Author: Sindo Pacheco
On September 15th, 1980, at 75 years of age, Fabricio Campoamores’s heart got bored from so much beating. After going through the famous tunnel, the one those who have returned from death talk so much about, Fabricio found himself in an open field facing a steep hill, whose slope, covered in a layer of very thin grass, had a marble staircase leading to the summit, where a stunning blond was descending the steps
She was the most beautiful young lady he had ever seen, the perfect example of a princess whom every man invents and reinvents for himself in his fervent deliberations. Golden curls surrounded her face, from which two perfectly symmetrical, semi-transparent eyes gazed at him with some sort of affection. Her straight nose went down, undefeated, to lips which were the most exact representation there could be of a kiss. She wore a red velvety suit, winter booties and in her right hand carried a long wooden pointer.
“This is the mountain of minor offenses. You have the right to remain silent if you so desire,” she said in a melodious voice, like a tinkle of jingle bells. Fabricio did not understand what he should keep silent about. He had been a fine, upstanding father, worker, disciplined man. During his forty years at the head of the roasted corn meal factory, he was the first to arrive every morning, to observe, standing tall in front of the door, each of his employees’ arrival. He was obsessed with punctuality, and if he had been a reading enthusiast, he would have taken Phineas Fogg, the one in Around the World in Eighty Days, as his idol.
Fabricio could not stop staring at the princess, who seem to be waiting for a gesture of attention on his part. He meant to ask a question, but before moving his lips, she gave him the answer.
“There are nine mountains for you. Number two corresponds to not-too-slight offenses, number three includes those of a deep nature, and so on. The young woman moved her pointer from side to side, as if she were opening the curtain on the landscape, and immediately, the hill disappeared, the funeral home in town appearing before their eyes. He saw his wife Lucrecia, his sons Fabricio and Rafael, and in attendance a reasonable number of other relatives, neighbors and ex fellow workers who were surely there at his wake. His first worry was being late to his funeral, which would be presumption in the extreme, even when he could not be grateful to anyone for their presence.
“Do you know what it is?” asked the young girl
“Me, I’m dead” said Fabricio, shrugging his shoulders
She removed her jacket, which she lay on the grass, uncovering a white sleeved blouse, snug around her torso. Fabricio had started to feel anxious, apparently someone was determined to make fun of him, to humiliate him. The young woman moved the pointer from east to west, tracing a circle in space, and a country landscape appeared, whose wooden house and thatched roof Fabricio thought he had seen somewhere before.
Around the house two children ran, petrified. All of a sudden, one of them took the other one by the ears and started to pull with all his might. When the second child started to scream, a young woman came out to the yard, ready to help him out.
Fabricio felt an indescribable tenderness upon staring at the image of his mother recovered from time and oblivion. Then he recognized his cousin Evaristo, two years younger than he, and he felt guilty for having hurt him. He remembered that he had been a restless, ear-pulling, arm-biting, belly-nipping child, and, in his heart, he repented about that far away event.
“Do you know who the aggressor is?” asked the young woman.
The word aggressor almost paralyzes Fabricio, but his answer was already on the tip of his tongue.
“It’s me, but if you will allow me…”
The young woman did not seem to listen to his arguments. She removed her blouse and her skirt. Her body was blinding inside that small bathing suit. Fabricio shut his eyes. Anyone in his place would have lost his senses before the most beautiful woman in the world, but he started to feel consumed by fear, an icy fear that he did not know how to explain. She moved the pointer and a street appeared, the one where Fabricio had grown up. He recognized it by the sugar cane juice machine belonging to Juan Vargas, who was offering cane juice to his customers, and by the billiard hall where men usually spent those nights of his childhood. Old man, Pancho Cruz, leaning on his cane, was trying to pick up a cigar stub when it leaped, fleeing from his hand. Pancho went forward one step and tried to capture the gift placed there by divine providence, but once again, the stub moved. The old man made a last effort and lost his balance, falling against the cement sidewalk. The cackle of the children could be heard, while one of them, Fabricio, pulled the string that converted the cigar into a slippery object.
Fabricio hardly remembered the incident, but now, when he knew what it was like to be old, and to think like an old man, and to feel like an old man, even more than old, he had a grief attack, but he tried to compose himself, to look for some kind of justification, children were innocent, incomplete creatures whose scarce knowledge of the world made their actions lacking in importance before the law, besides…
“Do you know what it’s about?” the girl interrupted his thoughts
“I used to like the cigar joke” he said, lowering his head.
When he looked up again, she was in her underwear, wrapped in a robe of red tulle, which the wind moved slightly as if it was dancing around her legs. She moved the pointer again and the house where Fabricio had grown up appeared, with the trees as they were back then and the same paint on its walls. An adolescent boy had come out of the kitchen door and was placing a handful of rice on the stone slab of the yard. Immediately, a band of sparrows flew down to eat the tender grain. Fabricio felt relief. At least good deeds were being taken into consideration in that unforeseen confrontation, and of those there were plenty in his life, dedicated to work, to society and to family. However, he hadn’t finished rounding up his conclusions when the boy took out a slingshot out of his back pocket, he inserted a stone on the band, he aimed at the target, and a bundle of feathers fell to the ground, with its little feet shaking in his death journey.
This time Fabricio did not wait for the question.
“I hated sparrows” he said, and took comfort in thinking that everyone had killed a bird during his lifetime, but the image of the little bird would not leave his conscience. Fabricio started to feel agitated. If that was the mountain of slight offenses, he did not want to find himself before the remaining eight. His slight sins were few, but he was no longer sure he had been an honorable man. He tried to remember his bad deeds, his violations, cruel events of his distant youth, infidelities, selfish acts, double crossings, injustices carried out in his phase as an executive, against fifty or so subordinates on whom his indolence, his ire, or his ineptitude fell. He remembered his pleasures, Elena, his first secretary, and later Rosita and Isabel, this last one, married and with two kids, one of which he suspected was his. For the first time, he questioned having been a good son, a good father, a good husband. Here he could not resort to his patriotic speech and blame his uncaring to his dedication to the common interest of the nation. His whole life was there, in a sort of video tape: the world under God’s hidden camera.
Fabricio was already horrified. If he had had any blood, it could be said that even his last red blood cell would have turned to ice. A primitive, unknown terror had installed itself in his conscience, and his body started to shake. The young woman moved the pointer as one who reveals the appearance of the world, and there appeared a cemetery under the midday sun. People were lowering a body amid the sighs and laments of the relatives. The coffin resounded at the bottom of the pit with a hollow sound, like the very shell of the dead man. Fabricio recognized his wife Lucrecia wiping her tears.
When he turned his gaze towards the young woman, she extended her arms.
“Come, love, wash your sins before you go on to the second mountain,” she said with an incredible shine in her gaze, but Fabricio was exasperated, as if he had seen evil in its most pure state. He gathered all his strenghth and before she could react, he jumped towards the grave, the coffin, and he went inside his body. When the first handfulls of dirt fell against the surface of the glass, he understood he had been stupid, but he felt assured, protected. He had arrived at his burial on time.