Third Prize, International Competition of Poetry and Short Stories “Alberto (Pocho) Domínguez”, Sydney September 2005.
Grandma Lucia arrived in town at the dawn of the century, as
the star trapeze artist of the Razore Circus. At that time Santa Rosa consisted of the main park, one church, the school and seven streets with one hundred and seventy-five houses, eight hundred and ninety three inhabitants, three hundred and twenty-five head
of cattle, two hundred and thirty-two horses, one hundred and thirteen dogs and forty-five cats, plus chickens, ducks and other bits and pieces.
At seventeen she was the most beautiful woman ever to have set foot in the town. With her
golden dress covered with sequins, her statuesque body gyrating in the heights, she awakened the passions of all the young men who walked around with eyes closed, dreaming that she would one day become the woman of their lives. More than one swore to follow
the circus around the world with the sole purpose of savouring the lasting joy of seeing her defying death every night, with her risky manoeuvres in the air, and an angelical smile on her face.
But the circus was doomed to tragedy.
First it was the elephant. When trying to lift his front legs to greet the public, he lost his balance and fell backwards on top of Geronimo, his tamer, crushing him to death. On top of all the confusion and horror caused by this incident, there was the difficulty
of removing him, as he was squashed to the circus ring like a stamp, the thickness of a banana skin, and several people were needed to carefully lift his remains with the aid of shovels. He was then placed on a bed sheet, which someone had found, and rolled
up like a rug, to make it easier to place him in a coffin.
On a clear and starry night, two weeks later, out of the blue, a bolt of lightning struck the circus starting a fire the like of which had never been seen before, and reduced it
to ashes. Only Lucia and the two animal carers escaped and managed to move the cages to a safe place.
Some old folks said it was God’s will in order to force Grandma Lucia stay in town, and make it prosper.
following day, after they had rescued the few belongings left, Lucia divided equally between the three survivors the coffer, which contained proceeds from the ticket sales. She then went to talk to the animals to soothe them, a skill she
had learnt from Geronimo the tamer, during the fifteen years that he had played the role of father and mother to her after the death of her parents in a trapeze accident, in a far away land.
Lucia told her two friends that she had had
enough of circuses, and planned to remain in the town forever. They decided to stay with her and became her helpers, and servants, for the rest of their lives. They were two brothers, and were named Second and Third. They told Lucia that their eldest sibling
had been called First, but he had died. They settled down in a rented house on the outskirts of town, furnished it with the best furniture they could buy in the area, and after creating a common fund with the money, they realised that they could live free
of care for two or three years.
Worried about the welfare of the animals, Lucia talked to the Mayor and obtained in perpetuity the forestlands south of town. She bought wire fences and worked day and night with her two helpers, until they
built an ideal refuge for them to live in peace and harmony.
News of the refuge spread around, from mouth to mouth amongst the animals, and in two months, something happened that went beyond the limits of fantasy. Like things that only
happen in fairy tales, tigers, lions, panthers, wolves, monkeys, rhinoceros, hippopotamus and gorillas began to arrive, and the refuge became a zoo as big as nothing ever before seen since the times of Noah’s Ark! Even more, the intimacy and love
among them was such, that shortly after, new species started to be born, startling the more reputed scientists of the world. Lucia was declared universal benefactor of all animal species!
With no tutoring, she learnt all the
business ropes. She placed two ticket windows by the zoo door, which were disguised as hippopotamus heads, and very soon, thousands of tourists from all over the country and abroad started to come to visit the town, bringing with them prosperity for Lucia,
Second and Third. This prosperity extended to all the inhabitants of the town, who started to open up restaurants, hotels and amusements centres to satisfy demand. With her own money, Lucia had the road surfaced, installed electricity and built a hospital,
where, free of charge, townspeople and tourists were attended.
In two years time she had built modern developments and hotels, and Santa Rosa became a cosmopolitan city known the world over for its famous zoo, where tourists were able
to stroll amongst wild animals without fear. This was because Grandma Lucia, with her talent for talking to the animals in a language which had no vowels, and they understood, had convinced them that human flesh not only tasted badly, but also was not at all
good for their health!
It was rumoured that a gringo tourist by the name of Disney, fascinated with the zoo, offered millions of dollars to take it to the United States, but Grandma Lucia flatly refused. Upset with the denial, he returned
to his country and, as he could not stop thinking about the marvels he had seen, created something similar several decades later. As he was unable to have wild animals and humans mixing harmoniously together, he was forced to build a zoo and amusement park
out of cardboard, fibreglass and plastic.
One day a handsome man with a languorous, romantic gaze and reddish-gold hair came to town. His name was Nicanor Buenaventura. While walking around the zoo he met Lucia and without any need for
words, they realised that this was the beginning of a love affair that was to last fifty years, seven months and fourteen days. They were discreetly married in a private ceremony. They were a couple that had the divine gift of adoring each other, and while
she continued her routine of turning everything she touched into gold, he worked at spending the fortune in the extravagant whims of the nouveau rich.
Grandpa Nicanor built a mansion on a hill overlooking the town. It had twenty-five rooms,
each with a private bath, and four pavilions, which he filled with Capo di Monte porcelains, art reproductions, and whatever unusual nick-knacks he found in his wanderings. They had three children in rapid succession. Uncle Vinicio, Auntie Eunice and
Custodio, my father. They were educated in the best schools, and later on joined the business, increasing the family fortune.
I was born in 1938 in a golden crib. By then Grandpa Nicanor had a fleet of seven cars all in different colours,
one for each day of the week. Dressed in a white linen suit and a Panama hat, he used to walk around town, picking up stray, attractive young girls who he met on his way. He did this not because he didn’t love grandma, but for the sheer pleasure of spreading
the family wealth to every corner of town. The minute one announced they were pregnant; they were assigned a monthly allowance. This way he parented thirty-six bastard children, who years later were acknowledged before a Public Notary Officer, granting them
the same rights as his legitimate children.
In 1948, after the murder of the Great Leader, the political violence started. Criminals in battle uniform raided the town under the leadership of a young illiterate peasant, famous for placing
the bullet where he put his eye. Threatening letters were received at the mansion, demanding monthly payments in order to avoid more drastic steps such as kidnapping, or murder. For the first time, the Buenaventura family was forced to arm themselves and engage
an army of bodyguards for protection.
In the night of 15 March 1952, the inhabitants heard the hammering of machine-guns and heavy artillery on the outskirts of the town. The few, who dared look out the window, saw with terror the explosions
that lit the darkness with lightning bolts, and flashes. Then there was silence, and at dawn, amid the consternation and horror of the town's people and tourists, all the zoo animals were found dead.
This unjustified massacre marked the
beginning of the end of the Buenaventura family. Grandma Lucia thoroughly devastated by the tragedy, lost her zest for living and entered into a state of unconsciousness, dying on 21st March at 10:15 am, which was exactly the same day, and time,
she arrived in this world sixty-nine years before.
The entire family were present at that solemn moment when she expired, and closed her eyes forever in a state of sanctity. A bluish vapour emanated from her body, passing through
the windowpane and rising up through the clouds, disappearing in the distance, towards the sky.
“She was a real saint,” declared Auntie Eunice. “We will always remember her with love and veneration because she created
our family empire, which has now started to vanish”.
The entire town’s people attended Grandma Lucia’s funeral. Archbishop Gomez Perdomo came all the way from the capital city to celebrate mass, and then led the funeral
procession to the cemetery. The solemnity and elegance of the burial was remembered for many years, as were the speeches delivered by the Mayor, the political leaders, and the heartfelt eulogy of Mario Salazar, the town poet.
At the moment
of lowering the coffin one of the ropes snapped, and the coffin started to slide down until it noisily fell to the bottom of the grave. “Louts!” yelled Uncle Vinicio. How dare you! You have killed her!” Drawing out his revolver
he aimed at the assistants in charge of lowering the coffin. Luckily the Archbishop and the Mayor, prevented tragedy from marring the funeral of such a saint, holding my uncle, and taking him away to calm down from the fit of rage caused at the sight of seeing
his mother so ill-treated.
Two years later Grandpa Nicanor died. He died in his own manner and in a rented bed. In a hotel of ill repute, he suffered a sudden and devastating heart attack, lying on top of a scrawny fourteen-year-old girl
with legs akimbo like a little frog.
After grandpa’s funeral, time started running backwards in the town, returning gradually to the past. Santa Rosa entered an irreversible process of decadence, and little by little returned to
the way it had been at the beginning of the century, becoming an insignificant little dot on the maps of the country. A series of litigations and lawsuits amongst siblings, and half brothers and sisters, squandered the small remaining fortune and belongings
of the Buenaventura family. Our family, as well as the inhabitants, abandoned the town until it was reduced to minimum proportions.
* * * * *
Twenty-five years have passed since I went back to the town. As I approach it, I walk through what used to be the zoo. The forest of my childhood has disappeared becoming a desert. Only skeletons of trees, with twisted branches and dearth
of leaves, are shaken by the wind, while in the sandy soil, whitish bones have entered a state of fossilisation.
From a window of what used to be the Buenaventura family mansion I study the town. The wind, the sun, and the rain have discoloured
it, and the weeds and creepers have gradually covered it to such an extent that scatterbrained archaeologists have mistaken it for indigenous ruins, worthy of being rescued for posterity. Hot whirlwinds raise a reddish dust that covers everything. From
the hill I discern in the distance two centenarians, who with bowed heads and dragging feet, cross the park as if they are ghosts. They are the only inhabitants of the town. Their names are Second and Third.
Kariong, November 2004