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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes

The Banished
Joseph Grant

As he traversed long the hot sands he could still hear the helicopters in the distance. The choppers that had deposited his eighty-one year old frame in the middle of nowhere. Juan Muytado cursed them; they, who had left him here in this wasteland, alone in hell.

Voices sifted through his head. He could still see the faces of the government men who had tormented him. He could still feel the bruising beneath his sagging skin, could still feel the kicking that they leveled on him as they threw him out of the helicopter down into the harsh, stinging sand. The men spat at him and cursed at him and left him out here to die. He was a criminal, they said.

Muytado staggered under the sweltering sun. Sweat poured from every inch of his body. He wondered how he was supposed to survive without anything to eat. All he had to drink was one lousy canteen of water and that would last him less than a day, maybe two if he was careful. They gave him a first aid kit and a compass. Both were useless, he reasoned. The compass was the most useless of the two, for he knew he would never live to find his way out.
He wondered what he had done to deserve this. He had been dealt such an inhumanity, he raged. What had he been guilty of, he wondered aloud? He hadn’t killed anyone. He was just doing what everyone else did in their day-to-day; their job. He was following the orders of his superiors, in this case, the company’s stockholders. The government told him that was what the Nazis had said. This was crazy; he wasn’t a war criminal or anything like it, he argued, hell, he didn’t even follow politics. If anything, he was apolitical. He was an atheist when it came to government. The prosecutor told him that this was too bad, for he’d better start praying.

He tried to reason as he trudged along the burning grains beneath his shoes. What had he done but feed his family and give others the chance to work and provide for their families? As far as he could see he did nothing wrong. But the political tide had turned and now he was considered a criminal or worse, not only by his country, but the world. Was it a crime to do your job to the best of your personal ability, he cried aloud? Apparently for Juan Muytado, it had been.
His mind rewound back to little over a year ago when he was spending the first few weeks of his retirement in his spacious property in Peru. With absolutely no cares in the world, he and his wife Elena enjoyed their home. One day, she was hanging washing and he was sitting in the garden, relaxing and ruminating on the possibility of a trip to the coast later on in the early fall when the weather was not so hot. Then, all hell broke loose.

The next thing Juan knew, he and his wife were face down on the patio stone, overwhelmed and surrounded by armed government troops, loyal to the new regime. Juan tried to speak, telling them how he had served in the old guard but was pummeled into silence.

They were dragged into the house and interrogated for hours, but just as frighteningly and mysteriously as the government men had come, they simply disappeared. Without explanation, nor apology, they simply left the estate.
This bothered Juan for a number of weeks, but he did nothing. Thinking back on it, he should have done something but he misunderstood his fear then. He understood his fear now. A government that could place an old man in the middle of some far off desert was not a regime to question.

The heat of the sand began to ulcer his feet and soon he could barely walk. He removed his shoes and socks and put them aside as he examined his feet. Pustules had started to form on the sides. He rubbed at his feet but this only seemed to agitate them more. Soon, he put his shoes back on, minus the socks and ventured onward towards nowhere.
He wondered where the human rights organizations were in all of this and if they knew this was taking place. It was unconscionable to do this to a human being. He knew they would not stand for such political persecution. After all, he was an elderly man. Juan bristled as he thought about what the regime did to younger, healthier men.

His mind drifted back to that time of the troops busting into his house. He recalled how afterwards he did not say a thing to anyone; thinking if he said nothing, then nothing would come of it and he and Elena could forget it. He speculated on whether the same thing was happening to his neighbors, but for the fact that he never asked, for fear of further retribution, he would never now know.

It must have been happening to his neighbors and those in his town. But if this was so, how come there were no other government vehicles in the area or the fact that he was the only one brought to trial, he asked himself?
He thought of the house arrests. In the months soon after when the troops would come regularly and the one in charge, the one that always seemed American, somehow CIA, came into his life; the one who called himself Antonio. He introduced himself as a general, then changed his mind and therefore, rank. He then muddled through an explanation of how he was not in the military at all. Juan smiled at this remembrance. He knew that the man was lying. The man tried to pass himself off as a South American and even had his Berlitz down pretty good, but he was no South American, Juan knew.

The house arrests were the worst, he remembered. Not only did he wince at the thought of the torture and brutality exhibited and experienced in his own house, his sanctuary and he recalled the screams of his wife with tears in his eyes. As a man, Juan could take anything, but not the sound of his wife being maltreated in the next room; so close to him but miles away. The cigarette burns on his face, neck, torso and privates, the slaps, kicks and punches to his old body but the not knowing how they were abusing Elena, this he could not bear. When her weak heart gave out, he thought he would kill each and every one of those bastards.

Then fell the quiet. Everything settled peacefully after Elena had died. He had gone back to as much of a tranquil existence without Elena as could be warranted. And then came that night; that awful night when the bastards came in again, rifle-butted him awake and stole him from his bed. It was the middle of the night, if he remembered correctly, driven along some godforsaken endless transport ride. Kidnapped like Eichmann, was all he could think; kidnapped like goddamned Eichmann.

He did not know why he had been the victim of such abuse and treatment until the trial. The whole trial had been a joke, he mused. What did the Americans call it again? What was there expression, he wondered? Oh yes, a kangaroo court. He was guilty the moment he walked into that room,. The judge had him nailed and the so-called witnesses were nothing but actors supplied by the government to provide the case with false authentication. Everything and anything that could have been used to slander his name was used. They made it sound as if he was the biggest criminal in the world. He remembered how he saw Antonio, dressed in a suit and sitting there with a smug expression as though his job was done. When his turn came as a government witness, his testimony was the most damaging of all.

In the end, Juan could only argue that he was just doing his job and if anything, there were bigger criminals still at large. There was nothing wrong with the honest work he had been doing and honest work had gotten him to the educated and respected businessman he was; or had been. He was proud that he had not been a coffee grower like his father. He had worked himself up through school on the sweat of his father; this was true, but continued on, working his way to a degree in biology. He worked in the rain forests through the Central East and soon became a renowned expert in the region. His real career break came when he was called to work for a timber company and he learned the business from the ground up, he liked to say. He embarked on his own lumber company and in a few years, put his former employee out of business. Eventually, he was the largest supplier of timber in the country.

He commenced to working with varied companies from around the globe. Companies that were described at the trial as ‘a conglomerate of rich, industrial concerns from Europe and Asia and the United States, as well’. Juan did not know if this was true, he just knew that very quickly he became an extremely rich man. He had been a proud man; proud of his accomplishments, but now Juan Muytado was not a proud man anymore.

At the trial, he regaled a mostly empty courtroom how his work took him to the most intriguing places and how he met many interesting people. He explained how he spent over fifty-five years as head of the logging business and finally sold it and retired. At the trial, the prosecution team made it sound like a crime spree.

The lead prosecutor was a slick, American-type who harped on the fact that over his fifty-five year reign Muytado had committed heinous crimes against nature, fouled up the air and the Amazon River, decimating the world’s tree population by cutting down approximately fifty-million trees.

Juan waited in vain for the corporation he had built to provide him with some sort of legal defense, as the government had frozen his assets and thus, he had no capital for his own legal representation. His former company did absolutely nothing. The court appointed him some puppet attorney who barely bothered to show up and when he did, told Juan to plead to no contest.

In the end, Juan Muytado was branded what the court termed an ‘eco-terrorist’, having destroyed 14 of the rain forest in South America and under international laws of terrorism; the prosecutors went for the jugular. They informed a packed courtroom how this one man alone, Juan Muytado, had upset the delicate balance of the eco-system, changing lush rain forests into dry, arid lands, creating perilous changes in the weather, such that could never be rectified. They accused him of awakening and disturbing the weather system they called El Nino. After this mockery of justice, they naturally found him guilty.

Juan Muytado knew his fate was sealed and hung his head while he was sentenced under international anti-terrorism laws newly adopted by his country. Even though he had pleaded not guilty against the advice of his lawyer, he was given the mandatory sentence.

As his fevered brow reviewed all that had transpired, he roamed the searing dunes, cursing those large corporations for whom he had sold his soul. These were the very same foreign conglomerate which had taken away his country and who had with murder, political corruption, torture and caused deforestation and severe land erosion.

His sentence had been to walk the desert, to search for his conscience. To wander the desert for the rest of his days, being driven mad by the sun. A land that had once been lush foliage, but was now a desert; a desert he himself helped create.

J. Grant March 2008

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