Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Aire Libre

Odilia Rivera Santos

Pablo had the tranquil, inquistive gaze of a mulatto Jesus Christ. He would lift his arms, his hands palms up, and murmur as if talking to an audience. He had a long, lean, strong body, and bulging veins in his hands. His skin was a beautiful even cinnamon color, and he had tremendous Egyptian eyes. Believing the conviction in those eyes, and being five years old, I would look around, imagining that perhaps it was not Pablo who was mistaken, confused or just crazy as my father said, but the rest of us. He would stare at me, and I felt drawn to him as if he were hypnotizing me.
He would say, "Look, over here!' as if he were invincible, and then he would whisper, "Come over here." He was aware that the children had been warned not to be alone with him. Pablo was conscious of his status within the family: a man who could no longer work and who frightened children.
He occasionally incited fear in adults, because he would not go anywhere without his machete. My grandmother, who lived with him and was his guardian, did not want to insult him by taking his machete away. Aire libre: when my grandmother found out he was mentally ill, she vowed he would always be free. She would leave him as part of the inheritance for her other children, her jewel.
I will never forget the sight of Pablo sharpening his machete to go to the beach.
"Why is he taking his machete to the beach?"
"He likes to drink fresh coconut water before he goes for a swim," my grandmother said with a patient smile, knowing I would not understand. She felt Pablo's presence and his needs  she brought him coffee and food before he asked. She had as much faith in Pablo as she had in her sane children. Pablo looked at her with a big grin on his face, and he said, "I'm leaving, mami."
He bent down to give her a kiss, and he walked down the road swinging the machete by his side.
"Why doesn't anyone take it away from him?"
My grandmother smiled and said, "It's his machete."

No comments: