- An extract from the novel ‘Náufrago del tiempo’ (Castaway in Time), published by la editorial Verbum (2022)
The village lives in a perpetual silence, as though words had the power to unleash a tempest. The women believe that any festivities would bring bad luck and catastrophe; the men never speak to one another and the children are forbidden from playing outside, to avoid the wind from disorientating them and snatching them away from their mothers.
When my daily work is done, someone from the village will usually give me the basics to survive. They think I’ve gone crazy because I keep breadcrumbs, fruit skins, grains and bits of anything digestible in the deep pockets of my shirt. These are for the little cat that follows me day and night, which is, after all, the only companion I have in the old hotel.
It’s to him that I owe the old pallet that I use as a bed, and the continual revelations that I have about the building.
His body is as skinny and ghostly as a blade, and it’s because of this that he’s able to understand the anatomy of the hotel better than I do. He knows all the passages, all the cracks that lead into the bedrooms, the crevices between the bricks, the strange creatures that live in all the pipes and tubes.
I try to sleep when I arrive back at the old hotel, in order to save any energy I get from the little food I have to eat. Even from within the ruins you can feel the electrified air and an atmosphere that becomes more and more charged, as though a hurricane were to come and shake the village’s foundations at any moment.
Sometimes the insomnia is too strong and I only get to sleep as morning approaches. In those moments I drift in and out of dreaming like someone drowning at sea, I hear all kinds of vermin scratching at the hotel’s walls, I see my father’s face, and the women’s faces. At the same time the creatures start to move, scuttle inside the piping, watching me with their little eyes, burning with night blindness. I know I’m not just imagining these creatures because the cat, which is my night guardian, also follows them with his hunter’s eyes.
Yesterday, thanks to my companion, I found a hotel bedroom door that was easy to break down. After I’d cleaned up the debris I was able to sleep, once again, this time on a relatively soft mattress.
I get the impression that everything I do is somehow bound up with the cat. He guides me through the hotel’s darkness, a veritable labyrinth that he knows better than I do, and he shows me which wall to tear down or when I should sleep. Whilst I get hungrier and hungrier and can start to see my ribs showing, he grows fatter, feeding on whatever I bring him each evening, as an offering to stop him from abandoning me to my fate in the middle of the storm that will soon arrive.
Since the dawn, the cat has started to nibble affectionately at my big toes. He does it to demand food, or when he wants to show me something new in the hotel. Obstacles broken through, and new passages discovered, the cat has brought to my attention a shaft of light, very weak, coming from the other side of a wall where I’d thought there were no more rooms.
I looked for the iron bar that I use for pulling down walls and gave this one a blow. On the third attempt the bricks gave way and I walked through the cloud of dust and into the space where the cat wanted to take me.
What I found there was both marvellous and terrible, and words themselves are useless at describing it properly.
In one place, as the prophets had foretold, there was the serpent and the dazzling bird, the stream filled with fish of every colour, docile beasts which grazed on grass and creatures that crawled up into the branches of the trees, the scaly bright lizard, bees, moths and ants in search of food; there were all kinds of plants, clinging onto healing stones and onto walls sculpted by time, fruit which ripened in seconds and fell to the ground only to become at one with the soil and the coldness there; and there was light, a golden, greenish light, almost as if the air itself were covered in moss, all a brightness and a heaven, with no indication at all of the approaching storm.
It was then that I remembered the hotel had once been a monastery; perhaps, before being a monastery it had been a piece of Eden itself, later recovered by the very words spoken by the monks.
But there, in the middle of all that, there was also a man, sitting at the head of a long wooden table, being served with fruit and other delicacies, which the animals had brought for him. He remained completely still, eyes half open, naked as though it was his turn to be the Adam of that garden. His hands, long and bony, were ploughed through with small wounds that looked as though they’d been caused by a needle.
The cat jumped onto the table, took a bite from the fruit and lay down, very close to the man. Cautiously, because one doesn’t expect anything good to come out of Cabo Lagarto, I asked the man who he was, and where were we.
“I am the rock which supports the world”, he said to me, hardly opening his lips. “And when I fall, the globe too will fall”.
The man’s throat sounds deep and dusty, full of words, but from a place where time gets bogged down and becomes stone, bones, motionless matter. A rheumy liquid runs from his wrinkles, as though he had never closed his eyes. His grey beard covers his throat and his chest, and he spreads his hands as if, indeed, the very destiny of the cosmos depended on his steadying of the table and everything on it.
When we speak the animals look at us, from the grey cat to the lizards whose bodies are impossible to see completely because of all the weeds covering them.
The man speaks little and always replies in riddles. On the first day I limited myself to looking around the cloisters or the inner courtyard of the hotel, which was already a small universe for me. As the days went by the man became more revealing.
Sometimes he would say:
“I am as old as the stones and the mountains; the moon gave birth to me, the sun gave me life; I pronounced the first word ever spoken in the world, but I forget what it was. That’s why I’m here.”
Or he’d lower his forehead until it touched the table, and then changed his story:
“I fought hard during the war. The victors accused me of being a spy; the vanquished said I brought them ill fortune. Both sides sentenced me to death and decreed they’d erase my name from everywhere. I escaped and came here to take up this monastery”.
His hands appeared to be tied by some invisible chain. He moved them only once: to explain to me why he didn’t eat any of the delicacies on the table.
“I swore I’d kill the world and the world never forgets”, he said, as he moved his fingers to reach out for an orange. “Watch what happens if I dare to contradict my own blasphemy”.
At that moment, mice, cockroaches, insects and other vermin I can’t even name began to climb up the table legs. Birds came flying down from all parts of the ruin, and, while the old man tried to reach the fruit, the animals bit his fingernails and pecked his hands until his thick blood began to mess up the food along with the birds’ feathers and all the bugs.
“Now do you understand the weight that I carry?”
I wanted to reply, but I couldn’t speak, I was too full of revulsion for what I’d just witnessed. The only thing I could do was run, knock down the walls, get covered in dust and fall exhausted onto my rickety bed in the reception hall.
Translated by Ricardo Recluso
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