They keep smiling at me.
When I was young, that was a long time ago, there were days when I had the handsome one up. I could tell by the way they looked at me. But that happened at the age when I was innocent and candid. Something like a herbivore with no more territorial pretensions.
Anyone could see that my nature coincided with the first impression, nothing more. And that aroused a short-range sympathy in those who were trained in the educated mastery of their fellows. Add to that some adolescent traits, imberberbe, without any hint of maturity and we have someone from whom everyone smiles.
I was absolute walking simplicity. Perhaps it was touching for those with square, formed and virile jaws. But believe me, my kind, we are quite clumsy and clumsy when it comes to understanding the danger signs and subtleties of gestures.
I don’t remember attracting the attention of a young girl beyond the sympathy of a loving stuffed animal. And if I did, I never found out. Those abilities that make us broaden our perception of other people’s gestures and emotions, I never had them at that early age. Don’t pity me, I felt good.
But that was a long time ago. Now I find myself in a strange situation. I’m nothing like I used to be. I only have the memory and a pleasant aftertaste of what I experienced.
As long as I remember those days, they keep smiling at me. They’re pointing me in the right direction in that great room. It must be a public building, I don’t think that wasting space is of any practical use. This place reminds me of those Spanish airports in small cities, which have large surfaces of polished marble for the few travellers who walk through them.
They are seen to be happy doing what they do and I don’t understand why. They look like stewards of someone very important whom I can’t find anywhere. I’m beginning to think they’ve been mistaken for a person.
I arrive at another room wide and illuminated by an early light, you know, that clear but shy light that starts at dawn. I say shy because her gift is in illuminating the hidden features of faces, without being seen. No other is good but that nascent light. It is when we are unprepared, after the dream that this intelligent light surprises the atmosphere, taking advantage to reveal to the world the authentic profile of everything.
It’s nice that light because it doesn’t tell you to do anything, just contemplate it. It is humble, almost shy and that containment is pleasant to enjoy, like the friendship of a simple stream where you submerge your hand and downstream will become a powerful torrent.
They invite me to take off my clothes to put on a kind of tunic bordered with a color similar to red. But there are two problems. The first. The last person who helped me dress was my mother. Now I find it somewhat uncomfortable. I don’t know what to do. I try to kindly refuse that attention. But they look at each other and laugh. I feel a little weird and a little ridiculous. On the other hand everything is so new and strange since I arrived… that I can’t refuse. Especially after checking that they know this place as their own home.
The next problem is no less than the previous one. I don’t see pants anywhere. And I have always believed that it is the most appropriate garment for a westerner who prides himself on it as I do. No, I don’t see pants and that makes me uncomfortable. I think about my life without them and I don’t conceive it in any of their scenes. Wearing a robe is like giving up the West and that is the last thing I would do in my life.
As the whole environment is unknown I decide to make a parenthesis in my convictions and let them continue. But vigilant and attentive to what they do. They are very close to me.
They end up satisfied with that part and tell me to wait, not to leave… Where am I going to go… and where? I think. I almost laugh, but I don’t get it. The situation leaves me in ridicule before the observer that I always place in my imagination. I think of that stranger who looks at me and judges me and I don’t leave the scene looking good.
While I wait, I feel like a child going to the beach for the first time. I think if I took three steps I would get lost. I remember that time in Cadiz, where my whole family looked for me for a morning. In that forest of people I wandered through, I understood how big the world was and how small I was. Without knowing where a big hand landed on my head. He was my father. Well that day, my father was many things, among them the hand that came out of nowhere.
Two of them approach, smiling… no, no, this time it’s something else. Excited. I would say they carry a trophy for someone. I don’t know what a scene like this is like, because I’ve never received one or handed it over. It doesn’t occur to me to describe it any other way.
What they bring to me has form, it’s a garment. But I can’t explain how amazed I am to see it. At that moment I don’t relate it to me and I take it for granted that they only show it as an attention; so that I admire it. I am so absorbed by her contemplation that one of them asks me if I want to know anything about her. I can’t ask anything because I’ve never been before anything like it and I don’t know what industry or craftsman can do something like that.
They tell me that they have made it for me.
This time I am able to laugh.
My laughter is of those born with foundation, not those that come out just because, but those that are gestated in reason, in the security of what cannot be real. But when I see that their faces do not reveal any idea other than what has been said, I am left without laughter and without speech.
I have had some of those moments in my life, like when I saw my daughter for the first time. I had so much wanted that moment that I planned what I was going to say to her. I was going to tell her about her and the stars and as one more, present her to the sky. I saw him make Kunta Kinte in a movie with his daughter Kizzy. But I could only look at her unable to articulate a word, being her in the nurse’s arms. Alma had been born by Caesarean section and her face maintained the tranquility that exists within her mother. But in mine a question arose:
Now what are you going to do?
The nurse smiled similarly to my classmates this morning. There were other moments like that and moments of opposite sensations, because sorrow also leaves you speechless.
Without knowing what to do at that moment, I observe a detail in the relief of the sleeves, primorosa made in a dark green and promising, similar to that of new shoots loaded with sap. Plants and children are playing on them. They convey to me a childish hope, that of the day of kings. I don’t know how a pair of sleeves can talk like that. And it’s just the edge. The degree of detail in the execution of the garment exceeds everything I know.
I discover in its evolutions a dream of my childhood.
In that dream I saw before me a great scroll and wrote on it a tale whose letters ascended to heaven as I read them. That story spoke of me and made me very happy. But I didn’t remember anything
of his narration. Above the ascending letters there was a woman at the top left. She was my mother, but she was not my mother. She was the one before she was born. I did remember how she loved me and I loved her. As I read the story in the dream she smiled at me and that made me very happy.
Now I can read on the sleeves of that garment that dream and I can feel the same.
The craftsmanship of weaving in that place is remarkable.
“We made it for you,” they tell me.
“It’s a mistake,” I think, I still can’t talk.
“It can’t be, I can’t afford this.”
That thought is a reflex act. Those reflexes that originate in habits polished with time and that in the end create in us surfaces that reflect the same image. My wife and I were always aware of what we could and couldn’t have. I never felt poor, I never fed that idea in my life. But neither was the illusion of being who I wasn’t. And right now I feel that it has nothing to do with me. And nobody is going to convince me of it.
No matter how kind they are. I don’t understand why they did that job without making sure I was able to pay for it. At least it’s reckless.
One of them, perhaps guessing my embarrassment, clarifies an aspect of the embroidery I see.
“This color is for those who have provided
to his own. Those children are your offspring, growing on what you sowed, on your effort”.
But, I answer them… “We all do that, well, most of us do. That’s worthless.Every man has an obligation to support his own family, and if he does, there is no way he will lose his reward.”
“But I can’t pay for this” I repeat.
The way I look at him, he stops smiling and feels sorry for me. It clarifies something that I take a long time to understand. He tells me that they measure from scratch, that is to say. From nowhere to where I did things and they tell me that what I do is of great value.
I babble “but that…everybody does it” and they answer me… ” and they answer me “no one will lose their award.”
I’m beginning to realize, that any right effort, however small, yields a unique, unrepeatable fruit of its kind. But is that any victory? We never received any trophy for that, I think. Do you reward me with this garment for providing for my family? I considered that the satisfaction received was sufficient, the fulfillment of that duty was already retribution. I shrug my shoulders.
I look up to my left, leaving behind many questions and I see at shoulder height, the scene of a battle, a siege. Where someone from the battlements leads the defense of the square. A work of incredible quality, I don’t know the nature of the fabric or which hands can do something like that. The threads must be very fine because the precision of the detail is surprising.
Surrounded by enemies on horseback, fierce in appearance, it only enhances the majesty of the defenders. Victorious and sure of the end. It is exciting to see it. I try to remember some event of the history that represents that scene, to recognize the armor or the type of weapons. But I don’t come to any conclusion. And I ask, “Who’s leading the defense?”
They look at me between curious and funny. I realize that they enjoy that moment, that they have waited a long time for that instant.
And they say to me. “It’s you”
I shake my head, and I laugh, but no longer grounded. It’s a nervous, insecure laugh. Everything is a mistake, a misunderstanding. They have confused me with someone else. However, the place does not allow me to accept that explanation. I tell you that I’ve never been in a war. They smile at me with their eyes. Lower eyelid raised and eyes bright. They watch me in silence for a moment, at last one of them addresses me:
“You’ve been in many battles. This one you see on your shoulder is the one of faith. That’s what you went there to get it.”
I’m not aware I’ve won any victories. Yes, that of having endured some…battles…like providing what is necessary in spite of the difficulties, the sacrifice of my wife and mine to do the best…. Well, you could say so. To lose one’s health at times or to be crushed by the death of mine. To endure my persistent defects, yes that was a battle.
Especially for those who were close to me. And I smile at this. But the battle of faith, that, I tell you, I believe that I was always somewhere (and I point out the silhouette of the walls) behind those walls, perhaps in the
stables carrying hay for the horses.
They listen to me patiently as they hold that mantle in front of me, seemingly effortlessly. Without showing haste in whatever they were going to do. Whoever is on my left, the same one who helped me to wear the robe with red trimmings looks at his companions, steps forward and says to me almost whispering.
“When an exalted being faces for the first time the cold and dark void out there, he only has the faith to bring the light. Only faith can burn in that wasteland. When it does, it rejoices because it understands the light and is good. However, he has to win by faith in the dark and gloomy panorama of emptiness and opposition in which he finds himself. If you had not won that battle you could not be here. Because here you cannot acquire it, here you cannot find it. It is not here.”
As he sees my expression of confusion, he stands to my right surrounding those who held the mantle before me.
“When you decided to believe in this place without seeing it. When you decided to obey its laws without any victory or trophy in hand. When you resisted the thrusts of your logic, your sight and your senses…then you led not only your battle but that of many who had not yet been born. That is why we will also place on your neck the diadem of the principality…”
I don’t want to interrupt your work anymore. I let myself be dressed. And a warm sensation invades me as the simple light of moments before acquires an almost personal consistency. It is not an anonymous light. It has been present, watching me closely. Now it presents itself after having waited for the right moment. I realize that it is just one more inhabitant of those regions. It illuminates the understanding of things, as if oxygenating my understanding, previously lethargic.
And I begin to understand, especially to see clearly that the achievement of a life is not measured by comparing it to its environment. But according to the darkness outside, to the cold and black emptiness. That is the measure of things, the absolute zero of existence. Any elevation from there is an achievement for the doer. I realize that all the way gained by others when we are born is added to our favor as inheritance. As a personal achievement. And that any trace, step, word or result, however small, is added to the height of the whole. And it is the family through which it is possible to inherit these achievements.
Although I am beginning to know the answers, I still have the inertia of the words
“Why do you clothe me with these clothes and this mantle? Why do you put this diadem on my neck?”
I ask, although as the midday is done in that room, it also happens inside of me. I know, but I don’t want to learn yet, I don’t want to incorporate it. Not yet.
While they work on my appearance, I hear
“…because this day is the day of your victory and you will reap your triumph. For here, in this place, it is faith that provides light and power. Because you have conquered and you bring it within you.
Because you have won the dark and dark void from where you come, where only reason burns”.
I sit with my head so they can continue their work. They come closer and carefully wrap me in that mantle or tunic. It does not reach the ground. It fits my body perfectly. I feel comfortable. As soon as I feel their weight, it amazes me, because their appearance is imposing.
They look at me satisfied with me or their work. Perhaps both at the same time. Under their arms and without them asking me, I turn on me so that they can see their work already in use. They don’t expect it and they look at each other in amazement. I don’t understand their reactions to what I do. It looks like I’m someone.
They laugh as one of them, the one who spoke to me before, continues.
“When someone decides to take part in this place, in this realm, then he must learn to overcome by faith in the panorama of a fallen world governed by sight and touch. Then without seeing the walls and streets of this kingdom, there is light within his soul. Then the light begins to shine within an inhabitant, that fallen and dark world. He can almost see and feel the streets of that city that does not exist. In the anonymity of his own soul, he participates in the nature and character of the creator of the universe. Because the creator also had to call to the light in the darkest and coldest place, where everything invites to desist”.
Meanwhile, they adjust the set with a fabric belt similar to that of the mantle and retouch the folds.
At this moment I remember the buzz that I always had on the left of my chest, inside me, 20 centimeters from the skin. Most of the time I didn’t appreciate it. But when I was silent, meditating, or downcast, then I felt it. I could almost calculate its size, the size of a plum stone. It was like a silent pain and shy hidden inside. But in a stalking attitude. Waiting for his moment. And that hidden beast, dominated by the noise of the outside and by my will, would one day end up coming out and tearing me apart from within. It was death, my personal death. Not a concept, it was mine. And it inhabited me from the beginning.
I don’t remember the moment I knew it was there. But it was in childhood, when little by little I became aware of the contour of my body. And just as soap bubbles disappear into the air, despite their beauty and magic, I knew that one day I would no longer be there. But childhood takes everything away from the future of adults and I was not.
Ever since I entered this unknown place, it has remained silent. No, I mean wrong. It has disappeared and from the past pain I felt, when it woke up, when it broke me and carried me; I no longer have any memory of it. In that space before occupied, I notice the lightness of that lost load, I look for and I do not find that dark embryo that counterbalanced any joy with its silent and gray presence.
Now on the skin of that part of my chest, seen a tunic and on it, in that same place there is a small butterfly, of soft color and almost imperceptible in the intricate landscape of this mantle. And that butterfly flies over exactly the same place where, long ago, that plum stone-sized chrysalis murmured.
They look at me in silence.
They have clothed many like me. They know me well and know what is going on inside me. I feel it. But they are silent, an almost reverent silence. I begin to understand why that kind of silence, but I don’t want to know, not yet. I want to wait, it’s early to know all this. I need to finish dressing, so that I can bear it. Knowing everything I sense makes me feel naked, I need to cover myself to contain what is happening to me.
I’m asking if there’s any shoes. I am told that it is not necessary. I won’t find anything that could damage my feet.
They separate a few steps from me, they look at me satisfied. They look so simple! Where is the satisfaction of dressing someone like me?
One of them tells me that the time has come to leave the room. He points to a beautiful, finely carved door. And he kindly points his hand in that direction. I protest weakly, I ask you to accompany me, I would only get lost. I got there with the help I was given. I try to convince them, but I know it is not possible. I know it and yet I try.
They make a corridor two on one side and two on the other. I begin to walk through it, slowly, looking at both sides. I am afraid, if that is possible in that place. When I get to where one of them is, it stops me. It gives me something. It’s a pendant with a white pebble, he places it on my neck.
“With this you will not get lost, it will guide you and teach you. On it is engraved a new name.”
I was going to ask how it works. But I don’t, it’s no longer necessary.
I’ve passed them and I’m heading for the door. I want to turn my head and say goodbye. But the door catches my attention. I stand before it. I would stand there admiring the carving of what I suppose is wood. But I must go on. I advance my right arm to open.
When suddenly a thought takes hold of my mind. Like something I forgot and suddenly presents itself suddenly to alter everything. I know that if I remain calm everything will clear up, but I still don’t control my impulses. I turn around and see them accompanying me with their gaze. They have not moved from the place, they seem to enjoy the steps I take. I look at them with alarm and concern. And I babble, plunging into a scene unbecoming of the place and the company. I almost sobbed when I spoke.
“Something’s wrong… something’s not right. Something is missing.”
They look at me curious but not alarmed.
That reassures me a little. They are not disturbed. They smile at me and encourage me to talk. Words flock out of my mouth.
“In my tunic…in the mantle…something is missing. My defeats, my falls, my…my…my…my faults…my sins. They are not…where you have put them.?”
While I say this, I unbuckle the belt and look inside the mantle. They must be hidden there, covered so that they are not visible. I check the inside, I look under the sleeves. I take off my belt and all my clothes fall apart. I feel bad about that, I’ve thrown out your work. Then something happens that paralyzes me, that stops me in the act. The four of them run towards me.
They no longer look like butlers to me, but cheerful, joyful boys who wear something wonderful. They come crying, but not with sadness. Then they laugh as the solemn forms with which they received me dissipate. They run to me but not alarmed. Their eyes shine. They embrace me and kiss me on the cheeks. They embrace me like brothers. They spill like waterfall over me and repeat the same word over and over again. I hear it but I do not understand it, because I am saturated with its affection. They speak at the same time, spontaneously. I pay attention and I hear.
“He erased them… he erased them. He cleaned them… I cleaned them…”
And repeating these same words, they look at me in such a way that they move me to the interior of my chest, to that place already forgotten. We embrace each other with joy and other words that are known only here.
When I calmed down a little, then I understood. I always knew it. He was the one who kept that beast in the cage moment after moment. He was the one who rescued me from it. He was the one who silenced the dark buzz of death that inhabited my chest with the trumpet of hope. He was the one who encouraged me in the siege of the world. He was the one who gave me the flame to enlighten me in the dark moments. He was the one who cleaned me so that I could return home and present myself clean. My brother.
Well, said one of them. “Let’s fix you up a bit. You’re not going to show up like that after you leave this room. I wouldn’t say anything good about us.”
“You’re the best”. I answer them.
They smile, but are shy about praise. I keep mumbling, focusing my attention on them, and on
what they do.
“You are the best, there is no one like you.”
They make sincere gestures of humility and end up smiling patiently at my compliments.
Once they are finished they are withdrawn to the initial position. As if it were a rite that I don’t know. They re-create the same corridor. I stare at them and wave goodbye.
They have stars in their eyes.
I turn slowly and put my hand on the door, not daring yet to push. When I start to do it and before the leaf moves. I listen to my back. I listen without turning to the one who speaks to me. I can no longer turn back, only march forward through that door. I hear what the last gift of my friends is.
“Now you will meet them. To them, those who transform the dark into luminous forms through the faith and power they once achieved in an already extinct world.”