Mérida, December 10, 1941
It was cold, and a blanket of hard snow covered the train tracks. Dirty snow, stained with soot. Brandishing his wooden sword in the air, a child contemplated the knot of rails, hypnotized.
The track split into two. One of the branch lines led west, and the other went east. A locomotive was stopped in the middle of the switch junction. It seemed disoriented, unable to choose between the two paths set out before it. The engineer stuck his head out of the narrow window. His gaze met the boy's, as if he were asking him which direction to take. Or that was how it seemed to the small child, who lifted his sword and pointed to the west. For no real reason. Just because it was one of the possible options. Because it was there.
When the station chief lifted the green flag, the engineer threw the cigarette he was smoking out the window and disappeared into the locomotive. A shrill whistle scared off the crows resting on the posts of the power cable overhead. The locomotive started up, spitting lumps of dirty snow from the rails. It slowly took the western route.
The boy smiled, convinced that his hand had decided its course. At ten years old, he knew, without yet having the words to explain it, that he could achieve anything he set out to do.
"Come on, Andrés. Let's go."
It was his mother's voice. A soft voice, filled with nuances you could only hear if you were paying attention. Her name was Isabel.
"Mamá, when can I get a real sword?"
"You don't need any sword."
"A samurai needs a real katana, not a wooden stick," protested the boy, offended.
"What a samurai needs is to keep warm so he doesn't catch the flu," replied his mother, adjusting his scarf around his neck.
Up on impossible heels, Isabel made her way through the bodies and gazes of the passengers on the platform. She moved with the naturalness of a tightrope walker up on the wire. She dodged a small puddle in which two cigarette butts floated, and veered to avoid a dying pigeon that spun around blindly.
A young man with a seminarian's haircut, who was sitting on a bench in the shelter, made room beside him for mother and son. Isabel sat, crossing her legs naturally, keeping her leather gloves on, marking each gesture with the subtle haughtiness assumed by someone who feels observed and who's accustomed to being admired.
Even the most common gesture acquired the dimensions of a perfect, discreet dance in that woman with long, lovely legs peeking out from beneath her skirt at the knee. Tilting her hips to the right, she raised her foot just enough to clean off a drop of mud that was marring the tip of her shoe.
Beside his mother, squeezing tightly up against her body to underscore that she was his, Andrés looked defiantly at the rest of the passengers waiting for the train, ready to impale with his sword the first to come near.
"Be very careful with that; you or somebody else is going to get hurt," said Isabel. She thought it was crazy that Guillermo encouraged their son's strange fantasy life. Andrés wasn't like other boys his age; for him there was no distinction between his imagination and the real world, but her husband enjoyed buying him all kinds of dangerous toys. He had even promised to give him a real sword! Before leaving the house she had tried to take away his soldier trading cards, but Andrés had started screaming hysterically. She was frightened that he'd wake everyone up and reveal her hasty escape, so she'd allowed him to bring them along. Anyway, she wasn't taking her eyes off him. As soon as she had a chance she'd get rid of them, just as she planned to do with everything that had anything to do with her husband and her life until then.
Copyright © 2011 by Víctor del Árbol. Translation Copyright © 2012 by Mara Faye Lethem
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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