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From the Author

An Excerpt From Amigoland

Oscar Casares reads an excerpt from his new book.

“What was there to be afraid of, if none of them were barbers?” he said.

She seemed impressed with his daringness, and he took the opportunity to recount some of his other adventures as a young man, hoping she would trust that he still possessed the same courage today. If for no other reason than to share this part of his life with her, he was thankful there had been an excuse to bring out his barbering equipment. When they finally went to bed, he felt more confident than he could remember being since they had started spending afternoons at the house.

Now he wanted to tell his brother the story about his fight with the pachucos, but the old man had fallen asleep with his head tilted forward. Don Celestino turned off the clippers and tapped him on the shoulder.

“I finished with the back part. You need to keep your head up now.”

Don Fidencio glanced down at the clumps of silver-and-white hair on the floor. “Are you sure you’re not cutting it too short?”

“Since when did you get so particular about your hair?”

“My ears already stick out too much.”

“Stop worrying,” he said. “You act like this is your first time ever getting a haircut.” 
Don Fidencio stayed quiet for some time, looking into the mirror and watching his brother work, though later he seemed to be gazing at something more distant. Then his brother came around to the front so he could check how far some of the longer hairs reached onto his forehead. When Don Celestino moved again, the old man was still staring into the mirror.

“I can remember some of it.”

“Some of what?” Don Celestino asked, brushing the hair off his brother’s shoulder.

“My first haircut.”

“You barely remember that I called you on the phone last night.”

“It was a tiny barbershop in Reynosa, only one chair in the whole place. This barber’s chair was made of wood and the arms were carved with different figures —  with horses and bulls, and on the other one, a rooster. The footrest I remember had the name of the barbershop carved on it — Primos. But there was only one other place to sit if you were waiting to get a haircut, and that was on a wooden crate. Papá Grande told the barber exactly how he wanted his hair, and later he did the same when it was my turn.”

“You were maybe only four or five years old, Fidencio.”

“Did he take you for your first haircut?”

“He could barely walk by the time I was old enough to go.”

“Then you see why — you weren’t born yet,” Don Fidencio said. “I was there. I was the one named after him, I was the one he would take everywhere with him, I was the one who was there with him when he died. Me, not you.” He kept staring at his brother until the other finally turned away.

“This first time he took me was when we lived on the ranchito up the river, close to Hidalgo. We went in the wagon and I sat next to him all the way there, just me and him. The only time we got off was when we reached the ferryboat so we could cross to the other side. One of the boys pulling the ropes was too young to be working, maybe only twelve years old, and I remember Papá Grande got behind him and helped him pull.”

“Are you sure that wasn’t our father?” Don Celestino asked. “I remember we used to cross that way sometimes.”

“You think I would confuse him with my grandfather?”

“Just because they named you after him doesn’t make him only your grandfather.”

“I know what we used to do together, what me and him talked about.”

“I was just saying, if he was really helping to pull.”

“Already I told you it was Papá Grande,” he said, and brought his hand out from under the gown and made a tight fist. “He was still strong in those days.”

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