The Yellow Rose of the Andes
CHAPTER 1: DAUGHTER OF A DICTATOR
She was the daughter of a dictator. Her father, General Ximenes, ran his South-American country the old-fashioned way, with an iron hand. He was an old soldier, with an old soldier’s way of looking at things. Whatever tenderness he had, he lavished on his only offspring. Every move of his darling blonde Rose was widely publicized. The whole country watched on television (there was only one channel, run by the government) as she took her first baby steps. When she blew out the candles on her sixth-birthday cake, the event was commemorated on a postage stamp (ostensibly issued to mark World Children’s Day, though nobody checked if such a day really existed, or when precisely it fell). She became the Daughter of the Nation and, since she was beautiful, cheerful, and intelligent, the country took her to heart. She was the Yellow Rose of the Andes, to whom poems and novels were regularly dedicated by the country’s best writers and songs were sung by the country’s foremost singers.
My name is Juan. I was Rose’s closest playmate. I was roughly her age (a difference of two months), the son of the dreaded Minister of the Police in General Ximenes’ government. Rose and I were brought up by the same nanny, and later taught by the same private tutors. Though my image was kept out of the public view, there is no doubt that I was closer to Rose than anybody else in the country.
Dictators meet their end, as a rule, very suddenly and that was definitely true for General Ximenes. After 16 years in power he was overthrown in a lightning coup purportedly in the name of restoring the rights of the common people but actually managed by a junta of young army officers looking for higher pay and a share of the graft which had been flowing mostly into General Ximenes’ private accounts in Switzerland. Rose and I were 12 years old at the time. We were with our mathematics tutor when the coup started with the ritual strafing of the presidential palace by an Air Force warplane, the traditional opening signal of Latin American coups. Two of the General’s aides came running into the classroom and whisked both of us away into a waiting limousine which sped out of the back gate of the palace compound to a nearby airfield, where a private plane was kept fueled and waiting for precisely such emergencies. We were flown to Mexico, to a remote hacienda owned secretly by General Ximenes. There, we transferred to another private plane, this one with the markings of a Canadian mining corporation (also owned secretly by General Ximenes) and flew to Montreal. At the airport we waited for some more of General Ximenes’ familiars to arrive and then flew in a chartered Boeing 747 to Nice, France, from which we travelled in a caravan of cars to a large and remote farm, owned by General Ximenes.
On the flight to France, Rose and I both learned that our parents had been killed in the coup, which had been successful. As we hugged each other and cried, we also realized that we were headed for exile, from which there was likely to be no return.
Fortunately, we were not paupers. General Ximenes had salted away over $500,000,000 in various Swiss bank accounts, and had considerable property and stock holdings as well. My father’s share of the gross national graft, though not on the same scale, was still considerable and amounted to over $50,000,000. We were without a country, but not without means.
The French government, while publically condemning General Ximenes’ regime for years, had no problems granting us political asylum (after the appropriate palms were greased, needless to say). Further bribes to the local police insured that we were not bothered by representatives of the new government who had the wild idea that the money somehow belonged to them and ought to be paid back.
After six months had passed, the situation at our farm had stabilized, more or less. There were a hundred of us “refugees” (not counting servants and secretaries), led — if one can use the word — by Dr. Alvarez, the former Minister of Justice in the general’s cabinet. Obviously, all thoughts were on how to make it back home, and into power, again. Fortunately, we were being “helped” by the incompetence of the junta which had taken power. The leaders of that group immediately started arguing among themselves, and before very long Air Force warplanes again strafed the presidential palace. By the time a year was up, the junta had been replaced by another dictator, who was greedier and definitely less able than General Ximenes. Behind him lurked a shadowy group of drug barons, who had not been allowed to operate in the country during the Ximenes regime. There was no doubt that the situation was deteriorating, and public-opinion polls, which we surreptitiously conducted, showed that there was a strong undercurrent of yearning for a return to the political stability which the old general had somehow symbolized.
Dr. Alvarez decided to capitalize on this sentiment by promoting Rose as a possible future leader. Stories were planted in the press describing the beautiful Yellow Rose of the Andes growing up far away from her home, pining to return and bring order and happiness to the people, for whose plight she cried daily. Excerpts from “Rose’s diary” were leaked, showing her worries and concerns only for the welfare of her homeland. He even managed to arrange for a carefully-scripted interview with her to be aired on CNN and then have copies of the tape distributed widely. As time passed, the myth of “the Yellow Rose of the Andes waiting to return to her homeland” was slowly and carefully built up.
Meanwhile, Rose and I were growing up and behaving just like the thousands of other rich spoiled expatriate teenagers living in the south of France. We swam in the Mediterranean and skied in the Alps. We smoked, drank, and experimented with drugs (though not very seriously). We gambled in Monte Carlo and sunned ourselves on the beaches of the Riviera. We were only 16.
And then the tragedy happened. Much to Dr. Alvarez’ consternation, Rose had been dating the son of Prince Hammed Abu Musa, a member of the Saudi royal family. They were returning to Nice in his prize souped-up vintage MG sports car, when it overturned on a rain-slick road, killing both passengers.
The day after Rose’s funeral, a “council of war” was held at the farm. Without Rose, there was no hope of return home or certainly to power. Fortunately, Dr. Alvarez had been able to keep the news of Rose’s death from becoming publicized. After the payment of a rather large sum to the head of the local constabulary (and a similar payment by the prince), the official report of the accident simply mentioned that the victims were two teenagers, carrying no identification papers. The discussions about our future lasted all day, and most of the next day too. Needless to say, I did not participate. However, on the afternoon of the second day, I was summoned to the room in which the deliberations were taking place, and found myself in a semicircle of very worried men.
Dr. Alvarez quickly explained the situation to me. Without Rose as a figurehead, not only was our last chance of return to our homeland lost, but also the glue which held the group together. It was most likely that many of the people in the room would leave the farm for good, taking with them not only their money but also their influence with the French and Swiss governments. It was known that considerable pressure was being placed on those governments to freeze our financial assets. Unless we were able to present a united front, and show that we had some hope of returning to power, we could not hold out.
“But Rose is dead,” I replied, “and we cannot change that.” “Well,” said Dr. Alvarez, “Rose is dead but, officially, nobody knows that other than the people in this room. Our only hope is to find somebody to take Rose’s place -- somebody to become Rose, for all practical purposes. There is only one person in the world that can do it, only one person who knew Rose so well, and who was fully acquainted with all of the minute details and secrets of her life. That person is you! Juan — the future of all of us is in your hands. We want you to become Rose.”
“But I am a boy.” I protested. “How can I become Rose?”
“It is not impossible,” replied Dr. Alvarez. “You are the same size and build as Rose. A small amount of plastic surgery can make you look very much like her. Other, quite routine, surgery can turn you into a girl for all practical purposes. With suitable coaching, you should be able to pass as Rose quite easily within, say, a year. Think about it Juan, think about the possibility of returning home in triumph, of becoming president of the state. Think of the honors and the glory.”
Think about being turned into a girl! No way! But I did think about it, and the more I thought about it the more it seemed like an alluring idea. I was thin and scrawny, not a big and muscular type which the girls on the Riviera liked. I had no great talents and, quite frankly, my education at the hands of private tutors was not the best. Should our community disintegrate, and should my funds evaporate, I would have nothing to fall back on and very little to look forward to. I was, and would be, nothing. On the other hand, Rose was the golden girl. Rose was the legend. Being Rose meant being adored by millions of people. Even when we were children, she was the one who was always in the limelight, always in front of the cameras. I was the one always held in the shadows so that I would not be seen impinging on the national icon. Now I had a chance to become that icon. Should I do it? Could I do it?
I told Dr. Alvarez that I was willing to try, and he set the appropriate wheels in motion. It took not one year but five! For five very long years, I was trained, coached, groomed, disciplined and conditioned. My face, my body, and my genital area were operated on. I suffered failures, doubts, and misgivings. I savored minor successes and, later, major ones. I had even been initiated into sex as a woman by an (albeit somewhat minor) Italian rock star. I was now Rose, and ready to burst forth in bloom.
CHAPTER 2: DAUGHTER OF THE NATION
“I, Rose Ximenes, do solemnly swear to uphold our sacred constitution, to safeguard the lives and rights of the people, and to govern our nation in their name to the best of my ability. So help me God.”
With these words, I was sworn in as the new president of our great republic. I was 25 years old, and had spent more than half of my life in exile. During that time, my poor unhappy land had suffered under a succession of military coups, counter-coups, juntas, and dictatorships. Seven men had held the title of “president” in the past 13 years. Only one of those was still alive, and he is in exile in Iran, where he has conveniently converted to Islam and changed his name to Haj Ali Mustafa. The others all died defending their grasp on power, either at the hands of their successors or (in two cases) by their own hand. My immediate predecessor shot himself in the head after his palace was strafed by the Air Force warplane routinely held in readiness for such operations and surrounded by tanks the commanders of which also wanted to get into the act. Why should the Air Force have all of the glory of initiating the downfall of the president?
I was brought back by popular clamor. Throughout the country, hundreds of thousands of citizens poured out of their homes into the streets and plazas, each waving a symbolic yellow rose. A delegation of members of Parliament came to visit me in exile, and begged me to return to my homeland. It is ironic that Dr. Alvarez, who had worked so hard to make this day possible, did not live to see it. On hearing that I had been recalled to take control of the country, he had an apoplectic fit and died on the spot. His coffin will be returned to the capital, and reburied in the National Cemetery.
This does not mean that I lack advisors. A few of my father’s old confidants have returned from France with me, but I am mainly surrounded by new men, sons of some of our nation’s most important oligarchs whom I met when I was in exile. They are young men: men who see the future, and who know how to direct the nation’s resources to areas which will make it great -- nanotechnology, biotechnology, and genetic engineering. One of them, for example, has set up an extremely advanced center for research in crystalline tropane alkaloids, and he assures me that we can easily become a world leader in their production. I will definitely encourage him in this project, and divert some government funds for that purpose.
At the reception following my inauguration, I looked at myself in the mirror. I am, I must admit it, stunningly beautiful. Of course, the best French fashion designers and makeup artists, flown in for the occasion from Paris, had something to do with it, but a great part of it is my natural beauty. Even as a little girl, I was very beautiful — or so everyone keeps telling me. The orchestra, in the background, is playing a medley of the many tunes dedicated to me on my eighth birthday, oh so long ago. To celebrate my inauguration, a book containing many of the poems which were dedicated to me as a child has been reissued, illustrated by some of the foremost artists in Latin America. At my insistence, the funds raised from the sale of the book will go to various programs for children’s welfare.
My escort to the inaugural ball is Marco Baggio from Turino. He is the son of one of the wealthiest men in Italy, whom I met one wild night in Cannes. He claims he is madly in love with me. Marco promised that he will persuade his father to invest large sums in the industrial development of my country. In particular, we have plans for building the world's largest factory to manufacture synthetic entactogens of phenethylamine -- a product for which there is a steady worldwide demand. He knows he must make good on that promise, at least if he ever wants to get in bed with me. You see, unlike my father, I am really and truly interested in the economic development of my country, and will do everything in my power — and beautiful women have many more tools to play with — to encourage it. But there will be no compromises — first invest, then embed.
You must think that I have forgotten that I was not born Rose Ximenes. After all, I talk about “my father” and “my eighth birthday” as though these things were really mine. No, that is not true at all. I remember Juan, remember him well. This is especially so at night, when I let my manicured fingers roam to the area where I once kept my “crown jewels”, now sold in the name of ambition and fame. When I am in bed with a man, I cannot help comparing his equipment with that which I formerly had. I was quite well-endowed when I was a boy, if I say so myself, and so, in most cases the men I bring home flunk the test. But I enjoy them anyway, for my present body has its own demands, and my country needs me.
That is not to say that I do not enjoy being Rose. Rose was a beautiful girl, and I honor her memory by being a beautiful woman. Rose was witty and intelligent, and I do my best to be even more so. Rose was loved by the people, and I intend to do my utmost to return that love.
Why did I agree to become Rose Ximenes? When Rose died, as I mentioned before, we were 16. While we played the role of spoiled kids, and enjoyed it, we did have a serious side to ourselves. Without letting our tutors and Dr. Alvarez know, we read together some of the material distributed by the more enlightened opposition groups to her father’s regime, and found out the very shocking truth about her father and mine. To put it very bluntly, we realized that her father was a thief on a colossal scale, and mine was a sadist and a murderer. Dr. Alvarez was no better — his title should have been Minister of Perverted Justice. We were well aware that we were living on funds plundered from the poor people of our land. One night, Rose and I vowed that, should she ever manage to get in power, she would do her best to right the wrongs done to the land by her father and mine, to wash all of the dirty linen in public if necessary, and to work to bring real prosperity to a country that has been raped repeatedly by its leaders.
When Rose died, I saw that vow as her testament, and I felt it my duty to do my all to fulfill it. I would do everything I could to bring justice and prosperity to my country, and if it meant sacrificing my manhood and my identity to do so — well others have sacrificed so much more.
I do not find it hard to be Rose. “A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” wrote John Keats. If it is a joy to see, how much more of a joy is it to be. I enjoy being a pretty woman, I enjoy having men ogle at me and undress me with their eyes. I enjoy wearing chic clothes, having my hair styled just right, and putting on my makeup with flair. But I also enjoy the power that goes with being a beautiful woman and when that power is coupled with political power, who knows where it will take me.
MEMO TO MYSELF: Scrap all of the warplanes in the Air Force. We won’t be needing them any more.
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