Friday, April 1, 2011

Mirrors of Real Street (a short story out of the Andes)

Mirrors of Real Street A man sat on the sidewalk back against a building. In his hands he had a hard brown looking mate-beurilado (a pumpkin like hard shelled vegetable), he had it placed between his two legs, groves were cut in the shell’s back and from the comb in which the old man used as a bow there arose a sound as he rubbed those groves hard to light, a resonant ringing and singing came from it, as the old man hummed, half booming, and half drone, which silenced the very atmosphere around him, so it appeared. Strange to find him there day after day after day—the comb seldom ceased with his erythematic fingers, as the pulse of the city passed him by, with a cadence puzzlingly unreceptive. His voice had hoarseness, and his body reeked with alcohol, he seldom looked up from his instrument, but when he did, he had the agility of an old tired ape, his face demanding a coin of any kind. His yellow half toothless mouth, his eyes as wild and yielding as a quail, his neck muscles moving in an uneasy manner, with near taciturn he made a sound that sounded like a word, “Caballero…” True there he was, with only a few broken words. What would that thing within himself, that was oblivious to hunger, and sleep and time, say to him, when he sobered up in hell? He had said his one word, passed it on to me, the only word I had ever heard him say, save his humming. Here on the street, living a dull life as honest and unimaginative as a bum could live. How could he now, now at his old age escape this temptation and the need of making this decision? Truly, he had a shackled spirit. Here he sat, near motionless with one movement, like a bird flapping its wings, as if to say: this is my spot, to proclaim hoarsely, if one was to take it from him: where’s your warrant. Police, men and women leaned toward him—sporadically throughout the day, as they dropped a coin into his can; dogs pawing at his sorry looking clothes. Children swept by him, his armpits stunk to the high heavens. But it went further back than that; he had a boyhood, in the Andean city of Huancayo, tucked away in the Montero Valley. He lived in a cottage near White Mountain, where people were kind hearted, where he’d ate by candlelight, slept the night away on his pallet, by day the sun cooled his young quick blood. That was long ago, when his canny peasant mother lived, and his father, a man indeed. So new was he to live that he had for a long time, expected something fine and grand out of it, he believed for tomorrow, but somehow, he was sent to hell. Yes, yes, that’s life, and who can break the chain? “Who are you?” how many eyes have said that to him. We are all footsteps to him, footsteps sounding in the bright and filled street of the city, at Real and Brena Streets. Maybe he thought his problems would solve themselves? The musician sat on the sidewalk, drawing his comb across this strange instrument the day I left the city, without disturbing anyone in particular, at the corner of Real and Brena, the sky was rigorous with a storm coming, I knew for him, tomorrow would simply be a new day, and I also knew when I came back to Huancayo, in five months, he’d be right there, right where I left him, right in the same spot. No: 790 (4-1-2011)