A story for my father.
The blistering sun rose above the Mexican town of Soltuta, its luminous rays signaling the start of a new day. Despite the early hour, the temperature was well into the high 80’s, with the humidity ranging at an equally great percentage. A slight breeze greeted the masses of coconut trees who in turn said their rustling good mornings to the busy townspeople, doing little to relieve them from the scorching tropical weather. At the town center an eager flock of emerald parrots fluttered by the church and sang their hellos (or in this case goodnights) to the slumbering fruit bats hanging inside the ancient bell towers. Down below their resting perch, energetic school children were playing on the next-door junior high school lawn. Under the shade of thankfully provided plastic awnings, loquacious girls sat cross-legged in circles gabbing about which boys they would pick as husbands if given the opportunity. Ignorant of the girls’ fantasies, the seventh grade boys passed the morning time by kicking around a beat up soccer ball. Thirteen year-old Little Peche would normally be found running around striking goals with his classmates, but on this sunny day he was standing in front of the aged wooden doors of El Colegio Mexicano. A warm wind billowed against his back and swayed his jet-black hair, as if it were coaxing him to enter the prison-like fortress. Unblinking, Little Peche’s stark brown eyes remained locked on the grand double doors, while his mind’s eye focused on the face of an unseen target waiting inside. Fists clenched and shoulders back, he had a score to settle with the infamous school bully, Carlos Santiago, who was better known as “El Gigante.”
The sun continued to beam down on the schoolyard; it’s temperature increased by the minute while the scattered shrubbery screamed with thirst at every parching gust. Soltuta was in the middle of its annual drought, which would soon be quenched by the coming tropical rains. Little Peche raised his forearm to wipe away the beads of sweat crowning his forehead. He licked his chapped lips, took a deep breath, and started for the door when he heard someone call to him.
Little Peche turned around to see twelve-year-old Marti Rosario hurriedly running towards him.
“What’s wrong?” he inquired.
She came to a halt and tried to catch her breath. Marti came from a family of seamstresses, and could always be found wearing simple white dresses embroidered with the most intricate floral patterns. Little Peche noticed the roses sewn into the hem of her skirt were sprinkled with dirt. She was probably playing with bugs or picking flowers earlier.
“Everyone’s saying you’re going to do it! They say you’re going to fight El Gigante,” she said, panting. “You can’t! He’ll kill you!”
“He tried to beat me up last week and I didn’t even do anything to him! He tackled me during a soccer match and made me look like an idiot in front of all my friends!” said Little Peche. “Marti, you know he’s always mean to everyone, but everyone’s too scared to do something about it! So now it’s up to me to kick his ass and teach him a lesson!” Little Peche’s chest puffed out in a display of his pugnacious bravado.
“Why don’t you try at least talking to him? I’m sure he didn’t mean to knock you down. What if it was just an accident?” Marti was known for being the mediator in the children’s schoolyard scuffles, so Little Peche figured she would naturally be trying to plead him with nonviolent methods.
“You weren’t there Marti,” he explained. “My friends said he was laughing as he smashed me into the ground. There’s no way you can laugh while attacking someone and call it an accident. He’s going down. Right now.”
Marti was about to say something, but Little Peche would hear no more. His mind had been made, and there was no way he was about to be swayed. He pushed open the wooden doors and marched inside. Marti remained standing alone at the entrance, her small tan hands fiddling together in worry. She pensively bit her lip, and wondered what would be the outcome of Little Peche’s reprisal.
“… Please don’t let anything happen to him.”
The main hallway was noticeably cooler than the sandy exterior yard. Plain light bulbs reflected in the freshly washed tile floor. Yet each brown square was covered in permanent scuffs and scratches; mementos of the hurried scuffling of school children running to and from their classes.
Little Peche’s eyes scanned the doors lining the long hallway. Homeroom was now in room six, only three doors down from the Principal Arania’s office. With his target’s location in sight, Little Peche began his silent walk towards fate. He couldn’t help but ponder the events about to unfurl. What if he got hurt again? What would he tell his mother this time? If he succeeded, he wondered, would people forever remember this day? Would all the oppressed flock to him as their newfound savior? What if the infamy of defeating a tyrant made him a monster in return? The students were already afraid of El Gigante. How would they feel about the kid who took him down?
The questions evaporated as soon as Little Peche stopped in front of room six. The door was like all the rest of the school; worn down and etched with Spanish profanities and shameless stick figures. Little Peche laid his hand on the door and felt its rough, uneven surface. Its sandy texture implanted him with a small splinter just below his index finger. Was this a foreshadowing of the pain to come? Whatever it meant, Little Peche didn’t care. Now was the time to forget about the world and focus on the task at hand. Little Peche quickly glanced around the deserted hallway to make sure no one was coming and seeing the coast was clear, he kicked open the door to finally face his brutish adversary.
El Gigante’s epithet was not one of exaggeration. The boy’s hulkish frame seemed to fill up his chair and leave little room for breathing. His massive arms protruded out of his broad shoulders, almost like a gorilla. El Gigante was the only one inside the classroom.
Save for the bully, the small classroom was populated with tired wooden desks and a run-down chalkboard. Above them, a ceiling fan rapidly span away, doing little to reduce the ever-present heat. Being a reform school, little attention was given to room decorations one might find in a regular classroom. The sound of intense scribbling and scratching resonated against the barren walls. El Gigante was so focused on scratching something into his desk that he didn’t even notice Little Peche enter.
Without dropping his eyes from the bully, Little Peche slowly approached him and sat at the desk adjacent to El Gigante. He pulled his books out from his bag and slammed them down on his desk to catch his attention. El Gigante’s pen ceased all movement as he gazed over to Little Peche. It worked. The apelike ruffian’s burning eyes held a glare that brought wrinkles to his brow. His full lips pursed into an annoyed pout. It was obvious the bully was attempting to intimidate him, but Little Peche remained unfazed. El Gigante had never faced opposition, and he grew frustrated when he was met with an equally formidable death stare. Angered, he grabbed Little Peche’s stack of books and threw them up into the ceiling fan. Each book was sent flying into the faceless walls. The pages creased and crinkled upon impact and landed with a fluttering crash, like paper birds soaring into unseen windows.
“What the hell did you do that for?” demanded Little Peche. He was careful to keep his voice steady.
“Because I can, you little shit. No one ever has the balls to stop me, so I do whatever I want.” El Gigante did his best to outstare Little Peche, but was once again unsuccessful.
“Well maybe that’s how things went before, but not today. A week ago you tackled me for no reason and humiliated me. You may have gotten away with it then, but I assure you it won’t be so easy this time.”
“Oh. Is that so?” El Gigante slowly rose up from his seat. Little Peche could sense his heavyset body tense up in preparation for a fight. The sweat droplets forming at the roots of his scraggly black hair were resulting from either the sweltering climate, or worry.
Little Peche’s glare intensified. “You and I have unfinished business.”
Instantly, El Gigante’s thick arm came at Little Peche so fast he barely managed to dodge it and fell out of his seat. Just as the bully’s foot was about to land a hit, the fallen challenger jumped back onto a nearby desk. His eyes darted to its matching chair as the towering foe came after him. In a flash of sheer strength, Little Peche lifted the chair by its backrest and swung it forward with all his might. He could feel the vibration of his strike travel through the splitting wood and shake through to his arms. A loud snap and crash rang out as the chair broke to pieces. Little Peche threw the splintered shrapnel to the side and felt small barbs burning in his hands. He ignored the pain and jumped onto the downed El Gigante and attacked with a flurry of swift punches thrown with great agility. The disoriented beast found himself unable to comprehend what was currently happening. He suddenly felt a cold trickle dripping down his face.
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” cried El Gigante.
Little Peche halted his blows, but kept his guard up. Glittering specks of blood were sprinkled on his knuckles. He wasn’t sure if El Gigante’s pleading was a ruse meant to distract him, or if he was serious. Little Peche kept his arms up to guard his face and held a counter attack ready.
“My nose!” screamed the crying bully. “You broke my nose!” Tears streamed down his cheeks and mingled with the blood coursing on his upper lip. Little Peche’s eyes widened as he stared with disbelief. No one had ever witnessed the feared El Gigante cry in pain, let alone shed a single tear. Little Peche had won the battle.
“Oh shut up you pussy,” he teased. Little Peche was about to slug El Gigante one last time when the door swung open.
“What is going on in here!?” It was Principal Arania. Behind him a group of students were shoving at each other to get a better view of the aftermath of fight. Little Peche saw Marti staring with her mouth gaping. She quickly hid her awe with her little hands. “Peche I want you in my office NOW! Your mother is going to hear about this and you are going to get it!”
Little Peche foresaw the potential consequences of enacting his revenge, so he quietly jumped off the bleeding bully and followed the principal without a word. Suddenly, the children erupted into a joyous cheer. All the boys and girls (including Marti) were clapping their hands and shouting Little Peche’s name. Amidst the commotion, he could hear them singing his praises:
“His fists went so fast he burned El Gigante!”
“He fought like a diablo!”
“Little Peche’s gonna be famous!”
“No not Little Peche anymore! The kid who beat up El Gigante is Diablo!”
“You’re our hero Diablo!”
As he followed Principal Arania to his office, Little Peche’s lips curved into a smirk of accomplishment. His worry of being regarded as the next big bully was eradicated by the words of his schoolmates. El Gigante wouldn’t bother anyone again, and if he did, Little Peche would be there to put him in his place.
Before heading into the principal’s office, Little Peche turned around to have one last look at the crowd. He pondered the name the students praised him with.
“Diablo” had a nice ring to it.