a good one! I gotta use it some time!" They talked of inconsequential things, and the subject of music eventually arose. Gordito had brought his battered trumpet given to him by a an uncle killed in the revolution, and Ramón found his father's old guitar. He strummed while Gordito blew melodies, and Mamá stood in the doorway and listened while they recalled her favorite tunes. When Gordito had gone, Ramón sat on the fence and pondered. 'Wagged her ass?' Did *he* do that? Chapter Dos Macho Caballo 9/3/97 1 Return to main page