May 15, 2022 10:27 pm

How to bridge the gap between the dreams of youth and adult reality?

It has always been difficult for me to choose. Each election supposes a renunciation and I am one of those who refuse to let go. I want it all. I clung to this impossible when I was young when I was pulled by a dilemma that perhaps I still haven’t fully resolved: the choice between a traveling life and a sedentary one.

Between the ages of twenty and thirty I made two long trips without a defined course, given over to the stimuli of the road. While wandering around Latin America, the United States, Canada, France or Spain, I met people dedicated to perpetual nomadism, a fantasy that seduced me at the time. However, I knew that to follow that destiny was to relegate a family project, an idea that also called me. Those of us who are like this oscillate between two dangers: becoming immobilized at each crossroads or living eternally longing for what we decided to leave behind and no longer have.

One day it occurred to me to unfold this contradiction of mine into two characters and that is how it was born The hand of a distant god, an epistolary novel in which Santiago and Jano, old friends with dissimilar temperaments, reestablish contact after years without seeing each other. Santiago, married with two children, lives for his rising career at a major bank. Jano, who has been wandering around Central America for years, embarks on the reopening of an abandoned sawmill in the middle of the jungle with the dubious help of local indigenous people. Through long emails that come and go, the friends tell each other about their present as they experience it and rescue episodes from their past together.

One day it occurred to me to unfold this contradiction of mine into two characters and thus The Hand of a Distant God was born, an epistolary novel in which Santiago and Jano, old friends of dissimilar temperaments, reestablish contact after years without seeing each other.

My intention was to confront two antithetical ways of life. Jano, the nomad, represented the present dimension, intuition, improvisation, freedom. Santiago was the reason, the construction of the future, security. But it is not possible to narrate only with ideas. To unfold the story, the characters had to become, for me, three-dimensional beings with a defined profile, but also endowed with mysteries and secrets.

To learn to know them, I stopped at the rewriting of the first chapters. The doubts enriched the proposal. Had one and the other chosen their destiny or were they led by circumstances? When they became consistent, I knew that they would both move towards their opposite. Janus goes from chaos to order. Santiago, from order to chaos. With that premise I let go of the hand.

As the writing progressed, I began to hear a third voice: that of Santiago’s wife, whom both friends knew in their early youth. Cecilia accidentally discovers that chain of messages and finds out things she wasn’t supposed to know. He then decides to write to Jano, initiating a risky game of three that puts his ties and convictions in check.

Santiago, Jano and Cecilia write mainly for themselves. They are narrated to find their feelings and to find the thread of life trajectories that, bordering on forty years of age, they perceive as random and alien. The three remember, in conflicting versions, those shared days of adolescence in which their lives, without their noticing it, perhaps took an apparently definitive course that led them to this present in crisis.

The novel took me away from the starting point and I found myself writing about the fragility of our certainties, the way in which memory builds its myths, the distance between the dreams of youth and adult reality, and the possibility of change. Of course, the obsession to create living characters that catch the reader never left me.

From Janus to Santiago

Wednesday March 26, 2003

Subject: Lying on a cot

I don’t talk much lately, maybe because I don’t stay anywhere long enough to get to know someone. When I start to get used to people, I tell myself it’s time to move on. Anyway, the ones around here never get to know them completely. And even less to the Indians, among whom I have lived for a few months. We communicate with twenty or thirty words that are not enough. In truth, we have not understood each other and the evidence is there, although I am sure that they, cunning as they are, understand me more than they let on. They respond to each direction I make with a serpent’s gaze, cold and distant, and in response they blurt out two or three words in that primitive half-language with which they communicate with each other. They work, yes, and I’m going to have to pay them, but I can see that they’re not going to give me what I need. So I watch them do and spend my days absorbed in my papers, busy sorting wood, forging reports for the capitalist, stunned by a heat to which they seem immune. Thus, a silence similar to the one they live in enveloped me. I have lost the habit of words and now that I receive this long message from you I don’t know how to respond. The idea of ​​writing to you is as useless to me as talking to the Indians. However, I will be faithful to my first answer. It was an impulse that led me to answer you and now that impulse compels me to continue. It is not fidelity to you or to our old friendship, which no longer exists as it was because long ago I stopped being the one you knew. I answer, perhaps, because I have time. And because if I don’t do something with the time I have, I think I’m going to go crazy.

Your email arrived at the right time. I am lying on a cot, recovering from a fever of diffuse origin that was combined with the aftermath of ingesting a hallucinogenic mushroom that I tried without thinking twice, more to try to understand these Indians than to escape from a reality that I It only comes out, I already learned it, when the time comes. However, I was closer to achieving the latter than the former, according to the doctor who came to see me. It was brought, what a paradox, by the same Indians who almost killed me with their silence and their mushrooms. Two of them walked the forty kilometers that separate us from the village, on the other side of the island. The doctor’s truck had difficulty making its way through the road that leads to the sawmill, which no one travels anymore and is about to be devoured by the jungle. Luckily, the Indians were there to remove the obstacles. When they went out to look for help, they tell me, I was still unconscious, but the doctor, a small and skinny being who did not seem to like the home visit that had happened to him, found me already awake. However, I was still in such a weakened state that I could barely answer his questions. He left right away, after taking my temperature and giving me a spoonful of unpalatable syrup. In case it was necessary, he confirmed that he had not died and that there was little chance of that happening.

“You’ve been lucky,” he said as he put away his things. That poison almost sent him to the afterlife and in a literal sense, believe me. To make matters worse, you had been incubating the same type of fever that in these islands is raging against children and the elderly. But you never know, maybe it was that very coincidence that saved him. I leave the syrup. One tablespoon in the morning for ten days. You just have to stay in bed until the fever subsides and your body regains strength.

I allowed myself to doubt my luck. He had woken up from the fever without knowing who he was and was still more or less the same. I felt in the middle of a cloud of ash that obscured my thoughts. That fog has now cleared, but since then I live almost without notion of the passage of time and according to the basic needs of an animal: hunger, thirst, cold, sleep. Reality is a formless magma only altered by the visit of an Indian woman who brings me food twice a day. It has been that way at least since I regained consciousness. Before, I don’t know. The last thing I remember was the outline of the trees fading away and the sea behind, splitting in the middle, as if a huge invisible ax blow had fallen on it and the cleft was going to swallow everything, starting with the cabin on whose verandah I was trying to catch a glimpse of myself. fresh that calmed my headache. Suddenly my vision blurred and a claw gripped my stomach. I fell to the ground and cursed the bitter tea that I had accepted shortly before from Camba, the chief of the Indians. What had led me, after the day’s work, to go down to the beach and sit with them around a fire that they had lit with branches and dry leaves? Perhaps with that approaching gesture he desisted from continuing to give them orders they didn’t understand. Perhaps that was, in truth, the resignation to continue trying the impossible. The acceptance of a new defeat.

I’m going to spare you the story of the thousand and one jobs I’ve done over the years, from selling bracelets on the most exclusive beaches in the Caribbean to passing fake watches from Puerto Rico to the Dominican Republic. Some matters were legal and others not so much, but they are all alike: they were fixed-term jobs, digging to continue, excuses to move around these parts that ask little of those who are satisfied with little, especially if that little guarantees freedom. free of commitments. I tell you this as if it were a pattern of life that emerges from my character and maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe I lived in the lurch just because that’s how the hand came. What I do know is that all these years of comings and goings have changed me. And they have tired me. Perhaps that is why when Vasco Arocena told me about the sawmill, I felt like a sailor guessing a port after a long season at sea.

I should explain to you who Arocena is. In the first place, it is the reason why today I wait in this bare room looking at the ceiling from a bed of reeds, surrounded by Indians who both cause my ills and, it seems, take care of me. I could describe him as someone who has talent and even a genuine taste for living adrift. In truth, what he likes is life, and one day he decided that it would be better to live it anyway on the other side of the Atlantic than to waste it washing cars in his uncle’s car wash, on the outskirts of Bilbao. One morning on his way to work, he turned down a street that took him to the port and never returned home or to the laundry. He embarked on an Algerian-flagged freighter that left him in Recife, in northern Brazil. […]

[…] I took the concoction the Indians gave me to get closer to them in order to understand them and get them to do what I need. But I only managed to open a parenthesis in my life and in my mind, after feeling a pain like never before and believing that I was peering into the abyss of a young and absurd death. In compensation now I have, in the mornings, the sweet and warm hand of Dolores, the Indian, who rests on my forehead to check the temperature and chase away the fever. I also have time to write to you. We owe this communication to Juan Camba. Although, unlike Dolores’s hand on my forehead, I don’t know what benefit it can bring us.

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