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SIETE MINUTOS BY ISMAEL CAMACHO ARANGO

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BEGINNINGS

The backyard looked dark with its muddy floor and shrubs growing by the wall, as the sun careered through the sky in its journey towards infinity.

Shifting on the mud by the edge of a puddle, Homer played with his toys in the water.

After enticing ants with a sweet he had put in a paper boat, he made it capsize amidst the mud, their bodies floating in the water shining under the sun.

“Hurrah,” he said.

Homer danced around the puddle, as a woman appeared at the door wearing a dressing gown and with her some of her hair tied in a bun. Avoiding the toys and other things on the floor, she stood by the puddles Homer had made, little dots floating amidst the mud.

After invading their kitchen, the ants had gone to the other rooms until the house had been full of the insects. Shivering in the breeze blowing through the garden, mother pushed a few strands of hair back.

“It’s time for lunch,” she said.

Those words brought Homer back to reality. He had to eat before conqueringthe world.

“Wash your hands now,” she said.

Leaving a trail of mud on the floor, he washed himself in the sink, as footsteps echoed in the corridor and father appeared at the door. Middle aged, plump and with a round face, he wore an apron over his big stomach while fiddling with his hands.

“I have a surprise,” he said.

Mother stopped with a plate in her hands, smoke rising to the ceiling like a staircase to heaven. Father didn’t bring surprises very often, apart from a day when he had found a puppy in the street but she had taken it to the dog shelter in spite of Homer’s complaints.

A small man interrupted the silence, his glasses shining under the light of the electric bulb. Homer watched the stranger waiting by the door as the clock ticked and silence filled everything.

“Uncle Hugh,” mother said. “We didn’t expect you today.”

After disentangling herself from his arms, mother poured soup on another bowl as Uncle Hugh sat by Homer’s side, before pushing his glasses up his nose.

Sipping his soup, he talked of his adventure in the sea, where he had been sick the whole time.

“You should have taken an alka seltzer,” mother said.

“Nothing works for me.”

The man had not enjoyed the fresh Caribbean sun amidst his bouts of sickness. Homer imagined his uncle looking at the land in the horizon, full of trees and hope, while his stomach hurt. Then the man put a large hand on his shoulders.

“I remember the day you rescued a dollar bill,” Uncle Hugh said.

“After flying to the branches of a tree, he put it in his wet nappy,” mother said.

Homer knew all the rest. A neighbour who happened to be hanging the washing at that moment dropped her husband’s pants in the mud, and he left her for the barmaid living next door.

School children sang songs of glory as Father Ricardo praised the qualities of the child during Sunday mass. Everyone loved him because he was a star. Then Uncle Hugh found a black and white photograph in his bag.

“This is you,” he said. “I took this picture with my first camera.”

Looking like an angel, a chubby baby with long hair and a toothless smile sat in a chair. The man waited for the reaction to the memory of that moment in time when he had snapped reality forever.

“I developed it in my studio,” Uncle Hugh said.

Talking of Homer’s childhood, mother served lunch in his plate while the breeze moved the branches of the tree outside the window.

Born during a solar eclipse, he had cried for the first time with the retreating shadows, while doctors and nurses looked at the sun from the hospital roof.

An old nurse who didn’t have good eyes had helped with the delivery, and Homer had been born after mother had pushed a few times. Then the nurse had muttered those famous words.

“You have a girl,” she said.

Hiding behind the shadow of the moon, the sun had been absent during Homer’s birth. Mother thought she had the daughter she always wanted as father sulked, and the nurse delivered the placenta. She discovered her mistake a few moments later.

“He had lots of dark hair,” father said.

“He was a darling,” mother said.

After wiping a tear, mother looked at the pictures on the wall, where she held a baby in her arms. She looked at the pictures on the wall, where she held a baby in her arms. On remembering when they had sailed under the stars towards the unknown, Homer felt the luckiest boy in the world.

Everybody loved him, even if the sun had gone at the start of his life. Then Uncle Hugh gave him a shiny cent he had found in his pocket.

“Put it in your money box,” he said. “It will bring you good luck.”

“He’s a good boy,” mother said.

Homer admired the coin as the moment stretched into infinity, and the brown marks on the wall turned into monsters, fighting amidst the buildings where the dollar reigned supreme.

“It’s time to go to bed,” mother said.

Homer rushed upstairs after wishing them goodnight. Once in his room, he emptied his bag on the bed and counted all the pesos he had collected over the weeks, but his uncle’s coin was the prettiest.

Homer put it in his bag before he went to sleep.

Uncle Hugh slept in the guest room, next to marks on the wall undergoing some kind of transformation. Homer imagined his uncle fighting the spirits of the house when they slept that night.

The man had gone by the time Homer had his breakfast next morning, but he had his coin and the mysteries of his birth had been revealed to him. Thinking of the dark sun deserting the moment of his birth, Homer retreated into a world full of fantasy, dreams and nightmares.

“You can go around your tree now,” he said.

Homer played with his cars as Uncle Hugh spoke of chasing film stars in their limousines in a place called Broadway. He had seen Marilyn Monroe in the streets filled with the colours of the morning or the grey curtains of the night, forever showing her pants when the breeze moved her dress.

Money filled Homer’s mind when he played with his trucks later. At first Homer thought he saw a shadow behind the tree, but then he noticed a boy's dirty hair and freckles.

“Hello,” he said.

The boy remained quiet as time went past in this new reality where someone had invaded his universe.

“I’m Jose,” the child said at last.

Homer studied the stranger with dirty shoes and stained shirt as he left muddy streaks across his face, after wiping his nose.

“Would you like to play with my cars?” he asked.

Kneeling down on the floor, Jose ran one of the trucks along the track of dirt leading to the fence, before falling on the mud.

After washing his hands in the water tap by the door, he played with the cars again.

“I come from the jungle,” he said.

Those words broke the spell the child had brought to Homer’s world.

“You’re a liar,” he said.

Jose jumped on him and they rolled amidst the mud, but as Homer barked, the child stopped his attack.

“Are you a dog?” he asked.

Jose imitated him but Homer shook his head.

“You have to do like this,” he said.

As he pursed his lips, he howled aloud. Jose took a deep breath and barked as Homer clapped his hands.

“Yes,” he said.

They barked while holding their cars and the dog next door howled. Then Homer’s mother appeared at the door.

“That dog is too noisy,” she said. “I’ll complain to the owner.”

She didn’t notice Jose and Homer thought the child lived in another world. He played with his new friend in the garden, where muddy ponds glowed under the sun like sacred lakes lost in time.

Then Jose gestured at the stars that had appeared in the sky, as the sun set in the horizon.

“They’re mine,” he said.

Homer saw specks of light shimmering through the darkness while the child ran in circles around the tree, chanting strange words and touching the bark.

“Two and two are seven,” he said.

Homer frowned. “No.”

“I say that whenever I feel worried.”

Shadows spread around them and more stars appeared in the sky, as Homer followed his friend. After a few minutes of chanting and calling, they sat down in the ground to talk of their lives.

”I want revenge for my people,” Jose said.

Thinking he wanted to play another game, Homer ran around the tree shouting and barking but the child had gone. As he looked for him all over the garden, he found a roll of papers on the floor.

They must have fallen out of Jose’s pocket as he ran away. Words in another language intermingled with drawings of the sun, looked back at him. He had to keep them for Jose whenever he decided to visit him again.

Homer spent a boring evening, as his parents counted the little money they had earned during the day and Uncle Hugh told them about his life in the USA.

After looking at the window, Homer saw stars peeking behind the clouds, and the Milky Way had to be up there, where suns burned amidst dust and gas like Jose had said. He listened to the sounds of the night while shadows danced by the tree.

“Mum,” he said.

“Do you want to go to bed?” she asked.

Homer nodded. Kissing his parents goodnight, he ran up the stair to his room.

“Don’t have bad dreams tonight,” he said.

Homer saw the tree towering over the backyard, its branches reaching for the sky. Jose had to be real if he had played with his toy cars.

He went to sleep, thinking in all the money he would have one day, thanks to his lucky coin.


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Maria

Homer danced around the tree of life chanting to the stars, scaring the squirrels and stepping on centipedes. Jose’s last words didn’t make any sense now or ever.

“Where are you?” he asked.

On imagining Jose wrapped in his invisibility cloak, Homer waited under the branches, as the breeze moved his hair and the birds looked for worms in the grass. Jose had to be on the other side of the garden, where the bushes formed a green mass of plants and hedges

“Hi,” someone said.

An electric current ran through his body as the most beautiful girl in the world, wearing a blue dress that moulded itself onto her body had appeared by his side. At first he thought he had imagined her, but then she smiled, showing perfect teeth beneath rosy lips.

“You’re real,” he said.

The girl’s laughter interrupted the silence of his world, while he played with his clothes. Then she tried to look serious.

“I’m Miguel’s daughter,” she said.

The man helping in his parent’s shop had to be Miguel and this wonderful creature his daughter. The sound of the dog next door barking interrupted his reverie.

“I don’t like dogs,” she said.

They ran back into the kitchen where a cluttered table stood by a sink full of saucepans. On tidying away some of the chaos, he found the tricycle Uncle Hugh had given him years before along with the toy cars. As she looked at the pictures in the albums, Homer wanted to impress her.

“My parents came here in a big ship,” he said.

“They must be rich.”

“It had many floors, and windows.”

He explained how travelling in search of a dream, they had bought the shop after borrowing money from Uncle Hugh. They had to pay him back but the business had been slow during the last few months. Father had been sick for most of the journey but mother had looked after the child.

“Dad used to take me to see the seagulls chasing the ship.”

“Seagulls?”

“They catch flying fish.”

Maria saw a few pictures of seagulls Homer had in a magazine. Those birds brought to memory the sea moving the ship while father drunk lots of herbal tea to cure his sea sickness.

“A child without a country,” he said.

“I don’t think it matters.”

Talking about his childhood wouldn’t stop his longing for that country he had never known. As she ate a biscuit, he saw crumbs falling between her breasts, disappearing into infinity.

“Your parents should sell coca,” she said.

“Coca?” he asked.

She nodded. “The Indians will travel long distances to buy it.”

Homer’s eyes rose from her breasts to her face. He wanted to do whatever she said to have her by his side forever.

“Father buys coca from Coconucos in the central cordillera,” she said.

Homer had never heard of it. Rummaging in her bag, she put a few crushed leaves in his hand.

“Put them in your mouth,” she said.

He wanted to kiss her lips, as he heard the story of the plant the Indians chewed on their journey through the mountains. Homer imagined them queuing outside the shop, bringing the spells of the jungle to his business. He followed her dark eyes, as she looked at the palms of his hands, making his hairs stand on end.

“Your life will end with the sun,” she said.

“I don’t believe you.”

She told him how her mother had taught her to read palms on quiet evenings, when her brothers and sisters had gone to sleep. The sun might be at the end of his life as it had been before. Then he showed her the papers Jose had left by the tree.

“He was my invisible friend,” he said. “We went around the tree of life, chanting to the stars and the universe.”

As she studied the papers, Homer looked at her profile under the light of the sun coming through the window. He wanted to do anything for this beautiful girl who had given him coca leaves.

“It looks like Egyptian language,” she said. “I like to read magazines about the pyramids.”

Homer looked at the words made up of strange things. It had to be a magical language if Jose had known it.

“Can you decipher them for me?” Homer asked.

“You can call me Maria.”

“Maria,” he said. “Will you help me to translate the papers?”

“I’m always busy.”

She lived in a small room with a cooker and a cubicle with a shower in the corner. With only three beds, her father slept on the sofa and some of her brothers on the floor. Homer listened to all the problems she had in her life.

“I have seen rats in the latrine,” she said.

“A latrine?”

“It’s a hole in the backyard.”

He had never heard of such a thing. They had to move over piles of rubbish strewn on the floor to go to the latrine by the shed. Maria looked relaxed, in spite of her ordeal. As she talked, he noticed the crucifix moving between her breasts like a lost angel. Homer wanted to eat her slowly, tasting every bit of her for eternity.

“Won’t you sleep with me tonight?” he asked.

“I’d have to marry you first.”

She wouldn’t accept the offer of his bed, even if she had to sleep with her family.

“I’ll buy you a house when I’m a millionaire,” he said.

“You’ll forget about me.”

“I won’t,” he said.

“It says in your hands.”

Then mother appeared at the door, clutching a handkerchief.

“Your father is sick,” she said.

After running upstairs, Homer found father in bed, the room smelling of incense and herbs, as tufts of hair stuck to his skin. Illness was a luxury father couldn’t afford when they needed money to renovate the shop.

“He had a convulsion a few minutes ago,” mother said.

Father had gone to bed, complaining of pain in his arm that morning as Miguel had seen to the customers in the shop. A bottle of aspirin lay on the bedside table, the best drug in the world according to her, while the clock on the wall marked the passage of time.

“Miguel has gone to call the doctor,” she said.

Lost in their own thoughts, they waited in silence, darkness stretching up to infinity outside the window. Mother held father’s hands, muttering a prayer and wishing for him to get better.

“Everything will be fine,” Maria said.

Then the room turned icy, incense filling everything as mother prayed to her God. Homer didn’t feel any pulse in his father’s wrists. Everybody had to have a pulse or they would die. He heard his own screams of pain as mother fainted.

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Darkness

Struggling against the darkness swallowing his soul, Homer remained by his father’s side, hot tears running down his cheeks. Father had been alive a few minutes before. It had to be a mistake.

“He is asleep,” he said.

Miguel organised everything during the next few hours when people came to the house and Maria brought cups of tea. Heavily sedated, mother rested in bed, while Homer remained aloof, pain washing over him.

After dressing father in his best clothes, the undertaker made him ready for that final trip in this world. They buried father in a shallow grave by a tree at the back of the cemetery. Time had gone past in a blur as the priest talked and people offered their condolences.

Homer reflected on his life since he had been a child, tears rolling down his cheeks. He had to find the reason for his existence and for that journey their parents had made a long time ago in search of paradise. He sat in his room after going back home, where Maria tried to bring him back to reality.

“Life has to go on,” she had said.

Homer had to awaken from the limbo he had fallen into since father’s death, as mother had buried herself in a room full of memories, while Miguel worked in the shop. One morning a few weeks after father’s death, Homer found a large envelope with a nice stamp by the door. As he opened it, a cheque fell on the table. Uncle Hugh had sent them money to board a ship on route to New York. Homer danced around the kitchen, as Maria appeared at the door.

“I’m going to New York,” he said.

He showed her the letter inviting them to a city full of opportunities in spite of the recession. Uncle Hugh’s Pictures showed the Statue of Liberty raising its torch to the sky, calling for them to come to another world. Admiring the Empire Estate Building, Maria imagined all the steps people had to climb.

“They have lifts,” Homer said.

“Lifts?”

“They’re metal boxes inside the buildings.”

As Maria thought of all the wonders in the USA, Homer took the tray up to mother’s bed, where he found her asleep.

“Breakfast is here,” he said.

Putting the tray on her lap, he helped her to sit up on the bed. She looked tired and drained even if she had slept all day.

“Shall I call the doctor?” he asked.

Mother ate the scrambled egg, thin fingers cutting the bacon, before mixing it with the eggs. As she sipped her cup of tea, Homer summoned enough courage to give her the news.

“Uncle Hugh has written to us,” he said.

Mother looked for the glasses on the bedside table before reading the letter with the nice handwriting. Homer watched her reaction to uncle’s invitation while pouring more juice in her glass. After putting the letter on the table, she sipped her tea. Father’s death had left her tired of life.

“We won’t have another chance,” Homer said.

Mother buttered her bread while he tried to convince her of the benefits of New York on her health and well being. A big city might offer more opportunities in their lives.

“New York is cold in winter,” she said.

“We’ll get a heater.”

After brushing the crumbs off the sheets, mother lay back on the bed trying to forget the letter and Uncle Hugh. Homer had to fight against her stubbornness to get what he wanted.

“We have to talk about this,” he said.

Mother shut her eyes, pretending to be asleep but Homer wouldn’t give up. They had come to South America in search of a better life and they could do it again. She looked at the pictures Uncle Hugh had sent them, as he spoke of the doctors looking after her in New York.

“Nobody heals the soul,” she said.

Pushing the pictures away, she covered herself with the blankets, while Homer waited by her side. He had to convince her of the goodness of that other country, where he might earn lots of money. Homer held mother’s hand, muttering silent prayers and wishing for her to come back to reality. He didn’t believe in God but this was an urgent matter.

“I will be a millionaire,” he said.

Miguel appeared at the door, accompanied by a plump priest, wearing a black habit in contrast to his pale face. Three strands of dark hair adorned his head and his ears stuck out of more tufts of hair. He put his bible on the table, as mother opened her eyes.

“Father Ricardo,” she said. “I’m sick.”

The priest sat by her side, hands searching for hers as thunder roared outside and drops of rain battered the window. After crossing himself, he waited for the storm to die out, leaving them in peace.

“In the name of the father, of the son and of the holy spirit,” father Ricardo said, sprinkling holy water on mother’s face.

After anointing her forehead, he wished for her soul to be accepted in the kingdom of God, because of the work Jesus Christ had started on earth, before ascending to heaven.

“She’s not dying,” Homer said.

On throwing the container on the floor, it shattered in many pieces, leaving bits of glass all over the carpet. Maria picked some of the glass with the dustpan and brush she had found in the corner.

“She is still alive,” Homer said.

As the wind battered the tree, moving its branches against the wall, the world remained in the grip of the storm. Father Ricardo shut his eyes, muttering prayers, shadows covering the world, and thunder exploding around them.

“Make it stop, father,” Maria said.

Father Ricardo raised his arms to the ceiling, eyes full of tears, as the light of the lamp illuminating the room, a strand of hair falling on his face. The priest regained his composure, after blowing his nose. Homer wanted to tell him of his uncle’s invitation but the priest was muttering prayers. Maria strolled across the room, holding a tray with a few cups of tea.

“Uncle Hugh sent us a cheque to go to New York,” Homer said.

After putting his glasses on, Father Ricardo ran his eyes through the pages.

“New York is an evil place,” he said.

He talked of a city full of gangsters, where loose women wandered the streets, looking for young boys like Homer. Evil awaited in every corner ready to lead him away from God’s path.

“We need money, father,” Homer said.

Thinking on the problem while Mother drank her tea, Father Ricardo noticed the bags of coca Miguel had left by the door that morning. On seeing his accusing eyes, Maria tried to explain about the coca.

“The Indians have taken it for centuries,” she said.

Father Ricardo crossed himself, after looking at her with disdain. She might lead Homer along the road of sin with her big breasts.

“I haven’t seen you in the church on Sundays,” he said.

“I’m always busy, father.”

Homer knew a lot about the priest to come to his own conclusions. Father Ricardo didn’t like people turning their backs on Jesus Christ for economic reasons. Parents had to teach their children their religious duties even if they were young or their souls might go to hell. He had to save Homer’s soul before she perverted him.

“If we don’t go to New York, I’ll sell merchandise in the slums” Homer said.

The priest hated Homer’s ideas. That young man would cause the end of the world one day, when God would take revenge for his sins.

“When will you do it?” he asked.

“I don’t know, father.”

Father Ricardo took another bottle of holy water out of his bag= and sprinkled it around the room, vanquishing all the demons forever. As mother coughed, he held her hand, his lips whispering prayers.

“I’ll get the doctor,” Homer said.

Father Ricardo didn’t need a doctor when he could treat mother with his faith. He gave her the last rites against Homer’s wishes as the storm raged outside.

Colombia is beautiful

New business

After a night full of pain, mother passed away in the morning amidst Homer’s consternation. As he chewed coca to keep his sanity, people paid their respects, praying by the coffin.

Thinking of his parent’s legacy in this world, Homer didn’t notice the passage of time, as they prayed for mother’s soul, incense drifting through the room.

Having worked in the shop for many years, they had never made any money to live a decent life. Father dreamt of improving their shop to sell better merchandise.

They had bought a few toys for him during the years with the promises of something better, but because of their poor credit history, they could never borrow money to help with their expenses.

Uncle Hugh brought toys for the child, bought in that country of the north, where rich people lived in big houses with swimming pools.

The biggest treat in Homer's infancy had been their outings to the fair to seen the bearded woman, the fattest man and the child that fit in a tiny box. He had tried doing that with the boxes in the cellar, scratching his legs and making mother angry.

“The boy in the fair did it, mum.”

She shrugged. “You'll never learn.”

Those sunny days had taught him so many things. He had learned how to annoy the monkey man by throwing paper balls at his cage while shooting the camel woman with his water pistol.

A voice interrupted his reverie as a large woman with black hair tied in a bun, hugged him, leaving the smell of cologne and fried eggs in his clothes.

“I’ll miss your mother,” she said.

Homer grunted. Everyone claimed to have known mother, even if he had never seen them before. The woman discussed mother’s life and her qualities.

As a good daughter of God, she had spread his world amongst the people of the market. Homer listened to the stories the woman told him of mother looking after her customers.

“She was an angel,” she said.
Not feeling well, Homer hoped the weoman would end the story of life in the market full of excitement.

The men to collected the rubbish on Wednesdays and got drunk on Fridays to celebrate the end of the week.

”We’ll take her to the cemetery now,” someone said.

Several people took the coffin across the room, keeping it away from the walls. The image of the monkey woman beating at the bars, keeping her away from freedom, came back to Homer's mind.

His mother didn’t deserve to be locked in that coffin.

“Give him an aguardiente,” the woman said.

He drank the liquid, they offered him in a small glass,burning his throat and some of the pain. Then he followed Maria to the car, while mother waiting inside the coffin.

“You must sit next to the driver,” the undertaker said.

Mother had paid for her funeral with a life insurance she had purchased before her death.

Homer remembered her putting the money in the bank after she had done her shopping every month.

He wanted to wake her up from her slumber, before she disappeared into the earth, but the moving car brought him back to reality.

He had to bury his mother as a present to the earth, mad and the universe.

On arriving at the cemetery, they followed the coffin down the path, as drops of rain fell on the earth, and the wind ruffled their hair. Father Ricardo waited in a clearing holding a bible in his hands. After hugging Homer, he wiped his tears.

“The world will miss her,” he said.

Homer didn’t say anything, mother’s death taking away his soul and his mind. The priest opened his bible, getting ready to deliver his message of love in a time of pain amidst the rain and the flowers.

“Dear people,” he said. “We have lost an angel of mercy on this earth.”

He spoke of salvation, while Homer found a few coca leaves in his pockets. Brittle and dried, they might help him to forget his ache.

He listened to all the good things his mother had done, and how she had suffered in the hands of life, before shutting her eyes forever. After sprinkling holy water over the coffin, Father Ricardo muttered a few prayers to our lord.

“Ashes to ashes,” he said.

“Amen,” everyone said.

Homer remembered the day he had flown, while the leaves fluttered in the wind. The trees in the cemetery resembled the tree of life in the backyard with its branches searching for the sky.

“The Devil wants to interrupt this service,” Father Ricardo said.

After opening his umbrella, he talked of the work mother had started in this world, helping poor souls.

“She gave me a sum of money every week for poor children begging in the streets,” he said.

Homer heard a few more things his mother had done, when they never had any money. She had helped the unfortunate live better lives in this world full of pain. Tears of frustration left his eyes, already wet with the rain.

“This woman devoted most of her existence to helping other human beings to live better lives,” the priest said.

Wondering if his father had known about this, Homer imagined all the things they might have bought with the money his mother had spent in charities. He chewed some more coca leaves, their bitter taste leaving his mouth dry.

“She will be remembered by the poor and meek..”

A long line of children appeared along the path singing a hymn. One of them threw a single rose on the grave as the others sang the psalms.

“She gave us everything we needed,” a child said.

Homer didn’t feel very well as Maria squeezed his hand. Then he cried on her shoulders for all the times he had wanted a toy or nice clothes while his mother gave everything to charity. Father Ricardo kept on talking of mother’s good work in the kingdom of God.

“She left a life insurance for a widow’s charity,” he said.

A few women dressed in black appeared by his side praising mother. Homer didn’t want to hear anymore terrible things his mother had done and put more coca leaves in his mouth.

Shutting his bible, Father Ricardo talked to the women while stroking the children’s heads. Retreating to the back of the cemetery, where the bushes met the roses by the walls, Hopmer cried for his mother and himself.

Maria followed him, holding her prayer book.

“She was a good woman,” she said.

“We didn’t have any money.”

“God will thank her.”

Homer didn’t know when he might do that. The crowd dispersed after it had started to rain, water dripping down their clothes. They moved across the cemetery, splashing in the puddles and getting mud on their shoes.

They had reached the entrance to the cemetery, as the wind moved the branches of the trees and a few wreathes adorned the graves. One of the widows stood under a ledge, looking at him with sad eyes. Homer liked her pale face surrounded by dark hair, but then Maria pulled his hand.

“Let’s go,” she said.

They went back home through the same streets the funeral cortege had followed three hours ago, where people went about their business unaware of his pain.

The shop looked sad under the blanket of rain, the sun struggling to appear behind the clouds. As they entered the building, Homer saw the empty space where the coffin had been that morning.

“I’ll make some coffee,” Maria said.

Looking at the pictures on the table, Homer thought he had to start anew. His shop would be the best in town, even if she had thought only of her charities.

He had spent all that money on the funeral even if mother had paid for it with her life insurance. He had to put right all of her love for the poor of the world.

“I’ll call the shop, El Baratillo,” he said.

“El Baratillo?”

“Everything will be cheap.”

Homer wrote down in his diary all his plans. After renting the top part of the house, he would live in shop to save money. He had to sort out his life now.

He would have lots of money by the end of the year by charging hundreds of pesos for his house every week. As Maria put the kettle on, he went in the cellar, full of shadows and cobwebs, his footsteps echoing in the lose boards. Maria appeared behind him, with a cloth in her hands.

“I want to sleep here,” he said.

“You must be mad.”

“Mother’s love of charities had to be crazy,” he said.

He led her to the darkest part of the dark cellar, where moss grew on the walls. Disentangling herself from his arms, she rushed out of that place full of grief, as Homer lingered by the walls. Then the darkness parted and he saw Jose’s face amongst the bags of coca.

He wore a long gown, and his hair went down to his shoulders. Smiling, he stretched his arms towards Homer, but then the image disappeared, leaving him confused. Homer had not touched coca leaves that day, and he rarely saw any mirages. Muttering to himself, he made his way across the piles of rubbish to the door.

Then the darkness parted and he saw Jose’s face amongst the bags of coca.

He wore a long gown, and his hair went down to his shoulders. Smiling, he stretched his arms towards Homer, but then the image disappeared, leaving him confused.

Homer had not touched coca leaves that day, and he rarely saw any mirages.

Muttering to himself, he made his way across the piles of rubbish to the door. He had a last look at the cellar, before stepping back in the kitchen where Maria waited.

El Baratillo became an institution: a neck tie that cost ten pesos, he sold for eight pesos and the same with everything else. People came from all over the city to buy his merchandise and his coca was the best in the region.

 Colombia is beautiful

The visitor

One day something happened that changed his life. It started in a simple way like all the great things in the world.

An Indian with high cheek bones, a long black skirt and his hair in a pony tail had come in the shop. Standing by the dirty white walls, he waited while Homer sold to the customers.

The counter and cobwebs stood between him and the stranger looking at him with dark eyes. Customers came and went in the shop, cobwebs adorning the corners full of dust.

Miguel had gone to sort out a consignment of coca leaves and Maria had stayed at home, helping her mother to tidy the house.

Blending with the shadows the Indian stood by a few boxes of merchandise that had arrived that morning. Homer thought the man had gone to sleep, as he didn’t move or blink for some time.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

The Indian offered him something wrapped in a plastic bag, but Homer didn’t like accepting gifts from strangers.

The man pushed it towards him. Homer felt nervous of the conservadores sending him an exploding device with the Indian, as time stopped, the seconds stretching into minutes.

“I want you to go,” Homer said.

Looking at him with dark eyes, the Indian remained by the counter, his hands fiddling with the bag.

He might have hidden a dead animal inside there to scare him for some reason or to steal the merchandise. Homer had to call the policemen patrolling the market. Keeping his cool, he tried to throw him out of the shop.

“I’ll call the police,” he said.

His safe with the money and a gun he had bought some time ago seemed far away, the man remaining still amongst the dust and the cobwebs.

As he opened a bag, a small head surrounded by black hair appeared out of its entrails. It looked like a midget’s head with its eyes shut and sewn mouth. Memories of the fair with all the malformed people shut in cages came back to Homer’s mind.

“Is it real?” he asked.

As the Indian gestured at the bags of coca resting by the wall, Homer understood why he had brought the head. The fame of his coca leaves had spread to the inhabitants of the jungle, eager to find them.

On opening one of the boxes delivered that morning, he put a handful of coca by the man’s face, his lips showing uneven teeth.

“I’ll give you coca if you bring me more heads,” Homer said.

The Indian chewed some leaves, his mouth acquiring a dark tinge, while Homer had discovered something never imagined.

Balboa must have felt like that as he set eyes on the Pacific Ocean or Columbus when he shouted “Land” for the first time. In a moment of generosity, he wanted to offer the man his life and everything else in the world.

“Would you like a cup of tea?” he asked.

Busy smelling the coca leaves, the Indian didn’t pay attention to him. They had to be his favourite thing, even if he lived in a jungle full of wild plants. As Homer boiled some water, he marvelled at the similarity between the man and the small head.

Children should play with shrunken men instead of artificial toys, he thought.

“No heads,” Homer said pointing at the bags. “No more coca.”

The Indian smiled, and Homer wondered whether the man had understood anything.

Rummaging in a wardrobe, he tried to find a map of the world his father had kept in there for some time, while papers fell at his feet, and then he saw an atlas.

On opening it on the floor, the map of the country appeared full of greasy spots, the capital and big cities of the cordillera next to the jungle. Homer pointed to a dot.

“This is Florence,” he said. “Where do you live?”
Avoiding the papers strewn on the floor, the Indian stood next to him, as Homer read the names of a few features in the area. The Indian looked at the map, as Homer talked of piranhas and giant snakes eating men alive.

“This is the Guaviare River,” he said.

“River,” the Indian said.

Then the man pointed at a place lost in infinity in the middle of the jungle.

“Is that your home?” Homer asked.

The Indian tried to see something within the complexities of the map. He had to live at the end of the world, far from civilisation, but as Homer pretended to ride on a horse, the man stopped his scrutiny of the paper.

“Do you go there by horse?” Homer asked.

He galloped around the room, repeating the word horse all the time.

Laughing aloud, the Indian pushed his plaits back. Homer had to be a funny man trying to communicate with him.

"I want to know where you live," Homer said.

The man ran the leaves through his fingers, indifferent to the question. Then Homer showed a few pictures he had found by the map, where a puma looked at them from behind some trees, and naked women washed their clothes by a river.

“I still don’t know where you come from,” Homer said.

Chewing coca, the Indian didn’t understand what Homer meant. He had come here for a purpose, and everything else didn’t matter. Pointing at the dot the man had shown him before, Homer looked at him.

“I’ll give you more leaves if you take me there,” he said.

Lost in the pleasure of the leaves, the man smiled, but then he looked at the darkness outside the window. After shutting his box, he got ready to go back home, wherever that was.

“Wait a minute,” Homer said. “When are you coming back?”

Muttering something the Indian moved along the corridor, stopping by the door.

“Remember to bring more heads,” Homer said.

He watched the little man disappearing around the corner, taking the mysteries of the jungle with him. Homer admired the head in the privacy of his room, feeling the rough skin of the face and the black hair around it, as he imagined a place in the jungle full of heads, each one of them worth a few hundred dollars.

He had to do something about it. The president of the republic might not be interested but Uncle Hugh could offer it to rich people in the States.

After writing a short letter to his uncle, Homer found a padded envelope in his desk, to protect the head in its long journey to New York. He had to get the correct number of stamps, when he posted the parcel next day.

Homer went to sleep on the boxes of merchandise that evening, covering himself with rugs and surrounded by his coca. He awoke as the rays of the sun came through the window.

The Indian’s head rested on the table, some of its hair hanging down the sides. On examining it once more, he saw wrinkles around the eyes and little holes in the cheeks. A simple head reduced to its smallest expression might make him the richest man on earth. As Maria appeared at the door, Homer put the head in the bag.

“You should buy a bed,” she said.

Lots of bags lay under the table, dust adorned the sides of the room, while spiders looked at them from a myriad cobwebs. Homer couldn’t wait for the Indian to come back with more heads to send to Uncle Hugh in the USA. Then Maria screamed.

“Something is on the floor,” she said.

The head had fallen amidst the papers and other things, but Homer had left it inside the envelope a few moments before. It had to be magic. Taking the broom left by the door, she got ready to attack the thing looking at her.

“It’s a head,” Homer said. “An Indian gave it to me.”

“A head?”

Keeping a few steps away in case something odd happened, Maria studied the face.

“It doesn’t bite,” Homer said.

“It’s horrible,” she said.

“I know.”

“Why do you keep it then?”

“I like it,” he said.

She wiped the surfaces, ignoring the ugly head on the table.

“Would you come with me to the jungle?” he asked.

She dropped the saucepan she had been washing, the noise spreading through the kitchen. A man seldom asked a girl to the jungle unless he wanted to marry her.

“Is it to find your Indians?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“I will have to ask father.”

Maria couldn’t do anything on her own. She had to ask her parent's permission for everything.
Homer thought of ants devouring everything in their way, while they made love amidst the trees.

Fantastic! On finishing with his tea, he found stamps inside the desk. The head had to travel through the sea to get to a land full of opportunities.

“The Indian lives by the Guaviare River,” he said.

“Did he tell you that?”

After opening the map on the table, he showed her the part of the jungle where the heads might be and a tiny dot lay amidst the green savannah. The Indian had to trek a long way in search of coca leaves.

As Homer looked into her dark eyes, he wished she came with him. Holding her hand, he muttered sweet words in her ears, hoping for the impossible.

“The jungle is dangerous,” she said.

“I’ll protect you with my gun.”

Running his fingers along an invisible path, he tried to imagine the shortest way to the Indian village, and the heart of the jungle.

”He wants coca leaves,” he said.

“Who?”

“The Indian.”

Homer had to tell Uncle Hugh of his plans for getting more heads from the jungle, as the shadows watched him...

Colombia is beautiful

Jaramillo

Sitting in the backyard, Homer imagined all the money he might make with the heads, while the tree of life swayed in the breeze, its branches brushing against the windows.

He recalled Uncle Hugh’s visit all those years ago, when he had an invisible friend and danced around the garden.

The death of his parents seemed far away, the noises of the world echoing in the afternoon ether, while the birds sang the joys of life.

Resting against the tree, he shut his eyes to the world as the breeze caressed his face and ruffled his hair.

He must have dozed for a few moments, because the sun had gone behind the clouds when he opened his eyes. Listening to the sounds of the world, Homer didn’t notice a shadow moving through the garden.

At first the red bricks looked grubby but then a little boy with dirty clothes and picking his nose stood against the wall. Homer hoped the child might go away, but after moving along the path the apparition stopped by the tree.

“I must be dreaming,” he muttered to himself.

Homer wondered whether the boy existed outside his imagination.

Ignored by his parents he had played alone in the garden with invisible companions during his childhood, killing all the ants in his way but the child looked real. They looked at each other under the rays of the sun.

“Hi,” Homer said.

That single phrase broke some of the ice, as he ignored the flies flying by his face, and Jose picked his nose.

“Where is your mother?” he asked.

Homer shrugged. “She died.

“Died?”

“Yes.”

Looking at the kitchen window, Homer noticed the bottles he had left there a few days before, and the cloth Maria used to wipe the surfaces. His mother had gone to the kingdom of the sky some time ago, but a mirage like Jose shouldn’t understand that.

Homer had grown into a tall man, but Jose had remained the same. Then he felt the boy’s dark eyes searching his mind.

”I had to leave early yesterday,” he said.

“That was a long time ago.”

“Time doesn’t exist.”

Jose caressed the tree full of brown patches and moss. As Homer barked, Jose imitated him, their voices rising amidst the flowering plants and the mud covering everything.

Reality had mixed with his dreams, the nature of time and life itself going through his mind.

“Do you still want to be invisible?” Jose asked.

“I don’t know.”

Homer didn’t need the invisibility cloak to survive in life, but Jose had not aged at all since the last time he had appeared.

His eyes had that light brown colour while his cheeks kept the same spots of dirt. He must have learned how to conquer time and space.

“Where is your uncle?” the child asked.

“He’s a journalist in New York.”

“Good for him.”

Memories of that day came back to Homer’s mind, as he looked at a toy car rotting amidst the wild flowers, the tricycle Uncle Hugh had given him surviving amidst the mud.

“Can you guess the future?” Homer asked.

“It’s all around you.”

“You keep on repeating sentences.”

“Everything will end one day,” Jose said.

“Everything?”

”I can’t tell you anymore.”

The sounds of the garden intruded in the silence. At first Jose talked of life, but now he mentioned the end of the world, wherever it would be.

Ignoring his invisible friend, Homer touched his nose, and Jose did the same thing.

“Are you a part of me?” Homer asked.

“I don’t understand.”

“You seem to guess my thoughts.”

Jose played with the lower branches of the tree, dislodging a few dried leaves and some of the seeds.

They would bring more life to the garden. As Homer studied his friend, he remembered the invisibility cloak protecting him against the world.

“Shut your eyes,” Jose said.

Homer didn’t know what surprise the child had for him now, but then he heard voices intruding in his reality. On opening his eyes, Maria appeared by his side, accompanied by a tall man.

“He wanted to see you,” she said.

“Good afternoon,” he said. “I’m Jaramillo.”

Wearing smart clothes, he kept away from the wall and the branches of the tree.

”I hope I haven’t disturbed you,” he said.

Brushing away a few cobwebs sticking to his shirt, Jaramillo avoided the dirty patches in the garden, making sure his clothes were all right.

“I’m a friend of your Uncle Hugh,” he said.

“He’s in New York.”

“I met him there.”

After rummaging in his bag, he showed Homer pictures of the shrunken head along with articles of the Amazonian jungle.

“A shop wants some more heads,” he said.

“In New York?”

“Yes.”

Images of all the money he might make went trough Homer’s mind, as he took the journalist back to the kitchen, where he crashed with a bin full of rubbish, boxes of merchandise falling on the floor. Standing amidst all the mess, Jaramillo wiped his clothes.

“I’m sorry,” Homer said.

“Don’t worry.”

On sitting in one of the dusty chairs, he put a few things on the floor, dust rising around him. Homer muttered apologies.

“I never have time to clean anything,” he said.

“When will you go to the jungle?” Jaramillo asked.

“I have to wait for the Indian to come back.”

“The Indian?”

While opening the map amidst all the clutter on the table, Homer pushed more things onto the floor.

Then he studied the map full of greasy spots, his father had kept next to the bottles of oil in the cupboard. Homer looked for the mark the Indian had made amongst the dirt.

“I think he lives by the Guaviare River,” he said.

“Your heads must be there,” Jaramillo said.

“I hope so.”

Homer sipped his coffee, while looking at the spot called Mitu, the capital of the Guaviare. He might have to ride amidst the trees and wild animals to go there, but he didn’t care.

“He wants coca leaves,” he said.

“Can’t they grow them in the jungle?”

“I don’t know.”

“It’s incredible.”

Jaramillo wrote the conversation in his notebook, leaving a few greasy spots in the paper. He must have touched something dirty when sitting at the table. Wiping his hands in his handkerchief, he examined them carefully before writing more things about the jungle.

“Do you want a towel?” Homer asked.

“The papers will pay you money,” the journalist said.

“I’ll take civilization to remote parts of the jungle.”

“Well done.”

After writing Homer’s statements for future reference, the journalist spent a few moments wiping his hands in his handkerchief, reeking of cologne.

“You must come to my office next time,” Jaramillo said.

“I will do that.”

Having put his pen and paper in his bag, he got ready to go back to his clean office amidst civilisation.

“Call me if the Indian comes again,” he said.

“Fine,” Homer said.

Making his way through all the boxes, papers and other things, he reached the shop, where Miguel served a customer.

“I’ll contact you again,” the journalist said, before moving down the street full of shoppers.

Colombia is beautiful

The trip

Wearing a gown and with his long hair in a pony tail, the Indian stood next to the tins of soup and bags of rice in the corner, while waiting for Homer to serve his customers.

He resembled one of those statues of San Agustin in the Huila province, as a woman, who bumped into him, stammered excuses before moving away.

“He’s from the jungle,” Homer said.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Homer.”

“I have a few things you would like,” he said.
Homer put boxes on the floor, before holding a nice dress with golden buttons around the waist. It would look beautiful on her slender body with big breasts.

“It came from Paris yesterday,” he said. “I have my contacts there.”

Anything good in Paris had to look well in Homer’s shop. Holding it against her body, she looked at her reflection in the mirror by the counter, the fabric tagging her body.

“You can get it in blue and yellow,” Homer said.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

Fiddling inside a drawer, he found some more clothes in different colours and sizes, their buttons shining under the light of the lamp.

“This red blouse suits you,” he said.

She turned it around, inspecting the front and back, her eyebrows rising in admiration. After twirling in front of the mirror a few times, she seemed satisfied with the garment, but frowned on looking at the price.

“I’ll give you eighty pesos for this one,” she said.

He shrugged. “I’d be losing money.”

“Eighty pesos,” she said.

“One hundred is my last offer.”

“You will lose a customer, Mr. Homer.”

“I don’t mind.”

Everything seemed to stop, as she moved along the shop. He couldn’t let her go without buying anything. He had to sell to his customers every day, without wasting a minute of his time.

“I’ll leave it in ninety pesos,” Homer said.

“Eighty pesos.”

He shrugged. “Ninety.”

He saw her hands running through the fabric, long nails caressing the material.

A satisfied customer will bring more business, Homer thought.

As she looked in her handbag, coins fell on the counter, disturbing the peace with their noise. Then she handed him crisp notes she had withdrawn from the bank that morning, with the water mark and the signature of the vice-president of the country.

“You’ll look like a princess,” he said.

“Thank you, Mr. Homer.”

“And it’s a good price.”

“I hope so.”

She looked at the other dresses in the counter, while waiting for Homer to write a receipt. He hoped she would buy something else to go with the blouse.

“Do you want to see some more things now?” he asked.

“I’ll come some other time.”

“I’ll have nice clothes next week,” he said.

“Fine, Mr. Homer.”

Waves of cheap perfume wafted in the air, as she moved towards the door, her hips waving with each step she took. Homer saw her moving along the street, before disappearing by the coffee shop in the corner. Next time he might even invite her to have a cup of tea or a bit of coca.

Going back to the counter, he saw the Indian in the shadows.
“Here is your coca,” Homer said.

“Ummm,” the Indian said.

“I want my payment.”

“No.”

“I’ll take it away.”

The man didn’t react or he had not understood one word. On opening his draw, Homer found his gun, useful for settling any kind of dispute, but then he remembered the promise the man had made.

“Are we going to the jungle?” Homer asked.

The Indian nodded, as Miguel appeared at the door.

“I don’t like him, Mr. Homer.”

“He’s harmless,” Homer said.

Taking a few tins of food from the cellar, he put them in his bag amidst his clothes, the Indian’s dark eyes following all his actions.

“I’m going away,” Homer said.

“Where?” Miguel asked.

“I don’t know.”

“You have to have some idea, Mr. Homer.”

“I don’t.”

“When are you coming back then?”

“In a few days.”

Straightening the bags of coca by the counter, Homer checked them for any holes or other imperfections. He didn’t want to come back to a nightmare of debts and angry customers.

Leaving his diary on the counter, Homer made sure the cash machine worked properly, before counting the blouses in the shelf and the skirts.

“You must write a receipt every time someone buys something.”

“I know, Mr. Homer.”

Having had a last look at his merchandise, Homer put a few more things in his bag. He had bought a mosquito lotion a few days before, and had a good watch to tell the time in the jungle.

He planned to offer the Indian all the coca he could carry if he could have many heads.

“I thought the journalist might come,” Miguel said.

“I want to go on my own.”

“He might kill you,” Mr. Homer.”

“He won’t.”

“I don’t know, Mr. Homer.”

With the gun in his pocket, Homer thought the Indian might have a rough time if he tried anything funny during their journey.

Jaramillo wouldn’t stand the mud and the dirt, they would encounter in the undergrowth, and he would need his notebooks for writing about their adventure.

Then he saw a shadow standing by the tree, his legs outlined against the grass and the plants. Thinking an intruder had gone in the backyard, Homer opened the door, its handle falling on the floor.

He had to repair it when he had some time. He found the backyard empty, a squirrel looking at him from the wall, as the leaves made shadows on the floor. It had to be his imagination, triggered by the Indian’s arrival and the journey.

He remembered Uncle Hugh visiting them a long time ago, while touching the bark of the tree, a tear running down his cheeks. Lost in his memories, Homer forgot the Indian waiting in the shop amidst the boxes of merchandise.

He had to go to find his heads and make lots of money for his future, and Miguel would keep his customers satisfied while he was away. Touching the tree, Homer promised to do whatever he could to triumph in his new enterprise.

He saw Jose standing by his side. Shutting his eyes, Homer counted up to ten, hoping the child might go away.

Jose had existed in his reality for a long time, even if no one else could see him. On stretching his arm towards the figure, Homer touched the branches of the tree but nothing else. Memories of the past flooded his mind, when a fantasy land had surrounded the shop, mixing with his night terrors.

He had to go to the jungle to find his fortune amidst the trees.

“Will you come with me to the jungle?” Homer asked.

“No,” Jose said.

“Why?”

Wiping his nose with his shirt, the child became transparent until he blended with nature. By using his invisibility cloak, he had gone back to his world.

“Don’t leave me alone,” Homer said.

Looking through the window, he saw Miguel cleaning the kitchen, as the Indian waited in the shadows.

He wouldn’t kill the man selling the best coca in the market and the country. Touching the tree of life, Homer prayed to the God of nature.

“Two and two are seven,” he said.

Colombia is beautiful

The savannah

Miguel escorted them out of the shop with his mop, as the afternoon sun shone in the sky, and Father Ricardo stood by the church door, talking to some of his parishioners.

He wouldn’t have agreed with Homer’s new enterprise in the jungle, looking for heads to sell to New York. It wasn’t his fault the Indians murdered each other to get their coca, but the priest stopped him by the corner.

“Are you buying more merchandise?” he asked.

“Yes, father,” Homer said.

“Remember to pray to the Lord.”

“I’ll do that, father.”

Looking at the Indian, Father Ricardo frowned.

“I don’t like him.”

“He’s harmless, father.”

“Bring him to the church then.”

“I will do that, father.”

Hurrying away, Homer led the Indian through a wide street with a few shops and a cafe bustling with life. They arrived at the city centre, bicycles and cars mingled with carriages and people going to their jobs, but then a grey station loomed in front of them amidst the palm trees and bushes.

Espresso Palmira, it said in big letters by the door, as they stepped on people’s luggage and some of their animals. A girl filed her nails behind a desk filled with papers.

”I want two tickets to Villavicencio,” Homer said.

Blowing on her nails, she checked a notebook, full of names and numbers.

“It’s four hundred pesos,” she said.

Homer wanted the heads, even if he had to spend some of his money. Counting the pesos he put them in the counter by the papers and magazines.

“Thank you,” she said.

After putting a big stamp and her signature in a corner, she handed him the tickets, her big breasts trembling like jelly.

“I’ll be back with a pot of gold,” he said.

“Your friend is waiting.”

“He’s my guide to the jungle.”

“Is it to find your gold?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“You must be crazy.”

Holding the tickets, he went back to the Indian at the table, interrupting the man’s concentration.

“We’re going to Villavicencio,” Homer said.

Faced with the man’s silence, Homer wondered how much money his own head might fetch in the shops.

He wanted to save his life, even if he didn’t get what he wanted. Thinking of his future, he got ready to talk to the Indian once more.

“Are we going the right way?” he asked.

The Indian went on looking at the garage, where the driver checked the bus tyres. He would know if they had caught the wrong bus.

On remembering Maria’s sweet smile, he wanted to stay at home instead, but he needed the money. Then he noticed the vehicle about to leave the station.

“That must be our bus,” Homer said.

“Mmmm,” the man said.

Taking his case with one hand, his bag with another and the tickets in his mouth, Homer rushed through the crowd followed by the Indian, as the driver revved the engine.

“Open the door,” Homer said.

The bus moved along the street, where a policeman directed the traffic. Putting a fifty pesos note against the glass, Homer grimaced.

“It will be yours if you open the door.”

The driver shook his head, as Homer put two fifty pesos in the glass. After a few moments, the man beckoned them inside, a sea of faces greeting them.

Homer handed him the money, while blaming himself for all the problems in the world.

”It’s not a sin to leave on time,” the driver said.

“I paid you good money.”

“Thanks.”

On moving along the aisle, they struggled amidst the bodies on the floor, stepping on people’s feet, and making them angry.

“I’ll kill you,” a fat woman said.

Homer shrugged. “I’m sorry, Madam.”

“You’ve broken my leg.”

She gestured somewhere under the mass of people, where her limbs had to be. Amidst all the commotion, Homer saw two empty seats at the back of the bus. He sat next to a cage full of chickens, while the Indian sat on the other side.

Flapping their wings, the birds looked at him with beady eyes. A woman under the cage seemed to be angry.

“They don’t like buses,” she said.

“They’re right.”

“Weirdo,” she said.

“You sit under cages.”

“Are you making fun of me?” she asked.

“No,” he said.

“I want one hundred pesos for them then.”

“Not now,” Homer said.

“Nobody sits next to me?”

Homer ignored the woman, as the bus drove through the countryside full of sugar plantations, the wind bringing him a rain of feathers and shit.

Trying to stop the dirt going up his nose, he covered his face with his hands, but the cage fell over him a few moments later.

“They don’t like you,” the woman said.

The thought of the heads kept Homer sane amidst all the mess. He had to rest before they caught the bus to the jungle somewhere along the route, and after chewing a bit of coca, Homer dreamed of the Indians dancing to the sound of drums.

“Empanadas,” someone said.

On opening his eyes, Homer saw a woman lifting a plate outside his window, filled with flies and food.

“Tamales,” another one said.

They tempted Homer with their concoctions made of dust, harbouring zillion of illnesses.

“I’m not hungry,” he said.

“He eats shit,” the woman said.

Homer thought she had to be the biggest shit eater in the world but he kept quiet. Then he noticed the Indian had left his seat.

He might have gone outside to stretch his legs or to the toilet. Homer moved down the aisle, stepping on people’s feet, trying to get to the driver before he drove away.

“Have you seen my friend?” Homer asked.

“No,” people answered.

“He wore a long gown,” Homer said.

Everyone followed his movements as he walked along the aisle, while a child cried, scared of the crazy man.

“He’s harmless,” his mother said.

“He’s outside,” the driver said.

“Who is outside?”

“Your friend.”

At first Homer couldn’t see anything outside the windows, but then he noticed a figure waiting by a few mules. Getting off the bus, he hurried amongst the vendors accosting him.

“I want some money to buy a coffee,” someone said.

Homer shrugged. "You need to have a bath.”

“Help me, mister” a woman stretched a hand towards him.

“Empanadas,” another one said.

Homer reached the Indian after fighting with the sellers selling him the world, while the man greeted him with cool eyes.

“I thought we had to go to Villavicencio,” Homer said.

“Mmm,” the man said.

Putting their bags on a mule, the Indian climbed on another one, leaving Homer amidst the dust.

Having seen a few cowboy films, he tried to get on his animal like John Wayne did, but fell down the other side, hurting his arm.

That had never happened to the Wild West heroes. The Indian chewed some more coca, while flies buzzed by his face and Homer tried to climb on the mule.

“You won’t have any more coca,” he said.

“Mmmm,” the Indian said.

“Can’t you say something else?”

“Mmmm.”

Everyone cheered when Homer managed to get on the saddle some moments later, when he paraded along the street.

He deserved a medal for his efforts of conquering wild life in a place he didn’t know. Trying to keep his balance, he followed the man down the lane, as a flock of birds chatted to each other in their own language.

They had to be macaws with their colourful feathers and long tails. Then he saw an apparition rushing through the trees. He had to be mad.

Children waved at him from a few huts, as their mothers washed the clothes by a well. After a few hours of riding through the wild, they arrived at a river, its water shining under the sun. The Indian helped Homer to get off the mule by the shore.

“I can’t swim,” he said.

“Mmmm.”

“You must be dumb,” Homer said.

Sitting down on a boulder covered with moss, he saw the Indian throwing a net in the water. He had to be catching their lunch after their trek through the jungle. Homer watched the line swimming in the current, before it tightened as a fish jumped in a sea of air.

“Bravo,” Homer said.

The man smiled. “Mmmmm.”

“You must learn my language,” Homer said.

“Mmm.”

“That is called fish.”

“Mmmm.”

“Fish,” Homer said again.

Cutting the head away, the man cleaned it with his knife, the scales mixing with the grass.

Then he made a fire with some matches he had in his pockets, the smoke frightening the insects, feasting in their flesh.

Feeling hungry after his trek through the jungle, Homer ate the fish he had seen alive a few moments before. It had some bones but it tasted wild like the forest surrounding him.

The Indian erected a pole amidst the grass, hammering its sides onto the floor and disturbing the ants. It had to be their shelter for the night, when Homer hoped the snakes wouldn’t go inside, but after pouring aguardiente in some mugs, the Indian offered one to him.

The man had not forgotten to bring anything. Night had come to the plains, the sun turning into a ball of fire before disappearing behind trees.

Lying down inside the tent, Homer covered himself with his jacket to stop the mosquitoes biting him, while listening to the sounds of the night.

With the gun in his pocket, he thought nothing would happen to him now or ever. He dreamed of walking through the forest in the moonlight, the sound of drums echoing around him.

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Lost
Homer didn’t know where he was or why he had appeared here. Darkness greeted his senses wherever he looked, as a cricket sang somewhere in the night.

Shutting his eyes, he expected things to be fine when he opened them again. He blamed the Indian for pouring something in his drink, as he ran through the fields with no clothes on.

“Help me,” he said.

The wind answered him. Homer had lost his clothes while rushing through the jungle, a waste of money and time.

Moving through the darkness, he saws eyes looking at him from behind the trees and the bushes. He had wandered about his home in the middle of the night many times during his childhood, when he had crashed with the furniture. Night terrors his mother had called them.

The doctor had given him some tablets to take before going to bed and Father Ricardo had blessed him with holy water but he still wandered the house in his sleep.

He blamed the Indian for his misfortune as the sound of drums echoing around him brought him back to reality. Trembling behind the bushes, Homer heard a river roaring nearby, in its journey towards eternity.

Stepping in the grass full of ants and other insects, he saw the water shining under the light of the moon. The moon looked strange with its craters and shadows, a thousand insects illuminating the path along the grass, as Homer wished he had brought his clothes for this adventure.

If he walked along the shore, he might find the Indian sleeping on his mat, and the mules munching their grass.

Homer injured his feet on sharp stones, the sound of drums filling the air with its laments. He had to be hallucinating again, but after waiting for a few moments, Homer wanted to go to sleep. He had to find a bed amidst the trees.

“You were stung by an animal,” a voice said.

Turning around, Homer saw Jose wearing the same clothes he had when Uncle Hugh had visited them in his home all those years ago, but he didn’t feel afraid of the apparition, another sign of coming madness.

“I want to go home,” Homer said.

“Do you talk to yourself often?” the child asked.

“You are here.”

“I might be.”

“What do you mean?”

“You have to find her,” Jose said.

“Who is it?”

Following his pointing finger, Homer saw dark shapes standing under the moonlight. He wanted to flee the scene before losing his life to strange monsters under the moon.

“She’ll save you,” Jose said.

“I’m already in hell.”

On approaching the shadows, Homer saw huts with conical roofs, but no one seemed to be there. Then he found a hammock amidst the rubble, its ropes just visible in the darkness.

“You must wait for her,” Jose said.

“I wish I knew who you mean.”

The child disappeared, leaving Homer alone with his
fear. On looking inside the hammock, he found a blanket waiting for him to go to sleep. It moved a bit, threatening to throw him back on the floor but Homer felt tired.

Shutting his eyes, he hoped to appear in his shop, where Maria waited with a cup of herbal tea to refresh his body, her breasts visible through her dress. It had to be a dream.

“Look at the precipice,” she said.

“What precipice?”

“That one.”

Homer saw a dark shape threatening to swallow the hammock inside its tendrils.

“She’s coming later,” she said.

Homer had heard that before. “You are talking like Jose.”

“Who is it?”

“Never mind.”

Drifting through the darkness, Maria proved Newton’s laws wrong by conquering gravity in the world of his dreams, where strange things might happen.

Then out of the shadows, a group of women appeared, leaving the aroma of herbs and fish, while dancing around him.

Covering his face with the blankets, Homer didn’t want to see anymore. The Indian must have laced his food with herbs to make him crazy, as a girl stood naked in the middle of the darkness, her long black hair going down to her waist.

She left the taste of strawberries in his lips, while muttering words in another language.

“What do you want?” Homer asked.

“Mmm,” she said.

“No one talks in the jungle,” he said.

He noticed her erect teats and soft skin, her pubic hair darker than the night.

“I like you,” he said.

“Mmmm,” she said.

They made love amidst the blankets and by the time dawn came, he felt the happiest man on earth.

Searching for her curvy body within the shadows, he noticed she had gone back to the realm of ghosts surrounding him forever.

He spent a long time with his face under the blankets, waiting for the monsters to go away, as the hours stretched into days and the sound of drums echoed in the distance. Feeling warm under the blankets, he forgot the dangers of the jungle or the meaning of his dreams.

On waking up, Homer wondered if she had ever existed, but then he heard footsteps echoing in the darkness. At first he thought ghosts had come to get him, but then she appeared holding a candle in her hands, other shadows hovering in the background.

Shutting his eyes, Homer expected her to go by the time he opened them again like had happened before.

“Help me,” he said.

The shadows quivered at the sound of his voice, while the candle left drops of wax on the floor.

“What do you want?” he asked.

As the women chanted, she got inside the hammock, making it move across the precipice of his dreams. He felt her body next to his, her naked beauty an allure to his senses in the jungle.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Kam,” she said.

“You understand me.”

“Kam,” she said.

Squashed against her breasts, Homer heard her muttering more things in that language scientists might classify with a strange name.

“I have waited for you all my life,” he said.

“Kam,” she said.

“Homer smiled. “I know.”

He didn’t notice what happened to the other people, as he made love to her, promising eternal love in the kingdom of shadows.

He thanked God for sending her to him in the middle of the jungle, even if he didn’t get the heads. Homer loved Kam, but she in turn adored an idol made of mud, baked in an oven in a town full of ghosts.

He awoke to find the Indian by the hammock, dressed in a white gown while the girl held the candle once more, and he talked in his language to the other people.

“Welcome to our town, Mr Homer,” the Indian said.

“You speak my language.”

“Of course I do, Mr. Homer.”

“I came here in a night terror,” Homer said.

“The Gods led you to us.”

“What Gods?”

“The ones who live in heaven,” the Indian said.

“You must have drugged me.”

The Indian shrugged. “We have been looking after you.”

“I don’t like your poisons.”

Kam tried to stop the argument, her hands searching inside the blankets, arousing him with her charms.

“She loves you,” the Indian said.

“Why don’t you let me go?” Homer asked.

“You are sick.”

“I’m not.”

“Prove it then.”

Homer tried to stand up, holding the sides of the hammock, but fell back inside the blankets.

“You must take our potions,” the Indian said.

Cupping his face in her hands, the girl sucked Homer’s ears while caressing his face.

“She cares about you, Mr. Homer.”

“Does she?”

Kissing his cheeks, she made sure he swallowed the herbs she had put in his mouth a few moments before. They had to be good for his heath or for whatever purposes they kept him prisoner.

“I want my heads,” Homer said.

“Kam,” she said.

Colombia is beautiful

Escape

Sleeping next to Kalm in the hammock, Homer dreamed of his shop lost in the city on the other side of the jungle. After tasting the herbs she had put in his mouth, he had gone to another land of love in the sky, where Kam reigned supreme.

“I love you,” he said in his dreams.

“Mmmm,” he heard her answering his voice somewhere in the night.

Waking up later, he found Kam by the hammock, her silhouette visible in the twilight world of the hut. As he felt the taste of herbs penetrating his brain, she caressed his hair while muttering in her language.

Homer spat them in his hand, hoping she wouldn’t notice. On listening to her breathing, he thought she had gone to sleep, the hammock moving in empty space forever. He waited for hours, his eyes studying the darkness around them, while she slept.

He had to act fast before dawn came to the outside world, existing somewhere beyond the walls of his prison. After lowering his legs to the floor, his fingers felt the bumps and cracks on the wall but he couldn’t find a door. He went around the place in a circle looking for that opening to the outside world.

Homer worried, while thinking what might happen if she awoke to find him amidst the shadows.

Her people could sell his head for a few bags of coca in the nearest town, or they would eat his entrails with potatoes and soup. Shutting his eyes, he wished Jose solved his problems, but nothing happened. Then he heard Kam whispering in the darkness.

“I want to go home,” Homer said.

“Home,” she said.

“You have learned the word.”

Holding her hands, he took her around the hut, inspecting the walls, and getting entangled in a few cobwebs.

“Where is the door?” he asked.

”Door,” she said.

“Where is it?”

Leading him towards the wall, she pressed something and a panel lifted up, the black sky full of stars greeting his senses. He had to find his way home now.

“Will you come with me?” he asked.

“Home,” she said.

They moved along the path under the light of the moon, as Kam defied the wishes of her tribe. They could kill her for helping him escape back to the wild, where no one would find them.

He wore a tunic similar to hers, protecting him against the wind and some of the mosquitoes infecting the place with their poisons.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Kam.”

“I’m grateful to you, Kam.”

He saw her smiling in the twilight, her breasts bouncing under her gown. She could live amidst the coca bags in his shop, where she might talk nonsense while boiling her herbs. Her witchcraft would help the insomniacs of the world, while bringing him lots of money. They heard the river rushing towards the unknown somewhere in the darkness.

A few steps away, they arrived at its shore, the other side looking like an enchanted forest full of monsters. Homer cooped some of the water in his hands, tasting the goodness of the forest.

He caressed her hair, guessing the outline of her profile in the shadows, as the sound of drums echoed around them. Homer felt nervous.

The Indians might be looking for them in the jungle at that moment in time, when they could keep his head amidst their other trophies of war. Anything might be possible with the tribe of salvages.

“We have to hurry up,” he said.

“Kalm,” she said.

“You know your name.”

Muttering something, Kam followed him along the shore, trying not to fall in the river rushing past them to other lands. Bathed in the light of the moon, the fields brought them the sad melodies of the drums in their search for freedom.

“They’ll be jealous at home,” Homer said.

“Mmmm.”

“Women will want your beauty while men will look at you in the street.”

“Door,” she said.

“You are improving,” he said.

On arriving at a clearing, Homer heard footsteps following them, but he didn’t see anything scary in the darkness.

“I’m frightened,” he said.

“Kam,” she said.

He kissed her lips. “You are beautiful.”

Holding her hands, they ran through a path, the branches of the trees getting entangled in their hair. As he fell by Kam’s feet, he imagined hundreds of Indians following them in the twilight.

“Where are they?” he asked.

Kam looked around forest, the light of early dawn filling their world with long shadows, and the sun struggled to appear behind the clouds.

“No,” Kam said.

“What is it?”

Gesturing at the sun, she ran naked through the field leaving a pile of rugs on the floor.

“Kam,” Homer said.

He followed her through the foliage, stepping on the puddles left by the rain and scratching his legs with the thorns spread about him. Homer expected the girl to come back, muttering some more words in her language.

“Kam,” he said. “Stop playing games.”

The drums went on but Kam stayed away, abandoning him to his fate. She had been a strange girl, afraid of the sun even though she had brought him his freedom. Picking up the rags she had left on the floor, Homer examined them, her scent assaulting his senses.

“Two and two are seven,” he said.

Homer moved through the trees, until he saw the mules munching the grass by the bushes.

“We must go home,” he said.

Climbing up the saddle, he galloped along the path he had followed with the Indian, the sound of the drums fading in the distance.

After he had moved for some time, he found a town with white houses and a big church by a statue of Simon Bolivar. People appeared out of the doors to welcome the stranger on a mule.

“It isn’t palm Sunday yet,” they said.

“I escaped from the Indians,” he told a policeman. “They wanted to shrink my head.”

“The sun has made you crazy,” the man said.

“It’s true,” Homer said.

He led him to the health centre, where one of the nurses took his pulse, while the other patients moved away from him. He scared them with his gown and dirty face.

“He must be crazy,” they said.

“Where can I take the bus to the nearest city?” Homer asked.

“It leaves tomorrow morning,” she said. “You won’t need the mules anymore.”

Homer kept Kam’s possessions in his bag, a reminder of his journey to the jungle, even if he might never see her again.

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The sea

Miguel and Maria had welcomed Homer back in the shop, although he didn’t get the hero’s welcome he expected. Lucky to be alive, he had to forget all about Kam, and his adventure in the jungle.

She had disappeared, leaving her clothes on the floor, after they had escaped through the forest in the middle of the night. That last aguardiente he had by the fire, must have brought his night terror. Homer put the papers he had found in his safe, as a reminder of the girl and his adventure in the jungle.

Homer thought of the sea. It had to be an ancestral calling, as some of his ancestors had been sailors, looking for fortune in the seas of the world. Ever since he had been a child, he had been dreaming of big boats taking him to other lands of opportunities and he had to do something about it.

On marking a few places where they sold tax free goods in a map he had opened on the table, he looked for the phone to call the library.

“I want to talk about the sea,” he said to the young woman who answered it.

“The sea?” she asked at the end of the line.

“I’ll buy boats to help the local economy.”

“This is the library,” she said.

“You don’t understand,” Homer said. “I’m Mr. Homer.”

After a pause, when he thought she had hung up, he heard her voice again.

“That’s a good idea Mr. Homer,” she said. “I’ll call you when we arrange something.”

Putting the phone down, Homer realised how easy it was for him to talk about money. It had to be his fame with the Indians, even if they had taken him prisoner in the hammock. Sitting down at the table, he sipped the cup of hot chocolate Miguel had prepared earlier, while drawing a boat sailing towards other lands.

Homer had to convince the public to part with their money. Taking his bag, he crashed with a few bags of coca Miguel had left there in the morning, while trying to reach the front door.

The sun shone in the sky, as he went to the library on the other side of the market to start his new business venture. Mother had warned him of people who liked reading books. They had to be crazy. After summoning enough courage, he pushed the big doors, leading him to the reception.

“I want to borrow some books,” he said to the young woman sitting behind the desk.

“You must fill the library card first.”

Pushing a pink paper towards him, she waited for him to write on it, but Homer had never learned how to write, even if he could read.

“I didn’t bring my glasses,” he said. “Could you do it for me?”

On taking the paper from his hands, she wrote Homer’s name and address after asking some questions.

“You have the name of a Greek hero,” she said.

“Really?”

“He liked a beautiful woman called Helen during the Trojan War.”

Homer had never heard of his name sake doing all of those exciting things in the name of love. That wasn’t quite like him. He had to conquer the world without any women by his side, but then she gestured to the back of the library.

“The books about him are by the window.”

Following her pointing finger, Homer saw books near a table with chairs around it. He crashed with a child reading some comics, as he moved along the aisle, everyone looking at him.

“Quiet,” a woman said.

On taking one of the books, the picture of a man with crazy hair and big nose looked back at him from the cover. That had to be the other Homer. Sitting at the table, he went past the pages full of a long poem with strange words. The other Homer had been a busy man.

Homer wanted give an account of life around him like his name sake had done. He envied the way people loved him, in spite of the fact that he wrote boring things.

Then Homer saw a book with boats on the table. Leafing through its pages, he saw the Caribbean Sea, the best tourist destination in the world, where many people did their businesses.

“I want to take these books home,” he said to the librarian.

Nodding, she started to stamp them in the first page.

“He looked like you,” she said.

“Are you sure?”

“It’s weird,” she said.

“What did you mean by that?” he asked.

“Nothing.”

Taking his bag, he left the library as an orchestra played in the park. Homer thought of his ships sailing the sea, the waves moving them up and down like a yoyo.

“I’m Homer the Greek,” he muttered to himself.

As the band played the national hymn, Homer barked, the melodies drowning his voice as a woman waved a flag.

“Hurrah to the president,” she said.

Homer remembered the president, a sad looking man, who kept on talking about the economy but never did anything about it. The country needed someone like Homer to lead them into the next century.

Having a last look at the band, he moved along the market full of people, taking advantage of all the opportunities life had to offer in the city. Then he saw Father Ricardo talking to someone in the street.

“Can you be more careful?” someone said.

“Sorry,” Homer said.

“He’s my friend,” Father Ricardo said.

Leading Homer away, they moved along a road, where a few taxis waited for customers, his gown getting dirty in the mud.

“How was the jungle?” the priest asked.

“It was fine.”

“You should have left the Indians alone.”

“They gave me money, father.”

“I must go back to my church,” father Ricardo said. “Will you come to mass tonight?”

“I’m busy, father.”

Shaking his head, Father Ricardo moved down the street, where the butcher cut his meat and the grocer put more apples in his counter. Everybody worked to feed their families, even if they didn’t go to mass. Homer found Miguel tidying the boxes of coca in his shop.

“My wife’s had another baby,” Miguel said. “She’s called Amelia.”

“Maria must be helping her then,” Homer said.

Miguel nodded. “She’s a nice girl.”

“I know.”

The sun looked dark in the sky, as Homer looked for the phone. He had to reach the public before the clock struck seven and the world ended.

Cali, desde la montana

The library

“I’m giving a lecture about the sea in the library,” Homer said when the journalist answered the phone.

“The Indians didn’t bring you much money.”

“It will be different this time,” Homer said. “I’ll buy boats.”

“You must be crazy.”

“I’m hoping the library will contribute to my cause.”

“I’ll bring everyone,” Jaramillo said.

“Thank you.”

Putting the phone down, Homer thought of a way of convincing people to part with their money for his own good. He had to do it with lots of tact and intelligence.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said in front of the mirror. “I have an idea to help the world.”

Waving his hands in the air, he tried to convince his invisible audience of his words. Homer would have to buy a few trucks to bring his goods to the shop for his luck to change now.

“Two and two are seven,” he muttered to himself.

Homer liked the sentence, even if it meant nothing.
Many things didn’t go anywhere, like the papers Jose had left him or the paper he had found when he had escaped with Kam. Feeling tired, he retired to his boxes in the cellar, where he dreamed of the sky on fire, as a monkey shouted estrange things around him.

He had to fear the sky ending with his life in another world far away in time and space. Homer awoke by the tree of life, the light of the sun warming his back. Having gone to the jungle at first, now he wanted recognition for his struggles to help the economy, amidst his night terrors.

“The sea loves me,” he muttered to himself.

A squirrel held a nut in his paws, his only audience at that time of the morning. Sitting down at the table, Homer thought of his lecture in the library.

He had to sound convincing enough for the public to give him money to buy a truck and the boats to sail the sea.

“I love myself,” he said.

First he had to find out more about the sea. Turning the pages of the book, he saw more boats full of sailors enjoying their time on land, but his men wouldn’t have time to care about anything else. The telephone ringing disturbed his concentration.

“We have booked a room for you tonight, Mr. Homer,” a woman said.

“Thank you,” Homer said. “I’ll be there.”

He spent most of the morning looking at his books and after having a cup of tea with some bread for lunch, he got ready for his appointment with history. Putting his lucky coin in his pocket, he left by the back door, as Miguel served the customers.

“Hi, Mr. Homer,” someone said. “What are you selling today?”

“You must come to my shop,” Homer said.

Hurrying away, he went past the park, where people sat by the fountain, instead of coming to his lecture.

“Do you have nice coca today?” a man asked.

“It’s the best in the country,” Homer said.

“I’ll buy a bag later.”

Homer moved down the street, as a group of people prayed for forgiveness to the almighty, and pigeons chased each other by the park benches. The library loomed over him, its red bricks looking dirty amidst the posters publicising his lecture.

Homer the great wanted to talk to the city about his ideas to help the nation. Pushing the door, he found himself in the hall, the photographers’ flashes blinding him for a few moments.

“Mr. Homer,” the young librarian said. “We were expecting you.”

“Hi,” Jaramillo said.”This is your moment of fame.”

Leading Homer away, the girl left a stale scent around him. She needed to buy his perfumes in the shop. On arriving at a large room, she introduced him to the crowd, while the reporters waited behind the people.

“Homer is a young businessman who wants to help the local economy,” she said.

Standing in front of an audience for the first time in his life, Homer had forgotten everything he had to say, tears running down his face.

“Will someone bring him a glass of water?” the girl asked.

Homer sipped a bit of aguardiente Jaramillo offered him, before calming down.

“We used to have two large coasts filled with maritime treasures,” he said. “I love the sea.”

People applauded when he promised to have the best ships in the world. They had to support the young entrepreneur leading the country to the future.
“I’ll give employment to local people.”

“That sounds fair, Mr. Homer,” someone said.

Homer went back to his seat amongst the public ovation.

“You must help our young businessman to achieve his goals,” the woman said.

People donated lots of money to the cause, as the journalists pledged their support, the entire country becoming acquainted with Homer’s wishes to help the economy.

“You have raised two million pesos,” the woman told him.
“That’s fantastic,” everyone said.

Homer accepted the offers of money with tears in his eyes.

“What will you do now?” the woman asked.

“I’ll buy my boats,” Homer said. “I love the sea.”

People cheered at the good news, while the girl left some of her lipstick on Homer’s face, and he accepted the champagne they offered him.

“It’s the happiest day of my life,” he said.

“You can help the economy now,” everyone said.

Homer drank some aguardiente in a gulp, as the world faded away in a symphony of colours. On waking up, he found the girl wiping his forehead with a wet cloth.

“You fainted, Mr. Homer,” she said.

“Where is he?” Homer asked.

“Who?”

“The Indian.”

“It must be the excitement,” she said.

He drank some water with an alka- seltzer, the world looking better by the minute. It must have been his nerves...

San Andres

The ships

The papers spoke of the foreign businessman travelling in the back of his truck to the port. He slept between a sack of potatoes and another one of plantains.

The flies annoyed him but he had a fare paying passenger next to the driver. The sun shining in the sky, he dreamed of Kam visiting the hammock, her hands caressing his private parts.

As the shop owners slept their siesta, Homer arrived at the port, while the seagulls looked for something to eat in the fields. Homer had bought the truck for a few hundred pesos and Miguel, a mechanic before working in the shop, had repaired it later.

On arriving at the station, the truck waited for bags of coca to take back to the city, while s of merchandise, the smell of fish filling his soul. On arriving at the docks at the end of a long street, he found big ships swaying in the gentle waves, a few barnacles embedded in their sides.

On remembering Uncle Hugh going away all those years ago, tears came to his eyes, but the sea looked bigger, the waves hitting harder the shore. Homer imagined people speaking other languages in other countries beyond the horizon, as a man approached him.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

“I want to buy a boat,” Homer said.

“You have come to the right place,” the man said. “Those are my boats.”

Following his pointing finger, Homer saw a few ships swaying in the waves by the pier. The man didn’t look rich enough to own anything like a boat.

“Are you selling them?” Homer asked.

“I need the money.”

They seemed to be all right, even if he might have to paint the decks and the sides a bit. On moving around the platform, Homer nearly fell in the sea, but he held onto the railing.

“I’ll give you one hundred thousand pesos for them,” he said.

“No way,” the man said.

“One hundred and fifty thousand pesos then.”

“It’s a deal,” the man said.

Homer counted the money he had collected in the library, a small price for someone who loved the sea, and the man gave him a card as prove of his purchase. It had been very easy to find his ships by the dock, ready to start their journey throughout the seas.

“I’m Cesar,” the man said. “This is my address, if you want anything else.”

Homer admired his new property while Cesar talked of all the countries he had visited in his vessels, the sea having been his home for a long time.

“Once I was lost in a boat for three days,” he said. “An angel showed me the way to the land.”

He offered Homer a sip of aguardiente from a bottle he kept in a bag, the drink burning his throat all the way to the stomach.

“To the sea,” Cesar said.

He thought the sea might survive a cataclysm of gigantic proportions, where everything else had finished on earth, leaving only the moon in space.

“You can’t trust the sun,” he said. “But you’ll believe the sea.”

“Two and two are seven,” Homer said.

“What is that?”

“Nothing.”

Homer had to find people to work for him before going back to the shop but Cesar kept on talking of the end of the world.

“The angels will blow their trumpets,” he said.

“Is it to stop apocalypse?” Homer asked.

Shaking his head, Cesar smiled.

“You don’t know anything,” Mr. Homer.”

“I bought your boats.”

“I dismissed all my sailors,” he said. “But I’ll find a few men for you.”

Leading him along the dock, they arrived at a bar where some sailors drank aguardiente and chatted by the door, while others played cards.

A girl, her skirt bouncing on her long legs, brought them some liquor in small glasses.

“Hi Cesar,” one of the men said. “When does the world end?”

Cesar muttered something before doing a rude gesture with his fingers.

“Call me if you need anything else,” he said to Homer, before moving down the road.

Standing by their table, Homer watched as the girl took some more orders from the sailors, before moving towards the bar.

“Is he your friend?” they asked.

Homer shook his head. “I’ve just bought his boats.”
As they spoke at the same time, Homer hoped Cesar had not lied to him about the ships. He didn’t have a receipt or anything else to prove he had paid for them.

“Do you want an aguardiente?” someone asked.

Homer nodded and the alcohol burned his throat once more, as he sat at the table and they spoke of foreign lands where they had many girlfriends. Then they debated whether Cesar owned any boats and if they could sail the sea.

“Did you see them?” they asked.

“Yes,” Homer said.

“He’s a liar.”

Homer felt that anguish again. While the barmaid poured more aguardiente in his glass, she whispered something in his ear but Homer had to find the boats he had just bought.

“I’ll come back later,” he said.

She didn’t know whether it would be on the same day or sometime in the future, but she’d be waiting for him.

An afernoon in San Andres

Cesar

The boats floated on the gray waters of the bay as he arrived at the dock, followed by the sailors. Cesar appeared holding a saucepan full of food.

“You’ve found your men,” he said.

Sitting on a stool, he ate rice with a wooden spoon, a little dog munching the food he dropped on the floor. The men thought someone like Cesar couldn’t be trusted with anything at all.

“Would you like to work for me? Homer asked them. “I’ll pay you a few hundred pesos a month.”

“Fine,” someone said.

“We want to sail the sea,” the others said.

“I have cleaning materials and paint in that boat,” Cesar said.

Homer nodded. They had to scrub the vessels until they looked clean and nice for their first mission in the world. After eating his food, Cesar put the saucepan on the floor, letting the dogs lick it amidst the sailors’ laughter.

“Can I work for you?” he asked. “I miss the sea.”

“You’ll be the captain,” Homer said.

“We don’t want him,” the men said.

“I’ll pay you extra money.”

Happy with the offer, they scrubbed the floor and cleaned the sides, where the sea salt had corroded the paint, while Cesar talked about his life.

“I have travelled all over the world,” he said.

“In your boats?”

He nodded. “They never failed me.”

He had lived in many places and loved many women in the world.

“They never failed me,” he said.

Lying back in his chair, he watched the sky, while Homer imagined Cesar visiting the cities on the other side of the earth. The boats would look nice once the sailors had finished painting them.

“I’m calling them Athena, Esparta and The Thermopiles,” Homer said.

“They remind me of my town in Salvacion.”

“Why?” Homer asked.

“We had a horse called Athena.”

“I like horses,” Homer said.

“My father was a Russian spy,” Cesar said. “And my mother’s a Jamaican woman descended from slaves.”

Homer wiped the sides of the ship, while listening to his wild tales about the KGB looking for him all over the world.

“They kill people with their poisons,” he said. “But nobody bothers a sailor.”

Homer cleaned the floor of the boat, while listening to Cesar’s tales of adventures around the seas. Then he wiped the walls of the captains office, where the wheel waited by a few more instruments.

“I don’t know how many children I have around the world,” he said.

He talked about his early life in the republic of Salvacion, where he had roamed the beach from an early age, the sea had helping him to understand the world around him.

“The president is a great man,” he said.

Homer knew a lot about Salvacion by the time he had finished painting the names of the ships. The president liked football more than anything else in the world. Once he had declared war on another country because of a match.

“He blew up the stadium,” Cesar said.

“That is fantastic.”

“Hurrah to Salvacion,” he said.

Marching around the deck, he saluted an invisible flag. Homer would do business with the republic of Salvacion one day.

“It could happen at any time, Mr. Homer,” he said.

“Armageddon?” Homer asked.

“Yes,” Cesar said. “The world must be ready for it.”

Wiping the wall of the deck, Homer heard some more things about the end of the world, according to Cesar’s predictions.

“It’s all written in the scriptures,” he said.

“I don’t understand.”

“The sun will darken as fog descends over the earth.”

“It’s interesting,” Homer said.

Tired of Cesar’s predictions, Homer showed the sailors the route they had to take on a map he had opened on the floor.

“You must bring the merchandise along the river,” he said. “I’ll sell it in my shop El Baratillo.”

“We’ll do that, Mr. Homer” they said.

The sailors passed a bottle of aguardiente around.

“Let’s toast to your ships,” they said.

Homer forgot his problems while singing with the sailors, the Indians and the manuscripts remaining in the past. Then he decided to tell them about his life in the shop by the market.

“I sleep on boxes in my cellar,” he said.

“You’re so funny,” they said.

Homer awoke next morning under the fishing net of one of his boats, as some of the sailors snored on the dirty floor by his side.

Two and two are seven, he thought.

p6243341.jpg

A piece of painted wood
That’s what you are

Loved by millions
On this earth

Your hands and legs
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Made in Japan
With nails imported from China

Another plank of wood
Covers your waist

As tears of holy water
Run down your cheeks


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