Carol Duran Quinn

Darién

The tracks began to curve, and there was a cry in the curve of them, but it was not the sound of brakes. Steel bore down on steel and a call rang out across the arid basin. It was a signal to those who had been hiding. They knew it was time, that there would never be a better one.

Those who could, ran and caught up with the train. They climbed on top of the boxcars and stared. Insects hovered around the streetlamps. Teeming worlds went by.

Once, a comet moved across the face of the water. Ancient hunters followed lichen-browsing herds. A pulse began in the small of the back of a mother-to-be. An army came cloaked in a sirocco.

In the dark, the boxcars rocked like a ship. Those it carried were afraid of going forward. They could no longer stay where they had been.

Who they were before no longer mattered. They knew that, if they perished, no one would come to collect their bones.
The darkness changed. The travelers kept moving. A passing, AM corrido or the plash of tires in a puddle overhead was like a nova via radio telescope. Their eyes had faith in the light but adjusted to the dark.

A tunnel was thick with sludge and stenches that those crawling through it could not have imagined before. They tried to hold their breath. They vomited and wiped their mouths.

All that mattered was the light ahead. All that mattered was that they kept moving forward.

They must live long enough to forget this.

Teodoro Bonilla Nuñoz was gathering money from his guitar case when he noticed something rectangular about the size of a small coin. It cast a green, lapidary shadow. It looked like an emerald.

He had walked with his mother to work that day. Bogotá could be dangerous, but the Emerald District was safer than other parts of the city. The emerald dealers conducted most of their business outside. When examining stones, they trusted only sunlight and their small platoon of bodyguards. Arepas vendors, stilt dancers, musicians, and tourists gathered in the square around them.

After Teo left his mother at the office building, he set up at a nearby café. He wore a black tie and a silk shirt printed with roses. His dark, longish hair had a few strands of silver. He left his guitar case open at his feet and played American blues songs.

Once Teo had hoped to become a math professor. At the bar where his father worked, they said that the old man couldn’t pour a shot of vodka without mentioning that his son was going to a university in Moscow (but Teo’s father didn’t bring it up that often, as he couldn’t always tell the political leanings of his patrons). There were no Ph.D. programs in mathematics in Colombia, and the Soviet university offered to pay for everything but the ticket home. But when Teo returned to Bogotá, he couldn’t find a job. FARC attacks and kidnappings were in the news every night. With a doctorate from Lumumba University, Teo was generally among the first cut from a group of job applicants.

But a childhood friend was the principal of a local high school. Teo could sometimes get a job there as a substitute teacher.
Other days, Teo played songs for tourists. When the train come in the station, I looked her in the eye. Teo thought of Doppler and the sound of distance opening. Pythagoras had measured harmonic intervals by sounding different lengths of lyre strings. Later, those proportions were applied to the distances between planets.

It had all seemed so ordered once.

Before he and Anita were novios, Teo tried to get her attention by playing his guitar. Tell me, tell me, tell me, where did you sleep last night? His mouth strained to get every word right in that strange language. She had auburn hair and dark eyes. He played, and she sketched and read art books. She asked if she could sketch him. And then, despite warnings from their parents (for Teo had no regular job), they fell in love.

In the square near the emerald market, a new group of tourists gathered. Teo played an intro and began. Going down to the freight yard, gonna catch me a freight train. Across the street, the tinted windows of the cambio flickered. Next door, a waiter dragged out giant aloes and placed them in front of the windows of an espresso bar.

One bright afternoon like so many others, men with machine guns strafed the bar where Teo’s father worked. They had heard that a rival drug lord was drinking there.

After her husband’s funeral, Teo’s mother began to work for a cleaning service to support the family. She also sewed and mended other people’s clothing.

Anita never finished at th