The Story of Bonzo Madrid
by Orson Scott Card
How do you systematically destroy a child with love? It's not something
that any parent aspires to do, yet a surprising number come perilously close to
achieving it. Many a child escapes destruction only through his own disbelief
in his parents' worship. If I am a god, these children say, then there are no
gods, or such gods as there be are weak and feeble things.
In short, it is their own depressive personalities that save them. They are
You know you have begun badly when you parents name you Bonito --
Well, perhaps they named you after a species of tuna. But when you are
pampered and coddled and adored, you soon become quite sure that the tuna
was named after you, and not the other way around.
In the cathedral in Toledo, he was baptized with the name Tomas
Benedito Bonito de Madrid y Valencia.
"An alliance between two cities!" his father proclaimed, though everyone
knew that to have two cities in your name was a sign of low, not high, pedigree.
Only if his ancestors had been lords of those cities would the names have
meant anything except that somebody's ancestors were a butcher from Madrid
and an orange picker from Valencia who moved somewhere else and came to be
known by their city of origin.
But in truth Bonito's father, Amaro, did not care for his ancestry, or at
least not his specific ancestry. It was enough for him to claim Spain as his
"We are a people who were once conquered by Islam, and yet we would
not stay conquered," he would say -- often. "Look at other lands that were
once more civilized than we. Egypt! Asia Minor! Syria! Phoenicia! The Arabs
came with their big black rock god that they pretended was not idolatry, and
what happened? The Egyptians became so Muslim that they called themselves
Arab and forgot their own language. So did the Syrians! So did the Lebanese!
So did ancient Carthage and Lydia and Phrygia, Pontus and Macedonia! They
gave up. They converted." He always said that word as if it were a mouthful of
"But Spain -- we retreated up into the Pyrenees. Navarre, Aragon, Leon,
Galicia. They could not get us out of the hills. And slowly, year by year, city by
city, village by village, orchard by orchard, we won it back. 1492. We drove
the last of the Moors out of Spain, we purified the Spanish civilization, and
then we went out and conquered a world!"
To goad him, friends would remind him that Columbus was Italian.
"Yes, but he had to come to Spain before he accomplished a damn thing! It
was Spanish money and Spanish bottoms that floated him west, and we all
know it was really Spanish sailors who did the navigation and discovered the
new world. It was Spaniards who in their dozens conquered armies that
numbered in the millions!"
"So," the daring ones would say, "so what happened? Why did Spain
topple from its place?"
"Spain never toppled. Spain had the tragic misfortune to get captured by
foreign kings. A pawn of the miserable Hapsburgs. Austrians! Germans. They
spent the blood and treasure of Spain on what? Dynastic wars! Squabbles in
the Netherlands. What a waste! We should have been conquering China.
China would have been better off speaking Spanish like Peru and Mexico.
They'd have an alphabet! They'd eat with forks! They'd pray to the god on the
"But you don't pray to the god on the cross."
"Si, pero yo lo respecto! Yo lo adoro! Es muerto, pero es verdaderamente
mi redentor ainda lo mismo!" I respect him, I worship him. He's dead, but he's
truly my redeemer all the same.
Don't ever get Amaro de Madrid started on religion. "The people must
have their god, or they'll make gods of whatever you give them. Look at the
environmentalists, serving the god Gaia, sacrificing the prosperity of the world
on her altar of compost! Cristo is a good god, he makes people peaceful with
each other but fierce with their enemies."
No point in arguing when Amaro had a case to make. For he was a
lawyer. No, he was a poet who was licensed and paid as a lawyer. His
perorations in court were legendary. People would come to boring court
actions, just to hear him -- not a lot of people, but most of them other lawyers
or idealistic citizens or women held spellbound by his fire and the flood of
words that sounded like wisdom and sometimes were. Enough that he was
something of a celebrity in Toledo. Enough that his house was always full of
people wanting to engage him in conversation.
This was the father at whose knee the pampered Bonito would sit,
listening wide-eyed as pilgrims came to this living shrine to the lost religion of
Spanish patriotism. Only gradually did Bonito come to realize that his father
was not just its prophet, but its sole communicant as well.
Except, of course, Bonito. He was a remarkably bright child, verbal
before he was a year old, and Amaro swore that his son understood every word
he said before he was eighteen months old.
Not every word, but close enough. Word spread, as it always did, about
this infant who listened to his brilliant father and was not merely dazzled, but
seemed to understand.
So before Bonito was two years old, they came from the International
Fleet to begin their tests. "You would steal my son from me? More
importantly, you would steal him from Spain?"
The young officer patiently explained to him that Spain was, in fact, part
of the human race, and the whole human race was searching among its
children to find the most brilliant military minds to lead the struggle for
survival against the formics, that hideous race that had come two generations
before and scoured humans out of the way like mildew until great heroes
destroyed them. "It was a near thing," said the officer. "What if your son is the
next Mazer Rackham, only you withhold him. Do you think the formics will
stop at the border of Spain?"
"We will do as we did before," said Amaro. "We will hide in our mountain
fortresses and then come back to reclaim Earth, city by city, village by village,
But this young officer had studied history and only smiled. "The Moors
captured the villages of Spain and ruled over them. The formics would
obliterate them; what then will you recapture? Christians remained in Spain
for your ancestors to liberate. Will you convert formics to rebel against their
hive queen and join your struggle? You might as well try to persuade a man's
hands to rebel against his brain."
To which Amaro only laughed and said, "I know many a man whose
hands rebelled against him -- and other parts as well!"
Amaro was a lawyer. More to the point, he was not stupid. So he knew
the futility of trying to resist the I.F. Nor was he insensitive to the great honor
of having a son that the I.F. wanted to take away from him. In fact, when he
railed to everyone about the tyranny of these "child-stealing internationalists,"
it was really his way of boasting that he had spawned a possible savior of the
world. The tiny blinking monitor implanted in his son's spine just below the
skull was a badge for his father.
Then Amaro set about destroying his son with love.
Nothing was to be denied this boy that the world wanted to take away
from Amaro. He went with his father everywhere -- as soon as he could walk
and use a toilet, so there was no burden or mess to deal with. And when
Amaro was at home, young Bonito was indulged in all his whims. "The boy
wants to play in the trees, so let him."
"But he's so little, and he climbs so high, the fall would be so far."
"Boys climb, they fall. Do you think my Bonito is not tough enough to
deal with it? How else will he learn?"
When Bonito refused to go to bed, or to turn his light out when he finally
did, because he wanted to read, then Amaro said, "Will you stifle genius? If
nighttime is when his mind is active, then you no more curtail him than you
would demand that an owl can only hunt in the day!"
And when Bonito demanded sweets, well, Amaro made sure that there
was an endless supply of them in the house. "He'll get tired of them," said
But these things did not always lead where one might have thought, for
Bonito, without knowing it, was determined to rescue himself from his father's
love. Listening to his father and understanding more than even Amaro
guessed, Bonito realized that getting tired of sweets was what his father
expected -- so he no longer asked for them. The boxes of candy languished
and were finally contributed to a local orphanage.
Likewise, Bonito deliberately fell from trees -- low branches at first, then
higher and higher ones, learning to overcome his fear of falling and to avoid
injury. And he began to understand that he was not nocturnal afterward, that
what he read in the daze of sleepiness was ill-remembered by morning, but
what he read by daylight after a good night of sleep stayed with him.
For Bonito was, in fact, born to be a disciple, and if his mentor imposed
no discipline on him, Bonito would find it in his teachings all the same. Bonito
heard everything, even that which was not actually said.
When Bonito was five, he finally became aware of his mother.
Oh, he had known her all along. He had run to her with his scrapes and
his hungers. Her hands had been on him, caressing him, her soft voice also a
caress, all the days of his life. She was like the air he breathed. Father was
the dazzling sun in the bright blue sky; Mother was the earth beneath his feet.
Everything came from her, but he did not see her, he was so dazzled.
Until one day, Bonito's attention wandered from one of his father's
familiar sermons to one of the visitors who had come to hear him. Mother had
brought in a tray of simple food -- cut-up fruits and raw vegetables. But she
had included a plate of the sweet orange flatbread she sometimes made, and it
happened that Bonito noticed the moment when the visitor picked up one of
the crackers and broke off a piece and put it in his mouth.
The visitor had been nodding at the things that Father was saying. But
he stopped. Stopped chewing, as well. For a moment, Bonito thought the man
intended to take the bite of flatbread out of his mouth. But no, he was
savoring it. His eyebrows rose. He looked at the flatbread that remained in his
hand, and there was reverence in his attitude when he put another piece in his
Bonito watched the man's face. Ecstasy? No, perhaps mere delight.
And when the man left, he stepped apart from the circle of admirers
around his father and went to the kitchen.
Bonito followed him, leaving his father's conversation behind in order to
hear this one:
"Señora, may I take more of this flatbread with me?"
Mother blushed and smiled shyly. "Did you like it?"
"I will not insult you by asking for the recipe," the man said. "I know
that no description can capture what you put into this bread. But I beg you to
let me carry some away so I can eat it in my own garden and share it with my
With a sweet eagerness, Mother wrapped up most of what remained and
gave it to the man, who bowed over the paper bag as she handed it to him.
"You," the man said, "are the secret treasure of this house."
At those words, Mother's shyness became cold. Bonito realized at once
that the man had crossed some invisible line; the man realized it as well.
"Señora, I am not flirting with you. I spoke from the heart. What your
husband says, I could read, or hear from others. What you have made here, I
can have only from your hand." Then he bowed again, and left
Bonito knew the orange flatbread was delicious. What he had not
realized till now was that it was unusually so. That strangers would value it.
Mother began to sing a little song in the kitchen after the man left the
Bonito went back out into the salon to see how the man merely waved a
brief good-bye to Father, and then rushed away clutching his prize, the bag of
A tiny part of Bonito was jealous. That flatbread would have been his to
eat all through the next day.
But another part of Bonito was proud. Proud of his mother. It had never
happened before. It was Father one was supposed to be proud of. He
understood that instinctively, and it had been reinforced by so many visitors
who had turned to him while waiting for their chance to say good-bye to
Father, and said something like this: "You're so lucky to live in the house of
this great man." Or, more obliquely, "You live here in the heartbeat of Spain."
But always, it was about Father.
Not this time.
From that moment, Bonito began to be aware of his mother. He actually
noticed the work she did to make Father's life happen. The way she dealt with
all the tradesmen, the gardener and the maid who also helped her in the
kitchen. How she shopped in the market, how she talked with the neighbors,
graciously making their house a part of the neighborhood. The world came to
their house to see Father; Mother went out and blessed the neighborhood with
kindness and concern. Father talked. Mother listened. Father was admired.
Mother was loved and trusted and needed.
It took a while for Father to notice that Bonito was not always with him
anymore, that he sometimes did not want to go. "Of course," he said, laughing.
"Court must be boring for you!" But he was a little disappointed; Bonito saw it;
he was sorry for it. But he got as much pleasure from going about with his
mother, for now he saw what an artist she was in her own right.
Father spoke to rooms of people -- let them take him how they would, he
amused, delighted, roused, even enraged them. Mother spoke with one person
at a time, and when she left, they were, however temporarily, content.
"What did you do today?" Father asked him.
Bonito made the mistake of answering candidly. "I went to market with
Mama," he said. "We visited with Mrs. Ferreira, the Portuguese lady? Her
daughter has been making her very unhappy but Mother told her all the ways
that the girl was showing good sense after all. Then we came home and Mother
and Nita made the noodles for our soup, and I helped with the dusting of flour
because I'm very good and I don't get tired of sifting it. Then I sang songs to
her while she did the bills. I have a very sweet voice, Papa."
"I know you do," he said. But he looked puzzled. "Today I argued a very
important case. I won a poor family back the land that had been unjustly
taken by a bank because they would not have the patience with the poor that
they showed to the wealthy. I made six rich men testify about the favors they
had received from the bank, the overdrafts, the late payments that had been
tolerated, and it did not even go to judgment, the bankers backed down and
restored the land and forgave the back interest."
"But Bonito, you did not go to see this. You stayed home and went
shopping and gossiping and sifting flour and singing songs with your mother."
Bonito did not grasp his point. Until he realized that Father did not
grasp his own point, either. He was envious. It was that simple. Father was
jealous that Bonito had chosen to spend his day with his mother.
"I'll go with you tomorrow, Father."
"Tomorrow is Saturday, and the great case was today. It was today, and
you missed it."
Bonito felt that he had let his father down. It devastated him. Yet he
had been so happy all day with Mama. He cried. "I'm sorry, Papa. I'll never do
"No, no, you spend your days as you want." Father picked him up and
held him. "I never meant to make you cry, my Bonito, my pretty boy. Will you
forgive your papa?"
Of course he did. But Bonito did not stay home with Mother after that,
not for a long while. He was devotedly with his father, and Amaro seemed
happier and prouder than ever before. Mother never said anything about it,
not directly. Only one day did she say, "I paid bills today, and I thought I
heard you singing to me, and it made me so happy, my pretty boy." She smiled
and caressed him, but she was not hurt, only wistful and loving, and Bonito
knew that Father needed to have him close at hand more than Mother did.
Now Bonito understood his own power in the house. His attention was
the prize. Where he bestowed it mattered far too much to Father, and only a
little less to Mother.
But it worked the other way as well; it hurt Bonito's feelings a little that
Mother could do without him better than Father could.
A family filled with love, Bonito knew, and yet they still managed to hurt
each other in little ways, unthinking ways.
Only I do think about it, Bonito realized. I see what neither of my
It frightened him. It exhilarated him. I am the true ruler of this house. I
am the only one who understands it.
He could not say this to anyone else. But he wrote it down. Then he tore
up the paper and hid it at the bottom of the kitchen garbage, under the orange
rinds and meat scraps that would go out into the compost pile.
He forgot, for that moment, that he was not actually alone. For he wore
on the back of his neck the monitor of the International Fleet. A tiny
transmitter that marked a child as one of the chosen ones, being observed and
evaluated. The monitor connected to his neural centers. The people from
Battle School saw through his eyes, heard through his ears. They read what
Soon after Bonito wrote his observation and tore it up, the young officer
returned. "I need to speak to young Bonito. Alone."
Father made a bit of a fuss but then went off to work without his son.
Mother busied herself in the kitchen; she was perhaps a bit noisier than usual
with the pots and pans and knives and other implements, but the sound was a
comfort to Bonito as he faced this man that he did not well remember having
"Bonito," said the officer softly. "You wrote something down yesterday."
Bonito was at once ashamed. "I forgot that you could see."
"We thought it was important that you know two things. First, you're
right. You are the true ruler of the house. But second, you are an only child,
so you had no way of knowing that in any healthy family, the children are the
"Fathers rule," said Bonito, "and mothers are in charge when they're not
"That describes the outward functioning of your home," said the young
officer. "But you understand that all they do is meant for you -- even your
father's vast ambition is about achieving greatness in his son's eyes. He
doesn't know this about himself. But you know it about him."
"Children rule in every home, but not in the ways they might wish. Good
parents try to help their children, but not always to please them, because
sometimes what a child needs is not what gives him pleasure. Cruel parents
are jealous of their children's power and rebel against it, using them selfishly,
hurting them. Your parents are not cruel."
"I know that." Was the man stupid?
"Then I've told you everything I came to say."
"Not yet," said Bonito.
"Why is it that way?"
The young officer looked pleased. Bonito thought: Do I also rule him?
"The human race preserved itself," said the young officer, "by evolving
this hunger in parents for the devotion of their children. Without it, they
starve. Nothing pleases them more than their child's smile or laughter.
Nothing makes them more anxious than a child's frantic cry. Childless people
often do not know what they're starving for. Parents whose children have
grown, though, they know what they're missing."
Bonito nodded. "When you take me away to Battle School, my parents
will be very hungry."
"If we take you," the young officer said gently.
Bonito smiled. "You must leave me here," he said. "My family needs
"You may rule in this house, Bonito, but you do not rule the
International Fleet. Your smile won't tell me what to do. But when the time
comes, the choice will be yours."
"Then I choose not to go."
"When the time comes," the officer repeated. Then he left.
Bonito understood that they would be judging him, and what he did with
the information the young officer had told him would be an important part of
that judgment. In Battle School, they trained children to become military
leaders. That meant that it would be important to see what Bonito did with the
influence he had discovered that he had with his parents.
Can I help them both to be happy?
What does it mean to be happy?
Mother helps both me and Father, doing things for us all the time. Is
that what makes her happy? Or does she do it in hopes of our doing things in
return that would make her happy? Father loves to talk about his dreams for
Spain. Does that mean he needs to actually achieve them in order to be
happy? Or does his happiness come from having a cause to argue for? Does it
matter that it's a lost cause, or does that make Father even happier as its
advocate? Would I please him most by adopting that cause as my own, or
would he feel like I was competing with him?
It was so confusing, to have responsibility for other people's happiness.
So now Bonito embarked on his first serious course of study: His
parents, and what they wanted and needed in order to be happy.
Study meant research. He couldn't figure things out without learning
more about them. He began interviewing them, informally. He'd ask them
questions about their growing up, about how they met, whatever came into his
mind. They both enjoyed answering his questions, though they often dodged
and didn't give him full explanations or stories. Still, the very fact that on
certain subjects they became evasive was still data, it was still part of
But the more he learned, the less clearly he understood anything. People
were too complicated. Adults did too many things that made no sense, and
remembered too many stories in ways that did make sense but weren't
believable, and Bonito couldn't figure out whether they were lying or had
merely remembered them wrong. Certainly Mother and Father never told the
same story in the same way -- Father's version always made him the hero, and
Mother's version always made her the suffering victim. Which should have
made the stories identical, except that Mother never saw Father as her savior,
and Father never made Mother all that important in the stories.
It made Bonito wonder if they really loved each other and if not, why they
ever got married.
It was disturbing and it made him upset a lot of the time. Mother
noticed that he was worried about something and tried to get him to tell it, but
he knew better than to explain what he was working on. He didn't really have
the words to explain it, anyway.
It was too much responsibility for a child, he knew that. How could he
possibly make his parents happy? He couldn't do anything about what they
needed. The only thing he controlled was how he treated them. So gradually,
not in despair but in resignation, he stopped trying to make their behavior and
their relationship make sense, and he stopped expecting himself to be able to
change anything. If his failure to help them meant the I.F. didn't take him into
space, well, that was fine with him, he didn't want to go.
But he still kept noticing things. He still kept asking questions and
trying to find things out about them.
Which is why he noticed a certain pattern in his father's life. On various
days of the week, but usually at least once a week, Father would go on errands
or have meetings where he didn't try to bring Bonito -- where, indeed, he
refused to take him. Until this research project began, Bonito had never
thought anything of it -- he didn't even want to be in on everything his father
did, mostly because some of his meetings could be really boring.
But now he understood enough of his father's business to know that
Father never hid his regular work from Bonito. Oh, of course he met with
clients alone -- it would disturb them to have a child listening to everything --
but those meetings weren't hidden. There were appointments that the
secretary wrote down, and Bonito sat out in the secretary's office and wrote or
drew or read until Father was done.
These secret meeting always took place outside the office, and outside of
office hours. Sometimes they consisted of a long lunch, and the secretary took
Bonito home so Mother could feed him. Sometimes Father would have an
evening meeting after he brought Bonito home.
Usually, Father loved to tell about whatever he had done and especially
what he had said that made someone else angry or put him in his place or
made people laugh. But about these secret meetings, he was never talkative.
He'd dismiss them as boring, pointless, tedious, he hated to go.
Yet Father never seemed as though he hated to go before the meeting.
He was almost eager to go -- not in some obvious way, but in the way he
watched the clock surreptitiously and then made some excuse and left briskly.
For long months this was merely a nagging uncertainty in Bonito's mind.
After all, he had given up on trying to take responsibility for his parents'
happiness, so there was no urgency to figure it out. But the problem wouldn't
leave him alone, and finally he realized why.
Father was in a conspiracy. He was meeting with people to do something
dangerous or illegal. Was he planning to take over the Spanish government?
Start a revolution? But whom could he meet with in Toledo that would make a
difference in the world? Toledo was not a city where powerful people lived --
they were all in Madrid and Barcelona, the cities his parents were named for
but rarely visited. These meetings rarely lasted more than an hour and a half
and never more than three hours, so they had to take place fairly close by.
How could a six-year-old -- for Bonito was six now -- find out what his
father was doing? Because now that he knew there was a mystery, he had to
have the answer to it. Maybe Father was doing secret government work --
maybe even for the I.F. Or maybe he was working on a dangerous case that
might get him killed if anyone knew about it, so he only had meetings about it
One day an opportunity came. Father checked the time of day several
times in the same morning without saying anything about it, and then left for
lunch a few minutes early, asking the secretary to walk Bonito home for lunch.
The secretary agreed to and seemed cheerful enough about it; but she was also
very busy and clearly did not want to leave the job unfinished.
"I can go home alone," said Bonito. "I'm six, you know."
"Of course you can find the way, you smart little boy," she answered.
"But bad things sometimes happen to children who go off alone."
"Not to me," said Bonito.
"Are you sure of that?" she answered, amused.
Bonito turned around and pointed to the monitor on his neck. "They're
"Oh," said the secretary, as if she had completely forgotten that Bonito
was being observed all the time. "Well, then I guess you're quite safe. Still, I
think it's better if you ..."
Before she could say "wait until I'm done here," which was the inevitable
conclusion of her sentence, Bonito was out the door. "Don't worry I'll be fine!"
he shouted as he went.
He could see Father walking along the street, briskly but not actually
fast. It was good that he was walking instead of taking a cab or getting the car
-- then Bonito could not have followed him. This way, Bonito could saunter
along looking in store windows, like a kid, and still keep his father in view.
Father came to a door between shops, one of the sort that held stairs
that led to walk-up shops and offices and apartments. Bonito got to the door
and it was already closed; it was the kind that locked until somebody upstairs
pushed a button to let it open. Father was not in sight.
The buttons on the wall had name tags, most of them, and a couple of
them were offices rather than apartments. But Father would not be having a
manicure and he would not be getting his future read by a psychic palm-reading astrologer.
And, come to think of it, Father had not even waited at the bottom long
enough for somebody to ring him up. Instead he had taken a long time getting
the door handle open ...
Father had keys. That's what happened at the door, he fumbled with
keys and opened the door directly without ringing anybody.
Why would Father have a second office? Or a second apartment? It
made no sense to Bonito.
So when he got home, he asked Mother about it.
She looked like he had stabbed her in the heart. And yet she refused to
After lunch he became aware that she had gone to her room and was
I've made her unhappy, he thought. I shouldn't have been following
Father, he thought.
And then she came out of her room holding a note, her eyes red from
crying. She put the note on the kitchen table, folded, with Father's name on it,
and then took Bonito to the car, which she almost never drove, and drove to
the railroad station, where she parked it and got on the train and they went to
Grandma's house. Mother's mother, who lived two hours away in a small town
in the middle of nowhere, but with orange groves -- not very productive ones,
but as Grandma always said, her needs were few and her son-in-law was
Mother sent Bonito into the back yard and then cried to her mother.
Bonito tried to listen but when they saw him edging closer to the window they
closed it and then got up and went to another room where he couldn't hear
them without making it obvious he was trying to spy.
Yet he knew, bit by bit, what had happened, and what he had done.
From the scraps of words and phrases he could overhear, he knew there was a
"she" that Father was "keeping," that it was a terrible thing that Father had the
key, and that Mother didn't know how she could bear it or whether she could
stay. And Grandma kept saying, Hush, hush, it's the way of the world, women
suffer while the men play, you have your son and you can't expect a strong
man not to wander, one woman could not contain him ...
And then they saw him a second time, sitting directly under the window
where Mother had walked to get some air. Mother was furious. "What did you
"Nothing," said Bonito.
"The day you don't hear words that are said right in front of you, I'll take
you to a hearing doctor to stick needles in your ears. What did you hear?"
"I'm sorry I told you about Papa! I don't want to move here! Grandma's
a bad cook!"
At which Mother laughed in the midst of tears, Grandma was genuinely
offended, and then Mother promised him that they would not move to
Grandma's, but they'd visit here for a few days. They hadn't packed anything,
but there were clothes left there from previous visits -- too small for him now,
but not so small he couldn't fit into them.
Father came that night and Grandma sent him away. He was furious at
first but then she said something in a low voice and Father fell silent and drove
The next day he was back with flowers. Bonito watched Mother and
Father talk in the doorway, and she refused to take his flowers., so he dropped
them on the ground and left again. Mother crushed one of the flowers with her
shoe, but then she picked up the others and cried over them for a long time
while Grandmother said, over and over, "I told you it meant nothing. I told you
he didn't want to lose you."
It took a week before they moved back home, and Father and Mother
were not right with each other. They talked little, except about the business of
the house. And Father stopped asking Bonito to come with him.
At first Bonito was angry at Mother, but when he confronted her, Mother
denied that she had forbidden him to go. "He's ashamed in front of you," she
"For what?" asked Bonito.
"He still loves you as much as ever," said Mother.
Which left his question unanswered. That meant the answer was very
important. Father was ashamed of something, ashamed in front of Bonito. Or
was that Mother's kindly-intended lie, and Father was actually very angry at
Bonito for spying on him?
For days, for weeks Bonito didn't understand. And then one day he did.
By then he was in school, and on the playground a boy was telling jokes, and it
involved a man doing something bad with a woman that wasn't his wife, and in
the middle of the joke it dawned on Bonito that this was what Father had been
doing with some other woman that wasn't Mother. The reaction of the boys to
the joke was obvious. Men were supposed to laugh at this. Men were
supposed to think it was funny to find a clever way to lie to your wife and do
strange things with strange women. By the end of the joke both women were
deceived. The boys laughed as if it were a triumph. As if there were a war
between men and women, both lying to each other.
That's not how Mother is, thought Bonito. She doesn't lie to Father.
When a man comes to her and flirts with her, she sends him away. That's
what happened with that man who liked her flatbread.
The final piece fell into place when they were visiting Grandma again --
briefly, this time -- and Grandma looked at him and sighed and said, "You'll
just grow up to be another man." As if hombre were a dirty word. "There's no
honor among men."
But I won't grow up like Father. I won't break Mother's heart.
But how could he know that? It wouldn't be Mother's heart, anyway, it
would be the woman he eventually married; and how could he know that he
wasn't just like his father?
It changed everything. It poisoned everything.
And when they came to him only a few day before his seventh birthday,
and took out the monitor, and asked him if he'd like to go to Battle School, he