IVO KISIC MERINO - THE TREE
When I was a kid, my father took me to my grandfather's chacra, a small farm, to visit what should've been my family's legacy for countless generations. Back in those days, the entire town was a continuous stretch of agricultural fields surrounding a small main square.
Huaral was a beautiful place, at least my childhood memory thought so. It was a place where everything had frozen in time; you could almost feel you had traveled back, a "backward province," as people at the capital called it. "Backward," I never understood. For me, such a place made more sense than any of the big cities I had lived in. Everyone greeted each other, everyone knew each other. The streets were quieter, the criminals more merciful, the policemen more friendly. It was something you could witness when you entered any of the few establishments around the square. I still remembered my father's favorite bakery, which did everything by hand. The owner was an old, old man on the verge of dying, at least that's what it seemed to my seven-year-old self, and yet, somehow, he still had all his strength with him, more than enough to lead a group of youngsters he loved and knew by name and surname, with whom he worked all day to prepare the most delicious of pastries.
Places such as this were all around the small town, and as far as I could gather, none of them were businesses; they were a way of life. That was what Huaral meant to me as a child, an undisturbed way of living, outside the abstract sense of importance and purpose all big cities seem to chase after, or at least, it was the last remnant of a time that had come before our own, one that existed beyond time.
I learned to drive at twenty-eight, so it wasn't until I was that age that I came back to visit this enigmatic place. If my father had found out that it took me so long to master the steering wheel, he would've slapped me for the insolence, my father, who loved cars so much. It was an understandable position, after all, it could be nothing other than an offense to a family that prided itself with stories about driving trucks full of avocados and peaches during the worst of weathers, of underground races across the Pan-American Highway, and of adventures to nameless places and towns they found in their crumbling run-down 4x4's.
After a long relationship with a political magazine I worked for as an investigative journalist, I returned to my country. I had gone all around the world, digging myself into the worst aspects of human nature, the topplings of corrupt governments, and the unscrupulous intentions of so-called revolutionaries. After such a draining experience, I felt more than ready to stop by home, rest, allow the atrocities of the human world to dissipate, maybe reunite with friends, and if possible, go to the coast north of the capital. Still, before I had the chance to do any of that, an unexpected secret during a phone call pushed me into one final expedition.
This time I had to return to the chacra. I had to find an answer there before continuing with my life, an answer that would define my entire life onward.
We used to be so close in my family; now it was an ancient memory, a shapeless place, a feeling that escaped me, a beautiful abandoned garden, an ephemeral record of a clan that once was. Now there would probably only be ghosts and silent pain to decorate the walls that no one visited.
Nobody liked to talk about it.
My family went to hell while I was growing up. Everything fell apart; as children, we never understood what happened, we only saw an empire fall and its leaders become restless and unhappy until they became ghouls in suits and filled with an absent stare. My siblings and my cousins never understood.
I think that is why I left the country, to look for explanations somewhere else. Ironically, I merely found the sort of mindless suffering that turns all good souls into cynics.
The land where I grew up was gone, but I had left part of myself there. It was strange, but I always felt that I should take care of the farm when I grew up. I felt that only there I was myself, and only there where my soul could become alive.
Too many years had passed, and I had already forgotten all about the chacra and my spirit, until one day, right before I took a flight back home, my sister Cecilia, the oldest, confessed to me in a phone call I made for her birthday, that our family was cursed.
"They put a curse on us," she said hastily. I had barely finished saying happy birthday to her. "What do you mean?" I asked him, puzzled. Cecilia was a devout Catholic, but she had grown up in a world where God no longer had a place, and the supernatural seemed only possible within the delirium of the insane. It was not like her to believe in such things, "Grandma Alba left it written in her diary," she told me.
Our Grandfather had been an honest man, and more than that, incorruptible. As an immigrant, he arrived in Peru in nineteen twenty-one. Back in his land - as my old man said - everything was as it should be. Villages regulated their own members. There was no need for an official mayor and much less for any notable governmental presence, only honest and mature people working through problems. These were things my father considered extinct long before I myself considered as myths of a fantastic past. Before leaving for Peru, our grandfather decided to learn everything he could from his father, who was considered the town's wise man. When there were disputes among the neighbors, he would solve them, and when there were complex problems, he would weigh in on the situation and come up with Solomonic decisions. According to my father, he was a very just person and sagacious man, although he had only heard the stories from my grandfather, which made me wary as to the veracity of these. However, if I were fair, I would have said the same thing about my grandfather, even though I never met him. I guess, in both cases, it was just a matter of trusting our fathers' word.
"In the newspaper," my sister explained, "it said that Grandfather had an encounter with Don Ricardo Risopatrón, the landowner of the properties adjacent to our farm. Apparently, Grandfather had to defend the community of Don Ricardo and his company. They sought to take over all the farmland in the area, they wanted to mass-produce and sell in larger quantities; the Don had tried to lower his prices for a long time to bankrupt the entire Huaral community. But Grandpa, remembering his father, did what he thought was the right thing and organized all the people to avoid falling into the hands of the man who - according to his own words - was the embodiment of everything wrong with the upper class of Peru.
Cecilia continued telling me that in our grandmother's Alba's diary, she wrote that, Grandpa- month after month - had to fight with this powerful man and his corrupt connections.
The municipality of Huaral once tried to take the land property titles from him and Juan Huapaya -our grandfather's best friend and owner of the most extensive plot after that of Don Ricardo- claiming that the ownership documents did not exist and that therefore their farms had been bought by someone else. Luckily, my grandfather had been able to find an honest secretary in the municipality, who gave him the original property papers at the cost of his job, but causing the damned municipal jackals to vanish as if it was an act of magic.
"Huapaya and Grandfather worked together for years," my sister explained while I waited to ask where had she found the time to read the entire diary of a dead woman, "Risopatrón tried again and again, but the Grandfather appealed to the best aspect from the community, they said he was like an unofficial leader and Huapaya had inadvertently become his indispensable right hand. All admired the two men because they defended the well-being of the community. But this is where it gets interesting." my sister told me.
"Can't you just tell me why you think we're cursed?" I asked.
"Not if you want me to tell you," my sister replied in a tone that I recognized immediately. It made me laugh. Cecilia knew how to negotiate things well; she always had a knack for that. "The thing is one day, a man Grandpa had never seen showed up in his house. Grandmother Alba says that the man appeared around ten o'clock at night, not on the farm but the small house in town, remember? Grandfather opened the door and found an Andean man, greasy hair and a murderous look, dead but fixed eyes. The man introduced himself only as "Capataz".
"Capataz and Granpa spoke at the door. Grandfather did not let him in. The strange man had such an eerie aura that, against his best manners, Grandpa did not invite him inside his home. Grandmother Alba listened to everything because, according to her diary, she - for fear that the man was a thief - stood behind her room's doorframe, ready to call for help in case it was necessary.
Capataz cut to the chase. He told grandfather to sell his land to Risopatrón, that it was the only way to save his family. Grandfather responded by grabbing the man by the right arm and the neck, "Who do you think you are to threaten my family? Get out of here and tell the man who pays you that neither today nor ever will I sell my land to a Risopatrón." Grandma wrote grandpa's answer in her journal, apparently impressed by them. Unfortunately, there was one last reply from Capataz, "Well, it's done. I warned you, old fool. You're going to see now." The man left with a macabre smile on his face.
Grandfather was confused and did not sleep for the rest of the night.
"Cecilia, I'm on my way to the airport-" I said.
"Listen to me," my sister replied.
I didn't want to hear what she had to say, in all honesty. Anything that referred to my father's side of my family was only a problem.
"What difference does it make?" I asked her.
"You just let me finish, it's my birthday-" she said, prolonging the last word in the air with a mischievous tone.
My sister Cecilia, so smart at negotiating.
The next day, Grandfather arrived at the farm in his old truck only to find a burned circle on the ground with a couple of charred dogs, both of which were his. The ring was drawn with blood; there were feathers bathed in the blood that had survived the flames. Grandpa knew it had been Capataz. Who else could have done such a thing? He took his truck and went at full speed to the door of the fine estate of Risopatrón.
"Grandma Alba does not know much about what happened, but she knows that Grandpa told a couple of harsh truths to the millionaire, all right in front of his people. It was so brutal that whatever he said made more than a couple of Risopatrón's crew to appear that same night and offer their services to Grandpa. All Grandma knows is that Risopatrón didn't move a finger or said something back like the good coward she knew he had always been. "Money does not make a man, not even the things he can buy with it." Grandma pointed out.
A week later, a box arrived at their house's door. Grandpa opened it outside where he found it; nameless packages were never a good sign. He found a pair of crows with broken necks and blood spilled on them. Grandfather was not a superstitious man, so he was merely enraged by the bizarre and unpleasant game that the landowner was playing, so he went to knock on the door to the Risopatrón townhouse this time. Susana opened the door. She was the wife, or rather, the ex-wife of the wealthy man.
Grandfather tiredly asked the woman for explanations. "Why would he go so far? What does he pretend?" The woman did not know what to say, embarrassed, she took the dead animals and the box and closed the door without first telling Grandpa to be careful: "He needs to feel powerful, he is a very, very insecure person, Ricardo wants to show to all his group of friends that he dominates this place. Between us, he cannot keep his "thing" up for more than a minute. His fears chase him, and he tries to get rid of them by stepping on other people and their happiness. Peace only exists when the cruelty of his heart triumphs. He is an unhappy person, believe me, there is no man more dangerous than that."
Soon enough, Grandpa received notifications from the municipality about the property again. At the same time, Risopatrón, or rather, Risopatrón's law firm, sent him a notarized letter stating that he had to agree to the sale of the land or face a lawsuit. Huapaya tried again with the municipality but only found dead gazes, all of them, cowardly gazes denying any help. Grandfather had to spend a fortune defending the land that legally belonged to him. He triumphed in the end, but at the cost of most of his savings. "Persona non-grata," said a piece of paper inside a letter that Grandpa found picking up his mail. He knew it was the coward of Risopatrón.
"A month after the incident with the box of crows," Cecilia told me, "Capataz appeared once more with his cursed smile. This time Grandpa lost it. He pushed the man to the street. Grandmother Alba wrote that it seemed that he had to contain all his anger not to break the Andean man's skull; it would've not been hard, he had giant hands, remember that Dad always told us?" she asked me. I didn't answer.
"Did you receive the offerings?" Capataz asked grandfather, still smiling as if a thousand men protected him. Grandpa was not afraid to fight, but something in this man scared him.
Capataz's gaze did not change; it was the eyes of a man who had no power, but some power did surround Capataz, an aura that Grandpa felt clearly.
"Who are you?" Grandpa asked him, "Why are you doing this?"
The little man shook his head to the side, looking at him as if he were a curiosity,
"Your strength, strong man, is going to fade one day, and your children will have no one to defend them. Those lands are no longer yours, even if time has not made it evident."
The man spat into his filthy hands and started to produce a circle while speaking in a language that Grandpa did not recognize, then Capataz started walking towards him.
Capataz leaped forward, trying to touch Grandpa's forehead with the palm full of spit, but instead received a giant blow on the temple. The man fell to the ground with the part of his cheek open.
Capataz got up immediately. This time there was fury in his eyes. Grandpa had reminded him that he was just a little man. After all, the only thing that made him feel strong was that strange invisible energy that seemed to surround him, and yet it didn't seem to be able to stop simple forces like Grandpa's will.
"Strong man, your time is running out. You are running out, and you are going to leave your young children unprotected. Do you want that? Your whore of a wife will never be able-" Capataz spoke with anger in his words. A second ago, he had been untouchable, almost spectral, a magician, a sorcerer from time immemorial, now he was only a dirty man with rancor in his eyes.
Grandfather cut Capataz's words by raising his voice like a roaring animal. "COME HERE!". He yelled, his index finger pointed at his feet as he stared straight at Capataz. Neighbors began to look out the windows or go out the door to see what was happening. Usually, there was silence in the streets at that time of night, and kerosene lights burned their white fire on the metal mesh quietly, but not that night.
Capataz froze with my grandfather's voice, but his body, for some reason, required him to move one or two steps toward Grandpa. The spectral man frowned and looked at his feet in confusion. He had never obeyed the orders of another man, much less the demands of an immigrant man, even though grandfather had lived in Huaral for most of his life. For Capataz, everyone was an immigrant, all illegitimate invaders of his ancestors' land. For Capataz, nothing made him happier than to destroy such people's lives or take away their money as he did with Risopatrón. For that very reason, the man seemed stunned by what just happened. No one was ever going to tell him what to do. He was a sorcerer and had seen the secrets of the universe. He had gone through death and returned to life countless times. What power could this man have to make him move with a single word? He looked at his feet, then at the man in front of him.
Grandpa, indolent to grotesque souls like the dark shaman, called him again, or rather, he clarified his command. "HERE!" he said, and his voice echoed through the street. Capataz took two other disgruntled steps; it was as if Grandpa's voice magnetized something in Capataz's body and forced him to move against his will. Two more steps and the dark warlock had hunched up, barely facing the gaze of the man who had conjured an order he could not refuse. It was a type of magic he, the corrupted magician, knew absolutely nothing about, and that terrified Capataz as nothing had in decades.
His hatred for my grandfather had become personal, Capataz's interest in harming him was no longer a paid job but a necessity. He was the strong one. He was the witch doctor in contact with the unsuspected forces of this universe and the next, he, not the simple man in front of him.
"Go away and don't come back. I will not repeat myself." Grandfather said, "Throw me all the curses that you think can affect me. Nobody controls my destiny, little jester. Do you think that by touching mud with saliva, you can break my confidence? Why? Because you have the backing of a man with money, I'm going to obey your blackmail?"
Capataz only grunted, trying to pull away from the invisible force that drew him closer to Grandpa.
"My children will be fine. My family will be fine, go away, go where your superstitions make you strong, here you have no power over anyone. Slag, aimless vulture. You are a disgrace."
My family said that Grandpa's eyes were green and leaden and that there were red lines in his iris, thin filaments that became accented when he was upset. My father had the same eyes, so I know how the stare and menacing look of that man, a gaze that pierced your being and entered the center of your soul and made you feel the infinity of them, the power that a simple man like Grandfather, the stare of a lion.
Capataz stared back defiantly, but it was a lost fight. It was a hyena against a colossus. Grandpa turned around and started walking toward the entrance to his house. Grandma Alba was in the doorway, waiting for him. She had never loved her husband so much.
Just then, Capataz lunged at Grandpa with his outstretched hand aimed at his back, and in the other, he had produced a small dagger. In a blaze of courage upon seeing that act of utmost cowardice, Grandma Alba ran to Grandpa and moved him to the side just as Capataz tried to stab him. Grandma instinctively raised her left arm. She felt her skin open and the pain of the muscle injured by the blade's poorly sharpened metal. Her arm had saved her, the warlock removed the dagger from Grandma Alba's arm, and in a single movement, he grabbed the wound with his hand full of mud and saliva.
My grandfather got up and took Capataz by the arm right after he fell to the ground. With the sole of his working boots, Grandpa kicked Capataz on the stomach, taking all the air from his lungs. Grandpa kicked him in the face long enough so that the man could not move. Blood ran out of his nose and mouth, my enraged grandfather's boot pressing against his throat. The warlock seemed to be drowning in his blood, but Grandfather was not thinking anymore. He grabbed his right arm first, bending it backward, against its axis, and with a kick, he broke it mercilessly, then he did the same with the left. The warlock smiled as he screamed in pain. "It's done," he said almost inaudibly.
Grandpa didn't hear him. He pulled Capataz by his broken arms down the street while the man gasped through the blood.
"It's done!" he exclaimed once more, loud enough for everyone in the block to hear it.
My grandfather left him on the ground and ran to see Grandma Alba, who was bleeding a lot. Grandpa was afraid that the witcher had cut an artery; my grandmother was crying inconsolably.
The brown and red mark in the shape of Capataz's hand was imprinted on her body. She could see the man's curse on top of her wound. Grandpa ran to the house, took my uncle and aunt out of their crib, and shot out in the car.
My grandfather took Grandma Alba in the truck flying to the medical post, where they attended to her and closed the wound. They were both relieved. In the end, it had only been a threat from an insane man. Nothing wicked was going to happen to them.
When they returned, they found a police car near the house. It was Lieutenant Zapata's green Volkswagen Beetle. Grandpa walked to find a white sheet full of blood under which he assumed that Capataz was. He looked for the policeman, an old friend, they exchanged glances, turned away from the crowd, and spoke in low voices.
"Public lynching," The cop said, "They say he tried to kill you and your wife. Nobody knows where he is from or what his name is"
The policeman stopped to make sure nobody was listening, "As soon as you left, the man got up and tried to write something with his broken arms, the neighbors came out and they tied him to the pole-" The policeman pointed to the kerosene lamplight burned its white light, "He is dead, his face disfigured."
My grandfather cleared his throat, "He deserved it, Carlos," he said, "He deserved it. For the first time in my life I can say that."
Zapata looked at Grandpa in surprise, "This is the first time I've heard anything like this from you."
Grandpa turned to look at him, "Listen to me, Risopatrón is behind all this. The damn son of a bitch wants to destroy this place with his money and rotten vision. It's just money for him. He wants more and won't stop. He sent this shaman to try to force me to sell my land, he threatened me with cursing my whole family, burned my dogs for some ritual, he sent a box with dead crows, something has to be done."
The police officer looked at the grandfather for a second and then peered down.
"There is nothing you can do, people like Risopatrón-" Zapata said, looking at my grandfather's eyes, "people with that much money destroy everything. Half of the people at the station are in his pocket. Thank God I came before anyone else. No one can stop someone who follows all the rules on the outside but buys everyone under the table-"
Grandpa scoffed in anger. For a moment, Zapata became fearful. Grandpa was, after all, the son of the Wiseman of forgotten times, not a citizen, not a man either, but a reasonable animal, a pure soul full of anger.
"Are there no decent men left?" He asked, defeated, "Does everything work like this? Money? How disgusted this world makes me. People don't have dignity or principles; they don't dare to fight evil anymore."
Grandma Alba touched him by the hand, "Let's go, please. I need to rest."
"Cecilia-" I said to my sister, "Grandma's arm is the one that-"
"The one that was all inflamed, swollen! Do you remember they told us it was because of a thorn from a rare rose? Grandmother wrote that a month after the encounter with Capataz, her entire right arm filled up with water, and the left one lost almost all muscle mass, it seemed like it had dried up and died. The doctors didn't know what to say, a rare allergy they said, but she knew the truth, it had been Capataz's spell. She wrote that they had to drain her arm a few times to keep her from losing it. You don't know how sad her words sound, the constant and daily pain, the tiredness, the grief."
My sister's voice let me know she was in pain too. She had loved Grandma Alba, challenging as she had been. I didn't have that much love for her. She had hit me as a child every time I questioned her.
"Insolent," she would say before slapping me. Learning about her story made me feel a little more sorry for her.
"They found out Grandma Alba was pregnant with Dad a month later, and her date of birth marked exactly nine months from the day Capataz appeared at the house." My sister said, leaving the sentence open as if someone wants to say something with the silence that follows.
"I don't want to guess," I said immediately.
"Dad sold the farm. Do you remember to whom?" Cecilia asked me.
"Risopatrón, I assume from your dramatic tone," I answered, trying to hide how crushed I was from understanding what was going on.
My old man was the curse of the family.
"He never wanted to tell us," Cecilia explained, "I spoke with him. Dad says it took him years to figure out what was chasing him, what the curse was. His intuition is broken, he says. His instincts are all reversed. Everything he decides to trust ends badly, and everything that does him good is detestable for him, trapped between hell and failure."
"That sounds like dad."
"Don't you see the pattern?" Cecilia asked me, "An honest man throughout his life that no one remembers him, he was fired from his job for refusing to play ball in some deal. He built a company, and it was stolen too. He married Mom, and well- you know, their love dissolved as fast as the debts piled up. He says that it took him his whole life to understand but that he did eventually discovered the truth after reading the grandmother's diary." There was a small silence, the first one in many minutes, which meant Cecilia was holding back tears, "Dad told me he is convinced he should not have been born, that his simple existence created problems to every person he ever interacted with."
"Cecilia". My voice couldn't hide the discomfort, "Do you really think that's what happened? It is just another story to justify his lack of balls. I love him very much, but it is always something else except him, always. The only thing he cannot do is accept that his life became difficult and he did not want to deal with it. He shied away from the life that he got and could not cope with it."
- "Listen to me; this is different." my sister told me with a stern voice. "Dad found out about this before you were born. He also had a diary in which he wrote everything he went through. It was the way he could prove that he was right."
"Self-fulfilling prophecies Cecilia-" I was exasperated by then, my old man was a good guy, but he had an incredible denial about his life.
"Just listen," Cecilia said, softening her voice. "I'm going to read from his diary."
"This better be worth it," I replied.
"Seventeen of March, 1988. I am going to have another child, and I still have no freedom from this curse. The farm is suffering an unprecedented drought. I'm going to bet on tangerines this year, the avocados no longer grow. I can't keep this much longer, I've had to fire half the people and I'm still bleeding money all over. Risopatrón came to offer me even more money for the land, I sent him to bite the dust, but I cannot lie, I need the money. Having two children, almost three now, brings too much debt." My sister stopped for a second as I heard her flipping the pages of the diary.
"Sixteenth of August, 1988. I sold almost all the land, the baby has a cardiovascular problem, and we have to operate it," I touched my chest as Cecilia spoke, "...I have no other option, I hate having to do this, but I have no other solution. The bastard's new offer is thirty thousand dollars for eighty percent of the farm, a quarter of what he originally offered and ten times less of what it's worth. I feel like I just broke my old man's soul even if he's already dead. "Protect the land at all costs," he told me over and over as if it was the most important thing he had to share with me. Risopatrón can take care of the land better than I can. Everything is dying. Nothing grows there, not without help that I can no longer give to it. I'm so ashamed to have done this, but my dad is not here, my children are."
"Ok, I think I understand the point-" I said, but her voice interrupted me. "Two more and I'll finish," she said and started without letting me answer, "October twenty third, 1998. Eduardo Risopatrón never paid me the second half of our agreement and said he has the right to everything and not only what we agreed. He is a miserable coward. He does not answer my calls. When I look for him in his offices, nobody gives me any answers, I sent him a notarized letter, but he has lawyers who pay people in the judiciary so that my claim does not go anywhere. I was fired from my job. The company was bought by a new construction company, the owner? Sebastián, Eduardo Risopatrón's older brother. They told me that they wouldn't associate with me in this new stage due to the legal problem I have with them. It's almost as if they planned it from the beginning. I found my mom's diary and the Capataz story. I must admit that at first I found it to be delusions of a woman too immersed in unnecessary superstitions, but the more I think about it, the more I believe it. There is something about all this that screams of truth. I decided to return to Huaral to ask Don Huapaya, my old man's right hand, what really happened. At first, he denied it, but then he confessed to me that my dad grew an irrational fear about the shaman's curse, that he had done something to my mom that had no explanation or cure, that the only answer he had left was black magic, and that, if that was real, if it was black magic, then the threats carried weight with them.
I was born nine months after the curse. Do I carry with me a curse that seems to invade every decision I make? My God, I have begun to analyze my whole life, and I feel that there is something strange, a shadow that constantly haunts me and that asks me without words to fall under its spell over and over again. Every time I feel that I am deciding on my own, I am deciding what this dark force seems to want, and it can only give me defeat and shame." My sister took a second to continue. As far as I had known him, my father had never spoken about anything other than human reason and personal will. For him, magic and the afterlife were only distractions between the cradle and the grave. His thought was always a little harsh, but I never questioned him. He was a stoic man, guided by the intention of making his life the best possible without bending his will to the will of the rest. He was not very successful, but I was always quite proud of that much. Hearing his words had taken me by surprise.
"Well, tell me the last one," I asked my sister, unable to hide my curiosity.
"Sixteenth of July, 1998," she tells me, her voice stiffens. "I entered the farm through the south entrance, near the reservoir. The municipality stopped recognizing my part of the land. I can no longer take the children to visit their grandfather's land, and I can't explain the shame I feel for that. The dogs still recognize my scent, so they gave me no problems. I drove from Lima to Huaral in thirty-two minutes, supposedly it's impossible, but I woke up from a nightmare in which my old man appeared to me in the room and told me to look for him in the roots of the pecan tree near the farmhouse. I walked in the dark through the terrain. Even knowing every part of this land, I must admit that walking in the darkness, guided only by a small flashlight, is perhaps one of the most terrifying situations I've been in.
I got to the pecan tree. It was still there, as tall and vigorous as ever. I waited a while, but nothing happened. I thought I was crazy; after all, it was a dream that had guided me there. I kicked the tree as my dad had taught me, my flat sole hit the trunk, and I heard how the capsules containing the nut fell everywhere like sudden rainfall. I picked up a pair and started eating them until someone touched my shoulder."
Cecilia stopped talking. If I had to guess, I would say that she wanted to give me time to try to believe what would come after. She continued moments later.
"Seeing your dead father drives you crazy, especially if he doesn't shine with heavenly light but instead grows from the mud of the earth. Roots and dry leaves seemed to form the face of the person I used to love. There it was, I can swear to a thousand gods, born from the roots of the pecan tree as if a mound of earth had risen out of nowhere and a humanoid shape slowly gathered strength.
"My son." said the ghostly figure that undid itself at the same rate as it took the shape of my father. "You heard me."
I think I can't explain it any other way. I saw my father; I am sure of that, and that I why I broke into tears like a small child. My father was my link to life, love, and everything, so I cried inconsolably when he spoke those first words to me.
"Son. They've poisoned you." The voice said, touching my shoulder again; it burned like stunted muscles, "Oh my boy ..." he said as the mud pushed my shoulders down, "Look what they did to you."
My father, the land of the chacra, wrapped me up as if he was hugging me from behind, a gesture of a loving father that I had almost never had in life, and there I remained without saying anything back. I felt the roots and the soil squeeze my chest and arms until something was removed from them, a thick sweat that seemed to be immediately absorbed by the soil and the roots. "I have to try to get this curse out of you, even after I'm dead." the living earth said to me as it took the air out of my lungs, "forgive me for leaving you with this burden."
The mud, roots, and leaves pushed me against the pecan tree and squeezed every inch of my body until I started to vomit from the pressure. My cries had turned into screams; the living earth was forcing everything out.
"Dad, you're killing me," I said, "you're going to drown me in pain."
"Sorry, son, you have to take this risk. Otherwise, you are going to kill your family completely," the land with my dead father spoke.
I felt like I would pass out, but I didn't pass out, then I thought I was going to die, but I didn't die. It was like someone had taken my skeleton out of my body and didn't kill me in the process, but it hurt just as badly. I could see how all the sweat looked like needles and razors, cutting my skin open and making me bleed, only to close immediately as if only water had passed through the pores.
"Hold on, hold on a while longer." my father told me, but the truth is that he couldn't take it anymore.
"Hold on, son." the voice of my father pleaded. I knew I had to wait a little longer, but I dropped to the ground, my head fell on the left side.
Looking to my right, I could see my arm covered with a black tar substance all over my right hand. The sweat that I felt leaking through my body was that substance, a thick, cursed liquid full of spiritual virulence that I could not have imagined possible until that day.
My skin seemed to immediately reabsorb this last puddle of black water that I wasn't able to allow the ghost of my old man to take away.
"Oh my boy," my father said to me as the mound of mud and leaves that formed his body now crumbled, "My mistakes and sins should never have reached you, I am so sorry, I am so sorry."
When I opened my eyes, there was nothing, just the wind blowing the leaves of the trees around me. I heard a crunch and turned to see what was happening. The pecan tree was drying up while its bark seemed to fill with a dark hue. It was dying, damaged by my curse.
I escaped through the same entrance near the reservoir, there I saw, for a second, a light in the middle of the great well, a sphere of white light that hovered over the artificial pond without moving. I'm sure it was my father. I am entirely convinced that whatever little curse was left in my body, I've transmitted it to my children or multiplied it in them because the rest of my days were only more of the same.
I should have held on a little longer; I should have been stronger, I should have listened to my father, damn it. I have a perpetual sadness that accompanies me because this is true. I know it in my heart.
My family is cursed. An evil is born in our blood. In my bloodline lies something rotten that I do not know if it can ever be removed, not without killing you before.
My children, if you are reading this, if any of you are reading this, forgive me, I just wanted to protect you from living with an unnecessary cross, I feel sorry for everything, I feel sorry for absolutely everything."
The subtle sound of static seemed to fill the silence that permeated both sides of the call.
"Impossible," was the first thing I said, then I felt my chest begin to swell, "Impossible," I said once more.
The silence consumed me completely. At last, I knew I was smarter than that, but, finally, an answer that resonated in my body. This was what I hadn't been able to understand about my life. A shadow, an inexorable shadow that had haunted me since I was a child, from which I always ran and stayed as far away as possible, I was my father, again, cursed from birth.
I hung up on my sister a couple of minutes later. I went to the airport and grabbed a coffee while I waited to embark on the plane that would take me to my next location, but I couldn't get what I just heard out of my head. It was impossible, there was no other way to put it, but something in my chest was screaming at me that that was it. The story my sister had told me was exactly what I had been escaping from; it was the reason why I had moved away from everyone, to avoid hurting the people I loved.
Two months later, I couldn't take it anymore, and I decided to return to Peru to end once and for all the doubt that haunted me. I had to see that pecan tree.
As I said, Huaral was no longer the same; it had become another poorly planned city, another chaotic town, time had finally reached it. Cheap appliance stores, supermarket chains, imitation toystores, shoe venues on every block, it was all chaos. There were no more kerosene lamps; there were no more horses on the streets, there was nothing anymore, just the memory in my mind.
I parked my car outside the home of the family of Juan Huapaya, who died years ago. He was the only person, or rather, the only house that I still recognized. I knocked on the door, and it was opened by a girl of no more than sixteen years old. I asked him about Juan Huapaya's son. She looked at me, puzzled for a second. "He had no children, only my mom." She told me.
- "Do you think you could call her?" I asked her, "I'm the grandson of Don-"
- "You look just like him." She said without letting me finish, "My mom has a photo of the two of them in the living room. Come in, come in." I wasn't sure what to make of her words.
Once inside the house, the girl took me to the living room. A large old wooden table barely fitted the space. It was the same as the one my grandmother had in her house in Lince. The girl told me to wait and ran to the stairs. Before going up, she said, "There's the photo."
I walked towards it and saw two men in linen shirts tucked inside thick pants with a leather belt around their waist.
One was Juan Huapaya, the other, there was no other way to explain it, it was me, without a beard and much taller, but it was me, there was no doubt about it.
I realized I had never seen a picture of Grandpa up until that moment. I sat in a chair while looking at the photo. I always thought it would look more imposing, more prominent, less human. It was like seeing a legend in the flesh, and yet his face was so close to mine. A strange sensation began to invade my body. It was just me, in another time, not a wise man or a hero, it was just me, in another time.
A woman in her sixties slowly came down the stairs and raised her eyebrows as soon as she was able to see my face. "Oh, your blood, so strong and stubborn. Look at you, son. You have changed little in so long." I thought the woman was mistaking me for my father or maybe my grandfather.
"Excuse me; I don't know your name, I think you're confusing me, I am-"
"My name does not matter, and yours doesn't either." She said calmly, "Look at the photo and look at the mirror. You are the blood of your family, son. There's not much left to say, do not fight against that."
- "I do not fight at all-," I started saying, but the old lady dismissed me, raising her hands like someone bored of an irrelevant argument, "You are still young, and you do not understand, wait about forty more years, and you will see everything that you carry without realizing it."
So uncomfortable was the situation that I did not know what to say. I waited in silence.
"Your father came twenty-eight years ago. Just like you, with that same face, seeking help to enter your land." The old woman walked very slowly until she reached an old sofa, I rushed to try to help her, but she gently pushed me "No thanks son, I don't need help." She lay down on the sofa and exhaled deeply. "My father helped your father years ago, and now I help his son. The universe has curious ways of stringing stories together, don't you think?"
A few cigars were on a small table next to the sofa, and the old woman lit one and started smoking it.
"What choice do I have left, if not to send you as my father sent yours within the lands that belong to your family." she took another drag, "My dad told me always to help one of your family, you know? He told me that your grandfather defended this town as much as possible and that he did it only for one reason and for one reason alone; because it was the right thing to do." Huapaya's old daughter smiled at me, "My father told me that he had never met a nobler man, and that in his memory, we should always help one of you." She stubbed out her cigarette and stared at me. "I know very little about why you always end up here or what is happening. My father told me everything he knew, but even so, it seems impossible to understand why you should keep coming back to this place. There is nothing special about Huaral; it is another point on a map. "
- "It is special for my family." I told her.
- "Yes, of course, but you are the first to return in twenty-eight years son, it is not important to your family. It is important to you, speak properly. It doesn't matter. Whatever it is, I intend to help you."
"Thank you," I replied, too confused to fight the peculiar woman.
"Take my daughter. She knows more about the huariques and routes to enter the property than I do. I'm assuming you don't want to ask the miserable one who now controls the city for his permission, so I advise you to go during the night." The old lady lit another cigarette; I was concerned she was so comfortable leaving her daughter trespassing a private property during the night.
"Don't you think it might be a little dangerous to take a minor?" I asked her.
"Don't you think the only reason you tell me that is because you don't trust me?" She looked at me, smiling, "I know your eyes. It is a rare thing in these parts. Almost all men have it dead already, here and everywhere indeed. People don't remember what it means to be human. Your blood is stubborn, and you still keep a lot of your family in you, more than you think possible, that's good." Huapaya's old daughter took another drag of her cigarette, "my daughter probably has more balls than you. She gets along with everyone. Nothing will happen to her." She winked at me and made me feel like a child for a second.
"These things do not happen." I finally said. "Life doesn't work like this. You don't get to a stranger's house, and they offer-" she interrupted me again with her waiving arms and her smile.
"Ah, of course, of course, life cannot work like this. You do not knock on the door of a stranger asking for help to receive it. The world is not so easy, right? I would say you were right, and I do, life is not like that, except when it is, son. You know too little about certain things to pretend to tell me how they work, and I know you don't know them because you've come back here looking for them. Stop fighting and do what you know you should do. What does it matter why it happens? Look, I'm old, and I don't care about forms. I don't have time for formalities. You still want to tell yourself that reality is less magical than you suspect it is, and the only reason you repeat yourself such a thing is because you think you ought to not to believe in something else. Your grandfather and your father, they saw it, if you are here, you know what happened, at least part of it. This world, my child, hides more magic than there is gold inside stone, that you cannot see it is not my problem. Magic is there, whether you believe in it or not."
The old woman was serious. She looked at me without blinking, and I felt she could see my naked soul.
"Do you know what happened to my grandfather?" asked.
"JAZMIN, COME DOWN!" the woman yelled with all her strength, cleared her throat a little, and turned her gaze back to me. "All destinies are tied, tied through people's choices. My father chose to tell me about Capataz, the dark shaman. First, as a lullaby, then as a story, and then as a promise to a great friend, your grandfather. It took me years, but I found where the strange boy came from, Madre de Dios. I went there to look for those who had taught him to have those powers; after all, I was afraid of black magic, and you end up becoming what you fear, and if you are intelligent, you end up being its opposite all the same."
"You found him?" I asked.
"I never went after him. I arrived in the jungle, and then I traveled for 15 days by the river that bore the same name as the city. I crossed to Brazil and there through the Jiparaná." The young girl had come down, she had an easy smile. "Jazmín, do you know how to get into Risopatrón's farm? It is the one next to the one that macerates Pisco in wooden alembics." The girl nodded. "Now, you are going to take this young man, you are going to accompany him until he is inside the property, you are going to wait for him, you do not move until he returns. If it is dawn and he has not returned, you come back running and tell me." The girl nodded again and ran up the stairs to get ready.
"What did you find in Brazil?" I said, returning to the conversation.
"A community of indigenous people, and the magic I was looking for, the one you think is impossible to witness." She ended the conversation in one fell swoop with that sentence. I still tried to insist.
"Are you a witch? Is that what you are telling me?" I asked her, "Is it real?"
"I already told you what I had to say, boy. We can now argue for hours about how much you believe me or not, and I can try to convince you to believe me. Those conversations don't make any sense. Go and find what you have to find." She looked at me with a small, almost invisible smile. "Find out for yourself."
The girl returned to the living room and walked towards me "Let's get going, it's going to take us a while to reach it by foot; if we go by car, they will be suspicious." Jazmín turned towards her mother. "He looks very much alike," she said.
"I told you her family is like that." her mother replied.
The girl laughed and started walking towards the door.
"Let's go, I have homework for tomorrow."
I stared at the room, enthralled by its simplicity. Time hadn't entered this place, and I suspected it would never do as long as the old woman in front of me lived. I realized that I still had the photo in my hands, I took out my cell phone to take a picture.
"Don't do that." The woman said to me, "Come back, and I will give it to you as a gift so that you can take it home with you. What do you say?" She reached out and grabbed the frame and a little bit of my hand, "You are not your father, child. You are your father after your father. Remember that. We all are."
I released the frame and stared at it for a second. I did not know why, but I knew that the lady was the most powerful woman in all of Huaral, maybe even in the country.
I opened the door of my car to take out my water bottle and my flashlight. I began to look for anything that I could take with me. I saw the Swiss Army knife that I had in my glove compartment, another familiar custom that I had retained. My father always taught me how to carry one when I was out of town, and I suspected his father taught him the same thing.
Jazmín waited until I locked the doors of my car and walked next to her. She was quite a cheerful, intelligent, and skinny young girl. She started asking me why I was going to the farm, but her look and tone immediately told me that she had heard our families' story before.
"How about we pretend to be our grandfathers?" she asked with a smile after we had been walking for a while.
"Why would we do that?" I replied with a mix of curiosity and annoyance, I was not particularly eager to play nonsensical games.
"Ay, how boring you are, there has to be a reason for everything, right? Surely you don't make any decision without thinking about it three times before. You must be very bad at dancing."
I laughed. It was quite true.
"So, what do we do then?" I asked.
"Nothing, just be best friends." She looked at me with a simplicity that made me feel just like her mother had, foolish to the core.
"Your mother is old, isn't she?" About fifty-something or so?" The girl shook her head smiling.
"Yes, and I could bet you that if she wanted to, she could still have another child, but I don't think anyone wants to sign up for that mission." We laughed together.
The sun had already hidden behind the horizon when we reached the edge of the town. The farmlands I remembered now stretched out in front of me. A river separated them far into the horizon; I remembered going down to bathe there a couple of times as a child. I was pleased to see that there were still recognizable parts of Huaral. The trail that led to the farms was flattened soil and gravel. On both sides, large bushes of more than three meters rose as a naturally grown perimeter. Jazmín explained to me to whom it belonged what, and what they cultivated there. Tangerines, nectarines, avocados, mangoes, some grapes with some luck. "This is from Don Carlos, he grows oooooonly apples. Everything is red during harvest. It is very nice, sometimes I get in and steal a basket. Once, he caught me and told me not to be shameless, to take five or six, now I just take half a bag." I smiled and looked at her. This girl understood the subtext of conversations much better than most adults.
The sky was already dark purple, I knew we had to walk a while longer, but my memories failed me.
"How much more?" I asked her, as a minibus passed on the left and leaned dangerously, trying to avoid us by getting on the highest part of the trail; the girl happily greeted the driver, "Do you know him?" I asked. "No, but it's nice to say hello to everyone who lives where you live, right?" Again, foolish to the core. "We are close, twenty more minutes or so. We are going to go through the Aquise property first. They make grape macerates; their lands adjoin that of Risopatrón. We are going to enter the Aquise land first. We need to go through a wall of raspberries they have. We might get stung by some thorns, but they haven't fixed a patch of it yet, so we might pass unscathed. From there, we walk along the edge of their property until we reach the reservoir on the other side."
My heartfelt a strangely pleasant beat. Hearing about the reservoir made me see my father swimming in my mind. It made me happy, really happy. "My dad told me that at the bottom of the reservoir there is moving earth, if your feet touch it you get trapped there." The girl nodded,
"Yes, but it's pretty deep anyway, your dad must have dived deep indeed." I had no idea. We kept walking.
The girl was silent, the kind of silence that keeps a question in the air. "Wouldn't your dad like to be here with you?" she asked. I closed my eyes tight. It hurt more than expected.
"My dad, I haven't seen him in eight years. We stopped talking a long time ago." I opened my eyes and realized that I could see the trail thanks to the full moonlight, maybe with a little bit more help we could get there faster, "I'm going to take out my flashlight," I said, the girl looked at me shocked as if she realized that this was not my natural habitat at all. "You can't use a flashlight. The dogs are going to chase after you very quickly. We have to be careful. Risopatrón has Pitbulls all over the field. If they find you, you have to run towards them and grab them by the neck so they don't bite you. If there is more than one, use your knife." A stone fell down my stomach. I had not remembered the dogs, my scarred leg still remembered.
As a child, I had been bitten, and I had become afraid of dogs ever since, at least unconsciously. The fear returned with Jazmín's comment, and it began to invade me, and although I pretended to be perfectly ok with what Jazmín told me, my legs trembled a little. Thank God it was night; what a shame that a thin young girl was advising me on how to deal with a pack of dogs, and I was just scared from listening to her. She looked at me and smiled.
"Don't worry, fool, that's why I came here, that's why my mother told me that I stayed at the entrance, because it's dangerous, I can run and make noise on the other side of the property and attract the dogs They do not cross or leave, they are well trained. I'm going to give you time, don't take too long though, dogs get bored even if you screw with them." I looked at her and nodded silently.
We reached the Aquise raspberry wall five minutes later. I had forgotten how big the white thorns of its bush were, the length of a little finger each. I turned to look at Jazmín confused, there was no way to pass the meter and a half of shrubs between us and the property, she pointed me to th. You of the bushes' line.
"We're going to cut ourselves," I told her. She turned around with an exasperated face.
"Of course, what do you expect? that everything is easy or what?"
The third time I'd felt foolish. This time I laughed inside. Moments later, the girl pointed me to a bush of another type in the lower part. They had planted something different there.
"The Aquise dogs ran out through here when stray dogs passed and they cut themselves a lot, so they made a little passage with another bush for them while they were being trained. I'm one of the few people that know that," she told me with a prideful face. "We are still going to get scraped here and there, but it is better than crossing elsewhere. I'll go first, you just imitate what I do, and don't look up!"
The girl finished talking and went in without thinking twice, crawling like a snake and pushing herself with her forearms forward, like a soldier's crawl. I could never have done that, even when I traveled around the world, even when I followed revolutions on the streets. That kind of resolute bravery was foreign to me, impossible to me, and yet, Jazmín's courage infected me.
I followed her and immediately understood why I did not have to look up; the thorns stuck on my head, as I advanced my head dragged the tip through my scalp.
It took us about a minute to get to the other side. When I looked up, the girl grabbed my face and placed her index finger over my mouth, telling me not to make a sound. Barks approached us.
"We have to run," Jazmín whispered. Her face was totally serious. I nodded.
We started to run on the western edge of the Aquise property, on the other side my Grandfather's land waited. The lanky girl ran with all her strength. I understood at that moment what it was that shocked me about her. Jazmín did everything full-heartedly, she didn't do things just in case, or because she was supposed to, she did it because it was necessary and she would do her best. It had been a long time since I had known anyone like that. It reminded me of my grandfather's stories.
We reached the part were the bushes that separated the two fields was at its thinnest, the girl grabbed my hand and pushed through them, she did not mind cutting herself this time, the branches were thin, but it was practically an impenetrable mesh. We had to push with all our body to overcome the tangle of branches.
We crossed slowly, but eventually we came out on the other side, almost falling face down when we did. The howling dogs arrived seconds later. I turned around scared to the bone, but I was immediately relieved to see that they were only barking from the other side. They weren't going to cross over.
The girl got up and grabbed my arm to help me up, "Hurry up, the Risopatrón dogs are going to come for sure, I'm going to run westward, and you have to run over there, towards the north," the girl said to me while pointing with her hand straight ahead, this was where we separated. "Walk fast, don't make any noise unless it is necessary, have your knife at hand, don't use your flashlight for nothing. The tree is ten minutes from here."
I looked at her in surprise. How could she know what I was looking for? I didn't have time to ask her.
"Thank you for everything," I said, she smiled at me, and then she began to walk away.
"Remember, tonight we are our grandparents." She said, before vanishing into the night.
A moment later, she disappeared into the dark. Jazmín Huapaya. The bravest woman I had ever met.
The full moon gave much more light than one would think, especially if you have grown in the city for all your life and have never been able to appreciate its power. In front of me was the reservoir. The reflection of the moon made everything look ominous. How had I come to be part of an adventure like this? "Life doesn't work like this," I whispered to myself, "except when it does," I couldn't help but smile.
I started to walk in strides. I got away as fast as I could from the dogs because that's where the Risopatrón Pitbulls were probably heading.
The chacra was different; I had my memories, photos of it, and stories from my father. But it had changed, the natural feel to it was gone, and everything had been replaced by perfect rows of different crops, automated irrigation gutters.
I followed the earth's gutters. I assumed it was the only way to guide me. Jazmín had directed me to a large tree canopy. I did not take my eyes off for more than a second, at least until I reached the avocado plantations, where my heart stopped.
I could barely see, but it seemed the same forest where my brothers and I had grown up. They had not touched this part as the other areas had been. This part of the property had still survived the pass of time for some reason. This place, where my father and siblings had lost themselves running and playing all day.
The farm was a strange memory. At times I felt that I had walked there my entire life, and yet my father had sold the land when he was no more than seven years old. I felt it was both mine and not. It felt so close and so distant.
At one point, the avocado trees surrounded me, and my only guide left was the hope that I had not strayed too far. The pecan tree was close to the old farmhouse and the stable, but if they had finally collapsed or brought down, then I was going to look around for the rest of the night. I was tempted to turn on the flashlight, but I knew I couldn't do it. Turning it on was condemning me to be found. I had to trust Jazmín and my memory.
I passed a crooked tree, I almost didn't recognize it, but something in my head asked me to turn back one more time. The trunk had grown sideways, and the result was a beautiful dome of leaves and branches. The trunk was large and robust enough to support my brothers and a couple of cousins when we visited as children. There we had our secret meetings, away from the adults, there we planned our antics. Now nobody spoke. The years created trenches that cost too much to cross. I stared at it for a while, something so beautiful, I wished someone used it the same way we had.
I kept walking and kept looking, but nothing, it seemed that the moonlight was lost between the treetops, I could barely see, but I had to keep going. I missed Jazmín. Her confidence had been indeed contagious, and now I felt I was a man who could only depend on his strength and intelligence, and almost everything I knew was useful sitting in front of a computer, safely inside a building.
For a moment, I felt ashamed of who I was, but then I remembered that I knew quite a few other things, things that my father had taught me as a child.
I tried to remember how to go down the sloping ground with feet angled diagonally, how to make fire without matches, how to use stone to cut fiber, and suddenly, there was the answer, in the sky.
The north star.
My father had taught me as a child to find the north: the big dipper and the little dipper. Finding the big dipper was easy, then you just had to guide yourself to find the smaller star's tip and tail. A relatively simple trick, but now it was more necessary than ever. I peered towards the night sky until I saw Polaris, the north star. I knew where to go.
I started to move faster, more confidently, secure somehow. The fear left and was replaced by a sense of security that I had not felt in a long time. Something had awakened because of this place, because I had remembered how to read the sky, something about following my father's teachings, something about leaving behind the idea of who I was. I remembered Jazmín again, for tonight, I wasn't me, I was my grandfather, I was what I needed to be.
I left the crooked tree behind. I left everything behind, there were no more fears, if a dog came to kill me, I would kill it first, if Risopatrón came with his white shirts and khaki pants to prevent me from reaching the tree, I was going to break his face. I didn't know how to explain it, but something in that simple moment, something thanks to Jazmín and everything else that had happened on that day had given me back something I had lost and forgotten.
I wanted to run, but I was not going to be careless, being strong was not being reckless. Suddenly I saw a gray, unpolished cement wall. I knew what it was. It was the farmhouse's wall. I was sure, it was the same wall that I looked for as a child when I got lost in the woods.
Only that wall remained, everything else had been destroyed. There was only but a little of a memory left, but it was enough to guide me. I turned to my left because I knew I had arrived.
There, no further than ten steps away, was the pecan tree.
I looked at it and was surprised. The tree was almost dead, dry and dark, but it was still there, still holding on to life. Nothing grew around him. The tree had created a withered perimeter. Everything looked so strange, magical even.
I took a step towards it, and the wind began to blow. In the distance, I heard the barking of dogs howling. I did not know if they were approaching, I only knew that it no longer mattered. For a moment, I had left my whole story behind, and something else, something essential and so close to my being that I couldn't explain with words had awakened in me, something that needed to heal, something that existed outside of time, something that had started with my grandfather's courage and that had ended with the rebirth of own.
I took another step, and the wind increased, the dry leaves began to rise, the moon started to shine so brightly that I could see everything around me. Another step and the tree, together with the wind, whistled a wailing groan. I heard how the trunk creaked and dropped all its bark to the ground. One more step, and the tree looked new, young, reborn. One more, the earth began to move between me and the tree. One more, and the soil rose. A mixture of dirt, mud, leaves, bark, branches, and wind mixed, turning in a self-contained tornado.
A face appeared among the leaves. I couldn't help but smile when I saw my face.
"Nice to meet you."
"It is an honor, grandfather."
"Please, there is nothing special about being old. The stories embellish a lot of what one really is, your father, for the love of my memory, told you many things exaggerating details, omitting others."
"I truly believe that there is no other way to tell a story."
"I understand." The wind blew hard and left everything else silent. "Are you ready?"
"Do not let go, let me finish what I have to do, it will try to kill you, but it will not succeed, trust me."
"I trust you."
"I thought your brothers would be here with you."
"I thought my father would be here with you."
"How long have I died?"
"Thirty-four years ago."
"Ah, it's been so long, waiting for them to come home. Look what they have done to my land."
"I'm so sorry. If I could have done something, I would have saved it."
"Don't worry, the land is inside you. Nobody can take that away from you."
"I would have liked to know that sooner."
"It was your sister who found out first, wasn't it?
"How do you know?"
"She was always his favorite. A father cannot help but love his daughters a little more."
"She didn't find it very entertaining."
"She didn't need to. Your father lived to teach you to be stronger than him, to live with a curse and never give up. He taught you to be strong while being weak, he taught you how to get here one by one, your father taught you how to be better than him, gave you everything he had, his burden, his sorrow, his weakness, everything. He carried all of it and still managed to give you that. Even if you did not understand the gift he was giving to you. In his diary, he left all of you a route to find me, a way to save yourselves."
"I would have preferred another story."
"Believe me, I would have too. For all of you, but life is not what you want from it but what you do with what you are given. We were given a bad hand, we almost fell completely, but you resisted, and look at you now, invincible. Full of fear and unafraid to accept it. Full of cowardice and pushing forward every day. Full of hate and loving everything. Words fail us, my boy. You are the three strongest people you could have been. "
"What are you?"
"A fragment. Kept here to always be with you."
"Why was my father was not strong enough?"
"Because he is not one of you. He was as strong as he could. There are curses that spread throughout the soul, curses that not even Capataz could have invoked with all his power. Some shadows destroy a man day by day without really killing him, a disease that accompanies him and tells him that it is never enough, no matter what he does, it is never enough. Your father lacked his father. You lacked yours. Look at us here, closing a circle, skipping a generation.
"From the bottom of my heart, I would have liked things not to have been destroyed."
"Open your eyes child, nothing has been destroyed. We are all still here. There is still time."
"How can I close such a large wound?"
"Let me help you."
"You are going to take a curse away from me, not the pain inside."
"You still don't understand what magic is, I see. There are no giant spells, no demons are chasing you. Demons take form as your doubts, son, your fears, your lack of pride, your low self-esteem. Curses work at the levels that they work. Nothing destroys a man more than feeling small, weak, helpless. That was done to me by Capataz. He transmitted that fear to me, fear of losing my land and my family. My offspring in danger, that's a curse ten times worse than anything else that I could think of.
"My father lost his family."
"He is not dead yet."
"I don't know how to end this."
"Let me help you, child. I am with you. I live in you."
"The witch says we are the same."
"All those who die, each part of their legacy, of their blood, all survive through the lives of those who have remembered them, through their dreams. We are all here, grandson. We are all alive, and we are all dead.
"I don't believe in these things."
"And yet you speak with the wind."
"I would have liked to meet you in life."
"Talk to your father. He is me, in another time."
"I feel like we should have protected this place forever."
"Do not worry. You, all of you, can create another kingdom. Remember that I myself had to leave my land to start from scratch."
"That's very true."
"Isn't that so? Come, boy. Let me take the dark curse out of you."
"Is it true that your father was the wise man of the people?"
"At least that's what I remember."
"My father told that story with such pride."
"We build up what we love. It is the only way to make it true. There is no other way to tell a story."
"I said that first."
"I know, it's just that you do not realize yet that I am you, and you are me, the third one of us. Come, give me your left arm."
Black oil. There is no other way to explain it. The wind full of leaves, branches, and mud from the ground began to pull something from my bones. The pain did not increase at any time. From the beginning, it was more than I could bear, but I was the son of my father, the man who lives dead, the coward who comes first, the jester that rules his world. This was going to kill me, and I was going to live again.
The wind pushed me against the tree, and there I stayed, bearing the pain that my father had not tolerated. Little by little, it extended from my arm to my whole body. I felt my back was going to break under the force of my grandfather's ghost. I could see it, the full moon was too bright not to, the mud absorbed black oil, coming out of my chest, my legs, my penis, my throat, my eyes, everything. The leaves, the branches, everything my grandfather was absorbed the black tar curse. I started screaming, and I felt like I was going to pass out,
"Hold on, grandson!" I looked up to see the warm green-grey eyes of the soul-fragment that was my grandfather.
"Go on! I will not give up! I am you, the third one".
I saw how everything came out of my body. I couldn't breathe, what little air went in was pushed out immediately,
"Hold on, grandson!"
I felt my bones break, my skin was cut, my eyes were ripped out, my body disappeared.
"A little more!" The wind began to blow so hard that the tree began to howl like a god of forgotten times. It resounded so much that the earth itself vibrated as if a thousand drums touched the ground.
"Almost!" The tree trunk began to split in the middle.
"Thanks for everything, grandfather," I managed to say, looking at his eyes made of leaves, "Thanks for everything."
The pressure on my chest increased so much that I could swear someone had ripped my heart out.
"Thank you son, for finishing this. From the bottom of my heart, thanks." The tree screamed as if it were a falling colossus, my body completely collapsed. "Thanks."
I lost consciousness and slept for a thousand years in a place where darkness knows no enemy and light knows no pain.
I woke up the next day with Jazmín's curious gaze raising an eyebrow.
"What happened?" she asked, clearly concerned about me.
"What do you mean?" I said, opening my eyes.
"Your face looks different," she said, smiling.
"Come on, Jazmín, we have to go, if they find us in broad daylight, we are going to get into serious trouble." I stood up and wiped my clothes on my hands, looking around. Everything was the same, except the tree was now broken in the middle.
"Awesome." the girl said to me, pointing at the broken tree.
"What do you mean? Come on, let's go." We started walking back through the avocado forest.
"That tree is a legend in our town, they say that Risopatrón sent it to be cut down and that all the men returned trembling, saying that no amount of money would convince them to try again, they say that the soul of an old ghost lives there, and that God himself protects him." I couldn't help but smile.
"Didn't Risopatrón try to do it himself?"
"That man? All he knows how to do is throw money away." The girl said to me. "How did you break it? That is serious magic," she told me.
"I didn't do anything, that was my grandfather." I replied, smiling again.
"I don't think it will last much longer." she said, turning to watch the tree.
"I think it has two more good nights of wind," I replied.
"I do not understand." Jazmín replied with a frown.
"What do you think if today we are also our grandparents?" I said to Jazmín Huapaya.
"Fine by me, but we must hurry, my mom will be upset if I do not return soon."
I felt free for the first time in my life. Free of everything. My family's history had returned to zero. I had gained nothing, but I had lost the fear, I had found the north that my father had sought since I was a child, the one that had been ripped from his eyes since he was young.
At last free, I understood how much courage my father had to walk without the eternal light that shines inside when one gets rid of the curses that the world throws at all families. My father endured for me what I could not have endured for my children, now I am sure of that.
Still broken, my father was a brave lion, and thanks to his strength, I had had a small opportunity, an opportunity to be reborn in my own body. I know of no stronger magic than that.
Now I understood the old daughter of Huapaya, the witch from Huaral, now I believed in what I knew I had always believed in, deep down in the bottom of my being. I could breathe well now, like I never had before. Now I understood the witch of Huaral and her words, but especially her majestic gaze. Now my name mattered little, my family, my blood, something more essential ran through my veins. Silence invaded everything, and I was that very silence.
Jazmín and I keep walking. We were already close to the reservoir when I heard someone yelling. The angry barking of at least two dogs came next. I turned around and saw a man in a white shirt, khaki pants and black glasses. Risopatrón himself, walking towards us with the peculiar haughtiness of the deluded. The dogs came running and barking, desperate to attack the intruders of their master's land.
"Let's go! We have to run! We can make it!" the Jazmín told me.
"Let me solve this first," I answered her and turned around.
I strolled towards the dogs. One threw itself at me, but I dodged it at the right time and it failed to get me, the other one stayed behind, growling at me, showing me his teeth. The first dog tried again, I dodged it one more time and kicked it in the face and in the stomach with all my strength, it ran back to its owner whimpering. The other one stood there looking at me, I looked back at it, the dog stopped growling. I approached him, bent down, and with my left hand, I let him smell me. The dog sniffed me for a long time and then, just as if he had received the message in my head, he sat next to me. Jazmín's jaw dropped.
"Don Risopatrón!" I yelled at the man. The landowner stopped on his tracks, he was twenty steps away from me by then. "I am the son of Antonio, the one who sold you these lands." The man seemed to gain confidence and walked towards me.
"You know very well that this is illegal trespassing, I should call the-"
"Oh, shut it, boy" I said, smiling at the man who was at least twenty years older, the man clenched his jaw in silence.
"I offer this as a gift" I threw my knife at his feet.
"A gift?" The man asked confused, for what?"
"To celebrate you've already lost, you just don't know it yet." I said, "time will give us justice. For now, I'm satisfied knowing your very own dogs have noticed the shift." I pointed to the pit bull standing next to me, wagging his tail as if he had lived with me since birth. The man looked at the knife and then at me, he started yelling, but I turned my back to him before he could tell me all the things he could do to me with his money.
"I give you the knife as a reminder as well that you have never been able to do anything with your own hands. You can have all the land on paper, but you cannot erase the fact that when nobody is watching, you are the one who is trespassing, and I am the owner. You have lost something more important than everything you have. I hope you find it before your children inherit it too."
I smiled at him and started to leave, Jazmín still had her mouth open. "What the hell have you done? He will make your life impossible!"
I laughed as I turned to look at the man who had picked up the razor from the ground,
"I know, but I can live with that, what I can't live with anymore is to stop doing what I know is right. This land was taken from my father; I don't know if I can get it back, the world doesn't work like that. But for today, while you are Juan Huapaya and I am my Grandfather, I am going to tell the truth as they used to tell it in other times. As long as today is today, and I intend for today to last forever, I will live as if I were my grandfather."
The girl opened the bush to get out of the farm, without dignity, without a grand finale, only two people without fear in their eyes. "What do you mean, you're your grandfather?" She said, "I thought it was just a game." I was silent, waiting for the words to come at their own pace.
"Each family is just one person, over and over again, we just move forward and grow. I am the third. You too Jazmín, that's why today you were my right arm. I think I understand your mother now. It is inevitable, the universe is more magical than we think."
The girl was looking at me with a frown, I laughed as we left the Aquise land and headed towards Huaral again.
"Tell me, what did you find there in the pecan tree?" she asked me.
I kept thinking about it. We went all the way to her house in silence. We crossed paths with another minibus going in the opposite direction, we both wave at it this time. I saw the small town rise as we approached it, I saw the old witch's house, I saw her smile. She gave me the photo, I said goodbye to her. At the door frame, as I got into my car, Jazmín asked me again.
"What did you find in the tree? Tell me. I've always wanted to know." I looked at her and smiled.
"A way to live forever."
The girl raised her eyebrow as I got in my car.
I drove my truck through the Pasamayo. At last I was returning, to my people, to my family, to my father.
with all my ancestors,
at last, I had returned.
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