The wardrobe in my father’s room was not just another piece of furniture; it was undoubtedly a house within the house. Inherited from his grandparents, it had followed us from place to place, gigantic, embarrassing, until it found a permanent place in my parent’s bedroom.
For the last ten years, I’ve preserved the letter from Barbara. For a long time, it was in my wallet, while I hoped to find someone who could translate it for me. Later it was left in a folder along with other papers. Finally, one afternoon, it fell prey to one of those sudden acts of destruction, in which one puts in that special type of ferocity to annihilate all traces of one’s past –I destroyed it, along with all that one destroys in such cases – train tickets of long voyages, bills of a hotel where we were full of joy, theatre programs of some forgotten production/ opera. Of Barbara, there remained nothing of consequence, and I will never know what she said to me in that letter written in Polish.
Between my house and the sea, there was an open land twenty years ago. One just had to follow the aqueduct along the Dos de Mayo Street, cross the pasture area and the vacant piece of land, to arrive at the ravine’s border. A concrete tunnel through the hills led to the La Pampilla, a mostly deserted beach, frequented only by the fishermen.
We went there on Saturdays, accompanied by the housemaid and the dogs. The beach was narrow and rocky – there was barely a thin band between the ravine and the sea. We spent long hours exhuming dead ducks, picking up sea shells and snails. The dogs ran around the beach, happily barking at the sea. Moss and wild weeds climbed over the side of the cliff, and we drank the fine water that fell down in the cove of our palms.
At the age of ten, I was the monarch of the rooftops and peacefully governed my kingdom of destroyed objects.
The rooftops were airy enclosures where a number of people sent things that were no longer of any use – one could find chairs with missing legs, crushed mattresses, cracked flowerpots, coal stoves, and more such items that had arrived at this life of purgatory, midway between posthumous use and oblivion. Among these junk objects, I was omnipotent, exercising an authority that was denied to me in the house downstairs. I could now paint a moustache on a portrait of the grandfather, wear old paternal boots, or brandish a broom that had lost its straws, like a javelin. Nothing was outside my private preserve – I could build and destroy and with the same freedom of the insufferable life of a punctured ball, presided over the capital execution of the mannequins.
My kingdom, at first was limited to the rooftop of my house, but little by little, thanks to my valorous conquests, was extending its frontiers to the neighborhood rooftops. On these long campaigns, which were not without danger, I had to cross fences or jump over abysmal corridors always returning with some object to add to my treasure or some scratch that added to my heroism. The sporadic presence of a servant hanging out the laundry or someone repairing the chimney didn’t cause me any trouble; I was firmly entrenched as the sovereign of a land in which all others were either nomads or temporary migrants.
After two months of anticipation, Don Fernando Pasamano had prepared the details for the grand event. First, his house needed to undergo an overall transformation. As one treats an old house, it was necessary to bring down the walls, enlarge the windows, change the wooden staircase and paint the walls afresh.
These alterations brought with it, as with other things – like those people who when they buy a pair of shoes, decide it’s necessary to try them out with a pair of new socks and then with a new shirt and then a new suit and so on until they buy new underwear to go with it – Don Fernando was obliged to renovate all the furniture, from the console in the salons to the last bench in the kitchen. Later came the carpets, the lamps, the curtains and the frames to cover the walls which, since they had been cleaned, appeared much larger than they actually were. Finally, since he planned to have a concert in the garden, it was necessary to construct a garden. Within fifteen days, a squad of Japanese gardeners had built, where before there had been a wildly overgrown vegetable garden, a marvelous rococo garden with carved (or sculpted) cypresses, alleys without exits, a lagoon with red fish, a cavern for the deities and a bridge made of rustic wood that crossed over to an imaginary waterfall.
Ramon left the office with the dossier under his arm and walked towards the Avenida Abancay. While he was waiting for the omnibus to Lince, he was contemplating the demolition of the old houses in Lima. Not a day passed without the demolition of a colonial-era house, a balcony of carved wood or simply one of the gentile republican villas, where in the years past, more than one revolution had been forged. At each site, haughty impersonal buildings, identical to the ones in hundreds of cities all over the world, rose up. Lima, the adorable Lima of adobe and wood, was becoming a kind of a barrack of reinforced concrete. The little poetry that remained sought refuge in the abandoned little plaza, a church and in the windows of the princely mansions, where old families languished between parchments and yellowing daguerreotype.
These reflections evidently had nothing to do with Ramon’s firm: a detector of hardened debtors. That very morning, his boss had ordered Ramon to undertake a thorough investigation in Lince to find Fausto Lopez, a dubious client who had signed a forged paper for 40 million soles.
When the omnibus dropped him in Lince, he felt depressed, like he did every time he went around such neighborhoods where the common people, without a history lived. These places were born 20 years ago through some speculative art, dead after filling the pockets of some ministers, poorly buried between the grand metropolis and the luxurious spas of the south. One could see the bedpan-like one storey houses, dirt roads, dusty tracks, straight misty streets where no tree grew, not even weed. Life in these lively neighborhoods throbbed inside the corner stores that were frequented by regular customers and drunkards.
(Thanks to Carlos D, my friend and guide in learning Spanish and who patiently helped with the translations over many weeks).
Barely had his mother closed the door, when Perico jumped from the mattress and listened, with his ear to the door, the steps fading away in the long corridor. When they had completely disappeared, he pounced towards the kerosene stove and rummaged through one of the burners that was no longer functioning. There it was! Pulling out a leather bag, he counted the coins one by one – he had learned to count while playing marbles – and to his astonishment, discovered that he had forty soles. He put back twenty soles in his pocket and returned the rest into their place. It had not been in vain, when during the night, he had pretended to sleep to spy on his mama. Now he had sufficient money to achieve his grand project. He had no excuse now. In those alleys of Santa Cruz, the doors were always ajar so the neighbours could poke their nose around. Putting on his shoes, he scampered off towards the street.