This is the last pre-publishing “teasers” of my upcoming book, Divided, the first book in a trilogy set 45 years after a devastating civil war fought over racial issues. Enjoy! And leave a comment!
January 3rd, forty–five years later
Marcos bolted upright in bed and leapt to the window. Clear. No snow. He tensed up unconsciously and checked the clock on the wall. 6:17am. The only one who would be up at this hour on this particular day was who he wanted to talk to right now. He threw on a sweatshirt over his pajamas and padded barefoot out to the kitchen.
Sure enough, Abuela, Marcos’s grandmother, was already awake, staring into space over a cup of café.
“Abuela…” Marcos began awkwardly, plunking down into the chair opposite her.
“You’re up early,” Abuela observed, getting up to refill her cup. “Need some cafe?”
Marcos nodded. Abuela knew him well. He generally spoke in single syllables until he had a cup of café in the morning. But today, he needed answers. “Abuela,” he began again as she set the steaming mug in front of him, “why are you always sad on this same day every year.”
“Mijo,” Abuela sighed. “I guess it’s time for you to know. Let’s go to the roof. Put warmer clothes on. Esta frio.”
As Marcos headed back to his bedroom, he was shocked. She had always dodged his questions on this topic. He wasn’t blind or stupid though. He knew January 3rd was hard for her. It was a puzzle he just hadn’t been able to solve. He had tried pleading, throwing tantrums, yelling and one time he had even run away.
Marcos had been eight that year. When Abuela had gotten up and left the living room at his questions, only to be heard later weeping in his sister’s bedroom, he had lost it. He had run away; all the way to Tio’s two blocks away. He’d even packed his bag. Tio, his mother’s younger brother, had laughed at him. Then Tio had kept him occupied all day making tortillas until it was dinner time. At that point he had politely, but firmly, escorted his nephew back home. Mami had fret over him for hours, trying to make him feel guilty, until Flavia had let leak that she, only five years old then, had known the whole time. That experience had made him certain he needed to know about whatever made January 3rd hard for Abuela. He couldn’t believe he had finally won.
Marcos followed Abuela to the roof, impressed by how well she balanced the mug while climbing the emergency fire escape ladder to the roof one-handed. He realized how little he knew his own Abuela in that instant.
She’s done this before, for sure.
They sat down against the barrier around the edge, their backs to the wind. Abuela wasn’t wrong. It was really cold. He wrapped his hands around his mug and quickly began gulping the café before it was cold.
“Marcos,” she began, “you know how dangerous it is to ask questions about the past, right?”
Marcos nodded. He was always getting in trouble in Historia classe for challenging the teacher about things that didn’t make sense. He was convinced most of the official narrative of the start of the Replublic of America was fiction, but Marcos had never found hard evidence for it. The history had too many inconsistencies.
“You know, you can’t tell anyone about what I’m going to tell you. They would execute me in an instant and you in the very next. It would bring down so much trouble for your family. These things are absolutely forbidden,” Abuela explained, as if Marcos hadn’t known. There were edicts issued every year about how saying anything but the accepted history of the nation would mean execution on the basis of treason.
“I swear secrecy, Abuela. I won’t talk about it,” Marcos promised.
“So, schools teach you nada about the history of this nation before what they call the Great Civil War. So, I need to give you un poco context first,” Abuela said in Nueva Havana, the formalized language that mixed the old language, Spanish, with the official national language, English. This language was how their area got its name, or so he’d been told in school. There were also strict rules for how they spoke Nueva Havana, rules that had been designed by men wanting to make sure they couldn’t secretly organize a rebellion. Every word of the language had been approved for use by the first Martin government.
“Our nation used to be called the United States of America. We have only cities now, like the one we live in, but back then there were big areas of land grouped into things called states. There were fifty states and a population of hundreds of millions. We were a strong, prosperous nation, proud of our army and our wealth. We had peace within our nation and with our neighbors…”
“Wait a minute, Abuela. How big exactly was our nation?” Marcos asked, interrupting. He thought the population of his area in this one city was less than ten thousand. A population of hundreds of millions was an outrageous, incomprehensible number to him. He imagined people everywhere you looked, stacked on top of each other.
“At least three hundred million, Mijo. Our city, that we live in now, was over two million,” Abuela asserted. “I know this is hard to visualize.” Abuela brushed her hair out of her face where the cold wind had whipped it out of her bun.
“But let me continue. Like I said, we were a strong, proud nation, but it all came crashing to an end forty-five years ago,” she said, her gaze far away, as if she could still see the city in those days. “No, really, forty-six years ago was when it started. The nation was very diverse. People of all colors, races, backgrounds and types all living in grande cities together, mostly in peace. But under the surface there were issues, muy grande problemas. They all erupted when there was a brutal killing of un policía, kind of like our patrols, in this very city. He was dragged from his car and beaten. Then it became uno a otro, one racial group retaliating against another, mobs everywhere.”
She took a long sip of her cafe and looked into the distance.
“Then one day,” she continued, “an enemy nation decided to take sides. They helped one ethnicity, whom I guess was most closely-related to them, take over out a city out west by the ocean. Then another enemy nation dropped a big bomb, called a nuclear bomb, that completely leveled the biggest, most prosperous and most diverse city in our nation. Almost twenty million people died within six months, most from the explosion but then many more from the fallout and radiation. More bombs fell. More enemies took advantage of our chaos. Within five years, our great nation was reduced to rubble on both coasts, with a core of hardy survivors in the middle and a great flood of refugees fleeing across our borders. As far as I know, those cities, and many others like them don’t even exist anymore.”
Marcos’ jaw dropped open. None of this is in our textbooks. Not even close.
“And that’s why you cry every year?” Marcos asked. This couldn’t be the only reason, even though it sounds like a horror for her to have lived through. He could see how all of that could bring sadness, but really couldn’t see why it would still bring tears for her all these years later.
“Oh no. And some years are better than others on this day. But that’s just the background. If it had only been the trauma of surviving all of that, I think I would’ve been fine a long time ago. After all, I have a wonderful family, and you to help me cope,” she said, pinching his cheek like he was that eight-year old boy again. “It’s far more personal than that. It all happened when I was twenty-one, on a very cold, clear January 3rd, a lot like today.” She paused to drain the last of her café. Marcos kept his silence not wanting to interrupt her narration.
“I saw someone I loved very much, more than maybe anyone I have loved in my whole life, be killed right in front of me. He was my best friend and my fiancé. That’s an old-fashioned term for someone who you are planning to marry. His name was Korey.” She sighed, as if the man’s name was sacred.
Confused, Marcos felt all the color drain from his face. As a Havana, he had the trademark olive skin, even if he towered over most of the other residents of their area, because of the tall men in his family. Because of this and his super curly hair, Maros stood out among his friends.
“But Abuelo…” Marcos whispered, having trouble imagining Abuela loving anyone other than Abuelo, his loving grandfather. Sure, his Abuelo had been much older than her, but he had clearly loved his family. Marcos always thought of his Abuelo as a gentle giant. Abuelo looked like he could break you into pieces, but he much preferred to smother you with hugs and laughter. And wow, could that man salsa, even when arthritis debilitated his knees. And he had loved Abuela fiercely, saying she was his “preciosa”.
“Your Abuelo came later. Korey was my friend when I was a little girl,” Abuela explained. “Our fathers worked together. Korey was a Kink. Tall, muy guapo and inteligente. He was a manager at a store that sold food and had fired a man for stealing. The man wanted revenge though, and brought a mob with him to exact it. They surrounded Korey’s house, killing his mother. We barely got out alive, Korey, his brother Moses and I. Korey was then killed while we ran down an alleyway trying to escape. He bled out right in front of me and it was everything Moses could do to get me away. He made sure I survived the night while we ran to my parent’s house. I was so scared, but that was the night that changed my life forever, Mijo.”
Marcos had trouble imagining his Abuela terrified. She must’ve been very different back then, because now she was one of the most courageous people he knew. She defended others and stood up to people trying to take advantage of them. He began shaking with anger. How could the government keep all this from being known?
“I never saw Moses after that night,” Abuela went on. “The fighting got worse and worse. My father joined a Havana militia trying to protect our neighborhood. He fought alongside his best friend, your Abuelo. One night, my father was killed in the fighting. While he lay dying, he asked Abuelo to take care of me and my Mami. Abuelo had never married. Despite our age differences, I agreed to marry him when he asked.”
“Why?” Marcos asked, his voice trembling by this point. “Why did you marry someone you didn’t love?”
Marcos could hardly breathe. Did she know how horrible it was for him to hear she hadn’t loved his Abuelo?
“You see, things were very dangerous,” she explained. “My Mami and I were no longer safe in our own home, so he took us in. Abuelo protected us from many things, but he and I were forced to marry once the first Supreme Commander Martin came to power and set in new edicts.”
Marcos was still tense, though. Had she really never loved Abuelo?
As if answering his unasked question, Abuela said, “Oh, I grew to love Abuelo with time, Mijo, and we had two amazing children. We both had our nightmares we had to endure, though we tried to help each other cope as best we could. And now, I not only grieve for Korey on this day, but it is my day to mourn my dead as well as everything this nation has lost. In grief and in prayer to God, I pray He will hear and answer me from heaven, even after this long time.” Abuela finished, a silent tear making its way down her cheek. Marcos reached out and stroked it away before it had a chance to freeze.
“Thank you for telling me, Abuela. I promise to not tell a single soul,” he said, unsure of what else to say.
What else was there to say? He scooted closer to her, until they were hip-to-hip against the wall and slung his arm over her shoulder. His Abuela, the one woman in his life who he thought was invincible and would never need his protection, rested her head on his shoulder and cried softly, praying in a hushed tone in her native Spanish. Even in her tears, Marcos still thought her the strongest, most solid woman he had ever known.
Abuela drew in a deep, steadying breath and Marcos felt her sit taller next to him. “There are so few people who know that story who are still alive. Not even your parents, Mijo. Only Tio anymore,” she said sadly.
He supposed it had to be true. He was still shaking with anger though. Anger at the government. Anger at the nations who had attacked them. Anger at people for fighting in the first place and ruining a great nation. Anger at his teachers for not telling them the truth. Anger at all the lies and manipulations.
“I don’t tell you all this for no reason, Marcos,” Abuela said. “I tell you so that you can help bring change. Your next step is to talk to Tio,” she added cryptically.
“Tio?” Marcos asked.
“Yes Tio. He will tell you more,” Abuela said, struggling to pull herself up to stand.
Marcos leapt up, a hand at her elbow. “Thank you for telling me all of this, Abuela.”
Want more? You’ll have to wait for the book to be published! Thanks for coming on this short journey with Abuela and Marcos!