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Siete minutos by Ismael Camacho Arango- Translated and edited by Maria Camacho

6: Jaramillo


One day something happened that changed his life. It started in a simple way like all the great things in the world.

An Indian with high cheek bones, a long black skirt and his hair in a pony tail had come in the shop.

Standing by the dirty white walls, he waited while Homer sold to the customers.

The counter and cobwebs stood between him and the stranger looking at him with dark eyes.

Customers came and went in the shop, cobwebs adorning the corners full of dust.

Miguel had gone to sort out a consignment of coca leaves and Maria had stayed at home, helping her mother to tidy the house.

Blending with the shadows the Indian stood by a few boxes of merchandise that had arrived that morning. Homer thought the man had gone to sleep, as he didn’t move or blink for some time.

“Can I help you?” he asked after he had served the last customer.

The Indian offered him something wrapped in a plastic bag. Homer didn’t like accepting gifts from strangers, but the man pushed it towards him.

The conservadores had sent an explosive device to a shop in the market a few days before and Homer felt nervous.

Waiting for something to happen, time had stopped, the seconds stretching into minutes before dissolving into hours.

“I want you to go,” Homer said.

Looking at him with dark eyes, the Indian remained by the counter, his hands fiddling with the bag.

The Indian might have hidden a dead animal inside there to scare him for some reason or to steal the merchandise.

Homer had to call the policemen patrolling the market. Keeping his cool, he tried to think of a way to throw him out of the shop.

“I’ll call the police,” he said.

His safe with the money and a gun he had bought some time ago, seemed far and dangerous.

The man remained still amongst the dust and the cobwebs. As he opened a bag, a small head surrounded by black hair appeared out of its entrails

It looked like a midget’s head with its eyes shut and sewn mouth. Memories of the fair with all the malformed people shut in cages came back to Homer’s mind.

“Is it real?” he asked.

As the Indian gestured at the bags of coca resting by the wall, Homer understood why he had brought the head.

The fame of his coca leaves might have spread to the inhabitants of the jungle, eager to find them.

On opening one of the boxes delivered that morning, he put a handful of coca by the man’s face, as his lips showed uneven teeth.

“I’ll give you coca if you bring me more heads,” Homer said.

The Indian chewed some leaves, his lips acquiring a dark tinge, while Homer examined the head. He had discovered something never imagined in his world.

Balboa must have felt like that as he set eyes on the Pacific Ocean or Columbus when he shouted “Land” for the first time.

In a moment of generosity, he wanted to offer the man his life and everything else in the world.

“Would you like a cup of tea?” he asked.

Busy smelling the coca leaves, the Indian didn’t pay attention to him. They had to be his favourite thing, even if he lived in a jungle full of wild plants.

As Homer boiled some water, he marvelled at the similarity between the man and the small head.

Children should play with shrunken men instead of artificial toys, he thought.

“No heads,” Homer said pointing at the bags. “No more coca.”

The Indian smiled showing rotten teeth, and Homer wondered whether he had understood anything. Rummaging in the wardrobe, he put a few things on the floor.

He had to find a map of the world his father had kept in there for some time.

Papers fell at his feet, and then he saw the folded atlas from his childhood.
On opening it on the floor, the capital and bigger cities on the cordillera appeared next to the jungle.

Homer pointed to the big map full of colours and writing.

“This is Florence,” he said. “Where do you live?”

Avoiding the papers strewn on the floor, the Indian stood next to him.

Homer read the names of a few of the geographical features in the area.

The Indian had a look at the map, as Homer talked of piranhas and giant snakes eating men alive.

“This is the Guaviare River,” he said.

“River,” the Indian said.

Then the man pointed at a place lost in infinity in the middle of the jungle.

“Is that your home?” Homer asked.

The Indian remained silent,trying to see something within the complexities of the map.

He had to live at the end of the world, far from civilisation and lost in the wilderness.

As Homer pretended to ride on a horse, the man stopped his scrutiny of the paper.

“Do you go there by horse?” Homer asked.

He galloped around the room, repeating the word horse all the time.

Laughing aloud, the Indian pushed his plaits back while getting up from the floor.

Homer had to be a funny man trying to communicate with him.

"I want to know where you live," Homer said.

The Indian ran the leaves through his fingers, indifferent to the question.

Getting a few pictures he had found by the map, Homer showed them to the man.

A puma looked at them from behind some trees, while naked women washed their clothes by a river away from civilisation.

“I still don’t know where you come from,” Homer said.

Chewing coca, the Indian didn’t understand what Homer meant. He had come here for a purpose, and everything else didn’t matter.

Pointing at the dot the man had shown him before, Homer looked at him.

“I’ll give you more leaves if you take me there,” he said.

Lost in the pleasure of the leaves, the man smiled, but then he looked at the darkness outside the window.

After shutting his box, he got ready to go back home, wherever that was.

“Wait a minute,” Homer said. “We must talk.”

“When are you coming back?” he asked.

Muttering something the Indian moved along the corridor. Homer stopped him by the door.

“Remember to bring more heads,” he said.

He watched the little man disappearing around the corner, taking the mysteries of the jungle with him.

Homer admired the head in the privacy of his room, feeling the rough skin of the face and the black hair around it.

He dreamed of a place in the jungle full of heads, each one of them worth a few hundred dollars.

He had to do something with it. The president of the republic might not be interested in the trophy but Uncle Hugh could offer it to rich people in the States.

After writing a short letter to his uncle, Homer found a padded envelope in his desk, to protect the head in its long journey to New York.

The jungle was full of heads and other mysteries worth thousands of dollars

Homer went to sleep on the boxes of merchandise that evening, surrounded by coca and dreams.

He awoke as the rays of the sun came through the window.

The Indian’s present rested on the table, some of its hair coming out of the envelope.

On examining it once more, he saw wrinkles around the eyes and little holes in the cheeks. A simple head reduced to its smallest expression might make him the richest man on earth.

As Maria appeared at the door, Homer put the head in the bag, as she frowned.

“You should buy a bed,” she said.

Lots of bags lay under the table, while dust adorned the sides of the room, spiders looking down from their cobwebs.

Homer hoped to sort all the mess one day amidst his busy life.

Maria boiled some water as he thought of his new business.

He couldn’t wait for the Indian to come back with more heads to send to Uncle Hugh in the USA. Then Maria screamed.

“Something is on the floor,” she said.

The head had fallen amidst the papers and other things, but Homer had left it inside the envelope a few moments before.

It had to be magic. Taking the broom Homer had left by the door, she got ready to attack the thing with all her force.

“It’s a head,” Homer said. “An Indian gave it to me.”

“A head?”

Maria studied the face, keeping a few steps away in case something odd happened.

“It doesn’t bite,” Homer said.

She pretended nothing had happened, while wiping the surfaces.

“Would you come with me to the jungle?” he asked.

She dropped the saucepan she had been washing, the noise spreading through the kitchen.

A man seldom asked his girlfriend to go to the jungle unless he wanted to marry her.

“Is it to find your Indians?” she asked.


“I will have to ask father.”

Maria couldn’t do anything on her own. She had to ask her parent's permission to discover the world.

Homer thought of those horrible ants devouring everything in their way, while they made love forever.

On finishing with his tea, he found stamps inside the desk. The head had to travel through the sea to get to that land full of opportunities and dollar bills.

“The Indian lives by the Guaviare River,” he said.

“Did he tell you that?”

After opening the map on the table, he showed her the part of the jungle where the heads might be. A tiny dot lay amidst the green savannah full of trees and animals.

The Indian had to trek a long way in search of coca leaves. As Homer looked into her dark eyes, he wished she came with him.

Holding her hand, he muttered sweet words in her ears, hoping for the impossible.

“The jungle is dangerous,” she said.

“I know.”

He tried to imagine the root he might take, while Maria ran her fingers along an invisible path joining Florence in Caquetá with the Indian village. That had to be the shortest way to go to the heart of the jungle.

“Will he come back?” she asked.

”He wants coca leaves.”

Homer thought one hundred dollars might be too cheap for the head, and it might fetch more money.

He told Uncle Hugh of his plans for getting more heads from the jungle.

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