Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review


Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review


Article excerpt

Translated by Emmanuel Harris

Chapter I

The events of this story occur from the tropic of the mangrove and the orchids that are borne in the air, to the cold, transparent blue of the Strait of Magellan. Its concentric sides meet in the Ciudad de los Reyes under the coat of arms of a blue shield with three crowns and a flaming star, planted in the dunes of the coast facing the Southern Sea.

On the wrong bank, close to the herd's stables and the cultivated lands and to the skirt of the hill of San Cristobal spring the shacks of the miserable outskirts of San Lazaro. The waters of the Rimac repeat to the reeds those tales of the wind that strolls through the nearby corn and cotton fields. It is a subtle murmuring that arrives to the fields of lucumas and that rocks between the custard apple trees and the pacayar palms. Though these waters have a tame appearance, they also know how to aggressively overflow. In the high tides of the summer, they enter, dragging mud and the rocky ground of the leper colony and they drain confused, tinged in blood, between the cadavers of the sacrificed animals of the slaughter house of Malambo, the corner where many of the Negroes from Lima live: seat and protection of the taitas Minas, the Mandiga and Angola elders and the cofradias of Congos and Mondongos. In Malambo, the Rimac proudly rubs elbows with the freedmen, the maroons and the smuggled slaves that untrustingly listen to it but upon discovering what it tells, they learn to understand its knack of speech. Because at times, the river pretends to be slack. Lazy, it detains itself conversing in the ditches and the puddles in passing the dusty crevices and the torturous and salty alleys of San Lazaro.

On the other bank, that of the Palace of the Viceroy and of the big houses with the stone facades and great windows with silk curtains, the river begins to appear slimmer by orderly channels through the clay pipes. It runs united to the other subterranean springs underneath Blanket Street, and Weavers Lane and under Jewish Street, Silversmith's, Marketer's and Swordmaker's Lanes. It leaves behind the licentious tapping of the covered women in Blue Dust Street until encountering the fountain of the Plaza Mayor. He who stops to contemplate its bubbling, cannot evade the customs of the Talking River.

Almost in unison, the bells of the Cathedral began the six o'clock ring in the Church of Santa Ana, in Santo Domingo, San Sebastian and Santa Clara and in the six convents and the six monasteries of the city. Tomason Valleumbroso noted that in the church of San Lazaro time lengthened in silent tolls. They were the last to ring. As if the hours were in no hurry to arrive to the mud and reed houses of Malambo. A neighboring voice prayed the angelus. Tomason cleared his throat. The voice pronounced "Amen" and Tomason "Jeeeezeee". He always had at the tip of his tongue a lethargic "Jesus" to be said drawn out or cut short when he did not have much or anything to add. This time, it could well have been: "Jeeze, it's already getting dark!" or "Jeeze, I'm tired and I'm not working any more!" or simply "Jeeeze, the bell tower is not in time with the others."

Rubbing the steel and flint, he lit a candle of animal fat, and illuminated by the trembling flame, he gave the last penciling to the canvas. He stood back a few steps, scratched his head of nappy and gray hair and contemplated the image. The type of religious painting that the European masters brought, in America distinct variations were invented. Tomason dominated these like no one else. He painted the oils without giving perspective to the figures. With few chiaroscuros, without exceeding in embossing "without a bunch of nit-picking or queerness Jeeeze", as he would say, and he would adorn them in a way that satisfied his vision and made him plenty happy. In the midst of golden strokes, the archangel Gabriel suited with steel armor carried a sword of justice in his right hand. …

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