“Ai, caramba! Meninos . . .meninos . . . meninos!” Tipoana complained. Boys! Just boys! No commanders-in-chief with gold crosses and silver spurs; no select pickings for Urubu, king of corpse robbers! He prowled down there all the same, rolling over small, mutilated bodies, poking into pockets, exclaiming hopefully when he came to an old man who had come to battle in a shabby frock coat. But the veteran’s pockets offered nothing of value to Tipoana.
“You’re wasting your time,” Henrique Inglez said. “The bones of Paraguay are picked clean!” He turned to Antônio: “What more does he want?”
They all had their share, Antônio knew. He himself owned a pouch of gold and silver coins.
Urubu came back along the trench. “Meninos!” he whined. “Not one peso among the lot of them!” There was a boy at his feet. Urubu bent down to pluck something from the corpse. Chuckling malevolently, he straightened up, holding the object in the light of his lantern.
Henrique’s long, narrow face contorted with rage, his buckteeth bared. “Savage!” he shouted at Tipoana. “Heartless savage! Dead, brave boys! They deserve respect!”
“Let it be, Tipoana,” Antônio Paciência said. “They fought and died like men, did they not?”
The object Tipoana dangled in the lantern light was a crudely fashioned false beard. Every boy in this trench had strapped one of these to his jaw hoping to make the macacos think he was a man.
To write what I knew about Acosta Ñu from field reports of the great war in Paraguay was one thing. I had to understand the reasons why. I had to see in my mind’s eye every clump of blood red macega grass where eighteen hundred children fell. To be “witness” I had to know passion.