Homer danced around the tree of life chanting to the stars, scaring the squirrels and stepping on centipedes. Jose’s
last words didn’t make any sense now or ever.
“Where are you?” he asked.
On imagining Jose wrapped in his invisibility cloak, Homer waited under the branches, as the breeze moved his hair and the
birds looked for worms in the grass.
Jose had to be on the other side of the garden, where the bushes formed a green mass of plants and hedges
“Hi,” someone said.
An electric current ran through his body as the most beautiful girl in the world, wearing a blue dress that moulded itself
onto her body had appeared by his side.
At first he thought he had imagined her, but then she smiled, showing perfect teeth beneath rosy lips.
“You’re real,” he said.
The girl’s laughter interrupted the silence of his world, while he played with his clothes. Then she tried to look serious.
“I’m Miguel’s daughter,” she said.
The man helping in his parent’s shop had to be Miguel and this wonderful creature his daughter. The sound of the dog
next door barking interrupted his reverie.
“I don’t like dogs,” she said.
They ran back into the kitchen where a cluttered table stood by a sink full of saucepans. On tidying away some of the chaos,
he found the tricycle Uncle Hugh had given him years before along with the toy cars. As she looked at the pictures in the
albums, Homer wanted to impress her.
“My parents came here in a big ship,” he said.
“They must be rich.”
“It had many floors, and windows.”
He explained how travelling in search of a dream, they had bought the shop after borrowing money from Uncle Hugh.
They had to pay him back but the business had been slow during the last few months. Father had been sick for most of the journey
but mother had looked after the child.
“Dad used to take me to see the seagulls chasing the ship.”
“They catch flying fish.”
Maria saw a few pictures of seagulls Homer had in a magazine. Those birds brought to memory the sea moving the ship while
father drunk lots of herbal tea to cure his sea sickness.
“A child without a country,” he said.
“I don’t think it matters.”
Talking about his childhood wouldn’t stop his longing for that country he had never known. As she ate a biscuit, he
saw crumbs falling between her breasts, disappearing into infinity.
“Your parents should sell coca,” she said.
“Coca?” he asked.
She nodded. “The Indians will travel long distances to buy it.”
Homer’s eyes rose from her breasts to her face. He wanted to do whatever she said to have her by his side forever.
“Father buys coca from Coconucos in the central cordillera,” she said.
Homer had never heard of it. Rummaging in her bag, she put a few crushed leaves in his hand.
“Put them in your mouth,” she said.
He wanted to kiss her lips, as he heard the story of the plant the Indians chewed on their journey through the mountains.
Homer imagined them queuing outside the shop, bringing the spells of the jungle to his business.
He followed her dark eyes, as she looked at the palms of his hands, making his hairs stand on end.
“Your life will end with the sun,” she said.
“I don’t believe you.”
She told him how her mother had taught her to read palms on quiet evenings, when her brothers and sisters had gone to sleep.
The sun might be at the end of his life as it had been before. Then he showed her the papers Jose had left by the tree.
“He was my invisible friend,” he said. “We went around the tree of life, chanting to the stars and the universe.”
As she studied the papers, Homer looked at her profile under the light of the sun coming through the window. He wanted to
do anything for this beautiful girl who had given him coca leaves.
“It looks like Egyptian language,” she said. “I like to read magazines about the pyramids.”
Homer looked at the words made up of strange things. It had to be a magical language if Jose had known it.
“Can you decipher them for me?” Homer asked.
“You can call me Maria.”
“Maria,” he said. “Will you help me to translate the papers?”
“I’m always busy.”
She lived in a small room with a cooker and a cubicle with a shower in the corner. With only three beds, her father slept
on the sofa and some of her brothers on the floor. Homer listened to all the problems she had in her life.
“I have seen rats in the latrine,” she said.
“It’s a hole in the backyard.”
He had never heard of such a thing. They had to move over piles of rubbish strewn on the floor to go to the latrine by the
Maria looked relaxed, in spite of her ordeal. As she talked, he noticed the crucifix moving between her breasts like a lost
Homer wanted to eat her slowly, tasting every bit of her for eternity.
“Won’t you sleep with me tonight?” he asked.
“I’d have to marry you first.”
She wouldn’t accept the offer of his bed, even if she had to sleep with her family.
“I’ll buy you a house when I’m a millionaire,” he said.
“You’ll forget about me.”
“I won’t,” he said.
“It says in your hands.”
Then mother appeared at the door, clutching a handkerchief.
“Your father is sick,” she said.
After running upstairs, Homer found father in bed, the room smelling of incense and herbs, as tufts of hair stuck to his skin.
Illness was a luxury father couldn’t afford when they needed money to renovate the shop.
“He had a convulsion a few minutes ago,” mother said.
Father had gone to bed, complaining of pain in his arm that morning as Miguel had seen to the customers in the shop. A bottle
of aspirin lay on the bedside table, the best drug in the world according to her, while the clock on the wall marked the passage
“Miguel has gone to call the doctor,” she said.
Lost in their own thoughts, they waited in silence, darkness stretching up to infinity outside the window.
Mother held father’s hands, muttering a prayer and wishing for him to get better.
“Everything will be fine,” Maria said.
Then the room turned icy, incense filling everything as mother prayed to her God.
Homer didn’t feel any pulse in his father’s wrists. Everybody had to have a pulse or they would die.
He heard his own screams of pain as mother fainted.