Palabras Errantes Latin American Literature in Translation

Palabras Errantes
The Machete couldn’t split the rock

By René Roquet. Translated by Joe Williams.

In front of me is Anastasio with a machete sticking out of his face. Dead. There was nothing I could do. Even as a doctor. This rural clinic, equipped with used bandages, basic auscultation equipment and some odd bits of medicine for treating infections and minor injuries is not a place for performing miracles. I pull at the metal and the black blood seeps out. When it stops, I ask one of the young orderlies to help me clean it up. He leaves with the dirty rags, taking the rest of the people present with him. Once alone, I close the corpse’s eyes and turn off the gas lamp. It is now pitch black inside the hut. I head out into the village. The nights in San Teresa Ixcatepec, in Matamoros municipality, are so hermetic that the starlight explodes. I listen to the incessant hum of the cicadas.

Anastasio halted the animal which I was tied to with a piece of rope. He offered me a bowl full of water which he had filled from the river we had just crossed. Not far to go now, he said after we had quenched our thirst. I really need to pee, I have to get down from the donkey, I answered. He untied the knot and lowered me to the ground. When my feet touched the earth, I took off in the direction of the coffee crops, leaving the trail behind. I was laughing, the joy of mischief in my mouth. I had acted without thinking and from Anastasio’s annoyed expression it was clear he wasn’t happy. He came after me and the strength of his embrace frightened me and made me feel ashamed. Stop being silly, your father will be waiting for us to come up the hill.

Santa Teresa Ixcatepec is set in the north face of a hill. There is no electricity and no paving. Its houses are made of wood and have sloping palm-thatched roofs. Drinking water arrives via a pipe which carries it to the village’s ten taps. The only building made of brick is the school; the church and the town hall are made of stone. There is a basketball court where the band plays when there’s a party or when someone dies. Tomorrow they’ll play for Anastasio. Then they will lead the mourners down to the cemetery, which is located at the entrance to the village, as if to offer a welcome to anyone who visits this corner of the Sierra Madre.

My parents were there when I arrived. They and my two older brothers were putting the medicine that had been donated to the clinic away. Did he fall off the donkey? asked my mother. No, señora, I did what you told me, answered Anastasio. They thanked him for having travelled the five hours to collect me from the priest’s house in Santiago Puxmetacán. I went to go to sleep on the bedroll in the back. Being so young, long trips always seemed never-ending to me and made me sleepy. That’s why they had to tie me to the donkey.

I knock on the door of the town hall. The local authorities are inside, sombrely speaking Mixe in hushed voices. I explain that the relatives of the deceased may now see the body. The mayor dismisses his aide with a glance, who then stands up and leaves. I sit down in one of the hammocks and say: this must end. They agree but nobody says anything, save for an old man who gives instructions to the topil, the teenager doing his voluntary community work, in his native language. The topil goes to the wooden shelf and takes down a plastic jug full of mezcal. He serves me some in a glass with flowers painted on it.

A violent thunder storm wakes me up in the middle of the night. The clinic, a hut like any other in the village, also served as our home when we arrived in Santa Teresa Ixcatepec to do our social service during vacations. Through the bedroll, I could feel the humidity of the place rising up from the flattened undergrowth and I could see between the planks of wood that served as a wall. I watched the water gushing down the roofs made of palm leaves, illuminated by the flashes of lightening. The water never came in our direction. I was frightened when the lightening stopped and all that remained were the shadows and the sound of the rain and the wind. The rats were squealing up in the palm leaf-thatched roof. I got up and dragged the bedroll over to my parents’ one. I curled up next to mother.

The light is dim. The topil takes one of the gas lamps and, making a vacuum with his mouth, fills it with fuel that he extracts from a barrel with a hose. He puts the lid on, vigorously pumps air into it and lights a match. The west wing of the town hall is lit up once more. He repeats the process with the other lamp. As he does so, the first one goes out. We’re in darkness again. The mezcal doesn’t taste as strong in the shadows. I finish my glass and wonder if it would be a good idea to go to the house of the deceased, to Anastasio’s. But I get the feeling that everybody would prefer to stay where they are and keep drinking than to go anywhere. My glass is filled. I find it strange that no one has turned on the stereo, and say as much. There aren’t any batteries, says the mayor’s aide.

The next day the sun was shining as if the clouds from the previous night had never even existed. The paths around the village were covered with mud and it was difficult to walk down them without slipping. Even the path out of the clinic was muddy. The cuffs of my trousers got dirty and my boots got more clogged up with every step I took. About twenty meters down the trail was the house where we used to eat. One of the women from the village used to prepare breakfast for us. A plate of black beans and a gigantic tortilla spread with pork fat. Sometimes they would give us eggs or a glass of milk. I would usually cry because I didn’t like the food. My mother would tell me to be quiet and force me to finish my plate. She would smile uncomfortably at the cook, who didn’t understand much Spanish.

The mayor is drunk. He knocks the glass over when he tries to pick it up. Everyone laughs raucously at him, without trying to hide it. The laughter is infectious and I can’t help but join in. Then the silence resumes and I remember that there we aren’t playing any music because we don’t have any batteries. Nobody is willing to go knock on one of the closed shops, even when I offer to pay for the Evereadys. Merchants are the enemy, they betray the natural order of things, the community. Or at least that’s what the band of coffee farmers led by the village’s cacique says.

My brothers’ absence after breakfast puzzled me. I asked mother about them. They went down to the river early, she said. I want to go too. Sorry, there’s no one to go with you. I asked if Anastasio could take me on the donkey. Anastasio went planting and the crop fields are very far away from here. I started crying. The cook carried on with her work. She was plucking an old hen for lunch. Moments before I had watched in fascination as she had wrung its neck. Mother had just collected the pewter dishes. My outburst in front of the señora must have annoyed her because she stood up, abandoning the bucket she was washing dishes in, and took me out of the hut. While I was stood outside, a group of women walked past and found my tantrum amusing. That infuriated me. I ran at them with my fists raised. One of them grabbed me firmly by the wrists and said a few words in Mixe that made everybody laugh and led to further jokes at my expense. I went running to the clinic. To father.

These days there is a dirt road to Santa Teresa Ixcatepec. Before, just a couple of years ago, the only way to get to the village was through the pass, either on foot or by riding either a donkey, a mule, or a horse, for five hours. My father always preferred to go by donkey, claiming that they were best suited to the steep and narrow trails. I preferred donkeys too, although more because of their tender faces than for their suitability for the terrain. I used to insist that Anastasio’s donkey was mine and asked to be picked up and taken around on it. My little quirks didn’t bother Anastasio and he dragged the animal over the place to keep me happy. Now that there is a road, pack animals are not exploited quite as much. Trucks carry passengers, food, and materials, which is why commerce, although still in its infancy, has become profitable business. The village is changing rapidly. My parents are no longer able to come and see with their own eyes what is happening, they say they’re too old for those adventures now. Under this pretext, the baton of responsibility for Santa Teresa Ixcatepec’s healthcare was passed to me after my graduation.

I was still crying. My parents were sick of it. They asked a patient from towards the back of the line to go to the town hall to get one of the topiles to take me to the river. I stopped crying. Well then, said father and filled his syringe with an antibiotic. He tried to inject the patient three times and his needle broke each time. He asked him not to clench his buttocks so much. I found all this pretty surprising, but I wasn’t so surprised that I forgot about the river. When Crescencio arrived, I took some swimming trunks and a towel. Mother gave me a kiss and some insect repellent. The topil offered me his hand as the ground was still slippery. I refused and paid the price: a few meters down the road I fell and got mud on my t-shirt and the seat of my pants. Everyone laughed but I didn’t say said anything. I just carried on walking. On the way out of the village we crossed paths with a few other children. Several of them were barefoot and, unlike me, they weren’t wearing hats.

I leave the town hall and instantly regret not having brought the lantern with me, which must be bored sitting on that desk and doing nothing. Due to the mezcal, the ground beneath my feet feels more treacherous than it really is. This is the first time I have gotten drunk here in the village. A skinny dog appears from somewhere and follows me to the clinic. I kick it as it tries to come in and it leaves without making a sound. I take the lantern. On the way to Anastasio’s house, I have a change of plans. Feeling emboldened and wanting to have a go at being the peacemaker, I change direction and head for Cresencio’s. He is part of the family who own the shops.

As we descend, we tread sure-footedly down the gentle stretches and more carefully on the steep parts. The villagers had carved steps out of the earth along the most difficult stretches, but the day’s heavy rain had virtually washed them away. I had learnt my lesson and when I wasn’t sure where to tread next, I grabbed Crescencio’s hand and he guided my steps. He even carried me at times. The children from the village ran along without paying any mind to the lack of footing. One of them stopped in front of a bush, tore off a leaf and folded it in half, then put it to his mouth and with it produced a resounding whistle. A response came from far away, which he answered. I asked Crescencio what they were saying. Nothing, they’re just greeting each other. Can you show me how to do it? He took two leaves and started to explain, as best as he could, the different techniques for folding and blowing. I didn’t understand and immediately gave up trying to. I could now hear the river.

I enter the hut. There are photos and cut-outs from newspapers pinned to the wooden walls. I catch sight of a metal grill at the back of the room, behind which are cans of soft drinks and three boxes of canned sardines. There is no lamp so we sit down on a bench by the fire. Crescencio’s children must be sleeping behind the sheet hanging down from the ceiling which divides the room. His wife gives me a glass of sugar-water. The sugar-water makes me feel nauseous after all the mezcal, but I don’t refuse it and drink it down quickly. This fighting has got to end, I tell him. He answers that there’s nothing that can be done, that they aren’t going to give a share of their profits to the cacique. To the cacique? It’s for the village’s communal fund, to maintain the tequio, I assert. He shakes his head. My family does our share on the common land. The common lands fund the tequio. What about the shops? The shops are ours, they don’t belong to the community. Clarify that in the meeting tomorrow, I say to him as I put my hand on his shoulder. We will come prepared, he says. I stand up, light the lantern and start to make my way out. I plead with him to reconsider, saying that violence won’t solve anything and that the type of thing that happened to Anastasio should never happen. Crescencio’s eyes are full of guilt as he looks at me. Anastasio crossed paths with his own devil in the forest, he replies.

The river was getting louder and louder. It was so powerful. In the spaces between the trees and bushes, I could catch glimpses of the river shimmering below. I ran with the other children towards it. Even Crescencio allowed himself to get caught up in the enthusiasm. In one hand he steadied the sheathed machete he carried in his pants and with the other he held the knapsack. We let out excited cries as we ran, our footsteps raising clouds of dust and causing the pebbles on the path to fly. My brothers caught sight of us and turned around to watch us from the river below, calling for us to join them. I wrapped the towel around my waist, took off my pants and underwear and put on my swimming trunks. The other children stripped naked and we headed towards the part of the river where the water was shallow. Our clothes were piled up on the shore. Once we were in the water, we started to splash each other. Now that we were soaked through, we headed to the deeper part. Twenty meters up was a rock which served as our diving board and higher still, the waterfall.

I arrive at the wake and have more mezcal diluted with coffee. I offer my hand to the widow. In Santa Teresa Ixcatepec, it’s not normal to offer your hand as a greeting, least of all to the women, but I do so as a sign of respect. The body, wrapped in a sheet with a blood stain where it covers the corpse’s face, is lying on the floor on a bedroll and is surrounded by lamps. The rest of the house is lit up by Coleman lamps borrowed from the town hall. Some people are standing while others are sitting on sacks full of grain. Outside, a racket is picking up: it’s the mayor, even more drunk than he was last time I saw him. He’s carrying a pistol in his belt. I go out to calm him down. He tells me that he has come looking for the store owners, that they are the ones who murdered his friend. I tell him not to be rash and offer him a drink, which calms him down a bit. We sit down on stools fashioned from logs. I don’t care if I die, he confesses. He doesn’t seem quite as drunk as he says this and I don’t get the feeling it’s the alcohol that’s doing the talking. My children are grown up, no one is dependent on me. Is it about money? I don’t care about the money, I care about the village. Then he starts talking like a drunk again and I decide it’s best if I leave. On the way to the clinic I stop by the town hall  and ask the topil to go to Santiago Puxmetacán and fetch the soldiers, without saying a word to anyone.

There were stones in the river, green ones, coffee-coloured ones and grey ones. Some of them were the same size of my feet and covered with moss. The smallest ones were good for skimming and we threw them towards the shores. As we floated belly-up in the calm water, the children from the village said a few words in Spanish. Their Spanish was pretty limited so they thought carefully before they spoke. Their pronunciation was fast and they couldn’t form sentences so the words they said came out in isolation. My brothers and I only knew one Mixe word: Meyepe. It meant hello. They laughed at our pronunciation. Meyepe. Hahahaha. Meyepe. Hahahahaha. We started swimming again, against the current, and we arrived at the big rock. The children from the village started climbing up the side of it then jumping off into the river. I was scared, but the sight of their bodies hitting the water was impressive and everyone was smiling. I geared myself up to jump. I went to the shore and grabbed on to the root of a tree while, carefully, I hoisted myself up. When I got up on top, I looked down. It scared me. I tried to climb down but that was even more difficult. They started shouting, jump, it’s fun, jump. I went to the edge and jumped. There I was, suspended in the air, terrified and fascinated at the same time. The sky was perfectly blue and the warm, shimmering water was waiting for me.

The noise of the instruments wakes me up. The mayor is making an announcement on the village’s PA system. I’m surprised to see him on his feet after the state he was in yesterday. When I arrive at the basketball court, the mourners head off to the cemetery. The women have covered their heads with shawls, even though there was no mass as the priest didn’t show up. The band played the deceased’s favourite song, Dios Nunca Muere. Anastasio is still wrapped in the same sheet and on top of the same bedroll from the wake. That is how they will bury him. The grave is waiting and it will be the same as any other tomb: no foundations, just death and a mound of earth with a wooden cross on top. The band stops and the eldest man in the village says a few prayers in Mixe that I don’t understand. They lower my friend down into the ground and quickly cover him up. No one is crying except some of the women. On the way out of the cemetery, the mourners cross paths with Crescencio and the other half of the village.

I hit the water and sank several meters down. I thought I was going to run out of air before I reached the surface. I didn’t. I came to the surfaced took a deep breath. My brothers congratulated me. They said it was a really cool dive. My legs were shaking, but I couldn’t resist doing it again. Nervously, I climbed up the rock a second time and jumped off. I repeated it as many times as I could. I was starting to learn how to do it without making a big splash and I was getting better at not sinking down so deep as well. As we were leaving, I looked back at the rock several times. Crescencio was still waiting on the shore, at the start of the trail. I told him about the diving on the way back. He didn’t pay much attention to what I was saying as it was getting dark, we didn’t have any lanterns and the ascent was going to be tough, two hours at my pace.

They look at each other with angry expressions. There are equal numbers of people carrying machetes on either side. I see that the mayor has the clasp on the holster of this pistol open. He is sweating out the mezcal from the night before and beads of it are running down his face. We’re not going to give you our money, says Crescencio. There are no longer any women or children among the mourners. I don’t know what to do. I only have two choices: watch or leave. One of the old men speaks. He must have suggested that we go to the basketball court. Once we have arrived, the villagers form a circle around the mayor and Crescencio. Neither one has put down their weapon. Voices come from the crowd, agitating in hushed, hurried tones. The soldiers arrive on the scene and surround us. The captain speaks Spanish with the two leaders, although he clearly understands Mixe. Then he comes over to me and orders me to collect my things. Some soldiers accompany me to the clinic and help me to pack. They lift me on the back of one of the trucks. The captain orders all his men to fall back and sits down at my side. The driver pulls out and the rest of the soldiers follow. We set off down the road. They’re going to kill each other, I implore to him. Exactly, he responds. We can’t stay. Or would you prefer me to kill everyone? I’m saving you, that’s all.

The ascent was tough. You would come to the top of a steep climb, have a meter that was flat than have to starting climbing again. Crescencio noticed that I was tired and that I couldn’t go on. He put me on his shoulders for a while, but the floor was slippery and if he fell we would both fall, so he put me down. My brothers took my things and pushed me up the slope. I started crying. Crescencio told me that he would make me a knife out of wood if I carried on walking. That lifted my spirits a bit. But the slopes were too steep for me and I had to stop every three steps, I was exhausted after all the diving. The other children were getting worried. One of them, the oldest, quickened his pace. An hour later I saw him coming back down, followed by Anastasio. They had the donkey with them. They lifted me on to its back and told me not to fall asleep. I won’t, I told them, I’m big now. At that moment I made up my mind to go back to the river the next chance I got. I told the others. They were discussing the coffee harvest and the road that stopped short of the village.

The army trucks approach the river and cross at the part where the water is shallowest. The tyres dirty the water. Further down I can see the rock that I used as a diving board. I ask the driver to stop. I want to get off, I said. The captain looks at me scornfully and asks if I’m out of my mind. No, I reply. I want to go for a swim. Keep going. They throw my stuff down and continue on their way. I strip naked and dive into the deepest part. I swim quickly over to the rock. The water is cold, it is nine O’clock in the morning. By two in the afternoon I will have decided whether to return to Santa Teresasa Ixcatepec or to press on to Santiago Puxmetacán. For now, I will just dive into the river to see if I can stop feeling scared or if the water can wash away the blood-stained sheet.

Image by Eneas de Troya. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

El Machete no pude cortar la roca

Enfrente de mi esta Anastasio con un machete incrustado en la cara. Ya murió. Aunque soy médico, no pude hacer nada. La infraestructura de la clínica rural no da para milagros; apenas tiene vendas desgastadas, equipo básico de auscultación y uno que otro medicamento para curar infecciones y heridas leves. Jalo el metal y dejo que caiga la sangre negra. Cuando para de fluir, le pido a un muchacho que me ayude a limpiar. Se va con los trapos sucios, acompañado con los demás presentes. Una sola vez, le cierro los ojos al cadáver y apago la lámpara de gasolina: la choza queda oscura. Salgo al pueblo. Las noches de Santa teresa Ixcatepec, municipio de Matamoros, son tan herméticas que la luz de las estrellas explota. Oigo el inagotable zumbido de la cigarra.

Anastasio detuvo el animal donde iba sujeto con una cuerda y me ofreció una jícara con agua que acababa de recoger del rio recién cruzado. Ya falta poco, después de que saciamos nuestra sed. NO aguanto las ganas de orinar, necesito bajar el burro, le contesté. Él desató le cuerda y me cargó hasta el piso. Al sentir la tierra, emprendí una carrera por la cosecha de café, dejando atrás el camino; iba riéndome llevaba la alegría de la travesura en la boca. La verdad no pensé mucho la acción y a Anastasio le desgradó; salió detrás de mí, con la contrariedad marcada en el rostro. La fuerza de su abrazo me espantó y me hizo sentir vergüenza. No hagas tonterías, tu padre nos está esperando subiendo la cuesta.

Santa teresa Ixcatepec se encuentra enclavada en la cara norte de un cerro. No tiene luz eléctrica ni pavimento. Sus casas son de madera, con techos de palma de dos caídas. El agua potable llega por una tubería a diez tomas distribuidas en el pueblo. La única construcción de ladrillo es la escuela. La iglesia y la presidencia municipal son de piedra. Hay una cancha de basquetbol donde se presenta la banda de música cuando hay fiesta o cuando alguien muere. Mañana van a tocar por Anastasio y después se desplaza con el cortejo hacia el cementerio, que está a la entrada del pueblo como dando la bienvenida a quien se acerque a ese rincón de la Sierra Madra.

Llegamos con mis padres. Ellos estaban acomodando los medicamentos donados en los estantes de la clínica rural, con mis hermanos mayores. ¿Se cayó el niño del burro? Preguntó mamá. No, señora, hice lo que me dijo, contestó Anastasio. Le dieron las gracias por haberme ido a recoger a la casa del cura, quien vivía en Santiago Puxmetacán, a cinco horas del pueblo. Yo me fui a dormir en el petate del fondo. Por mi corta edad, los recorridos largos me resultaban agotadores y me daba sueño. Por eso tenían amarrarme al burro.

Toco la puerta de la presidencia. Las autoridades están dentro, serias, hablando mixe en voz baja. Les indico que los familiares ya pueden pasar por el cuerpo. Con un gesto del presidente, el mayordomo se levanta y se va. Me siento en una de la hamaca. Les digo: Esto debe acabar. Las personas asienten pero no hablan, salvo el anciano que en su lengua natal le da indicaciones al topil. Èl va al estante de madera y saca el mezcal, envasado en una garrafa de plástico. Me sirve en un vaso con flores pintadas.

Me quedé dormido hasta que la tormenta eléctrica de la noche me despertó. Tronaba con fuerza. La clínica, una choza igual a todas del pueblo, también, nos servía de casa cuando llegábamos a hacer servicio, en las vacaciones. Sentí la humedad del ambiente a través del petate; subía de la tierra apisonada. Por entre las maderas que servían de muro alcanzaba ver hacia afuera. Cuando la noche se iluminaba con el resplandor de los rayos, observaba algunos tejados de palma y cómo bajaba el agua atropelladamente, sin dirigirse hacia nuestro refugio. Después del resplandor quedaban el ruido de la lluvia y el viento, sombras que me daban miedo. De la trama del techo bajaban los chillidos de los ratones. Me levanté y jalé el petate hacia el de mis padres.

La luz es muy baja. El topil toma una de las dos lámparas de gasolina y la llena con el combustible que saca de un tambo con una manguera, haciendo vacío con la boca. Le pone la tapa, bombea aire con fuerza prende un cerillo. El ala izquierda de la presidencia vuelve a iluminarse. Repite la acción con la otra. Mientras lo hace se apaga la primera. Nos quedamos a oscuras. El mezcal no sabe tan fuerte entre las sombras. Me acabo el vaso y pienso si ya será bueno ir a casa del difunto, de Anastasio. Nadia parece dispuesto a dejar la habitación y si a seguir tomando. Me llenan el vaso. Me extraña que no hayan prendido la grabadora. Se los hago saber. No hay pilas, me dice el mayordomo.

Al día siguiente el sol brillaba como si las nubes no hubieran existido. Las veredas del pueblo estaban cubiertas de lodo y era difícil transitar sin dar un mal paso. Aun así, salí de la clínica Las valencianas del pantalón se mancharon y las botas se atascaban a cada paso. A unos veinte metros, camino abajo, estaba la casa donde comíamos. Una de las mujeres de la comunidad nos preparaba el desayuno un plato de frijoles y una enorme tortilla con manteca. Por lo regular, yo lloraba porque no me gustaba lo que me servían Mi mama me calaba y me obligaba a acabar el plato. Apenada le sonreía a la cocinera, quien no entendía gran cosa de español.

El presidente municipal está borracho. Tira el vaso cuando trata de tomarlo. Todos se ríen de él de manera abierta, estridente. Me contagian. Todos se ríen de el de una manera abierta, estridente. Me contagian. Después vuelve a caer el silencio y recuerdo que no hay música por la falta de pilas. Nadie esta dispuesto a ir a tocar a una de las tiendas cerradas, incluso si yo pague los Everready. Los comerciantes son los enemigos, los que traicionan el orden de las cosas, a la comunidad. O por lo menos eso dice el bando de los agricultores de café, comandado por el cacique del pueblo.

Después del desayuno me extraño que no estuvieran mis hermanos mayores. Le pregunté a mamá por ellos. Se fueron temprano al rio, dijo. Ya también quiero ir.  Lo siento, no hay quien te acompañe. Pedí que me llevara Anastasio en el burro. Anastasio se fue a sembrar y los campos de cultivo están muy lejos de aquí. Comencé a llorar. La cocinera seguía en su faena: desplumaba una gallina vieja para la comida. Minutos atrás había visto con fascinación cómo le tronó el pescuezo. Mamá acabó de recoger los trastes de peltre; debió de hartarle mi falta de sensibilidad frente a la señora pues me sacó de la choza en lo que lavaba los platos en una cubeta. Mientras esperaba, unas mujeres pasaron a mi lado y les dio risa que estuviera haciendo un berrinche. Eso me llenó de cólera. Fui contra ellas con los puños en alto. Una me agarró las muñecas con fuerza y dijo unas palabras en mixe que avivaron las burlas de ambas y de otras personas que estaban por ahí. Me fui corriendo con papá, a la clínica.

Santa Teresa Ixcatepec ahora tiene una carretera sin asfaltar. Antes, un par de años atrás, la única, manera de llegar al pueblo era por brecha, caminando o montando burro, mula o caballo por cinco horas. Mi padre siempre usaba el burro, pues aseguraba que ese animal recorría con mayor facilidad los caminos sinuosos y escarpados. Ya también lo prefería, por no por sus habilidades sino por la ternura de su cara. Insistía que el de Anastasio era mi burro y que me recogieran y me llevaran en él. A Anastasio no le molestaban mis caprichos y jalaba a todos lados con su bestia para distraerme. Con la carretera ya no son tan explotados los animales de carga. Los camiones llevan pasaje, víveres y materiales, razón por la cual el comercio, aunque todavía es incipiente, se ha vuelto un negocio próspero. El pueblo está cambiando aceleradamente. Mis padres ya no pueden verlo, pues dicen que ya son muy viejos para estas aventuras. Con ese pretexto, después de que me gradué como médico, me pasaron la estafeta, la responsabilidad medica de Santa teresa Ixcatepec.

Yo seguía llorando. Mis padres estaban hartos. Le pidieron al último de los pacientes de la fila que por favor fuera al palacio municipal a solicitar que uno de los topiles me acompañara al rio- Dejé de llorar. Papá dijo Vaya, y cargó su jeringa con un antibiótico. Las tres veces que trató de inyectar al enfermo se le rompió la aguja. Le pidió que no apretara tantos los glúteos. A mí me sorprendió mucho, ero no tanto para que olvidara el rio. Cuando llegó Crescencio tomé el traje de baño y una toalla. Mamá me dio un beso y el repelente de mosquitos. El topil me extendió la mano porque el piso seguía resbaloso. Yo me negué y lo pagué muy alto: a unos metros de la choza me caí y manché la camisa y las nalgas del pantalón. La gente se rió y yo no dije nada, seguí caminando. Por la salida del pueblo se unieron al trayecto otros niños. Varios de ellos iban descalzos y no llevaban sombrero, como el mío.

Salgo de la presidencia y lamento no haber tomado la linterna que debe estar aburrida sobre la mesa de la choza. Por los mezcales que tomé siento el piso aún más disparejo de lo que está. Es la primera vez que tomo hasta emborracharme en el pueblo. Un perro flaco sale de algún lugar y me acompaña hasta la clínica; como trata de entrar lo corro con una patada. Se va sin aullar siquiera. Tomo la linterna. Rumbo a casa de Anastasio cambio de plan, me siento envalentonado, mediador, y voy con Crescencio; él es parte de las familias que tienen el negocio de las tiendas.

Bajábamos con paso firme en las rectas y con precaución en las pendientes. En los tramos más difíciles, los del pueblo habían hecho cortes en la tierra para formar escalones. Aquel día, por la lluvia, se habían borrado. Como ya tenia clara la lección, cuando dudaba por dónde continuar, le daba la mano a Crescencio y él guiaba mis pasos o me cargaba. Los niños de Santa teresa corrían sin importar el terreno. Uno de ellos se paró enfrente de un arbusto, arrancó una hoja, la dobló y con ella chifló mu fuerte. De algún lugar lejano le contestaron y él respondió. Le pregunté a Crescencio qué se decían. Nada, sólo se saludan. ¿Me enseñas? Tomó dos hojas y fue explicándome, lo mejor que pudo, las distintas técnicas de doblez y el soplido. No le entendí y de inmediato dejé de intentar. Ya se oía el rio.

Entro a la choza. Está tiene algunas fotos recortes de periódico clavados en las paredes de madera. Al fondo alcanzo a ver unas rejas con refrescos y tres cajas con latas de sardinas. No hay lampara, por lo que nos sentamos al lado del fuego, en una banca. Detrás de la sabana colgada deben estar dormidos los hijos de Crescencio. Su esposa me da un vaso con agua azucarada. Me da asco después de haber tomado mezcal, pero no rechazo me lo acabo rápido. Esta rivalidad debe acabar, le digo. Él contesta que nada se puede hacer, que no van a darle parte de sus ganancias al cacique. ¿Al cacique? Es para el fondo común del pueblo, para mantener el tequio, aclaro. Mueve la cabeza negativamente. Mi familia también cultiva las tierras comunales. De ahí sale para el tequio. ¿De las tiendas no? Las tiendas son vuestras, no de la comunidad. Aclaren esta diferencia en la junta de la mañana, le pido mientras le toco el hombro. Iremos listos, contesta. Me pongo de pie, prendo la linterna y me enfilo a la salida; le suplico que recapacite, que la violencia no lleva a ninguna parte, que no se deben cometer crímenes como el que pasó con Anastasio. Crescencio me ve a los ojos lleno de culpa y responde que Anastasio se topó con su propio diablo en el bosque. El rio se oía cada vez mas fuerte, imparable. De entre las ramas y os arbustos se empezó a ver, allá abajo, su resplandor. Corrí al lado de los otros niños hacia él, Crescencio también se dejó llevar por el entusiasmo. Mientras descendía, con una mano detenía el machete enfundado en el pantalón; con la otra, el morral. Dábamos gritos mientras nuestras pisadas levantaban el polvo y hacían chocar las pequeñas piedras del camino. Mis hermanos voltearon a vernos desde el agua y nos animaron a que nos metiéramos. Yo me tapé con la toalla, me quité el pantalón y el calzón y me puse a el traje. Los demás niños se desnudaron completamente y nos fuimos hacia el lado menos hondo. La ropa quedó hecha bulto al margen. Cuando estuvimos dentro, comenzamos a salpicarnos unos a otros. Ya empapados, dimos el brinco hacia lo profundo. Veinte metros arriba había una roca grande que nos servía de trampolín, y mas arriba aún, la cascada.

Llego al velorio y tomo más mezcal diluido con café. Le doy la mano a la viuda, en señal de respeto. La gente de Santa Teresa Ixcatepec nunca aprieta la mano cuando la saludas, menos las mujeres. El cuerpo está envuelto en una sábana – hay una mancha roja a la altura de la cara- colocado en el pis, arriba de un petate, rodeado con veladores. El resto de la casa la iluminan lámparas Coleman prestados por la municipalidad. Hay gente parada y otra sentada sobre costales llenos de granos. Afuera se arma un alboroto: es el presidente municipal, aaún mas borracho. Trae la pistola en el cinto. Salgo a calmarlo. Él me dice que va por los de las tiendas, que ellos son los asesinos de su amigo. Le contesto que no sea insensato. Le invito un trago y con eso se calma. Nos sentamos en un tronce. No me importa si muero, confiesa, y me parece ver que ya no está alcoholizado, o que el alcohol es quien habla. Mis hijos ya son grandes. Nadie depende de mí. ¿Por Dinero?, le pregunto. No importa el dinero. es por el pueblo. Después vuelve a hablar como borracho y mejor me voy. Camino a la clínica me desvío a la presidencia y le pido al topil que, sin decir nada a, vaya a Santiago Puxmetecán por los militares.

El rio tenia piedras verdes, cafés y grises. Algunas eran del tamaño de mis pies y se llenaban de musgo. Las más chicas servían para hacer patitos, para aventarlas hacia algún banco. Mientras flotábamos de panza en la parte menos honda, los niños del pueblo decían algunas palabras en español. No sabían muchas, por eso pensaban bien las que querían utilizar. Las pronunciaban rápido, de una manera aislada, sin armar una oración. Nosotros, mis hermanos y yo, solo sabíamos el significado de meyepe: hola. Se reían de nuestra pronunciación. Meyepe. Jajajaja. Meyepe. Jajajaja. Volvimos a nadar contra la corriente y llegamos a donde estaba la gran roca. Empezaron a escalar por un costado y a aventarse el agua. A mi me daba miedo, pero me impresionaba ver cómo caian los cuerpos, cómo sonreían los demás. Me animé. Fui a la orilla y me agarré de la raíz de un árbol mientras, con cuidado, iba colocando los pies por las irregularidades del terreno. Cuando llegué a la cima, me asomé hacia abajo. Me dio miedo. Intenté bajar pero era más difícil. Empezaron a gritar Tírate es divertido. Tírate. Fui a la orilla y di un brinco. Ahí estaba yo, suspendido en el aire, lleno de terror y fascinado a la vez. El cielo era muy azula y el agua esperaba brillante, tibia.

Despierto por el ruido de los instrumentos. El presidente municipal da indicaciones por el altavoz del pueblo. Me sorprende que el hombre siga de pie después de la borrachera que traía ayer. Cuando llego a la cancha, el cortejo ya sale hacia el cementerio. Las mujeres se cubren la cabeza con mantillas aunque no hubo misa: el padre nunca llegó. La banda toca la canción preferida del difunto: Dios nunca muere. Anastasio va envuelto en la sabana y en el petate del velorio. Así lo enterrarán. La fosa espera. Ésta será igual a las demás tumbas: pelona, sin base; un bulto de tierra seguido de una cruz de madera. La banda calla y el más viejo del pueblo dice unos rezos n mixe que no entiendo. No hay llanto, salvo en las mujeres. Cuando vamos de salida, el cortejo se topa con la otra mitad del pueblo liderado por Crescencio.

Caí al agua y me sumergí unos metros. Pensé que el aire se me iba acabar antes de alcanzar la superficie. No fue así. Llegué y respiré profundo. Mis hermanos me felicitaron. Dijeron que había sido un brinco padrísimo. Yo sentía cómo templaban mis piernas, pero no podía dejar de repetir la hazaña. Volví a subir nervioso y me aventé. Lo hice tantas veces como pude. Fui descubriendo la manera de hacer que el cuerpo salpicara más o menos agua. También pude evitar hundirme en exceso. A la hora de irnos, volteé hacia la roca varias veces. En la orilla, al pie del camino, seguía esperando Crescencio. Mientras regresábamos, le platique de los clavados. Él no ponía mucha atención a mis palabras, pues faltaba poco para que anocheciera, no llevábamos linternas y la subida era pesada, de dos horas a mi paso.

Las miradas son de enojo. Tanto los de un bando como los del otro traen machetes. Veo al presidente municipal con el seguro de la funda de la pistola abierto; las gotas de sudor que le resbalan son de mezcal.  No te vamos a dar nuestro dinero, dice Crescencio. Para ese entonces, ya no están las mujeres no los niños en el cortejo. Yo no sé que hacer. No me puedo poner en medio. Sólo ver o irme. Uno de los viejos haba y supongo que invita que vayamos a la cancha de basquetbol. Una vez ahí, l agente se pone alrededor del presidente y de Crescencio. Ambos no sueltan su arma. Entre la multitud hay voces bajas, rápidas, incendiarias. En eso llegan los militares nos envuelven. El capitán habla en español con los dos líderes, aunque so nota que sabe mixe. Después va conmigo y me ordena que tome mis cosas. Unos soldados me acompañan a la clínica y me ayudan a empacar. Me suben a la cabina de uno de los camiones. El capitán manda que rodos sus hombres se retiren de área y se sienta a mi lado. Arranca el chofer y los demás militares nos siguen. Empezamos a bajar por la carretera. Se van a matar, le reclamo. Por eso responde. No podemos quedarnos, ¿o que quiere? ¿Qué mate a todos? Diga que lo estoy salvando a usted.

El camino de subida era pesado. Salías de una pendiente, había un metro plano y otra vez para arriba. Crescnecio notó que estaba cansado, que ya no podía. Me sentó en sus hombros por un tramo, pero me bajó porque el piso estaba muy resbaloso y ambos podíamos caernos. Mis hermanos tomaron mis cosas y me empujaban. Comencé a llorar. Crescencio dijo que si seguí caminando me iba a hacer un cuchillo tallado de madera. Eso me animó un rato. Sólo que las pendientes ya eran demasiado para mí y tenia que detenerme cada tres pasos. Iba exhausto por tanto brinco. Los demás niños también se preocuparon. Uno de ellos, el más grande, apretó el paso. Una hora después volvió a bajar. Venía con Anastasio y el burro. Me subieron al animal y me dijeron que no me fuera a dormir. Les respondí que ya no, ya era grande. De inmediato tomé la determinación de ir al rio más seguido. Se los hice saber. Ellos iban platicando sobre la cosecha de café y sobre la carretera que no llegaba al pueblo.

Los camiones de los militares alcanzan el rio y lo cruzan por el lugar menos. Las ruedas ensucian el agua. Más allá está la roca que me sirvió de trampolín. Le pido al chofer que pare. Me quiero bajar, le digo. El capitán voltea y me increpa que si estoy loco. No le respondo. Quiero nadar. Allá usted. Tiran mis pertenecías de la caja y continúan su camino. Yo me desnudo y salto en la parte profunda. Nado con velocidad hacia la roca. El agua está fría, son las nueve de la mañana. Para las dos de la tarde ya veré si regreso a Santa Teresa Ixcatepec o jalo para Santiago Puxmetcán. Mientras voy a dar unos brincos para ver si se me quita el miedo y el agua se lleva la sabana manchada con sangre.


René Roquet is a short story writer and cultural promotor from Mexico City. He worked for the National Fund for Culture and Arts for 25 years and coordinated the Jovenes Creadores program. He studied Latin American literature and language at UNAM and has written one book of short stories. el Hombre sin Pertenencia published by Fictica, Mexico City, in 2005. His work also appeared in the anothology Prohibido Fumar, published by Lectorum in 2008.

Joe Williams is a translator from Manchester, England whose first literary translation was published by Palabras Errantes. After having worked for Translators without Borders, he is currently studying for an MA in Translation Studies and he translating fiction and poetry from his adopted homeland of Mexico. His non-literary work has been published in La Universidad Nacional Aútonoma de México’s academic journal “Problemas de Desarollo,” with whom he collaborates regularly.

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