Alberto Guerra Naranjo

Illustration by Shuxian Lee

A black man walks through a field of cotton, humming, the stem between his teeth and the satchel on his back lending the scene a sort of calm and rhythmic cadence, while the Bedouin man in the desert, many miles away, takes a cell phone out of his pocket, dials a number and screams, ¡Mustafa! ¡Mustafa! This camel can't handle the weight, what do I do?, and the Russian policeman, with his namebrand suit, a pistol in his holster and a Humphrey Bogart smile flicked on his face, quickly kisses goodbye his wife and daughter at the breakfast table before skipping down the stairs just as the attendant at the secondhand bookstore on a street in London finally opens the door, dings the little bell and says, Darn lock is always freezing over, exhaling a breath of cold air and flipping over the Closed sign so that it reads Open in the middle of the ever crueler and ever more solitary winter, thinking to herself, Ay, what a cruel and solitary winter, without imagining that in the Caribbean a teenager in a sleeveless sweatshirt is on his skateboard and clinging to the back of a city bus to get to his girlfriend's house all the faster, while the convict riding the bus on the streets of another country rubs his hands together after they change out his cuffs, and none of the other convicts are watching him because nobody wants to watch him, though they know him from the sunrise screams always crying out of his mouth, and the small indigenous man, so high above sea level, watching over his four llamas in their new corral, spits out chewed-up coca leaf, settles a colorful cap onto his head and catches up to the group waiting for him, Atahualpa, Hurry up, one of them screams, We're going to La Paz, while the young woman on the third floor prefab apartment bathes herself with a pitcher of lukewarm water, thinking she'd better hurry to her English class because the bus won't wait around for her and meanwhile her soap keeps on slipping, My name is Sandra, repite, My name is Sandra, and an old Irish soccer fanatic, a four-hour leap across the time zones, according to the meridians, smacks five hundred hard euros onto the nightstand, knowing he's missing a good game but the forty-something Polish woman from the second floor has accepted his proposal, and she's a delight, by God, if you could only see her, and so it's best to put the money down and make her feel comfortable before she undresses during this kind of game, when from the church Nuestro Señor Cristo Rey a chorus of voices cry out ¡Hallelujah! ¡Hallelujah! and the lady in the last pew, reaching far from herself and closer to God, her uplifted hands and her moistening sex as if He Himself were possessing her, ¡Mustafa! ¡Mustafa! cries the Bedouin into his cell phone next to his camel now on the streets of New York City, Mustafa, tell me what I need to do, and the black man with the stem between his teeth and the pack on his back pokes his head out of a bar to look at him, It's the saxophone, yes, the force of the sax, it's gotta be the saxo, says the woman shivering on the skateboard and hanging onto the back of a bus to get wherever she's going all the faster, and the boy with the sleeveless sweatshirt closing the door of the London bookstore, flipping the sign to say Closed and marching out without a worry onto the snowy streets only to smack into the young woman freshly bathed with the pitcher of lukewarm water who doesn't care anymore about her English lessons because she's walking in step with thousands of indigenous people ready to overthrow the government, and seizing a slip of inattention, the convict jumps the guard, pushes him down and loses himself on the busy street just as the Russian policeman says, Jarachov, finally, I'm gonna get myself in the papers, and as he watches his target walk into an old Dublin building he unholsters his pistol and thinks of his wife and daughter eating breakfast, stamps out his smoke à la Bogie and raises the gun with both hands, and the Bedouin walks into the bar with an interesting proposal, the black man perks his ears when the Bedouin says, Hey man, interested in buying a camel? and the stem in his mouth jumps with his fear, It's the sax, the force of the saxo, the woman behind the bus, heaving, waiting for the light to change, Who could've known?, forty damn years in a bookstore without seeing the world, and now Yes, this is the world, she cries, sliding on the skateboard while a crowd applauds the Russian policeman about to kick in the door the convict just walked into, ¡Hallelujah! ¡Hallelujah! the choir belts from the church on 70th and 29th in Buena Vista and the cop peeks through a crack in the door and, Dear God, I can't believe it, an old Irish man is bucking on top of a forty-year-old lady who curses in a strange tongue as a crowd of indigenous raise their fists, ¡Down with the government! ¡Abajo with the government! and the Russian cop backs up against the wall, no longer wanting to get into the papers, he'd rather be a black man with a stem between his teeth, a Bedouin with a camel in New York, a crazy old lady skateboarding through the city, anything but the man kicking in a door a convict just walked through, but he's got to do it, it's his duty, he's a cop after all, what would his wife and daughter think if they caught wind of his fear?, and so he breathes deep, gathers his strength, and kicks—applause—the door bolting open and the entire theater rising to its feet, everyone, every last person in the crowd with tears in their eyes—applauding—even the members of the jury, even the family, the friends of the sax player, tilting his head back like he can't believe it, this is life, and an artist touches the very substance, touches the máximo itself, touches the very essence through her instrument and speaks to God and we are warned—applause—more and thundering applause, the artist, then, no other option, bending at the waist again, and again, It's your sax, someone from the audience shouts, The might of the saxo, and the sax rises again to the mouth and the notes ring out yet again and in our collective memory the Russian cop appears once again, both hands on the gun, ready to bust into the concert, Jarachov, he says to himself, I wasn't wrong, and on the bed he can see the old Irish man in his underwear trying to talk soccer, embarrassed at how poorly the game went with the Polish woman, a fanatic of Nuestro Señor Cristo Rey, ¡Hallelujah! ¡Hallelujah! he watches them with his sex completely wet now, the proof is in the pudding and the boy in the sleeveless sweatshirt raises his fingers to his nose and savors the smell, and the camel kneels to sleep in the corner, and the black man laughs with the Bedouin who punches another number into his cell phone while the indigenous man spits out a soaked ball of coca leaf and kisses the mouth of the young English student, and the convict, finally the convict appears, taking the offered glass of water from the Polish woman who, with her breasts bared to the air, stares at the gun, You have the right to remain silent, the cop says, anything you say or do can be held against you, just as the cries of the indigenous, ¡Abajo with the government! ¡Abajo with the gobierno! and the church fanatics from 70th and 29th cry ¡Hallelujah! ¡Hallelujah! which is confused with the applause from the theater, so the Polish woman can't hear the cop anymore, and the sax player, broken with emotion, tears in his eyes, bows his head and says, Thank you, Thank you so much, and then leaves for the dressing room.

translated from the Spanish by John Washington