Rice Harvest

Did you plant
gold but your harvest yielded nothing?
Plant lilies for me,
for tomorrow.

(M. Ortiz Guerrero)

To Don Alci, my rice farmer friend

On that 7th of March of 1947, the dawn was strangely silent. It was too silent. In there air was the calm similar to that which precedes a storm.

Without pausing in the gray silence, Juan Bogado said goodbye to the accountant in the storage company for national products and went out into the street.

He had travelled from Villarrica to Asuncion to deliver two truckloads of rice, the result of his harvest.

He paid the drivers and the workers, and later, whistling a polka tune, he place his money in a bag made of rag paper.

Although it was still quite early, he bounded up the steps of the shopping area. In the first men's clothing store he found open he bought a pair of shirts and pants, plus shiny shoes.

Walking along Benjamin Constant street, he came across the Post Office. There he stood for a moment to look at the bay and it was then that the full force of his good fortune sunk in. It had been awhile since he had had this much money on him. What could he do? Where would he go?

A rooster crowed from the Chararita river while the murmur of the river mixed with the scent of the water lilies, loaded with flowers and snakes.

Juan Bogado turned to the left and walked toward the Chief of Police. He was going to share his new-found prosperity with Severiano Gonzalez, a compatriot of Villarica who occupied the position of Chief of Personnel.

The clock on the nearby Cathedral sounded, indicating it was seven o'clock. Juan Bogado climbed the wide staircase to the entrance, and at that moment, a voice shouted, "Guard!"

From some site, he felt someone running and a dark young man, beautifully uniformed, appeared.

After responding to the normal questions, Juan Bogado crossed the hallway and, guided by another olive green, arrived at his friend's office.

They greeted each other with exclamations and effusive embraces. "What brings you here, my friend?" asked Severiano Gonzalez.

"I came here to deliver my rice harvest. Since I've got some money on me, I thought I'd invite you to have a beer in the Bar Germania."

"It's still very early for that. Why not take advantage of the fact you're here and say hello to the Chief of Police who appreciates us, since the time he was our Government Delegate?"

"If that's possible, I'm going to put on my new clothes. Where can I get changed?"

"Here in the bathroom," said Severiano Gonzalez.

Juan Bogado placed his bag of money over a chair in the office and entered the bathroom with his packet of clothes.

He had just taken off his old pants when he heard a gunshot, later another and another and another ... and then gunshots from a machine gun.

With trembling hands, he managed to dress himself again, and with extreme caution he opened the door.

He couldn't believe what he saw. Between fallen-down chairs, lay Severiano Gonzalez, and next two him, were lying two wounded soldiers, groaning in pain.

Outside the room, through the corridors and patio, the uproar was enormous. Soldiers were running, sergeants giving orders. Suddenly one of them gave him a gun, signaling him to follow.

Juan Bogado took the gun but he did not leave the room. Placing the gun over the desk, he sank to his knees next to his friend.

Severiano G., unaware of his presence, gave absolutely no sign of recognition, even though his eyes were half-open. Juan Bogado sensed that something permanent had happened and, approaching him even further, he confirmed that his friend was indeed dead. With all the gentleness his rough hands would permit, he closed his eyes, covering them with the two silver coins that he fortunately had come across in the pocket of his wornout shirt. He stayed there for quite a long while, on his knees, trying to recite a prayer.

Later, he arose and headed toward the hallway. A stain of blood slid from the Police Chief's office toward the street.

Isolated gunshots could be heard still outside the building.

A soldier who entered to look for missiles or projectiles asked him, "What happened?"

"Some unknown people attacked the office of the Chief."

Juan Bogado didn't want to know anything more. With his eyes filled with tears, could do nothing else but look at his dead friend. He didn't want to believe this had happened and he tried to imagine that it had been a terrible nightmare.

Very slowly he arose and, staggering, he left the room with empty hands, without his rag-paper bag, without his packet of new clothes, almost without breath.

Slowly measuring his steps, he walked toward the exit, then down the bloody hallway which looked like a slaughterhouse floor.

The afternoon was coming to an end and the sun was already setting when Juan Bogado arrived at his rancho, "Culata Yobai." Upon seeing him, his children ran up to greet him; also the family dog ran up behind them, wagging his tail.

The children, between laughter and exclamations, asked him: "Papa! Did you get me the ball? And my tricycle? And the doll?"

Reeling, he walked toward them, and upon seeing himself reflected in the eyes of his children, he realized that he resembled an "animal in pain" and that his rice harvest and all the profits and dreams had disappeared with his friend, Severiano, burned by the fratricidal fire.

Wiped out by his lack of breath and feeling his strength fade away, he barely managed to fall into the hammock which was hanging between the orange trees on the patio. There he wept until he fell asleep.

What finally awoke him were the cries of the teruteros and the song of the calandrias which always announced the dawn.

Juan Bogado, accustomed to arising at dawn, washed his face, and, before sitting down for mate, he went to the place where his rice field had been.

"Everything gone to waste, and no reason at all!" he thought, pausing at the edge of an irrigation ditch. He remained quiet and overwhelmed until, bit by bit, his spirit started coming back to life with the light that advanced from the horizon, illuminating the sunflower color of the "ynambu seboi" lilies which flowered by the thousand in the pasture. The sun rose, converted into a screen of gold and the nearby mountain offered its freshness cheered up by the parrots and cotorras, when Juan Bogado, raising his head, said in a loud voice: "Tomorrow! Tomorrow I'll plant the same thing all over again!"