The King of Argentina

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Gay and Lesbian  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short story set in Buenos Aries during the Falklands/Malvinas war of the 1980's with a UK and Argentinian male couple as principle characters. Now updated and expanded.

Submitted: December 03, 2012

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Submitted: December 03, 2012

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2 April 1982

 

How had it come to this?

David was sitting at an outside table, under the canopy of a large jacaranda tree at his favourite café in Palermo Soho, a rather shabby inner city suburb of Buenos Aries, in the first throes of regeneration. He sipped occasionally on a Quilmes beer.

He wasn't even supposed to be here.

His visit to his maternal grandmother was only supposed to last for three weeks, and yet he'd now been here for almost four months.

Talk about momentous decisions.

He'd met Eduardo quite by accident on his second day in Argentina. They had literally bumped into each other on the platform at the Belgrano station of the Subte, the underground system of Buenos Aries.

As the third week of his holiday approached, it had become increasingly clear that he couldn't leave and that Eduardo wasn't about to let him leave.

They needed to see this thing, whatever it was, through.

"See which path it led them to" was how Eduardo had described it as they held hands in the summer sunshine.

David had sent a telex to his boss, apologizing to him and explaining to him that he couldn't come back at the moment.

Perhaps later, but not now.

There was a path to follow.

 

The telephone call to his Mother in her York bungalow was much harder.

They'd never talked about sexuality and the best David could muster was that he'd "met someone" and that he'd fill her in about the details later.

"There was this... path you see" he'd told her vaguely from the noise and chaos of the street telephone café where international calls were booked and made from.

In reality, he was avoiding the subject and it was his grandmother who had written to his Mother and told her about Eduardo and how David had moved into Eduardo's apartment at the end of the three week holiday.

He'd sit his Mother down and tell her all about it when he next saw her. Whenever that might be. Not any time soon he figured. He made a mental note to have the unexposed roll of film he had at the apartment developed, which contained shots of a family party just before he left for Argentina. It would be good to see his mother's face again.

Eduardo had managed to get him a part time job at the school where he taught English and French.

It was all getting a bit complicated he thought to himself as he ordered a second Quilmes and a ham sandwich, hoping that the chef hadn't already ended his lunch shift. He half heartedly played with a small chess set he carried with him, but he couldn't concentrate. His thoughts were all over the place.

It certainly wasn't complicated with Eduardo. That was wonderful. They were completely at ease with each other, as though they'd known each other for years, not weeks.

Not with his Grandmother. She'd been around long enough to not be shocked by anything, she'd told him one night as he sobbed his heart out to her. She'd held him in her arms, like his mother used to when he was a boy and he felt as if he belonged.

The problem was bloody Margaret Thatcher.

He'd watched the news on the large projector in the square in Palermo Soho and read with increasing horror as the Malvinas/Falklands dispute had escalated in the past several weeks until today when the Argentine army had invaded the islands.

He felt helpless, and more than a little scared. This wasn't going to end soon. David didn’t have a good feeling about it.

He'd read reports in Argentina of the British task force being assembled and knew instinctively that his elder brother Steven, a Petty Officer on HMS Sheffield, would likely be involved.

He didn't trust the Argentine junta to stop the nonsense while there was still an opportunity to do so. He certainly didn't trust Maggie to see sense either.

So here they were approaching war.

David was torn. He was proud of his nationality but he dreaded this conflict with his newly adopted homeland. Eduardo, his Grandmother, his new friends. They weren't Argentines… they were people. People he trusted. People he loved.

 

 

 

 

4 May 1982

 

The sound of firecrackers in the street was deafening. David wasn't quite sure of the cause of the commotion until he reached over to the kitchen counter and switched on the radio.

His Spanish was improving immensely and he understood most of the radio broadcasts well enough.

The news flash had just started when Eduardo arrived home, later than usual due to the crowds on the street.

They sat together in silent shock as the news sunk in. A gentle breeze drifted through the open window carrying the remnants of the firecracker smoke.

HMS Sheffield had been sunk.

"Argentina's greatest military victory" blared from the radio and he saw his brother Steven as he closed his eyes trying to stop the flood of tears.

 

Eduardo stroked his hands but said nothing. There was nothing to be said.

This wasn't their war and yet here they were thrust into the middle of it on an unimaginable scale.

"How many were dead"? "Many" was all he heard as the telephone rang and he heard his grandmothers voice but didn't hear anything she said.

 

Within an hour David, Eduardo and his Grandmother had a plan.

They telephoned friends and asked them to do the same.

Tomorrow at noon at the Casa Rosada they'd said.

 

 

5 May 1982

 

"Fifty three people" Eduardo yelled into David's ear, trying to make himself heard over the din of the megaphone.

"It's a wonderful turn out at such short notice" he continued. David smiled weakly, trying to take comfort in Eduardo's words but he was vaguely disappointed as he kissed him on the cheek. Was theirs a cause with any hope or were they simply pacifistic dreamers he wondered?

The megaphone crackled to life again.

 

"Contra la Guerra Malvinas (Stop the Falklands War), that's who we are" yelled the tall lady with the too short auburn hair and plump pink lips to nobody in particular. "Please join with us and show your solidarity". Gloria worked with Eduardo at the school and was a kindred spirit. She was the first person Eduardo had called for support and she had told him with her usual passion "Of course we must do this. What is being done in our name must be undone".

Business people stopped to listen to her as she explained their cause. Mostly they moved on, some yelling obscenities in their direction, many throwing up their hands in disgust.

But some, a few, stayed and listened.

 

It was a good start and David felt proud as he held his Grandmothers hand with his left hand and Eduardo's with the other.

"Who are you?" "Why do you think people will support you?" asked the reporter from La Nacion, the largest newspaper in Buenos Aries.

Eduardo patiently explained their unique situation as David watched the reporters reaction and searched for body language which wasn't there.

"Will you write about us?" asked Eduardo as the reporter started to move away.

The reporter threw his hands in the air. "Perhaps, I'm not sure there's much of a story here to be honest with you. I stumbled upon your group as I was headed to my office".

And he was gone.

They left after an hour and agreed to come back the next day at the same time, and every day, until the war was over.

 

 

8 May 1982

 

The day began in what could be considered calm circumstances. At least as calm as it could be during times of war. It would not end that way.

As usual, the radio was full of “glorious victories” in the Malvinas. Stories to be taken with a pinch of salt, or perhaps a large glass of Malbec, given the government press office source.

Eduardo had left for the school at his usual time of 08.45 and as David wasn’t due there until after the Casa Rosada rally, he planned to run a few errands and stock up on some staples, just in case food supplies may start to run low as a result of the war.

At 09.30, David stepped out onto the street from the apartment building and was immediately surrounded by seven armed police officers. Yelling almost incoherently and with vitriol, he couldn’t immediately understand what they wanted. Eventually, he understood that they wanted his hands behind his back. He was then handcuffed more than a little roughly and dragged to an adjacent police van. Neighbours and passers by, some of whom he knew, looked on quizzically wondering what David had done to deserve such treatment. Drugs, Immigration issues?

One of those who saw the violent arrest lived on the top floor of the apartment block and was an acquaintance of Eduardo’s. He rushed to the school to tell Eduardo what he had witnessed.

Eduardo, like most portenos, as residents of Buenos Aries are known, had heard many tragic and frightening anecdotes regarding the “dirty war” in which the military junta arrested people considered at odds with their vision of martial law, most of them never to be seen or heard of again. His hands were shaking as he walked back to their apartment to try to figure out his next step.

He called every friend he had and of course David’s grandmother and Jorge at La Nacion. To a one, they knew instinctively that David had been taken to the Naval Mechanics School, commonly known as ESMA. Eduardo was chilled to the bone. He knew that almost all people taken there were never heard from again. Many, after enduring horrific torture, were killed and their bodies dumped into the River Plate from a military aircraft.

He felt helpless. There was no way of seeing David and he knew that not only would he be turned away from ESMA if he tried to see David, but he could in fact be arrested also. He assumed, correctly as it happened, that David was singled out from their growing and peaceful pacifist movement because of his nationality. An “enemy of the state” is how it would be described to him later.

“I have contacts in high places” Jorge told him. “Give me some time and I’ll see what I can do. But don’t be too hopeful”.

Could their path have ended so soon after it had begun thought Eduardo, not daring to think of what might happen?

 

 

10 May 1982

 

It had been an excruciating forty eight hours for Eduardo. He hadn’t slept a wink. Much of the time he had spent with David’s grandmother, trying to support each other as hope dwindled.

Jorge had been in touch the previous day. David was indeed incarcerated at ESMA, but no further information was available. Knowing at least where he was brought Eduardo a flicker of hope.

Jorge had made the first phone call to the high ranking un-named General in the Argentine junta at 8.30PM the previous evening and had been trying all day to reach him.

“Tell him it is Jorge Roberto from La Nacion,” he’d told the Generals secretary, trying to muster as much of a threatening tone as he could manage.  “And tell him it’s about our mutual friend Isabella."

Within an hour, his office telephone rang.

“What is this about?” asked the General with the slightest tone of hesitation in his voice.

“It’s about David Richardson, the UK national arrested and taken to ESMA two days ago.”

“I’m not familiar with him. Should I be”? replied the General nervously.

“He’s a friend of mine, and I wish to come to an arrangement with you to obtain his imminent release.” Jorge told the General.

“On what possible basis? You know as well as I do that the reasons for his arrest must be to do with national security. These are difficult days."

“Indeed so, General”  Jorge interrupted. “But perhaps your relationship with Isabella Izira may help you reconsider”?

The telephone was silent for thirty seconds. But Jorge could hear the increasingly heavy, nervous breathing coming in waves at the other end of the crackling line.

“What do you want?" The General bluntly asked.

“The Englishmans immediate release.” replied Jorge matter of factly. “And in return, I will turn over the photographs and negatives I have of you in your apartment in Recoleta with the young lady. I understand that she is only seventeen and used to work on the street before meeting you. Isn’t that quite correct? I wonder how your wife of thirty years and your four children will feel if they are made aware of your relationship with the young lady?"

Another silence.

“Bring the photographs and negatives to the cemetery in Recoleta at midnight. I will arrange it once I am in possession of these items.”

“I think not,” said Jorge. “While I am sure that you are a man of your word, this must be an exchange. David for Isabella. It’s really quite simple.”

Jorge knew that the General was of sufficient standing to arrange this, and yet he could not know if his threat to expose the secret life of the military officer would be enough. He was risking a great deal trying to negotiate this way. He had bought the photographs from a freelance photographer he worked with a few months previously, but had put them to one side as a story once the Malvinas conflict had exploded.

 

 

 

11 May 1982

 

Jorge had never been so frightened. He had told a colleague where he was going, but not why and asked that he stay in his car by the entrance to the cemetery.

“If I’m not back by 1AM, it may well be my body you find in the cemetery.” He told the shocked colleague as he closed the car passenger door with a thud.

And he was gone, enveloped in the fine drizzle that had begun to fall.

Jorge did not know if he could trust the General. He thought that the photographs were enough, but how could he be sure?

He had left a copy of the photographs in the drawer of his editor with a note which said simply “If I am not here tomorrow, this person is responsible for my death.

He was at the agreed meeting point at just before midnight.

Exactly twelve minutes later, as he was about to give up hope, he saw through the murk two figures approaching the agreed meeting place.

He saw David first, almost being dragged by the General. He had been badly beaten; his eyes swollen closed and congealed blood covered most of his face.

The General shoved David forward as he reached Jorge and he fell to the ground.

“He’s a very lucky man.” whispered the General as he took the envelope from Jorge and checked the contents.

“As long as there are no other copies, this is over. The Englishman is safe. But if you print this story now or later, I will ensure that what is left of your life is extremely short.”

He turned quickly and left in the direction he had come. Jorge lifted David to his feet as gently as he could.

“You’re safe now David. Let’s get you to hospital to have you examined" Together they limped slowly back to the waiting car.

“Take us to the Hospital Britanico please, I need to have this young man checked as soon as possible!” said Jorge as he gently laid David down in the back seat of the car.

The irony of the name of the closest hospital wasn’t lost on Jorge as they sped through the almost deserted streets.

As soon as David was taken by the emergency medical staff to ascertain the extent of his injuries, Jorge called Eduardo at his apartment, from the public telephone in the emergency department waiting area.

“I have him. He’s safe at the Hospital Britanico and being examined for his injuries. Can you take a taxi here?”

Eduardo was out of the door of his apartment and in a taxi within three minutes. It would be another two hours before he could see David, by which time David’s right eye had opened a little. His injuries prevented the embrace they desperately wanted to give each other. Instead, Eduardo held David’s hand and they both wept silently for more than an hour.

“How did you manage this? How can I ever repay you for what you have done for us?” Eduardo’s tears continued to stream as he held Jorge’s shoulders and stared into his eyes.

“It’s best that you don’t know. I had to pull some strings.” Was all that Jorge would divulge as they embraced like brothers beneath the flickering fluorescent light.

Jorge would retrieve the photograph copies from his editors desk, but he would keep them as insurance in his bank security box.

David’s injuries were painful but not life threatening. Deep lacerations and a broken collar bone were the worst of them, and within two days, he was home with Eduardo, still in pain but exhilarated beyond belief. His grandmother was waiting for him at the apartment when he arrived. David had never seen her cry, so strong and stoic a woman was she. But cry she did, with relief and extreme joy.

 

18 May 1982

The fourteenth day was the biggest yet.

The police estimated the attendance to be 230,000 people and the streets which approach the Casa Rosada from each direction were closed to traffic.

David and Eduardo looked at each other and smiled as they surveyed the huge throng from the raised, temporary platform. The path they were treading was not without its dangers, but they were getting there. They were as one in their devotion to this cause.

They had started this but it was Jorge, the reporter who they had to thank for helping the movement grow, and of course for David’s liberty.

After that first rally, the 6 May edition did indeed carry an almost lost article about the rally, hidden away on page 12 under the title "For some, the war is personal."

It was a compassionate piece and Jorge's words moved David. More importantly, it mentioned that they would hold a rally every day until the war was over.

The day after Jorge's report, about 500 people attended.

Every day thereafter the crowds grew and the telephone at the apartment never stopped ringing. Eduardo and David’s grandmother continued to attend each day during David’s incarceration and recovery.

Today, David was going to speak. They'd agreed that his message was the one which needed to be heard by such a large crowd. Jorge was there too, smiling broadly as he witnessed the huge crowd assembled under the grey autumn skies.

David wasn't worried about his Spanish. His speech was typed and he simply had to read the words as calmly as he could.

"Two weeks ago, my world changed forever. My brother Steven was critically injured in the attack on the British warship HMS Sheffield.

I know that I'm not alone. Some of you have lost loved ones in the Malvinas conflict and for that I'm sorry.

I don't endorse or support your governments actions, but neither do I support that of my own country.

There is no excuse for war, not this war. Not any war.

I love your country because I love the people of your country.

I love my Grandmother and I love Eduardo, my partner, both of whom are Argentine.

I also love my family in the UK and I miss dearly my brother who is fighting for his life in a hospital in the UK. Nationalities aren’t pertinent.

This war has nothing to do with us. And yet this war has everything to do with us. I have personally been targeted and imprisoned simply because of my nationality.

We simply ask you to support us in our effort to change the minds of the Argentine and UK governments.

We're normal people, caught up in extraordinary times, and we simply want it to stop.

Please join with us and help us persuade the governments of the UK and Argentina to stop this horrendous war!"

As David stopped and Eduardo grabbed his right hand, a small ripple of applause started to build and within a few seconds the sound was deafening.

For five minutes they applauded. David and Eduardo beamed as tears rolled down their cheeks and they embraced.

Jorge told them over dinner that night that their rally might make the front page of the newspaper the following day.

 

 

19 May 1982

They were woken very early with telephone calls and people ringing their apartment door bell.

"Had they seen the front page?"

"El Rey de la Argentina (The King of Argentina) screamed the front page headline with a photograph of David.

Jorge has been as good as his word and the story of their huge rally had received a prominent position at the bottom of page one.

David, it seems, would be forever known as "The King of Argentina". A nod, said Jorge to the monarchy in his homeland and to his adopted Argentina.

They would get through this, the dreadful tearing of loyalty and the constant pain of conflict and worry.

King or not, the simple act of following his true feelings for Eduardo and the war had rewarded him in ways he could not have imagined. He felt revived and alive.

The war would end, with many grieving families on both sides of the Atlantic. For all of the satisfaction David had gained from sharing his message with so many people, he couldn’t help but feel that nothing had been gained.
And yet it had. The inner peace which can be attained only when you follow your conscience. He had been true to himself, and to those he loved and for that he felt reborn.

Love would win out. He knew that he would stay in Argentina and he'd love Eduardo like he'd loved nothing else before in his life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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