The Quotable

excerpt from Sandino’s Bones

Lucero leaned his head against the glass, staring through the bus window at the row of shacks on the far side of the sugarcane field. They looked two-dimensional, like in the painting he made with the help of the old man at the bookstore where he worked the two days he wasn’t in the field.

It was the harvest season, and today had been his last with the old man. Lucero rested the knuckles of his right hand against the bus window. The shape of his machete handle was indented in the calluses on his palm. He had grown used to the old man and was going to miss him for the next couple of months. And the game they played. He still didn’t understand the game entirely. The old man said the future appeared through numbers and the objects that rhymed with them. Una:luna, dos:tos, tres:pez, cuatro:retrato. It was always cuatro:retrato.  But what appeared on the retrato – the painting – sometimes changed. Lucero moved his lips and closed his eyes.  A painting appeared to him, and he concentrated to discover the changes, just like the old man had instructed. The shack in the painting was the same, only now it moved through the sky as if propelled by the force of a hurricane.

Lucero opened his eyes. In the field, men, women and children swung their machetes. They looked like cane stalk figures, casting thin shadows toward the passing bus; the burning sun just above the immense spine of volcanoes behind them. If their machetes weren’t swinging back and forth like striking serpents, it would be hard to tell the people apart from the thick stalks themselves.

Lucero lived less than five kilometers away, but never in his fourteen years had he met anyone from these shacks. A woman, pregnant, rested the tip of her machete on the ground, wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, and stared at the bus as it stopped in front of the field for a passenger. The pregnant woman looked like a child, but her face was old and worn, like a piece of pigskin stretched over a bumpy rock and left in the hot sun.

She stared straight at Lucero. He tightened his jaw, looked away for a moment and then stared back. She worked for the same landlord he did, Somoza. Everyone in Nicaragua worked for Somoza. In one way or another. And Somoza worked for the United States. The sugarcane she cut went to the same ships waiting off the Caribbean coast and ended up in the same supermarkets in the New York, Miami and Chicago as what he cut.

She looked like a cane stalk with a panza — a pot-belly.

The bus lurched forward and Lucero turned to look at her face again, but she was bent over, swinging her machete with one hand, holding her stomach with the other.

He faced the front of the bus where the new passenger, a girl, stood in the aisle. She gripped the floor with her bare feet; the smell of diesel fuel and mango filled the air. Her hair was long and tangled, clay-red and brown with light streaks that looked like they had absorbed the last rays of the sun. She reached into the basket cradled in her right arm, handed the driver a bag of sliced papaya and walked toward the back.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” she yelled. Her voice was deep for a young girl, and her skin looked warm and soft, like sugar slowly bubbling over an open fire, right before it turns to candy.

“I don’t ask for handouts, steal, lie or cheat to survive along this highway,” she yelled. “No, paisonos, I work as hard as anyone in this country.” She pointed out the window at the workers, then widened her feet and pushed up with her toes, making herself taller.

“I sell fresh fruit, sliced and bagged by yours truly.” She raised her eyebrows, held out her left hand and wiggled her slender fingers in the air. Her nails were clean.

She rested her eyes on Lucero, and he looked down at his shoes and squeezed the coin for his bus fare in the palm of his left hand.

“I have herbs from deep in the forest which can cure a damaged liver or a broken heart,” she said. “I sell single cigarettes and small bottles of rum. The perfect size for a bus ride to Managua or a gift for someone you love or someone you want to love.” She smiled.

“How much?” a man yelled from the last seat in the back.

“Two hundred and fifty cordobas,” she yelled back.

“I’ll take two,” he said.

She walked past Lucero and exchanged money for the rum.

When she was done, she came and sat in the seat next to Lucero. She folded some bills and stuck them in the pocket of her blue jeans.

“Where are you going?” he asked, looking at the bags of herbs in the basket on her lap.

“Down the road,” she said, nodding forward then turning to him, as if she had just noticed him for the first time.

Her eyes went to his shoes. He must look like a rich kid to her, the same way the kids with their backpacks and school uniforms looked to him when they walked past the bookstore.

“What’s up the road?” he asked.

Her eyes looked like deep puddles, green in front and cloudy brown in back. Her hair fell on her shoulders and her face tightened.

“You ask a lot of questions,” she said.

Lucero looked around at the open seats.  Why had she sat next to him and not in one of them?

“Do you wanna buy a bag of mangos?” she asked. “A cigarette? I have Marlboros.” Her eyes went to his left hand.

His mother had warned him against talking to street kids. They carry the spirit of the cat in their bodies. They look like children, but they’re not. 

“You must be really smart,” he said suddenly, “you ride the bus for a bag of papayas and get people to buy herbs that they could go into the jungle and pick for free.”

“Maybe I’m really smart,” she said. “Or maybe you’re just stupid. A monkey looks smart to a pig when it’s at the top of the mango tree eating all the fruit.”

Lucero turned to see if anyone was listening, but they were all looking out the windows. He gripped the back of the seat in front of him with his left hand and the coin clinked against the metal bar.

“Do you live in Managua?” he asked.

“I live wherever I am at the moment,” she said quickly, as if she knew his question was coming. “Just like everyone else.”

Live wherever I am at the moment. It seemed like something the old man would say. Not a street girl.

“Ever lived in Managua for a moment?” he asked.

She stretched her legs and wrapped her toes around the footrest in front of her like fingers grasping a tree branch.

“One time I stayed in a house in Managua that had toilets where you pull a handle and the water comes rushing down,” she said. “I played with it for an hour until the lady yelled at me and called me an animal.”

“An animal,” repeated Lucero, studying her face. “What lady?”

“A lady who picked me up on the highway right outside Managua,” she said. “Bruja made me stay in the bathroom until I cleaned every crack of my body. She gave me a dress and said I had to serve some nasty thing that looked like shit on crackers for her party. I worked all day and she gave me a box of Chiclets and told me to go chew them with my friends in the park. I got a mind that remembers things like that. The way her lips moved up the right side of her mouth when she said it. I remember the stuff that other people forget because I know it’s going to come back around. Everything comes back around.”

“What do you mean, come back around?” asked Lucero. “What’s so bad about telling you to chew gum with your friends?”

“Everything comes back to where it started. Like a circle. Like zero.”

Lucero tried to think of something that rhymed with zero, but he couldn’t.

“You worked for Chiclets?” he said. “I get paid in cash for both of my jobs.”

“Yeah,” said the girl. “I see the cane cutters working like slaves along the highway. I think I’d rather work for Chiclets in some rich lady’s house.”

Lucero saw a scar on the girl’s left temple, the size of coin. He opened his mouth to ask her about it, but she spoke before he could.

“That bitch made me give back the dress at the end of the day. She said it belonged to the muchacha who worked for her, and she needed it in case the girl ever came back from the mountains.”

“Why did the muchacha go to the mountains?” asked Lucero.

The girl shook her head and smiled. “Boy, you got to get out of the fields more often. Why does anyone go to the mountains?”

“Why?” he asked.

“To fight! To try to escape from this bullshit.” The girl turned around and looked at the lady sitting behind them, then out the window.

“Even girls, huh?” he said.

“Especially girls,” she said. “Haven’t you heard of Maria Guerillera from the song?”

“What song?”

She shook her head and looked around the bus again.

“We have one at the bookstore,” he said, finally.

“One what?”

“A toilet with water and a handle.”

“This lady had three of them,” said the girl. “I had all three running at the same time. Then, the lady brought a bowl of that shit into the bathroom and said her guests were hungry.” She started laughing again.

Lucero looked out the window. The sun was behind the volcanoes now and he couldn’t tell if there were still workers in the field or the cane stalks were moving in the evening breeze.

“What’s your name?” he asked, looking back at her.

“What’s the difference?” she said.

“What does your mother call you?”

“Don’t ask stupid questions, muchacho.”

“I wanna know what I should call you when I see you again,” he said.

Companero Victor calls me la hija de Sandino,” she said.


“I don’t know why. Because it’s better than hija de puta,” she laughed again. “You ask a lotta fucking questions little boy.”

“Little boy? How old are you?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“No really.”

“No really,” she said. “I don’t know.”

“Okay,” he said, watching her lime-sized breasts rise and fall under her white cotton tank-top. “Then who’s Companero Victor?

“You’ll find out soon enough,” she said.

“I want to know now,” he said, pushing his fingers against the calluses in his palm.

She turned to him and he smelled the mango on her cinnamon-colored skin. She pushed her feet against the floor and moved the side of her body next to his. He felt her warm breath on his neck. “He’s a guy who’s looking out for us,” she whispered, “our turn is coming soon.”

“Us?” he asked, as a bead of sweat ran down his back.

“The kids who have to live in the park,” she said.

“I live in a house,” said Lucero quickly. “With my mom and –”

“Good for you muchacho,” said the girl. “Where’s your dad?”

“Gone,” said Lucero.

“You mean dead,” said the girl. “There’s a difference. I know more than you think. La Gaurdia got ‘em.”

“You’re a liar,” said Lucero. He wanted to push her into the aisle. Yell to the bus driver to stop and let him off so he could walk the rest of the way home. “You’re a girl who lives on the streets and makes stuff up.”

The bus slowed and the woman who sat behind them stood and held the rail above.

Muchacho, said the woman to Lucero after the door opened and the bus stopped. “Be careful of this one. I smell el Diablo in this bus and it’s coming straight from her. I mind my own business, but when the Enemy is in the room, God tells me to speak. I’m telling you boy, the Enemy is sitting right beside you.”

“Go home and stick your face in a bowl of shit,” said the girl. She looked at the lady, then at Lucero and started to laugh. He looked straight ahead, watching the bus driver’s eyes through the rear-view mirror.

The lady walked down the stairs and stood outside Lucero’s window, holding her bags and looking up at him.

“I’m not afraid of any of these people,” said the girl. “They don’t know what’s coming, but I do. I know the game.”

“What game?” he asked, wiping the sweat from his cheek.

“You know what game,” she said.

“My stop is next,” he said. He started to stand, but she put her hand on his leg and pushed him down.

“We’re building a huge garden. Houses, books, doctors. It’s all gonna be there.”

“I already got a house,” said Lucero. “Got books too.”

“Instead of making sugar for the gringos to put in the coffee we pick for them, we can grow our own corn.”

Her eyes looked like two funnel clouds tearing through an open field. Street animal. No birthday. No parents. No name.

“A garden,” he said. “I think you’re rabid.”

“Rabid.” She laughed. Everyone on the bus was now looking at them.

“You’re right, little boy. I am rabid,” she said. “We’re all rabid. And we’re going to be in charge of this whole fucking country.”

“Let me out of here,” he said, pushing his body against hers. “This is my stop.”

“There’s bags of seeds up there the size of this bus. And AK-47s.”

Siete:Machete. He tried to calm himself and think of something that rhymed with zero, but he wasn’t sure why.

She leaned so close to him that her lips touched his left ear. “I’ve seen it,” she whispered. “I’ve been there.”



Lucero walked in the dark from the bus stop and down the embankment to the trail that led to his house. He pushed aside the tattered poncho that had belonged to his father and now hung from two rusty nails in the doorway. He lit the candle above the nest of old coffee sacks that served as his bed, ate the plate of black beans, rice and plantains that his mother had left for him on the wooden stool that separated his corner from hers, and brushed his teeth next to the water bucket behind the shack.

His mother was surely below washing clothes in the moonlight on the rocks along the river.


He was too exhausted to look for her. His heart was still pounding when he crawled into bed and fell asleep without blowing out the candle.

He dreamed of the girl. The sun burned overhead, and she stood next to the highway in front of giant open trucks filled with soldiers that barreled toward the border. He watched from the field near the highway, his machete in hand. She picked up pile after pile of powdery dust at the side of the highway with her bare feet and tossed them into the air, making giant yellow and red sparkling clouds that spun and floated above the highway, as she tossed more and more dust at their center.

As soon as one floated too far away to reach with the dust, she started on the next, until half a dozen of them, each larger than the other, rotated like burning globes and floated along the highway.

“Look, mama,” Lucero yelled in his dream. “She’s not a cat. She can hold dust with her toes!”

Cuatro:gato, he heard his mother say.

Diez es Pies, he heard the old man say.

The girl’s hair, the same color as the dust balls, blew into the air. She spun in circles like a twister, spreading dust and sunlight in every direction.

Suddenly, a crash, like an erupting volcano, came from the highway. Lucero ran toward it. He waited for the dust to fall to the ground and saw a mass of tangled steel where two trucks had collided. Soldiers, covered in seeds, lay along the highway.

The girl walked to where he was standing and they followed the trail to Lucero’s shack.

“His poncho is all that’s left,” said Lucero. “La Guardia didn’t want to waste bullets, so they broke the door down and used the butts of their rifles to beat him into the ground. The neighbors said he looked like the brown sludge at the bank of the river. The pulled his bones away and let him seep into the earth.

La Guardia ordered everyone to grab a bucket, go to the river and pour water on top of the ground until he disappeared under our doorway. They even told mama to grab a bucket, but she stayed in the corner, with me in her belly.”

“We can see if he’s still down there,” said the girl.

“I already told you, he’s disappeared in the ground,” said Lucero.

“Sorry about that,” said the girl. “But you know we’re all gonna disappear into the ground someday. So maybe it’s not as bad as you think.”

“Maybe,” said Lucero. “But they pounded him down there.”

Companero Victor says that before there were any people or animals or even a world, there was just dust in space. Everything was cold and empty just like the park at night when everyone’s sleeping and the bonfire goes cold.”

She stopped, picked up a small pile of dust with her foot and flicked it into the air. “That’s you,” she said. “Meet yourself.” And they both laughed.

“I saw it happen once, she said. “To this kid named Hueso.”

“What happened to him?” asked Lucero.

“He got sick and didn’t wake up one morning. So we dragged him into the forest and started a bonfire that lasted for days. When the fire went out we looked in the ashes and he was gone. We turned him back to dust.”

“I don’t wanna disappear like my father,” said Lucero.

“Neither did Hueso, but it happened anyway.” They laughed again. “I just want it to happen when I’m up there,” she said. “In the garden.”



The sun pushed through the hole at the top of Lucero’s shack where the zinc roof met the beam. He opened one eye, and breathed in through his nose, remembering first the smell of the girl, then the dream about his father.

He looked at the poncho in the doorway, then at his mother’s empty bed. A plate of rice and beans waited for him on the wooden table. He blew out the candle that had been burning through the night, reached for the machete that hung above his bed, put on his boots and pants, and walked, shirtless, into the sun.

He stopped on the trail that led to the field to catch his balance. He was dizzy and his chest felt like someone had been standing on it through the night. He thought it would go away once he started working, swinging his machete with his mother and the others, but the pain grew worse into the afternoon.

Toward the end of the day, when the sun started to fall behind the mountains, he saw what looked like a drunken body walking along the highway from the south. It weaved into the road, like a sick dog, stopped intermittently, and then continued toward him.

Lucero walked to a patch of cane stalks close to the highway and waited. He rested his machete at his side and rubbed the sweat from his eyes.

When the person got close to the matapalo tree, he realized it was the girl from the bus and he sprinted to her, choking on the heat and dust.

“What happened?” he shouted, letting his machete fall to the ground and pulling her toward the tree.

Her shirt was torn in half, exposing her breasts. Blood, dry in her hair, and still wet near her scalp, reflected in the sunlight. Her right eye was swollen shut. Her jeans were ripped, and her zipper was torn open.

“Where’s your basket?” he asked, holding his chest and gasping for air.

“My basket,” she said laughing and reaching out to steady herself on the tree trunk. “I don’t need a basket where I’m going.”

“Where are you going?” he said. “There’s nothing up there.” He looked to the north, then back at her swollen face. Tears dripped down her dirty cheek, but she didn’t appear to be crying.

“It’s the year zero starting now,” she said.

“Zero? What are you talking about?” he said. “Come to the river with me and get washed up. You’re head is bleeding.” He looked toward the field and saw his mother walking toward them.

“Everything’s getting ready to start over,” she said, “but it starts up there.”

“Zero’s not even a number,” he said. “Nothing rhymes with zero.”

“Zero’s a circle,” she said. “No one’s ahead of no one. We’re just moving around. Starting over in the same spot we ended.”

Blood and spit ran down the side of her mouth and Lucero stepped forward to prevent her from falling, but he heard his mother’s shoes on the ground and stopped short.

“You could die out here,” he said.

“So could you,” she said.

“We can get you on a bus, back to the park, where someone can help you,” he said.

“No!” she shouted. “I’m going up there. To the garden. Companero Victor will find me.”

She fell to the ground and rolled onto her back. Lucero kneeled over her, put his trembling hand on her head and tried to push the dust from her wound.

“Help me,” she said, closing her eye. “Come with me.”

“I gotta work,” he said. “There’s still cane to cut and I’m going back to the bookstore when the harvest is over.”

“He’s gone,” said the girl. “They came for him last night. I went to Managua looking for Companero Victor.”

“Who’s gone?” asked Lucero.

“The old man. The bookstore,” she said. “It’s all gone.”

“You don’t even know the old man. You’re lying,” said Lucero.

“I know about the game of numbers,” she said. “I know about the old man.”


“He and Companero Victor taught me about zero.”

“Who are you!” shouted Lucero.

“My name is Tierra,” she said. “And the old man is dead. Just like your father.”


Matthew Hutchinson lived and worked in Esteli and Managua, Nicaragua in 1986-87. He studied Latin American Literature in Lima, Peru from 1989-90. He taught public high school in the ESL program in New York City, with Teach for America from 1991-92. He’s the President of Miravalles Adventure Tour Center, an eco and cultural exchange program, located in Guayabal, Costa Rica. He currently lives in Norfolk, Virginia, where he runs a retail business and works on his novel, Sandino’s Bones.

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Issue 4 - Beginnings and Endings