Viva! Ch2


Chapter Two

Dawn on the shores of Lake Nicaragua

1st January 1967

The fine-boned gelding shook the bit looser in his mouth as he lowered his head to crop the dew-damp grass. Olivia Abarca de Villanueva watched the girl slip a leg over the animal's rump and slide out of the saddle, caught in the burning light of dawn as it poured across the pewter waters of the Laguna de Nicaragua.

Julia Larios' black hair swung around her shoulders as she shook her head in disbelief. "This is so beautiful," she whispered but Olivia was not watching the sunrise. Instead the woman's eyes rested on the girl who was the object of her sons' affections. She was not as tall as herself but that, Olivia thought, only served to accentuate her figure which, at eighteen, was ripe and beautiful. When she smiled, the heavy, dark lashes fell over wide, black eyes while full lips parted over her perfect teeth. Olivia could understand why her sons vied daily for any word of encouragement from such a mouth.

But it was the affect this girl was having on her younger son, Rafael, that caused the woman to watch her with a mixture of nervousness and joy. She followed Julia's example and lowered herself from her chestnut mare. Now the two women, one a schoolgirl on the threshold of womanhood, the other still stunningly beautiful in her early forties, stood side by side, caught by the vista that spread in front of them. In time, the sun would climb into an azure sky and sear the steep grasslands of the hills to brittle tinder but now, as it rose above the two black cones of the Isla de Ometepe's twin volcanoes, it lit the whole landscape with a gentler light. Below them, at the water's edge, a white-painted farmhouse lay in the umber of the island's shadow.

"I believe this spot is my favourite in all Nicaragua," Olivia said.

Without speaking further she led her mount to a crag of rock that jutted from the grassy slope and looped the reins over the branch of a stunted mountain tree. Then, scrambling a few feet up the rock, she stopped at a smooth-worn place where she hitched her tight jeans up enough to let her sit. "Come," she said and patted the rock beside her. "Let's watch this together."

As the sun's warmth grew, Olivia pulled a pack of Marlboro cigarettes from her wind-cheater pocket and tapped one free. She snapped her lighter and drew the smoke deep into her lungs before passing the cigarettes to Julia.

"You have a very special place in my heart, Julia you know that, don't you?" She watched the younger woman as she spoke. "After Rafael was born and they told me I would not have any more children, I thought I would die. I had so wanted a big family." She smiled, ironically, "Of course Rodrigues was disappointed - you know what our men are like, I believe they still see us as brood mares - but I had always hoped for lots of children." She reached for Julia's hand, "Especially a daughter." She moved and sunlight flashed on the gold-rings ranked on her long artist's fingers. "And then, as if in answer to my prayers, God gave me you."

Julia watched the early morning ferry as it ploughed its wake between San Jorge and the island town of Moyogalpa across the glass-smooth water hundreds of feet below her. The older woman's frankness embarrassed her, but her own love for Olivia was more than that of a daughter, it was almost that of a younger sister for an older. Indeed, her own siblings, all brothers, were much nearer Olivia's age than her own. Julia knew that she had been an accident, one of God's little jokes on an older couple who had long before imagined that these things were behind them, and as a result she had been brought up almost as an only child. Old Señor Larios had been retired from his legal practice for ten years and everyone in the family referred to Señora Larios as Yaya - or Granny - Maria, a tradition started by Julia's nephews and nieces, now old enough to be at High School themselves.

It had been as much a Godsend for Julia as for Olivia when the Villanueva family moved into the house next door on her ninth birthday. Since then, the three children, Olivia's two boys - Miguel and Rafael - and Julia, had become the terrors of the neighbourhood, with their bicycles or go-carts made for them by old Señor Larios out of pram chassis and wooden fruit boxes. Then as they had moved into adolescence, this had changed to noisy transistor radios and all-night parties around the Villanuevas swimming pool and, now that Miguel worked in his father's Chevrolet dealership in downtown Managua, a noisy Chevrolet Corvette had been added to the arsenal.

Olivia reached out and took Julia's hand in hers. "I just want you to know how much we all love you," she said. "And this thing that's happening with you and Rafael," she hesitated. "Well, if you and he - you know." She looked into the girl's eyes and quietly said, "Don't do that yet, Julia. Not yet. You are so young and he has three more years at the University. Wait till he has his degree." She smiled at the girl. "Promise me that?" She waited while the girl's exquisite lips widened in a smile.

"Of course, Olivia.”

The older woman lightened the moment with a laugh. "You only need to look at Rodrigues and me to see how easy it is to get that one wrong. I believe he is with that woman in Managua even today, while we are waiting to celebrate his birthday." There was bitterness as she added, "I don't know why he doesn't just bring her along!" She stood up abruptly. "I was going to do some painting, but I don't think I will now."

Olivia Abarca de Villanueva slithered down the rock. "Let's gallop!" she called as she hoisted herself back into the saddle and dug her heels into the mare's flanks. She was a fine horse-woman, Julia thought as she pulled her horse's head round to follow Olivia, but she shouldn't ride like that across such a steep hillside.

The two horses thundered over the grass, spiralling down towards the dirt track that led to Rodrigues' holiday finca by the lake, and it was only when the dust of the road rose in a cloud, obscuring her from view, that Olivia reined in her sweating beast and turned in the saddle to wait for Julia.


Rodrigues Villanueva gunned the big Cadillac down the Inter-American Highway, southwards towards San Jorge. There had been no reason for him to go in to work this morning, except habit. After all, today was New Years Day, a public holiday in Managua. It was also his birthday. New Years Day, 1967 - his fiftieth.

He could have gone down to the villa with his family the day before but he had chosen not to. Instead he had had a pleasant evening at the theatre with his mistress, Gabriella, and then they had dined with one or two of his friends from the Banco Conservador finance group at BanAmerica.

The city suburbs dissolved as the powerful car ate up the miles between Managua and Granada. Rodrigues enjoyed driving like this, fast and smooth, with the hot wind buffeting in through the open side window. In an hour, before the sun was high in the sky, the smoking cone of Volcan Masaya had appeared and disappeared on his right-hand side and the ancient Spanish-colonial city of Granada came into view on the Northern shores of Lake Nicaragua. He slowed as the road followed the shore of the lake, soothed by the tranquil waters that ran along the road's edge on his left. As the car's speed dropped, the beauty of the countryside eased the city's tension out of his body and, long before he swung the car in through the lion-topped stone gateposts of the finca, he was ready to meet the family.

Already he had the day planned. He and the boys would take the girls across to Isla Ometepe in the speed boat and they would swim and have a picnic on the beach before coming back to the house for his birthday dinner. It would be a family affair with no guests. They didn't keep servants at the villa, only a local woman who cleaned and tidied. Olivia liked to make it her own place and that was fine with him. She was an excellent cook and she had Julia for company while she played house-wife. For himself, he would sit on the veranda with the boys and smoke cigars and have a few drinks. If he had to have a fiftieth birthday dinner, he would make it one he enjoyed.


Rafael Villanueva looked up at the noise of the two horses as Olivia and Julia walked them into the cobbled yard of the finca. He took their bridles, one each side, while the women dismounted. His mother watched him watching Julia's body, her thighs in the tight jeans and her breasts, her waving black hair, as the girl slid down the horse's flank towards him. She watched her kiss him lightly on the cheek. "Happy New Year, Rafael," the girl said as she took her horse from him and clattered it across the yard to the stables.

Olivia kissed her favourite son. "You are very lucky," she said wistfully. He looked at her and she added more practically, "Will you rub Castaño down for me, Rafael." She unleashed her dazzling smile. "You're such a dear," and turned away adding less pleasantly, "Your father will be here soon and he will expect the picnic to be ready."

As she reached the wide door to the kitchen, she called out, "And happy New Year, Rafael!"

Olivia watched from the kitchen window as the boy coaxed the horse round in a tight turn and followed Julia into the stable block. At nineteen, he lacked his brother's height but he lacked also Miguel's hawk-like nose and sharp features. His mouth was fuller, more sensitive, and his eyes less flinty. She quite liked his hair the way he had it nowadays, long and wavy, falling nearly to his shoulders. He was quite the artist, she thought, not hard like his brother and father. She could easily see why Julia felt as she did towards him. The mother wondered if she had been wrong to speak of him to the girl. She so did not want them to get too seriously involved when there was so much they still had to learn about themselves.

There was a sound and she turned. Miguel stood framed in the doorway to the dining-room. She sighed. What was it about Miguel that made him look that way? There was a latent tension about him that drove him on. While Rafael was the dreamer, Miguel was the dynamo. If something needed doing, Miguel would see that it got done. Without asking, she already knew that the speedboat would be out of the boatshed and secured to the jetty that stuck out into the lake behind the villa's orchard. She had no doubt, too, that the petrol tank was newly filled and the water-skis were stowed on the back seat.

Rafael's teens were so easy compared to this son's, whose night-time whereabouts had been a mystery to both his parents on so many occasions that Olivia had sometimes forced Rodrigues out of bed to drive the streets looking for him in all the clubs and coffee-bars they knew he visited. There was something about a young Managuan male that led him to drink and fight and she feared, every time, that Miguel would end up bleeding to death in a street brawl. Eventually her husband had given the boy a small, nickel-plated automatic pistol, saying that if that didn't make her happy, he didn't know what would.

"Papa's here," Miguel said.

The black Cadillac rolled into the yard and stopped. Olivia went to the door and waited for her husband. Though the existence of his mistress was an open secret - the whole family knew he kept her in a luxurious flat in the city - Olivia insisted that they observe at least the formal rituals of a married couple. She greeted him with a kiss on the cheek and wished him a happy birthday and Rodrigues responded with wishes for her happiness in the New Year, then she stepped out into the courtyard and clapped her hands. She called, "Rafael, Julia," and the two teenagers appeared round the corner of the stables with a studied casualness that fooled neither of the parents. Olivia glanced back at Miguel and he knew that she'd seen the look which had flashed across his face.

"I'll get your bag," he said to his father and expertly caught the car key that Rodrigues tossed to him.

"Thank you, Miguel," Rodrigues said. "There's a case of red wine in the trunk and a case of champagne. Can you put some of it in the refrigerator?"

"Did you have a good journey?" Olivia asked as they entered the kitchen, and Rodrigues nodded.

"Yes, thank you."

"I'm glad to hear it. I'll bring you some coffee on the veranda."

Rodrigues moved through the old farmhouse to the veranda that looked out over the lake, and picked up the newspaper, La Prensa, that lay on the swinging seat there. He made himself comfortable and scanned the paper while Olivia busied herself over the coffee. There was a lot of unimportant coverage of Christmas affairs and the results of the baseball league, but nothing new. He flicked through it without interest and was about to put it down when he saw a small headline. He paused and read the article.

Luis Somoza, one time president and still, in fact, the man who ran the country, was to take a short vacation in Miami. The paper made no specific reference to a heart attack but Rodrigues had heard from his banking friends that this was the real reason behind the ex-president's trip. So, maybe Luis Somoza would have to hand over the reins, at least in part, to that brother of his, Anastasio. Rodrigues' good humour waned a little. He'd seen some good years under Luis Somoza - with the Conservatives, his own party, allowed a degree of latitude in helping run the country. And there was no doubt that Luis' regime, viewed as more moderate than his father's dictatorship, had encouraged the Americans to plough extra cash into development money. Villanueva Motor Holdings SA, Rodrigues's own company, had benefited substantially from the arrival of American firms like Pepsi-Cola and United Fruit in Nicaragua. He had even created a new commercial vehicle dealership on the west side of town, specialising in General Motors heavy trucks.

It would be a shame if Luis Somoza's health problems meant giving more power to Anastasio. Rodrigues folded the paper and put it on one side. He remembered too well the difficult years of the 1940s and 50s, when he had been building up the car retailing chain that allowed him to live so well in his middle age. They had been brutal years under the first Somoza - Tacho, as he called himself, a nickname adopted more recently by his younger son, Anastasio. Still, Rodrigues had to admit he had done well enough out of it. But the young Tacho was far too like his father for Rodrigues's liking. If he came to power, everything he did would be to further his own ends. The businessman sighed again. While he was no lover of the Somozas, he had to admit that, before they had come to power, there had been no political stability in the hundred-odd years of Nicaraguan independence, which is why the country was in such a poor state. "No!" Rodrigues said to himself. "It takes a strong man to keep a country like Nicaragua on the rails and if a few heads have to be knocked together in the process..."

Olivia interrupted his thoughts as she and the children emerged onto the veranda. She carried a tray with coffee on it and beside the silver coffee-pot was a small gift-wrapped parcel. The family gathered round him and held out various differently shaped and wrapped gifts.

"Happy birthday!" they chorused and his political musings were swept away by more pleasant matters.


Rodrigues Villanueva lounged in a deck-chair on the sandy beach and listened as the powerful inboard engine roared, driving the speedboat across the wind-rippled waters of Lake Nicaragua. His eyes narrowed critically against the sunlight as he watched Miguel, his older son, steer the heavy mahogany-planked boat. The boy was good. The boat's wake ran straight as an arrow, parallel to the beach, fifty metres offshore. His eyes moved to his other son, sitting in the back of the boat watching the girl show off on the skis. He sighed. Rafael the dreamer. Rafael. He would have to talk to him over the holiday. It was time the boy gave up his fantasies and settled down to some serious work. There would be more arguments - he sighed again in the knowledge that his wife would side with the boy. She spoilt him. They were too much alike, Olivia and Rafael.

Oblivious to his father's train of thought, Rafael Villanueva watched the water-skier's tracks criss-cross the foaming wake behind him. Julia allowed herself to swing wide, way out to one side, using the sling-shot technique to accelerate herself above the boat's already considerable speed. He watched critically as she bent her knees, gathering herself to hit the boiling wake at just the right angle. For an instant, she was airborne before she landed on the other side and swung her hips sinuously to set the skis up for another pass.

"Yes!" Rafael cried and punched the air. Julia touched him two ways; as a young Latin-American male he felt the urge to go out and exceed her efforts but he felt another urge - much more exciting. This was his girl skiing so extravagantly and that was certainly having an effect on his Latin-American manhood too.

She was set up to jump again when Miguel lifted his foot from the throttle and put the boat into a banking turn. Julia lost speed, as the rope went slack, and sank decorously to waist depth in the warm water.

"Hey!" Rafael cried and Miguel turned to look at him over his shoulder.

"I thought you said she'd gone in."

"I didn't say anything," Rafael said, then realised it must have been his yell of triumph. "Oh. No I was just shouting to Julia."

By now the boat was alongside the floating girl and she kicked off the skis. Both boys reached down to help her onto the boat, each enjoying the contact with her smooth, wet skin.

"OK!" she cried as she slithered over the gunwale. "I'm not a sack of potatoes. Put me down." They did and she dropped onto the white leatherette seat.

"Who's next?" she asked, breathing hard and taking her thick black hair in two hands and ringing the water out of it. It was much longer, Rafael noticed, when the curls where wet.

"Me," he said, but his brother shook his head and vaulted back into the driver's seat.

"Get the rope in, Rafael, it's time to head back."

Rafael glanced from the lowering sun to his parents on the beach and groaned, "Come on Miguel, there's time for another go!" but Miguel pointed to the clock in the gleaming wood veneered dashboard.

"Sorry, bro'. We gotta go!" he said in a broad American accent and gunned the motor. Rafael fell, not too unwillingly, onto the seat beside Julia and raised his hands in mock despair, shouting over the engine. "Hey, if we gotta go, we gotta go!" The speedboat banked in a power turn and Rafael used the excuse to collapse on top of Julia. She battered at him with her fists, but not hard enough to drive him off, until their mouths met in a hot and searching kiss.


By five in the afternoon, the high mountains to the west of the lake had begun to cast their mantle of shadow over the water's edge behind the villa. Miguel and Rafael worked together in the gathering darkness to guide the speedboat into its neat wooden boathouse. As they did this, their mother and Julia returned to the house to shower and change before beginning on the dinner preparations. Back in the city, they seldom ate before about ten at night but here in the country, Olivia liked to rise with the sun and go to bed early. She dropped the bag that held her beach things on the floor of her spacious bedroom and slipped out of her swimsuit.

The villa may have been a neglected farmhouse originally, but Rodrigues had made substantial renovations to it, turning the interior into a showcase of the colonial style found in his hometown of Granada, an hour's drive to the north. But Olivia had ordered woven Indian rugs to be laid over the antique polished wood floor of her room and she stepped barefoot on them to reach the en-suite shower set into one corner. Before she turned the taps full on to create a Turkish-bath atmosphere of steam and stinging water, she paused to study her body with a woman's critical eye; the thighs, still firm from regular horse-riding and nicely bronzed by hours of careful attention to the application of oils and sunlight. She lifted her breasts with her elegant hands and wrinkled her nose in passing dissatisfaction. Could be better, she thought and ran her hands down over her flat, brown stomach.

Her fingers stopped as they always did on the weal that scarred her belly. The mark that was more than just a blemish on an otherwise attractive body. It had changed her life, bringing shame, despair, anger and frustration. The caesarean birth of her beloved Rafael had robbed her of everything that made her a woman - everything that had held Rodrigues in her hand. Her very reason for life had been ripped from her body when the surgeon opened her with his knife, and it had taken little time for her to see that Rodrigues blamed her for this loss. He had no use for a sterile wife, that he was quick to show her. And yet she had loved him still - despite all this. She could not entirely blame him for going to the arms of that other woman. His father had been the same, the product of a passing age when one man measured another's masculine prowess not only by the size and stature of his family but also by the beauty of his mistresses. And a mistress was not such a terrible thing. It had, paradoxically, enabled them to live an easier life at home, so long as neither of them acknowledged her existence. But still it hurt her deeply, to know that another woman could bear his children, and every day she prayed that it would never happen - she treasured her sons too deeply to let them share their father with a bastard child.

A hardness came into her eyes and she pulled herself erect, her jaw set in handsome, arrogant resolve. She was a mother. She was the mother of his children and if he put anything or anyone above them, then he would see a side of her she'd kept buried all their married life. By God he would!

Olivia Abarca de Villanueva reached out and turned the taps full on. Just let him dare!


Dinner could have been a greater success. Rodrigues had insisted on lighting the barbecue too late and the lavish arrangements Olivia and Julia had made began to spoil as he grew increasingly irritable with the contraption. In the end some of the steak, which she had bought specially from a ranch across the valley, had been charred and dry while other bits were hardly cooked, even by a Latin-American's standards. And the red wine was not as good as Rodrigues had wanted. He had found a new and special supplier near his dealership in town and he was angry that the man had fawned upon him and persuaded him to take a case when it was not as good as he had been led to believe. In fairness, no-one else found fault with the wine but he had insisted on going on about the cost and the man in the shop until the family was reduced to eating his birthday dinner in cautious silence.

Suddenly Rodrigues broke the silence raising an accusatory fork at Rafael.

"So, Rafael. Have you decided what you are going to do with this literature degree when you get it?" Rafael knew better than to offer a reply, knowing that the question was just a preamble into a one-sided discussion about the pointlessness of studying literature when there were so many more useful subjects a man could grasp. "Why didn't you take law or something?" Rodrigues continued, moving the point of the fork from Rafael to Julia who was taking care to dissect the aubergine on her plate. "Julia's father could get you a position in his firm. I know he's retired now but he was a senior advocate and could have been a judge if he had spent less time with his liberal ideas. Couldn't he Julia?"

Olivia watched the young woman as she met Rodrigues's eyes. She was very beautiful. The low-cut claret dress Olivia had brought her back from a trip to New York left her shoulders bare and her luxurious black hair was swept back into two exquisite mother-of-pearl combs that showed her elegant neck to perfection.

"I'm sure he could, Papa Rodrigues."

There was a but at the end of her sentence. Unspoken, but there, nevertheless, and Rodrigues Villanueva felt it.

"But," he said for her. "But you think Rafael should study literature, is that it?"

She placed her fork carefully on the plate in front of her and lifted her napkin. She used the moment to glance across at Rafael. Something passed between them and she picked up the fork again and shook her head. "No," she said. "I'm sure my father would find him a position if it was what he wanted."

Rodrigues was delighted. "There, you see even Julia agrees with me. You are wasting your time doing this literature degree and you should be doing law!"

Olivia saw how Rafael controlled his temper and said quietly, "I don't think that was quite what she said, Rodrigues. Julia simply said that Señor Larios would be able to find him a place if it was what he wanted."

"Of course it's what he wants," Rodrigues bellowed. "With a degree in Law, the boy could be anything. Does he think I'm going to keep him in my old age so he can write poetry or something." He switched his stare to Rafael. "Is that what you want, boy?"

Rafael shook his head, still avoiding his father's eye.

"Why are you doing this?" Olivia flared, her temper gone. "We kow-tow to your every whim, tip-toeing around you in case you lose your temper! It's your birthday. These are your family! Why can't you just be pleasant for once!"

She faced him across the table and the children stared at their dinners.

There was silence while the two parents eyed each other over the abyss of eighteen years of words that lay unspoken in between them.

At last Rodrigues said "I just wanted to say that I think he could do better with a subject that had an end in sight, like law." He picked up his knife and fork and addressed the cold remains of the meal in front of him while Olivia did the same thing on the other side of the table.

"Well, I'm sure he will give that some consideration," she replied with finality. She stopped pushing the food around her plate and stood up suddenly. "Julia! Come and help me in the kitchen."

Julia pushed back her chair and began automatically to go round the table, collecting up the plates, scraping remains onto the top plate and balancing the knives and forks together over everything. Rafael caught her eye as she lifted his plate but she was careful not to acknowledge him. She was thankful for the privacy of the kitchen. She had known Rodrigues and Olivia long enough to have seen a hundred scenes like this, but still they disturbed her to her heart. Her parents never shouted at each other - or at her - and this latent violence was anathema to her nature. She clattered the dishes noisily piling them up for the maid to sort in the morning and felt better as she wiped her hands, until she turned to watch Olivia fussing over the garnishes on the elaborate desserts. Her throat tightened as she realised that Olivia, the woman who had treated her as her own daughter almost since she could remember, was crying silently as she pointlessly re-arranged the decorations on the sweets. She put an arm around the older woman's shoulder and pulled her to her breast. "We love you, Olivia. Your children worship you." The two women rocked in each other’s arms for a peaceful moment. "You know that," she said at last.

"I know," Olivia sighed through a grim smile. "I know, Julia, and that's what's kept me with him all these years. I couldn't have born it without them." She prised herself loose and smiled on the girl. "And you. You're like one of them to me. One of my own." They hugged once more until Olivia, business-like again, pulled free. "Come on. Let's get this lot on the table before it melts."

The two women gathered up the fancy dishes and carried them through to the dining-room where exotic flavours, white wine and curling cigar smoke combined to soothe the tension from the family in the candle-lit room.


Monday the 2nd January dawned as had the Sunday the 1st - clear, bright and sunny and, the pressure of the birthday out of the way, the Villanueva family with their surrogate daughter, Julia Larios, passed the day in luxurious idleness interspersed with bouts of frenzied exercise - which included tennis, horse-riding and more water skiing. Tuesday followed Monday in much the same way and by four o'clock, it was time for the scheduled return to Managua. The boys piled suitcases into the three cars, Olivia's Impala with it's lightly tinted windows and airy interior, Rodrigues's expensive black sedan with its tooled leather seats and Miguel's Chevrolet Corvette.

"You go with your father," Olivia said discretely to Rafael. "Julia can ride with me."

Rafael was not pleased with the idea but nodded as he slammed the trunk of the Impala.

"OK, Mama," he said and opened the driver's door for her.

Olivia reached out and touched his cheek. "You're a good boy, Rafael."

He drew away. "You can't go calling me good boy! I'm not a dog." Instantly he regretted his outburst and said. "I'm sorry." He kissed her cheek. "I love you." He closed the door and looked for Julia. "Hey Julia, aren’t you going with Mama?" but the girl was already making herself comfortable in Miguel's sports car. She waved as the exhaust exploded into life and his brother catapulted the black Corvette forward in a welter of dust and gravel.

Rodrigues scowled as the shrapnel ricocheted off the paintwork of his car and called to Rafael.

"Rafael, are you coming with me?" The boy looked across to his mother who gave him one of her special smiles.

"Yes, Papa," he called unenthusiastically and crossed to the sedan. As usual, his mother was probably right. "But can I put on some of my own music?" he asked.

Rodrigues gestured to his wife, as if to ask what he had done to deserve a son who listened to music by outlandish groups with names like the Rolling Stones, and ducked into his car. He selected 'Drive' on the transmission and submitted to stereo rock and roll from the car's eight-track player.


Chapter 3