My name is María, and when I was fourteen I witnessed a murder. I still remember everything about that day. It began, like most days, with the feral heat of the rising sun upon my back as I labored through my morning chores, and the bitter words of my parents buzzing in my ears like angry bees.
Most days were difficult, but I knew this day would be especially bad. Don Diego, the wealthy owner of a silver mine in the hills above our town, had decided to throw a lavish fiesta in honor of his birthday. Our town was poor, so most people saw it as an act of generosity, but not my father. He hated Don Diego.
“Fiesta? For what?” my father seethed. “That chingado? Who is he? He is nothing.”
“Be quite you old fool. Look at you. You are the one who is nothing,” my mother replied.
“I forbid you to go! This family takes nothing from that man.”
“If you worked, if you still gave a damn about providing for this family, maybe we wouldn’t have to.”
“I work …” my father said as he raised another cup of liquor to his lips.
“I work every day to restore this families honor!” He slammed the empty wooden cup down on the table and it went careening to the floor.
“Ha!” my mother scoffed. “A drunk, that is what you are.”
As my mother stewed and my father drank, I rushed through my chores and started to get ready. I could barely conceal my excitement as I put on my colorful red and white cotton dress and the black leather shoes. The smells of roasted pig, chicken, and a thousand spices had been swirling in the wind since dawn. My only worry was that I might suddenly die before getting a chance to eat any of it.
Just after noon my mother rapped on my bedroom door. “Mija, hurry up. It’s almost time to go. I want to get there before all the good food is eaten.”
By then my father had finished his first bottle of pulque, the cheap milky-white liquor made from the fermented sap of agave plants, and his vitriol had boiled over into a sea of venom. “He thinks he can buy this town with his food … Ha! I hope he chokes on it. Now that would be something to celebrate!”
My mother had heard it all before. “Come, María. Let’s leave your father to his sins.” She made the sign of the cross and whispered a prayer—or it might have been a curse—before she grabbed me by the hand and whisked me out the door. She dragged me up the hill to town like a dog on a leash, complaining the whole way about my father, “I hate that you have to see your father like this. He used to be a good man, a proud man, but he has not been the same since we lost our land. Now all he does is drink and rail against Don Diego. You mustn’t ever dwell on these things, María, the past is the past.”
I wished my father could forget the past, but I knew that would never happen. For him, the past was an idyllic place where he was the respected owner of a large and prosperous hacienda, and Diego Rivera—Don Diego—was a poor peon who worked our fields alongside his father. The land had been in my family for generations … but then the drought came. It did not rain in our valley for many years. I was a small child when it began, but people say it was so dry that even the scorpions turned to dust. With the soil barren, my father was forced to let his workers go. Diego’s father was said to be so distraught with the loss of our family’s patronage that he dropped dead when he heard the news. It was not known what happened to the son after that … not until much later.
After several years with no rain, my father had no choice but to sell our land. Some said it was a miracle that anyone bought it. The entire valley was nothing but scorched earth, but a lawyer representing a mysterious buyer soon appeared and purchased the once proud and thriving hacienda for a few thousand meager pesos. What my father didn’t know when he sold our land and, what he could have never imagined, was that the mysterious buyer was Diego Rivera. My father never got over the shame that Diego, the once destitute son of a peon, was now the owner of our family’s legacy—he would never forgive him for that.
Diego Rivera’s sudden wealth, and the noble title of Don that accompanied it, came from silver. How he discovered the silver was a great mystery, but he was now one of the wealthiest men in the state of Nuevo León.