Seven women sat in a circle.
From afar, from the town of Momostenango, Humberto Ak’abal brought them the dry leaves he had collected at the foot of a tree.
Each of the women broke a leaf, quietly, next to her ear.
One felt the wind blowing.
Another, the branch swaying.
A third, the beating of birds’ wings.
Yet another said it was raining in her ear.
One more heard the footsteps of a scurrying beetle.
Another, the echo of laughter.
The last, a wave of applause.
Humberto told me this and I thought: Could the dead leaves have been whispering the tree’s memories into the ears of those women?
In search of Franz Kafka, I walked the streets of Prague.
I wandered in silence, surrounded by silence, despite the hubbub of the crowd and the roar of traffic. No matter how much noise or how many people were there, Prague was silent like Kafka, silenced of him – and alone.
Rising out of her wheelchair, a woman tore open the night with the most beautiful voice I had ever heard
I crossed the city from end to end, and it was dark when I reached a street called Celetnà. On the corner where Celetnà opens on to the great plaza of the Old City, a voice suddenly cracked the silence around me. A woman was singing. Rising out of her wheelchair, a woman tore open the night with the most beautiful voice I had ever heard. The most beautiful voice, the most wounded: anchored in the black glow of the cobblestone, that woman sang the painful cry of all the lonely people of the world.
I was speechless, I pinched myself. Was I asleep? Was I dreaming? What world was I in? But behind me, a few boys mocked the crippled singer, imitating her and laughing uproariously. She stopped and hung her head. And then I was certain: I was awake, truly awake, at the very centre of this world.
Pedro Saad walked on water. In the middle of Russia, one very cold afternoon, Pedro walked on the Volga River, frozen by the winter. Pedro was alone, but as he walked he felt, through the soles of his feet, the vibration of the river that remained alive under the ice.
Quite a few years had already passed since the occasion, on the other side of the world and on the other side of time, when Pedro walked down a street in Guayaquil one very hot afternoon. Pedro was alone, but as he walked, through the soles of his feet, he felt the beating of the earth that remained alive under the asphalt.
Nelly Delluci crossed barbed-wire fences and pastures looking for the place where she had been crushed, but the Argentine Army had left not a brick standing of the concentration camp called The Little School.
All afternoon she searched in vain, wandering aimlessly, utterly lost in the vastness of that open field. Then, in the distance, she spied the windmill. As she approached, she heard the moan of its sails beaten by the wind and she was certain: ‘This is the place.’
There was nothing but grass around her, but this was the place. Standing next to the windmill, which dusk had already tinged red, Nelly recognized the creaking that 15 years before had kept the prisoners company day after day, night after night.
And she remembered: a colonel, fed up with the windmill’s litany, ordered it tied down.
Rope was looped around the sails and held fast, but the windmill continued moaning.
Eduardo Galeano, whose many books include
the trilogy Memory of Fire, lives and writes in
Montevideo, Uruguay. Translation © Mark Fried.