En la barca / Rubi Guerra

On the Boat

     We row along the river’s slow current. Standing on the flat bottom of the boat we pushed ourselves along with poles made slippery by the sweat and humidity. My two companions leave the last of their energy in the struggle against the viscous and absorbent riverbed. A yellow sky, unprotected by clouds, hangs over our heads like a threat. A tenuous cloud of vapor rises from the surface of the water. Shadows move amidst the palm trees on the far shore, we don’t know if they belong to animals or to the inhabitants of the devastated region.
     A wide estuary opens to our efforts. The waters of the river seem to spin around themselves, they form whirlpools of unhealthy colors, as though they couldn’t find an escape toward an impossible sea. The heat becomes less crippling.
     We advance toward a line of big mansions with wooden doors. As we drawn near, we notice that the iridescent water reaches the lowest windows. The fire has consumed the rooftops, the doors have fallen off the hinges and there are gunpowder and blood stains on the walls. We direct the boat toward one of them, more elevated than the rest, protected from the waters by a marble staircase.
     We agree to spend the night there. Hunger torments us. Even in that condition we manage to sleep, aided by exhaustion and the will to annul the world.
     I wake up with the first light of the sun. I shake my companions and we’re soon on our feet, ready to continue our journey, to reach the sea, to move as far away as possible and forget this region that’s been forgotten by the gods. The golden reflections of the newborn sun on the water and the facades of the mansions make the horror of the destruction disappear for an instant and allow a fugitive beauty to prevail.
     We search amid the underbrush and palm trees for the way out of the estuary. Slow spirals disorient us, but we eventually find it, hidden between scrubs and fallen trunks. The jungle surrounds us once again and accompanies us for hours.
     After unprecedented efforts one of my companions manages to catch a large fish. Three little horns stand out on its head. We gut it and lay its meat to dry on the planks of the boat. Hours later we devour it, sating the hunger that threatens to bring us down.
     Long stretches of jungle have disappeared, consumed by the fires. From the dead and blackened earth rises the smoke of the charred trees and animals. Further ahead, standing in the mud of the shore that stains her dress, a woman makes signs at us. We manage to drawn near and she climbs onto the boat. She stretches out on the floor with her eyes closed, her hands over her mouth in a gesture of stopping some words that she will never pronounce. We look at her and then back at each other; she’s a beautiful young woman despite her pale face that seems to announce death. I touch her on the shoulder; I offer her the remnants of the raw fish.
     At night we’re stunned by the icy glimmer of the stars. The constellations spin while we take turns rowing.
     The presence of the woman, who remains apart and silent, has made my companions stern and between them they’re plotting some type of violence. I decide to keep one step ahead of their designs: I wait for my turn in charge of the vessel; when I see them sleeping I toss the one closest to me into the thick water, where he sinks without even screaming. I hit the other one behind his ear with the pole. He tries to stand up; blood runs down his neck. I unleash a second, terrible blow to his skull. The sound of broken bones wakes up the woman, who begins to shriek as though she were crazy. The whiteness of her thighs awakens my drowsy senses.

Translator’s note: This text is included in an appendix of a novella by Guerra about the final days of the Venezuelan poet José Antonio Ramos Sucre in Europe in 1930. This is the first of Guerra’s three imitations of Ramos Sucre.

{Rubi Guerra, La tarea del testigo, Caracas: Lugar Común, 2012 / Fondo Editorial El perro y la rana, 2007 }

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