A collection of short stories, “The Visit” will fascinate the reader from the start. It has been said that there is no love without knowledge: that by getting to know ourselves in extreme situations, while perceiving the voice of the Spirit, we’ll ultimately personify the eternal verities of our most important knowledge, ourselves. The characters in the story share with us their spiritual longings for a change of heart , their love for life, and their genuine aspirations for their own vision of the American Dream. They know for sure that without the spiritual element, their dream fades, leaving behind the undesirable reality of a world in turmoil, entrenched in their selfish notions of “truth”. They know, in sum, what it takes to be courageously human.
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By Hugo La Rosa
The workers had been ready to leave the mine for more than a few hours. The only guard left opening the gate, posted for duty on daylight hours, was picking up the time cards at the booth. The whistle went off; the man in command of the transportation, alerted the ones falling behind. Some were still in their room stuffing hurriedly their bag packs, or simply having a last minute snack in the dining area. Others, those who had not homes in the city, who came from faraway to work at the phosphate mine, stayed in their dormitories, reading or watching TV. Later, they would go to the billiard room or to play the frog game. The “wise” guys, would have obtained in the nearest town somehow, a few bottles of wine, canned fruit and crackers to spend the rest of the afternoon.
The ten yellow and black minibuses were parked in the middle of the yard, around which were the main, big offices. In front, hazing and squinting the workers’ eyes, was the fragrant smell of the free, open sea, ablaze in the sunlight. All along the beach, the little prefabricated dormitories, scattered amidst the sunny sands of the desert, looked forlorn and sad, solitary. The embroidered waves produced a tenuous, soft mist that, due to the strong gusts of wind, was felt over their hands and faces every now and then. This tidal recurrence of nature filled them with resplendent peace, under the clear dryness of the northern desert of the Peruvian sky. The sounds of the ambience were set in stark contrast with their feelings of separation, and even alienation, far from family life as they were. Some would not get entirely used to that and, judging by their moodiness, would repress badly the anxiety of solitude. On top the blue sky again, enclosed like a vault which held everybody, as it was, in a marvelous, ideal prison. At times, the persistent flight of dark, sinister vultures, preying on dead sea creatures, or decomposed waste from the kitchen, would exhaust people’s eyes and thoughts, making them tense and fragile. Behind the settlement, the stalking desert, mounds and mounds of sand, shimmering at times with the torrid reflections of a restless sun. Furthermore, in front, in the shape of a horse’s shoe, the beach, resonating regular, sure, consoling, with its only fragrant peace, whose perfected noise was there to retrieve all kinds of memories.
Joaquin Gonzales’ group was seated already in one of the first buses, ready for departure; the drivers were obtaining the lists of passengers from the General Service Department; the exhilaration of the moment was great. Before the driver got in the bus, Carlos Mendieta got in and took a seat by the aisle, on Joaquin’s opposite left side. The guard was taking times to check their belongings –as the new regulations of the mine prescribed. Nobody said anything, and everything went fine, until the guard came down to where Mendieta had just seated.
–Excuse me Mr. Mendieta, can I see your bag pack?
–Why?–Carlos Mendieta answered.
–You know sir, the new regulations…
–The hell with the new regulations and all that s…–he said contorting his face, inhabited by anger.
The man, Mendieta, who was Joaquin Gonzales’ office companion, had been a communist activist for the Shining Path guerrillas before coming to Bayovar. When the guard asked him for the second time to open his back pack, he turned to Joaquin, seated near by the aisle, and said:
–Can you imagine? We, the workers, have to go through all this revisions, while the f… bosses go home in peace without anybody bothering them. And all because we belong to the working class, because we are proletarian…
Joaquin was taken by surprise; however, just to make things better he tried to calm him down saying:
–You know, Mendieta, it is their job. Besides nobody here is a thief or anything like that; nevertheless, it’s better to comply, just in case there might be somebody who may not be so honest as yourself.
Then, he stood up and, swinging his fist in the air, he told Joaquin that he was a snake, a vulgar Yankee and a butler of the American imperialism. Moreover, he said the nastiest things that anybody could say about one’s mother. Not knowing Joaquin’s mother and, having the least inkling of that woman’s character, Joaquin was totally moved to anger. What he said, Joaquin has tried to disown many times during his life, for it is incredible that a peace-loving person like Joaquin could have said such words, and with such aggression and destructiveness in them.
–Get down from the bus, and no matter what, I will pull your eyes from its sockets, you infernal beast!. Who do you think you are, to insult my mother like that, you filthy, nasty pest!
And Joaquin got down from the bus, signaling him, repeatedly, to get off the vehicle.
After that horrible incident, Joaquin always considers himself the luckiest man in the world, because –when he said those words– Mendieta suddenly began to shake, fraught with fear. They all heard he was trying to convince others, with a stuttering, trembling voice, to come to his side of things, but to no avail; nobody uttered a single word.
* * *
The trip home was imbued with a sense of instability. Suffocated by the heat of the desert all around the moving line of buses, they felt overwhelmed by a nauseous, ominous danger in every bent of the road, in every breath of the passengers; most started to sweat. Suddenly, the driver turned on a radio; out of place, a happy salsa song floated in the heavy air of the minibus changing the mood. Then a lively conversation about a birthday party took place between the driver and an old man seated in the front. Others did the same thing, and soon a shade or normalcy settled in the group.
* * *
That night, after dinner, Joaquin related the whole incident to Caridad, his wife, and she began to cry as if the world was suddenly coming to an end. By themselves, in the living room, they held each other for a while, as if their newlywed life had been paralyzed by a charge of a thousand volts. For the first time in their marriage, Caridad was afraid of loosing her husband; all on account of a fight, a worthless shadow, a threat opening its fangs to enclose their hopes forever in a dark abyss.
Joaquin woke up around 3 o’clock in the morning, unable to sleep.
After going to the bathroom, he went out to the backyard. The night sky was a breathtaking, luminous spectacle of stars; the brilliant full moon, slowly traveling across the space, awakened in his mind the afternoon’s incredible incident. He reviewed in his mind, as in a movie, the possibilities of what had happened. Lying in his hammock, bathed in awe, the knowledge of himself being born a second time, permeated his consciousness. He knew God had given him another chance. His life had turned back to a place in himself, all light and goodness, seeking refuge from all that. Changes had to be made for heavens sake, urgent changes. He got up from the hammock, and making a deep bow, with his front touching the ground, he said to himself, almost inaudibly, in a devotional fashion:
–I am that am.
He went inside the house, shuddering, for the fear of the Lord had overtaken him, forever. It was the year of 1982, when Joaquin started meditating.