"You're not going to believe this.
"Yes. Officer Chávez. It's true;"
Officer Chávez noted the confession in his little green book. He wrote "spontaneous" in the margin.
"I was driving a little faster than normal." She concluded.
Angela looked crestfallen. Officer Chávez could see that, quite plainly. The officer's inner sense told him she was telling the truth and probably had a good reason to hurry. He saw an attractive Mrs. Mom hurrying during business hours while her child was at school.
"Why are you in such a hurry?" the police officer asked. And immediately began to compose an answer for Angela. The officer actually began writing an answer in the little green book when she answered for herself. The officer straightened his back and continued writing as if nothing had happened.
"I work for the newspaper and am carrying one of the original signed documents. It's for the publisher."
"Is it a secret?" The officer asked. "What would cause you to drive so fast?"
"I was not driving so fast," Angela semi snorted. "I was hurrying just a little, no worse than to deliver a child to school. And what I'm delivering is almost that important."
"Oh? What is that?" Officer Chávez asked. He was obviously curious and noticed her eyes narrow.
"I'm not telling you if you continue to be so rude." She said, sternly.
Officer Chávez knew he had no other option; He tore the speeding ticket from his paper pad, folded it and started to put it into his pocket. Angela held out her hand. The officer calmly handed the now crumpled ticket to Angela.
"Okay. Thank you. Now I’ll tell you; The votes have been counted. Puerto Ricans voted to become an independent country!" Angela said it with a smile as she started the car and left Officer Chávez standing in the star dust of blissful wonder.
He watched her drive her car away and then pinched himself to be sure what had happened was not a dream. It was true! He was a free Puerto Rican citizen of Earth. And Angela was beautiful.
Officer Chávez savored the flavor; Human potential without colonial domination by the US. He liked it. On the moment, he decided to quit his job and become his family name. Yes, a regular and good paying job had seemed important, he had hurt his back and decided he should take life a little easier. He had jumped to the steady job and now saw a new life.
Former officer Hugo Chávez drove the patrol car to the police station and then parked. He walked into the station wearing a uniform and walked out wearing ordinary shirt, pants and sandals. Hugo Chávez carried a small duffle bag into the world. like walking on a cloud. Headed straight for the newspaper building.
Hugo reached the front entrance just as Angela came out the door. She walked past Hugo with barely a glance.
"Don't you recognize me?" Hugo asked, smiling.
She turned and studied his face and shoulders. Then his standard pants and sandals, tropical short sleeve shirt. When she realized who Hugo was, Angela did not show it. Her husband had died a few years back and she had actually been thinking she needed to find a man like him to be a male influence for her son. The idea had made her blush. And here she was looking into his eyes.
"Officer Chávez!" She exclaimed with genuine surprise. "What happened to your uniform?"
He had noticed Angela blush and now it was his turn. "Your news was so exciting I quit my job and once again became ordinary unemployed Hugo Chávez."
"Did you do that to start a new life without the United States imposing colonial lawfare and austerity?" She asked. Hugo nodded affirmatively.
"And why did you come to the newspaper building?" She continued, with growing interest in Hugo's story.
"You are not going to believe this," he said, repeating the first words he had heard from her before concluding. "I was wondering what an energized woman like you was going to do next. Therefor, I jumped onto a bus and here we are talking again."
Angela liked Hugo even better out of uniform. "You look like a much nicer person without that severe uniform." She told him.
"What are you going to do?" Hugo asked.
Angela remembered her job and began to end the conversation by telling Hugo she had been assigned to interview politicians about the vote for independent Puerto Rico, but she changed her mind. At that moment, Angela listened to her words as she spoke, "I'm still working and on assignment... I need my notepad in the car and to call my son to tell him I plan to work a little late because this is independence day for Puerto Rico. My son can find a ride home from football practice with one of our neighbors." Angela breathed and pulled her phone from her pocket before continuing, "If you really are interested in what might happen next in our newly independent country, you are welcome to come along with me and listen to the politicians at Rosie's Café."
Angela liked hearing her voice describe Puerto Rico as an independent country. "Rosie's is a politician's lunch and afternoon hangout a few streets away," she concluded as she pointed toward her car. "And there's my car. You can put your bag in the trunk if you are coming with me. I must hurry. After Rosie's Cafe I have been assigned to the Restaurant Taíno, at the harbor."
"I knew something like this might happen if I found you," Hugo said as he tossed his bag in the car trunk. Angela had opened it, still talking with her son, she had made phone contact while they walked quickly to the car.
"What did you say?" Angela asked as she turned off her phone and put it in her vest pocket.
Hugo noticed her vest was darkest green with colorful yet fine artistic embroidery along the seams. "Which way do we go, now?" he asked instead of a direct answer. Hugo was not being evasive. He was racing to keep up and he knew it.
Angela pointed to their direction ahead and asked again what he had said as they walked briskly toward Rosie's Cafe.
"I said that I knew something like this might happen if I found you."
Angela pointed into an alley and they cut behind and around a drugstore and then onto the sidewalk, directly across the street from Rosie's. There were no cars on the road and they did not break stride crossing the street. The front door opened briefly when they were about in the middle of the street. Loud conversation poured out like a brief wave crash sound or river rapids. Then the door closed and the street was silent.
"I've driven all these streets on police patrol but never been inside Rosie's cafe," Hugo said. "They will probably think I am a beach bum."
"Don't think like that." Ángela said with a smile, "I know you are not a beach bum." She allowed him to open the door. "Whoever they are, they could quite possibly see you as dressed like a billionaire." She smiled again as she pointed upward for emphasis.
Angela is very beautiful and at that moment transformed before Hugo's eyes into a social star, afternoon light flashed around them as they walked through the door. She leaned toward Hugo and held onto his arm as she spoke. There was a split second of silence as a remarkably healthy and handsome couple walked through the front door of Rosie's political hang out. Angela's last word, "billionaire," floated free on the silence for a milli second. That's all it took, Hugo Chávez became a billionaire and everybody knew it. Angela looked into his surprised eyes and laughed.
Then the din of conversation engulfed them. They each held a cold beer with a slice of lime in less than a minute, without asking. The politician's hangout at Rosie's was too loud to ask anybody anything. Hugo sipped cold beer on a hot tropical day. He nibbled a bit of cold lime slice and then drew a question mark with it in the air, "?" The lime was similar green as her vest.
Angela studied Hugo and his lime green question mark. She also sipped her cold beer and chewed on her lime slice. She didn't normally drink when she was working for the newspaper in Rosie's place, but when she did, Angela's drink was half water with a strong lime squeeze. She drank most of her ice cold drink thirstily and set what remained on the bar. Upon turning back from the bar, she nodded toward a man directly behind Hugo, hooked Hugo's free arm and spun him with her until they stood next to the US Ambassador, James Wayne. Angela had whispered who he was directly into Hugo's ear. They listened as the ambassador explained how this vote would hurt relatives left behind in the US and there was still a chance to turn the vote around.
Angela was writing notes on her pad. Hugo could hear a little bit but was slightly outside the news reporter's dome of listening range. He felt Angela's arm around his waste and she pulled him in closer. Now Hugo could hear the US Ambassador explain how this wrong-headed vote would hurt all the Puerto Ricans in the US who would feel like they weren't Puerto Ricans anymore. The ambassador urged overturning the vote within thirty days, declare a rapid popular annulment of national independence in favor of statehood membership in the United States. "Our state department legal teams could get the cases filed and this thing over and done with in short order." The US Ambassador concluded. "Think of your relatives and friends left behind."
Angela went back to writing when Hugo was close enough to hear. Hugo surprised them both when he asked the ambassador about all the other nations with populations in the US. "Do Italians feel left out? Do the Irish feel left out? Why will Puerto Ricans who have emigrated to the US feel any different than Hondurans or Guatemalans who have become northerners? Should Columbia also be made into a state?"
The US Ambassador turned to Hugo, who he already had heard was a local billionaire. I'm sorry, sir, the ambassador responded. I don't recall knowing your name."
"Hugo Chávez... And I am grateful for such a strong vote for independence from US colonial domination." Hugo immediately wished he'd also mentioned himself as a free Puerto Rican citizen of Planet Earth but held his breath.
The ambassador had heard such sentiments before. Though he was at such a high pay scale that people's feelings had not been a consideration of his for quite a few years. His eyes were cold and distant even as he crinkled his face into a politician's warm smile. He bowed a bit to Angela and still smiling nodded to Hugo, "You will I am sure excuse me to visit a friend. Thank you for your insight." The ambassador concluded as he turned and walked a few steps to converse with his friend, a high ranking military officer.
"You are wonderful!" Angela said. We have major story material and we've been here a very short time."
"How did you make a conversation zone in all this noise?" Hugo asked.
Angela smiled; "I am a professional reporter, we can talk in noisy rooms or we get another job." She smiled, shrugged her shoulders, and indicated other persons with a smile to them and a toss of her head for Hugo. "There's the famous artist Pablo Piquante and his wife Ynez, lets go talk to them. He is a great artist though she is the more interesting conversationalist."
"I've heard of him," Hugo said as he tucked into Angela's listening zone.
"You are not going to believe this," Angela said, "They are my parents."
As she had done before, Angela put her arm around Hugo's waste and pulled him closer, barely touching. "I am so happy to see you here, Ynez and Pablo," she said, "Please meet my friend Hugo Chávez." She removed her arm from around Hugo and gestured to her parents with a small bow and smile.
"We are delighted to meet you," Ynez responded. A warm and friendly mother hugged Angela lightly and shook Hugo's hand.
They all turned to Pablo, who was sketching people on a napkin. "I am going to paint a crowd scene called "Independence Day." He said as he held up a small paper pad with a sketch of Hugo, the ambassador, and Angela writing in her reporter's notebook. Ynez opened her purse and showed it to be full of napkins and pad papers covered with people drawn on them.
"I'm on duty, said Angela; "What is your feeling about the people and you yourself at last living independent?" she asked.
Pablo was happily sketching more people and let Ynez answer for them both. "It is a grand and glorious moment." Ynez responded. My great grandfather was a young boy who fought the United States when it attacked Puerto Rico and destroyed our independence and fledgling democracy." She let Angela finish writing and then continued. "The United States is a barbaric war country that is a vampire sucking Earth's blood and turning it into money hidden in secret banks. We are free of the US empire forever. I do not believe the US navy will appear and attack us without warning like it did before; firing cannons straight into town without warning. They are gone and I am glad, very happy. Adios colonialists."
Ynez was still waving good bye to the United States when a younger woman joined them. Angela introduced her, "My sister, Adriana Castro Piquante, please meet my friend, Hugo Chávez. And what is your artist's view of our independence from a colonial swindler?" Angela asked Adriana.
Adriana smiled and then laughed at Angela's question. "Did my mom already say, grand and glorious?"
"Yep." Ynez responded with a clap and a smile.
Hugo spoke first; "I remember my first thoughts were as if stardust and creativity were suddenly unleashed," he interjected. Hugo also told them he was honored to be part of their family conversation at Rosie's Cafe while celebrating independence.
"Oh. Sister dear. Your friend is an eloquent diplomate. Where did the two of you meet?" She cuddled up close to Hugo, "I'd like to meet a billionaire," she cooed with a sexy smile.
Hugo began to explain how he wasn't actually a billionaire when Angela's hard leather shoe sole stepped forcefully on his bare sandal clad foot.
"I'm not actually...um... sure how I feel now." He concluded pensively. "Giddy with freedom is close. And as an ultimate, you two are sisters in a famous family of artists. Wow!'
Angela had stepped purposefully on Hugo's foot. Although Hugo's toes throbbed with pain, he did not show it. He looked in Angela's eyes and saw she was happy with the answer.
"So, back on duty; How do you think young artists in general are feeling?" Angela asked her sister.
Adriana was thoughtful for a moment. Are you going to put this in the paper?" She asked.
"Without a doubt, my sister. What do think will happen? You may change your mind tomorrow. For here and now, What do you think the young artists of Puerto Rico will do with their independence."
Adriana breathed deeply and then answered. "I have thought quite a bit about this; We will paint, make music, write stories and essays, learn new ways of farming and create a new form of government. A constituent assembly will convene and at first be mostly old guard, but the avant-guarde will be overpowering. The United States is gone from our lives forever. We are free now. A new form of government will soon be created. I've seen the diagram. It's like a flower. In fact, your son, Howie, is working on it at school. I know because my friend's niece, Maria, works on it with him. They are in love." Adriana smiled. "Don't you dare say I said anything about Howie and Maria. They should be your next story."
"Okay. I will ask Howie about the new form of government they are working on in school," Angela told her sister. "And I won't quiz him about Maria. But just this minute I heard someone in that group say, "Food sovereignty will help Puerto Rico create a popular economy made up of happy self-employed people. I read that Puerto Rico once had food sovereignty, even when the people were slaves of colonial Spain, and for my story need to hear more from the woman who understands food sovereignty is number one for every one."
"Yes. Food sovereignty was viewed as a necessary given before the US colonial government replaced your revolutionary democracy," The woman who had been speaking nearby turned to Angela and spoke clearly through the din of conversation.
Adriana kissed her sister on the cheek and waved good-by, "I'll stay with our parents, that woman sounds like important material for your story," she said. "Would you like to stay with me and our parents?" Adriana asked Hugo, she was a beautiful smiling young woman, "I really would like to meet a billionaire," she concluded stepping toward Hugo.
Angela laughed at her sister, smiled to her parents, and pulled Hugo's arm toward the woman who was speaking about food sovereignty. Hugo saw Angela's family all laughing together as he and Angela made their way through the crowd toward the next story.
"I still do not understand how you are able to speak and hear in all this noise," Hugo shouted into her ear.
"Ow." Angela responded, pulling her head away and putting her hand over her ear. "I told you, it's my newspaper reporter's magic. You don't need to shout." She hugged Hugo around his waist and pulled him closer. "My family likes you," she concluded as they joined in the conversation about food sovereignty.
A strong, erudite forest ranger looking woman with thick wavy brown hair was stressing the importance of food sovereignty to a small circle of interested people. She greeted Angela by saying she had seen her interviewing the ambassador and the artist's family. "I am Mora Ó Conghaile," She introduced herself. "Please call me Mora, I am a Doctor of agricultural and food sovereignty, from Cork, Ireland. The campaign leading to your vote for independence has been exciting daily news. I work and study, in Nicaragua, near the frontier of Honduras. Are you interested in why I believe food sovereignty for Puerto Rico is so important that I hurried to be here when the vote was counted?"
"Yes. Of course. I am Angela. Yes, I am interested in your story. I work for the newspaper and am on the job here at Rosie's political hangout. This is my friend, Hugo Chávez, he is a good listener. Tell us why you traveled here for the vote?"
"I'm glad to meet you both." Dr. Ó Conghaile replied. "What did you say to the US ambassador?" She asked Hugo, "The look on his face as you spoke was classic!" She shook Hugo's hand with a warm smile and then a chuckle.
Hugo laughed. "It will be a good story to share sometime when Angela is not working. Please tell us about food sovereignty. Did I hear you say Puerto Rico once produced enough for everyone to eat?"
"You heard correctly," Dr. Ó Conghaile responded. "And now that I've told you I'm licensed, don't forget to call me Mora."
"Okay, Mora," Angela said, "Tell us when Puerto Ricans had enough food for everyone to eat."
"This was a rich land before the Spanish came," Mora responded. "There were fish in the ocean and abundant fruits and vegetables. Houses were small and built to be hurricane safe. Diet was varied. The spanish conquerors dropped anchor in a rich port. They named it Puerto Rico. People lived differently then. Of course the natives worked to grow food, catch fish, hunt sea birds, wash clothes and build houses."
"Yet there were fewer people then. Now cities are large and densely populated." Angela interjected.
"There were more native Taíno in all the Caribbean Sea than is commonly known." Hugo pointed out. "It is entirely possible that smallpox carried by european conquerors killed as many as eighty to ninety percent of the Taíno here in Puerto Rico before any one had a chance to count them."
"Yes," Mora agreed. "Conquering sick people was easy. Conquerors became rich upper class european colonists. Always short on cash, colonists became masters, they pushed the austerity button and turned the people into slaves growing sugar cane to make rum."
"Would I be wrong in my story to characterize what you have described as slaves producing for an early version of the illicit drug industry?" Angela asked Mora.
"That's exactly my point. Mora responded. "Yet, even then, the european colonial conquerors knew the slaves needed to eat for the same reason as horses or oxen pulling a plow must be fed and cared for. Providing a healthy diet for themselves in order to be productive slaves continued much as it had before barbaric europeans arrived carrying sickness that caused defeat of the indigenous Taíno people of the Caribbean."
"Today is different," Hugo interjected. "Today we have poverty, homeless without land, yet having hunger."
"Nicaragua is close to gaining food sovereignty," Mora responded, "I learned a lot from Nicaraguans and believe Puerto Ricans can do the same. I believe Puerto Ricans will teach the US a modern form of democracy and make beautiful little hurricane-safe houses, taíno style, at the same time."
Angela snapped her reporter's book shut and announced that her pen needed ink. "I would like to learn more about food sovereignty. Will you please join us at the Taíno restaurant for dinner? That is my next job assignment. Have you already planned your evening meal?"
"That sounds good, thank you," Mora responded. I'll find my partner and we'll meet you there."
Hugo and Angela smiled and waved to Mora as they turned and made their way to the door of Rosie's cafe and afternoon meeting place for politicians.
They held hands as they wound through the crowd. Angela told Hugo the newspaper would pay for their dinner as he opened the door. "Every one still thinks you are a billionaire," she said. "It's okay for you to let the newspaper pay for our dinner. When the bill comes, you say, The newspaper pays Angela for this meal. That will give me time to put my credit card on the table and change the subject to something more important, I wonder what my son is doing now that football practice is over, for example."
"Why do you want me to pretend to be a billionaire?" Hugo asked. "I do lot's of other jobs, from carpenter to cop, I even wore a suit right after I graduated from college; what's your billionaire idea all about?"
"It was not a plan. I heard my spoken word "billionaire" take flight on a split second of magic newspaper reporter silence," Angela responded. She reached to hold Hugo's hand. Then she pretended to be her sister Adriana and said suavely, "People will forget soon, even so, I've always wanted to meet a billionaire."
Hugo looked into Angela's eyes and laughed as he put his arm around her waist and they turned the corner toward the restaurant Taíno.
© Garrett Tobin Connelly