The rain is pouring down, the wind is shaking the leafless trees, and from times past comes an image, that of a tall, thin man, an old man, I realise, now that he draws nearer along the sodden track. He is carrying a crook over his shoulder and wears an ancient, muddy cape from which drip all the rains of heaven. Before him go the pigs, heads down, snouts to the ground. The man approaching, blurred amongst the teeming rain, is my grandfather. He looks weary. He bears on his back seventy years of a hard life full of privations and ignorance. And yet he is a wise man, taciturn, one who opens his mouth to speak when necessary. Indeed he speaks so little that we all fall silent to hear him when a kind of warning light illuminates his face. He has a strange way of gazing into the distance, even if the distance is only the wall in front of him. His face, fixed but expressive, seems to have been carved out by an adze, and his small, sharp eyes shine sometimes as if something he had long been pondering had finally been understood. He is a man like many others on this earth, in this world, perhaps an Einstein crushed beneath a mountain of impossibilities, a philosopher, a great illiterate writer. Something he could never be. I remember those warm summer nights, when we slept under the big fig tree, I can hear him talking about the life he’s led, about the Milky Way, or the Road to Santiago as we villagers still called it, that glowed above our heads, about the livestock he reared, about stories and legends from his remote childhood. We would fall asleep late, well wrapped up in our blankets against the dawn chill. But this image I can’t shake off at this melancholy hour is of that old man advancing beneath the rain, stubborn, silent, like someone fulfilling a destiny nothing can change, except death. This old man, whom I can almost touch with my hand, doesn’t know how he will die. He doesn’t know yet that a few days before his final day, he will have a presentiment that the end has come and will go from tree to tree in his garden, embracing their trunks and saying goodbye to them, to their friendly shade, to the fruits he will never eat again. Because the great shadow will have arrived, until memory brings him back to life and finds him walking along that sodden path or lying beneath the dome of the sky and the eternally questioning stars. What word would he utter then?
translated by Margaret Jull Costa