After The Terror
After the terror
by Eduardo Galeano
In a warehouse, purely by chance, Carlos Fasano found the door of the cell where he had been imprisoned.
During the Uruguayan dictatorship, he had spent six years talking to a mouse and to that door of cell number 282. The mouse would slip away and come back when it felt like it, but the door was always there. Carlos knew it better than the palm of his hand. As soon as he saw it, he recognized the carvings he had made with a spoon and the stains, the old stains on the wood, which were the maps of the secret countries he had travelled to every day of his confinement.
That door, and the doors of all the other cells, ended up in the warehouse which bought them when the prison was transformed into a shopping centre. The detention centre was turned into a centre of consumption, its cells no longer confining people but Armani suits, Dior perfumes and Panasonic videos.
When Carlos discovered the door, he decided to keep it. But cell doors had become fashionable in Punta del Este* and the owner of the shop demanded an impossible price. Carlos haggled and haggled until finally, with the help of friends, he was able to pay for it. And with the help of some other friends he managed to carry it away; more than one strong man was needed to haul that mass of wood and iron, invulnerable to the years and the escapes, to Carlos's house in the ravines of Cuchilla Pereira.
There the door stands now. It is nailed to the top of a green hill, surrounded by greenery, facing the sun. Every morning the sun illuminates the door and the notice on it which reads: 'Forbidden to shut'.
*Uruguay's most fashionable summer resort.
There she had been born, and there she took her first steps. When Rigoberta returned, years later, her community was no longer there. The soldiers had not even left the name of the community alive. It had been called Laj-chimel: little Chimel, the one that is kept in the hollow of the hand. They killed the people and the maize and the chickens, and the few fugitive Indians had to strangle their dogs to prevent their barking from giving them away in the depths of the woods.
Rigoberta Menchú wandered around her high land, through the fog, up mountains and down mountains, looking for the rivers of her childhood, but none were there. The waters in which she had bathed had dried up, or perhaps, red with blood, they had gone away, far away. And of the aged trees, the ones she had thought would stand forever, with arms to protect her and bodies to hide her, only the rotten remains were left. Later, someone told her: those powerful branches had been used to tie the hanging ropes, and the trunks had served as execution walls. By the oldest and best-known trees, those who knew their names had been murdered. When there was no-one left to name them, the trees had let themselves die.
And Rigoberta walked on in the fog, into the thick of it, drop without water, leaf without branch; she looked for the kuxín, her good friend, she looked for him where he had lived, and found only his dry roots. It was all that remained of him who had visited her in dreams, always lush with white, yellow-centred flowers. And later she learned: the kuxín had been spattered with the blood of his loved ones and had grown old in a very short time, grieving for them, and had torn himself out, root and all.
He was murdered in a beer bar in the suburbs. A police officer killed him by mistake, or because he was going around with a guitar and long hair and didn't know how to bow his head to authority. The police officer grabbed him by the hair, put the barrel of his pistol in one eye and fired.
Javier Rojas was buried in Buenos Aires. And as the soil opened to receive him in Buenos Aires, far away in Antofagasta, where Javier had been born, the earth trembled. A tidal wave, coming from the depths of the waters, shook those coasts violently while the burial was going on. And Gabriela, Javier's sister, thought that God does not exist but the gods do.
On the night Javier died, Gabriela lost her sense of smell. She no longer sensed the scent of the plants, which speaks for them, or the smell of people's skin, which reveals them, or the smell of old books, which is the smell of the time when they were read.
Ayelén, Gabriela's daughter, learnt of her uncle's death and wept until she was empty. Then she talked about it with her best friend, an invisible little bird that sleeps on top of the wardrobe, called Bocasucia* because of its tendency to swear. And after long chats with the bird, Ayelén asked her grandmother:
'If Javier is not here, where is he?' 'In heaven,' said the grandmother. And the girl wanted to know: 'And are there police in heaven?'
He was a magician with the harp. In the plains of Colombia there was no fiesta without him. For a fiesta to be a fiesta, Mesé Figueredo had to be there, his dancing fingers brightening up the air and stirring the legs.
One night, on some remote track, he was assaulted by thieves. Mesé Figueredo was on his way to a wedding on muleback – he on one mule, the harp on another – when the thieves jumped on him and beat him senseless.
The following day, someone found him. He was lying in the path, a filthy rag of mud and blood, more dead than alive.
And then the wretch said, with the remnants of a voice: 'They took the mules.'
And he said: 'And they took the harp.' And he drew in breath and laughed, dribbling spittle and blood he laughed: 'But they didn't take the music.'
This article is from
the January 1997 issue
of New Internationalist.
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