Hace dos años leí una de las mejores historias que he visto publicadas en la revista The New Yorker: City of Clowns, del peruano Daniel Alarcón. Lo conocí cuando vino a presentar su primer libro de relatos, War by Candlelight. Una excelente persona, muy sencillo, con los pies bien puestos sobre la tierra. Gracias a su recomendación leí un excelente libro de Kapuscinski , The Soccer War.
Esta noche, llegando de la universidad, recibí mi primer número del New Yoker luego de renovar mi suscripción anual y encontré una grata sorpresa: República y Grau, otro relato de Alarcón que se prepara a lanzar en febrero su primera novela.
Acá dejo un extracto de la historia. Si quieren seguir leyéndola solo tienen que hacer click en el enlace al The New Yorker. Busquen en la sección Fiction, allí sale publicada la historia completa.
REPÚBLICA AND GRAU
by DANIEL ALARCÓN
Issue of 2006-10-30
The blind man lived in a single room above bodega, on a street not so far from Maico’ house. It was up a slight hill, as was everythin in the neighborhood. There was nothing on th walls of the blind man’s room, nor was ther anywhere to sit, and so Maico stood. He wa ten years old. There was a single bed, nightstand with a radio wrapped in duct tape, washbasin. The blind man had graying hair an was much older than Maico’s father. The bo looked at his feet, and kicked together a smal mound of dust on the cement floor while hi father and the blind man spoke. The boy didn’ listen, but then no one expected him to. He wa not surprised when a tiny black spider emerge from the insignificant pile he had made. I skittered across the floor and disappeare beneath the bed. Maico raised his eyes. cobweb glittered in an upper corner. It was th room’s only decoration
His father reached out and shook the blind man’s hand. “So it’s agreed,” Maico’s father said, and the blind man nodded, and this was all.
A week later, Maico and the blind man wer in the city, at the noisy intersection o República and Grau. They had risen early on winter morning of low, leaden skies, and mad their way to the center, to this place of snarling bleating traffic, in the shadow of a great hotel The blind man carried a red-tipped cane, and h knew the route well, but once they arrived h folded the cane and left it in the grassy median His steps became tentative, and Maic understood that the pretending had begun. Th blind man’s smile disappeared, and his ja went slack
Everything there was to know Maico learned in that first hour. The lights were timed: there were three minutes of work, followed by three minutes of waiting. When the traffic stopped, the blind man put one hand on the boy’s shoulder and with the other held out his tin, and together they walked up the row of idling cars. Maico led him toward the cars with windows rolled down, and the blind man muttered helplessly as he approached each one. Maico’s only job was to steer him toward those who were likely to give, and make sure that he did not waste time on those who would not. Women driving alone were, according to the blind man, preëmptively generous, hoping, in this way, to avoid being robbed. They kept small coins in their ashtrays for just such transactions. Taxi-drivers could be counted on as well, because they were working people, and men with women always wanted to impress and might let slip a few coins to show their sensitive side. Men driving alone rarely gave, and not a moment should be squandered beside a car with tinted windows. “If they know you can’t see them,” the blind man said, “they don’t feel shame.”
“But they know you can’t see them,” Maico said.
“And that’s why you’re here.”
Maico’s mother hadn’t wanted him to work in the city, had said so the night before, but his father had bellowed and slammed a fist on the table. Of course, these gestures were hardly necessary; in truth, Maico didn’t mind the work. He even liked the pace, especially those moments when there was nothing to do but watch the endless traffic, soak in its dull roar. “Grau is the road people take to connect to the northern districts,” the blind man explained. He had the city mapped clearly in his mind. There was money to be made in the north: it was a region of people trying to better themselves. Not like the southern rich, who had forgotten where they’d come from. “It’s a generous intersection, this one,” the blind man said. “These people recognize me and love me because they have known me their entire lives. They give.”
Maico listened as well as he could above the din. Me me me—that was what he heard. The cars and the engines and the blind man; it was all one sound. Acrid fumes hung over the intersection, so toxic that after only an hour Maico could feel a bubble in his chest, and then, in his throat, something tickling.
He coughed and spat. He apologized, as his mother had taught him.
The blind man laughed. “You’ll do much worse here, boy. You’ll cough and piss and shit and it will all be the same.”
The clouds thinned out by noon, but that morning was cool and damp. The blind man kept all the money, periodically announcing how much they’d collected. It wasn’t much. Each time a coin was dropped into the tin, the blind man bowed humbly, and though he hadn’t been asked to, Maico did the same. The blind man emptied the tin into his pocket when the light changed, and warned Maico to watch out for thieves, but the boy saw only men hawking newspapers and chalkboards, women with baskets of bread or flowers or fruit, and the very density of people in the area made it seem safe. Everyone had been kind to him so far. A woman his mother’s age gave him a piece of bread with sweet potato because it was his first day. She tended to a few toddlers on the median. They were playing with a stuffed animal, taking turns tearing it to pieces. The stuffing spread across the grass in white clumps, and, when a truck rolled by, these were blown into the street.
When the blind man found out that Maico had gone to school, he bought a newspaper and had the boy read it to him. He nodded or clucked his tongue while Maico read, and the stories were so absorbing that they even missed a few lights so that he could finish them. A judge had been murdered the previous day, in broad daylight, at a restaurant not far from where they sat. An editorial defended the life of a guard dog the authorities wanted put down for having killed a thief. There would be a new President soon, and protests were planned to welcome her. Music leaked from the windows of passing cars, and Maico could hear voices at each light singing along to a dozen different melodies. When he could, he studied the blind man’s face. Unshaven and olive-skinned, with puffy cheeks. His nose was crooked and squat. He didn’t wear dark glasses as some of the blind did, and Maico guessed that the sullen sheen of the man’s useless gray eyes was part of his value as a beggar. It was a competitive area, after all, and there were others working that morning whose qualifications for the position were clearly beyond question.
Maico’s father was waiting at the door of th blind man’s room when they got back tha afternoon. He winked at Maico, and the greeted the blind man gruffly, surprising him. “The money,” he said, with no warmth in hi voice. “Let’s see it.
The blind man pulled out his key and patted the door for the lock. “Not here. Inside is better. You people with eyes are always so impatient.”
Maico stood by while they divided the take. The counting went slowly. The blind man felt each coin carefully, then announced its worth out loud. When no one contradicted him, he continued, his hands moving with elegant assurance, organizing the money into piles on the bed. A few times, he misidentified a coin, but Maico felt certain that this was by design. The third time it happened, Maico’s father sighed. “I’ll count,” he said, but the blind man would have none of it.
“That wouldn’t be fair, now, would it?”
When the counting was done, Maico and his father walked home in silence. It had taken longer than they’d expected, and Maico’s father was in a hurry. When his mother asked how it had gone, his father sneered and said that there was no money. Or none worth mentioning. He prepared for his night shift while the boy and his mother ate dinner.
The second day, it was the same, but on the third, when they walked down the hill, Maico’s father took the boy to the market and bought sodas for them both. An old gentleman with thick, calloused hands served them. Maico drank his soda through a straw. His father asked him how the work was, whether he liked it. By now, Maico was old enough to know that he should not say too much. He’d learned this from his mother.
Did he like downtown?