The first day of the revolution was not a happy one.
Many of my neighbors were grey with anxiety as we lined up outside City Hall. It had been less than an hour since the military police had thrown down their weapons and surrendered.
About a dozen men emerged from the destroyed police station with their arms raised. None were spared. For many of my friends, it was their first time committing murder.
You could see it on their faces. Their lips quivered and their eyes sunk under the weight of their Catholic guilt. Despite all their talk, my friends did not yet have the stomach for murder.
But I did.
There are many reasons why I was the de facto leader that day as we marched on City Hall. I had always been vocal dissident. I had lost my family and my farm to the regime.
There was an American reporter in the village and I spoke the best English. Despite this, I suspect that I was able to lead because I was the only one in the village who had killed before.
The thought makes my mouth go dry, but I fear it is true. Numbness to violence may be all a leader needs.
When we arrived at City Hall, I had the men of the town form an orderly line in front of the building. They stood ready with makeshift weapons; mostly gardening equipment.
The men who had not fired a shot at the police station were placed closest to the door. They needed to share the responsibility of the revolution. They needed to taste murder.
The mayor and his staff did not leave the building immediately. My friends and neighbors grew impatient under the Latin American sun that beat down on them.
I heard them muttering to each other, “Why don’t we drag them out?” or “Can’t we just burn this building down?” I continued to wait. It would be better this way.
After some time, the mayor emerged. He exited the building alone but, as he closed the doors behind him, we could see his staff waiting inside with terrified faces.
I stood closest to the door, away from the ranks of townspeople standing before the building. The mayor dabbed the sweat from his light-brown forehead and approached me.
He was dressed in his best clothes. I had forgotten that it was Sunday.
As the fat man came to a stop before me, I addressed him by his fist name, “Good afternoon, Guillermo.”
“And to you, Señor Alvaro,” he replied in a calm, subdued voice.
The only other man near us was the American reporter. He scribbled in his notepad, trying to translate despite his weak grasp on the Spanish language.
“It is a lovely day, isn’t it,” the mayor said, as if to himself.
“They are waiting,” I said, pointing to the crowd.
“They do not look very eager, Señor Alvaro. They seem more afraid than I am.”
“Then I will give them strength. That is what a true leader does.”
“A true leader,” Guillermo said thoughtfully. “Tell me, Señor Alvaro, are there any members of the military police still alive?”
I shook my head.
“Once the capital hears of this, they will burn this village to the ground. No amount of leadership can save you from their army. They will destroy each of those men and their farms.
They will rape their wives and slaughter their children.”
“These are desperate times, Guillermo. You have pushed us to this level.”
Guillermo nodded sadly. “I am sorry you think that.” The mayor looked up at the gentle clouds and asked, “Is there any way I could convince you to spare the rest of the men in City Hall?”
I shook my head again.
“I didn’t think so.” Guillermo sighed before speaking again. “Very well. Give me a moment to prepare myself and I will go.”
“The people have waited long enough,” I said. “You go now.”
“You arrogant child,” Guillermo said, looking at me with scorn, “thinking you can command a dead man.”
The mayor looked at the crowd for a few seconds. Nobody spoke. Even the wind was silent.
“Are you ready?” I asked after almost a minute had gone by.
“No,” Guillermo said. “But I will go anyway. I encourage you to spare the rest of the men in City Hall. The army may be more lenient if you make this compromise.”
“There will be no compromise,” I declared with conviction. “Maybe greed has corrupted your judgment, Guillermo, but we will not show compassion for evil men.
As long as we fight for a just cause, no army in the world can defeat us. That is something you can never understand.”
He did not look at me with disgust, anger, or disdain. Looking into his eyes, I saw sadness.
“Tanto orgullo,” he said to me. “Te destruirá, hijo.”
Without another word, he walked towards the crowd. The men raised their weapons, but none wanted to take the first swing. The mayor did not slow.
It looked as if he would walk right through the crowd. At last, one man brought a shovel down on Guillermo’s head. He fell to one knee as blood shot from the wound.
Another man struck him in the side and the mayor was on his back. The mob began to form a circle around him.
“What was the last thing he said?” the American reporter said behind me.
“Such pride,” I said as I watched the bloodlust spread through the crowd. “It will destroy you, child.”