Octavio Gomez returns to his grandma Josefina’s house one afternoon, feverish and depleted. Fina, as Octavio calls her, suggests that Octavio has been placed under a curse. She takes him up to bed, then places a bowl of milk underneath the frame and lights a candle. She tells Octavio to drink some water, and tells him about the time her own father cursed her when she was eighteen with “some old Indian curse” by placing a braided lock of his hair under her bed after discovering she was pregnant. Josefina’s mother put her on a bus to Oakland to get her away, but after her abortion she was sick for a whole year, until her mother mailed her some badger fur and instructed her to bury it at the western base of a cactus. The curse, Josefina says, lifted soon thereafter.
As readers get a glimpse into Octavio’s life, it becomes clear that he has a strong connection to his family—particularly Fina—and has Native heritage of his own. Octavio’s actions are seen in a new light as readers are forced to consider the softer, kinder sides of his personality, as well as the fact that he is, in a way, turning against his own people as he plots the powwow robbery.
Octavio falls into an uneasy sleep, dreaming of the night the house he and his family used to live in was shot up by drug dealers, angry that Octavio’s older brother and uncle Sixto had stolen marijuana plants from them. Octavio’s father was the only one to die in the shooting—he perished protecting Octavio from the bullets. Octavio can’t stop thinking of Sixto, whom he called Six, as he sleeps his feverish sleep. Soon after the shooting, Sixto stopped coming around as much, and Octavio started hanging out with his cousins Manny and Daniel. Manny and Daniel’s home was violent; their father often abused their mother. One afternoon, Manny attacked his father for hurting their mother, and Octavio helped Manny drive his dad to a nearby hospital and abandon him on the front steps.
Octavio has a lot of baggage, and he and his family have suffered terrible violence and losses—just like many of the other characters in the novel. Tommy Orange doesn’t make clear delineations between heroes and villains, good guys and bad guys—everyone in his story has a complicated past, and the traumas therein often lead them to make poor decisions.
A week later, when Manny and Daniel’s father returned home, they threw him out of the house. Manny and Octavio began stealing cars in rich neighborhoods, joyriding around in them for a while before parking them in a lot and abandoning them. They enjoyed living other peoples’ lives for a little while.
Manny and Octavio bonded over their desire to live outside their own experiences for a while, and forget the troubles of their difficult and painful lives.
One afternoon at Manny and Daniel’s, Fina called to talk to Octavio, and told him that Sixto had killed Octavio’s mother and brother in a car accident. Sixto, she said, was in jail. After the funeral, Octavio moved in with Fina, and though she warned him not to visit Sixto—who’d been released from jail and cleared of charges—Octavio went over to Sixto’s one night to find the man and his house looking “hella fucking sad-seeming,” littered with trash. The two men drank and smoked marijuana, and Sixto told Octavio stories about finding Josefina’s ritual altars as a child.
Even though Sixto was responsible for the deaths of his mother and brother, Octavio feels himself drawn to the man—and even expresses sympathy for the unique, unimaginable pain he must be going through.
Sixto brought Octavio down to the basement, where he lit a ceremonial plant on fire and blew the dust from it in Octavio’s face to heal the “bad blood” and wounds that had been passed down to them. Feeling nervous, Octavio escaped the house through the haze of the plant, and returned to Fina’s. The next morning, Fina drove Octavio out to the countryside, where they found a wild badger and pulled out some of its fur. Fina told Octavio she was planning on making him a medicine box to help him deal with the things “deep inside” of him that hurt, such as his burning anger towards Sixto. When Octavio told Fina he had no idea what to do, Fina told him that he wasn’t supposed to.
Octavio is skeptical of his family’s connection to the mystic, but when Fina offers the potential for healing, Octavio trusts the woman and goes along with her plan—even though it’s inherently ridiculous and a little bit dangerous. Octavio is lost and looking for answers—but his ability to find them in his family’s past and their cultural traditions is still uncertain.
Part III: Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield (2)
Part III: Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield (2)