Page 36


AFTERWORD I BY RUPERTO GARCIA El Romantico IN hen the irrigation pump began, he would jump in his truck and drive beside the water until he left it far behind. Then, he would jump out of the truck and climb into the irrigation ditch in time to hold his hands wide open before him as he stood, legs spread, waiting for the oncoming wave. When the rush of the water arrived, he would plunge his open hands and arms into it, letting the cold and the flow rush up his arms, enjoying the smell of the newly wet dirt. When the water hit him just right, he would laugh with abandonas if he never before had truly felt such wild and openhearted happiness. Then he would stop, look about the seemingly open and abandoned fields, and contemplate the fading dawn. It was only then that he would realize that other workers in distant fields had probably heard him. All the workers started early then. They would arrivefamilies from all parts of the countyand line up beside the field and prepare to work. They would drink their coffee out of clearglass jars, eat their taquitos, and talk among themselves and always notice that the field was empty of human footsteps. Then, almost as if responding to some invisible signal, they would wade into the field, sometimes up to their waist or their outspread arms depending on the cropand begin their work. As they worked, they would talk to each other while they walked, letting the energy of their voices carry across the distance. They would wait for their voices to carry and responses to return before saying anything else as if speaking across a wide, flowing river. At one time or another they had all heard El Romantico’s loud and fantastic yells. When they did, they would stop to listen for a second. Everyone knew who had yelled and how the loud outburst had occurred. After pausing for a second they would quietly and smilingly return to work. When he had first arrived among them, they had called him “El Loco,” “The Crazy One.” But with timeafter watching the concentration of his work and the focus of his life, they changed it to “El Romantico,” “The Romantic One,” and assumed that his insanity came from his romantic slant and his yearning for true love. The women had started it, some of them even mentioning that he was a very attractive man, though he stayed to himself. “Isn’t that the way that all men who can love are,” asked the women, “screaming into the emptiness of space, their hearts torn apart with heartache?” Although they romanticized his life, they never got to know much about him beyond his given name. He stayed to himself, wearing white t-shirts and jeans, slim and alone. He came and went in a truck that belonged to the landowner, and he hardly spoke with anyone. In fact, it took them almost a year to realize that El Romantico was completely deaf. And then they only learned about it when the children came and told them in the fields that the farmer had written out a note for El Romantico, then showed him where to go by making primitive signals with his hands. Even when he was near them, El Romantico sometimes laughed aloud to himself; sometimes he even seemed to mutter a few words. Little by little people began to believe that he was speaking with someone closer to the inner workings of his heart, someone who kept him company. After several months, the other workers concluded that the loneliness of not being loved and of living in a silent world had finally gotten to him. Still, out of pity, they never reverted to his old name of “El Loco,” but instead kept calling him “El Romantico.” 0 n the day that El Romantico disappeared from the farm, young Maria Jimenez had just discovered that her boy friend Ramiro had gotten her pregnant. He had talked of marriage many times, so much so that she felt confident that before anyone could find out about her condition, Ramiro would have walked down the aisle. Maria’s mother, however, was a very astute woman. She found out almost at the same time Maria did, and consulted with her husband about how to deal with the situation. They both confronted Maria at their small cabin on the edge of the camp. When Maria realized she was cornered, she didn’t think. In her fear, Maria concluded that Ramiro should be protected at all costsand instead found it easier to tell them that the father was El Romantico, that he had found her drinking water by the well, that he had forced himself on her and that was that. She was not to blame. Her father was a rational man and wasn’t prone to violence. He also knew the uncertainty of troubled youth, having eight children himself, and he knew that El Romantico had been among the families in the labor camp for years without such an incident. So, instead of rushing angrily to El Romantico’s home, he called a few rational men together. Together they approached the farmer with the information. And then they all went to confront El Romantico in the fields. When he saw the small caravan of pickups and an old car coming toward him through the dirt road, he looked at them curiously, but didn’t run. That alone reassured Mr. Jimenez and the others that perhaps El Romantico knew nothing about Maria’s condition, or of the accusations themselves. El Romantico was wet when they DECEMBER 16, 2005 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29