Translation by Natasha da Silva
At about five in the morning, the group left them at a hut by the edge of the high road. On a burnt post were the remnants of posters promoting a presidential candidate of six years ago. Everything looked somewhat dead without sunlight, which still couldn’t quite be made out yet. It was like the shadowy mise en scène of a low budget film. “We’ll have to walk for at least two hours”, said Mario and without further delay, he began walking off down a dusty footpath. Half an hour, later they reached a dirt road. Shortly after, they heard a horn sound in the distance and they had to get off the road so that a small white truck coming towards them at full speed could pass. It left a cloud of dust and an incomprehensible melody behind it. The air began to smell salty, any minute now they would catch sight of the sea. They took black coffee and listened to the news on the radio in a shop that still sold razor blades – the kind that people slit their wrists with in the movies. The old man that served them stared intently at the device – a black box protected by a heavy leather lining, with a long wire antenna – as if it were speaking to him alone.
David became nervous at the sound of the waves, crashing hard against that part of the coastline. He was hearing the tense fury of the sea for the first time in his life. The infinite mystery of the ocean soon overwhelmed him, and he had to sit down on the sand for a few minutes. He drew breath sporadically, and a gust of wind sent sand flying into his face. He dodged the tiny grains just in time.
Mario had left him alone all this time. Meanwhile, he headed towards a cement house with orange-coloured walls and a painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He rented a beach cabin with two hammocks. He also ordered lunch. When the sun decided to come out, announcing its arrival with such noise that the birds and the insects got worked up, they decided to strip down to their underpants and take a dip in the sea. David walked in till the water came half way up his skinny chest. At first, he found the seaweed brushing against him unpleasant, but he soon got used to its slippery proximity. Mario went in a little deeper and swam on his back. When the wind picked up and the swell of the waves grew, David left the water and sat down on the shore. The other boy gave in to the power of the waves, which were dragging him a good few metres back and forth. He would surface every so often with bedraggled hair and his pants slipping down. He shouted and cursed the water – bastard, son of a bitch! – as though the sea were his enemy. Finally, he would burst out laughing. David thought it was the first time in many years that Mario had experienced something similar to happiness. They dried off in the sunshine, then ate some fried fish before lying down in the hammocks.
They spent three days in the fishing village. On the second night, they headed over to the vessel that turned out to be a navy corvette. A fisherman explained that they were from the health brigade. The small truck that had passed them on the way was parked outside what appeared to be a bar. There were many plastic tables, beers, liquor and music. Women and men were shouting. Two of them had their heads shaved, military style. Two soldiers armed with guns were standing on guard, watching over them. It gave Mario a bad feeling and he suggested they went back. David heard a man calling them “pretty boys”, ever so quietly. Those words stayed with them all the way back to the cabin.
The next day they left the village. After paying for the cabin, they had just enough left to get something to eat. On the way to the finca, they visited the cemetery where Mario’s mother was buried. Standing in front of her grave, David imagined a conversation between them both. The mother was asking him what had done over the last seven months. In David’s head, Mario replied that he had got older.
On the outskirts of the cemetery, the toothache that had been dormant for some hours came back with a vengeance. David looked for the grave digger and asked him something. Later they headed towards a house surrounded by coffee plantations. On the iron door was a coral snake formed into a perfect spiral shape, which left Mario feeling perplexed. As it had recently been painted, the black and red colours really stood out. The creature’s head was the door knocker. He thought there must be something similar in the finca. A woman came out to welcome them. They asked for Humberto. A while later, out came a small, sturdy campesino, like some kind of magical being. The man went to an orchard and came back with various herbs, which he dampened in a pool. He made a dressing with his thumbs and told Mario to try putting it right where it was hurting and to apply pressure firmly. He followed the instructions and an electrifying current passed through him that made his legs collapse.
A few minutes later, he felt that half of his face had gone numb. With great difficulty, Mario asked for the name of the herbs. He wanted to make a note of it. He already knew that plantain was used for gastritis and poor vision. You had to take off the stem, remove the veins from the leaves and make an infusion. Centaury was used for stomach ache and sage for the kidneys, if you could stand the bitter taste. The potent concoction mixed with corn husks was the best thing to detoxify, and cashew to balance sugar levels. Within ten minutes he coughed up the mixture. A plant-like string hung from his mouth.
At the end of afternoon they began walking. Somebody had told them that the finca was six hours away on foot. They had bread and Coca-Cola for lunch with their last thousand pesos. David liked the feeling of not having any money, though he kept it to himself. They passed by corn, coffee and banana crops. He liked the sound of the wind between the leaves of the banana tree. As they passed by, a couple of dogs barked. Some campesinos greeted them with “buenas tardes”, while others didn’t. Mario thought about asking one of the jeeps that took passengers up the hills to give them a lift, but he wanted to reach their destination on foot. He recognised the gates of a nearby finca, so they weren’t so far. In a bend along the road, he found a long, straight stake. He started walking away with it as if it were a walking stick that belonged to a pilgrim or a vagabond monk. He would use it if anyone tried to stab them along the way. At seven in the evening it began to rain. Mario reckoned he had at least another hour to walk. The soles of his feet were throbbing.
They decided to take shelter beneath a gargantuan guadua. It became fluorescent in the moonlight. When the rain fell heavily, a sadness fell upon David, which started around the throat and finished by lodging itself in his chest. It hung to him like a weighty talisman. He thought it was what happened to people when they abandoned those that love them. His mother had abandoned his father, his friend’s mother has left him. Perhaps it was the law of life – abandonment. If so, it seemed like a very stupid law in any case. David asked himself when his friend would abandon him. He thought the pain would be unbearable if that happened, like a toothache that lasts for years and years.
Translation of “Sacred Heart” Copyright Andrés Felipe Solano. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2013 by Natasha da Silva All rights reserved.
Andrés Felipe Solano (Bogotá,1977), has published the novel Sálvame, Joe Louis, and has worked as features editor for SoHo Magazine. In 2007, he lived in Medellin, Colombia, where he rented a room in a notoriously violent neighborhood and worked in a factory for six months. Based on this experience, he wrote Seis meses con el salario mínimo, finalist for the prize awarded by the Fundación Nuevo Periodismo Iberomaricano, chaired by Gabriel García Márquez. In 2008, the goverment of South Korea invited him to serve a six-month literary residence in Seoul. In 2010 Granta included him in their list of The Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists. He is also the author of the best selling novel, Los Hermanos Cuervo.