Wrote this for submittal for a book of short stories with either a ‘Hero’ or ‘Villian’ main character. It was not accepted. A) It was not what they were looking for. Or B) It’s not that good. I’m going to assume it was option A.
By Wayne Hills
The pigeon’s feathers ruffle in the warm breeze hinting at the coming summer. Having no knowledge, and therefore no respect, for the shoulder of the statue she has perched upon; she relieves herself in same location her ancestors have done for hundreds of years. Her bodily function merely adds another, unnoticed, white and brown patch to the coat of the bronze homage in the small town’s main plaza.
The sculpted figure’s gaze is forever watching the sea to the west. The subject’s explorations of the New World returned great riches to his home country; his crusades brought many converts to his faith. The combined exploits brought fame and fortune to his family, and this otherwise unremarkable city on the coast of Europe.
The local school children learn about his life and travels; they look up to him and dream that their lives could one day be as glorious. This unimportant seaside village has produced countless fishermen and their wives, many drunkards, and even more prisoners. It has however, only produced one hero. Fernando Alejandro Reyes, world explorer, and prophet of his religion.
Fernando sailed uncharted oceans in small wooden ships, when primitive, and often unreliable, compasses, the stars, and a rope with metered knots tied in it, were the only means of navigation. He, and his motley crew, all desperate to escape war, disease, and famine, cast their lots to the sea in search of adventure and glory. They were the lucky few to not only discover new land, but to return safely; all that is, except for Capitan Reyes.
On his fourth expedition he met his ultimate fate at the hands of a savage. As told by his surviving shipmates, their brave leader was killed by a naked, brown, sub-human somewhere along the southern coast of New World.
There were many celebrations of Fernando’s life and deeds; an annual fiesta, and holy day were named in his honor. On the one hundredth anniversary of his glorious death, the town erected a life sized tribute in the city common. He is considered by all to be the town’s greatest son, their one true hero.
He was a mass murderer, they say. He brought civilization to barbarians, the History Books print. Fernando’s brutality was condoned in the name of the crown in order to bring back wealth.
He crushed a thriving society, they say. He discovered new lands and riches, the Inscription reads. He is a fearless explorer, and warrior of King and God, a man to be venerated.
To the inhabitants of an equally unremarkable village, somewhere on the southern coast of the World that was not New to them, perhaps not.
Surprised by a commotion from a cluster of men huddled around a small television in an open air café, the pigeon launches from her perch in a flurry of dust and loose feathers. Circling the plaza she eyes crumbs near the group’s feet. She lands nearby, and a few waddling steps towards them rewards her with a gizzard full of ants that have also discovered the spilled bounty. Occasionally her head tilts, allowing one eye or the other, to keep watch on the men in their brightly colored shirts. If her avian mind had the capacity to understand, she would know their matching attire is in support of a sports team; the region’s most popular soccer club, Futebol Clube de Sporte’.
Her pecan sized brain is also unable to decipher the large black patch emblazoned on their backs. A single bold numeral, ‘5’, symbolizes the club’s premiere player known only by his last name, Bene.
Bene, the football player, is a hero to these hard working men and their sons, and their friends and sons, and hundreds of the friends and sons of similarly dedicated and God fearing men throughout the countryside. Famous for his accomplishments on the pitch; he has earned glory for the team by amassing personal records and awards while in their employ. His fierce play, and athletic ability, has earned great victories and brought championship trophies home for the club and its fans. On the field he is a ball handling king; his skill with his feet is legend to opposing players, and the men who wear his jersey. His talent with his more delicate body parts is secretly renowned to their wives and daughters.
He has fathered a dozen children, all unknown to him, all unsupported from him, all HIV positive by him. As he travels with the team he receives standing ovations and cheers under the bright stadium lights; when those lights are dimmed however, he is spreading his seed and disease in every town he visits; one, or more, willing partner at a time.
Bene the revered athlete has failed every drug test he has ever taken for illegal narcotics. All the failures are covered up by Futebol Clube’s lawyers; the same men who buy off the women he’s infected or impregnated. For a quick payday they’ll forget what he did, and who he did it with. He is always whisked away when the Policia arrive, several times by the Policeman themselves for an autograph, or used pair of his playing sneakers.
He has a drug problem, they say. He’s seeking treatment, the Tabloids print. Bene always walks, never pays for his crimes.
He doesn’t stand up for his responsibilities, they say. He will play this week, the Sport’s Page reads. He is the ultimate champion, a thoroughbred of the greatest measure.
To the thousands of people who applaud his ability to play a child’s game, he is a sports hero, an athletic God.
The scores of neglected and infected women and children he has left in his wake; and the countless souls that lie dead because of the trafficking of the drugs he abuses, would disagree.
The shopkeepers straw bristle broom shoos the pigeon away from his café sending bits of dirt, some ants, and a small button into the air. Instinct takes over as the late afternoon’s cool breeze signals the bird that it’s time to head for her nest. The insects, dirt, and button, having no instincts at the moment but to obey the law of gravity, fall back to earth. One of the minuscule creatures lands on top of the shiny white button, but having no capacity to understand the importance of his find, crawls off in an attempt to find his way home carrying the bit of bread he holds in his tiny mandibles. He, if in fact this particular ant is a he, has found an integral piece of missing evidence in the trial of a, high ranking, Deputy of the nation’s Parliament.
Juan Carlo Opello III was born into his role as a leader of men; and the population of the country adores him for it. He has shown incomprehensible expertise in straddling the, very barbed, fence of fiscal conservatism, and liberal policies for the poor and under privileged. He is the eldest son of Juan Carlo the second. Juan II, having served as the country’s Prime Minister, was very proud when his son was appointed to the position of Deputy of the Treasury. Especially since Juan III had never worked a single day of his pampered life; it was only natural for Juan the First’s grandson to follow in the family’s dual businesses, wealth and privilege.
Juan the eldest began amassing the family fortune running liquor to the United States during the country’s, ill-advised, attempt at national temperance. And once America, pardon the pun, sobered up to the fact that they could make more money in taxes than it was cost to subject their people to an unpopular, and mostly unenforceable, law, dealt weapons to various rebel organizations throughout the world. Just as any great robber baron had learned, once enough money was made, unimaginable wealth is within grasp by seeming to be a legitimate businessman. A few well-placed bribes here, a couple ‘accidental’ deaths there, and within a generation, an unknown black marketeer had a son rise to be the country’s most powerful man.
From there it was an easy step to hold that power, to elevate another generation’s son to the heights of politics. As simple a stride as it was for that promising young man to spend a pleasant evening driving through the countryside sampling some of the land’s finer depravity. Making a quick stop here and there for a carafe of the local red or white; partaking in anything, or anyone, available to this influential politician. This respected, and coddled man who may, one day, follow in his father’s footsteps to reach the top of the political mountain.
Why shouldn’t the people want to emulate him, to shower him with gifts and praise, to treat him like the national hero he is? This man must be a God among mere humans to reach to the stars of power at such a young age. How else could he have risen so quickly?
The good people, of this proud nation, have no knowledge of the dominant Opello family’s closed door meetings with other prominent men of wealth and power. The unethical deals they arrange, the back alley packages, some containing bills both large and small, some merely containing photographs or secrets preeminent men would prefer to keep hidden. Promises covertly passed between politicians out for their own profit.
Yet even with all his distinguished family’s influence, Juan III’s ascension has not been as smooth as they had planned. An unexpected, albeit minor in their eyes, rumble up the street and over a single mother and her young child walking that same lovely evening; they were simply out enjoying the cool night after an especially hot day.
In the countryside the poor don’t have air conditioned mansions, or cars, so they walk for free in the calm night’s air. The widowed mother felt safe in her belief that any driver could see them, out for a stroll, on a well-lit street just on the outskirts of their little town. Their faith, just as one would expect a respected and important man to have inborn morality, has let them down.
Before speeding off into the dark, and the protection of his political machine; he did stop. He did in fact, rush to the mother in her dying moment. He heard her moans, “Be’be, be’be.” And he turned and looked for the child, spying him under the sleek German sports car that was a gift from his generous grandfather. He did not however, notice the mother’s hand reach out for help, for comfort in her final movement, and pluck a small ivory button from the jacket of his imported, handmade, Italian silk suit.
The young boy survived the crash, badly broken and orphaned from his encounter with the rich and powerful Juan Carlo Opello III. Although his memory was clear of the night and his description of the silver sports car and man in the fancy suit were very specific, there was no physical evidence linking this, very important, national hero to the death of an insignificant woman in the street.
“Why would she be out walking at night,” they say. “She was probably a prostitute,” the News Anchor reported. Juan Carlo is destined to be the next President; he has the pedigree for the job.
“What good to society was she?” they say. “He’s one of the country’s most powerful men, too important to fall,” the editorial page wrote. His skill at bringing the political parties together is unmatched.
To the government of the country, he is a national hero for the economy and her people.
To a young orphan boy, whose murdered mother was branded a whore, he is the vile creature who ruined his life.
Dusk’s light casts elongated shadows across the plaza as the pigeon approaches her home in the belfry of the old church. The generations of her family that defiled the town’s celebrated statute, nested in these nooks and crevices; these same sheltered outcroppings will be used by her offspring for their nests.
As she spreads her wings, and flares her pure white tail, to alight on top of her young, she spies one of the cathedral’s many feral cats stalking the three puffy grey chicks she left hours earlier in search of food.
Diverting her flight she lands on the intruder; there is no thought of her own safety, no fear in her actions. Her young must be protected from harm, even if that action puts her at risk.
Pecking and flapping her wings, she beats the predator away. As the hunter turns to flee, one last slash of a paw nicks the mother bird’s breast. The tiny red drops fall on her young as they chirp her welcome.
A month later she’ll be dead; poisoned from an infection contracted from that small nick in her tender flesh. By the time her soft body falls from the steeple, providing an easy meal for the tabby’s relatives, her three young chicks have grown to fledglings. They have left their provider’s care to explore the plaza, and add their droppings to the remnants from their forgotten mother.
Was this simple pigeon a hero? A selfless mother, she died in the act of providing shelter and protection for her family without care for glory, fame, or riches. She was just a bird, instinct guided her actions; she had no more motive than the ant bringing a crumb back to his colony.
What about the explorer, surely he is a hero? Courageously traveling the uncharted world in barely seaworthy craft; successful in his mission to discover new lands to plunder, and people to convert to his way of life. The New World’s population, were considered brutal and primitive by the conqueror’s civilization’s standards, were shown no mercy in his quest for riches and glory.
The sports star perhaps, fans worship him as their hero? Elevated to stardom, and idolized by legions simply because he was born with physical gifts, and abilities greater than the average human’s. The adoration shown by his followers allow him to live an extravagant lifestyle with no concern for the welfare of others. His indifference includes his own, unfortunate and unseen, progenies.
The eloquent statesman, a man of the people, he must be a hero? Born into a family considered royalty by the oppressed masses; they are seen as the paramount example of the promise of a better life. They choose to ignore, or conveniently forget, that he inherited a privileged station in life because of his forefather’s illicit dealings; his ancestor’s trading in vice, and death, bought wealth and power to his family tree. Abuse of that authority allows them a free pass to murder, and corruption in the name of wealth.
There are heroes, and villains in this story. Individually each fisherman, wife, mother and father, shopkeeper, sports fan, even the drunkards and criminals may be flawed. But among them, there are men and women who strive each day for what is right for their families and society. Unknowingly we encounter heroes every day; we are just looking in the wrong direction.