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.
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 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.’
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.
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.
‘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,
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