The visitor who came and stayed

By Mercedes Freedman

The coffin was black. I remember it all, but that more than anything.  The light entering the living-room, with doors wide open to the street, had lost its colour and thrown a grey veil over us.  Different shape-chairs made a circle where some people sat, while others stood next to them. The unblinking eyes looked at the smaller than usual coffin in the centre. It embraced forever the fourteen-year­‑old boy who had drowned. A floating silence, persistent like the humming of a bee, made us hold our breath, and our throats tightened. Only the rocking rhythm of the rain and the lullaby of the women crying would have permission to disturb the stillness of the silence when they happened.

The boy arrived from an arid land to visit his uncle, aunt and cousin. He would spend the summer on our island, so full of the surrounding ocean. One day he walked into it, forgot the sea is stronger than anything, and fell under the spell of the seashells the ocean throws onto the beach and drags back to itself, again and again. So much water took away the air his body needed and gave his parents a limp forever in their breathing when they arrived to bury their son.

My brother and I walked towards the dead boy, fearful that he might see us doing what he could never again do himself. We stood on our tiptoes, stretched our necks and raised our heads as much as we could to see the boy with whom we sometimes played. His skin was of a pale colour new to us. The trembling of our feet made us lose our balance. We felt dizzy and that our faces had lost their colour too, although the blood was rushing fast in our chests.  My brother broke the silence when he spoke in a quiet voice,

‘Goodbye, Francisco.’ 

As we left the room, he then whispered in my ear,

‘I’m frightened of that black box.’

‘Me too,’ I replied, also in a whisper. 

Outside, people, their eyes fixed on the doors, stood waiting for Francisco to start his journey to the cemetery. Before leaving, the coffin painted its shadow on the floor of the living-room for Francisco’s relatives to see there every day, as if the image of the drowned boy planted deep in their memory did not suffice.

The falling of the rain and the long-suppressed sobbing and whimpering arrived at last to sing a last song to Francisco in the cortège. The bougainvillea, as always, boasted its pink and orange flowers scented by the jasmine growing nearby. Familiar birds flew around us, and, at sea, another ship was leaving port. Everything looked as if nothing unusual had happened. Yet, the fear of dying any moment was now settled right inside my bones.

You can read this text in Spanish here

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