New Mexican Fiction (4)
Sólo voy a decir dos cosas de Alberto Chimal: (1) en un medio tan lleno de envidias y rivalidades como el literario, es de las pocas personas de quien todo mundo habla bien y (2) No me queda duda, es el mejor cuentista de mi generación.
Alberto Chimal was born on Toluca, Mexico City's nearest major city, on 1970. He's published more than ten short stories and poems collections, as well as essays. He's been included on many important anthologies. He also is a critic and an editor and is considered the most important short story writer of his generation. Alberto has won many importan literary awards, including the San Luis Potosí Award for best unpublished short story collection, Mexico's most important prize for short fiction. His favourite writers include Jorge Luis Borges and Italo Calvino, and it shows on the following excerpts from his book People Ot The World (Gente del mundo), in his own words, "a collection of vignettes and ultra-short stories about the inhabitants of an imaginary world." People Of The World was included among La Jornada's Newspaper ten best books of the year list in 1998.
The Llollo ("We Who Are Two") said always the reverse of what they thought, and amongst them the worst enemies greeted each another joyfully; the lovers never ceased to say their goodbyes; the generals ordered a charge when their armies had to retreat; the mothers reprimanded their most obedient children. Always.
But travelers from all the lands went to the Llollo to hear them talk, to see them live in such a strange fashion, and it is believed that one of them, perhaps a merchant or a storyteller, taught them to lie (an art unknown or even unthinkable to them).
They began to say what they thought; to say what they did not thought knowing that no one would believe them, and also to speak plainly without anyone giving them credence. They ended mixing what they thought and what they did not thought in their discourse, their actions and even their thoughts; and so they became equal to the other peoples of the world, and they scattered all over it, for they could no longer, it is said, understand one another.
The Hour Of Death
The sacred books of the an-Anesdre ("We Who Respect Time") state that, in ancient times, a vengeful or inscrutable god ordered that folk to "die at the Day's ninth hour, when the Sun is highest." Such a strange command has had, through the centuries, several interpretations; all of them have marked the history of that region.
During the Famine, the beggar-preachers of Andigoro the Narrow taught that the Other World allowed entrance to the souls of the dead only at midday. Any of their faithful who was deemed dying was promptly killed at the ninth hour, and those who died unassisted at any other time were left unburied, to rot or to be eaten by birds and dogs.
In the fourth century, when the an-Anesdre were among the most advanced nations of the world, the empress Kenil-Dir of the Veiled Eyes decided that the ninth hour of all her people had come. She ordered all cities, towns and villages of the land to be ravaged, and when her captains did not obey her, she killed herself. Since she had no heirs, her death caused a long, disastrous war between the many who wanted her throne.
In the seventh century, the writing of the Good Thoughts Gild influenced the noblemen of the an-Anesdre cities: the princes grew fearful of old age, decrepitude and decadence, and adopted the custom of suicide, which they committed, aided by weapons and poisons ever more sophisticated, when they believed themselves at the peak of their powers. So popular became this bearing that it became the law, and for many years the lesser men were made, often forcefully, to follow their betters.
Today, because of the improvements in the astronomical sciences made since the ending of the War of the Fowl, the an-Anesdre know that the sun reaches the highest point in the sky only a few days each year. Those days, the people, forgetting differences and conflicts, gather together in festivals held everywhere, during which the executioners slay those sentenced to die and any other who wishes to. They also offer to the gods a sacrifice for every one who could not wait to the proper day to arrive.
The P'tabrek ("We Who Illuminate") learn to draw before they learn to speak, and their hands, when they hold brush or charcoal, are always more agile than their mouths. There are always many visitors from distant lands at K'Tiraka, their city; they come looking for paintings, and all day long you can hear in the streets the shouting of the vendors, the haggling, the clink of coin, and the exclamations, full of awe, of all who have eyes to see.
Among the P'tabrek, the vain commission beautiful false mirrors, made to conceal the changes brought daily by age and misfortune; the governors' decrees have no written words on them, and thus anyone can understand them; the couples draw up on their bodies lovely landscapes, made to disappear with the first glows of the skin.
Always, they say, the Magok-da ("We Who Throw Ourselves") have fed themselves with nothing but yak meat, yak milk and tubers fried in yat fat. (They live on the meager steppes of Daka, where those creatures thrive still.)
Thousands of years of such a diet have made them a people so obese that, for example, few of them can walk, even fewer can run, and the biggest of their riders must ride on two or even three horses at the same time. However, they insist in satisfying their bellicose urges, as we can read in the following note, written by historian Kschatt of Morrst:
In the eve of every battle, the noises of feverish work can be heard at their camps. At dawn, the catapults (several times greater than the most common ones, with long metallic beams and seven feet wide buckets) are ready; trains of yaks move them as near the enemy positions as possible.
Then, while a few daring riders go forward in a false charge, to provoke the adversaries, the real Magok-da army appears: huge, round warriors, all armored, with cruel blades, long bows and fearsome spears. They climb, with some difficulty, into the buckets; they are slung, one after the other, by the smaller soldiers who man the machines, and who barely have time, after a shot, to tense the ropes, pull the beams down, put the next projectile in the bucket, take aim and shoot again.
It is strange, and more than a little terrifying, to see the Magok-da warriors in flight. Sometimes they let themselves spin slowly, sometimes they keep their eyes set on the enemy soldiers on which they will fall. Almost anyone who sees them screams if he also hears the blood songs that they sing while over the ground. Upon hitting it, a lone warrior can crush a dozen enemies; if he survives the fall and is able to move, he can kill at least a hundred more.
Since childhood, and even before, the Magok-da grow accustomed to fly: their parents, instead of cradling them in their arms, hurl them up when they want them to sleep.