Aboy climbs a wall. He is alone, and he knows it as he reaches for peaches and plums. But they are too far from the wall and this is the wrong wall to be climbing anyway, though he does not know this yet. He kicks his legs over and jumps down, bits of paint and brick follow, a wreath of broken brick and a boy in the middle. He rushes over to the nearest tree, the one loaded with small yellow peaches. A foot on a stump where a branch was cut down and the front of his shirt turned inside out to make an improvised pouch. Green and yellow peaches on a cloth basket and translucent sap dripping from severed stems.
My father is not a particularly nostalgic or talkative man. He is not a man of expressed sorrows or sudden stories. He grew up in a small town in Colombia, and most of his tales revolve around the breaking of windows and stealing of horses. But then one day, from under the shadow of his favorite stolen horse story, he told me this one. About a boy who climbs a wall hoping for peaches and plums. And then he says, Que pesar, pobrecito. “What a shame, poor boy.”
The sun sets slowly. A half-light through a sky made of milk skins and the sounds of footsteps approaching. Then yelling, a man between the trees that startles the boy and makes him rush for the wall while peaches fall from his shirt, like crumbs behind him. He is alone, and he knows it, and it’s hard to climb one-handed. He holds his shirt against his stomach with his left hand and grips the edge of the wall with his right. He kicks at the wall like a locked-in dog scratches at a door, until he manages to lay his body across the edge, one leg over, then another. A few more peaches sacrificed in the escape, a few others crushed between his body and the top of the wall. He clutches the sharp brick edge to keep himself from falling and accidentally cuts his [End Page 141] hand. The light drains from the sky as he rights himself on the wall’s edge, mumbles swear words and licks blood mixed with dust from his palm. Then a sound like hollow thunder.
The guard stands beneath a tree holding a warm rifle while the wind gently slides over the leaves. Then one more sound. The painless thud of a boy hitting the ground. Warnings were uttered, loudly enough, the guard thinks, though clearly not loudly enough to be heard while kicking at a wall and panting for breath. The child is dead. A wreath of scattered peaches and a gathering crowd, and a body facedown on the dirt.
“I heard them talking, the town’s people.” My father recalls the event with the sober punctuation of unelaborated fact. I fill in the holes—the wind is mine, the cut, the sky, the warmth of steel. And he channels the crowd. How they kept saying what a pity it was and how the boy only had a little bit of fruit with him when they found him, “Over there, face down. By the wall.” And again, “Solo unas cuantas pepas,” and I begin to wonder if it might have been less of a pity if he’d been hauling greedy bounties in sacks and wheelbarrows. “The people, they just kept saying it. ‘What a pity,’ and ‘what a pity,’ and ‘only a little bit of fruit.’”
But maybe the facts are enough
A boy climbed a wall. He stole fruit from a private orchard and was shot for it. The guard did not mean to kill the boy. It was a mistake. Something in the leaves and the light, and what are the odds that a single piece of metal would find a single vital organ in such a wide world filled with so many trees and walls and unripe peaches and bodies full of nonvital parts. There is a chance the bullet was only a nudge and the ground did...