Printer Friendly

Grant us brave and enduring hearts.

Major General Calixto Garcia Iniguez was in his tent. He had one bullet left in his pistol. During the last few minutes he had killed or severely wounded five Spanish soldiers. Two of them were lying half in the tent, holding the flap open. More soldiers were running through the camp, firing their rifles. There was no chance of escape. Earlier in the day his good friend Felix Figueredo asked what he would do if captured by the Spanish. Garcia replied, "Nothing. I would not fall into their hands. My revolver has six bullets--five for the enemy and the last for me." This is the same vow he had made to his mother. He placed the barrel of the gun under his chin, aiming at his brain stem to ensure instant death. As he pulled the trigger a nearby explosion caused him to flinch. The gun fired into his head and the bullet came out between his eyes. Thinking he was dead, he passed out.

When the battle was over, and all the Cuban insurgents who were still alive had been rounded up, the Spaniards began removing their own dead. It was then that a soldier found Garcia crumpled on the floor of his tent. He called Lieutenant Ariza, the daring young officer who had directed the raid. Carefully stepping over the bodies of the dead soldiers still lying there, Ariza entered the tent and looked at the hero of the battles of Santa Rita, Juguani, Holguin, and many more towns and villages. He felt a moment of sadness and personal discomfort at seeing this esteemed soldier reduced to an ordinary corpse.

"I think he's breathing, sir," the soldier said.

Ariza felt Garcia's pulse and indicated with a nod that the soldier take his shoulders while he lifted his legs. Garcia was a large man - a head taller than most of his soldiers, which made him a conspicuous rallying point in military encounters. Ariza and the Spanish soldier, both of whom were slim men, struggled to place him on the cot. How the general could survive a bullet wound in the middle of his forehead and another under his chin, Ariza couldn't guess, but there he was. As he stared uncomprehendingly at Garcia's calm mustacheod face, he ordered the soldier to get the surgeon. "And have a detail carry these two boys away." Then he gathered up the maps and papers on the field desk. While he was doing this, Garcia opened his eyes. Instead of finding himself in heaven, he awoke in the dreary familiarity of his own tent and saw a Spanish officer rifling his desk. He yelled, but no sound came out. He tried again. Nothing. He somehow managed to clap his hands, startling Ariza.

"You're conscious!"

Garcia pointed at his mouth and slowly shook his head to indicate that he could not speak. Then he made slight scribbling motions with his right hand on his left hand, signaling for paper and pencil. Ariza handed them to him and waited while Garcia laboriously wrote something on the paper and passed it back.

"I would like to have some soup."

He hadn't eaten for thirty hours and now when military matters were no longer of any concern he wanted to satisfy his hunger. Knowing nothing of this, Ariza thought the wounds to his head had left him demented. When Ariza didn't respond immediately, Garcia tried to get up, but hadn't the strength. He was a man used to having his orders obeyed and he waved his hands at Ariza, wanting him to fetch the soup. Then he signaled again for paper and pencil.

"I need a surgeon immediately."

As if in response to his request Captain Maximo Escalante entered the tent. He bent over Garcia to examine his wounds, realizing immediately that the hole in his forehead was an exit wound. Normally an exiting Mauser bullet fired from behind took most of the face with it. He turned Garcia's head to find where the bullet had entered. There was nothing there. Then he studied the wound under Garcia's chin. It became obvious to him what had happened. This was the entry wound, and the bullet had traveled up through Garcia's palette at a forward angle behind his nose, thence emerging between his eyes. Garcia's pistol was on the floor of the tent. Escalante picked it up and spun the cylinder. No bullets. He looked questioningly at Garcia who nodded his head.

"You will die, General," he said, "but not as quickly as you planned." Garcia shook his head firmly. The doctor shrugged and treated his wounds perfunctorily before rushing off to provide help to those who could use it.

The next morning Garcia was still alive and, in spite of his seriously aching head and weakened physique, was able to sit up and eat some breakfast.

Ariza realized that a living Garcia was a greater trophy than a dead Garcia. If the general were dead he would soon be forgotten; alive he would be a continual reminder that he, Francisco Ariza Gomez, had accomplished an important coup. It had been five years since Carolos de Manual Cespedes had issued his Cry of Yara, the call for Cuban independence. The capture of Garcia, the one general whose military leadership might have won that independence, as much as guaranteed the rebels' failure. In another time Ariza, a progressive and a republican, would have sympathized with their cause. But as a loyal Spaniard and a career military man he was obliged to fight for their defeat, even if it meant capturing a general renowned for his bravery and personal integrity.

For Garcia's comfort, Ariza had him carried to Manzanillo in a slow-moving oxcart. And still he didn't die. The Spanish mayor of Manzanillo was frightened to have Garcia in his city. The general was a favorite of the Cubans, and his presence there could invite an attack to free him. He ordered Garcia placed aboard a gunboat in the harbor and taken to Santiago where he could be treated in the Principe Alfonso hospital. A surgeon, whose brother was one of the soldiers that Garcia granted unexpected clemency after the battle of Santa Maria, used all his skills to repair the general's wounds. Each day Garcia grew stronger. His voice returned, and the wounds in his throat and forehead healed over; unfortunately, the pain inside his skull was to remain ever-present.

So delighted with his capture was the Spanish minister of war that he sent a cablegram to Joaquin Jovellar, the captain general of Cuba, calling it a signal triumph and he confirmed the promotion of Ariza to captain.

When news of his capture reached Garcia's mother, Lucia Iniguez y Landin, she refused to believe it. "No, that is not my son." When told that he had survived a self-inflicted bullet fired to escape capture she said, "Ahh, that is my son." And when Garcia was sent to Spain as a prisoner of war, Cia, as his mother was called, abandoned his sisters and retarded brother to follow him. She said, "He is the son of my soul and my heart."

There had never been any doubt in her mind that Cali would become a military man. At the very moment of his birth she heard the sounds of drums and marching soldiers pass the house. "This boy is to be a soldier," she said. His grandfather, Calixto Garcia de Luna e Izquierdo, had lost a hand in Venezuela fighting for the Spanish against Bolivar before arriving in Cuba and making the transition from royalist to revolutionary.

As a young man, Calixto studied with an uncle in Havana to become a lawyer, but the pull of a soldierly life was too strong. When Cespedes issued his manifesto calling for revolution, Calixto was among his earliest volunteers. Because of his background and family connections, he joined the revolutionary army as a colonel and demonstrated his military leadership sufficiently to be promoted to major general. Always a man of passion, the intensity of life in the field increased his desire for women. There were many young widows available to a general. One day he heard that his own wife and children had been slaughtered. For nearly a week he was bereft. Felix Figueredo went to his tent. "General," he said to his friend, using Garcia's military title to remind him of his responsibilities, "the soldiers need you." After a few moments Garcia stood, adjusted his uniform, and resumed his command. The following month he made the decision to marry his current mistress, Leonela Enamorado Cabrera. In June the following year she bore a son whom they named Calixto Garcia Enamorado. After his capture, and much to his joy, Garcia discovered that his wife and children hadn't been killed. Following the custom of the time, the younger Calixto lost the right to his father's family name and became simply Calixto Enamorado. Years later he too fought the Spanish and as a result of his bravery was promoted again and again, eventually attaining the rank of brigadier general. In later years one of his father's sisters legally adopted him so that he might gain the family name and become Calixto Garcia Iniguez Enamorado. He went on to become a government official, politician, and novelist. Nothing conceals the truth as well as the future, so the general was, of course, totally unaware of these developments at the time of his capture.

For two years he suffered the indignity of prison life, relieved only on those days when his mother visited. She brought him fruit, clean underwear, and enormous amounts of love that had been withheld from his sisters and retarded brother. Five years after his capture, the Cuban rebels limped to Zanjon to sign a pact that ended the war. There were promises of reforms, none of which were kept. With the war over there was no longer any need to imprison Garcia. He joined his wife and children who had moved to New York City. In 1880, still committed to revolution, Garcia returned to Cuba in a new but badly planned effort. For a second time he was captured by Spanish forces and taken on a second trip to Spain aboard the same steamship on which he had previously traveled. He and the captain embraced like old friends and regaled one another at meal times during the passage. No thoughts of suicide to avoid prison entered his head. This time Cia, who was getting old, remained in Cuba.

Spain was a poor country. Even the few pesetas it cost to keep Garcia in jail were depriving some low-paid government official of the graft he needed to survive. After extracting the promise that he would not leave Spain, the Spanish government released Garcia. It was fine to be free, but he had to provide his own food and housing. A friend arranged for him to have a position in a bank. He was able to bring over his wife and their youngest children. For a while he taught French and English with the Association for the Education of Women. As a handsome man with a forceful personality, his teaching post gave him the opportunity to have many affairs with young Spanish women, safe from the prying eyes of their duennas. His wife carefully supervised the conduct of his own daughters, yet the oldest girl somehow managed to become pregnant by an Anglo-American dentist. And back in Cuba his firstborn son, Calixto Garcia Velez, in a fit of jealous rage murdered his beautiful young wife and then committed suicide. So goes life and death in a passionate family.

With each change in his income Garcia moved from dwelling to dwelling, eventually living in a huge, properly bourgeois fourth-floor apartment. One night he and his son Carlos were on the balcony overlooking the street when they heard sporadic gunfire in the distance. Only ten months earlier King Alfonso XII had died without a legitimate male heir, but not without first having impregnated Queen Maria. A new prince was born and Maria became regent. Throughout the previous decades, as one constitution followed another, uprisings by various armed factions gained and lost ascendency. The gunshots were merely the sounds of the latest insurrection. When he heard them, Garcia assumed it was a revolt instigated by General Martinez Campos, an avowed republican.

Down below there was someone calling loudly for the porter to open the front door. He heard this person ask if this was the house in which General Calixto Garcia lived and, if so, he had an urgent need to see him. Although fearful that the government might somehow mistakenly have assumed he was mixed up in a purely Spanish political battle and that this might be a trap, Garcia left the balcony to face the intruder when he was admitted to the apartment. He immediately recognized Ariza, the young lieutenant, now captain and not so young, who had captured him twelve years earlier.

"Are you here to capture me again?"

"Far from it, General. I am here seeking sanctuary."

"I don't understand."

"There has been an insurrection, and I have thrown in my lot with the instigators. The attack was quickly put down, and I have no place to go. My life is in danger, but no Spaniard of any political stripe would be brave enough to give me protection."

Garcia looked him in the eye. "You broke the back of the insurrection in Cuba when you captured me. Many thousands of decent Cuban people live in slavery because of you. I suffered years in prison. And now you expect me to save your life?" He turned to his wife who was standing in the doorway nervously twisting a handkerchief. "Isabel, prepare a room for Captain Ariza. He will stay with us until it is safe to leave. And now, Captain, will you join me for a glass of wine?"
COPYRIGHT 2013 Journal of Caribbean Literatures
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2013 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Rice, Donald Tunnicliff
Publication:Journal of Caribbean Literatures
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:5CUBA
Date:Mar 22, 2013
Previous Article:Rock-a-bye.
Next Article:Thou shall not steal.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |