It was a petite old woman, like a little bird with a white head and asthmatic lungs who played every breath with the hoarse note of a small motor. Like Platero, it looked all cotton. I still wonder how such immensity could be contained in such a short body.
She never had children-some say she could not, others she could not-but she had flowers. Roses, daisies, vicars, carnations, the orchids were his favorites. She existed through her plants; they were extensions of herself that she attended with the care of a mother. My aunt was a garden.
In her house she commanded as queen and imposed strict rules that I violated at each visit. At that time, I looked like a villainous pixie, stubby and playful like a little pig, which beat the bushes to entertain himself and because he knew they could not return the blows. He was not evil, just a boy who knew nothing about anything and yet the wonder of his love knew to see beyond my faults.
When I happened to see her naked, she was 60 and I was very young. I just experienced a shocking surprise. It was very hard to face the evidence of the passage of time written in wrinkles, stretches, folds, hair of less or more, hanging flesh, spots and all kinds of redundancies of the skin. With great astonishment I understood that I too would reach old age, in his time.
My aunt Carmen always visited me at the time they killed Lola. In a humble green bag she brought us her copious offering of homemade sweets-milk with milk, sweet potatoes, guava leaves, majarete … -that she knew how to prepare like no other and for my little bird, birdseed freshly cut at the edge of the road.
On weekends we returned the visit to his narrow-fronted house in the alley of La Paz, the sanctuary he shared with good Mario, his lifelong companion. The rule was to find her always doing something, like a genetically programmed ant to avoid leisure.
Almost always in the kitchen or the garden she talked with her husband or with a neighbor, she used to make good coffee that she used to drink “very bitter”, she invented the most delicious food that I have tasted, she fed the chickens or the dog Mochito, she swept the patio, He shook his precious porcelain ornaments, put fresh flowers to San Lazaro.
He taught me with his sayings to understand the world:The best way to eat a plate of hot cornmeal: “Doña Quilla on the shore removes the calves from the babilla”.
Everything has consequences: “after laughter come the cries”.
One bad afternoon, shortly after I said goodbye, I had the only true feeling I have ever experienced in my life. Somehow I felt that something was wrong with her, but I could not explain it to myself.
After a few hours, came the news of his fall in the street, which caused a hip fracture. It was the beginning of its end. It never was the same again.
More than ten years after his death I do not even have to strain to listen to his fine voice humming some bolero as he used to do, narrating for the millionth time the unpublished “tale of the guagüí”, reserving the coveted rasp of rice pudding, caressing my head on her chest while she put all her effort to breathe, something so simple for others.
Memories accumulate, form blocks that behave in a certain way like tectonic plates: at every moment they rearrange without warning and cause tremors of greater or lesser intensity.
A single photo of Aunt Carmen causes anyone who survived a rush of pure nostalgia, so each of us keeps a part of that memory printed in black and white or in colors. Better not to gather all the photographs of that album full of memories.
I have images that allow me to evoke her in her early years, her life before me and others in which I can recognize in all its details that old and sweet face, as I remember it. Seems like yesterday…
He was born long before the outbreak of the first atomic bomb and died before they invented smart phones, among eight brothers and sisters he was the second to arrive in the world, he made shoes in a factory, he got married and sometimes he was happy as anyone, he taught me to take care of nature, loved and loved, won all the rounds of asthma except the last, left a mark. Today, more than ever, it is urgent to celebrate your life.