Traducción de los primeros capítulos de La hija de la Cabra (Mercedes Araujo) por Dario Bard
Daughter of the Goat (Mercedes Araujo) Published by Ed. Bajo la Luna, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Chapter 1: The Tree of Justice and Pleading
Dunes and mountains. The sun rose and the wind dragged the animals. His clothes, rags; his face, filthy. Covered in a mask of white dirt. His flesh hangs sculpted in the air. He tries to speak as he trembles, suspended from a branch, his hands bound with a leather strap. He shakes himself violently, intending to loosen the bind bruising his wrists, and his body undulates in a strained, short, convulsive movement. He knows he is going to die. He nods, trying to shake the dust from his eyes.
He utters a question, but no one responds. He knows the answer: there will be no funeral and no woman will cry over him. His hanging fleshis to become a courtesy for the birds of prey. Already he sees them, stalking him: flying low, its eyes vigilant, a hawk with a cinnamon-colored back shows him its predator’s beak; it will perch on the side of the wound, dig into his flesh, determined, stabbing. Night falls over him and from below, a hairy wolf looks up and waits for carrion.
Life, the other, how did I end up here. Let’s see: silence, loneliness, betrayal, nothing more; hanging here, my nose bleeding. Mummy, cadaver, broken.
Stripped, covered in mud. Dying of thirst. He tries to bend his knees and bring them up to his belly. His back stretched, his arms rigid, supporting all his weight. Stiffened, the hot wind rocks him softly.
Night slashed by a heated wind that sways me and sticks to me. The living image of the female, Juana, the traitorous mule, knitting. She looks on me with fluttering eyes, and continues with her needlework, a lost look on her face. I would kill, I would give my life to the shit who offers me a dirty rag. The night is long and maybe Juana will come closer. What a thought! Like a ghost, she looks at me, her black hair, her brow wrinkled with furrows of fury, her body of stone. I am dreaming her.
He is shrouded in the never-ending buzzing of mosquitoes swirling in the air, whipping the air, bloodsucking mosquitos.
He stretches his body and tries to touch the ground with the tips of his toes. The strap bites into his skin and the veins on both his arms pulsate. Useless, it’s useless, the ground is too far away. In a sharp and short movement, he lifts his knees and arcs his back.
How did I end up here. Sour saliva rises in his throat and he spits it out. If they had killed me, but no, the lizards hang you and leave you to die.
Sleep until my time comes. Sleep, dream that I drink, drink until I get drunk and fall down. And may death come. I imagine her, she is missing a hand, her head is like a dark maelstrom of wind trailing trash and blinding you, a tornado made of insect swarms: flies, mosquitos and lightning bugs. When will she vanquish me?
His face cracked by the wind, his arms numb, he balances. A dog hears me with prickedears. He doesn’t lift up his eyes, he does not look at me. Animals know.
How did I end up here? Birds screech, I scare them away, I kick, I am still alive, I am not carrion, not yet, you butchers. I pray for the sake of praying. I want to sleep, I wet myself. The dust in my eyes, I pray for another sound, not the shrilling of the raptors. My legs are tense, my mouth is dry; it is time to loss it all, to forget where I come from.
The dog abandons its stillness and sits up. The putrid smell of its hair. Of my hair. Lick my feet with your warm tongue, for mercy’s sake, come on boy. He walks off without coming near, animals know.
Dawn appears, a milky, whitish veil rises from the earth, encircles and envelopes him.
They took him down, dead and pecked, from the branch of the dry carob tree. The tree of justice and pleading. Someone carried his body away and rolled it down a mountain.
Chapter 2: Discord from the Start
He looks at the house one last time. The wooden table and the chair. He takes the cot and loads up the saddle. There is nothing left. A pair of ruined sheepskin saddle blankets and the stains of black smoke exhaled by the carbon in the brazier, still smoldering. The foreman at the mine fired him that night, giving him a few hours to escapeafter having killed the braggart who had stolen his woman away.Earlier he had been told the traitor was in town. He spotted him from afar, went over to him in silence and jabbed his knife into his jugular; he pulled it out covered in blood, dripping red, the handle flashing in his hands. With a handkerchief he wiped the blade, washed his hands and left. The handkerchief, tainted scarlet, lay tossed by the supply store’s door.
“The road to Bermejo, from there take the trail of thorns; it is desolate and rough going. Look for the way to San José and there take the trail to the north.In three days’ journey you’llarrive at Las Lagunas. Find the priest and tell him I sent you.”
His compadre shows him the way and then encourages him: you’ll see more stars than if you died with your eyes wide open. He gives him a few pats on the back. When there’s vengeance, there’s vengeance, and when there’s music, you sing, he says, a black smile, a dirty moustache, his eyes shimmering like coins re-washed. It’s as if the devil is guiding him.
Laconic and with his heart sounding addled and wheezing, he lashes the hide that carries him, and on those four feet he steps on bare earth. Taciturn he rides and murmurs curses that echo against the phantasmal tapestry of a landscape he cannot quite discern.
He rides across the dreadful desert. Murmuring threats. Flesh of my flesh, bones of my bones, the snake. She pushed me to hell. May she crawl on her belly and eat dust, the traitor. He scarcely manages to avoid rodent holes and armadillo burrows. No refuge is revealed to him. His senses are numbed and he presses his knees against the horse’s sides to lift his legs off its back. The beast is a blue roan, an overo with black and white spots that flash a bluish glow in the moonlight. He scans the horizon. He is tall and thin, light-skinnedwith red hair and a wolf-like face hidden under a beard he trims every now and then, and which is starting to grey. Man and animal, the moon makes them whiter and bluer.
Dawn. The sun outlines the immensity. Starving, as hungry as a greyhound. He sets off at a gallop until the animal no longer responds and threatens to lie down in the middle of the road. He makes a lasso out of the reigns and tightens it around its neck. The beast rages as it suffocates. The yellow flowers that blossom from the black branches of the jarilla come alive in the light.
The midday sun burns his eyes and blinds him. The birds in the sky accompany them for a distance and then abandon them. Not even a single armadillo to skin. Iguanas prowl around nests. They have to be there, hiding in the thorny brush, the creepers.
He sings and curses, stretches his neck trying to see farther; the brightness impedes it. He spits, croons, swears. The horse takes off. It bolts and instantlygoes from a trot to a gallop.Its back boils salt water. They both have their hides messy and tangled, sticky dirt in their eyes and an uneasy feeling that runs through their veins and intimately joins them.
In the middle of the night, he spots water in the distance, the twinlagoons. In the air he smells the aroma of the dry jarilla and the rotten odor of the remains of dead beasts. He puts the horse to drinking. He shakes his sombrero, body and boots. He sticks his head in the water and it comes up covered in filthy mud, it drips from him till mid-afternoon. His eyes burn. They tingle and sting. He rubs them. The mud emits a foul mist. He does not know where he is. Behind him, he hears the horse snort and slurp the dense water, lapping it up with its heavy tongue. He lays down and sleeps.
He awakens. The glare hurts him. A priest is standing beside him and scrutinizes his eyes with the caginess of a fox. The white man sits up. The priest maintains an unfriendly and sustained silence, which is broken only when Zapata’s name is invoked. The priest gives him his hand and mumbles something he does not understand. Compassion, because it is what the law demands, and not because I found you here, and he hands him a handkerchief that the white man scrunches against his face. He rubs his arms and head. He cleans himself hurriedly.
“Everything is pretty miserable here. Don’t expect hospitality, food or company.”
“Is there somewhere else around here?”
“We’re isolated. Not a soul until Divisadero.”
The priest looks at him in silence. The white man scratches his head and shakes the dust off the muddy clothes that cover his body.
“I’m not one to get drunk at the first place I come to. Is there water, animals?”
“Tomorrow I’ll show you the way. Brackish water, worthless reeds and a disinclination toward strangers, that is all there is. There is also the path of the fugitives, I’ll show it to you tomorrow.”
They walk; the priest with his white shirt, the sleeves rolled up, and he with his clothes in rags. The horse escorted between them, its head upright, its eyes turning to one side and then the other, the leather saddlebags, torn and resewn, swaying. The white man, his eyes fixed on the ground, and the priest, prim and proper, advance in silence, like apparitions.
The priest orders two women to serve them food. The white man downs a glass of wine and asks for another. Rice and beans, boiled in a grimy broth. He devours it. Out of the corners of their eyes, the women regard the red crest and grey eyes. The white man points to his plate and raises his eyebrows. One of them laughs and the other hides, embarrassed. The priest watches him with clenched jaw. To the white man, the laguneras’ pupils turn into black hollows. They are strong, well-built females. The priest diverts his attention.
“The Old Testament, have you read it, rider? The church says that it is worthless, but I find it useful in this desert. Listen: ‘When you cross the Jordan into the land of the Canaan, you shall appoint cities to be cities of refuge, as refuge for murderers who have killed without intending to. The murderer shall flee there, and shall stand before the gate and state his case to the city elders. And they shall take him in and give him a dwelling among them. And if the avenger of the murder pursues him, he shall be delivered if he killed knowingly.’ Where are you from? You said Zapata sent you to this wasteland?”
“A friend, you say, or an enemy? Where were you before that?”
“At a mine.”
“And before the mine?”
Thereabouts, hostile cretin, where does he think he is. His suffering will be multiplied in Las Lagunas. With that red mop of hair and Nazarene beard, how old might he be.With the Cunampas clan, you always lose.
“If I vouch for you, you’ll have to prove yourself, and it will never be for much time.”
Suddenly, the priest pins down his left hand, the white man flinches. He makes an abrupt move, but does not try to free his trapped fist.
Wild pumas, wily cats. Mountain lions, eyra cats, with the laguneros I learned to tame them. But, your eyes are glassy, with hidden tears. Scared like a dog that has scented the trail of the wolf.
“The horse,” says the priest, not letting go of his hand, with knuckles protruding like stones.
“What about the horse?”
The white man looks over at his horse, waiting meekly by the chapel gate. And looks at the priest. Predatory, with rounded head, short nose, dilated eyes. That white collar.
“The horse to let you stay and to speak to Cunampas on your behalf.”
We fight with our eyes. He’s already wounded, I landed the first blow, I stuffed his belly and ordered to have him cleaned up.
“I’ll lend him to you, but if something happens to him, someone steals him, some beast attacks him, he breaks a leg, or a foot or dies, I’ll have you shaking until you are pale, and it won’t matter to me if you are a priest or an animal.”
“Control yourself, fugitive, and in exchange I tell you this: while I’m away, be careful with Cunampas when he goes up on the mountain, it’s because there is nothing left to eat.” They fight with eyes become knives. “Usually, they comeback empty handed, unless some ranch foremen give them goats. They are a superstitious lot, but in times of peace they are meek and serene. If I vouch for you, they will let you be, but don’t think about going by there or stirringtrouble when I am away.”
At night the white man takes off his boots. With his nails he scrapes off flakes of mud encrusted in his neck.
I couldn’t sleep. The sheets washed by women’s hands soothed my back. Memories scorched my mind. That I worked in the mines. I didn’t tell him about when I was a stablehand, with the militia, in the full light of the desert, we smelled battle. The lances were lightning bolts and the earth burned us all. The beast I mounted turned to wood, petrified.The feathered men made us jump, with their lances and their war cries. We fought where the desert meets the Colorado. I didn’t tell him that I had killed nor that on Christmas Day the officers sent us home from the desert. On a dry, clear morning, with my knees locked, pressed against the belly of the wooden horse they saddled me with. My teeth chattered. Stablehand. I slept during the day, and stood watch at night, riding in a circle around them. Calming the spooked herd, comforting the horses. A terrified stampede. I still dream about it. Shushing them.When they run out of breath, they get used to the shouting,they crowd together and one by one come to a halt, gently, one after the other. I gather them up like stones in the palm of my hand and round them up. I hear their wheezing breathing. Their mouths wet, hollow. I had to cut their ears, cutting a beast’s right ear, you bleed it a little and the blood gets in its eyes. Stunned and weakened, they slow to a trot and are no longer haughty and no longer bolt.
Christmas Day on my way home the desert showed its barrenness. My woman waited for me but when I got there, it was the house of betrayal. Filth. I drank and slept, exhausted, until the sound of faraway thunder put my hair on end. A month passed without news from the bitch, the traitor wasn’t home and I drank and dreamed until one day I picked myself up like a horse on its hind legs.Standing. Upright. Then I knew someone had taken her away. I waited for the bastard until he turned up and I killed him. As for the traitorous female, I never saw her again. At a mine, I said, always at a mine. Were you a solider? Never, I said.
Together they walk over to a shed where the horse rests. The white man bridles it and makes it walk. With a sour grin, he hands it over. The priest saddles it and adjusts the straps. The beast watches them, haughtily, its ears upright.
Leery, the white man watches the priest depart. He mounts him upright. The horse takes off at a fast trot, its hind hoof stepping past where its front hoof had been.