My sister, Constanza burned her boats and left five years ago, for the country where they no longer speak English, but another language. Now I see the trunk that she left me as a present, not just for clean clothes, but also for keeping the photos of when our parents were younger than us, and the poems.
Armando Orozco Tovar
It is an old wooden safe from the 18th Century, I know that from its smell and because during so many years the hungry missiles of the termites didn’t get through it.
It is almost intact, and I believe it isn’t the one that belonged to my grandfather’s cousin, who stayed to live with the rest of his family in Cartagena de Indias (Colombia), because the other Orozcos (since they arrived with the conquistador Pedro Gómez de Horosco, who came from Jiménez de Quesada) spread out across the whole country. Some of them went to Antioquia, where the paternal grandfather, Francisco León Orozco, came from; others went to Santander, and others to the south further down, where the Basque surname disappeared into thin air.
According to what my father said, the cousin – whose name I don’t remember, if I ever knew it – was an odd character, who spent his time shut away in his enormous room in that colonial house, with walls stained by damp and marine fungi.
That house, where at 6pm in the evening the bats, like black guardian angels, used to come out from the vents above the roof beams, and descend on the vegetation on neighbouring beaches to feed on insects, and who knows what other pests.
Don Pacho’s cousin wasn’t afraid of anything, so fear was not the reason for his perpetual confinement in his room, where other members of his family were not allowed to enter, and he received his food at the door, as if he were a convict in one of the dungeons of the walled city.
No-one knew what he kept in that mysterious trunk. Everyone was sure it was full of gold doubloons, stamped with the face of the king of Spain.
Coins that someone had left behind somewhere, because of the buzz of bullets from Bolivar’s shotguns – before he fled to the island of Jamaica – confirmed the news of the Napoleonic invasion of Don Pablo Morillo.
Who knows what the true story of that wooden trunk would be! What we do know is that everyone wanted to open it, but the “Orozquian fury” of grandpa’s cousin, armed with a 19th century pistol, loaded with little bullets and fresh powder, didn’t allow anyone within one centimetre of the door.
They could only see him, always in the shadows, with a pair of scissors in his hand, taking cuttings from the newspapers that they brought him with his breakfast. Or sometimes, writing on an old typewriter at an equally old table.
Until the day when, cursing, he decided to ‘come out into the public light’ of his family to inform them: “I am leaving for Panama.” Everyone was sad that he went, not for him, but because of the trunk and its mysterious contents.
But how were they going to stop him, if he was armed like a ferocious buccaneer in search of more friendly lands, where he could carry on his secret misdeeds without hindrance?
The cousin of Don Pacho embarked on the schooner, with only the clothes he was wearing, and of course, the trunk, and his pistol to defend himself in case anyone tried to stop him; which he had inherited from his father, who left it to him to defend himself from the gringos if they returned to kill people in Cartagena.
He set off, but no-one paid attention to this character who had come from nowhere. People thought he was a survivor of a shipwreck, because he looked like the Horseman of Paris, that actor, who after his theatre company – which was heading for Havana – sank at sea, was left floating on a log, in the blue but malevolent waters of the Caribbean.
Halfway on his journey to the isthmus, the cousin of León Orozco died. And, since the rumours about what treasure he was carrying in the trunk had spread through the crew, like a flock of marine vultures, the sailors fell on the safe which had been cared for with such zeal, by the ‘Baudelarian Albatross’ (In Baudelaire’s poem, “The Albatross”, he likes the life of a poet to a high flying lonely bird, which crashes onto the deck of a boat and his humiliated by the ignorant sailors).
The members of the crew fired an accurate shot which blew away the fat padlock, corroded by the saltpetre accumulated through years of neglect.
What they found were just some press cuttings, old sepia photographs of ghostly characters – who certainly never existed. And at the bottom of the safe, a folder containing the love poems to a woman whose name was missing.
Directed by their captain, the sailors decided to do what they always do in such cases: without any funeral ceremony at sea, to put the corpse on the regulation plank. And thus, the cousin of Don Pacho went to rest with his golden ark at the bottom of the ocean, like the unpublished work of José Asunción.
* This is one of the unpublished texts of our esteemed contributor, who died this year. He wrote it from Alegria del Pio, 13 Sept 2015, 9.38am.
Photos: Pixabay – (Translated by Graham Douglas)