by Adolfo Santos Barbieri
We share with you the story that obtained the FIRST place in the III International Contest of Country and Village Stories.
Its author, Adolfo Santos Barbieri, 72 years old, was born in Villa Elisa, Entre Ríos, in a small town that emerged from the Piedmontese immigration brought by Urquiza in the 19th century.
He graduated as a regular rural teacher and worked in rural areas of Entre Ríos and San Juan, where he lived for 11 years
Although he always liked to write, he ended up writing most of his stories from the age of 50.
He really enjoys recreating his childhood and youth memories in the different places where he has lived.
He is currently retired and lives with his wife in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Rodolfo Galdino liked to fish. One of his favorite places to get a bogita or a catfish was the Gualeguaychú river so, every now and then, alone or with a friend, he would grab the bicycle, the fishing rod and the hook box, put on a hat and pedal about 20 kms to La Suiza. The river passed through that colony among tangled espinillos and flocks of cardinals.
It was on one of those Saturday afternoons that summer, while he was scaring off the mosquitoes with a bunch of chilcas(1) staring at the buoy in the muddy waters waiting for the bite when, almost out of nowhere, that old man appeared among the grasslands. He walked with some difficulty, helping himself with a shiny stick that served as a cane. Short, paunchy, with a large white mustache, wearing wide panties fastened with a sash on which stood out a belt with drag and letters embroidered in gold, a handkerchief around the neck, and a black felt hat. He approached slowly.
-Hey! Good afternoon, how is the friend doing? – Rodolfo began a little surprised.
– fishin´ good? – asked the newcomer.
– Not at all! Today the only thing that bites are the mosquitoes. Is the man from around here?
– «I am and I am not,» replied the old man, drawing his words with a certain air of mystery.
– Aha – Rodolfo answered and was suspicious with one eye on the buoy and another on the newcomer.
-Do you always come to fish? The old man asked.
-Yes, I like this place, I always come, La Suiza is a nice place.
(1) shrub of perennial leaves.
-Ah m’ijo(2), this was already much better …
– Has the man lived here long?
-Yes and no – he answered again with that duality that left Rodolfo intrigued, although he did not dare to ask: why I am and I am not? … why yes and no? …, but he did not dare to ask anything and he listened – The truth is, I have known this place for many years, from other times, times when more people were around here, there was more movement and nobody talked about going to live in the Villa …
While listening to him, Rodolfo continued looking at the buoy, which not even the lazy current of the river seemed to want to move. The old man, standing next to him and leaning on his cane, stood still looking away with those little eyes, suddenly, placing a hand on his waist, he said softly.
-¡Wow! This pain in the rump is killing me, I’m going to have to sit down for a while before continuing.
He settled down a large sheathed facon that he carried across behind him and slowly, with the help of his cane, he crouched down until he sat down on a small mound.
– “So the man knew this place well,» Rodolfo was encouraged to tell him, looking for a conversation.
– Did I know it? Of course I knew it! I used to ride this whole land on horseback. I would go to Las Pepas, to San Ignacio, to San Miguel and sometimes to Sagastume and even to the Villa, first, leading troops and then looking for homeless people.
-Looking for homeless people? – Rodolfo asked, a little nervous, settling a slap on the neck to kill a mosquito.
-I was a soldier, you see? -He said while wiping the sweat from his forehead with one of the ends of the handkerchief that he had tied around his neck – The police station is in that curve – he said pointing with the trembling hand extended without much precision – just in front of the warehouse of Blanco and Doña Rubia.
The truth is that Rodolfo did not live there, but he knew those places a little, however he did not remember ever having seen that police station, much less a warehouse belonging to a certain Blanco … But he had no intention of contradicting him. What’s more, he thought to himself: this old man must be a bit lost, that’s why he talks nonsense. So he thought to take advantage of his presence to kill the boredom of that afternoon without fishing.
-And what is your name? he asked, a little more relaxed.
(2) a colloquial way of saying «my son»
-Juan Duarte – the old man replied dryly, trying to show, not without difficulty, the letters JD stamped in gold on the silver drag that was hidden under the voluminous belly.
-Juan Duarte? Look at you – Rodolfo said and added – That name sounds familiar to me.
– Aha, but it will not be that you are confusing me with the late brother of Evita Duarte(3) – he said laughing – I am from here, my father was a muleteer. – He thought a little before continuing and added – Poor old man, he was shot dead by the boss.
– The boss shot him dead? Why?
– He went to claim a colt that the boss had promised in exchange for some jobs and the bastard ended up killing him.
– Look at you, so instead of paying him, the boss shot him? How beautiful! He went to prison, I imagine. – Rodolfo commented without stopping looking at the buoy and giving little importance to a story that seemed like fantasy to him.
-No way! They didn’t even call him to declare, that’s how the law was around here, «they who have money do what they want», they said – and he continued speaking- When my father died, I was about 17 years old and not even had a facon, but when I turned 23 I could take revenge.
Surprised, Rodolfo stopped looking at the buoy, lowered the visor of his hat to stop the sun from preventing him from seeing the face of the old man and, settling on his side on the log on which he was sitting he asked him out loud:
-Did you kill your father’s boss?
«I wish I had m’ijo!» Said the old man, «the bastard died the year after he sent my father away, so I had to settle for his son.»
As if it was difficult for him to understand, a little puzzled, Rodolfo asked:
«So you killed that guy’s son?»
– hell, yes!. – Said the impassive old man and thought for a moment before continuing. – The truth is I did a part and the circumstances completed the rest.
– I’m not understanding – Rodolfo said, leaving the fishing rod on the ground, forgetting about the buoy and being interested, now, in hearing the story.
-Look, Saturday afternoons were the days when the patio of the Blanco and Doña Rubia warehouse was full. On horseback or in sulky, the neighbors were arriving and tying the animals in the rings of the palenque or in the old paradises that surrounded the fence of the wide entrance patio. It was a nice thing to see: so many animated people. It was on one of those days, around nine o’clock at night, when there were few customers left, that we came across Abelardo, the only son of my father’s killer. I was in the backyard, playing cards, for the drinks, you see? and I had gotten my elbow quite high all afternoon. It was there that the waiter stood next to the table and staggering pointed his finger at me and said: «Could it be that this guy will be able to pay for the drinks?»
(3) It refers to the brother of Eva Duarte, wife of former Argentine president Juan Domingo Perón.
-And what did you say to him?
-Look my friend, if I got angry being sober, imagine with a few more drinks. I just stood there, handcuffing my facon and I pounced on top of him and he, with a gun in his hand, felt the stitch of it entering his belly before taking the first shot. Although fights were not uncommon, the first shot, which hit my arm – he said, touching his left forearm – created a tremendous commotion. Don Blanco and Doña Rubia came out just as the guy, with his belly split open from side to side from a second stab from me, pulled the trigger a second time and collapsed on the dirt patio soaked in blood.
-And did he die immediately? – Rodolfo asked a little nervous to be alone with someone who had murdered a man with a stab.
-He didn’t die there. Doña Rubia, who was a courageous woman, squeezed the belly with both hands of the damned man who was rolling on the ground complaining and with a cry she ordered her husband to bring a sheet. They wrapped him up and like so many other times, Blanco left with his Forcito(4) carrying a wounded man to the Villa. Of course, at that time the roads were not so good, so the poor bastard, badly injured and between so many shocks, bled to death and ended up dying on the way. That’s why I say, it was partially because of my knife and partially because of the circumstances of the road, that the devil took him. – He said, crossing himself ceremoniously.
-And what happened to you? Did you go to jail? Rodolfo asked with some anguish.
-I went to jail, yes, I did. I spent more than 3 years washing the courtyard of the Concepción del Uruguay police station and running errands for the military until they released me.
-But didn’t you say you were a soldier …? How did you get into the police after killing a man?
-Look, I already told you that things were different before. My boss, Don Fidel, made me appoint a policeman and I worked for 20 years in the police station of this colony. I almost didn´t go to school and I hardly know how to read or write, but you should know, look what it says here – he said, offering him a yellowish paper that he took out of his clothes.
Rodolfo Galdino read with difficulty the blurred handwritten paper: “I hereby designate as an agent of the Entre Ríos Police the Argentine citizen Juan Duarte, born on February 4th, 1910, Enrollment Book 3,834,621, settled in the Los Espinillos ranch in Colonia San Miguel, owned by Mr. Fidel Canteros. The new law enforcement officer completed his compulsory military service in the 6th Cavalry Regiment, Blandengues, of the city of Concordia and will carry out his duties at the Colonia La Suiza Police Headquarters in the Colón department. City of Colón, Entre Ríos, July 26th, 1937.
Commissioner Benedicto Zelaya.”
(4) derogatory way of calling a Ford brand vehicle.
and followed a signature and a seal with the provincial coat of arms.
When he finished reading and rereading, intrigued by such ancient dates, Rodolfo looked up to question the man, but… he was alone. The old man, who had arrived with difficulty, had disappeared as if by magic. He thought he was playing a joke on him and began to call him: Don Juan Duarte! Are you around? – but nothing. The deepest silence seemed to have taken possession of that piece of the river.
The sun was beginning to go down and soon it would be night, between confused and half scared, Rodolfo put that paper in a pocket, gathered his things, walked quickly to the fence, got on his bicycle and returned to his house.
-It’s all in your mind – his wife said when he told her what had happened.
«And doesn’t this prove anything?» Rodolfo retorted looking for the paper that he had kept in a pocket and now couldn’t find anywhere.
-What thing? What proof? – his wife asked in the absence of any evidence – Let’s have dinner that I was waiting for you and tomorrow we have to get up early to go to mass.
Quite confused, without being able to explain where the paper that the old man had given him would have gone, Rodolfo tried to avoid an argument with his wife. He went to the bathroom to wash his hands, went through the bedroom to see his children who were already sleeping and sat at the table without saying another word about the subject that kept spinning in his head.
The next day, when they were leaving the church, they met Doña Laura Zermaten, a rather lively and talkative old woman who had been his catechist and whose family had lived in La Suiza, even he knew the abandoned house where the old woman and her family had lived not far from the river. He left his family for a moment and faced the woman.
-Doña Laura, you lived in La Suiza, didn’t you?
-Yes, why do you ask me that? I was born, I was raised and if it weren’t for my brothers who all came to the Villa, I would still be there.
-I wanted to ask you something: did you know the warehouse of Don Blanco and Doña Rubia?
«But hey, how am I not going to know it?! It was where we did our shopping. You know that many times the Father would go to give mass at an altar that was set up in a shed, behind the warehouse, she said, opening a smile brought on by the memories.
-And by chance, did you know a certain Juan Duarte?
-Juan Duarte? -She repeated the question trying to think of the answer – But that’s ancient history, where did you get that name from? That Juan Duarte already died more than 40 years ago. Of course I remember. He was a short, paunchy man who was a police officer in the neighborhood. Although I was a girl, I remember that in addition to the regulatory revolver, he always walked with a large facon across his waist. My older brothers said that before he was a policeman he had killed a man to avenge his father. But why are you asking me that?
– It’s nothing, Doña Laura, it’s nothing, just curiosity, because I had heard some stories and didn’t really know if they were true. Sorry – Rodolfo said to her and quickly returned to meet his people.
-What were you talking about with Doña Laura?
The man looked at his wife in silence for a few seconds and began to speak with a certain parsimony as if looking for the best words to make himself understood.
– Look, I know that …, rather, I don’t know, I can’t understand what happened yesterday …
The children ran and shouted ahead, oblivious to what their parents were talking about. Behind, the couple walked slowly. He talked and talked non-stop, gesturing with his hands and she, every three or four steps, would stop and place a hand over her mouth, she would stare at him with an astonished face.
Rodolfo Galdino never found the paper that he claimed to have received from the old man. He rarely spoke of the subject again with his wife who told him she was afraid just thinking about those stories and made him change the conversation, but the scenes lived that afternoon never left him. He returned many times to fish in Gualeguaychú, although most of the time he spent exploring every bit of that place searching for some evidence to show his wife that what happened was not the work of his imagination.
In those walks, in the middle of some weeds, right in the curve of the path that accompanied the river, he discovered the rubble of what had once been La Suiza police station, there were barely a few inches of the ruined walls and a floor of cracked concrete from the little room where the «law enforcement officers» had lived. Almost in front, in an entrance that conserved old paradises drawing a semicircle, where the warehouse of El Blanco and La Rubia should be, as the old man told him, three impressive zinc silos had erased any vestige of the past. He was about to cross the street when he stopped short to let a brand new 4×4 double cab pickup pass at full speed with the windows raised. He waited for the cloud of earth to descend, looked at the imposing soy silos, looked back at the van that was lost in the distance, turned to the ruins of the police and thought: I doubt that there is any evidence of Juan Duarte around here .
Adolfo Santos Barbieri
We appreciate the translation of:
Agradecemos la traducción de:
Cristian Curiñanco Cárdenas
English Teacher and Translator
Profesor y Traductor de Inglés
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