UNITED STATES—It was gonna be the godless hour of eleven in the morning. The two landholders had arrived to consummate the Company deals and returned, afterward, with a stride in their spring and a spring in their stride. In the jungle, it couldn’t have been the Tse Tse fly from Africa unless it stowed away on a ship.
It did not exist naturally in Bananaland. So it could have been solely for making up for a perennial loss of sleep accrued over decades or a collective hypnosis that left people comatose in hammocks, pallets or cots, and when barely roused for a few moments, they would crave for that deep oblivion as for a lover’s embrace, that deep dark cave of unfeeling, and go back horizontal at the slightest provocation. Perhaps they were as the crops can sap soil of its nutrients, they were wearied and beaten by the 12 hour days of the banana plantations. Antonio shook Juana’s shoulders:
“Get up, get up you lazy bones—we must get out of the banana groves.”
He was desperate as she was immobile. So many were falling prey to the sleeping. The off days tallied up. Fruit was sometimes rotting on the tree. The snores drilled bubbles in the humid, stagnant air of the long barracks and cuzules. There was heard the bleating of babies un-nursed heard only by the mosquitos. It was widely known that if they missed a hundred days of work, a manager would be perfectly justified in killing us, it was not murder, it was inscribed in the law. And reached the 16th day and then the 61st day all betoken progress toward that yearned for freedom, which became increasingly seductive.
“Be not afraid,” Antonio said to Juana, “enough of sleep. Don’t stay here to be a banquet for vultures. You are worth infinitely more than the quinine, rubber and hemp these lands would learn to produce during the new war.” Yes, there was a new war that would disqualify the sobriquet of “war to end all wars,” that Bernie Lukasey brilliantly concocted for the President to sell his war mustard gas, trenches and aviation. Fresh new horrors were looming as the calendar days were ticked off and we marched toward waging a new war undeterred.
It was hard to gauge when the last big war was. The days and decades tended to get bled together in Bananaland, once they past. But he day itself unfolded, in each indelible act and movement, with the unerring advance of a Beethoven symphony. A masterpiece of nature writ in blood and money. . . and often both.
To be continued. . .
Graydon Miller is the Wizard of Fiction. His new story collection “Watsonville Stories” can be browsed at amazon.com.