The Story of O (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday June 12, 2007 2:13PM; Updated: Tuesday June 12, 2007 2:13PM
For years Lolo Minaya had pedaled his rickety bike through the Dominican town of Valverde Mao, happy to pull over and let anyone know what a bastard Rafael Trujillo was, not to mention the lapdogs who'd taken the slain dictator's place. It was in Lolo's blood. His brother had been imprisoned for refusing to fight for the regime, an insurgent nephew had been executed, and his father, Zoilo, had died after being slashed with a machete in a dispute that some believed was rooted in Zoilo's outspoken politics.
Shhhhh, O's nervous mother, Antonia, kept begging her husband. He'd dismiss her with a wave as he creaked on his rocking chair, perusing his beloved World Almanac and spinning dreams -- "Do you know how many kilometers from here to the Himalayas? Thirteen thousand, two hundred and twenty-five! We could leave today and be there tomorrow! Let's go!" Never sweating the details, because O's mother was drenched in them.
She'd stunned the men at a property auction at city hall back in the '30s -- what was a young woman, a vendor of meat pies and sweets, doing in this males' den, bidding to become a landowner? Antonia won the property and had a house built, turned her backyard into a school for poor children and a soup kitchen for beggars, cripples and starving Haitians. So respected grew O's mother that she became permanent secretary to the mayors of Valverde Mao, invulnerable to the wind shear of politics ... almost.
Dios mío, could she, her daughters, Adelina and Sixta, and the son she'd named for the Persian poet Omar Khayyam survive her husband's loose tongue? A decade earlier, when Trujillo ordered every Dominican household to post his picture and the words IN THIS HOUSE TRUJILLO IS CHIEF, Lolo had barked, "In this house I am chief!" and crumpled the portrait. Garbagemen who found it in the trash had tattled, and Lolo had rotted for two years in prison.
Now it was 1965, four years after Trujillo's assassination, and O's father was loading another empty casket onto a truck bed and going off to play once more with fire. Two of O's cousins had melted into the mountains with guerrillas planning to overthrow Trujillo's successors. Within weeks the rebels had been routed by the army, one cousin imprisoned and the name of the other, Joseito Crespo, on the government's list of the dead. So every day for a week Lolo headed for the hills with a coffin to retrieve Joseito, only to return with the corpse of some other insurgent instead. O peered into his backyard, so much bigger than it seemed. Big enough for a school that had educated a Haitian orphan who would become mayor of Santo Domingo, for a weekly beggars' banquet ... and now for a freedom fighters' mortuary. Lolo left the bodies there to await their next of kin, shoved a fresh wooden box onto the truck, bid farewell to his terrified wife and set out again.
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