30 June 2011

Mario Vargas Llosa

[from Mario Vargas Llosa's The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta, tr. Alfred MacAdam, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986]

He swallowed the last mouthful and wiped his mouth with his handkerchief. The semi-darkness in the room had at first hidden the flies, but now he could see them. They formed a constellation on the walls and ceiling, and they strolled arrogantly over the plates of food and the fingers of those eating. All the houses in Quero had to be like that: no light, no running water, no drainage, and no bath. Flies, lice, and a thousand other bugs must be part of the poor furniture, lords and masters of pots and pelts, of the rustic beds pushed up against the daub-and-wattle walls, of the faded images of the Virgin and of saints nailed to the doors. If they had to pee at night, they probably wouldn't feel like getting up and going outside. They pee right here, next to the bed where they sleep and the stove where they cook. After all, the floor is just dirt, and dirt soaks up urine, leaving no trace. And the smell doesn't matter much because it disappears, mixed in with the other smells, thickening the multiple smells of garbage and filth that make up the household atmosphere. And if at midnight they had to shit? Would they have enough energy to go out into the darkness and the cold, the wind and the rain? They'd shit right here, between the stove and the bed.

As they walked in, the lady of the house, an old Indian woman all wrinkly and rheumy, with two long pigtails that bounced off her shoulders as she walked, put some cavies that had been walking loose in the room in a corner behind a trunk. Did the animals sleep with her, cuddled up against her old body in search of warmth? How many months, how many years had that lady been wearing those skirts she had on, which no doubt had grown old with her? How long had it been since she had washed herself from head to toe with soap? Months? Years? Had she ever done it in her entire life? The dizziness of the mountain sickness disappeared, replaced by sadness.

Yes, Mayta, millions of Peruvians lived in this same grime, in this same abandonment, amid their own urine and excrement, without light or water, living the same vegetable life, the same animal routine, the same elemental existence that this woman was living. This woman with whom, despite his efforts, he hadn't been able to exchange more than a few words, because she barely knew any Spanish. Just looking around here justified what they had done and what they were going to do, didn't it? When Peruvians like this woman came to understand that they did have power, that all they had to do was become aware of it and use it, the whole pyramid of exploitation, servitude, and horror that was Peru would collapse like a rotten roof. When the understood that by rebelling they would finally begin to humanize their inhuman lives, the revolution would be unstoppable.

Mario Vargas Llosa

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