Dedicated to Juan Rulfo.
I sat here waiting for death, on the edge of this gulch, many, many years ago. So many, that I can't remember exactly anymore. I was never a good man. Vice found me since I was a kid when my father took me to the only bar in town to try the first sip of pulque. "Drink, drink if you want to be a man!", he said. Since then I liked the drink. Since then he condemned me and I condemned myself. My father taught me to drown instead of teaching me to swim.
I grew up drunk and became a lost man. My father left this town, abducted a pretty young girl, and abandoned me and my mother. The sadness took her took her mother after a few years. When I was an adult I got married, I made a family but I never knew how to take care of my children or my wife because I didn't know how to take care of myself either. Almost no man in those mountains knew how ... I grew up in fights with friends. I was fired from farms and from the mines where I worked, but I still drank. My wife was seriously injured in one of the many fights we had. Our kids were big and took her to attend the lady with a host, but then she convinced them to leave me. They fled from me, with those sad eyes that looked like they had seen the devil. That day, when I was very drunk, I shouted at them as I watched them leave, moving away through the small square. Then the priest of the only chapel found me and put his hand on my shoulder to tell me: "My son, stop drinking ... don't you see that you are just hurting yourself and your family?" I remember that he was upset with alcohol, I did not know what I said, but I hit him in the face.
Then other men who were there went over me, knocked me down and kicked me all together. Everyone in the town gathered around and insulted me with the worst blasphemies because I had wronged the priest. Even my friends were among the people. "Get out of here! We don't want you here! ”They chanted in the tumult. "You have raised your hand against the Church that was welcoming you ... Get out of this town now, boy!" Exclaimed the one in the cassock angrily, his nose draining blood on the white cloth of his robe. I looked at everyone with disdain, at him and at the people, all of them the same, all of them poor. And I left.
I wandered everywhere, aimlessly. I just made my way to the woods where I knew there was an immense crucifix armed with poplar wood, one that the Indians had erected long before the town was founded. I walked and walked, throat dry, thirsty for liquor. Soon I began to cry for my wife, for my children, and I could only drink my own tears. They tasted bitter, more bitter than gall, stinging my mouth and tongue, the dirty tongue that had insulted the priest.
I erred for days but never found the wooden cross. I began to beg God for forgiveness, because as I went into the grove I began to feel a deep sorrow, deeper than hell, for having lost everything I once thought I loved and that might have taken me out of vice. But I think the whole sky became deaf because nobody ever heard me or attended to my pleas for mercy... I cried to the Lord. Nothing happened. I had lost all right to forgiveness. Soon I lost myself in the woods, my shoes broke and I ended up barefoot, my clothes were frayed until I was almost naked, and I was covered only with shame.
So I spent whole months and then years, hungry but not fainting. I never knew or understood the reason... One day I found this towering hill and climbed up to this ravine to find death up here, in the silence of the mountain. But death... ah! I think she got lost in the middle of the road while she came to look for me because I've been waiting for her for so long, here, sitting on the edge of this cliff, looking towards the end of the world, beyond those distant hills, I look at them from this site apart from all other Christians. I've been waiting a long time, a lot of time, too much time.
My body has aged since then. I just have the leathers where I once had the meat. My arms and legs and my hands and fingers seem made of threads of skin and bone. There is hardly anything left of my face that looks like the features of a living man. I think I have the traces of death itself. I feel my bones heavy like those of the ox, but I know that they are hollow like the bones of the birds, those that I never saw again fly over this valley full of dry trees, turned into stone. I remember when I was young, when everything here was of a greenery that radiated life, that made me feel in paradise, but now the forests are gray, black as ashes. I no longer know if I am really still in the bush or if I am in hell, if I am awake or asleep, but since I came here I have not been able to close my eyes... Guilt does not allow me. I cannot say if this is a dream or a nightmare, but if it is one of the two, it must surely be the second: an eternal nightmare.
I don't know how long I've been here. I have seen dawn and darken more times than can be counted. The sun and the moon must have had enough of me. I feel the echo of their voices, their murmurs that judge me, angry, saying "you again?". "Yes," I replied, embarrassed, staring at the floor in shame because I think I was left here abandoned by everyone, alone. Maybe the Lord forgot about me and forbade my soul's salvation. Maybe death didn't even come for me. Or maybe I'm just a soul, the most helpless of all. I wish I was already a deceased, but the worst thing is that I know that I am still a living, a living dead.
I have seen the mountains move, stretch and shake like wild beasts: sometimes they grow big and grow almost to touch the sky, other times they make chaps, shorter than we Indians, we men of the cornfields. I also saw the rivers come and go, appearing and disappearing, crawling between the large stones, there, at the bottom of the gulch, draining like blue snakes, fading away before I could go down to sip a drink. It's been a long time since I've seen any river winding in the mouth of this canyon, and the mountains have already been quieter. Maybe they finally fell asleep. Oh, why them and not me?!
I saw in the distance the few lights of my town turning on and off during the first hundreds of nights I spent here in exile. But then I didn't see them anymore. I did not know what happened to all of them, nor to my wife and children ... But now I only have the stars with their white poppy eyes that glow in the black of the sky, with their dancing glows, and sometimes they go out. Then others appear. Sometimes some fly and leave a thread of light that lasts nothing. Those stars barely last a brief moment of eternity. This is how time goes by while I watch them be born and die. Now I am older than some of them.
I am already desperate. It makes me sad to say that several times I had to climb this mountain ... When I arrived here I knew that I should not act against the will of God, because only he disposes when we must die. But I got tired of waiting! I threw myself off the cliff and dropped from the top, from the highest place in this old valley, this opaque valley. But nothing happened. I bounced on the stones, whole, still alive. I just heard the blow when I fell to the floor. I felt nothing: I looked from the bottom to the edge where I was sitting and it seemed very far away, but the sky looked even farther. Unreachable I thought about returning to my village when I was again among the stones and pebbles, lying down, but then I felt a hole in my belly and in the blood because I understood that there was no longer any town. Not here or anywhere else in the valley... Or the world. It was too late.
And I headed back to the top of the ravine. And I threw myself again. Nothing happened. I just hit the floor, but my body was still whole. Oh! I climbed the mountain and threw myself again, and then again, first ten times, then twenty, then one hundred, then one thousand. And then... I lost count. Nothing happened. I always bounced on the stones, I never felt pain, but I did feel sadness and remorse. I even felt sorry for the stones because of them I began to hear a rumor, a groan for every time I disturbed his eternal rest when he dropped me from the hill. “Let us sleep now! Stop bothering!” they said.
I climbed the slope again and sat down alone. I felt alone. But I got fed up and started looking for poisonous vermin to be bitten and killed, but there was not a single one: I searched under each stone and dug through the roots of the dead trees, but found neither scorpions nor capulins or rattlesnakes nor pliers or scorpions or wasps or bees. There was none left. Nor were there dogs or cougars or wolves or coyotes or jaguars or buzzards or any beast that could tear my body apart or take out my insides and then eat me. I preferred that the beasts ate me and vomited or defecated me dead around, anywhere. But it was not like that. There were no more creatures.
"Where is everyone?!" I yelled. "Where am I?!", and not even the echo answered me. Even he left me alone and got tired of me. Maybe the mountains, asleep and exhausted by the passage of centuries, did not bother to return my own voice when it reached their tops. Maybe that's why my screams went out until they got lost in the dead forests to never come back again.
I can no longer with this... I'm tired. My body hurts because of my age, my soul weighs so much for so many sadness that I have saved and for all those scars that I caused to others, to my wife... to my children... to my people... I cried more tears than were needed to fill the entire canyon. I dug a ditch with my nails to fill it and lay there until it sank into the mud and die, but the dry mountain floor sipped all my tears and left me no drop in which I could drown.
And here I had to stay, ruined and old. I am tired, very tired. I hope for some time that my time will come, but I think that the last clocks in the world have run out or broke down centuries ago. Maybe that's why not even death knows when it will be my time to die… Maybe the whole time is over and I was left here waiting. I no longer know where to go because I have no memory of where else there could be another soul. Maybe there is no one else. Oh, pain! Oh, sadness! Let me rest! I beg you! I implore you to dispense my faults! Don't you hear me?! Grant me rest, please...! Listen to me! I beg your forgiveness! Please have mercy! Oh Lord! Don't you hear me either?! Have you already forgotten me?!
Nothing happened... There was only silence, the damn silence, the tortuous silence as always. I came up here thousands of years ago, without resignation, forgiveness, or anything... I sat here waiting for death, but death never came.
[This tale was originally written in Spanish on March 7 and translated to English on March 8, 2020. I was inspired by a phrase from the novel Pedro Páramo by Mexican writer Juan Rulfo, whom I pay homage to this story].
Thank you for reading!