It Is Well By Jan Beiler

“Nuko called me a pig!” my nine-year-old son whom I will call Jerry, burst into the house, letting the door crash shut behind him. “I forgot to turn off the valve and the water ran out on the ground. Nuko yelled at me. He said I was a stupid pig to let it run over.” Sparks of fire flecked his eyes.

Our neighbors had a water tank on a metal frame above their house. While the pump was running, they could open a valve and fill their tank. On this day they had asked Jerry to close the valve when the tank was full, because they needed to leave for town.

“But, Mom,” our next older son reported. “Jerry said Nuko didn’t have any right to poke his nose into our business.”

“Oh, Jerry!” I gasped.“Did you say that?!”

“Yes and he deserved it, too. He can’t go around calling me a pig.”

“I’m not saying he was right, but that didn’t give you license to do wrong. You were disrespectful and unkind. What do you think this does to our witness? You’ll have to apologize.”

“I can’t do it, Mom,” Jerry wailed. “They’ll laugh at me. I know they will.”

“I’m sorry, son, but you should have thought about that before you smarted off to Nuko,” I said. “Here’s a cookie recipe. You help me mix up a batch of these now, and we should have them done in time to take some over and apologize to him before supper.”

Glumly Jerry broke the eggs into the mixing bowl while I unwrapped two sticks of margarine.

I lifted the sugar canister off the top shelf and handed it to him. “Measure out two cups,” I said.

I could picture Nuko, our neighbor, with his baked brown skin, missing front tooth, and snapping black eyes. Nuko, with his purple striped shirt, and jeans that were a little too tight to button.

Nuko was in charge of the village water system. It was his job to start the engine that pumped the water from the river to a tank high on the hill. From there it flowed by gravity to all the houses in the village. Almost every morning the tank was empty.

We kept one ear tuned for the sound of the pump as we stacked the breakfast dishes in the sink and sorted the laundry. Sometime after eight o’clock the chugging of the engine meant Nuko had eased himself down over the bank behind his house and started the pump. In about two hours we would have enough water to wash dishes and fill the tub of our wringer washing machine.

Yes, Nuko was in charge of the village water and maybe in charge of the village itself.

One scorching day we told the children they could fill the *pila with water and splash in it for an hour or two. It wasn’t long until Nuko rattled up in his Ford F150 with its black fender, blue hood and green body. “You’re wasting water!” he scowled. I tried not to think about his well watered patio.

Nuko scolded our boys for playing in the field across the road from our house. The field actually belonged to Antonio, the neighbor who lived behind us. Antonio didn’t seem to mind if the boys chased along the cattle trails that wound through the field and up over the mesa.

Sometimes Nuko’s wife, Idalia, walked beside him while he rode his skinny mare to check on the cows. Idalia pried the wire loop off the top of the gate post and dragged the heavy contraption aside for Nuko to ride through. When he was safely inside, Idalia hauled the gate into place and strained to wrestle the wire back down over the post.

Although it didn’t excuse our children, the way he treated his wife made it hard for them to respect Nuko.

Underneath his crusty exterior, however, lay a heart as soft as a marshmallow. I’d seen glimpses of the softness when his eyes rested upon his small son Fufi.

I’d seen it the day the mad cow got loose and charged toward our house. Nuko’s frantic yells brought me running outside in time to see Donovan riding his trike down the road in the path of the oncoming cow.

The black Angus cow bellowed and threw her head from side to side. Nuko and Antonio, mounted on horses and swinging lariats pounded along behind her, trying to get close enough to put a rope around her neck.

Later, after Donovan was rescued, and the cow safely corralled, Nuko stopped by our house. “Are you okay?” he asked Donovan. He squatted down beside the child who was driving his truck on a dirt trail just outside the back door. Something almost tender had exuded from him that day.

No, I wasn’t worried about Nuko laughing at Jerry.

“Is that all, Mom?” Jerry asked. Flour dusted his dark shirt and drifted into little mounds around the mixing bowl.

“That’s good. Let’s drop them onto this cookie sheet and when this batch is baked we’ll walk over to Nuko’s.”

Twenty minutes later the two of us were standing in Nena’s kitchen. Her eyes lit up at the plate of cookies we set on the table and she turned to the stove to heat water for coffee. “Have a seat,” she said, waving her hand toward a chair. I sat and Jerry, with a sick sort of look on his face, leaned against the cupboard where Nena’s collection of dishes was displayed. We talked about the intense heat and wondered if the rains would soon start.

Nuko ambled out to the kitchen and propped himself against the counter. After a brief exchange I told him Jerry has something he needs to say.

Tears filled Jerry’s large brown eyes. “But, Mom, I don’t know how to say the words in Spanish,” he whispered. Of our whole family, this child had picked up Spanish the quickest. He could carry on a conversation with anyone and the natives said he didn’t even have much of an accent. Somehow the words for an apology got stuck in his craw.

I drew him down onto my lap. “You can do it,” I encouraged. “Say, ‘Lo siento…’”.

“Lo siento…” eyes on the floor he struggled the whole way through the halting confession.

Nuko’s eyes were suspiciously moist as he laid a hand on Jerry’s head. “Esta bien,” he said. Their eyes met for an instant and a brief smile passed between them. Nuko patted Jerry’s head as he sauntered through the kitchen and out the door. Jerry hopped up and followed him outside.

I sighed with relief. It is well.

*pila – a large concrete receptacle often used for washing

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