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

6: Jaramillo


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 a bun.

Avoiding the toys and other things on the floor, she stood by the puddles Homer had made, little dots floating amidst the mud.

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 moments later.

“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.


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