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Austin’s Only Progressive Radio Station arrived. He had been standing there, one leg in the irrigation ditch and one on the edge, feeling the water pass over his leg, almost knocking him off balance. In his right hand was an irrigation pipea slender aluminum arch, which he held more as a toy to play with the rushing water than as a weapon. As they neared, they noticed that the force of the water was gushing strongly enough for El Romantico to easily drink from the upper end of the pipe, much like a makeshift water fountain. He looked at them curiously because of the dusty parade, but smiled as they approached. Many of them would later say that his calm demeanor and his chosen work made them feel that he was a man at peace with himselfand not a violator of women. Both the farmer and Mr. Jimenez spoke with him. El Romantico stood quietly, making out the words by looking at their lips. When they were through talking, he turned away for a second. In that brief moment, the men would later say, he looked at the expanse of the fields as if for one last time. He then bent forward and drank from the irrigation ditch the same way he had beforeusing the irrigation pipe to quickly draw out the water. Then he nodded to Mr. Jimenez and the farmer, acknowledging that he understood the accusation. But with a facial expression and a shrug of his shoulders he let them know that he didn’t know anything about it. He then looked down at the ground for a second. According to the men who saw him standing in the irrigation ditch, his pant legs wet from the running water and from hours of work, when he looked up again he had the look of a man who had just lost a home or a family. Later, when they told the story in labor camps around the country, each of them would say that in that very second they knew that El Romantico’s yells would never be heard again across the fields, and that they would never see him wildly playing in the distance. Years later as they spread the story from camp to camp around outdoor fires and late night bars, they would always say that they could tell that something had been broken. For a second, they would explain, each of them was ashamed of himself for having ruined a man’s lifethough he had taken it quietly. And then they would always add that they knew that there was no way to truly express to him how they felt. For Maria Jimenez and Ramiro Lopez, who confessed to being the father when he found out where all the men had gone, the incident brought a sense of despair into their own lives. Their child was born into a community that no longer wanted to even look at them. They were treated as the cause of El Romantico’s final dejection and separation. None of the women in the camp spoke to Maria after the incident; all of them were afraid that one day or another she would falsely accuse their own men of some other violation. For El Romantico, life could have continued much the same, except that in their efforts to punish Maria and her family for the false accusation, everyone forgot to return to tell El Romantico that he had been cleared. But even years afterward, many of them felt it wouldn’t have mattered: He had been accused and would always feel separate from the rest of them. They never really knew how close their sentiments came to his own. The night that the men had visited him, El Romantico felt that everything had changed. More than ever, he felt different from the rest. More so than any other night, he slept alone in his world of silence. For the first time in his life, El Romantico slept badly under his own stars, and the running water brought him no comfort. Sometime around midnight, he sat on the edge of the irrigation ditch, letting the fast-flowing water run over his bare feet, hoping the running stream would bring him thoughts from elsewhere, from other places and other times. But nothing came except thoughts of pickups and a car raising dust across the empty road toward where he stood that afternoon. When he finally lay down again on the bed of the farmer’s truck and tried to fall asleep, all he could hear was the rumbling of cars and the questions that the men had asked him. All he could think about was the feeling that overcame him after he looked away from them, ashamed that anyone would think that of him. Several times that night he sat up in the back of the truck and looked toward the distant camp to see if anyone was coming back. He wondered what had 30 THE TEXAS OBSERVER DECEMBER 16, 2005