Excerpt: 'The Armies'

This Armies
The Armies
By Evelio Rosero (Translated from Spanish by Anne McLean)
Paperback, 208 pages
New Directions
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Chapter One

And this is how it was: at the Brazilian's house the macaws laughed all the time; I heard them from the top of my garden wall, when I was up the ladder, picking my oranges, tossing them into the big palm-leaf basket; now and again I sensed the three cats behind me watching from high up in the almond trees. What were they telling me? Nothing, there was no understanding them. Further back, my wife fed the fish in the pond: this is how we grew old, she and I, the fish and the cats, but my wife and the fish, what were they telling me? Nothing, there was no understanding them.

The sun was beginning.

The Brazilian's wife, the slender Geraldina, sought out the heat on her terrace, completely naked, lying face down on the red floral quilt. At her side, in the refreshing shade of a ceiba tree, the Brazilian's enormous hands roved astutely along his guitar, and his voice rose, placid and persistent, between the sweet laughter of the macaws; this is how the hours pro-ceeded on their terrace, amid sunlight and music.

In the kitchen, the lovely little cook – they called her Gracielita – washed the dishes standing on a yellow stool. I could see her through the unglazed kitchen window giving on to the garden. She swayed her backside, oblivious, as she worked: behind the short, very white skirt every bit of her body jiggled, to the frenzied and painstaking rhythm of her task: plates and cups blazed in her copper-coloured hands: occasionally a serrated knife appeared, shiny and happy, but somewhat bloodstained. I suffered too, apart from her suffering, from that bloodstained knife. The Brazilian's son, Eusebito, watched her on the sly, and I studied him studying her, he ducked under a table loaded with pineapples, she buried in the deepest ignorance, self-possessed, unknowing. He, trembling and pale – discovering his first mysteries – was fascinated and tormented by the tender white panties, slipping up through generous cheeks; I could not manage a glimpse of them from where I was, but, more than that: I imagined them. She was the same age as him, twelve. She was almost plump and yet willowy, with pink sparkles on her tanned face, her curly hair black, like her eyes: on her chest two small hard fruits rose up as if in search of more sun. Orphaned early – her parents had died when our town was last attacked by whichever army it was, whether the paramilitaries or the guerrillas: a stick of dynamite exploded in the middle of the church, at the hour of the Elevation, with half the town inside; it was the first mass of Holy Thursday and there were fourteen dead and sixty-four wounded – the child was saved by a miracle: she was at the school selling little sugar figures; since then – some two years ago – she has lived and worked in the Brazilian's house on the recommendation of Father Albornoz. Very well instructed by Geraldina, she learned how to make all the meals, and lately was even concocting new dishes, so for the past year, at least, Geraldina has had no more to do with the kitchen. This I knew, seeing Geraldina tanning herself in the morning sun, drinking wine, stretched out with no concern other than the colour of her skin, the smell of her own hair as if it were the colour and texture of her heart. And not in vain when her long, long copper-coloured hair flew along every single street of this San José, town of peace, if she graced us with a stroll.

The diligent and still young Geraldina saved the money Gracielita earned: "When you turn fifteen," I heard her say, "I shall give you all the money you have earned and lots of presents as well. You can study dressmaking, you'll be a proper lady, you'll get married, we'll be the godparents of your first child, you'll come to see us every Sunday, won't you, Gracielita?" and she laughed, and I heard her, and Gracielita laughed too: in that house she had her own room, there awaiting her each night were her bed and her dolls.

We, their closest neighbours, could attest with hand on heart that they treated her just like a daughter.

From The Armies by Evelio Rosero, Translated by Anne McLean Copyright 2009 by Evelio Rosero. Excerpted with permission from New Directions Books

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