Read an Excerpt
Until Death Do Us Part
The children are eating their snack in the kitchen. We hear them laughing. In the adjoining room, I tell Juan Carlos what the man said. His words are precisely engraved on my memory, right down to their rhythm and intonation. In the meantime, they've taken on a terrifying, permanent, unforgettable meaning.
"We have to get the children out of here, Ingrid. Immediately."
"Call their father in New Zealand and tell him we're bringing them on the first plane we can get."
Juan Carlos says out loud what I already know, what I decided during the interminable trip from the Capitol to the French school. He can't imagine how much it helps me to hear him express what is for me the worst possible horror: they have to leave. They have to leave for a long time, I know it—for years, maybe. To save their lives, I have to make them leave. Juan Carlos says what has to be done, but with his eyes he silently tells me he'll be there to help me bear this unheard-of burden: their absence, the void, the gulf on the edge of which we'll have to live from now on. That he'll be there.
Not for a second does he suggest that I abandon my battle against government corruption. For the time being, this amounts to hardly more than a handful of sand thrown into the monstrous gears of a machine that has ground up the few heedless people who have challenged it. I think of my mother's close friend, Luis Carlos Galán, who was a candidate for the presidency of Colombia and was assassinated at the beginning of an electoral meeting in 1989. He was forty-six years old, and my mother was at his bedside whenhe died. I wanted to take up the torch, and Colombians heard me when they elected me to the legislature in 1994 with more votes than any other candidate in the Liberal Party, Galán's party. I'll go all the way for the Colombian people, whom our political class has despised and robbed, generation after generation. I won't give up, whatever price has to be paid. This evening, I'm grateful to Juan Carlos for not doubting my resolve, not challenging this commitment.
Fabrice, the father of my children, is French, a diplomat currently posted in Auckland. We separated in 1990, and Colombia played a large part in our separation. But once the effects of the split had dissipated, a strong, special friendship formed between us, and we have recovered the esteem we had for each other.
"Did something happen? Were they threatened?"
"Threatened, yes. Nothing more. They're fine, they're right here, don't worry, but I can't wait—they have to leave."
"For good, you mean?"
"For a long time. I can't explain everything here on the phone. I need your help."
"All right. Come on the first plane you can get . . . Ingrid? Are you going to be all right? You're not all alone?"
"Juan Carlos is here, he'll be traveling with us."
Now I have to speak to the children, while Juan Carlos finds us seats on an international flight. It doesn't matter where it's going, just as long as we get out of Colombia. We'll find a way to get to Auckland later.
"Melanie, Loli, listen to me, I've got something important to tell you. We're going to spend Christmas in Auckland."
"Yes, that's right."
"Yes, my darling, it's great. But we've got to leave sooner than planned."
"Before school is out?"
"Tomorrow morning, in fact."
"We can't do that! We left all our stuff."
"We'll notify the school, Melanie, don't worry."
"So we're leaving just like that, without saying goodbye or anything? Why?"
"That's how it is, dear, I can't explain everything. We'll talk about it later if you want to, okay? Accept the situation as it is. It's a little rushed, I know, but it's good nonetheless, isn't it?"
"Yes, but . . ."
"And as far as your show's concerned, Loli, don't worry, I'll call. Okay, now let's get our bags packed."
It's done. We have four seats for Los Angeles tomorrow morning.
That night, Juan Carlos and I hardly sleep. We leave the light on, we listen for any unusual sound. For the first time, I have an imminent fear for my life, and that of my family's, as my visitor's message resounds in my mind. Over the past year, while the case against the president of Colombia, Ernesto Samper, was being prepared, I was feeling very much alone, fighting to bring it to its conclusion, to make public the proof of his guilt. Between August 1995 and March 1996, four witnesses for the prosecution were killed, one after another.* I kept the newspapers with the police photos of those dark, closed faces. I'd met some of these witnesses, and I'm still haunted by their deaths. I want to bear testimony for them, too.
Though I'm usually confident in my strength, I feel fragile during these long hours, incredibly vulnerable, because this time I'm not the only one in the line of fire. The dreadful shadow that hangs over my children saps my resources, eats away at my heart.
I'm angry with myself for having chosen this apartment house at the foot of the mountain, at the end of a cul-de-sac. It's an ideal spot for an ambush: there's no way out. Not long ago a girl was kidnapped here, apparently without the slightest difficulty. To make things worse, my apartment is on the top floor, and thus accessible from the roof.
Auckland is a paradise compared with the black chaos of Bogotá. For a long time Auckland was a British possession, and the city is full of cottages surrounded by lawns. For us Colombians, who are constantly being pushed around and bowled over by the silent war that has been waged in our capital for decades, it's impossible to believe that a place like this exists, though we know it does.Until Death Do Us Part. Copyright © by Ingrid Betancourt. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.