Friday, July 15, 2011

Real Estate Deal and Kiki's New House

Altagracia and I returned to Elias Piña to try to finally resolve the paperwork for her house and land there by buying it again. We went to see Isidro, who, it turns out, is the Alcalde for that sector of the the town which is like a town clerk with some mayoral powers. The three of us sat down at Isidro’s kitchen table, he got out a blank unlined piece of paper  and with a ballpoint pen drew up a purchase and sale agreement that included Altagracia and I as joint buyers of the property and listed the sellers as Altagracia’s dead ex-husband as well as the previous owner, just for good measure. Isidro was able to include everbody’s cedula numbers, which are supposed to be confidential in the same way as Social Security numbers, since he has all the town records at his disposal and so when we finally found the previous owner after traipsing through several muddy cornfields he signed the document for only 100 pesos. I understand that we could apply for an actual title to the property with this scrawled contract but hardly anyone does this in this small poor village that sits on the Haitian border where the land is not worth very much.
         After closing our real estate deal we went to visit Altagracia’s mother, Anna, and to check on the property we had just purchased. When we went into Altagracia’s little house she noticed that one of the doors between two rooms was missing-- and she remembered the door well because it had taken her two months to save up the money to buy it years ago-- and some lumber that had been stored up on the collar ties was gone too but that didn’t bother her so much because you expect people to steal lumber but not a door from the inside of a house. She interrogated Anna and Momona and a passing brother or two but they all just shook their heads in bewilderment saying that they had not borrowed the door and did not even know it was missing. As the time approached to start walking to catch the last guagua for the grueling cramped four hour ride back to Villa Mella we walked back through the neighborhood-- all the time greeting old friends and neighbors and nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles of Altagracia-- and as we passed the house where Altagracia’s sister Pipina (still separated from Isidro) was living we saw Pipina outside taking laundry in off the line before it rained and so we went over to chat and Altagracia asked Pipina if she knew where her door was and Pipina said she had no idea and it started to rain so we went inside and as Altagracia pulled the door closed behind her she seemed to recognize the knob and looked more closely and saw that it was her door and looked at Pipina with a stare that might have seared her liver and I didn’t have to hold her back although I was ready to and as her voice raised more and more the veins in her neck stood out more and more and her eyes got bigger and bigger and I thought she might have a seizure and Pipina just shrank back into a corner protesting her innocence, although weakly, and a few passersbys collected outside the other door which was still open although it was raining hard now with rumbles of thunder in the distance and Altagracia gripped her umbrella so hard that she drove one of the spines into her hand and a thin trickle of blood ran down her wrist and I finally guided her out the door and through the rubberneckers and as we started down the road she still turned back yelling what she thought of sisters who steal from sisters and she whipped a couple of stones Pipina’s way who was now standing in the open doorway, but after she was out of range and the stones only one-hopped or rolled up to the house.
         Altagracia slept on my shoulder most of the way home on the guagua and when we got off to buy some fried chicken at the rest stop at Ocoa she sleepily explained that when people stole doors it really made her mad.

Kiki’s House
         In the middle of the summer Kiki landed in the prision at Najayo. I scarcely believe any of the story of what happened but here it is-- Kiki was reportedly walking to  work to shovel sand in Haina with a young man who was wearing a suit and tie who went into a bank to cash a check, which was evidently so old and worn that Columbus’s signature on it would not have been surprising but the bank held the two of them until the police came. Somehow a car with four other men in it, one of whom was Lao, was waiting for them outside but drove away before the cops arrived. The mother of the man in the suit paid for his release that same night but Altagracia elected to let Kiki stay in for a while in an effort to teach him a lesson even though he happened to be in the same prison where the murderer of his father was being held, having finally been sentenced to only five years-- either because of an influential uncle or because the judge figured that the real payback would come after his release from some of Luis’s 35 angry offspring many of whom had attended the short trial. Altagracia brought food to Kiki once and Chavela and Niningo brought food once but neither of the women went in to see him because the precautionary frisking reportedly included “lifting the skirts“ as Altagracia delicately put it and not by female guards either and Niningo did not go in because he could not have cared less how Kiki was faring. After about two weeks Altagracia’s mother’s guilt became unbearable and she paid one of the lawyers who hang around outside the prison to spring Kiki and he did and after spending a few days recuperating in the marquisina wandered back to Pizarette to stay with Fermin at times and with an uncle at times.
         A couple of weeks before my second visit of the summer word reached Altagracia that Kiki had picked out a little parcel of land on a mountain in Pizarette that had been his father’s and was now in disuse although assumed to be in the control of some assortment of the 31 other siblings, cleared it and begun to build a little shack to live in. He beseeched Altagracia for money to buy sheets of galvanized metal for the roof, which are simply called zinc here, and a door but she held off until I arrived and until we could see for ourselves that there were indeed the beginnings of something being built.
         We got off the guagua at the turnoff for Pizarette and then hired two motorbikes to take us the rest of the way to Kiki’s house. We motored through the town and past all the colmados and hair salons and fingernail parlours and the kiosks that sell lotery tickets and fruit venders with Altagracia constantly waving and blowing kisses to old friends along the way and then we left the village and wound our way down dusty potholed roads through sugar cane fields and then turned through a barway and picked our way up a cowpath occasionally hopping off the backs of the motorbikes to walk the rougher stretches.
         Kiki’s land was clear and high with a view of a wide rolling valley that went on for miles. He had built a framework of eight posts sunk in the ground and tied them together at the tops with more long poles nailed through at half lapped joints and the structure appeared ready  for rafters. His mattress was folded up under a sheet of rusty zinc on the ground and the ashes from the cooking fire were still warm although Kiki, who had been supposed to meet us, was nowhere to be seen. The conchistas lit cigarettes and went to pee in the bushes and I took a few pictures and Altagracia walked around slowly with her hands on her hips saying how there was no water here, and no electricity and no neighbors nearby. But we agreed that it did seem to be the start of something positive and how else were we going to get him out of Villa Mella and so we got back on the motorbikes and had them take us back into town to a trusted ferreteria or lumberyard.
         The ferreteria was closed when we got there but one of the conchistas went around back and got the owner to let us in and we sat at his kitchen table as he made out the receipt for five pounds of nails, 20 sheets of zinc and some lumber for rafters and he nodded knowingly when we told him where the materiales were to be delivered and that Kiki was to exchange none of them for cash.
         When we got back home we found Kiki drunk on rum in front of the house having spent all the money I had given him for bus fare to meet us in Pizarette and so I did not let him sleep in the marquisina that night and I don’t know how he got back to Pizarette but he did and we got word the next day that he was elated with the building materiales.
         Some weeks later, when I was back in Massachusetts working, Kiki informed Altagracia that about 10 sheets of zinc that were nailed onto the house had been stolen. This sounded fishy because even here few people steal zinc that is full of nail holes but we figured that it might have been stolen by some of his half brothers who did not like him living there but Altagracia arranged for more zinc to be delivered as before, as well as for a trusted carpenter to see that it got nailed on. So when I arrived last week we were thinking of going back for another visit to Kiki’s mountain to see what was left of the house but then Uncle Ramoncito called Altagracia at the Pensión to tell her that that morning when he was on his way to work earlier than usual he saw three men tearing zinc off of Kiki’s roof and he was certain that one of the men was Kiki himself.
         That very same afternoon Altagracia, without precedent or reason, left work an hour early. She got off the guagua at the blue water tank at about three in the afternoon when rush hour traffic is just picking up and when that intersection is crowded with food venders and conchistas looking for fares and carros publicos letting passengers off and picking up new ones and she started walking toward home but, for no apparent  reason, paused to look back at the intersection and happened to see Kiki, who now sports earrings in both ears and has diagonal stripes shaved in his eyebrows, just getting into a carro publico with a friend carrying a small package. She sprinted to the car and grabbed him by his belt before the car door closed and hauled him, dumbfounded, into the street and, yelling so hard her nose started bleeding, told him that she knew all about him selling the roof of zinc off his own house and that he was no son of hers and that he could drop dead right there for all she cared. He wrested himself away and dove back into the open car and it took off leaving Altagracia steaming on the sidewalk surrounded by a small circle of sympathetic onlookers. Kiki must believe that she learned about the zinc and then caught him at the busstop by supernatural means, sundering his perfect plan to eternally sell  zinc as fast as we could replace it by day and as fast as he could strip it from his own roof by night and when it rained I suppose he reckoned ot be too full of rum and cocaine to care.

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