The Treasure / Ángel Santiesteban

Photo AP

I WAS IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD cruising the streets on my scooter like a Caribbean Quixote in the year 1992. One afternoon, I turn the corner of my house and notice a neighbor stopped on his bike, one foot on the curb of the sidewalk, the other in the street, an arm on the handlebars, with his head resting on his forearm which served as his pillow, looking like a rag doll. Something I’d rarely seen in that man who, from the time I was a child, I’d watched go into his house near mine; I turned the wheel of my scooter to go back. As I came up to him I saw that, despite the noise of the scooter’s engine, he didn’t raise his head.

I asked him if I could help. He said something I couldn’t understand, I lowered the throttle on the bike and got closer, he cocked his head and I could see his pale face, “Hold me,” he said. I quickly turned off the scooter and took his arm, “I’m dizzy,” he said again, and I felt his body trembling like the page of a book. I suggested he breathe deeply. He could barely manage it. At times his legs buckled. I discovered that despite his weakness he was protecting something in his other hand, his fist closed against his chest. I offered to hold it and he shook his head. He made an effort to lift his head and look at me. I kept holding him up. He said he knew he shouldn’t have done it but he didn’t have any other choice. For lunch he had just had a little rice, and he went to his sister-in-law’s house to look for something, for his wife, at least, to have to go with it. He no, he’d gone for a week with only rice and he wasn’t complaining; but he knew that she, even though he did everything in his power, wouldn’t be able to eat; then his sister-in-law gave him the last one left, and he looked at his closed fist. With great care he opened his hand, and before my eyes appeared a hen’s egg.

October 7, 2010