Willie in the Tree

When they came over the ridge, I saw papá riding his favorite white horse. Right next to him was Plinio and Jackie on a young brown filly, and Radámés’ father was behind them on his old mule. I thought about getting down but it was too late. I couldn’t out run two horses and a mule, so I decided to stay up high in the tree. The horses pulled up underneath. Plinio ordered me to get down and I refused.

 “I’m staying here,” I said.

“Where, in that tree? Don’t be stupid. Get down now,” he said in a calm voice.

Radámes’ father yelled at him. Radámes looked me in the eyes, tilted his head and shrugged. He climbed down and walked over to his father, who welcomed his son with a hard smack upside the head.

“You, too, Willie, get down,” said Plinio. His voice had lost some of its calm.

“I told you I’m not going.”

“Boy, if you don’t get down from there…” said Plinio, climbing off his horse. Jackie and papá got down, too. Plinio handed his reins to my grandfather and made for the tree.      

“Willie, por favor mi hijo, please my son come down now,” pleaded my grandfather.

Everyone saw the look in Plinio’s eyes and we knew he wasn’t playing around.  “If I go up there, this will end badly for you,” he said, putting his hands around his belt buckle. A smarter kid would have looked at Plinio’s mountainous muscles and gotten down, but I didn’t move.

“You have ‘till the count of three then I’m coming up,” he said.  I laughed. Even if he wanted to, I knew Plinio wouldn’t climb that high, especially not in his nice clothes and shiny dress shoes.

“One,” he said. I took another mango from my lap and started peeling it, letting the skin drop to the ground in front of Plinio’s feet. “Two.”

 Jackie shook his head. “If I was you manito, I wouldn’t let him get to three. Believe me.”  I took a bite of the soft pulp. Juice slid down the side of my mouth. I wiped it off and flicked it.

“Why won’t you just go home and let me stay?” I said.          

“Three.” No one moved. No one breathed. I was still in the tree.

 Jackie shook his head again. “He’s going to kill you.”

“Quiet, no one is going to kill anyone,” said papá. He turned to my father. “Plinio maybe this is all happening too fast.  Why don’t you leave the boy for another year?”

Plinio wasn’t listening. He untied his shoes and took off his silk socks. Then he rolled up his pant legs, unbuttoned his shirt, and gave it to Jackie. The next thing I knew, Plinio had wrapped his hands around a branch above his head. In seconds he was half way up the tree.  I should have climbed up higher, but I was frozen in place.

Soon, Plinio was on the branch below me. Holding on to the tree with one arm, he grabbed my leg with the other and pulled me down. He threw me over his shoulder as we started back down. I thought about fighting him but I was scared Plinio would lose his balance, and while I wanted to stay in Esperanza, I didn’t want to do it in the cemetery.

Once we were on the ground, Plinio put me down. He didn’t say anything but his eyes were shooting daggers.  My grandfather came over and put his hand on Plinio’s shoulder and whispered in his ear and they both looked in the direction of Radámes and his father sitting on top of their mule. We had made a huge spectacle of ourselves and they were watching the whole show. “Let’s go home,” said papá.

Jackie handed Plinio his shoes and shirt. Plinio put them back on and carefully rolled down his pants to avoid anymore wrinkles. “Let’s go,” said Plinio. I refused and in a flash, his leather belt was off his waist. He told me one last time, “Get on the horse.” When I didn’t move, he flicked that leather monster at my legs. An alarm went off in my body as waves of pain shot up my spine. “Are you going to get on the horse?” he asked. I looked him straight in the eye and gave him my answer. Another hit. This time my knees buckled. I closed my eyes tight to hold back the tears that were already streaming. There was a shadow of pain on papá’s face but he wasn’t about to offer me any relief. “Get on the horse,” said Plinio with his arm coiled back. I didn’t move. Down came another whip. My lips started trembling and tears were flowing in full force. Plinio warned me one last time, but even with pain raging through me, I wasn’t going to give in. I stood there with my chest heaving ready for the next blow. As Plinio’s hand came down, Jackie stepped in between us.

“Ya Papí, ya,” he said, his hands up just in case he got caught with a hit flush in the face. “Willie’s gonna get on the horse. Right manito?” Jackie didn’t wait for my answer. He just led me to my grandfather who helped me onto his horse. Plinio let out a deep sigh as put his belt back on. Everybody mounted up and we rode home in silence. All that could be heard were hoofs sloshing through the muddy ground and little whimpers as I cried into my grandfather’s back.