Not too long ago, Filbert died by drowning in Acapulco. It happened during All
Saints’ week. Although he’d been dismissed from his job in the Ministry, Filbert couldn’t
resist the bureaucratic temptation to go, same as every year, to the German pensión, to eat
sauerkraut sweetened by the sweat of the tropical kitchen, to dance on the Saturday of
glory in La Quebrada, and to feel himself a“regular” in the dark anonymity of evening
on the beach of Hornos. Clearly, we know that in his youth he had swum well, but now,
at forty, and in as bad shape as he seemed to be; to try to cover, and at midnight, such a
distance! Frau Müller wouldn’t permit his vigil –such an old client– to be held in the
pensión. On the contrary, that night she organized a dance on the little suffocated terrace,while Filbert waited, very pallid in his box, for the morning truck to depart the terminal,
and passed the first night of his new life accompanied by baskets and bundles. When I
arrived, early, to watch over the shipment of the coffin, Filbert was under a mountain of
coconuts; the driver said we should arrange him quickly on the awning and cover him
with tarps, so that the passengers wouldn’tget frightened, and to make sure we wouldn’t
bring a curse on the voyage.
We left Acapulco, still in the breeze. Toward Tierra Colorada the heat and light
came to life. Over a breakfast of eggs and sausage, I opened Filbert’s briefcase, retrieved
the day before, along with his other belongings, from the Müllers’ pensión. Two hundred
pesos. An old newspaper; lottery stubs; a one-way ticket–only one way?--, and the cheap
notebook, with pages divided into squares and covers of marble paper.
I ventured to read it, in spite of the curves, the stench of vomit, and a certain
natural sentiment of respect for the private life of my deceased friend. It would record –
yes, I started with that– our everyday work in the office; maybe I would find out why
he’d been in decline, neglecting hisduties, why he was dictating official documents
without feeling, or number, or “effective suffrage.”* Why, in the end, he had run away,
forsaking a pension, with no regard for the payrolls.
“Today I went to fix up all that business about my pension. The lawyer was very
friendly. I left there so happy that I decided to spend five pesos in a café. It’s the same
one we went to when we were youngand that nowadays I never enter, because it reminds
me that I could afford more luxuries at twenty than I can at forty. In those days, we’d all
been on the same plane, we would have rejected with energy any negative opinions about
our comrades; in fact we waged war on those in the house who even mentioned bad
breeding or lack of elegance. I knew that many (perhaps the most humble) would govery
far, and here, in school, they would forge the lasting friendships in whose company we
would cross the wild seas. No, it wasn’t like that. There were no rules. Many of the
humble ones stayed there, many went further than we could have predicted at those
lively, friendly gatherings. Others, we who seemed to have all the promise, we remained
“Effective suffrage, not reelection!” was theslogan with which Francisco Madero and the Mexican
revolutionaries opposed the reelection of General Porfirio Diaz. The allusion is ironic, now that the
revolutionary slogan has been transformed, according to the text, into a phrase devoid of meaning, which is
ritually appended to official documents.
in the middle of the road, disembowelled in an extracurricular test, isolated by an
invisibletrench from those who triumphed and from those who never accomplished
anything. Finally, today I came back to sit in the seats, modernized –also, like the
barricade of an invasion, a soda-fountain— and pretended to read briefs. I saw many of
them, changed, amnesiac, retouched by neon light, prosperous. With the café that I
almost didn’t recognize, with the city itself, they had been...
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