As we turned into the Street of the Bakers, I told the driver where to stop. He asked me in amazement, “Here?”
“Yes, here,” I answered.
As I was taking out the money to pay the driver, a face appeared in the window of the taxi. It had a flattened nose, a toothless mouth, features swollen with alcohol, into a faceless blur. The hair and beard were tangled into a single ball of filth. “Little boss,” it said, “give me five centavos for a treatment. What do you say, little boss?”
The driver did not answer and turned to stare at me. I said in a sharp tone, “Don’t give him anything if you don’t want to. Get out of here.” His attitude annoyed me. What could those poor things do to him? “Besides,” I thought to myself as I got out of the cab, “these are my people.” There was nobody outside the door of my aunt’s house except one of the adopted nephews she had taken care of. Nobody else. A feeling of infinite sadness came over me, as if I had come to the edge of a desert and found nothing.
I went in through the little kitchen to the doorway of the inner room where my aunt had slept. “This is where you used to live, little mother….” Now the room was empty. They had taken out the wardrobe, the bed, everything. All that was left were her saints. Her coffin, resting on two benches, was in the middle of the room. It was the cheapest kind obtainable. I had expected it to have a piece of glass on the lid so I could see my aunt’s face, but no, it was closed. There were four candles burning around the coffin and underneath, on the floor, was a cross made of powdered lime for the eternal rest of her soul. It is a custom to also place a pot of vinegar with chopped onion under the coffin to prevent contagion from cancer, but I didn’t see one there.
Leaning against the door frame, I spoke to her silently, “Now, little mother, now rest. No more hunger, no more pain. Now you are at peace. I got here late, but here I am, little queen.”
I was about to go in and caress the coffin when I felt a heavy hand, hard as a piece of wood, on my arm, and heard Catarina’s hoarse voice saying, “Come on out here, Consuelo. It will hurt you, hombre. It was cancer, you know. Come to my house. You can cry and scream there if you feel like, but not here.”
I turned around and saw Catarina and her step-daughter Matilde. Catarina was a stout, red-faced woman of about fifty, who had trouble breathing because of chronic bronchitis. Besides, she drank a lot. Matilde was ugly because her nose had been broken and was completely flat. She said she had had an accident but …
Copyright © 1969, Oscar Lewis