Esperanza Lopez Mateos

Para el maestro
Orozco Muñoz,






Ediciones Tempestad

Mexico * 1943

The Letter

We have the words of Sun-Yat-Sen and the memory of parched eyes, without hope, without tears, without reproaches. Children's eyes, open in the thundering darkness of the infernal harbor. Hands outstretched in the sandy desert where there is not even the resource of feeding on mud, because the rain, now an accomplice of pain, has fled.

We have in our minds the image of the hungry, sore, fetid bodies, still shaken by lust, strongly oppressed by the instinct of reproduction. But this brings some relief, the father of the little ones will be able to gnaw, next to the corpse of the mother, the gelatinous arm of the dead fetus; thus they will have the strength to walk a few more kilometers until their thirst is quenched by the rain of fire that will be thrown to them from the clouds.

We are in the bowels of Asia, our numb limbs crawl in the depths of the earth; no ray of light ever reaches our subterranean prison, and we hear nothing but our own cries. Rare insects low on the zoological scale live with us and feed on us. I think Billy is dead, I can't say for sure, Cheng's corpse has saturated the heavy boiling atmosphere of our pit with stench. Maybe it is only young Cheng, but the inhuman sound that Billy produced, has ceased to be heard. The old man is still beside me, I thought he would die, that he could not bear this and yet he lives, he doesn't weep and think. He is part of the heart of Asia.

I wish I could crawl to the end where Billy is, but the pain in my knee robs me of all movement.

Billy is a reflection of you, like you he is almost a child and like you he has rebelled with all the force of his youth, he has followed me and perhaps his pure eyes will never again see the blue sky, the plains and the forest of your America, where the fire of western civilization and the devastating predation of our vultures have not yet reached.

Work, sow, prevent. You have thoughts and words and all your words and thoughts reflect the purity of your heart. Fight, you will find the way. Do not confuse courage with audacity, do not put your heart in front of their machine guns unless with it you are sure to rescue another. Speak, give your words the strength of your spirit. Imprint in the brains of American youth the image of the great Asia in agony, of hysterical Europe leaning on African celestialism, of all these millions of torn, bloodied, starving beings. Shout in their ears that here, in the brown and fiery Saigon perfumed with cinnamon and turned into the meanest of whores in the service of the old and rotten statesmen who cancerize the belly of France, in this Saigon that sleeps with all the rogues of the West, there are young people who run to meet death to rescue the dignity of life. Shout to the center of their hearts not to let there, in the young America, come neither from within or without, scoundrels who would turn her into a whore.

Billy, Billy! She shouted, and he doesn't even respond with a sigh.

You and Billy, you live, you cannot die. Pure men and weak children will always find your strong arms, your sweet smile, your hearts.

Billy, Billy, millions of Billies breathing the pure air of America, listen to me!

Someday perhaps these letters will reach you, written in the darkness, next to the beating heart of Asia, near the corpse of this Billy who will never again gaze with his pure eyes at the blue skies, the prairies, the forests of America. They will come to you with my faith intact. Don't stop!

Saigón, 1931

small illustration back of woman reading a letter

The Memory

It has been many hours of our time that he is not, that he ceased to be, but in solitude and in silence, when we walk through the night with outstretched arms, he is in our heart.

The images, the voices, the sounds, are as they were then. The friend who was his destiny and the women who were his hope and his soul, walk with us.

Here he is, with his extreme pallor and his sharp hands.

Now we hear the voices.

- Oscar, how do I look, do I look better?

- Yes, I think you are well now.

- That's what the doctor says and I can't tell you how glad I am, I thought this was going to take a long time.

- When are we going back to the plantation?

- In two more weeks I'll be fine. In the meantime, I'll have Mildred arrange a number of details that will be indispensable for us so that she can settle in without any inconvenience.

- But are you seriously thinking about...

- Yes, after so many years of going through hell, I have achieved what I wanted so much: peace and love.

- You're not right.

- I want to live with a woman of my race, who speaks my own language, who treats me to her white skin and blue eyes. I want peace, quiet...

- ... Camel-hair slippers, a fireplace and a cup of tea, that which is judged as heaven by those of your race.

- That's exactly what I want.

- You will never endure the inaction to which you want to submit. When you wrote something good, it was after one of those dreadful days, it was in China....

- Shut up, I have told you that I want to forget, that I want to erase from my life all the horror that has been in it.

- I suppose that now you will dedicate yourself to writing rose-colored novels.

- I won't write any more. Up to now I've done nothing but lousy essays, bitterness and resentment poured onto paper.

- Great essays.

- Well, I told you I don't want to go back.

- You will travel all the paths, but you will return to the road.

- Well, if you are part of it, this will be our last meeting.

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Now Maria arrives, the serious one.

- I've come to bring you the wallet you left at my father's house.

- Please come in.

- I'll only come in for a moment. And you, Oscar, are you leaving?

- Not of my own free will. It's cold and Allan has good tea, but he's expecting a visitor.

- Then let's go.

- No, please stay.

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Now his eyes are sweet because Mildred arrives, the luminous one.

- It took you so long!

- Maria and Oscar, how are you?

- Fine, lovely.

- Give us a cup of tea, it's very cold outside.

- Sit here by the fireplace, I've ordered some cherries for you.

- Thank you. Does Maria know the plantations?

- I came from there a few weeks ago.

- They must be beautiful.

- Yes, but the weather is bad.

- Allan will take me with him. He's just waiting to get back on his feet so he can get back to work.

- And Oscar, will he be back too?

- Yes, in a week. I just want to play one more concert.

- Do you want to play something now?

- If Allan allows it, because he dislikes my music.

- Please let it be something sweet, not that terrible music.

- You mean that symphony?

- Yes, but anyway, don't mind me, play whatever you want, you see I'm a bit of a maniac.

The friend begins to play but he asks in an altered voice not to do so.

- I feel a bit bad, and that music... I've told Oscar before.

- Maria, I think we should leave.

- Excuse the scene, please.

- Don't be sorry, we'll be back soon to check on your health.

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When Mildred is left alone with him, the atmosphere seems less agitated, the voices are intimate and the gazes soft.

- What's wrong, Mildred?

- They have been so inopportune. Oscar knows he makes me suffer with his music and Maria, why did she come? Why did she look at you like that? She frightened me.

- It is I who make you suffer with these nerves, but soon I will be well, we will live in that place I have told you about, you will always wear white dresses and put flowers in your hair.

- It will be so beautiful!

- Now tell me, have you done anything these days?

-Yes, I bought the mats and a lot of beautiful porcelain.

- And the little chest?

- Also, I'll keep your hands in it so they won't be stolen, give them to me, I love them so much! Star hunters!

- Star hunters?

- Allan...

-Tell me?

- I don't want them to visit us.

- That's not important. You need to be less sensitive and more reasonable.

- They make such a strange impression on me!

- Forget them and tell me, what time is the doctor coming?

The doctor was not coming that afternoon, Mildred already had the sentence on her lips. One more operation was necessary. She said it simply, but something very fragile broke inside her.

small illustration of a hand catching a falling branch

Many hours passed in which only the voices of the serious woman and the friend who now walk beside us moved their lips as when they spoke for him.

- You worry too much, why give so much importance to the temporary, when you carry within you the immortal?

- I carry within me a hell.

- No, a forge from which something very great will come out, something that will evolve and rise to unsuspected levels.

- Don't talk to me about metaphysics, I want to live! Millions of men get their share of peace, of love, why snatch mine from me? Why, when the sweet and dreamed-of woman has come to me, the one who would have erased the traces left by destiny...

- It is impossible to erase or avoid destiny....

- But must mine be to go through life panting, sometimes of hunger, sometimes of horror, now of pain and despair? No, I have to conjure it away, I want to live! Maria, call her, I beg you, tell her where I am, a few words from her, a caress and I will feel reborn.

- Will you have the courage to make her suffer? Think that perhaps the moment she arrives the pain will come, you will turn deathly pale, your forehead will be covered with sweat, you will scream and what will become of her? She is so delicate, so impressionable.

- It is true. Why do you have to stay here, listening to lamentations?

- I must always be by your side, don't you understand? Your pain is my essence; I don't know how to smile, but look at my eyes, they are diaphanous, they will guide you towards what is now unattainable to you.

-I love Mildred, I just want to look into her calm blue eyes, I want to live!

- You have already lived.

- No. It has been a paradox: living dying, the soul dead, the body beset by fever and hunger. In Saigon, in China, we worked among thousands of yellow people.

- Then you wrote...

- We saw those little men cover with their bodies miles and miles of muddy ground, victims of misery and fever. They formed a great convulsive and fetid mass from which inarticulate cries, bestial stridencies arose. The delirious stripped the dying of their rags, of the handful of rice that slipped from between their fingers lacking strength. The dying shook the corpses as if wanting to bring them back to life. Then, everything turned to ashes; small and skinny women came to cry there, where they believed that the husband or son had been left; they planted a sapling and let their sobs be heard from a great distance.

- The almond trees that the sorrowful women planted must now make a beautiful, fragrant forest. When the wind shakes their flowering branches they will produce murmurs that they will pick up as a message from those who left behind their rags and a handful of rice, from those who abandoned the hungry and tormented bodies to become music, a fragrance.

- Maria, do not pretend...

- You, who desire peace as the supreme good, why don't you try to have serenity?

- Serenity! to ask for serenity from a man whose liver is destroyed by cancer, who sees his limbs shriveled and yellowed like old parchment. She loved my strong white hands "star hunters!"

- Calm down, it leads to nothing for you to think like that.

- It's true, why think now about the only sweet and beautiful thing I could have had? When I had health, a healthy and beautiful body, I had to fight against misery, to contemplate the terrifying spectacle of the tragedies that surrounded me: deformed women who had scores of children of bestial men; starving children beaten by their own parents; unhappy people who killed themselves for a woman or a bottle of brandy. Slaves, slaves, whom I pitied without realizing that I was one of them.

- Then you were twenty years old.

- Yes, and I dreamed of being able to make my voice heard everywhere, teaching men how to live with dignity.

-You did a lot, your ideas were vigorous, beautiful.

- But apparently incomprehensible, it was all in vain! I traveled the world preaching, struggling to make myself understood. At twenty we are rebels and pure, we are apostles and redeemers.

- Liberation is difficult.

- The pain blinds you now, but you have done a lot. Even if you can no longer go forward, others will follow the path you have traced.

- Perhaps...

- The words of one man can guide the deeds of thousands, and when all together stand up....

- Yes, then...

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The sweet woman arrives, sticks her face to the window panes, hits them with her fists and screams until they hear her and open the door. She comes to him, reproaches him for his abandonment. She comes only to kiss his white hands. She takes them in hers and feels that they are not the same strong star-chasing hands. Evil has dried them and they hang yellowish from thin arms. On her lips the pain speaks.

- This is horrible! You have stolen him from me and you are killing him.....

small illustration of a limp hand on a table and candle just blown out

- Mildred, why have you come, don't you understand?

- I do not know how to live without you.

- But how can you love me now?

So, she answers trying to bring his hands to her lips, but she cannot overcome the horror, she has to let them go, ask for forgiveness in a choked voice and run away.

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With the sweet woman the light went out.

- Maria...

- What do you want?

- Give me that flower that fell from her hair.

- Enough of this!

- Don't worry, it was my last encounter with hope. Now I want to finish, as soon as possible, I don't want the pain to come back.

- Coward! That's what you are, that's what you have always been.

- Shut up, it's not worth it. You call me a coward because I know at last of our absolute impotence, because I don't believe in that higher plane in which our self has to dignify itself detached from this.

- Don't think now, you get excited...

- Maria, the pain!

- Calm down, everything passes, also the pain will pass.

- Don't let me suffer, I can't take it anymore, I'm afraid, help me! I want to finish at once.

Maria walks slowly to where Oscar is. The friend holds out a prepared syringe, the woman returns and with her grave face approaches the patient and injects him in the arm.

- Thank you.

- It will all pass soon.

- It is atrocious.

- Just a few more minutes.

- Come sit close to me...

- Are you resting?

- Yes, now it will soon pass. Look, I can even breathe easily... my heart is lightening, you might say...

- Rest.

- Oscar, play, play for me and for her who has transparent eyes.

- Allan Allan!

- Maria listen... it's this... do you understand?

While the friend plays, his limbs loosen, his head leans on the back of the armchair and remains in an attitude of peace, of infinite repose.

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The light of dawn surprises us on the summit. On the snow of the mountain there are no traces left of those who ascended with us through the night; the voices are lost and the wind carries the symphony to infinity, because he is no longer, because many hours ago in our time, he ceased to be.

Puerto Angel, 1942

illustration of a woman's face with musical note scale rising out of forehead

ON AUGUST 15, 1943,