Ipatria, Alamar, a Vulture, the Night, and Me
1. There are exiles who bite and others like a consuming fire
We met in the Martyrs of Alamar mortuary. Her father had died that afternoon, I’d come in to drink no less than ten coffees on the cheap. I needed them to ease my anxiety, ease my anxiety, ease my anxiety. My nights were long, too long to endure. Blind tunnels until little after dawn, when I managed at last to find myself in a park; only so a swarm of uniformed children could jostle me next, blowing to smithereens my only winks of the day — the week, the month, or perhaps the millennium. Of course, on that first Friday she didn’t call herself Ipatria yet. I saw her sitting like a mortal, alone in the ’Ch’ chapel, scarcely a few feet from the cafeteria where my nerves overloaded. Not even her dead father accompanied her between the candles and the blackout. Afterwards I learned that she herself had ordered a second and a third and a fifth and a tenth autopsy: Ipatria distrusted or “no, now I don’t distrust“, she would confess to me afterward: “now I’m very sure of what’s happening …” The absence of a casket was the first thing that caught my attention. Then her foreign black hair, falling into neglect on her bird-like shoulders: her immobile ebony hair, or of araucaria or cypress. And then it was her chapped voice, prickly, when she called me without looking at me, bluntly: “Come here” (like to a dog). And I went toward her (like a dog), thus ruining forever my somnambulatory routine, for the first time obedient in the anarchic midnight of a worker’s cemetery called Alamar. “Sit“, she ordered, and put me in front of her face. She had extremely black eyes, even more so than her hair: from a nightless night, starry and tattered, and I adored that tiny little bit of shadow in her pupils between terror and blackout. “Do you come from abroad?”, she asked me. “From where, outside?”, I asked her. “From the Cuban night“, she said to me. “I suppose so“, I told her. “And have you seen it? Did you hear it?“, she shook me. “Seen and heard what?”, I withdrew from her attack. “You freak!“, she pushed me until I nearly fell to the ground: “The wingbeat of the vulture, what else could it be?” Then she made a grimace and hid her face: she was horrified to have spoken more. She pretended to cry but neither did she manage to do so. She looked at me with hatred, as if I’d betrayed her secret. I managed nothing. I liked to imagine her crazy from the beginning. “Please“, I calmed her: “there have never been vultures in Alamar“, and I grabbed her by the belt. “Or they went extinct at the beginning of the Revolution“, and I gave her a hug. Blindly. She trembled. Her vibrations transmitted themselves to me. I trembled too. We looked like a pair of epileptics waiting for the casket in which one of the two of us was going to lay down. Then she took her hands from her face and separated me from her body. Her voice returned to being prickly, sliced up, and she dismissed me without looking at me, bluntly: “Split” (like to a dog). So I turned, for the second time obedient (like a dog) and began walking down the hall, returning to the mortuary’s cafeteria where, in spite of the triumphal lack of electricity, the custodians still insisted on straining their coffee. Black smoke inside a bigger cloud of smoke. To be sure, that first Friday Ipatria never called herself by that name. That December 3rd I left her without knowing her name, a terrible key to penetrating her head, to sneak inside her brain, lightly scratched by the sandpaper of Chilean history and its tyrannies: wet waiting room to her now dried up sex through so many tears repatriated in Cuba.
2. Timid herds galloped, devouring the streets, dressed in terror and shadow
The second night was in a tan M -1: pink tin can metrobuses rolling even in a full blackout. She was seated on the steps to the rearmost door, her knees contained by the circle of her hands and the tangle of her hair, in which that night a flower was sunk like an explosion of white. It looked like a fistful of petals with a pistil: a marpacifico, I thought. Although I realized right away it was not: “it’s not alive, moron“, she ridiculed me, “it’s just a piece of plastic, Made in Chile, wholesale.” I kept staring at her for the next couple of stops of the M-1, during three or perhaps thirteen kilometers of the Via Blanca, remembering her again in the funeral home, meeting her again for the second Friday in a month. When the Metrobus started to pant up Cojimar Hill, I dropped next to her on the seats: among bags, lit cigarettes, farm animals, calves, or on barbs. “I’m Sagis“, I ventured. She looked at me, perhaps remembering me from another time in the funeral home, or recognizing me for the second Friday in the millennium. Then she smiled. “Sagis is a name for a mutt, not for people,” and she aimed at me with her left index finger, a long gun complete with bayonet of a fingernail painted white, a petal no less artificial than her imported flower. “My real name is Salvador,” I admitted. But she was unsatisfied: “Salvador is much worse.” And she turned serious: “Surely you were born after ’73.” Her guess left me gob-smacked. “Almost,” I confessed, “December 10th, 1973: I suppose today is my birthday,” and I felt ridiculous in my pathos. Luckily, she looked at me compassionately. With patience. And she returned to smiling for me. Between the kicks from the crowd shone something even more beautiful than the nonexistent box at the chapel. Night was falling. I’d now gone through seven dawns without sleeping since that one in which I bumped into her. Back then I thought I would not see her again — perhaps due to my stupid habit of continually circling the Martyrs of Alamar mortuary, as if her father could die twice in a week and through a paranoid cascade of autopsies. There was an infernal noise under our feet, including white smoke from the motor. I couldn’t stop looking at her while she lectured me: “In December of ’73 I too had had your name, but I was born a few months before“, she shrugged her shoulders, as if they were wings. “Our parents were obsessed with the presence or the presidency of some Salvador,” she said for fright effect and public entertainment in the shadows of the Metrobus. And I loved her vocabulary of political evangelism so much that … I don’t know … the vehemence of her brilliant oratory cast a spell on me. I managed to tell her how much I’d been intrigued by our purely random encounters, and that I didn’t want to lose her again. Because, from that point on, I slept less and as a consequence, my anxiety was worse, my anxiety was worse, my anxiety was worse. “Happy birthday and goodbye, old man“, she gave me a kiss on each cheek. And next she told me no, that it was not possible for me to see her and that she deeply regretted it, but she repudiated coincidence and fate, and I exactly embodied coincidence and fate: which was too suspicious for her intuition. “A power with memory could use anyone to detect you“, she said. She distrusted. Or not, no longer mistrusted: “now I’m not sure what happened,” she said in a whisper. And my ignorance did not guarantee my innocence: that someone from the military junta, for example, might be handling me like a civilian puppet. With me she could never be safe: “I’m very sorry, whether you be Sagis or Salvador, you are too innocent to be not guilty” was her conclusion. “But safe from what?“, I became impatient. And now she almost looked at me with compassion. “Please, safe from a motherland: from Alamar, from a vulture, from the night, and from you“, she told me, and jumped with the door half-open, still stopping our M-1. She escaped from crevices, among the echos of her own enumeration. Like one of the vermin of the night, angelic and frightening creatures, without giving me time to act: to hunt her and really threaten her with death, to see if the she really reacted to me. I looked outside for an instant. I saw her running. I saw her back about to take off, silhouetted against a lunar landscape in permanent revolution. We were in the old Chilean neighborhood: a wasteland even more deserted than the rest of Alamar and perhaps the rest of the country. Chile, Cuba, Santiago de la Habana: how can you tell the difference under the dead gaze of unlove? Besides, no one ever got on or off at that bus stop, out of fear of the legends that, for more than ten years, laid waste to those buildings through sudden repatriation: clandestine mass flight without apparent cause, that made Cuban Chileans invisible in just a few days at the end of the 80s. In Chile democracy finally returned and no one wanted to continue living in Revolutionary Cuba. Continue reading