New Internationalist

Silences

Issue 332

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[image, unknown] EDUARDO GALEANO'S VIEW FROM THE SOUTH

Eduardo Galeano Windows 4
Silences

Goodbyes
José Saramago’s grandfather was silent: a man of the Portuguese earth, Jerónimo never studied, but he was wise of a wisdom without words.

When Grandpa Jerónimo grew ill, he knew, silently, that the time for goodbyes had arrived. So he walked through his orchard, pausing by each tree, and he hugged them, one by one: he embraced the fig-tree, the laurel, the pomegranate and the three or four olive trees. He hugged them all and was hugged in return.

On the road, a car waited. The car took him to Lisbon, to death.


Dreamings
Helena was dancing inside a music box where trinkets and wigged gentlemen twirled and bowed and twirled some more. Those spinning porcelain toys were a bit ridiculous, but they were charming, and gliding along with them in the whirl of the music was pleasant enough, until Helena tripped while doing a pirouette and fell and broke.

The blow awakened her. Her left foot hurt terribly. She wanted to get up but she couldn’t walk. Her ankle was swollen.

‘I fell in another country,’ she confessed to me, ‘and in another time.’
But she didn’t say that to the doctor.


Friends
A long table of friends in a restaurant called Plataforma – this was Tom Jobim’s refuge from the noonday sun and the noisy streets of Rio de Janeiro.

But one day Tom sat at a different table, in the corner, drinking beer with Zé Fernando. For years these two had shared a straw hat which they wore by turns, Tom one day, Zé Fernando the next, and they shared a few other things as well.

‘No,’ said Tom, when someone approached them, ‘I’m in the middle of an important conversation.’
And when another friend came by: ‘You’ll have to excuse me, but we have a lot to talk about.’
Once more: ‘Sorry, but we’re discussing a serious matter.’

The blow awakened her. Her left foot hurt terribly. She wanted to get up but she couldn't walk. Her ankle was swollen. 'I fell in another country,' she confessed to me, 'and in another time'

In that corner by themselves, Tom and Zé said not a word. Zé Fernando was having a rotten day, one of those days that ought to be crossed off the calendar and expunged from memory, and Tom was keeping him company with silent beers. They remained that way, in the music of silence, from noon until the end of the afternoon.

No-one was left in the restaurant by the time they got up and slowly walked out.


The Witness
Ren Weschler wrote down his testimony. In 1975, Breyten Breytenbach was the only white prisoner among the many blacks condemned to death in the Pretoria jail.

At the end of every night one of the condemned men walked to the gallows. Before the floor opened below his feet, the chosen one sang. Each dawn, a different song awoke Breyten. Isolated in his cell, he listened to the voice of the one about to die, and he listened to those who were listening. He listened to the silence of the rest of the prisoners, each of them in line awaiting his turn to face the noose. That silence resounded more loudly than the voice.

Breyten survived. He survived to tell of it and to continue hearing it.


War Dispatch
The daughter of Don Francisco was captured in the mountains of Chuacús. In the early morning an officer of the Guatemalan Army dragged her to her father’s door, and held her up to Don Francisco: ‘Is it right, what the guerrillas are doing?’

‘No,’ said Don Francisco, ‘it’s not right.’

‘And what should be done with them?’

Don Francisco was silent.

‘Should they be killed?’

Don Francisco remained silent, looking at the ground. His daughter was on her knees, hooded, hands tied behind her back, the officer’s pistol at her head.

‘Should they be killed?’ the officer insisted.

Maybe Don Francisco wanted to say ‘No’, but no word came out of his mouth. And he remained silent, his eyes on the ground.

Before the bullet shattered the girl’s skull, she cried. Under the hood, she cried. She cried for him.

Eduardo Galeano lives and writes in Montevideo,
Uruguay. His latest book, Upside Down, is
published by Metropolitan Books, New York.


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