Trigger Warning

Ana Corona scanned the celestial map of her Great Day – the sun was pink-white and so unapproachable that the clouds fled the reach of its searing torches. No one needs to tell her this is her Great Day.

Seated as she was beneath the corrugated shade of a coconut palm, a grass mat beneath her, she listened. The furious surf, the squeals of avian scavengers … and the pitiful, inhuman, soul-scorching wails of two men, on their way to hell in an incomprehensibly painful manner.

Ana Corona’s grandfather had many faults and shortcomings – he was an unvarnished human being. That was the man he was to the world. But his little “Co-co” saw him as perfect for what he was – a grandfather, a protector, a teacher, a nurse. “Woowo” was the heartbeat center of her thirteen-year-old universe.

Woowo provided well, and the two of them were never without rice or conversation. Meal times, Ana Corona would stir fry the rice and green beans, and Woowo would sit with her and ask her questions and pose riddles to her. Ana Corona would ask him to tell stories about his life from when he was a boy. And Woowo had many stories – impossible to believe – but absolutely fascinating to hear. His adventures with his boyhood mates, his run-ins with criminal gangs, his football exploits (as he told them) were so dramatic. But the best of all were his pirate stories.

Woowo told terrifying tales of plying the surf off the coast in motor skiffs to prey on unsuspecting victims with a gang of local pirates. And sometimes (it depended on his inclinations that day), Woowo became the victim of the pirates in these harrowing accounts – he got in their way, or he was forced by pirates’ threats to keep a lookout for government patrols. Always, her grandfather was in the thick of dangerous maneuvers, gunfire, and physical violence. The pirate stories had never failed to raise her gooseflesh from the time she was a toddler.

Ana Corona scanned the sun-bleached sky once more. Her Great Day was as unassailable as the sun traversing the blue, as inevitable as the tides. Nothing on earth could stop it. 

Here comes justice. This is my Great Day.

All of Woowo’s pirate stories ended happily, of course, because he was always there to finish telling the story. Alas, he would never tell Ana Corona the last pirate tale (perhaps Woowo’s only actual encounter with the real privateers).

Woowo was a xoogsade, a laborer, who would volunteer for just about any kind of work that didn’t require too much muscle. Woowo was thin and wiry; his chest narrow as a pigeon’s; he had long fingered hands and narrow feet. No one would pick him to deliver heavy parcels or carry logs or coal. But anything else he might try, if it meant a bag of rice or some extra lumber or copper wire, or a handful of coins.

On this particular morning, when he was approached by a huge fellow to come with him to a fishing captain’s boat to cut up the day’s catch, Woowo asked what he could expect to earn for such work. The giant told him that he would go home with two pounds of fish and some shillings.

Woowo walked home to tell his Co-co that he would be gone for the day, but that they might enjoy some grouper or qubo for dinner. With cleaning clothes and gardening to keep her busy, Ana Corona would work all day, and the evening meal would include peppers and some delicious tomatoes from her efforts. She patted Woowo on his shoulder and waved as he walked back to start his day’s engagement.

That evening, as Ana Corona sat trimming beans and guessing what Woowo would tell her about his day’s adventures, a neighborhood boy came running to her house from the village. “A man wants to see you at the Acme. Big man, he was crying. He said come right away.”

Putting aside her vegetables, Ana Corona hurried along the pathway, expecting to meet Woowo on his way home. When she arrived at Acme (without seeing her grandfather), there stood by the automatic doors a tall, broad, heavy wall of a man, about thirty years old. His head was down and his eyes were red and squinting back new tears. He sniffled helplessly. Like the flick of a light switch, a horrible thought burst upon her, paralyzed her: What has happened to Woowo?

The imposing figure turned to notice her frantic approach and her stricken face. Resting his newspaper covered parcel on a sidewalk table, he asked who she was.

“My name is Ana Corona”, she eyed the man for any clues she might discover as to Woowo’s whereabouts.

“My name is Hassan. How do you know an old man, Muhammad Farrah, from this village?”

Nearly choking, she blurted out, “He is my grandfather!”

The big man directed her to sit at the table, where he pulled out a chair and sat facing her. He offered her some American chewing gum which she did not accept. She struggled to breathe.

“I am crying”, he began, “because I have to tell you that your grandfather will not come home. He is dead. I am crying because of what I saw and what I did, and because I cannot carry this much sorrow inside me.

“I told the old man to follow me to the docks, and to clean fish on the captain’s boat. The old man said he could clean a lot of fish in a short period of time, and I decided no more talk from me about what was going to happen. But I knew.”

Ana Corona’s eyes grew wider, but they would not cry. This brute is mistaken about Woowo; he is not dead, she thought. Woowo will be home, maybe late for the meal is all.

Hassan continued his ominous narrative. “The old man got right to work with the fish in the tubs on deck. He had cleaned two fish when the captain of the boat arrived, along with several other men in two motor skiffs. That’s when your grandfather was captured and taken with me and the other pirates in the three boats.

“We sped across the bay, with choppy seas and wind battering us along. I told your grandfather to keep calm. He said he was too scared to do anything, and this was not cleaning fish like he had been told. I told him to stay low, make no noise and just wait.

“After maybe four miles out to sea, our boats came upon a luxury boat, idling along, almost just floating. Our group was going to board and rob its passengers and crew, taking everything we could manage. There might be hostages for ransom, but that is not the kind of trouble our captain wanted. Our attack would be quick and quite possibly deadly, if any small thing went wrong. But it likely would bring lots of money.”

Hassan took a deep breath, while Ana Corona sat dazed, unmoving.

“Your grandfather was commanded to hold a woman – a French woman in a swimming suit, a very small one, very blasphemous – to keep her from struggling during the raid. Your grandfather began praying loudly that he could not touch a woman who was almost naked, beseeching his captors to set him free and begging Allah to forgive him. The old man was hit very hard several times by two of the pirates, until he collapsed.

“With all the valuables we could haul on board our boats and a man and woman hostage in a boat with your grandfather, our raiding party turned and headed back across the bay. And then, a mile from here maybe, a pirate named Omar screamed for the man and woman to stand up. He moved them to the prow of the boat. Omar drew a pistol and shot each of them in the face. Two other pirates hoisted the bodies overboard.

“Then he turned to me and commanded me to bring the old ‘witness’ to the prow. I was made to march your grandfather to his executioner. He … the pirate Omar … he … Oh! I am so sad that I did that. I cannot live with this sorrow that is scraping away at my insides.

“When we got to the dock, I was ordered to take some fish to you and to tell you that your grandfather had been pulled overboard in rough seas trying to help another ‘fisherman.’ “Here is the fish,” he handed her a slab of wet newspaper wrapped around some grouper. Hassan stood, crying and moaning to himself as he turned to leave.

The girl came out of a daze and fixed her gaze on his broad back, his shoulders like bridge supports, a pair of hands like baskets.

“Wait, mister. You can help me,” said Ana Corona, “and maybe you can wash away some of your sorrow,”

Hassan was indeed most helpful. He was able to convince Omar and the captain that the old man’s granddaughter was grateful for the fish and that she had so much rice and vegetables, she wanted the two “fishermen” to come to an evening meal and tell her about her Woowo’s last moments so that she could remember him.

Ana Corona fed the men well, and made them shaah (tea). When the two thugs slumped into unconsciousness, Hassan was again helpful in dragging them to this beach and chaining them each to an anchor at low tide. Hassan performed all the breaking of feet, ankles, knees, shoulders, hands, and  smashing of teeth with a quiet, grim determination. 

And now, Ana Corona could sit on her mat and glory at the sound of pure evil being justly punished, as the tide moved in to snuff out the wretched screams of the really unfortunate pirates.

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