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 church.
“Not from fighting, Sir, but I fall from the swing at my home” replied Jose to explain 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. He was no coward – far from it; often he had returned from his drunken bouts with bruises on his face and swollen, broken fists. These were the good nights when his father’s anger had found a different victim and he came home and went straight to bed.
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 Jesus himself and 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 at first; it was done in love. Then the touching began to change and another side of the priest began to show itself. At first even this was better than the home beatings, but then the holy priest began to reveal his true self. The pain was nothing that Jose could not 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, his agonies and his crucifixion, 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.
But then rumours began to move around the village, and his father was under suspicion from the school and even from the Church; whispers spread to every corner and soon there would be no outward signs of violence. Jose was protected from damage; he was protected from death and signs of physical violence at the hands of his father. He had learnt well how to deal with the pain; he could survive the beatings; 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 as 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 quickly, and from necessity, learned how to survive in the jungle, and, in spite of the continual hunger, quickly felt at home there. He feared not at all for the future for he was quick and vigilant; life was about the here and the now. The peace of the jungle was most beautiful and how he remembered those still awesome nights under the stars and the faint scent of the Rose of Costa Rica. Then did he truly feel the love of God spreading into him; the pure and simple life – “Pura Vida” – that allowed God into his very soul.
He awakened with a start surrounded by a gang of rough youths. At first he thought they were going to kill him, but the river gang were not like that. He had nothing they wanted – no money, no wealthy family, and 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 to survive – which to avoid, which to trap, which to follow.
This “River Gang” were not bad young men, they were just survivors – that was their skill. As Jose grew, their own 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 strength 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.
He knew immediately what to do. He walked to the nearest piece of jungle and quickly set to work; it took him nearly 2 hours to make the trap and make sure it was set just right. 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 economical with his words: “Pura Vida” – it was the way of the jungle.
The bottle was soon 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 the older man 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 his 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 outskirts of 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, out so late?” 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.
The liquor was strong and by the time he had finished the bottle the priest was somnolent in the chair, barely clinging to the bottle. The kerosene was easy to find and not much would be needed to make the 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 River Gang 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 and loyalty and protection for the Brotherhood.
The Jungle brothers were quite disturbed when Jose told them he was going to the city to get an education, fearing both for Jose himself and even more for the loss of their charismatic leader. But Jose knew no fears – only of better and worse decisions. They would survive because the rules of survival were simple: just follow the jungle code – the “Pura Vida” – 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.
Beyond these empowering precepts, Jose had some unique 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 one of his charms was 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. A day earlier and his beloved brother would have been rescued. Jose felt the welling up of overpowering feelings from inside him, the machete flew in all direction and ten guards and torturers 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. He returned to the jungle, learning the skills of guerrilla warfare 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 you.” ‘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: I have no idea” smiled the groom shaking his head.
“My name is Jose Henriquez 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 before me. Swear by the Pura Vida and I can leave”
It became clear that 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”; he never wanted power for himself.
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. 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.
Democracy had triumphed, but sadly was soon to be overturned; the bloody coup made with foreign backing led to a change of government… what a sacrifice to make for mere wealth.
The old man stood up and the procession moved on; he carried the flower in both hands. They stopped. He was still greatly loved, and many in the crowd were fighting back the tears.
“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 scent of the Rose of Costa Rica.