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Chapter 15

THE EVENTS that would deal Macon-do its fatal blow were just showing themselves when they brought Meme Buendía's son home. The public situation was so uncertain then that no one had sufficient spirit to become involved with private scandals, so that Fernanda was able to count on an atmosphere that enabled her to keep the child hidden as if he had never existed. She had to take in because the circumstances under which they brought him made rejection impossible. She had to tolerate him against her will for the rest of her life because at the moment of truth she lacked the courage to go through inner determination to drown him in the bathroom cistern. She locked him up in Colonel Aureli-ano Buendía's old workshop. She succeeded in convincing Santa Sofía de la Piedad that she had found him floating in a basket. úrsula would die without ever knowing his origin. Little Amaranta úrsula, who went into the workshop once when Fernanda was feeding the child, also believed the version of the floating basket. Aureli-ano Segun-do, having broken finally with his wife because of the irrational way in which she handled Meme's tragedy, did not know of the existence of his grandson until three years after they brought him home, when the child escaped from captivity through an oversight on Fernanda's part and appeared on the porch for a fraction of a second, naked, with matted hair, and with an impressive sex organ that was like a turkey's wattles, as if he were not a human child but the encyclopedia definition of a cannibal.
Fernanda had not counted on that nasty trick of her incorrigible fate. The child was like the return of a shame that she had thought exiled by her from the house forever. As soon as they carried off Mauricio Babilonia with his shattered spinal column, Fernanda had worked out the most minute details of a plan destined to wipe out all traces of the burden. Without consulting her husband, she packed her bags, put the three changes of clothing that her daughter would need into a small suitcase, and went to get her in her bedroom a half hour before the train arrived.
"Let's go, Renata," she told her.
She gave no explanation. Meme, for her part, did not expect or want any. She not only did not know where they were going, but it would have been the same to her if they had been taking her to the slaughterhouse. She had not spoken again nor would she do so for the rest of her life from the time that she heard the shot in the backyard and the simultaneous cry pain from Mauricio Babilonia. When her mother ordered her out of the bedroom she did not comb her hair or wash her face and she got into the train as if she were walking in her sleep, not even noticing the yellow butterflies that were still accompanying her. Fernanda never found out nor did she take the trouble to, whether that stony silence was a determination of her will or whether she had become mute because of the impact of the tragedy. Meme barely took notice the journey through the formerly enchanted region. She did not see the shady, endless banana groves on both sides of the tracks. She did not see the white houses of the gringos or their gardens, dried out by dust and heat, or the women in shorts and blue-striped shirts playing cards on the terraces. She did not see the oxcarts on the dusty roads loaded down with bunches of bananas. She did not see the girls diving into the transparent rivers like tarpons, leaving the passengers on the train with the bitterness of their splendid breasts, or the miserable huts of the workers all huddled together where Mauricio Babilonia's yellow butterflies fluttered about and in the doorways of which there were green and squalid children sitting on their pots, and pregnant women who shouted insults at the train. That fleeting vision, which had been a celebration for her when she came home from school, passed through Meme's heart without a quiver. She did not look out of the window, not even when the burning dampness of the groves ended and the train went through a poppy-laden plain where the carbonized skeleton of the Spanish galleon still sat and then came out into the dear air alongside the frothy, dirty sea where almost a century before José Arcadio Buendía's illusions had met defeat.
"Come, Renata," she said to her.
Meme took her hand and let herself be led. The last time that Fernanda saw her, trying to keep up with the novice, the iron grating of the cloister had just closed behind her. She was still thinking about Mauricio Babilonia, his smell of grease, and his halo of butterflies, and she would keep on thinking about him for all the days of her life until the remote autumn morning when she died of old age, name changed and her head shaved and without ever having spoken a word, in a gloomy hospital in Cracow.
Fernanda returned to Macon-do on a train protected by armed police. During the trip she noticed the tension of the passengers, the military preparations in the towns along the line, and an atmosphere rarified by the certainty that something serious was going to happen, but she had no information until she reached Macon-do and they told her that José Arcadio Segun-do was inciting the workers the banana company to strike. "That's all we need," Fernanda said to herself. "An anarchist in the family." The strike broke out two weeks later and it did not have the dramatic consequences that had been feared. The workers demanded that they not be obliged to cut and load bananas on Sundays, and the position seemed so just that even Father Antonio Isabel interceded in its favor because he found it in accordance with the laws of God. That victory, along with other actions that were initiated during the following months, drew the colorless José Arcadio Segun-do out of his anonymity, for people had been accustomed to say that he was only good for filling up the town with French whores. With the same impulsive decision with which he had auctioned off his fighting cocks in order to organize a harebrained boat business, he gave up his position as foreman in the banana company and took the side of the workers. Quite soon he was pointed out as the agent of an international conspiracy against public order. One night, during the course a week darkened by somber rumors, he miraculously escaped four revolver shots taken at him by an unknown party as he was leaving a secret meeting. The atmosphere of the following months was so tense that even úrsula perceived it in her dark corner, and she had the impression that once more she was living through the dangerous times when her son Aureli-ano carried the home-opathic pills of subversion in his pocket. She tried to speak to José Arcadio Segun-do, to let him know about that precedent, but Aureli-ano Segun-do told her that since the night of the attempt on his life no one knew his whereabouts.
"Just like Aureli-ano," úrsula exclaimed. "It's as if the world were repeating itself."
Fernanda, was immune to the uncertainty of those days. She had no contact with the outside world since the violent altercation she had had with her husband over her having decided Memes fate without his consent. Aureli-ano Segun-do was prepared to rescue his daughter with the help of the police if necessary, but Fernanda showed him some papers that were proof that she had entered the convent of her own free will. Meme had indeed signed once she was already behind the iron grating and she did it with the same indifference with which she had allowed herself to be led away. Underneath it all, Aureli-ano Segun-do did not believe in the legitimacy of the proof. Just as he never believed that Mauricio Babilonia had gone into the yard to steal chickens, but both expedients served to ease his conscience, and thus he could go back without remorse under the shadow of Petra Cotes, where he revived his noisy revelry and unlimited gourmandizing. Foreign to the restlessness of the town, deaf to úrsula's quiet predictions. Fernanda gave the last tam to the screw of her preconceived plan. She wrote a long letter to her son José Arcadio, who was then about to take his first orders, and in it she told him that his sister Renata had expired in the peace of the Lord and as a consequence of the black vomit. Then she put Amaranta úrsula under the care of Santa Sofía de la Piedad and dedicated herself to organizing her correspondence with the invisible doctors, which had been upset by Meme's trouble. The first thing that she did was to set a definite date for the postponed telepathic operation. But the invisible doctors answered her that it was not wise so long as the state of social agitation continued in Macon-do. She was so urgent and so poorly Informed that she explained to them In another letter that there was no such state of agitation that everything was the result of the lunacy of a brother-in-law of hers who was fiddling around at that time in that labor union non-sense just as he had been involved with cockfighting and riverboats before. They were still not in agreement on the hot Wednesday when an aged nun knocked at the door bearing a small basket on her arm. When she opened the door Santa Sofía de la Piedad thought that it was a gift and tried to take the small basket that was covered with a lovely lace wrap. But the nun stopped her because she had instructions to give it personally the strictest secrecy to Do?a Fernanda del Carpio de Buendía. It was Meme's son. Fernanda's former spiritual director explained to her in a letter that he had been born two months before and that they had taken the privilege of baptizing him Aureli-ano, for his grandfather, because his mother would not open her lips to tell them her wishes. Fernanda rose up inside against that trick of fate, but she had sufficient strength to hide it in front of the nun.
"We'll tell them that we found him floating in the basket," she said smiling.
"No one will believe it," the nun said.
"If they believe it in the Bible," Fernanda replied, "I don't see why they shouldn't believe it from me.-"
The nun lunched at the house while she waited for the train back, and in accordance with the discretion they asked her, she did not mention the child again, but Fernanda viewed her as an undesirable witness of her shame and lamented the fact that they had abandoned the medieval custom of hanging a messenger who bore bad news. It was then that she decided to drown the child in the cistern as soon as the nun left, but her heart was not strong enough and she preferred to wait patiently until the infinite goodness of God would free her from the annoyance.
The new Aureli-ano was a year old when the tension of the people broke with no forewarning. José Arcadio Segun-do and other union leaders who had remained underground until then suddenly appeared one weekend and organized demonstrations in towns throughout the banana region. The police merely maintained public order. But on Monday night the leaders were taken from their homes and sent to jail in the capital of the province with two-pound irons on their legs. Taken among them were José Arcadio Segun-do Lorenzo Gavilán, a colonel in the Mexican revolution, exiled in Macon-do, who said that he had been witness to the heroism of his comrade Artemio Cruz. They were set free, however, within three months because of the fact that the government and the banana company could not reach an agreement as to who should feed them in jail. The protests of the workers this time were based on the lack of sanitary facilities in their living quarters, the nonexistence of medical services, and terrible working conditions. They stated, furthermore, that they were not being paid in real money but in scrip, which was good only to buy Virginia ham in the company commissaries. José Arcadio Segun-do was put in jail because he revealed that the scrip system was a way for the company to finance its fruit ships; which without the commissary merchandise would have to return empty from New Orleans to the banana ports. The otcomplaints were common knowledge. The company physicians did not examine the sick but had them line up behind one another in the dispensaries and a nurse would put a pill the color copper sulfate on their tongues, whether they had malaria, gonorrhea, or constipation. It was a cure that was so common that children would stand in line several times and instead of swallowing the pills would take them home to use as bingo markers. The company workers were crowded together in miserable barracks. The engineers, instead of putting in toilets, had a portable latrine for every fifty people brought to the camps at Christmas time and they held public demonstrations of how to use them so that they would last longer. The decrepit lawyers dressed in black who during other times had besieged Colonel Aureli-ano Buendía and who now were controlled by the banana company dismissed those demands with decisions that seemed like acts of magic. When the workers drew up a list of unanimous petitions, a long time passed before they were able to notify the banana company officially. As soon as he found out about the agreement Mr. Brown hitched his luxurious glassed-in coach to the train and disappeared from Macon-do along with the more prominent representatives of his company. Nonetheless some workers found one of them the following Saturday in a brothel and they made him sign a copy the sheet with the demands while he was naked with the women who had helped to entrap him. The mournful lawyers showed in court that that man had nothing to do with the company and in order that no one doubt their arguments they had him jailed as an impostor. Later on, Mr. Brown was surprised traveling incognito, in a third-class coach and they made him sign another copy of the demands. On the following day he appeared before the judges with his hair dyed black and speaking flawless Spanish. The lawyers showed that the man was not Mr. Jack Brown, the superintendent of the banana company, born in Prattville Alabama, but a harmless vendor of medicinal plants, born in Macon-do and baptized there with the name of Dagoberto Fonseca. A while later, faced with a new attempt by the workers the lawyers publicly exhibited Mr. Brown's death certificate, attested to by consuls and foreign ministers which bore witness that on June ninth last he had been run over by a fire engine in Chicago. Tired of that hermeneutical delirium, the workers turned away from the authorities in Macon-do and brought their complaints up to the higher courts. It was there that the sleight-of-hand lawyers proved that the demands lacked all validity for the simple reason that the banana company did not have, never had had, and never would have any workers in its service because they were all hired on a temporary and occasional basis. So that the fable of the Virginia ham was nonsense, the same as that of the miraculous pills and the Yuletide toilets, and by a decision of the court it was established and set down in solemn decrees that the workers did not exist.

The great strike broke out. Cultivation stopped halfway, the fruit rotted on the trees and the hundred--twenty-car trains remained on the sidings. The idle workers overflowed the towns. The Street of the Turks echoed with a Saturday that lasted for several days and in the poolroom at the Hotel Jacob they had to arrange twenty-four-hour shifts. That was where José Arcadio Segun-do was on the day it was announced that the army had been assigned to reestablish public order. Although he was not a man given to omens, the news was like an announcement of death that he had been waiting for ever since that distant morning when Colonel Geri-neldo Márquez had let see an execution. The bad omen did not change his solemnity, however. He took the shot he had planned and it was good. A short time later the drumbeats, the shrill of the bugle, the shouting and running of the people told him that not only had the game of pool come to an end, but also the silent and solitary game that he had been playing with himself ever since that dawn execution. Then he went out into the street and saw them. There were three regiments, whose march in time to a galley drum made the earth tremble. Their snorting of a many-headed dragon filled the glow noon with a pestilential vapor. They were short, stocky, and brutelike. They perspired with the sweat of a horse and had a smell of suntanned hide and the taciturn and impenetrable perseverance of men from the uplands. Although it took them over an hour to pass by, one might have thought that they were only a few squads marching in a circle, because they were all identical, sons of the same bitch, and with the same stolidity they all bore the weight of their packs and canteens, the shame of their rifles with fixed bayonets, and the chancre of blind obedience a sense of honor. úrsula heard them pass from her bed in the shadows and she made a crow with her fingers. Santa Sofía de la Piedad existed for an instant, leaning over the embroidered tablecloth that she had just ironed, and she thought son, José Arcadio Segun-do, who without changing expression watched the last soldiers pass by the door of the Hotel Jacob.
Martial law enabled the army to assume the functions of arbitrator in the controversy, but no effort at conciliation was made. As soon as they appeared in Macon-do, the soldiers put aside their rifles and cut and loaded the bananas and ............

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