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Callaloo 24.4 (2001) 955-959

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He and She at the End of an Afternoon

José Alcántara-Almánzar

There is still a bit of uncertain yellowish light when they reach the Mirador. They come from far away without stopping to rest anywhere. Today, like everyday, they have covered half the city and now are seated beneath a grown American spurge tree that projects a gigantic umbrella over them. They prepare to deceive their hunger with leftovers collected from garbage cans. A happy bustle of children who are playing on swings and slides and the jingling of a distant music are the only disturbances that break the peaceful sound of the afternoon. They don't seem to notice it. He devours the food without raising his eyes. He sticks his hands into the grains of yellow rice in search of a little piece of chicken. The only thing he finds are gnawed bones and a piece of a blue paper napkin. He extracts them in a normal fashion and then tosses them close by. She, anxious, looks at him before eating and waits for him to give her the command to take a handful of rice. Her little whipped cat eyes move about beggarly, as if fearing a reprimand or a violent slap. He quickly swallows the scraps. He finds a stub of a ripe banana and hands it to the woman. She opens a mouth with almost bare gums where two rotten teeth dance and she smiles, takes what he offers her and eats it without chewing, or rather she kneads with her gums the soft bittersweet paste. They spend a few minutes in this way until the booty is consumed. He rolls up the piece of paper used as a receptacle and throws it to the ants.

The man stretches out face down, puts his hands under his head and gives the woman a signal. A cool breeze is blowing through the leaves of the trees and it reaches the bodies of the man and woman lying on the grass. She is a timid, nervous, little black woman, dressed in rags as he is. Her hair is a forest of reddish black knots. Her body is splashed with a rash, but her hands possess a rare ability for consoling. She is seated and caresses the man's face, scratches his head with her fingers to help him to sleep. He closes his eyes and exhibits an expression of satisfaction and contentment. He is tall, very skinny, and at his waist is a bundle of useless objects gathered from several places. They are a type of treasure that he always carries, tied with a little rope: cans, empty perfume bottles, used up deodorant.

Now they can forget about the tiring walk of the day, crossing streets, facing danger at every corner, in any enclosed garden. He thought about the dogs that tried to attack them when they tried to look for food in the trash cans at a mansion. Although he wishes to, he cannot forget the animals' fangs, menacing and atrocious, the transparent spittle that wet their snouts, the fire in their eyes as they barked at them, their feet up on the railing. They left running without stopping to consider if they would jump over or not the sharp ironwork that tops the fence.[End Page 955]

He pretends to be asleep, but he is wide awake, somewhat disturbed by the woman's caresses, her hands traveling, itinerant and provocative, over his outstretched body. He has his eyes closed and is breathing unevenly. His belching confirms that he ate too much and that his horizontal posture is not the most suitable at the moment. The children continue shrieking and laughing in the distance. The park--a long strip of land--covers an area of several kilometers, solitary most of the time, where they have seen persons who intend to live a hundred years running in light clothes and strolling.

The solitary park, the breeze in the dying afternoon flowing over them, colliding softly against the brown covering...


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