The backyard looked dark with its muddy floor and shrubs growing by the wall, as the sun careered through the sky in its
journey towards infinity.
Shifting on the mud by the edge of a puddle, Homer played with his toys in the water.
After enticing ants with a sweet he had put in a paper boat, he made it capsize amidst the mud.
After struggling for a few moments, their bodies floated in the water shining under the sun.
“Hurrah,” he said.
Homer danced around the puddle, as a woman appeared at the door wearing a dressing gown and with some of her hair tied in
Avoiding the toys and other things on the floor, she stood by the puddles Homer had made, little dots floating amidst the
Mother had waged a battle against the ants for some time. After invading their kitchen, they had gone to the other rooms until
the house had been full of the insects.
Shivering in the breeze blowing through the garden, she pushed a few strands of hair back.
“It’s time for lunch,” she said.
Those words brought Homer back to reality. He had to eat before conquering the world.
“Wash your hands now,” she said.
Leaving a trail of mud on the floor, he washed himself in the sink, as footsteps echoed in the corridor and father appeared
at the door.
Middle aged, plump and with a round face, he wore an apron over his big stomach while fiddling with his hands.
“I have a surprise,” he said.
Mother stopped with a plate in her hands, smoke rising to the ceiling like a staircase to heaven.
Father didn’t bring surprises very often, apart from a day when he had found a puppy in the street but she had taken
it to the dog shelter in spite of Homer’s complaints.
A small man interrupted the silence, his glasses shining under the light of the electric bulb.
Homer watched the stranger waiting by the door and with a case in his hands as the clock ticked and silence filled everything.
“Uncle Hugh,” mother said. “We didn’t expect you today.”
After disentangling herself from his arms, mother poured soup on another bowl as Uncle Hugh sat by Homer’s side, before
pushing his glasses up his nose.
Sipping his soup, he talked of his adventure in the sea, where he had been sick the whole time.
“You should have taken an alka seltzer,” mother said.
“Nothing works for me.”
Lying in bed for most of the time, the man had not enjoyed the fresh air or the Caribbean sun amidst his sickness.
Homer imagined his uncle looking at the land in the horizon, full of trees and hope, while his stomach hurt.
Then the man put a large hand on his shoulders.
“I remember the day you rescued a dollar bill,” Uncle Hugh said.
“After flying to the branches of a tree, he put it in his wet nappy,” mother said.
Homer knew all the rest.
A neighbour who happened to be hanging the washing at that moment dropped her husband’s pants in the mud, and he left
her for the barmaid living next door.
School children sang songs of glory as Father Ricardo praised the qualities of the child during Sunday mass. Everyone loved
him because he was a star. Then Uncle Hugh found a black and white photograph in the bottom of his bag.
“This is you,” he said. “I took this picture with my first camera.”
A chubby baby with long hair and a toothless smile sat in a chair. Mother had curled his hair to make him look like an angel
for the picture.
“I developed it in my studio,” Uncle Hugh said.
Talking of Homer’s childhood, mother served lunch in his plate while the breeze moved the branches of the tree outside
the window. Born during a solar eclipse, he had cried for the first time with the retreating shadows, while doctors and nurses
looked at the sun from the hospital roof.
An old nurse who didn’t have good eyes had helped with the delivery, and after mother had pushed a few times, Homer
had been born. Then the nurse had muttered those famous words.
“You have a girl,” she had said.
Hiding behind the shadow of the moon, the sun had been absent during Homer’s birth.
He tried to imagine that moment when mother thought she had the daughter she always wanted as father sulked.
Mother had wanted a pretty name for her daughter as the nurse delivered the placenta, but she discovered her mistake a few
“He had lots of dark hair,” father said.
“He was a darling,” mother said.
After wiping a tear, mother looked at the pictures on the wall, where she held a baby in her arms.
Following her gaze, Homer remembered the stories of the time they had sailed under the stars and towards the unknown.
Then Uncle Hugh gave him a shiny cent he had found in his pocket.
“Put it in your money box,” he said. “It will bring you good luck.”
“He’s a good boy,” mother said.
Homer admired the coin as the moment stretched into infinity, and the brown marks on the wall turned into monsters, fighting
amidst the buildings where the dollar reigned supreme.
“It’s time to go to bed,” mother said.
Homer rushed upstairs after wishing them goodnight. Once in his room, he emptied his bag on the bed and counted all the pesos
he had collected over the weeks, but his uncle’s coin was the prettiest.
Homer put it in his bag before he went to sleep.
Uncle Hugh slept in the guest room, next to marks on the wall undergoing some kind of transformation. Homer imagined his uncle
fighting the spirits of the house when they slept that night.
The man had gone by the time Homer had his breakfast next morning, but he had his coin and the mysteries of his birth had
been revealed to him. He thought of the dark sun deserting the moment of his birth, while sailing his boats in the pond. Homer
retreated into a world full of fantasy by the time Uncle Hugh visited them a few months later.
The man brought him a few toy cars and a tricycle.
“You can go around your tree now,” he said.
Homer played with his cars as Uncle Hugh spoke of his life as a journalist in New York, chasing film stars in their limousines
in a place called Broadway. Money filled Homer’s mind when he played with his trucks later. Then he saw a skinny boy
hiding behind the tree.
At first Homer thought he was a shadow until he noticed his dirty hair and freckles.
“Hello,” he said.
The boy remained quiet as time went past in this new reality where someone had invaded his universe.
“I’m Jose,” the child said at last.
Homer studied the stranger with dirty shoes and stained shirt as he left muddy streaks across his face, after wiping his nose.
“Would you like to play with my cars?” he asked.
Kneeling down on the floor, Jose ran one of the trucks along the track of dirt leading to the fence.
Then his truck flew around the yard, pretending to be a plane, but he fell on his face and Homer laughed.
After washing his hands in the water tap by the door, he played with the cars again, taking mud around the garden.
“I come from the jungle,” he said.
Homer shrugged. “You’re a liar.”
After Jose jumped on him, they rolled amidst the mud and stones, but as Homer barked, the child stopped his attack.
“Are you a dog?” he asked.
Jose imitated him but Homer shook his head.
“You have to do like this,” he said.
As he pursed his lips, he howled aloud. Jose took a deep breath and barked as Homer clapped his hands.
“Yes,” he said.
They barked while holding their cars and the dog next door howled. Then Homer’s mother appeared at the door.
“That dog is too noisy,” she said. “I’ll complain to the owner.”
She didn’t notice Jose and Homer thought the child lived in another world.
He played with his new friend in the garden, where muddy ponds glowed under the sun like sacred lakes lost in time.
Then Jose gestured at the stars that had appeared in the sky, as the sun set in the horizon.
“They’re mine,” he said.
Homer saw specks of light shimmering through the darkness while the child ran in circles around the tree, chanting strange
words and touching the bark.
“Two and two are seven,” he said.
Homer frowned. “No.”
“I say that whenever I feel worried.”
Shadows spread around them and more stars appeared in the sky, as Homer followed his friend. After a few minutes of chanting
and calling, they sat down in the ground to talk of their lives.
"I want revenge for my people,” he said.
Thinking Jose wanted to play another game, Homer ran around the tree shouting and barking but Jose had gone.
As he looked for him all over the garden, he found a roll of papers on the floor.
They must have fallen out of Jose’s pocket as he ran away.
Words in another language intermingled with drawings of the sun, looked back at him. Homer had never seen the strange symbols
full of words in another language. He had to keep them for Jose whenever he decided to visit him again.
Homer spent a boring evening, as his parents counted the little money they had earned during the day and Uncle Hugh told them
about his life in the USA.
After looking at the window, Homer saw stars peeking behind the clouds, and the Milky Way had to be up there, where suns burned
amidst dust and gas like Jose had said.
He listened to the sounds of the night while shadows danced by the tree.
“Mum,” he said.
“Do you want to go to bed?” she asked.
Homer nodded. Kissing his parents goodnight, he ran up the stair to his room.
“Don’t have bad dreams tonight,” he said.
Homer saw the tree towering over everything in the backyard, its branches reaching for the sky. Jose had to be real if he
had played with his toy cars. He went to sleep, thinking in all the money he would have one day, thanks to his lucky coin.
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
shed. Maria looked relaxed, in spite of her ordeal. As she talked, he noticed the crucifix moving between her breasts like
a lost angel. 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
Everybody had to have a pulse or they would die. He heard his own screams of pain as mother fainted.