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  • from Malambo*
  • Lucía Charún-Illescas

The painted bull shook three times. Yes, three soft knocks grazed the window frame. Tomasón lifted only a corner of the ox hide and saw them. A light-skinned Negro man with nappy hair—a mix of a white man and a black and Indian woman, like those people who are known as a "want-to-be's"—was cautiously looking up and down the side street, with his hand on the shoulder of an eleven-year-old girl. Maybe twelve at the most. By their half-calf pants and wool jackets, Tomasón figured that they came from the country. Runaways, he said to himself, glancing at their bare feet.

The nervous stranger extended himself, "Don Tomasón are you alone?" The girl gave away the unmistakable air of those who do not ask permission to enter. Two dimples formed in her cheeks and her round and half opened mouth uncovered a tunnel between her upper two front teeth. He was amused by the way she had tied a red rag on her head. It slid down her forehead and covered an eye that she was trying to uncover with one hand, while with the other she held a blanket balanced on her shoulder.

Without bothering with questions or greetings, Tomasón moved to the side and the man entered behind the girl. He waited to get used to the brightness of the dark dust, scrutinized every corner and then seemed to calm down.

"Look familia, I am Francisco Parra and she is my daughter Pancha."

His callused, extended hand was missing both the index and the pinky finger. Tomasón held it and through his fingers came the memory of guarango bark marked by countless grooves along with the scars down to his wrists. The shackles, caraaá. Subconsciously he remembered those delicate "look-but-don't-touch" hands of the saints that he painted.

"We come from the priest's hacienda in the Sierra, as you can imagine. We only need a little corner to stay in until tomorrow. We're sorry."

"My home is yours for as long as you want."

He filled two bowls to the rim and left them at peace so that they could eat calmly and in silence.

Outside, the sky took possession of the night. From afar the shouts of the street vendors and mazamorreras could be heard. In a little while there would begin a cry that could be heard only in Malambo. At the time when the working day in the neighboring towns ends, the laborers would whisper, covering their mouths with one hand so that the Rímac would not repeat what they were offering—sweet melon, lady, ooorrranges, pears, little pears [End Page 257] sweeter than honey, watermelon. And in a low voice—little lady, I have the best. Buy from me, nothing but fruit stolen from the haciendas when the overseers weren't watching.

Tomasón increases the flame in the oil lamp, which enlarges Pancha's shadow on the walls and antiquated ceiling. The dark dust teases the girl from each corner, flirting with her nose that suddenly sparkles in front of the double smile of her surprised eyes. And Tomasón? He loves every minute of it! Thrilled and happy that the girl is pleased with the humble miracle that coats and covers every rag, every flake of wall, every dish and every painting of a prudish saint. At eight o'clock the bells call out for the prayers to save the souls in purgatory, and from the opposite bank, the rounded chants form a chorus with its litanies. With the dizzying ebb and flow, the monotonous Our Fathers and mea culpas die down on the bed of the river and a black voice like the midday answers them: Ayé, Ayé sambagolé, sambagolé Ayé Ayé! And now the cane plant and the reed and the Malambo trees begin to sing: Ayé, Ayé sambagolé, sanbagolé! and the rush reed and the tangled tsacuaras - Ayé - and the sound of the clinking chains to the Ayé sambagolé!

Francisco Parra bites his molars to the ankle of the pipe, and smokes...


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pp. 257-473
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