The Pandillero

The Pandillero

By Frances A. Garcia

 

Mario’s brown-skinned body glistened with sweat, even though he was uncovered and lying on the sofa under the ceiling fan in the living room of his Abuela’s home. This was his haven, the place he came to when he wanted to separate from the world he had chosen. Mario Anguiano, a thirty-one-year-old member of Los Gallos, a notorious gang of the north side of San Antonio, Texas, was born on May 21, 1955. Today, on his birthday, the year 1986, he was not so certain he had chosen a straight path, although he felt proud of the middle-class young men and women who made crime their way of life. Like them, he was callous when he murdered, cold with his women, and fearless in the face of danger.

In spite of his way of life, Abuela was his comfort, for she knew how to spoil him and that pleased him. There was little genuine pleasure in his life. His grandmother created a world of harmony, peace, and love. Abuela’s petite body and white hair contrasted Mario’s, six feet height and black hair. However, they were both dark-skinned.

Her pleasure was to feed him. “What does Mijo want to eat today?” she asked.

“Make me some biscuits, sausage, bacon, and eggs, and I want the eggs bolita.”

“Si, mijo.” She engaged herself into the task.

“When are you going to make tamales, Abuela?”

“Soon mijo, soon.”

“You haven’t made them in quite a while.” She was silent. For the first time, Mario noticed she was breathing heavy as she kneaded the dough for the biscuits, and he realized she was old.

“Are you tired, Abuela?”

“Si, mijo.”

Mario could not imagine his life without his grandmother. She had raised him and given him the one thing his parents had denied him—love. He believed he could not survive without her.

After Mario ate his breakfast, Abuela went outside to water the yard. She lived in a spotless frame house, her lawn deep green, the pecan trees trimmed, and the rosebushes colorful. Mario looked at her through the kitchen window. Damn, he thought. She’s old! I’m getting old! What had she accomplished in her life? Her mission had been to care for her family, and she had done that. And me, he thought, what have I done? I’ve cheated, lied, stolen, killed, and had sex at will. Where can I go from here? I’m thirty-one, and I have nothing to call my own—no woman, no children, no education, no job, nothing!

He sat down at the small kitchen table and his black piercing eyes welled up with tears as he remembered that night years ago when Abuela had found him in the bathroom of his mom’s house, where he had cut his wrists with a single-edge razor blade. “Go away Abuela,” he had cried. “I want to die!”

Mijo you have your life ahead of you. You are not always going to feel like this. Believe me! You are going to meet someone, and you will be full of life.”

“No, Abuela! No! Go away!” He splashed her with the bloody water in the tub. She walked out and called 911. When the police came, they talked Mario into putting some clothes on, which Abuela provided. They rode to the emergency room in the police car in silence. He agreed to spend a week in the hospital psychiatric ward and wondered why Abuela kept coming to visit him every day. She showed no anger and they didn’t speak, but there was a message in their silence—respect and unconditional love.

Mijo, why are you crying?”

Startled by her question, Mario rubbed his eyes and faced away from the tiny old woman. “I’m not, Abuela. I’m fine.”

She stood next to him and caressed his forehead with her soft smooth hands.  This was her way of soothing his fears.

Mijo, life has many surprises in store for you. I believe you are going to change when I am gone.”

“Where are you going?”

“You know what I mean.”

“No, Abuela, no!

“All of us have to go. I am ready, and you must be too. Remember, Jesus said, ‘Seek and you shall find.’ You must look for a woman but not in the places you go to. Those are women without a soul. You must seek for your young woman in the place you least expect to find yourself in.”

“Where is that, Abuela?”

“Go to church. Seek Jesus first. Then he will provide.”

“Damn, Abuela! You know I don’t believe.”

“I took you to your First Communion. You are Catholic. You have the Spirit of Jesus within you. Call on him. He will give you what you want.”

“I hate it when you talk like this.” He pushed her hands aside and stomped out of the kitchen. He lay down again on the sofa, wondering if Abuela was sick. Was she dying? She appeared healthy. I don’t want to think about this on my birthday. It’s a day to celebrate. Abuela will live to be one hundred. Comforted with this thought, his stomach full, he fell asleep again.

Mario awoke about four o’clock that afternoon, showered, shaved, and headed to Estella’s Bar. Los Gallos hung out there. He could get drunk and sleep with the women of his choice. Above the bar there was a loft where they often held orgies. He was ready for a typical birthday party with his friends. Ruben and Estella, the bar owners, provided some cocaine, and Mario decided he would snort some to forget his worries.

Ola, Mario! Como estas?” called Estella.

“O.K.”

“Just O.K.?”

“Yes,” he answered, “Just O.K.”

Estella brought him a Budweiser Light and a shot of tequila. Mario drank with desperation. He looked around the bar. There were many people there, people he knew from the time he had quit school against Abuela’s advice. The women were beautiful, but they lacked something. Abuela was right.

“Hey, chavo!” greeted Manuel.

“Hey, man! What’s up?”

“Tonight’s your night, dude. You call the shots.”

The image of Abuela tired of kneading the dough came to him, and fear gripped him. He didn’t like this place, or the people, or his life. He was unhappy. Something told him it was wrong and Abuela needed him. The waitresses were dancing around him, balancing their trays with drinks. He pushed his way through the crowd and ran away.

The night was warm and humid. It feels like rain, he thought. He drove to Abuela’s house. There were no lights, which was strange, for she always waited up for him, no matter how late he arrived. He stopped the car, turned the engine off and sat and appeared mesmerized behind the wheel. There is no God! There is no one except Abuela. He got out of the car and walked to the front door. He sensed something was wrong. When he pushed the door open and took a few steps, he stumbled and almost fell on something soft. He switched the light on. “Abuela!” She was lying on the floor, curled up on her side.

“Abuela! Abuela!”

She didn’t answer. He turned her on her back and checked her breathing. She fluttered her eyes and stared at him.

“Abuela!”

She tried to speak, but her words did not flow.

“I’m calling the ambulance,” he yelled.

“I’ve already told you,” she whispered. “I have to go.”

He carried her to her room. Although Mario often threw tantrums and yelled at Abuela, he respected her and believed she was the only one in his life who deserved his respect. He made a decision to honor her wish. He picked her up and laid her on her bed. She lost consciousness again for a moment and Mario sat on the edge of the bed and held her small clammy hand in his. She struggled to open her eyes.

“Mario,” she whispered. “Remember what I told you. You have a life ahead of you. There is still time. There is always time to change and do God’s will. He never leaves us alone.”

“You’re leaving me alone, Abuela. I have no one, nothing to live for.”

Her breathing was labored and she gasped, but she continued to speak. “‘Seek and you shall find,’ Mario. You must promise me that you will remember what I have taught you. I did not teach you to be malo. You were a good boy, and you are a good man. You have lost your way. Now you must find it again. God is with you, and I am with you always.” She closed her eyes and stopped breathing.

Mario placed his arms around her and laid his head on her heart. “I love you, Abuela. I love you.”

Soon after, Mario saw his Abuela’s body taken away. With his grieving heart he remembered the single-edge razor blade he always carried in his wallet. What more can I do? He walked without destination through the streets of Abuela’s neighborhood where poor families gathered while their children played and fathers barbequed. He walked a long time until he came upon a small chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. When he tried the door, it opened.

He saw the Tabernacle with its single lighted lamp and the small flickering candles throughout the chapel. He knelt before the statue of the Sacred Heart and prayed and cried as never before. “Why?” he murmured. “Why did you take her away?” There was only silence, but it was cleansing and comforting. He fixed his eyes on the flaming heart of Jesus and thought, love is eternal. He opened his wallet and took out a card with an image of the Sacred Heart, which Abuela had given him the day of his First Communion. He also looked at the single-edge razor blade. He always carried them side by side. He took the blade, held it for a moment, looking at it intently. He placed it at the foot of the statue of Jesus and placed the card with the imprint of the Sacred Heart Image back in his wallet. Mario Anguiano rose, genuflected before the Blessed Sacrament, turned and walked away prepared to face life with the spirit of his Abuela within him.

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