UNITED STATES—Antonio, bristling inside against his own wishes, obediently applied the captain’s advice. What a plethora of tips and opinions enfold us. And the obedient way in which Antonio Aguilar adopted them instantaneously made him question the fragility of his own free will. Surely it was inept. All the banana crews conglomerated and milled about the fields. Shouts, snatches of voice, rich expletives, laughter, those raising their voices and hawking clothes and trinkets.

Some folks changed their appearance. They put on new clothes for the first time, yellow pants and blue shirts. For a time prevailed a certain cut or color of article, and fashion could be said to exist, in however rudimentary fashion, in the banana lands. Here debts were paid off, there, another cutter hid out from his creditors so that he’d still have enough to pay for a meal.

There was a great to-do in the commissary. The Boss and his helpers hardly could keep up with the demand and wait on those who held out money in their fists.

“Get out of my way,” shouted one lady who engaged in a deadly tug of war with another who’d grabbed the last of a leatherette alligator purse she wanted for her mother’s birthday.

“I want it for myself,” said the other younger and stronger woman.

“My reasons are nobler,” said the dutiful daughter, as she lost the battle.

The full stockrooms and shelves bursting with merchandise, were emptying and soon becoming bare. In the evening, when the staff tabulated the payday splurge, the total sales came to a lot, more than any of the employees could reasonably expect to see. And there was a kind of church reverence that surrounded all that money, all piled and organized before it went into the deposit bag.

This commissary was a kind of piggybank so that there’s cash to pay field workers on paltry workdays. Likewise, the Company grudgingly tolerated the criollo vendors who invaded the fields and hawked their wares. It was rumored that they were going to be prohibited, but the ability to turn the sweat of this kind of toil into something useful or pretty was a reward for those who worked, and the Company knew it.

By the afternoon, the armed guards had already quelled several revolts orchestrated by drunken men, as a result of which several men were well tied to posts in the barracks and others subdued by pistol whipping and shaming. They were dumped without ceremony onto the floor.

“We have to pay a fine,” said one veteran to a newbie.

“it’s a long time since I seed my family.”

The head of security would receive it, and it would go into his own pocket.

As night closed in quickly over the jungle, as it does at the equator, and the mosquitos came to taunt, a combustible air hovered over the plantation. The sellers of guaro did a good business.  There were all these booby traps around, and Antonio watched while others squandered or drank the money intended for their families, and it increased his resolve to stick to his own plans. The sellers of this cane liquor did well, their customers not so well.

The guaro fueled outlandish discussions, those revelers already felled by the payday drunk, lay there unconscious. When morning came back there would always be one still fast asleep and impervious to the blandishments of the living, to get up and smell the coffee. Dead drunk they were, more dead than alive.  And the firewater flowed on payday. Many were anxious to cross into the artificial salvation of liquor, that sold like pupusas or guaro on payday. So it was. The alcohol was to forget oneself, so much as to forget, if only for a few hours, the pains of their existence. The strong and bitter brew wreaked havoc in the workers’ malnourished bodies.

“What happened?” Antonio woke up one morning. “What was his hat doing on the latrine?”

He, like so many others, woke to things they had no recollection of and it created a deliriousness that seeped into their waking lives. From their sullen temperaments was born a violent spirit that often led to bloodshed.

To be continued…

Graydon is the Wizard of Fiction.

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)