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The Green House
The sergeant takes a look at Sister Patrocinio and the botfly is still there. The launch is pitching on the muddy waters, between two walls of trees that give off a burning, sticky mist. Huddled under the canopy, stripped to the waist, the soldiers are asleep, with the greenish, yellowish noonday sun above: Shorty's head is lying on Fats's stomach, Blondy is breathing in short bursts, Blacky has his mouth open and is grunting. A thin shadow of gnats is escorting the launch, and butterflies, wasps, horseflies take shape among the bodies. The motor is snoring evenly, it chokes, it snores, and Nieves the pilot is holding the rudder in his left hand as he uses his right to smoke with, and his face, deeply tanned, is unchanging under his straw hat. These savages weren't normal, why didn't they sweat like other people? Sitting stiffly in the stem, Sister Angêlica has her eyes closed, there are at least a thousand wrinkles on her face, sometimes she sticks out the tip of her tongue, licks the sweat from her upper lip, and spits. Poor old woman, she wasn't up to these chores. The botfly moves its blue little wings, softly pushes off from Sister Patrocinio's flushed forehead, is lost as it circles off into the white light, and the pilot goes to turn off the motor, they were getting there, Sergeant, Chicais was beyond that gorge. But he was telling the good Sergeant that there wouldn't be anybody there. The sound of the engine stops, the nuns and the soldiers open their eyes, raise their heads, look around. Standing up, Nieves the pilot moves the rudder pole from left to right, the launch silently approaches the shore, the soldiers get up, put on their shirts, their caps, fasten their leggings. The vegetable palisade on the right bank suddenly opens up beyond the bend in the river and there is a rise, a brief parenthesis of reddish earth that descends to a tiny inlet of mud, pebbles, reeds, and ferns. There is no canoe on the bank, no human figure on the top of the rise. The boat runs aground. Nieves and the soldiers jump out, slosh in the lead-colored mud. A cemetery, a person's feelings could always tell, the Mangaches were right. The Sergeant leans over the prow, the pilot and the soldiers drag the launch up onto dry land. They should help the sisters, make a hand chair for them so they wouldn't get wet. Sister Angêlica is very serious as she sits on the arms of Blacky and Fats, Sister Patrocinio hesitates as Shorty and Blondy put their hands together to receive her, and as she lets herself down, she turns red as a shrimp. The soldiers stagger across the shore and put the nuns down where the mud ends. The Sergeant jumps out, reaches the foot of the hill, and Sister Angêlica is already climbing resolutely up the slope, followed by Sister Patrocinio, both are using their hands, they disappear among clouds of red dust. The soil on the hill is soft, it gives way with every step, the Sergeant and the soldiers go forward, sinking to their knees, hunched over, smothered in the dust, Fats is sneezing and spitting and holds his handkerchief over his mouth. At the top, they all brush off their uniforms and the Sergeant looks around: a circular clearing, a handful of huts with conical roofs, small plots of cassava and bananas, and thick undergrowth all around. Among the huts, small trees with oval-shaped pockets hanging from the branches: paucar nests. He had told her, Sister Angêlica, here was the proof, not a soul, now they could see for themselves. But Sister Angêlica is walking around, she goes into a but, comes out and sticks her head into the next one, shoos away the flies by clapping her hands, does not stop for a second, and in that way, seen from a distance, hazy in the dust, she is not an old woman but a walking habit, erect, an energetic shadow. Sister Patrocinio, on the other hand, does not move, her hands are hidden in her habit, and her eyes run back and forth over the empty village. A few branches shake and shrieks are heard, a squadron of green wings, black beaks, and blue breasts flies noisily over the deserted huts of Chicais, the soldiers and the nuns follow them with their eyes until the jungle swallows them up, the shrieking lasts for a moment. There were parrots around, good to know if they needed food. But they gave you diarrhea, Sister, that is they loosened up a person's stomach. A straw hat appears at the top of the hill, the tanned face of Nieves the pilot: that was why the Aguarunas were afraid, Sisters. They were so stubborn, you couldn't tell them not to pay any attention to him. Sister Angêlica approaches, looks here and there with her little wrinkled eyes, and she shakes her gnarled, stiff hands with dark brown spots in the Sergeant's face: they were nearby, they hadn't taken away their things, they had to wait for them to come back. The soldiers look at each other, the Sergeant lights a cigarette, two paucars are coming and going through the air, their black and gold feathers giving off damp flashes. Birds too, there was everything in Chicais. Everything except Aguarunas, and Fats laughs. Why wouldn't they attack unexpectedly?, Sister Angelica is panting, maybe you didn't know them, Sister, the cluster of white hairs on her chin trembles slightly, they were afraid of people and they hid, they wouldn't think of coming back, while they were there they wouldn't even see their dust. Small, pudgy, Sister Patrocinio is there too, between Blondy and Blacky. But they hadn't hidden last year, they had come out to meet them and they had even given them a fresh gamitana, didn't the Sergeant remember? But they hadn't known then, Sister Patrocinio, now they did ...The Green House. Copyright © by Mario Vargas Llosa. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.