The Parrot and the Macaw

"Previously 'unpublished' story by Marcos concerning an impossible love:"

"This story was considered by Subcomandante Marcos to be an ad hoc response for getting out of writing a prologue to the book "From the heart of the Mexican southeast," since, according to him, his "scattered" circumstances were added to the claims of urgent tasks."

The Parrot and the Macaw

It was the year of 1986. I left with a column of combatants on reconnaissance, a days' journey from our base camp. All my guys were very young, the majority of them had not even been there for a month, and they were still wavering between the diarrhea and nostalgia that generally accompany the new ones during the first days of their adjustment. The "oldest" of the group had barely completed two and three months, respectively. And so, then, there I was, dragging them by times, and, by times, pushing them, through their political and military training. Our mission consisted in opening up a new route for our movements and training them in the work of reconnaissance, marches and camps. The work was made even more difficult because there was no water, and we had to ration the use of what we had carried with us from the base. And so, the survival practice was added to the training, given that the meager ration of water prevented us from cooking. The reconnaissance would last a total of four days, with approximately one liter of water per person each day, with only cornmeal with sugar to eat. One hour after leaving the base, we discovered that our route was crossed by some tough hills. The hours passed, and we went up and down hills along paths that would have frightened even the most seasoned goats.

Finally, after seven hours of constant ups and downs, we reached the top of a hill where we decided to set up camp, since the afternoon had already begun giving way to twilight. The ration of water was distributed, and almost everyone - despite my warnings to save a little liquid for the cornmeal - "burned their bridges behind them," and finished off all their water, since they were very thirsty, and the psychological effect of knowing it was rationed increased their anxiety. When it was time to eat the cornmeal, they discovered the consequences of their imprudence. They chewed and chewed their mouthfuls of cornmeal with sugar, without being able to get it down, and without any water now to help it get past the barrier of their throats. There were, ultimately, two hours of such silence that one could clearly hear the grinding jaws and the sounds of their throats when they managed to swallow a bit of the sugared dust. The following day - and having now learned their lessons - everyone saved a bit of their liquid ration for the morning cornmeal. We left for the reconnaissance at 9:00 and we returned at 4:00, and so it was seven hours of walking and using our machetes, going up and down hills, with no water other than what we were so abundantly sweating.

And so three days passed; on the fourth, the fatigue was obvious throughout the column, and, during the meals (?), signs of the sadomasochism that seems to characterize the insurgents appeared: Between bites of cornmeal and sips of water there began to be talk of taquitos, tamales, steaks, drinks, and other things that made us laugh, because the lack of water prevented us from crying. The last straw was when, on the day we were going to return to the base, we found a stream, and, during the night, the mountain mocked us by presenting us with a strong downpour, drenching us before we managed to reach cover. We did not lose our good humor, and we freely cursed the rain, the selva, the roofs, and all their respective, damp tribe. But fine, this was all part of the training, and it didn't surprise us. The work was done, the people responded well generally, although one had seriously threatened to faint while we were loaded down, going up an especially obstinate hill.

All of this is no more than "setting the stage" for the history I wanted to recount to you: During one of those days of reconnaissance, we returned, exhausted as always, to the camp. While the rations of water and cornmeal were being distributed, I turned on the short-wave radio receiver in order to look for the evening news, but, when I switched on the radio, only the shrill song of parrots and macaws came out. I remembered something by Cortazar then (Last Round? The Book of Manuel? Historia de cronopias y famas?), that spoke of what would happen if things were-not-in-their-place. But I did not allow myself to be daunted by such a small thing, accustomed as I was to seeing such apparently absurd things in these mountains, like a little deer with a red carnation in her mouth (probably in love, otherwise, why a red carnation?), a tapir with lavender dance shoes, and a herd of wild boars playing in a circle, carrying the tune of "we will break down a column to see Dona Blanca..." with their teeth and hooves. As I told you, I was not surprised, and I turned the dial, looking for another channel, but nothing, everything was the song of parrots and macaws. I changed to mid-wave with the same results. Without becoming discouraged, I set about taking the receiver apart in order to discover the scientific reason for such an off-key song. When I took the cover off the back, the logical and dialectical reason for the irregular transmission was revealed: A flock of parrots and macaws escaped, flying and crying, pleased to have regained their freedom. I ended up counting 17 parrots, eight female macaws and three male, all rushing out. In a bout of belated self-criticism for not having cleaned the receiver, I set about giving it the maintenance it required. While I was taking out feathers and dung (and even the skeleton of a parrot whom the others had taken the care to give a Christian burial, since a carefully constructed cross glowed from his coffin, located in a corner of the little receiver, and a tombstone with an inscription in Latin? - Requiescat in pace), I encountered a little nest with a tiny grey egg mottled with green and blue. There was a small envelope to one side, which I began opening with ill-concealed anxiety. It was a letter directed "To whom it may concern." A parrot, in very tiny letters, recounted her sad and heartbreaking history.

She had fallen deeply in love with a handsome (so said the letter) young macaw, and her feelings were returned (so said the letter), but the parrots who were jealous of the purity of their race did not approve of such a scandalous romance, and they strictly forbade the parrot from seeing the handsome young macaw (so said the letter), causing them to meet clandestinely behind one of the transistors in the radio.

Since "the macaw is fire, the parrot burlap, the devil comes... and blows" (so said the letter), they soon came of age, and that little egg that I then had in my hands was the forbidden fruit of their irregular relationship. The parrot asked (so said the letter) whoever found it to give shelter and sustenance to the little being until it could look after itself (so said the letter), and it ended with a series of maternal recommendations, in addition to a heartrending lamentation over its cruel fate, etcetera (so said the letter).

Overwhelmed by the great responsibility of having become an adoptive father, and cursing my crazy notion to clean the radio, I tried to find moral and material support from some of my combatants, but they were all already asleep, probably dreaming of springs of café au lait, of rivers of Coca-Cola and lemonade. Following the oft-cited precept of "There is no problem so large that it should be agonized over," I abandoned the egg on one side of my hammock, and I set myself to enjoying a much deserved rest. It was useless, remorse would not allow me to sleep, and soon (deep down, very deep down, I have a good and noble heart) I picked up the little egg and settled it on top of my stomach. At midnight, that unhappy hour, it began moving. At first I thought it was my stomach protesting over the lack of food, but no, it was the little egg that was beginning to break open. With an inexplicable maternal instinct, I prepared to attend the sacred moment in which I would become a mother...what am I saying, a father. When, to my surprise I saw that it was not a macaw or a parrot coming out of the shell, truly, not even a chick or a little pigeon. No, what came out of the egg was...a little tapir! Seriously, it was a little tapir with green and blue feathers. In a fit of lucidity (something which is, of course, becoming more and more rare for me) I understood the true subtext of the horrifying history, the crux-of-the-question-like-I-don't-know-who-said. "Eureka!" I yelled, like I-also-don't-remember-who-said-either.

What happened was that the parrot "doublecrossed," that is, she "made out" with a male tapir, they sinned, and she wanted to pin the little "blame" on the macaw, but everything fell apart, given that the radio, etcetera. "Everyone is the same," I sighed. Deciphering the mystery, it only remained to be seen what the hell I was going to do with the bastard tapir...And I am still dealing with that. For one thing, I am carrying her hidden in my backpack and I'm offering her a little of my food. I do not deny that we get along well, and my maternal, excuse me, paternal, instinct has been giving way to an insane passion towards the tapir, who bestows ardent glances on me that have little to do with gratitude and much with contained passion. My problem is serious, since, if I were to give way to temptation, I would be committing, in addition to a crime against nature, incest, because I am her adoptive father. I have thought of abandoning her, but I cannot, I do not have the strength. Anyway, I don't know what the hell to do...

As you can see, I have too many problems to be able to deal with yours. I hope that you now understand my repeated silence regarding the questions you insist on positing to me.

Vale, it's no use, and, as whomever-you-guys-look-up-who-said, "books are friends who never betray you." Salud and send me some veterinary manual for wild animals of the tropics (look under "D" for "Danta" [tapir] and "Desperation").


Published in Spanish in Proceso (9/19/99), and, 
before that, by Plaza y Janes, and, before that, by the EZLN 
Translated by irlandesa

To the Mexico page