The Costa Rica Rose
Jose Arias paused. He went down on one knee and sniffed the beautiful flower. His companions looked on with admiration as his eyes looked upwards and he drank in the beautiful aroma. When had he first smelt that glorious smell of the angels? Maybe first in church when he was very small? Yes, church then had been a great refuge; he truly had believed that a little piece of heaven was there in his little church.
“Not from fighting, Sir, but I fall from the swing at my home” explaining the bruises on his face and arms to his teacher. His father’s belt was a vicious weapon with metal studs; they say he had won it when he had been a prize fighter as a younger man. But drink had taken over leaving an angry, violent alcohol-driven human bull behind. Oh he was no coward – definitely not. Often had he returned from his drunken bouts with bruises on his face and swollen, broken fists. These were the good nights when his anger had found a different victim and he came home and slept.
Yes: Jose found peace in the church. When he gazed at our saviour with his crown of thorns, he knew how little his own sufferings really were. Hours would he pray for strength, for courage and endurance to be like Christ himself. In his prayers he did find the strength, but in his meditations he also found the wisdom. When he cried out from his father’s beatings, the blows just got worse, so he learned the power of silent suffering. He truly loved Jesus his Saviour who, too, had suffered in great silence, the silence of the Lamb of God.
The beatings came to be the test of his love of God, a way of proving himself worthy.
“Young Jose will surely become a priest!” was the word in the village, so impressed were they by his devotions.
Father Claudio too, saw this young zealot from the poor family. The priest was held in great respect and even Jose’s father bowed before him. How proud was Jose to wear the cassock and surplice of a senior altar boy, though he was only eight years old. More and more time he spent in the Holy Church, the smell of the Costa Rica Rose in the air. These were good times.
Father Claudio would teach him from the gospels and even help his reading and his understanding of God and his mysterious world. Imperceptibly the priest began to sit closer to Jose, then began the touch on the knee. It was gentle; it was done in love. Then the touching moved further and the priest began to reveal himself. At first this was better than the home beatings, but then Father Claudio himself revealed his violence. The pain was nothing to what he could endure – nothing – but the look on the priest’s face filled him with total horror. He ran from the church.
The beatings continued but he did not seek refuge in the church anymore. He still prayed to Jesus and in the sun with the smell of the Rose of Costa Rica he still felt so close to his saviour. How could Jesus have known – for he knew everything as God – that all this suffering awaited him and still accept it? He prayed to be like Jesus; he prayed to live in the moment and think just about his “now” feelings. He learnt not to dread the beatings. And there had been words said in the village, and his father was under suspicion from the school and even from the Church; there would be no signs of violence from then on. Jose was protected from damage; he was protected from death at the hands of his father. He learnt well how to deal with the pain. It was OK.
“Father Claudio wants you to go back to church again” said his father. Jose looked at his father; not a flicker of emotion on his face.
“Do it!” he said touching his belt with menace.
He avoided the priest at much as possible, but it was not always easy. Each time he went away feeling dirty, guilty and ashamed. He had no haven; he had no home. There was just one thing to do.
“May I speak with you, mother?”
“Yes, Jose” she said. Surely she knew all his torment? Did she think that the beatings were good for a child? In his heart he wanted to say how he loved her and that he did not want to leave. He wanted to say how he wished things had been different and that he could be a good son and earn money to buy her a nice house and furniture. There was great turmoil in his soul.
“What is it my little one?” she asked smiling.
There was a long silence when he reached around, groping for any words that might help him to explain.
“Mother, my heart is in pain” he said. There were some tears in his eyes for the last time in his life.
He had learned something of survival in the jungle, but overall it was beautiful. He feared not at all for the future, he was quick and vigilant; he knew of foods that were safe to eat. The peace under the stars was most beautiful and how he remembered that one night with the smell of the Rose of Costa Rica and the full and beautiful moon; then again did he live in the love of god - “Pura Vida” – the simple life under the love of Heaven.
At first he thought they were going to kill him, but the river gang were not like that. He had nothing they wanted – no wealth, no wealthy family, no possessions – just himself – and that is what they wanted – they wanted him to be one of them. So Jose learned the ways of the jungle. He learned about acceptance of each creature just as they were, for only by knowing, accepting and perhaps even loving each one could you get what you yourself needed from it – which to avoid, which to trap, which to follow.
This “River Gang” were not bad young men, they were just survivalists – that was their skill. As Jose grew, their jungle instincts knew he was the natural leader – no fears, calm endurance, clear thought – and something else that they could only guess by instinct- some deep reservoirs of power that he seemed to have in abundance.
“I will return” he told them, “But I have a mission”
He did the jungle walk – silently and in the shadows. Each sound, each smell each movement of air against his cheek noted in his subconscious, painting a picture – total concentration, total focus.
Outside his house he could hear the bellowing of his father and the smack of leather on flesh. His mother screamed. He felt an unusual shock go through his body; he had never thought that his father might also beat his own mother.
Quickly he knew what to do. He walked to the nearest piece of jungle and quickly set to work; it took him nearly 2 hours to make it right, but right it most surely was. Then he walked back to the shack of his birth. He opened the door and took just three steps inside.
“Jose? Jose?” cried his mother and rushed towards him with open arms:
“My, what a fine man you have become!” She embraced him. “I will bring you some tsamala – it was always your favourite”. She moved off to the kitchen. Jose handed his father the bottle of jungle spirits he had brought him. His father drunk greedily.
“You’ve missed your beatings!” he sneered.
The food soon appeared and his mother chattered on about the goings on in the village. His father continued to drink. Jose was a man of few words, and only when needed: “Pura Vida” – it was the way of the jungle.
The bottle was emptied.
“Isn’t he just a fine young man – bigger than you now, my husband”.
“Still not man enough to take me” said the older man unbuckling his belt.
Jose watched him evenly. Swinging his belt he staggered over to Jose, who moved adroitly out of the door.
“Take that insolent smile off your face, you little whelp” screamed his father. The look remained, Jose’s eyes locked into this father’s. The chase began, the younger man always a few paces ahead, silently goading on the dangerous, violent drunk. Soon they were in the jungle. A drunk has no fear. The trap was sprung. Death came slowly.
He walked through the village shadows. He recognised some faces, but kept hidden. Then he saw his little brother – all these years yet he could still recognise him:
“Arthur?” he asked.
“Jose!” and Arthur embraced him with a fervour that was far more than expected, “Where have you been…. I have needed you”.
But where have you been at this time?” asked Jose.
“To speak with Father Claudio” came the reply, but the tone of voice told so much more.
“Wait at our home; do not leave until I return. Your sufferings are over!”
Jose walked into the priest’s house and sat down opposite the eminent Father Claudio.
“What do you want?” asked the priest, “…it is Jose if I am not mistaken”
Jose just looked at the priest with the look of the jungle cat.
“Is it money you want?” asked the priest, obviously quite disturbed. He shuffled round to the safe and took out more money than Jose had ever seen.
“Will this buy you off?” there was a tremble in his voice.
Jose’s eyes never left the priest’s face. He took the money and gave the priest the second bottle of liquor: “Drink” he ordered.
The priest took a long swig:
“What do you want?” he said.
“Drink” said Jose.
This liquor was different and by the time he had finished the bottle he was somnolent in the chair, barely clinging to the bottle. The kerosene was easy to find and not much would be needed to make quite a fire.
“Come, Arthur, we must leave” said Jose. They gave the money to their mother and quickly made their escape. The fire could be seen clearly as they slipped into the jungle.
‘Revenge?’ smiled Jose, ‘No. Just Pura Vida. The law of the jungle. Unfinished business. Protect your own. Move on” They moved on easily and quietly; death would not come easily in the flames.
Arthur lived and learned with the Jungle Brothers for several years. He had many good teachers and there were great moments of peace and harmony; he learned the “Pura Vida” and for the first time in his life came to know a deep happiness. Even more he learned from his big brother – no regrets, no fears, no anger, no hatred no guilt. Just love the Brothers and protect them.
The Jungle brothers were scared when Jose said he was going to the city to get an education. But Jose knew no fears – only of better and worse decisions. They would survive. The rules of survival were easy: just follow the jungle code – the “Pura Vida” – you just take what you need for today and don’t worry about tomorrow. You can sleep under the stars and eat when you are hungry.
But Jose had some strange qualities which drew people to him. He studied hard and ensured that Arthur too studied and kept away from bad company. People wanted Jose to join them and their organisations, but Jose didn’t; indeed his charm was a certain aloofness, a certain non-involvement – part of the “Pura Vida”. He achieved some exceptional compliments from his teachers and soon had a small study grant. He had never smoked or drank and began to enjoy playing soccer for the school. Everyone loved Jose and Arthur. He became captain of the football team. All went well until the fateful day.
The game was only 30 minutes old when the army came and took away seven of the players – including
Arthur. It was then and only then that Jose became interested in politics; it was then that he took up the sword.
The raid on the prison was brilliantly planned and executed, though it is mainly the savagery that is mentioned in the history books. Jose had gone on the steepest learning curve like he had done in the jungle, and the mission was entirely his.
In total silence they had climbed the walls, silently macheted the guards and got to the prison. They found Arthur, recently dead. He had been tortured. A day earlier and his beloved brother would have been rescued. Jose felt the welling of overpowering feelings from inside him, the machete flew in all direction and ten guards and torturors lay dead in a lake of blood. It was not revenge; it was just how to close the door on something that happened; it was “Pura Vida”. They fled with the freed prisoners.
There was no choice but to join the Revolutionary Party – no choice whatsoever; Jose was a wanted man. His time in the jungle, leaning more of warfare this time, was with an even more powerful brotherhood, who valued his jungle knowledge and his leadership. His fame and notoriety spread as he rose up through the ranks; he became known as “the jungle fox” with a huge price on his head. Yet all his fellow revolutionaries loved Jose; he had a pure heart and ambition was no part of him.
Then he heard that his sister was due to marry. This might be dangerous, but as no-one for sure knew his identity, it was well worth the risk.
“Here is money, mother” She could not believe how much Jose gave her. But what use was money to Jose? None! Pura Vida!
“But what of little Arthur?” she asked with the love in her voice that mother’s have for their little one.
“He is a fine man. He has learned to read and write and has a son of his own. Some day he will visit” ‘When truth would kill, the lie is the word of God’ he explained to himself.
The church was beautiful, bedecked with the Rose of Costa Rica – how those pure memories came flooding back. But he had a mission; he needed the bridegroom on his own.
“Do you know who I am?” he asked him.
“No, not at all” said the groom.
“My name is Jose Henriques Arriel; they call me the jungle fox” he whispered in the groom’s ear, “Please give my love to my little sister who does not know me” The groom went white and sat down.
“Is the purpose of my visit clear”. The look in his eyes made clear his purpose.
“Senor Ariel, I have sworn before God that I will be a good husband and father”
“Yes. Now swear to me. Swear by the Pura Vida and I can leave”
It became clear the Jose was a brilliant leader; not only that but his choice of missions was always so precisely focussed on dishonouring the government and showing what evil cowards they were. Jailbreaks were commonplace and the Revolution swelled its numbers, but in the many years of fighting, Jose never strayed from the “Pura Vida”.
Then when fair elections were finally given to the people, the silent man, the man of the people became their president. The Rose of Costa Rica became its emblem, and the “Pura Vida” its axiom.
There was peace and justice – at least as far as Jose could make it happen, but there was unrest as always in these parts. Jose did not want wealth for his people – just “Pura Vida” – justice, health and education. But others were driven by money and greed and anxious to bring foreign investment and capital into the country. Jose opposed this passionately, aware that such a course would mean corruption and that the country would no longer belong to the people but be taken over by big corporations and run by bankers and accountants.
If Democracy had gone its way, there would have been no need for what happened, but a bloody coup with foreign backing led to a change of government… was it worth if for all the increased wealth? Jose simple answer was “Pura Vida”.
The old man stood up and the procession moved on; he still carried the flower. They stopped. He was still greatly loved by many and he could swear that he could see a tear in some of their eyes.
“Will you have a blindfold?” the leader asked.
Jose smiled indulgently at him,
“I have my Rose of Costa Rica … I have my Pura Vida…I have no need of a blindfold”
As the squad raised their rifles and fired, his last act was to smell the heavenly smell of the Rose of Costa Rica.
Nildran Dec 2006