From The Wind Traveler
A stirring tribute to the wounded souls who yearn to make peace with the past, The Wind Traveler offers a new vision of the fragile human connections that sustain a deeply fractured world.
Out now from University of Texas Press.
Ángel sat at the counter, flicking through the newspaper. He glanced through the sports pages. Then he switched on the radio. The words of a song told him that someone was going to love someone for the rest of their life.
No one came into the shop in the next half hour. This was worrying, because a store similar to theirs had just opened on the next street. They also sold glasses, cookware, and buckets. Worse still, they offered better prices and some customers preferred them.
Suddenly a beam of light fell on the tiled floor. The sun had come out, somewhat unexpectedly. Ángel turned off the radio. A silence descended, as though the sidewalk, the street, the traffic, all were very far away.
Then he realized that there was a woman in the store.
He had not seen her come in. She was standing very close to him. She was a slender woman of uncertain age. Her long, black hair fell about her shoulders. She was wearing a dark dress that came down to her knees, that stood out against the pool of light on the floor. She had angular features, and her hands were clasped over her belly.
The woman stepped to one side. She was looking at the glasses. She picked one up. Her long red nails clasped the stem. Ángel could not take his eyes off her. He felt a profound dizziness course through his body. It was as though the ground had opened up and he was falling into an abyss.
The woman picked up one glass and examined it, then another. Her sharply defined profile, her low, black shoes, a desolate hand touching her dress. She did not seem to be focusing on the glass she was holding, but on something far away.
There was no doubt: it was her.
She had appeared from the past, with her black dress and her slender figure, it was her. Her hair was longer, unsurprisingly, and her face was clean, but in her eyes there was a pale glint that he recognized.
Having seen her on so many nights, he did not find it difficult to recognize her.
Suddenly, the woman turned to him. She had just picked up another glass and was holding one in each hand.
“Good afternoon,” she said, looking at him. “Can you help me?”
Ángel was trembling.
“Yes,” he managed.
“The thing is, I want to buy a hundred of these glasses. But I need to know how much it would cost. Could you give me a discount if I buy a hundred?”
As her voice reached him, he felt a jolt of electricity.
Ángel barely moved his lips.
“Yes,” he said.
“They’re for a church group,” she said. “We organize events for people in the neighborhood.”
After a moment’s silence, Ángel explained everything in a faltering voice. All of the glassware was made of tempered glass. He told her the prices of the various types and said that, if she bought a hundred, he could offer a 15 percent discount. He could pack them up and deliver them wherever she wanted.
He fell silent. He was trembling.
“That’s great, thank you,” said the woman. “I’ll take a hundred.”
She set the glasses back on the shelf.
“What name should I put on the receipt?” Ángel asked.
She gave him the name of a parish community. She took out a red leather wallet.
“Would you like me to pack them up? If you like, I can deliver them in the car. . . . It’s a service we offer.”
He paused. She looked at him.
“Would that be all right?” she asked with a smile.
“Like I said,” he insisted, “I can deliver them wherever you want.”
“I’ll pay you half now and the other half when we get there,” she said. “How much do you charge for delivery?”
It was the same voice. Yes. The same voice, he was certain now.
Ángel bowed his head. Suddenly, he could not bear to look at her.
The pen spun around in his hand.
At that moment, Don Paco reappeared.
“I didn’t enjoy my lunch today,” he said, “but what can you do, you’ve got to eat something.”
Ángel was still looking at the woman.
“Twenty soles. I’ll deliver the order myself. . . . You can come with me, and you can show me the way.”
He did not know why, but he felt certain she had not come in her own car.
The woman looked straight at him. Her eyes were expressionless. Like a doll’s eyes.
“You stay here, Don Paco,” he said. “I’ll just make this delivery, and I’ll be right back.”
Paco was smiling. There was a crossword puzzle on the counter in front of him. His pen was moving constantly.
“I’ll be right here,” he said. “Don’t worry.”
Ángel packed the glasses into boxes as quickly as he could. The glasses rang like drums.
He carried the boxes to the station wagon parked just outside the store. He opened the back and carefully slid the boxes inside. The woman stood, watching him. Ramrod straight, motionless.
At last, everything was packed away. Ángel climbed in the car and took out his keys. The woman decided to take the backseat.
He heard a whisper.
The woman was getting into the car.
Yes, there she was. He could see her out of the corner of his eye. In the rearview mirror, he could see a mane of hair. And part of her cheek.
For a moment Ángel’s hands froze on the steering wheel. She was saying something: we’re heading to Calle Alipio Ponce, Señor, it’s in San Juan de Miraflores. Somewhere behind them, a car honked its horn and the woman began whispering again. She was suggesting the route he could take: if you do a U-turn here, you can get onto the Avenida Benavides, and then you just turn right.
She looked like a ghost, the black clothes, the stiff body, the taut thread of her voice as she repeated an address. Ángel did not answer. She gave him the name of the street again. Alipio Ponce.
The buses to his left were racing like a stampede of horses galloping toward death while he was moving forward against the current. The road ahead of him was clear as far as the bridge.
But Ángel had a strange feeling. It seemed as though the car was still stationary. He was not moving and yet, at times, when he accelerated, he seemed to move backward.
Perhaps it had something to do with the situation.
The customer in the back of his car was the same woman he had shot and seen fall dead. She was the corpse he had left behind one icy morning, years ago, on a dirt road near the barracks. But she had come back and now he was driving her somewhere.
Ángel thought about turning on the radio or singing something. Anything so as not to have to endure the silence coming from the backseat.
Still the woman did not speak. He could not help glancing at her from time to time. He saw a pair of black, impatient eyes that seemed as though they could see great distances.
He was familiar with the neighborhood where they were headed. He did not need directions. But just to hear her voice again, just to be sure, he asked the best way to get there. I already told you, she said, you take Avenida Benavides, go right to the end and then turn on to the Panamericana. From there, she knew a shortcut. This was the quickest way.
Ángel kept driving. The woman’s hair fluttered in the gusts of wind but her face remained utterly still. She seemed to be gazing at something far away. Sometimes it seemed as though she were staring at nothing. As though gazing into herself.
Then, in the rearview mirror he saw her lean toward him. She studied him for a few seconds.
“Can you drive a little faster, please? I need to get these delivered as soon as possible.”
Ángel saw her dip into her handbag. Rummaging through everything inside.
Had she recognized him? Had she remembered something? Maybe she was looking for a gun.
She bowed her head. Her fingers tightly gripped something inside the bag. Ángel could not see her clearly.
Just before the end of Avenida Benavides, they got into a traffic jam. The two of them sat, completely still. She held her hand to her temple, as though in pain.
Suddenly the line of cars began to move. Ángel moved into the lane to turn onto the Panamericana.
He was considering saying something. Then he heard her voice again, like a barrage of stones flying through the air. “I’m running late, Señor. Drive faster, for God’s sake.” After taking the off-ramp and crossing the bridge, they had to stop several times for traffic lights and at intersections.
At some point, she closed her eyes. Long eyelids, slender hands, between her brows a cross-shaped wrinkle. He could see part of her ear and a black dangling earring.
“It’s very cold today, isn’t it?” Ángel said.
He instantly regretted having spoken. It was a preposterous thing to say. A question to which there was no possible response. He should not have said it. Besides, it was better if she did not hear him speak. It was not a good idea to let her hear his voice. She might remember the edge of the dirt road, remember her body lying there, bleeding out, on that dark afternoon as she pleaded for her children. There was every chance she might remember. And she might remember the other thing. Above all, the other thing.
The woman did not move. Perhaps she had not heard him.
Should he say something else? No. He should not have spoken, should not have said a word, she might remember his voice.
Even as the car juddered along the road, a kind of inner gravity kept Ángel rooted to his seat. He had been clutching the steering wheel, but now and then he looked at her in the rearview mirror. She was still gazing out the window.
Then, suddenly, Ángel felt he should stop the car, get out of here, leave this place, run away, escape, flee, as though the weight of something, a physical weight, had settled on his shoulders.
But up ahead was a series of green traffic lights. Suddenly all the cars seemed to have shaken off some burden, in a wild burst of madness, like a battalion of soldiers launching an assault. He floored the accelerator and drove as fast as he could toward his destination.
They arrived at the address. It was on a street lined with small trees and a few flowering shrubs. The houses had black railings and along the sidewalk were three rusty iron posts. They passed a building with a large sign: “Bodega-restaurant.” They came to a blue building with a crucifix mounted on the façade—a house that served as a local place of worship.
“This is it,” she said.
Ángel climbed out and opened the door to the trunk. He started to unload the boxes of glasses. He carried them into the house. Inside, was a table, a few pieces of furniture, and religious sayings on the walls. With the Love of God You Are Strong and Free. Do Not Suffer. Have Faith in Jesus.
The woman handed him a banknote and murmured: “Thank you.” He nodded, bowed his head, and walked back to the car. He sat motionless in the driver’s seat. After a while, he watched her come out again.
She had delivered the glasses to the house, and Ángel assumed she was now heading home.
He could see her from behind. She moved with the quick grace of a gazelle, her long, weightless legs barely touching the ground. Her hair rippled in the wind. In the distance, he could hear the rumble of engines.
Ángel watched as she took keys from her bag and stopped in front of a house with a small garden, a block from the house where he had left her. It was a small white building; the windows were protected by iron grilles. Blue geraniums peeked from between the bars.
The woman opened the front door. Then she vanished.
Translated by Frank Wynne and Jessie Mendez Sayer
Used with permission from the University of Texas Press, © 2020
The author of more than thirty books, which have been translated into sixteen languages, Alonso Cueto is an award-winning novelist, playwright, journalist, and professor of journalism.
Frank Wynne is a literary translator from Ireland, the author of I Was Vermeer, and the translator of Cueto’s The Blue Hour.
Jessie Mendez Sayer is a literary translator, editor, and former literary scout. She studied history and Spanish at the University of Edinburgh.
In our August 2020 issue, we celebrate the work of women writers and translators in honor of Women in Translation Month, highlighting the work of Victoria de Stefano, Krina Ber, Rowena Hill, and Margara Russotto—four women united by the coincidence of emigrating to Venezuela and becoming renowned writers in Spanish. We also pay homage to a giant of Latin American letters, Rodolfo Enrique Fogwill, on the tenth anniversary of his passing, and we highlight the work of Mé’pháá writer Hubert Matiúwàa in our Indigenous Literature section. This #WITMonth issue is rounded out with exclusive previews of upcoming books from women translators and an interview with translator Annie McDermott, plus poetry, fiction, interviews, and reviews of fascinating new releases from across Latin America.
Cover Photo: Grupo Mondongo