Authors: Mario Vargas Llosa
“Did you talk about that?” I ask her. “Did Mayta talk to you about the poor, about misery?”
“We talked about religion,” Juanita says. “And don't think I brought the subject up. It was him.”
“Yes, very Catholic, but no moreâI'm free of those illusions,” Mayta murmurs, sorry he's said it here, afraid that Vallejos's sister will be offended. “Don't you ever have doubts?”
“From the moment I wake up until I go to bed,” she says softly. “Whoever told you that faith and doubts don't go together?”
“I mean”âMayta grows bolderâ“isn't it a hoax to say that the mission of Catholic schools is to educate the elite? Is it really possible to infuse the children of the classes in power with the evangelical principles of charity and love for one's neighbor? Have you ever thought about that?”
“I think about that and much worse things.” The nun smiled at him. “Rather, we both think. It's true. When I took orders, we all thought that, along with power and wealth, God had given those families a mission as far as their disinherited brothers were concerned. That those girls who were the head of the social bodyâif we could educate them wellâwould take charge of making the rest of the body better, the arms and the legs. But now none of us thinks that is the way to change the world.”
And Mayta, surprised, listened to her tell about the scheme she and her schoolmates had worked up. They didn't stop until the free school for the poor in Sophianum was closed. The little girls from paying families all had a little girl in the school, a poor girl. The better-off girls brought in sweets, clothes, and once a year visited the poor girls' homes with presents. They would go in the family car with Mommy; or sometimes only the chauffeur dropped off the Christmas cake. Disgusting, shameful. Could you call that practicing charity? The nuns had brought the matter up so often, criticized, written, and protested so much that, finally, the free school of Sophianum was closed.
“Then we aren't so far apart, after all, Mother.” Mayta was shocked. “I'm happy to hear you talk this way. May I quote you something a great man once said? That when humanity has fought all the revolutions necessary to end injustice, a new religion will be born.”
“Who needs a new religion when we already have the true one?” replied the nun, passing him the cookies. “Have one.”
“Trotsky,” Mayta clarified. “A revolutionary, an atheist. But he respected the problem of faith.”
“All that stuff about how the revolution liberates the people's energy, you can understand right here.” Vallejos threw a stone at a pelican. “Did my plan seem that bad to you? Or did you say it just to bust my balls, Mayta?”
“It seemed a monstrous deformity to us.” Juanita shrugs, making a discouraged gesture. “And now I wonder if, deformity and all, it wasn't better for those girls to have a place where they could learn to read and where they would get at least one Christmas cake a year. I don't know, I'm not so sure anymore that we did the right thing. What were the results? At the school there were thirty-two nuns and twenty or so sisters. That's the usual proportion in most schools. The congregations have collapsed â¦ Was our crisis of social conscience such a good thing? Was the sacrifice of my brother a good thing?”
She tries to smile, as if excusing herself for having involved me in her confusion.
“It's logical, it's a piece of cake, it's money in the bank.” Vallejos was getting excited. “If the Indians work for a boss who exploits them, they work unwillingly and produce very little. When they work for themselves, they will produce more, and that will benefit all of society. Need cigarettes, brother?”
“As long as a parasitic class doesn't come into existence to expropriate and use for its own advantage the efforts of the proletariat and the peasants,” Mayta explained to him. “As long as a bureaucratic class doesn't accumulate enough power to create a new unjust social structure. And to avoid that, Leon Davidovich conceived the permanent revolution. God, I even bore myself with these lectures.”
“I'd like to go to a soccer match, how about you?” Vallejos sighed. “I got out of Jauja to see the classic Alianza-U match and I don't want to miss it. Come on, I'm inviting you.”
“What's your answer to that question?” I say to her when I see she's stopped talking. “Did the silent revolution of those years help the Church or hurt it?”
“It helped us, the ones who lost our false illusions, but it didn't help the faith. As to the other nuns, I can't say,” MarÃa says. And, turning to Juanita: “What was Mayta like?”
“He always spoke softly, courteously, and he dressed very modestly,” Juanita recalls. “He tried to shock me with his anti-religious attitudes. But I rather think I shocked him. He had no idea what was going on in the convents, seminaries, the parishes. He knew nothing about our revolution â¦ He opened his eyes wide and said, âWe're not so far apart, after all.' The years have proven him correct, don't you think?”
And she tells me that Father Miguel, a priest in the neighborhood who mysteriously disappeared a few years ago, is, it seems, the famous Comrade Leoncio who led the bloody attack on the Palace of Government a month ago.
“I doubt it,” MarÃa protests. “Father Miguel was a loudmouth. Fiery as far as words go, but nothing but a blowhard. I'm sure the police or the freedom squads killed him.”
Yes, that's what it was. Not a revolver or an automatic pistol, but a short, light sub-machine gun that looked factory-fresh: black, oily, and shiny. Mayta stared at it hypnotized. Making an effort, he took his eyes off the weapon, which trembled in his hands, and looked around, all the time with the feeling that from among the books and papers scattered around his room the informers were crawling out, pointing a finger at him, laughing their heads off: “We've got you now, Mayta.” “You've had it now, Mayta,” “Right in the act, Mayta.” This kid's foolish, a nut, he thought. A â¦ But he felt no ill will toward the lieutenant. Instead, the benevolence inspired by a prank played by a favorite child, and the desire to see him again as soon as possible. To box his ears, he thought. To tell him â¦
“When I'm with you, I feel funny somehow. I don't know whether to tell you or not. I hope you don't get mad. May I speak frankly?”
The stadium was half empty, and they had arrived very early. The preliminary match hadn't even begun.
“Of course,” said Vallejos, exhaling smoke from his mouth and nose. “I can guess. Are you going to tell me my revolutionary plan is half-assed? Or are you going to get on me again about the surprise?”
“How long have we been seeing each other?” asks Mayta. “Two months?”
“We're really tight, though, right?” Vallejos says as he applauds a kick made by a small, extremely agile wing. “What were you going to say?”
“That sometimes I think we're wasting our time.”
Vallejos forgot the match. “You mean, about lending me books and teaching me Marxism?”
“Not because you don't understand what I teach you,” Mayta clarified. “You're smart enough to understand dialectical materialism, or anything else.”
“That's good,” said Vallejos, returning to the match. “I thought you were wasting your time because I'm a jerk.”
“No, you're no jerk.” Mayta smiled at the lieutenant's profile. “The fact is, when I'm talking to you, knowing what you're thinking, knowing you yourself, I think that theory, instead of helping you, can actually get in your way.”
“Darn! Almost a goal. Nice shot.” Vallejos got up to clap.
“In that sense, understand?” Mayta went on.
“I don't understand a thing,” Vallejos said. “Now I am a jerk. Are you trying to tell me to forget my plan, that I was wrong to give you the sub-machine gun? What do you mean, brother? Goal! All right!”
“In theory, revolutionary spontaneity is bad,” Mayta said. “If there is no doctrine, no scientific knowledge, the impulse is wasted in anarchic gestures. But you have an instinctive resistance to getting tangled up in theory. Maybe you're right. Perhaps, thanks to that instinct, what happened to us won't happen to you â¦”
“Us?” asked Vallejos, turning to look at him.
“From worrying so much about being well prepared in doctrinal terms, we forgot the practical, and â¦”
He fell silent because there was a huge uproar in the stands: firecrackers were going off, and a rain of confetti came down on the field. You'd made a mistake, Mayta.
“You haven't answered me,” Vallejos insisted, without looking at him, contemplating his cigarette. Was he an informer? “You said
, and I asked who
is. You didn't answer, buddy.”
“Revolutionary Peruvians, Marxist Peruvians,” Mayta spelled it out, scrutinizing him. Was he an agent ordered to find out about them, to provoke them? “We know a lot about Leninism and Trotskyism, but we don't know how to reach the masses. That's what I meant.”
“I asked him if he at least believed in God, if his political ideas were compatible with the Christian faith,” Juanita says.
“I shouldn't have asked you that, brother,” Vallejos begged pardon, contrite, the two of them immersed in the flood of people emptying out of the stadium. “I'm sorry. I don't want you to tell me anything.”
“What can I tell you that you don't already know?” Mayta said. “I'm happy we came, even if the match was no good. It's been ages since â¦”
“I want to tell you just one thing,” Vallejos declared, taking him by the arm. “I understand that you have your doubts about me.”
“You're nuts,” said Mayta. “Why should I have doubts about you?”
“Because I'm a soldier, and because you don't know me all that well,” said Vallejos. “I can understand that you'd hide certain things from me. I don't want to know anything about your political life, Mayta. I play fair and square with my friends, and I think of you as a friend. If I pull a fast one on you, you've got a way to even the scoreâthe surprise â¦”
“The revolution and the Catholic religion are incompatible,” asserts Mayta softly. “Don't fool yourself, Mother.”
“You're the one who's fouled up. You're also way behind the times,” Juanita jokes. “Do you think I'm put out when I hear religion called the opiate of the people? It may have been, probably was, in any case. But that's all finished. Everything is changing. We're going to bring about the revolution, too. Don't laugh.”
Had the era of progressive priests and nuns already begun then in Peru? Juanita says yes, but I have my doubts. Anyway, it was in such an early stage of development, as yet so inarticulate, that Mayta couldn't have had any idea of it. Would he have been pleased? The ex-child who had gone on a hunger strike to be like the poor, would he have been happy that Monsignor BambarÃ©n, bishop of the slums, wore his famous ring with the pontifical coat of arms on one side and the hammer and sickle on the other? Would he have been happy that Father Gustavo GutiÃ©rrez conceived liberation theology by explaining that bringing about the socialist revolution was the obligation of every Catholic? That Monsignor MÃ©ndez Arceo advised the Mexican faithful to go to Cuba as they used to go to Lourdes? Yes, no doubt about it. Maybe he would have gone on being a Catholic, as have so many these days. Did he give one the feeling that he was dogmatic, a man of rigid ideas?
Juanita thinks it over for a moment. “Yes, I think so, a dogmatic man.” She nods. “At least he wasn't at all flexible about religion. We only spoke for a while, perhaps I didn't understand what kind of man he was. I thought about him a lot later on. He had a huge influence on my brother. He changed his life. He made him read, which was something he almost never did before. Communist books, of course. I tried to warn him: âYou know he's catechizing you?'”
“Yes, I know, but I learn a lot of things from him, sister.”
“My brother was an idealist, a rebel, with an innate sense of justice,” adds Juanita. “He found a mentor in Mayta, one who manipulated him as he saw fit.”
“So, as far as you're concerned, Mayta was calling the shots?” I ask her. “Do you think he planned it all, that he put the Jauja business into Vallejos's head?”
“No, because I don't know how to use it.” Mayta was doubtful. “I'll make you a confession. I've never even fired a cap gun in my entire life. But, going back to what you said before about friendship, I have to warn you about one thing.”
“Don't warn me about anything, I already asked you to excuse my indiscretion,” said Vallejos. “I'd rather hear one of your speeches. Let's go on with double power, that idea of undercutting the bourgeoisie and the imperialists slowly but surely.”
“Not even friendship comes before the revolution for a revolutionary: get that through your head and never forget it,” said Mayta. “Revolution, above all things. Then comes the rest. That's what I tried to explain to your sister the other afternoon. Her ideas are good, she goes as far as a Catholic can. But that's just not enough. If you believe in heaven and hell, then what happens here on earth will always take a back seat to all that. And there will never be a revolution. I trust you and I think of you as a great friend. If I hide anything, if â¦”
“Okay, okay. I've already asked you to forgive me, can't we forget it?” Vallejos wanted to shut him up. “So you've never fired a gun? Tomorrow we'll go over by LurÃn, with the surprise. I'll give you a lesson. Firing a sub-machine gun is much easier than the thesis of double power.”
“Of course, that was what had to happen,” Juanita said. But she does not seem all that sure, judging by the way she says it. “Mayta was an old hand at politics, a professional revolutionary. My brother was an impulsive kid Mayta could dominate just by his age and his knowledge.”