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from the May 2011 issue

Dos Manzanas

Dos Manzanas

You have to see him there on the streets of an old neighborhood in Madrid; you have to look for him, young and tanned, with an open white shirt, specked with some paltry design, a style out of fashion, and with his blue jeans, as he hurries along. You have to see him knowing that his name is Abdul Azad, that he is from Tangiers, and that his name, at this very moment, is rattling around in the head of someone else, who, two blocks from there, has laid a trap for him while Abdul walks along between hope and fear among the blurring colors that mottle the parked cars and filthy storefronts.

And try to imagine what we will never know for sure: what old grudge (since it did not stem from us) and what precise urgency are at the root of everything that is going to happen today, Sunday, within the next ten minutes, in apartment 3L, in the alleyway off 11 Ángel Street, where Rashid is holding a pistol in his right hand.

The only details we have at our disposal are these: 1. That Abdul Azad, nineteen years old, and Rashid Azad, twenty-eight, are brothers. 2. That the minutes pass leaving beads of sweat on their brows, which some time ago in a market in Tangiers were furrowed in tense disagreement. 3. That Abdul rounds the first block while Rashid carefully slides the magazine into the butt of the gun, his hands trembling. 4. That Abdul and Rashid are both thinking about the fate of Abdul. 5. That Rashid releases the safety on the pistol, which he places on the table, as Abdul makes his way past the final corner of the second block. 6. That ten minutes have passed.

With this information it will be much easier to be witnesses to the following events. We will see, with the blue clarity of an April Sunday, Abdul standing before the intercom of a closed doorway with a wooden door, its varnish scarred and pockmarked. And we’ll see that Abdul presses the metal button to ring apartment 3L, which prompts a buzz, followed by a pause, and then a voice.

Rashid tells him to come up, and the door opens. Abdul’s body feels the humidity of the hallway; his spirit, the shadow.

There is nothing to hear but a block of silence, penetrated by the faint clatter of Abdul’s steps as he climbs the wooden stairs to the first floor. The building does not have an elevator; what it does have, though, is a tremulous yellowish light, which it gives off once you press the switch on the landing. Abdul does.

There are still two floors to go. As if it were some faraway music, the foreign odor of a stew, which someone has seasoned with pork fat and soup bones, wafts over to him. We recognize the scent, the stew is familiar to us. While we busy ourselves thinking about where it is coming from, whetting our appetites, Abdul is arriving at the door of apartment 3L.

He looks at the painted door, brown and chipped; he fixes his gaze on the pagan symbol of Christ nailed to the center of a crucifix and set on a plaque on the doorframe where two names appear, those of the presumably deceased Don Antonio Jiménez Cuevas and his wife Doña Antonia.

But he’s more worried about finding out what’s happening on the other side of the door, inside a space that he does not know and which will shortly assume volume and shape before his eyes. He is trying to imagine (in vain) what fate lies in wait for him in one of the rooms once he takes a seat to speak with his brother.

He waits a few seconds while these thoughts condense inside his head before escaping out onto his forehead transformed, again, into beads of sweat. He gathers himself and rings the bell, which does not sound (it is broken). He raps on the door with his knuckles, worn down by faces and doors.

On the other side, Rashid, sitting in a chair, grasps the pistol. These few seconds are interminable for him and drench his back in sweat and, along with him, the jockeys printed on his shirt. He has heard the breathing of his brother on the other side of the door even before the knocking starts. He has waited for the thumps with patience, although on hearing them a vertigo sets in, dizzying and inscrutable, and it chomps at his heart. It beats so strongly now that Rashid fears Abdul will think that he has returned the knocks on the door from the other side. We also hear this beating, and we like that we can. Because we enjoy, without realizing it, the terror of others when we see it from afar, especially from behind a window. It is beating so hard now that his heart is practically giving orders, and Rashid changes plans. Straining, he lifts the sloping, fatty mounds of his body as he stands up, shuddering for a moment, and he opens a drawer where there are two apples, both a lustrous green. He hides the pistol between them. His sweaty hand, which has smeared the knob of the drawer, now wets the front door.

Head to head, the two brothers piece together the images before them, a version of which has been living in their memories. The work is difficult for Abdul because Rashid is much fatter now than he once was, and he doesn’t fit with the Rashid from the past. They hesitate, hug, but neither of them smiles.

Abdul closes the door. Rashid walks over to the drawer, opens it, and the pistol flashes even without the least bit of light reflecting off it. Abdul has seen something glimmer, and his disquiet is confirmed. But Rashid’s hands, shaking with indecision and fear, opt for the apples, and he extends one to his brother. “It must have been these that I saw,” thinks Abdul, “since they are so green and shiny.”

A minute slowly slides by in the hallway below, and, advancing like a serpent, climbs its way toward the apartment. They chew their apples in silence. But Rashid’s jaw tightens, and he struggles with his. He knows that no one will have the chance to digest the fruit. So he returns to the drawer, peering into it—and Abdul receives a shot in the gut. The first thing to fall to the floor is the apple.

“The whole neighborhood must have heard that,” Rashid thinks. And it’s true: all of us have heard it, and we don’t even live in the neighborhood.

What are you going to do, Rashid? We watch you stick the barrel in your mouth, where we glimpse the metal flash, glistening with saliva. But until you shoot we’re not going to believe any of it, because we have seen so many movies with surprise endings that now there are few things left that can unsettle us. Of course life is another thing entirely, and you shoot without ceremony. The core of your apple also falls first. We get up to leave, we’ve seen enough.

Translation of “Dos Manzanas.” Copyright Ernesto Pérez Zúñiga. Translation copyright 2011 by Jonathan Blitzer. All rights reserved.

Dos Manzanas

Hay que verlo por las calles de un barrio viejo de Madrid, hay que verlo joven y tostado, con camisa blanca y suelta, cortada por un diseño pobre y pasado de moda, con vaqueros azules, paso apresurado, hay que verlo sabiendo que se llama Abdul Azad, el que vino de Rabat, aquel cuyo nombre ahora mismo está meciéndose en la cabeza de alguien que, a dos manzanas de allí, le ha preparado una trampa, mientras Abdul avanza entre la esperanza y el miedo, entre los colores que salpican los coches aparcados y las fachadas sucias.

Y hay que saber lo que nunca sabremos: qué rencor —pues no era de los nuestros— o qué necesidad exacta fueron el origen de todo lo que va a suceder hoy, domingo, dentro de diez minutos, en el piso tercero izquierda, del número 11 del callejón del Ángel, donde Rashid tiene una pistola en la mano derecha.

Las únicas noticias de que disponemos son éstas: 1. Que Abdul Azad, de 19 años, y Rashid Azad, de 28, son hermanos. 2. Que pasan los minutos dejando gotas de sudor en las dos frentes que una vez se fruncieron de preocupación y esperanza en la medina de Rabat. 3. Que Abdul rebasa la primera manzana y Rashid introduce con cuidado, con temblor, el cargador en la culata. 4. Que Abdul y Rashid piensan a la vez en el destino de Abdul. 5. Que Rashid quita el seguro de la pistola, la deposita sobre la mesa y Abdul dobla dos esquinas de la segunda manzana. 6. Que acaban los diez minutos.

Con esta información será tremendamente fácil ser testigos de los siguientes acontecimientos. Veremos con la nitidez azul de un domingo de abril a Abdul ante el telefonillo de un portal cerrado con una puerta de madera, con cicatrices en el barniz. Y que aprieta el botón metálico que llama al tercero izquierda, que provoca un zumbido al que le sigue una pausa a la que sigue una voz.

Rashid le da paso y la puerta se abre. El cuerpo de Abdul siente la humedad del zaguán; su espíritu, la penumbra.

Lo único que se escucha es el bloque del silencio donde intentan sonar los pasos de Abdul, que ha subido los escalones de madera hasta el primer piso, pues el edificio no tiene ascensor pero tiene una cansada luz amarillenta si se aprieta el interruptor de los descansillos. Eso hace Abdul.

Todavía le quedan dos pisos. Como si fuera música lejana, le llega un olor inédito a un guiso que alguien ha condimentado con tocino y hueso añejo. Nosotros sí reconocemos el cocido. Y, mientras nos ocupamos en averiguar de dónde procede y en abrir nuestro apetito, Abdul acaba de llegar frente a la puerta del tercero izquierda.

Entonces mira su pintura clara, marrón y desconchada, se fija en el signo pagano de un cristo de chapa que está clavado en el centro y en la placa donde están escritos los nombres de los seguramente muertos Don Antonio Jiménez Cuevas y Doña Antonia, señora de.

Pero se preocupa, sobre todo, de averiguar qué puede estar sucediendo al otro lado de la puerta, dentro de ese espacio que no conoce y al que pronto la vista añadirá volúmenes y formas, de escudriñar en vano qué destino se esconde en una de las habitaciones para lanzarse sobre él una vez que tome asiento para hablar con su hermano. “No hay sitio para nosotros. Ven”.

Espera unos segundos, que se condensan dentro de su cerebro para salir de inmediato por su frente transformados, de nuevo, en gotas de sudor. Se decide y llama al timbre, que no suena, que efectivamente está estropeado. Golpea con los nudillos, gastados en rostros y paredes.

Al otro lado, Rashid, sentado en una silla, empuña la pistola. Sus propios segundos interminables siguen empapando su espalda y, de paso, a dos jugadores de jockey que están estampados en su camisa. Ha sentido la respiración de su hermano antes de que se decidiera a llamar. Ha esperado la llamada con paciencia, pero, al oírla, un vértigo que nunca se explica bien cuando se siente le ha mordido el corazón. Late tan fuerte que Rashid teme que Abdul piense que le devuelven los golpes desde el otro lado de la puerta. También nosotros los escuchamos y nos gusta hacerlo. Porque disfrutamos sin querer del terror de los demás cuando lo vemos desde lejos, seguros tras la ventana. Late tan fuerte que el corazón manda y Rashid cambia de planes. Levanta con esfuerzo las bolsas de grasa de su cuerpo, se tambalea un momento y abre un cajón donde hay dos manzanas muy verdes; y, entre ellas, esconde la pistola. Entonces su mano, que había mojado el pomo del cajón, ahora moja el de la puerta.

Frente a frente, los dos hermanos acoplan la imagen que tienen delante a la que todavía vive en sus recuerdos. A Abdul le cuesta bastante trabajo, porque el Rashid de hoy está enormemente gordo y no cabe bien en el Rashid de ayer. Titubean. Se abrazan.

—Cuánto creciste —dice Rashid.

Y cierra la puerta.

Se acerca de prisa al cajón, lo abre, y la pistola lanza un destello sin que ninguna luz se haya reflejado en ella. Abdul lo ha visto y su inquietud se confirma. Pero las manos de Rashid, que están temblando de indecisión y de miedo, se deciden por las dos manzanas y alarga una al hermano. "Habrán sido ellas, como son tan verdes", piensa Abdul.

Un lento minuto se desliza bajo el portal y, como una serpiente, sube hacia el tercero izquierda. Ellos muerden en silencio sus respectivas manzanas. Sin embargo, a la boca de Rashid le cuesta mucho masticar. Él sabe que nadie podrá digerir esa fruta. Por eso se vuelve hacia el cajón, busca y Abdul recibe un tiro en la barriga.

Lo primero que cae al suelo es la manzana.

Se ha debido escuchar en todo el barrio, piensa Rashid. Es verdad. Nosotros, que ni siquiera vivimos en este barrio, lo hemos oído.

¿Qué vas a hacer, Rashid? Te vemos meter la boca del cañón en tu boca, en la que vemos un instante el brillo jugoso de un trozo de escarcha. Pero hasta que no dispares no vamos a creernos nada, porque hemos visto tanto cine con sorpresa final que ya pocas cosas nos inquietan. Claro, la vida es otra cosa y tú disparas sin contemplaciones. El corazón de tu manzana también cae primero. Nosotros nos vamos. Hemos visto bastante.

Publicado en el libro: Las botas de siete leguas y otras maneras de morir, Punto de Lectura, Madrid, 2002; y en la antología de relatos sobre inmigración Inmenso estrecho, Kailas, Madrid, 2005. ©Ernesto Pérez Zúñiga


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