Bomba went blind because he had 24 fingers and toes; an extra digit on each appendage. Actually, it was the amputation the caused the blindness. His grandmother chopped them off with a machete. He was eight month’s old. He says she didn’t like the way they looked; they looked bad. When asked whether she meant bad, as in evil (belief in witchcraft is prevalent in La Tigra), or aesthetically bad. He says, “Just bad.”
I remember well the first time I saw Bomba. I could tell immediately there was something unusual about him, but it was hard to determine what it was. Was he blind? He walked all over La Tigra unaided, but strangely, maybe it had something to do with his feet? After hearing his story I realized it was both.
Felipe was unable to determine if it was the trauma, the bleeding or some complication from the amputation that caused the blindness. To this query, Bomba replies matter of-, “I went blind, the doctors say it was because of the cutting. But I didn’t go to the doctor until I was grown. He said if they’d taken me when I was a baby they could have fixed me, but now it’s too late”
Bomba had a sister, Adela, who was also born with 24 digits, and underwent the same machete surgery as he. Felipe remembers her from childhood when he sold bread house to house. “She never left the house,” he recalls, “no one ever saw her, but sometimes I saw her inside, making tortillas, she never looked at me, she was very, very, shy.”
Adela died in her late forties. It is said the doctor refused to issue a death certificate for her lest her mother be arrested for causing her death. Bomba doesn’t like to talk about his sister, but he did tell Felipe she died of eating too much salt and not getting enough sun.
Harvest season is Don Amalio’s (Bomba is his nickname, it means pump) busy season because he is an expert at de-husking mazorka. It is the only paid labor that’s available he’s capable of. Cleaning corn is a miserable job. The husks are itchy and sharp, and after several hours of sitting in a pile of corn in the full sun, that’s likely full of scorpions, your back aches, your whole body itches and you are covered with slices and welts from the husks. Bomba charges 50pesos and a meal (4.50$US) for an 8 hour day.
Felipe hired Bomba to clean our corn for us this year.(He paid twice the amount Bomba asked for.) We’ve done it ourselves in the past, but Felipe is too busy working and he’d like it done sometime before next year’s harvest, which is how long he’d wait for me to finish it.
Felipe’s coworker Elfigo (actual name) walked Bomba out to our house on his way to their work site. Bomba sat down in a small mountain of corn and started scrounging around. I cringed, worried he’d come up with a hand full of scorpion rather than whatever it was he was looking for. “Hay mucho molquites (too many small ears)” he declared, “Me voy a tardar mas” (it’s gonna take more time). He estimated it would take three days to clean our approx. 2 tons of corn before he’d felt up our piles.
Generally the large ears, that which is used for tortillas are separated out for dehusking. The rest is ground intact for animal food. But Felipe wanted all of our corn ground without husks because pigs don’t like husk, the grain is for his empire . (Which is now boasts 6 sows and a boar by the way.)
On Sunday, Felipe helped Bomba rather than taking the day off, because he’d scheduled the grinding for 7am Monday morning. It was the first time he’d had a serious conversation with Bomba, he described him as confidant and resolute.
As farmers often are, we are in a dead heat with the weather, the skies have been full of ominous clouds, unseasonably early even for Febrero loco (crazy month, February, in which we often have weather uncharacteristic for the dry season, winds, rain, and erratic temperatures). But the Chivo (nickname; the goat) will come Monday evening with a truck to help Felipe get the bags undercover.
Bomba still has our best corn, the largest ears separated out for making nixtamal(corn prepared to make masa) to clean. I picture him sitting in a downpour to finish, and imagine some gruff, terse response when I invite him to come in out of the rain. “Ahorita, Ahorita, no va a llover, no es temporada” ( Later, it won’t rain much, it’s not the season.)
Self-possessed, staunch, inexplicable: Bomba is the embodiment of La Tigra’s character.
With thanks to Don Amalio for granting us an interview and permission to print this post.