THE IMMIGRANT / Fernando Dámaso

The cubicle was permeated with a strong odor of antibiotics. On the pole hung two hundred and fifty grams of blood plasma and two vials of serum, attached by thin plastic hoses that ended in his chest and arms. The oxygen cylinder was connected to his nose through a tube, trying to east his strangled breathing. His nose also had a drain hose discharging into a bottle hanging on the left-hand bar of the bed. Another hose coming from his abdomen drained urine into a bottle on the floor.

Every so often nurses checked on the jars and hoses and took his pulse, measuring his heart rate. In the next bed, an elderly man operated on for ulcers, emitted rhythmic moans from a state of drowsiness. The guy opened his glazed eyes and looked, lost in the morning of the accident between the crash and the screeching of brakes, searching the Asturian mountains for the wolves who preyed on the unsuspecting sheep. From time to time he raised his left arm, looking for his hand, and tried to scare away the hawk that, flying high, also searched for easy prey. The sheep pushed in around him, one against another, and he, the child-shepherd, stroked their woolly backs, giving them confidence.

The first heart attack surprised him in the morning. It was a hot blow tearing into his chest. He pressed against the sheep and merged with them. He wanted to avoid the wolves’ bites and raised his left arm again, fending off the sharp teeth. He felt the wolf move off, after biting him. The sheep stopped their bleating. The nearby olive grove wafted well-known odors his way, and the cold mountain wind ruffled his hair. He pressed the blanket against his chest. The nurse came and moved his arm.

“Careful,” she said, “you’ll disconnect the transfusion.”

Again the sheep surrounded him. He started to remember that old melody that, at night, when he returned home, he used to sing to scare the wolves away. From the church came the procession, carrying the virgin dressed all in white. María Isabel carried the ring and sat on the garden bench, stretching her legs. He looked at her and smiled. She hid her face.

The nurse felt his chest and again adjusted the drops falling from the bottles of serum.

In the distance was the roar of the guns. The sheep became frightened and ran from side to side. He tried to stop them. Then the second heart attack came. He felt his chest was on fire. He saw the doctor’s face bending over him. The boat rocked him on the waves and he was dizzy, feeling like he wanted to vomit. He clung to the railing. The doctor beat on his chest. The hawk launched itself at its prey. He raised his arm once more, trying to scare it, but he couldn’t. Then he began to feel like a speck of earth floating on the mountain air.

August 11, 2010