He was getting used to being alone by now. It was his birthday, and not a single person had gone to see him, or even given him a call. Not that he needed any of that, although now and again he would remember her, and something akin to nostalgia would come over him. So today the best thing for him to do was to leave his captivity and go to that charming bird store where he would spend hours staring at a Heart-of-fire Txetle. He left wearing what he had on and entered the store in search of the small feathered creature. The little bird also stared back at him, for many long minutes. No one seemed to notice. Not even the store clerk took note of the unusual scene: a man and a bird, staring intently at each other. Sometimes he’d even speak to the little bird.
“You must be tired of that cage by now. Though you don’t seem bothered, you’ve gotten used to captivity—maybe that’s not so good for a thing like you.”
“Maybe you’re right.”
It was the first time the bird had answered him. He wasn’t surprised by it. He’d read in some treatise on birds that the Heart-of-fire Txetles had that ability. But he also knew what this meant, and it didn’t frighten him at all, he’d had a feeling about what had been happening to him for years. He resigned himself to it immediately.
“Are you afraid?” the Heart-of-fire Txetle asked.
“I’m sorry, truly. But I think it’s about time you knew. What are you thinking about doing now?” inquired the bird.
“How about you open the cage,” the bird proposed.
“Is that what you want?”
“Open it,” said a woman with pale eyes who appeared out of nowhere.
“Yes, do it,” said a boy with yellowish skin who was holding the woman’s hand.
“Alright,” he said.
Without warning the cage was birdless. All that remained were some feathers, red as blood, floating in the air. The bird store clerk brought his hands to his head in shock—his most expensive bird had escaped, just like that. The mythical bird sold to him by that strange man who had assured him the bird possessed supernatural powers—and that it could even talk to the dead—was now gone forever.
He sighed, resigned, and thought it strange that he hadn’t had a customer yet that morning.
Translated by Michelle Mirabella
Read an interview with John Better Armella in this issue of LALT.
John Better Armella is a writer and journalist from Barranquilla, Colombia. Better’s work has appeared in translation in Latin American Literature Today and Your Impossible Voice. He is the author of six volumes of poetry and narrative: China White (Salida de emergencia, 2006), Locas de felicidad (La iguana ciega, 2009), A la caza del chico espantapájaros (Emecé, 2017), 16 atmósferas enrarecidas, which earned the Jorge Gaitán Durán National Short Story Prize, and Fantasmata (Lugar Común, 2020). His most recent novel, Limbo, was published to wide acclaim in January 2020 by Seix Barral. The flash fiction piece “Birds” appears in his Spanish-language story collection, Fantasmata, published this Summer 2020 by Lugar Común.
Michelle Mirabella’s translations have appeared in Exchanges and Latin American Literature Today. She is currently pursuing an MA in translation and interpretation at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey. She has roots in Pittsburgh, Chile, and New York.
In our sixteenth issue, we celebrate Mapuche poet Elicura Chihuailaf, who in 2020 became the first indigenous writer to receive Chile's National Prize for Literature. We also feature dossiers dedicated to the work of Andrés Neuman, Latin American literary criticism, and the Latin American essay, plus a bilingual selection of texts from Dispatches from the Republic of Letters: 50 Years of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature commemorating Gabriel García Márquez, the first Latin American author to win the prestigious Neustadt Prize.