The first day of school is really interesting. Both Jane and Jeremy are in the car with their Dad going home.
“Dad…,” Jeremy says excitedly.
“Dad…,” Jane interrupts.
“One at a time please. I’m happy you’re happy, but I won’t understand anything if you both speak at the same time,” replies Arnold while driving.
“I am the oldest so I go first,” says Jane as she puts her hand on Jeremy’s mouth. Jeremy fights with her, trying to take her hand from his mouth but Jane is stronger and more determined.
“Stop fighting, you two,” says Arnold. “Jane, you go first.”
”My school classmates have organized a welcome trip for me and they want to go to San Bernardino tonight. I want to go Dad!”
“Well, let’s talk with your mother. If she agrees, you can go,”
Jeremy is still angry at his sister. “Aaagh. Dad, she put her hand on my mouth and I couldn’t breathe,“ he complains. Then he jumps into the front seat.
“Jeremy, how many times have I told you not to do that?” Arnold grips the steering wheel tightly. “Put your seatbelt on, at least.”
Now Jeremy has his father’s attention and babbles on about his first day at school until they arrive at home.
Jane gets out of the car very fast, slamming the car door and racing up the sidewalk to enter the house.
“Mom, I was invited to go to San Bernardino tonight. Can I go?“
“Hello,” Annie says. “How was your day? Mine was fine, thank you.”
“Don’t make fun of me, Mom. This is serious.”
“Mom, Mom. I’m hungry. Can I have something to eat?” shouts Jeremy as he comes into the house.
“Oh yes, my love, now it’s your turn,” Arnold says, smiling, as he puts the keys on the hallway table. “The children are all yours.“
Annie goes into the kitchen to fix them both a snack while Jane begs and pleads with her parents to let her go to San Bernardino.
Arnold loses himself in his thoughts, and for a moment does not hear anything. The situation reminds Arnold of his own adolescence.
His mother has brought him to Paraguay for the first time. They live there for six months and Arnold goes to school in an exchange program. He is eighteen. At school he meets Luján. She is beautiful, with green eyes, silky skin and a sensual and mysterious mouth. It is love at first sight.
Arnold finds love in Paraguay, but he also finds an enemy at the same time. His enemy will never forgive Arnold because he has stolen his cuñataí from him. Their love story lasts six months but it also creates an eternity of hate that time has never erased.
Wenceslas Benegas is his name. He is the eighteen-year-old son of a military officer who works for Luján’s father. On that last day of school, he has knocked Arnold down and threatened him. “If you ever come back, I’ll be waiting for you.”
Arnold gets up slowly and brushes off his pants. He is a little scared, but he is sure that he will never see Wenceslas Benegas ever again. At eighteen years old, angry words are easy and love and passion are blind.
He knows that the family of Wenceslao is dangerous. On the sidewalk across from the school is Luján, waiting for him. Those are difficult times in Paraguay and the smell of revolution is in the air. That is why he has to go. It is sudden, but important, that he and his mother leave the country right away. But first he has to talk to Luján.
They go to their secret place to talk but their secret is known to his mother. Behind his house at the back of their property is a small stand of trees, a small hill and an even smaller door. It is dry and safe.
But not anymore.
“Arnold!” yells China. “I know you’re in there. We have to go. Now!”
China has discovered the secret place where Luján and Arnold are hiding. The smoldering heat of the jungle climate and tearful goodbyes are not a good combination.
“Arni, please do not leave me, my cuñataí,” Luján implores.
“I cannot stay. You know that,” Arnold says. “Your parents and my mother have completely opposite ideas about this country. They will never come to an agreement.” He looks at her with deep regret. “There is a revolution going on and we can’t do anything about it. It is dangerous…for both of us.”
The door rattles as China tries to get in but the door is locked. Arnold and Luján hold their breath. After a few minutes, they hear footsteps going away and then silence.
He takes a necklace from around his neck and puts it on Luján. “Take this arrowhead. It is the most precious thing I have. It was my father’s. Always wear it when you are scared and, when you’re sad, hold it tight. Think of me and I will think of you and if I am able to come back, I will find you.“ Arnold kisses Luján passionately.
Luján tries to give him her gold rosary in return but Arnold takes her hand and closes it so that she keeps the rosary.
“No. This rosary is the heritage of your country. It’s worth a lot of money. Your parents will be furious if you give it to me. You must keep it,” Arnold says.
They sit huddled together in the growing darkness, holding hands. Then Arnold makes a decision. His mother is waiting but Luján comes first.
“Let’s wait a few minutes more and then I will take you home. It’s too dangerous for you to be on the streets alone tonight.” He kisses her again passionately. “When this is over I will find you.”
Luján’s parents do not see the growth of democracy as a good thing for the country but this has been on the minds of many Paraguayans for years. Both of her parents are from military families who have worked with the Stroessner dictatorship which is in power for 35 years. During the government of Stroessner some important things, such as the construction of the Itaipu Dam, were accomplished. However, in the opinion of the scholars of the time, the effect of this regime on human rights is very negative.
China is in Paraguay working on the Asuncion Treaty, which finally is signed that year. Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay will share strategic benefits related to economy, education and other social issues because they are neighboring countries. Human Rights is an important part of the treaty. But her success also brings unwanted attention. She is now on a list.
Her husband, Moses, is dead but she has always been politically active inside and outside of Paraguay in defense of democracy in her country. She also creates a Foundation in honor of Simon Bertoni, a famous ancestor of her husband. China and her husband has been exiled from Paraguay once before but China thinks it is safe to come back again. They are wrong. Now they must flee the country through the jungle to the border with Argentina and go back to the United States. They do not want to live in a country without democracy. Besides, now it is dangerous.
Arnold wonders if it is safe now, almost twenty years later. The country is now a democracy but hatred seems to have a life of its own. He may still have enemies.
“Arni… what are you thinking?” asks Annie looking at him strangely. Arnold sets his glasses on his head, rubs his eyes and sighs.
“Dad, what do you think?” Jane looks very stressed. “Did you hear anything I said?”
“Yes, yes, Jane, I have. What do you think Annie, can she go?“ Arnold asks.
At that moment, the phone rings.
“What a cool phone, it sounds so different!” Jeremy laughs, runs to the phone and says, imitating the Paraguayan accent, “Mansión Bertoni. Who is speaking?”
“Mansión Bertoni? Is that you, Jeremy? This is Miguel Ángel. He pauses. “Bertoni? I did not know that was your last name.”
“Bertoni?” Miguel Ángel’s Mom says. “Are you sure?”
But Miguel Ángel ignores his mother and continues to talk to Jeremy on the phone. “Can I talk to your father or your mother?”
Jeremy hands the phone to his mother.
“Hello, Mrs. Bertoni? This is Miguel Ángel. My mother wants to speak with you. Mom?” Miguel Ángel apologizes. “One moment please. My mother was right here a minute ago. I’ll go get her.”
Annie can hear the discussion on the other end of the phone.
“Miguel Ángel, please ask your father to get the call. I’m not feeling well.”
Annie can still hear Miguel Ángel’s voice over the phone. He must have a wireless phone. He seems to be walking all over his house looking for his parents.
“Dad, Jane’s mother is on the phone, Mom is busy. Can you talk to her please? We have a welcome party for Jane in San Ber and her parents want to speak with an adult,” Miguel Ángel says.
Miguel Ángel’s father takes the phone and speaks.
“Mrs. Bertoni, this is Juan Carlos Montoya,“ he says.
“Please call me Annie,” Jane´s Mom says politely.
After the necessary introductions, explanations and advice, Annie hangs up the phone and speaks with Jane.
“You’re a lucky girl. You can go to San Bernardino.”
“Yes, yes, I knew it. I have the best Mom in the world,” Jane says, and hugs her Mom.
“Ahhmm,” coughs Arnold.
“Well, also the best Dad,” Jane says and hugs him too.
But before Jane can run off to her room to pack, her mother has one more surprise for all of them. “Actually,” she says. “I am going with you. Miguel Ángel’s father, Juan Carlos, and I will be your chaperones for the evening.”
“But Miguel Ángel was going to pick me up,” says Jane.
“Apparently, we are all going together on the bus,” her Mom says. “So you can still go with him and his girlfriend. Alicia I think her name is. They are coming to pick you up. I will meet you at the bus station.”
His girlfriend? Alicia is his girlfriend? Jane almost feels sick.