A circle within revolution.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
Tells the tale of two boys who get caught up in revolution, and the indifference that this revolution has on their lives.

Submitted: January 03, 2012

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Submitted: January 03, 2012

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A circle within revolution.

Juan Lopez Formosa, or Juan, was well known within the Cuban town of Colmena in what was the Oriente province of Cuba, the year was 1957. At the age of 16 he had grown up as the son of a poor sugarcane worker. Despite having lived in a simple wooden shack on the path leading up to one of the United Fruit Company major plantations, and the life of servitude that it implied, he had earned himself a reputation not only as reckless, but as a damn fine football player. Indeed his skills had made him the Capitan of the town’s football team well before his 16th birthday. It was, however, his reckless nature that was going to change his life today.

Jose Garcia, Juan’s longest friend, was coming over. Juan enjoyed going to Jose’s more, if only because the Garcia family owned the only radio in town, the prize of being the manager for the sugar cane production. Although there were many newspapers delivered to the town, they were used for kindle. Juan, like the rest of his village, was illiterate. The Garcia’s despite this luxury were still, however, living in grinding poverty. However, when Jose entered Juan’s room, he was filled with as much excitement as he was when listening to the weekly reports from the football matches in Havana.

“Juan, have you heard, a man is here from the 26th of July movement! Quick, get up we have to go listen! He has come from the Sierra Maestra Mountains, hurry up!” Before Juan could even respond, Jose was out the door. Although he wasn’t political, the fighting by a man named Fidel, Fernandez, something like that; up in the hills had inspired him. He was not political, not in any conscious way at least, but this movement spoke of bringing change. And the chance to get out of here and find work out side of this town was always a welcome thought to Juan. So he followed.

By the time he had gotten there, a man, standing on a box, was already in full flow.

“… We have beaten back the national forces. They have run from our forces, the true David and Goliath struggle.” That truly caught Juan’s imagination, he couldn’t read, and he had never been to school, but the church on Sunday had spent a class on the battle between the giant and the man, and he had always been enthralled by its imagery.

“But our revolution, the revolution for Cuban freedom, is not secure. No, as we speak Batista is whipping men to come and crush all that we hope to achieve, to bring you out of poverty. To give you all work, to give you schools and doctors and homes. So I ask you on behalf of Commandant Fidel, join with me today, and help secure the future of Cuba! Viva la Revolution!” With that he stepped down to a strident applause, many however having quickly turned off in the speech. They lived in the East; the revolution was in the West. Who cares, not our fight they grumbled as they walked back towards their homes. This sentiment was not shared with Juan and Jose; no they sat their besotted with their new idol, a revolutionary.

“Sir,” they asked after a tentative few minutes of chatter among themselves. “Sir we would like to join your column, we wish to help. I don’t think there are many more of us in the village though.”

“Please, please, I am your Comrade. Sir is used by the Capitalist dog Batista and his cronies to beat you down. But here I see two upstanding, proud Cuban warriors. Tell me, how old are you?”

Jose and Juan looked at each other, how old were they? No one kept track of such things in their village; time was as unknown to them as the words on a book. They gave what they figured was a rough guessing of their age. It was in fact 2 years older than they were.

“We are 19 Sir, I mean Comrade. Is that ok?”

He looked them up and down, although they were in fact 17, their transformation into men was convincing, with that he gave curt nod. “Yes, yes no problem Comrades. Welcome to the 26th July Movement. We must move quickly. Gather some clothes, we move on tonight.”

This took the boys by surprise, how could they possibly leave?  Their parents didn’t even know! Well Jose’s parents, Juan’s mother having died in childbirth to his younger sister. However, they were revolutionaries; it had taken but one speech. They were committed to ensuring that they would join the fight. So it was that Juan returned home, his father was working, he was saddened that he couldn’t say goodbye. However, secretly he was relieved, had his father gotten wind of this, no doubt would he not only have kept him here, he would have chased the soldier out of town. His sister Isabella, her name given to her because it was the same as her mothers, was sitting in the corner. Teaching herself, fast learning as she was, to read, though clearly struggling. By this time she was 12, and already she was starting to annoy him. He would, however, miss her deeply.

“Isabella, come here now.” He was always unsure how to speak to his sister whom was so much younger then himself, so he assumed it was only right to order her around. She always listened, this time was no different. She put down her book and pen, and came over to Juan, sitting on the other side of the small kitchen table.

“I need to tell you something, and I need you to tell dad as soon as he comes home. Is that ok?” Isabella was quiet, he never knew whether to take that for being slow, but she always was better than him at math’s, or whether she just didn’t like to talk, because of this he always heard himself as speaking condescendingly towards her. She however, had never seemed to mind. This time, again, being no different, she simply shook her head in agreement.

“I am leaving today, now in fact for the 26th July Movement..” With that she looked startled; he almost thought he could sense tears?

“W-Why?” She stammered, “The war is not ours to fight, we don’t belong there...”

“It’s a fight for Cuba sister, for all of us, every man and women and their child depend on me to help liberate them!” He fought against her simple objection with vigour, extreme vigour he thought, for a boy whom was only recently converted to the cause. With that, Jose burst into the door.

“Juan, he is leaving now. Hurry up!”

Juan looked back at his sister, the tell tale wetness under her eyes gave away her feelings. He couldn’t, he wouldn’t let that get in the way of him he thought. At that he hugged his sister. A hug he would remember darkly, as he thought about how rudely and abruptly he had left his family to fend for themselves. But with that, he gathered his only other spare clothes and stuffed them into a bag of flax, it wouldn’t hold, but he was sure that soldiers were given bags. They were, weren’t they? He had a sudden realization that there was a lot about war that he didn’t know about. The realization gave him ample fear, but just the slightest tinge of excitement to make it seem worthwhile.

So it was that in August 1957, Juan Formosa marched off to war. As he looked back, he noticed his sister simply standing on the porch, her eyes staring at his. They didn’t falter. He had simply walked in and left her. She kept this gaze until Juan was thick in the trees and out of sight. Those eyes were always on his mind. It later transpired that Jose hadn’t even told his parents. No, he had simply taken his things and left. He said he had no regrets, but after having known him his whole life, Juan sensed the doubt in Jose’s nonchalance. That night they were given their first ever taste of military life, how to fire a rifle. The soldier, whose name was Alberto, was surprised that for two boys whom had lived in the countryside, they had never handled a weapon. Juan was proud that he took to this so well. Jose, on the contrary, struggled to load the single weapon they had, the cartridge struggling to fit into the magazine holder of the carbine. This was quickly followed by the boys assembling a tent out of the large bit of fabric that Alberto had stored in his rucksack. This was even followed by dinner, a dinner of rice and fish, followed by their first political talk. While the soldier rattled on passionately over Marxist theory, the boy’s only half listened. They were still not political, and they were certainly not interested in hearing this man’s two hour précis of the capitalist system.  So they soon excused themselves and retired.

The next day went around in much the same fashion as the first. They stopped in a village some 20 miles away. This went on for a month. By the end, Juan was a competent marksmen, Jose having given up on the rifle, learning how to fire one of the shotgun that a few of the other recruits had brought along. After the month was out, they began the trek back to the revolutionary camp in the Sierra Maestra. It was tense, the Oriente was considered firmly in Batista’s hand, and many of the barracks in the East had been transferred, meaning that the recruits were often dodging the larger then normal military presence. Luckily for Alberto, they were not expecting rebels, and thus their attention was low. However, the month long trek back to the East of the country, one morning in early September they awoke to find 2 of the 15 news recruits had run off, taking with them 2 of the 5 shotguns. It soon transpired that they were criminals, and had been using the rebel convoy as a means to keep fed and move out of their district in order to avoid arrest. Having come as far East as they wanted, they didn’t feel a need to go to war. After this, however, there was no snag to impede their journey. That was, until they came up towards the Batista front line. Here things were tense, many of the government soldiers were untrained conscripts and jumpy at the slightest movement. The small band had been able to dodge the main body of troops. But as they lay in the foliage on this September 18th, they saw in front of them a group of 5 nervous looking government soldiers. Alberto, however, having been in just this situation on his move down from the mountain’s had been planning for this eventuality. Thus it was that he took himself, Juan and the 3 men whom still had their shot guns and put them in position, almost parallel to the troops, whose smoking and drinking had blocked out the rustling noise of dead foliage. The rest of the troops, including Jose, were left back in a group and told to wait until told to move. Juan in contrast had been told to aim at one of the guards, their job was to simply shoot as soon as Alberto ordered it, and he was going to distract them, by walking up as a pauper begging for money. Juan had been a soldier for little over 3 weeks, but to him this seemed a decent plan, although it was admittedly the only plan he had heard.

So it was that he sat there for ten minutes, however, the time to Juan seemed to simply drag on. Eventually, though, he saw the outline of Alberto limp down the bending road. He had swapped his fatigues for an assortment of clothes, clearly given to him by the 8 back in the woods. It didn’t take long for the soldiers to take the bait, in their drunken confidence they heckled the apparent poor man. That was until Alberto screamed fire. There was a hesitation. Not a long one, but just enough to be noticed, it gave Alberto a chance to move, this was followed by a pandemonium of noise as rifle and shot fire mixed and the five soldiers were quickly felled by the array of bullets. By now Juan was pumped with adrenalin, everything was happening fast, or too slowly. He had seen his bullet kill a rifleman, and then a second bullet graze the leg of another, before he could even turn. Now they were dead, that seemed fast. In comparison the collecting of the 8 comrades down in the woods to continue up to the rebel stronghold that seemed slow, painfully slow. But it was completed soon enough, and the soldiers marched solidly up the hillside, reaching the camp before 10 the next morning. They were ordered to sleep; the Commandant would address them shortly. It was there that Jose began to question Juan about the ambush, jealousy ripe in his eyes.

“How was it? What did you do? Were you scared?” The questions tumbling out of him, the green of envy painfully obvious, Juan liked it though, and he spoke in the same patronizing voice that he reserved for his sister.

“It was fast, I can’t remember it all. I just aimed at one guy and fired, and then aimed at the other and fired. Was I scared? No, they were afraid of me!” He boasted loudly, not so loudly that the real soldiers could hear him though, that would be unseemly. With that Jose fell asleep, clearly disturbed by the fact his friend, near enough his brother had achieved such a distinction.

They were awakened at 4 in the afternoon: “The Commandant will speak to you know, be there prompt. Do not keep your General waiting.”

With that the 13 comrades sprung into action, cleaning themselves they quickly dispatched to their commanders hut, a few hundred metres from the bustle of the main camp. Fidel, the commander, was already there. His speech was long, and although it may have made an impression on a passionate audience, the tired band was not in the mood for rabble rousing and listened emotionlessly. That was until he came to their fight with the checkpoint.

“And to those whom fought to free the passage for their companeros, we thank you, your diligent support for our cause brings you great honour and is of great aid to our struggle. To them go a bottle of rum, and an extra helping of food for dinner.” With that he retired into his hut, Juan’s spirits were elated, and when he turned to Jose and saw the envy was still there, they soared even greater. But Fidel quickly returned.

“Alberto, comrade, see to it that these men have their civilian clothes destroyed and are issued with the right uniform.” With that he retired for a second time.

The men were sad to see their clothes go, but as they tried on their uniforms, a new sense of accomplishment shadowed them. They were finally true warriors of Cuba. This didn’t last long, having heard of his exploits. Andres, a platoon commander took Juan into his combat unit. Expecting combat, Juan had been saddened to see that it simply consisted of continuous, monotonous guarding, and patrolling. And although he had fought one more time with a platoon, they couldn’t see each other, and the bullets were being flung harmlessly to his far left. The same had not been for Jose. No, his continued ineptitude in firing weapons had made him an orderly for a revolutionary sound, if incompetent, doctor. Although Fidel often lauded him when he came down to the field hospital, Jose had not taken to the man, he simply couldn’t understand the man’s accent, and his weird phrases. He was still bitter that his friend was taking glory, glory he couldn’t understand why he shouldn’t have. They had both signed on to fight. And nearly a year later here he was sealing pus oozing, infected cuts, while his friend fought against the regime. Eventually bitterness had been transplanted with anger, and then anger with silent, undisclosed hatred for the man whom had been his brother. This was in June. One month later the offensive began.

It began with a massive artillery barrage. Although they were off their targets by at least a mile, none of the rebels had heard artillery before, and the mere noise of it scared them stiff. Fidel was quick to react, however, and he quickly organized the 100 troops in camp. Each armed with a rifle; they were split into pairs and ordered to defensive positions surrounding the camp. By a twist of fate Juan and Jose were joined together, much to the happiness of Juan, and more to the bitterness of Jose. They were sent down the hill, taking positions opposite two trees, they waited. It didn’t take long; soon their front was streaming with half crouching government troops. Both of them shot relentlessly, they had stocked up on ammo, and such was the volume of troops, they guessed at least fifty that their bullets were finding plenty of targets. Later when asked how this battle had occurred, apparently Fidel had attacked a battalion in the open, having been drawn into the open, the government then sent in a force to attack the main camp, based in one of the small mountain villages. This was what the two soldiers were fighting now. For the first hour it was incessant firing, the enemy bullets, however, were falling well short of their position and thudded harmlessly into the dirt. Eventually the firing petered out, and then finally stopped. The fighting having stopped, Jose returned to the town for ammunition and information. He too was feeling the same buzz that Juan had felt after the first ambush. It appeared that Che, whom was commanding another column, was coming to relieve them. They had to take ammunition and hold out until then.

On hearing this Juan had grown disheartened. Clearly if the enemy could simply throw 100 men at a position these 100 defenders were facing a large force. Thus he decided that him and Jose should move further apart, allowing for a longer range for the towns protection. It was quiet that night, but still the Juan and Jose didn’t sleep, their minds racing with thoughts of imminent attack. But again during the day, it was equally silent. Eventually the attack came, 4 days later. Not preceded by artillery, the position came under attack by a large number of enemy troops, at a far greater intensity then the previous day. Bullets whizzed close by, but still the two friends continued firing. After 3 hours their ammunition was running low, taking alternate turns to fire, this was when the pressure really mounted. Eventually the troops were within 20 feet of each other. At one point in the battle, Juan exposed himself, leaping up from the ground to get a clearer line of sight to fire on a man whom had beaded Jose. Jose looked up thankfully at his friend. That was when he saw him, a man, not 10 feet from Juan, whom was attempting to reload. Jose acted quickly to save his friends life, but in the confusion he stumbled loading the magazine, it tumbled onto the ground. As he looked up he saw Juan fall to his knees, blood already pouring from the bullet wounds the gunmen had fired. At the sight of his dying friend, Jose picked up the knife, a large one he had stolen from the infirmary. In a blind daze, he charged at the man whom was operating a single shot Mauser, when he got there he stabbed the man, who fell, clinging on to him. He stabbed twice more in anger. This was before he heard the gunshots ringing around him. Realizing how exposed he was, Jose fell to the ground. He pulled the dead man’s pistol out and began to fire wildly at the advancing troops, this made them waiver, and when they heard the shouts of Che’s column marching towards them, this waiver turned to retreat. Jose continued to fire, until they were well and truly out of sight. When that was finished, he went to his friend.

He lay there, eye’s open. Mouth slightly ajar, the blood having already started to dry on his rapidly cooling flesh, Jose stooped down, closing his friends mouth, he carried him up the mountain. His face unmoving as he walked past the faces of fresh, unproven recruits, any sense of loathing for Juan having dissipated when he had seen him so recklessly endanger himself to save his friends life. Jose ensured he was not buried with the rest of them, in a mass pit made to allow the troops maximum time to prepare for any future attack. Instead of this, Jose buried his friend in a grove under a wild banana tree. He marked the tree with a deep X and promised his dead friend to return.

It was early 1959, Havana was taken, and the war, for Jose was over. He didn’t stay long to hear Fidel’s speeches, his mind already set on returning to the Oriente. The battle of Las Mercedes as it was soon to be known was the last major offensive of the Batista government. Soon after Che’s arrival, the capitalist armies crumbled.  This had lead to a swift taking of Havana, and the end of the revolution. But when Jose returned the Oriente, clearly a man, his body having been trained from many years of hardship, he saw none of the freedoms that he had fought to preserve. Indeed, his father, whom did not speak to him at first, despite having been clearly happy to see him, was still working for the United Fruits Company. Although there were various rumours circulating Colmena that this was soon going to end. Juan’s family had suffered. His father had tripped at work, the fall having broken his legs. While recuperating he had gotten ill and died two weeks before Jose’s return. Although the townsfolk had said he had spoken fondly of Juan’s decision to join the revolution, when he met his sister, now just turned 15, it was clear that this was a lie. She too, had been adopted by a family, and although he tried to talk to her, and convince her to come see the body, she would do no such thing. For all their talks for bringing freedom for Colmena, having returned to the town, Jose felt oddly out of place. It was for this reason that he announced that he would be leaving. The government was providing free land, freshly nationalized, for people to become farmers. Jose had applied, and been given a parcel of land of his choosing in the Sierra Maestra, which despite being hilly, was known for rainfall, good for any farmer. Before he left, he gave directions to Juan’s sister, a map with an x to indicate where he was. And without much funfare, he left.

It was a cool day, 1965, the farm was providing just sustenance living. But on this cool day, despite the apparent poverty of the farmer, who had learnt through trial and error how to build his own hut that a young girl of 20 came to visit. It was Juan’s sister.  Jose didn’t say a word, he simply mentioned to her to sit, and fed her. They were sitting atop her brother’s grave. He would tell her that later, but for now he simply wanted to get to know this beautiful girl who had travelled to stay with him.

So it was that a man whom fought for change, ended poverty imposed by the system and accepted poverty imposed by him. A circle within revolution.

Juan Lopez Formosa, or Juan, was well known within the Cuban town of Colmena in what was the Oriente province of Cuba, the year was 1957. At the age of 16 he had grown up as the son of a poor sugarcane worker. Despite having lived in a simple wooden shack on the path leading up to one of the United Fruit Company major plantations, and the life of servitude that it implied, he had earned himself a reputation not only as reckless, but as a damn fine football player. Indeed his skills had made him the Capitan of the town’s football team well before his 16th birthday. It was, however, his reckless nature that was going to change his life today.

Jose Garcia, Juan’s longest friend, was coming over. Juan enjoyed going to Jose’s more, if only because the Garcia family owned the only radio in town, the prize of being the manager for the sugar cane production. Although there were many newspapers delivered to the town, they were used for kindle. Juan, like the rest of his village, was illiterate. The Garcia’s despite this luxury were still, however, living in grinding poverty. However, when Jose entered Juan’s room, he was filled with as much excitement as he was when listening to the weekly reports from the football matches in Havana.

“Juan, have you heard, a man is here from the 26th of July movement! Quick, get up we have to go listen! He has come from the Sierra Maestra Mountains, hurry up!” Before Juan could even respond, Jose was out the door. Although he wasn’t political, the fighting by a man named Fidel, Fernandez, something like that; up in the hills had inspired him. He was not political, not in any conscious way at least, but this movement spoke of bringing change. And the chance to get out of here and find work out side of this town was always a welcome thought to Juan. So he followed.

By the time he had gotten there, a man, standing on a box, was already in full flow.

“… We have beaten back the national forces. They have run from our forces, the true David and Goliath struggle.” That truly caught Juan’s imagination, he couldn’t read, and he had never been to school, but the church on Sunday had spent a class on the battle between the giant and the man, and he had always been enthralled by its imagery.

“But our revolution, the revolution for Cuban freedom, is not secure. No, as we speak Batista is whipping men to come and crush all that we hope to achieve, to bring you out of poverty. To give you all work, to give you schools and doctors and homes. So I ask you on behalf of Commandant Fidel, join with me today, and help secure the future of Cuba! Viva la Revolution!” With that he stepped down to a strident applause, many however having quickly turned off in the speech. They lived in the East; the revolution was in the West. Who cares, not our fight they grumbled as they walked back towards their homes. This sentiment was not shared with Juan and Jose; no they sat their besotted with their new idol, a revolutionary.

“Sir,” they asked after a tentative few minutes of chatter among themselves. “Sir we would like to join your column, we wish to help. I don’t think there are many more of us in the village though.”

“Please, please, I am your Comrade. Sir is used by the Capitalist dog Batista and his cronies to beat you down. But here I see two upstanding, proud Cuban warriors. Tell me, how old are you?”

Jose and Juan looked at each other, how old were they? No one kept track of such things in their village; time was as unknown to them as the words on a book. They gave what they figured was a rough guessing of their age. It was in fact 2 years older than they were.

“We are 19 Sir, I mean Comrade. Is that ok?”

He looked them up and down, although they were in fact 17, their transformation into men was convincing, with that he gave curt nod. “Yes, yes no problem Comrades. Welcome to the 26th July Movement. We must move quickly. Gather some clothes, we move on tonight.”

This took the boys by surprise, how could they possibly leave?  Their parents didn’t even know! Well Jose’s parents, Juan’s mother having died in childbirth to his younger sister. However, they were revolutionaries; it had taken but one speech. They were committed to ensuring that they would join the fight. So it was that Juan returned home, his father was working, he was saddened that he couldn’t say goodbye. However, secretly he was relieved, had his father gotten wind of this, no doubt would he not only have kept him here, he would have chased the soldier out of town. His sister Isabella, her name given to her because it was the same as her mothers, was sitting in the corner. Teaching herself, fast learning as she was, to read, though clearly struggling. By this time she was 12, and already she was starting to annoy him. He would, however, miss her deeply.

“Isabella, come here now.” He was always unsure how to speak to his sister whom was so much younger then himself, so he assumed it was only right to order her around. She always listened, this time was no different. She put down her book and pen, and came over to Juan, sitting on the other side of the small kitchen table.

“I need to tell you something, and I need you to tell dad as soon as he comes home. Is that ok?” Isabella was quiet, he never knew whether to take that for being slow, but she always was better than him at math’s, or whether she just didn’t like to talk, because of this he always heard himself as speaking condescendingly towards her. She however, had never seemed to mind. This time, again, being no different, she simply shook her head in agreement.

“I am leaving today, now in fact for the 26th July Movement..” With that she looked startled; he almost thought he could sense tears?

“W-Why?” She stammered, “The war is not ours to fight, we don’t belong there...”

“It’s a fight for Cuba sister, for all of us, every man and women and their child depend on me to help liberate them!” He fought against her simple objection with vigour, extreme vigour he thought, for a boy whom was only recently converted to the cause. With that, Jose burst into the door.

“Juan, he is leaving now. Hurry up!”

Juan looked back at his sister, the tell tale wetness under her eyes gave away her feelings. He couldn’t, he wouldn’t let that get in the way of him he thought. At that he hugged his sister. A hug he would remember darkly, as he thought about how rudely and abruptly he had left his family to fend for themselves. But with that, he gathered his only other spare clothes and stuffed them into a bag of flax, it wouldn’t hold, but he was sure that soldiers were given bags. They were, weren’t they? He had a sudden realization that there was a lot about war that he didn’t know about. The realization gave him ample fear, but just the slightest tinge of excitement to make it seem worthwhile.

So it was that in August 1957, Juan Formosa marched off to war. As he looked back, he noticed his sister simply standing on the porch, her eyes staring at his. They didn’t falter. He had simply walked in and left her. She kept this gaze until Juan was thick in the trees and out of sight. Those eyes were always on his mind. It later transpired that Jose hadn’t even told his parents. No, he had simply taken his things and left. He said he had no regrets, but after having known him his whole life, Juan sensed the doubt in Jose’s nonchalance. That night they were given their first ever taste of military life, how to fire a rifle. The soldier, whose name was Alberto, was surprised that for two boys whom had lived in the countryside, they had never handled a weapon. Juan was proud that he took to this so well. Jose, on the contrary, struggled to load the single weapon they had, the cartridge struggling to fit into the magazine holder of the carbine. This was quickly followed by the boys assembling a tent out of the large bit of fabric that Alberto had stored in his rucksack. This was even followed by dinner, a dinner of rice and fish, followed by their first political talk. While the soldier rattled on passionately over Marxist theory, the boy’s only half listened. They were still not political, and they were certainly not interested in hearing this man’s two hour précis of the capitalist system.  So they soon excused themselves and retired.

The next day went around in much the same fashion as the first. They stopped in a village some 20 miles away. This went on for a month. By the end, Juan was a competent marksmen, Jose having given up on the rifle, learning how to fire one of the shotgun that a few of the other recruits had brought along. After the month was out, they began the trek back to the revolutionary camp in the Sierra Maestra. It was tense, the Oriente was considered firmly in Batista’s hand, and many of the barracks in the East had been transferred, meaning that the recruits were often dodging the larger then normal military presence. Luckily for Alberto, they were not expecting rebels, and thus their attention was low. However, the month long trek back to the East of the country, one morning in early September they awoke to find 2 of the 15 news recruits had run off, taking with them 2 of the 5 shotguns. It soon transpired that they were criminals, and had been using the rebel convoy as a means to keep fed and move out of their district in order to avoid arrest. Having come as far East as they wanted, they didn’t feel a need to go to war. After this, however, there was no snag to impede their journey. That was, until they came up towards the Batista front line. Here things were tense, many of the government soldiers were untrained conscripts and jumpy at the slightest movement. The small band had been able to dodge the main body of troops. But as they lay in the foliage on this September 18th, they saw in front of them a group of 5 nervous looking government soldiers. Alberto, however, having been in just this situation on his move down from the mountain’s had been planning for this eventuality. Thus it was that he took himself, Juan and the 3 men whom still had their shot guns and put them in position, almost parallel to the troops, whose smoking and drinking had blocked out the rustling noise of dead foliage. The rest of the troops, including Jose, were left back in a group and told to wait until told to move. Juan in contrast had been told to aim at one of the guards, their job was to simply shoot as soon as Alberto ordered it, and he was going to distract them, by walking up as a pauper begging for money. Juan had been a soldier for little over 3 weeks, but to him this seemed a decent plan, although it was admittedly the only plan he had heard.

So it was that he sat there for ten minutes, however, the time to Juan seemed to simply drag on. Eventually, though, he saw the outline of Alberto limp down the bending road. He had swapped his fatigues for an assortment of clothes, clearly given to him by the 8 back in the woods. It didn’t take long for the soldiers to take the bait, in their drunken confidence they heckled the apparent poor man. That was until Alberto screamed fire. There was a hesitation. Not a long one, but just enough to be noticed, it gave Alberto a chance to move, this was followed by a pandemonium of noise as rifle and shot fire mixed and the five soldiers were quickly felled by the array of bullets. By now Juan was pumped with adrenalin, everything was happening fast, or too slowly. He had seen his bullet kill a rifleman, and then a second bullet graze the leg of another, before he could even turn. Now they were dead, that seemed fast. In comparison the collecting of the 8 comrades down in the woods to continue up to the rebel stronghold that seemed slow, painfully slow. But it was completed soon enough, and the soldiers marched solidly up the hillside, reaching the camp before 10 the next morning. They were ordered to sleep; the Commandant would address them shortly. It was there that Jose began to question Juan about the ambush, jealousy ripe in his eyes.

“How was it? What did you do? Were you scared?” The questions tumbling out of him, the green of envy painfully obvious, Juan liked it though, and he spoke in the same patronizing voice that he reserved for his sister.

“It was fast, I can’t remember it all. I just aimed at one guy and fired, and then aimed at the other and fired. Was I scared? No, they were afraid of me!” He boasted loudly, not so loudly that the real soldiers could hear him though, that would be unseemly. With that Jose fell asleep, clearly disturbed by the fact his friend, near enough his brother had achieved such a distinction.

They were awakened at 4 in the afternoon: “The Commandant will speak to you know, be there prompt. Do not keep your General waiting.”

With that the 13 comrades sprung into action, cleaning themselves they quickly dispatched to their commanders hut, a few hundred metres from the bustle of the main camp. Fidel, the commander, was already there. His speech was long, and although it may have made an impression on a passionate audience, the tired band was not in the mood for rabble rousing and listened emotionlessly. That was until he came to their fight with the checkpoint.

“And to those whom fought to free the passage for their companeros, we thank you, your diligent support for our cause brings you great honour and is of great aid to our struggle. To them go a bottle of rum, and an extra helping of food for dinner.” With that he retired into his hut, Juan’s spirits were elated, and when he turned to Jose and saw the envy was still there, they soared even greater. But Fidel quickly returned.

“Alberto, comrade, see to it that these men have their civilian clothes destroyed and are issued with the right uniform.” With that he retired for a second time.

The men were sad to see their clothes go, but as they tried on their uniforms, a new sense of accomplishment shadowed them. They were finally true warriors of Cuba. This didn’t last long, having heard of his exploits. Andres, a platoon commander took Juan into his combat unit. Expecting combat, Juan had been saddened to see that it simply consisted of continuous, monotonous guarding, and patrolling. And although he had fought one more time with a platoon, they couldn’t see each other, and the bullets were being flung harmlessly to his far left. The same had not been for Jose. No, his continued ineptitude in firing weapons had made him an orderly for a revolutionary sound, if incompetent, doctor. Although Fidel often lauded him when he came down to the field hospital, Jose had not taken to the man, he simply couldn’t understand the man’s accent, and his weird phrases. He was still bitter that his friend was taking glory, glory he couldn’t understand why he shouldn’t have. They had both signed on to fight. And nearly a year later here he was sealing pus oozing, infected cuts, while his friend fought against the regime. Eventually bitterness had been transplanted with anger, and then anger with silent, undisclosed hatred for the man whom had been his brother. This was in June. One month later the offensive began.

It began with a massive artillery barrage. Although they were off their targets by at least a mile, none of the rebels had heard artillery before, and the mere noise of it scared them stiff. Fidel was quick to react, however, and he quickly organized the 100 troops in camp. Each armed with a rifle; they were split into pairs and ordered to defensive positions surrounding the camp. By a twist of fate Juan and Jose were joined together, much to the happiness of Juan, and more to the bitterness of Jose. They were sent down the hill, taking positions opposite two trees, they waited. It didn’t take long; soon their front was streaming with half crouching government troops. Both of them shot relentlessly, they had stocked up on ammo, and such was the volume of troops, they guessed at least fifty that their bullets were finding plenty of targets. Later when asked how this battle had occurred, apparently Fidel had attacked a battalion in the open, having been drawn into the open, the government then sent in a force to attack the main camp, based in one of the small mountain villages. This was what the two soldiers were fighting now. For the first hour it was incessant firing, the enemy bullets, however, were falling well short of their position and thudded harmlessly into the dirt. Eventually the firing petered out, and then finally stopped. The fighting having stopped, Jose returned to the town for ammunition and information. He too was feeling the same buzz that Juan had felt after the first ambush. It appeared that Che, whom was commanding another column, was coming to relieve them. They had to take ammunition and hold out until then.

On hearing this Juan had grown disheartened. Clearly if the enemy could simply throw 100 men at a position these 100 defenders were facing a large force. Thus he decided that him and Jose should move further apart, allowing for a longer range for the towns protection. It was quiet that night, but still the Juan and Jose didn’t sleep, their minds racing with thoughts of imminent attack. But again during the day, it was equally silent. Eventually the attack came, 4 days later. Not preceded by artillery, the position came under attack by a large number of enemy troops, at a far greater intensity then the previous day. Bullets whizzed close by, but still the two friends continued firing. After 3 hours their ammunition was running low, taking alternate turns to fire, this was when the pressure really mounted. Eventually the troops were within 20 feet of each other. At one point in the battle, Juan exposed himself, leaping up from the ground to get a clearer line of sight to fire on a man whom had beaded Jose. Jose looked up thankfully at his friend. That was when he saw him, a man, not 10 feet from Juan, whom was attempting to reload. Jose acted quickly to save his friends life, but in the confusion he stumbled loading the magazine, it tumbled onto the ground. As he looked up he saw Juan fall to his knees, blood already pouring from the bullet wounds the gunmen had fired. At the sight of his dying friend, Jose picked up the knife, a large one he had stolen from the infirmary. In a blind daze, he charged at the man whom was operating a single shot Mauser, when he got there he stabbed the man, who fell, clinging on to him. He stabbed twice more in anger. This was before he heard the gunshots ringing around him. Realizing how exposed he was, Jose fell to the ground. He pulled the dead man’s pistol out and began to fire wildly at the advancing troops, this made them waiver, and when they heard the shouts of Che’s column marching towards them, this waiver turned to retreat. Jose continued to fire, until they were well and truly out of sight. When that was finished, he went to his friend.

He lay there, eye’s open. Mouth slightly ajar, the blood having already started to dry on his rapidly cooling flesh, Jose stooped down, closing his friends mouth, he carried him up the mountain. His face unmoving as he walked past the faces of fresh, unproven recruits, any sense of loathing for Juan having dissipated when he had seen him so recklessly endanger himself to save his friends life. Jose ensured he was not buried with the rest of them, in a mass pit made to allow the troops maximum time to prepare for any future attack. Instead of this, Jose buried his friend in a grove under a wild banana tree. He marked the tree with a deep X and promised his dead friend to return.

It was early 1959, Havana was taken, and the war, for Jose was over. He didn’t stay long to hear Fidel’s speeches, his mind already set on returning to the Oriente. The battle of Las Mercedes as it was soon to be known was the last major offensive of the Batista government. Soon after Che’s arrival, the capitalist armies crumbled.  This had lead to a swift taking of Havana, and the end of the revolution. But when Jose returned the Oriente, clearly a man, his body having been trained from many years of hardship, he saw none of the freedoms that he had fought to preserve. Indeed, his father, whom did not speak to him at first, despite having been clearly happy to see him, was still working for the United Fruits Company. Although there were various rumours circulating Colmena that this was soon going to end. Juan’s family had suffered. His father had tripped at work, the fall having broken his legs. While recuperating he had gotten ill and died two weeks before Jose’s return. Although the townsfolk had said he had spoken fondly of Juan’s decision to join the revolution, when he met his sister, now just turned 15, it was clear that this was a lie. She too, had been adopted by a family, and although he tried to talk to her, and convince her to come see the body, she would do no such thing. For all their talks for bringing freedom for Colmena, having returned to the town, Jose felt oddly out of place. It was for this reason that he announced that he would be leaving. The government was providing free land, freshly nationalized, for people to become farmers. Jose had applied, and been given a parcel of land of his choosing in the Sierra Maestra, which despite being hilly, was known for rainfall, good for any farmer. Before he left, he gave directions to Juan’s sister, a map with an x to indicate where he was. And without much funfare, he left.

It was a cool day, 1965, the farm was providing just sustenance living. But on this cool day, despite the apparent poverty of the farmer, who had learnt through trial and error how to build his own hut that a young girl of 20 came to visit. It was Juan’s sister.  Jose didn’t say a word, he simply mentioned to her to sit, and fed her. They were sitting atop her brother’s grave. He would tell her that later, but for now he simply wanted to get to know this beautiful girl who had travelled to stay with him.

So it was that a man whom fought for change, ended poverty imposed by the system and accepted poverty imposed by him. 


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