War, So Much War - Excerpt
W hen I was three, everyone mistook me for a girl because Mother had never cut my hair and it fell in ringlets down the sides of my neck. The day Mother took me to see Father Sebastià to have me admitted to school, Father Sebastià gave me a sad look and said: We don’t accept girls. Mother lapsed into all manner of explanations. It pained her to cut such beautiful hair; I was too little and would be cold with my hair all chopped off. And while she was explaining, I, who already knew how to write my name, strode to the blackboard, and grasping a piece of chalk, white on black, scribbled in large, crooked letters: Adrià Guinart. Father Sebastià noticed at once and, clasping his hands together, ex--claimed, “A veritable archangel!”
I started school with my hair cropped, distressed by the change but wiser than the other boys. Father Sebastià had me sit beside him when he taught Sacred History; my gaze troubled him if I sat on the bench: too much like an owl, he said. We had a thick folder full of large holy pictures that was kept locked in the cupboard where we stored notebooks, pencils, and chalk. While he spoke, I—it was always I—was supposed to wield a wooden stick to point to the things he mentioned: the Dead Sea, the Staff of Moses, the Tables of the Law, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve wearing fig leaves. Now point to Solomon. I was always mortified when I had to point to the fellow who lost his strength when they cut his hair. Point to the herald angel. Blond, with ringlets like I had before starting school, the blooming lily in his hand, and feathery wings—a blue stripe, a red stripe—the angel hovered in mid-air before Mary. When it was time for the image of the Great Flood, all the boys in the class, even the sleepiest, most distracted, perked up. As I followed the arching rainbow of colors with the pointer, I could feel myself floating between the green and the purple, the yellow and the pink . . . Hadn’t Father Sebastià called me an archangel? Archangels flew. Cain and Abel. I held my breath. Abel was grazing his sheep. Cain was sweating and plowing. I was dreaming Sacred History, dreaming angels, dreaming saints, dreaming of myself living Sacred History, crossing deserts and making water flow from springs. On the days when the Crucifixion print was shown, as soon as I reached the field of carnations, I would race from one end to the other, and stand on tiptoes, reaching up as far as I could to hear the stars whispering, poor thing, poor thing, he doesn’t have wings . . .
[. . .]
My father died when I was eleven. He was a train driver. He had a mustache and large, tranquil eyes. When I was little, to get me to sleep he would sit me on his lap and sing me the song about the wheels that go round and round, round and round. He said there was a fiery moon the first time the man appeared on the tracks. A thick fog lay asleep above the trees to the right. And a man was walking right down the middle of the tracks toward the train. As soon as my father saw him, he blew the whistle. The man, who was small at first but started getting bigger, walked on as though there were no train bearing down on him. He got so close my father could see the clothes he was wearing: light-colored trousers and a yellow-and-black striped shirt. My father braked. There was screaming in the compartments. My father got off the train, followed by a group of passengers. They found no one on the tracks. Father had to give the company an account of what had happened to explain why the train was late. Everything would have ended with that if a year later, in the same spot but on a pitch-black night with snowflakes falling calmly from the sky, the man walking along the tracks had not appeared again, in the same attire: pale trousers and a yellow and black shirt. The train was moving at full speed, the wheels singing that song about wheels that go round and round. The minute my father spotted him, he blew the whistle several times, but the stubborn man kept getting closer. Until, finally, his heart pounding, my father was forced to brake. Frightened screams came from the passenger cars. My father got off the train. There was no one on the tracks. Together with some passengers, they scoured the surrounding area. Nothing turned up. My father sensed that the people didn’t believe him, that they were eyeing him as though he were crazy. Again, he had to notify the company. If they ever came to suspect that the train driver was seeing visions . . . And on a moonlit night, an expanse of silvery fields on either side of the track, the man in pale trousers and striped shirt again appeared in the distance, as he had on the two previous occasions. My father said he closed his eyes . . . and did not brake. And with every one of his senses he felt the sound of bones being crushed. The company did not fire him, but he was moved to another line. He operated a dilapidated old train that was as subdued as a turtle and only made short hauls. Plunged into the well of that mystery, he died of a heart attack shortly thereafter. Mother did not weep for him.