The Viceroy’s pontoon reached the shore before everyone else. His military escorts lifted him by his chubby arms and feet, carrying him to the dry sand. Sal and Blas jumped in the shallows, then sloshed through the waves tugging their craft full of pigs toward the beach.
“¿Dónde estàmos, where are we? I’m sunk to my knees in sludge,” Sal said. He and Blas herded the stinking animals off the landing craft.
“I can’t tell the sticky mud from the pig shit,” Blas said. Sand and sea swallowed their feet as they slogged across broad mudflats.
“It all stinks, brother,” a nearby soldier said. “They call this place Vera Cruz—very cursed, we say.” Soldiers shoved them forward as deep muck sucked at Sal’s feet.
“God help us—these bugs,” Sal said. The air carried swarms of pesky mosquitoes that rushed into his mouth each time he gasped for breath. “Is this el Nuevo Mundo or just some kind of purgatory?” Sal wondered. He grumbled as they scrambled for dry land. “First, the stinking jail, then the rotten ship, now another punishment from God.”
Layered with grime, Blas trailed behind. Even in the worst circumstances, he managed to surprise Sal with his idiotic behavior. Somehow, he mustered the energy to bellow an old ballad.
“This life full of sorrow…” Blas sang. Sal recognized the song, one they learned as boys begging for pesos outside the cantina. The disembarking soldiers also recognized the tune and joined in the singing. The Brothers moved toward shore, holding their skirts high after the landing party cleared the way. No one expected the Brothers to help herd the swine.
“Gracìas a Dìos, thank God,” the Brothers said. Their prayers to celebrate deliverance from the sea voyage competed with Blas’s barroom tunes. The soldiers kept singing along with Blas’s bawdy songs, celebrating the landing with wine drizzled from boda bags held high.
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