From What was I thinking?
The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
I was born in Limon, close by Moyahua, right in the heart of the Juchipila canyon. I had my house and my cows and a patch of land, see: I had everything I wanted. Well, I suppose you know how we farmers make a habit of going over to town every week to hear Mass and the sermon and then to market to buy our onions and tomatoes and in general everything they want us to buy at the ranch. Then you pick up some friends and go to Primitivo Lopez’ saloon for a bit of a drink before dinner; well, you sit there drinking and you’ve got to be sociable, so you drink more than you should and the liquor goes to your head and you laugh and you’re damned happy and if you feel like it, you sing and shout and kick up a bit of a row. That’s quite all right, anyhow, for we’re not doing anyone any harm. But soon they start bothering you and the policeman walks up and down and stops occasionally, with his ear to the door. To put it in a nutshell, the chief of police and his gang are a lot of joykillers who decide they want to put a stop to your fun, see? But by God! You’ve got guts, you’ve got red blood in your veins and you’ve got a soul, too, see? So you lose your temper, you stand up to them and tell them to go to the Devil.
“Now if they understand you, everything’s all right; they leave you alone and that’s all there is to it; but sometimes they try to talk you down and hit you and — well, you know how it is, a fellow’s quick-tempered and he’ll be damned if he’ll stand for someone ordering him around and telling him what’s what. So before you know it, you’ve got your knife out or your gun leveled, and then off you go for a wild run in the sierra, until they’ve forgotten the corpse, see?
“All right: that’s just about what happened to Monico. The fellow was a greater bluffer than the rest. He couldn’t tell a rooster from a hen, not he. Well, I spit on his beard because he wouldn’t mind his own business. That’s all, there’s nothing else to tell.
“Then, just because I did that, he had the whole God-damned Federal Government against me. You must have heard something about that story in Mexico City — about the killing of Madero and some other fellow, Felix or Felipe Diaz, or something — I don’t know. Well, this man Monico goes in person to Zacatecas to get an army to capture me. They said that I was a Maderista and that I was going to rebel. But a man like me always has friends. Somebody came and warned me of what was coming to me, so when the soldiers reached Limon I was miles and miles away. Trust me! Then my compadre Anastasio who killed somebody came and joined me, and Pancracio and Quail and a lot of friends and acquaintances came after him. Since then we’ve been sort of collecting, see? You know for yourself, we get along as best we can. . . .”
For a while, both men sat meditating in silence. Then:
“Look here, Chief,” said Luis Cervantes. “You know that some of Natera’s men are at Juchipila, quite near here. I think we should join them before they capture Zacatecas. All we need do is speak to the General.”
“I’m no good at that sort of thing. And I don’t like the idea of accepting orders from anybody very much.”
“But you’ve only a handful of men down here; you’ll only be an unimportant chieftain. There’s no argument about it, the revolution is bound to win. After it’s all over they’ll talk to you just as Madero talked to all those who had helped him: ‘Thank you very much, my friends, you can go home now. . . .’ ”
“Well that’s all I want, to be let alone so I can go home.”
“Wait a moment, I haven’t finished. Madero said: ‘You men have made me President of the Republic. You have run the risk of losing your lives and leaving your wives and children destitute; now I have what I wanted, you can go back to your picks and shovels, you can resume your hand-to-mouth existence, you can go half-naked and hungry just as you did before, while we, your superiors, will go about trying to pile up a few million pesos. . . .'” Demetrio nodded and, smiling, scratched his head.
“You said a mouthful, Louie,” Venancio the barber put in enthusiastically. “A mouthful as big as a church!”
“As I was saying,” Luis Cervantes resumed, “when the revolution is over, everything is over. Too bad that so many men have been killed, too bad there are so many widows and orphans, too bad there was so much bloodshed.
“Of course, you are not selfish; you say to yourself: ‘All I want to do is go back home.’ But I ask you, is it fair to deprive your wife and kids of a fortune which God himself places within reach of your hand? Is it fair to abandon your motherland in this solemn moment when she most needs the self-sacrifice of her sons, when she most needs her humble sons to save her from falling again in the clutches of her eternal oppressors, executioners, and caciques? You must not forget that the thing a man holds most sacred on earth is his motherland.”
Macías smiled, his eyes shining.
“Will it be all right if we go with Natera?”
“Not only all right,” Venancio said insinuatingly, “but I think it absolutely necessary.”
“Now Chief,” Cervantes pursued, “I took a fancy to you the first time I laid eyes on you and I like you more and more every day because I realize what you are worth. Please let me be utterly frank. You do not yet realize your lofty noble function. You are a modest man without ambitions, you do not wish to realize the exceedingly important role you are destined to play in the revolution. It is not true that you took up arms simply because of Señor Monico. You are under arms to protest against the evils of all the caciques who are overrunning the whole nation. We are the elements of a social movement which will not rest until it has enlarged the destinies of our motherland. We are the tools Destiny makes use of to reclaim the sacred rights of the people. We are not fighting to dethrone a miserable murderer, we are fighting against tyranny itself. What moves us is what men call ideals; our action is what men call fighting for a principle. A principle! That’s why Villa and Natera and Carranza are fighting; that’s why we, every man of us, are fighting.”
“Yes … yes … exactly what I’ve been thinking myself,” said Venancio in a climax of enthusiasm.
“Hey, there, Pancracio,” Macías called, “pull down two more beers.”