“The way out is through the door. Why does no one use that way?”
<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>
The door opened suddenly and Andrea turned on the light. She had let her glasses fall over her neck and the lines in her face had become accentuated by fatigue and lack of sleep. Standing at the edge of the open door, she was obviously not coming in peace: “Aren’t you going to tell me where you’ve been?”
The cock crowed again with four high-pitched tones that ended in a squeak, and in the distance the crackle of an engine broke the silence of dawn.
“I’ve been waiting for you all night,” she added.
“You shouldn’t have done that.” Martín stretched and turned the lampshade toward the ceiling. The cabin became half-lit. “Come to bed,” he said gently. “It’s late,” he added and without sitting up stretched out his arm toward her.
“I know how late it is; I’ve been waiting for you.”
There was a silence.
“Haven’t you heard me? What were you doing?”
Martín made a weary gesture. “What does it matter what I did?”
“I have a right to know, don’t I?”
“What for?” he asked without much interest.
“I’m your wife, or have you forgotten?” She closed the door and sat on the bed. She was on edge and had no intention of sleeping.
“No, I haven’t forgotten,” he retorted, though he barely remembered the trip to the courthouse, almost immediately after arriving from New York, with Leonardus as the only witness, a few months after the passage of the divorce law. He did, however, remember her sudden insistence and the dispatch with which she organized the simple ceremony, though until then she had never been concerned about it; and only later did he understand that all that haste might well have been aimed at beating Carlos – who, after completing the divorce proceedings, had surprisingly announced his own marriage for the end of the year – to the punch.
Andrea still waited for him to speak. But he said nothing but “I’m sleepy” and stretched his arm to turn off the light.
“No!” she shouted and jumped on the bed to stop him. Her face was flushed with anger and sweat. The air in the cabin was stifling.
“Then I’ll turn on the fan,” Martín said patiently. He sought out the switch under the glass of the hatchway and turned it on. A rhythmic humming filled the cabin.
“Turn that thing off,” she shrieked.
He stretched his arm again, struck at the switch and crossed his hands at his waist. He shut his eyes and thought, When I die they’ll put me in this position.
“You’re not listening to me,” said Andrea. “You never do, you withdraw into yourself, you don’t talk, you don’t leave a crack where I can come in. You stay up in your tower, outside of everything, and you act without knowing either the harm you’re doing or what the tears that it causes are due to.”
How could he know? How could he understand, if she did not explain it to him, that uncontrolled weeping with which she had come to New York in order to stay with him? How could he fail to attach importance to tears that by and of themselves contradicted the purpose of her being there? For weeks on end she cried without managing to calm down more than once in a while, when he, or perhaps both of them, taking what they had been before as a model, would get close to each other, trembling, in order to convince themselves that the same symptoms concealed the same passions. And she would go on crying, sometimes in hiding, other times suddenly for no reason, for days, years, even until now, as if all that weeping – which had been waning in frequency and intensity, gradually replaced by strange illnesses or mysterious aches that would appear with an overwhelming strength and disappear, replaced by new symptoms, vertigo, migraines, backaches, fatigue spells so persistent that they forced her to stay in bed and in the dark for whole days – were nothing but a fountain of inexhaustible pain whose origin and persistence he could not understand correctly.
He shut his eyes.
“Don’t go to sleep,” she raised her voice, shaking him.
He got back into his position and said to her:
“Don’t yell, you’ll wake the others,” and he pointed his head towards the cabin next door.
“What do I care if they wake up? Or do you think they don’t know that you’ve been out all night?”
A truncated blow of air, or a wave coming from the open sea, produced perhaps by a boat going out fishing, crashed into the hull of the boat and gave them the expectation of a breeze that was not to come.
“Come to bed. We’ll talk tomorrow. I’m tired.”
“And tomorrow, with some excuse or other, you won’t talk either.”
“Tomorrow I will,” he said, “tomorrow I’ll tell you everything.”
“Tomorrow,” she repeated mockingly, “tomorrow. You haven’t talked all afternoon or evening, nor at dinner, but tomorrow you will.”
“I never talk a lot, you know that.”
Silence reigned again.
Andrea threw her hair back and reached out her arm so as to take the whisky bottle from the shelf; she uncorked it and took it to her mouth in a deliberately coarse gesture.
“What’s happening to you?” she asked while pursuing with the back of her hand the drops that dripped onto her chin. “Are you sick of the boat?” And, without waiting for an answer: “There isn’t much more time left; when they bring the spare part tomorrow we set sail. You have another contract, even better than the ones before, that’s the truth. Look at the good side. I see it from your side, don’t I?”
“What’s my side?”
“What does ‘everything’ mean?”
“As long as I’ve known you I’ve done nothing but what you’ve wanted.”
Martín did not reply, nor even look at her.
“Don’t I take care of your business? Don’t I look at the rushes over and over? Haven’t I traveled to your part of the country?”
“That was a long time ago. I thought you liked it.”
“Well, I don’t like it, I didn’t like it.”
She said it to hurt him, he knew it. She was in one of those moments of contained fury in which she did not let herself get carried away with anger and measured her words in order to go beyond mere insult: the desertion of a common remembrance, the unilateral withdrawal from memory. No, it couldn’t have all been a lie, he knew it, nor even a concession. And yet she would now deny even the trembling of the leaves on the tallest poplars that she noticed one afternoon, lying on the ground with her head on his knees. It was a calm summer day. Under the diaphanous and motionless blue sky of Castile, while the breeze was wafting over the golden hills spotted with bales, she had discovered – love is fed by such discoveries, she said at the time – a way of looking, of understanding, of puzzling out the landscape, almost swallowing it as though taking communion, so different from the indifference or the passivity with which she had been in nature up to that moment. “I’m a city girl,” she would repeat passionately when he first met her, “I’m from the city.” And she would add: “The love of nature is for reactionaries and those against change,” a sentence she had perhaps heard repeated by her husband with a polemic intent that escaped her, but she would say it in so personal a manner that no one ever asked her for an explanation, nor was she ever accused of repeating what she heard because, they said, it was logical that she would share his ideas and beliefs; what was wrong if, with her passionate nature, she would proclaim them with even more enthusiasm and aplomb, even if they were not hers? What woman married to an important man doesn’t do it?
<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>
As though she, too, had wanted to recover her calm, she repeated wearily:
“There’s only a little time left, there’s only a little time left,” and she added in a whisper: “Everything will be the same again.”
“No,” said Martín, “nothing will be the same again.”
“What’s supposed to change? And why? What has happened? Don’t you think I know that your need for air, that kept you away all these hours, concerns me even more than you? I want to know what’s going on. I need to know, do you hear me?”
Martín did not respond.
“I’m talking to you.”
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Sorry nothing. Listen to me or talk. Don’t torture me like this. I don’t deserve it, you know it well.” Her tone of voice had softened perhaps when she added, “I left everything for you, everything.” And she covered her face with her hands, as though she could not stand the sight of such a great mistake.
“You shouldn’t have done it,” he said bitterly, and when the echo of the statement, which she seemed not to have heard, was lost he added, in order to imprint what he had said with purpose: “I didn’t ask you to do it.”
“That isn’t true,” she replied, hardly giving him time to finish, forgetting her pain, “you begged me a million times, even crying.”
“You’re right,” he admitted, “you’re right, but now it doesn’t mean anything any more. Forget what I said and what I didn’t say.” He looked at her for a moment almost indifferently, as one looks at a gaffe committed by a stranger next to us, and he thought, now I have to right the wrong, not this one, not last night’s, but that of a lifetime. But he was being overcome by sleepiness and fatigue, and, in order to end it all and to be allowed to sleep, with the decisiveness and brazenness of the timid person who, once he speaks, believes he can say anything, he whispered, “I just don’t love you.”
But he did not achieve the desired effect. Andrea smiled ironically, as if facing someone who contradicts himself all the time.
“Oh, you don’t?” There was boldness in her voice. “Now you find out?” And she raised her head to see how he would deny what he had just said.
“I want to leave,” he said, cornered. “I want to leave and I will.”
“You’ve left many times and you’ve always come back.”
“This time it won’t be like that. I won’t come back to you.” And, more for himself than for her, he added: “No, I don’t love you; maybe I’ve never loved you. I should’ve known it a long time ago.”
“When am I supposed to believe you, before or now? Which is the truth, last night’s or now?” She had found shelter in indifference and irony.
“You have to believe me now. Now I know it. Before, I only desired you.”
“So you’ve made a mistake?”
“Yes, I’ve made a mistake in everything. Not only in you. You’re just a small part of it. The smallest.” And what was meant to take the sting out of the brutality of his declaration was taken by her as the only and unjustified insult. Again she covered her face with her hands, but almost immediately she raised her head with a shake, and with the hand gesture that Martín knew so well she tried to throw back that curly hair that always refused to obey her, though this time even more furiously, like a bull trying to gore the whole world, and she burst out:
“And you’re trying to make me believe that the heat on this God-forsaken island has opened your eyes, that this is your road to Damascus, and that the revelation is so stark that you have to throw overboard all of our life together and deny everything we’ve done to be together? Because of this God-forsaken island?”
It was true. Martín thought of yesterday and the day before yesterday and of all the nights of this cruise that had in the end taken such an unexpected turn: everything that he had not wanted to think about during those ten years had now come bubbling to the surface with great momentum, in a messy way but laying bare the only and unexpected truth, as water rushes out from a reservoir when the sluicegates are opened and instantly shows the power of its flow.
He didn’t reply and moved his eyes away from her so as not to have to withstand the cry for help which he in any case could not provide.
“What has happened? Tell me, I’ll be able to understand,” now with hope in her blue pupils. “Please, I beg you. Tell me what’s happening. What have I done?” She had taken one of his hands that he was holding on his waist and slowly kissed it, starting with the nail of the little finger and going to the other fingers one by one.
He did not reply this time either and he let her go on, buttressed in the conviction that everything would end by itself if he resisted. But after a moment he realized that his only wish was to sleep, simply to sleep, and, overcome by the urgent need to end it once and for all, or perhaps emboldened by her sudden submission, he said, “I’m going to ask for a divorce.”
“And me? Have you thought about me?” She had not let go of his hand, which, as though it were a rag, she now used to wipe her tears. “You’re sentencing me to loneliness so that you can follow God knows what hidden impulse that you don’t want to reveal.” She stopped for a moment. “Do you know what loneliness is? Have you ever been alone? No, I see, you don’t know it, it hasn’t come to you yet. Loneliness is the conviction, the absolute certainty that you don’t exist for anybody.” And she could barely finish. She covered her mouth with his hand and slowly began to sob.
“Don’t cry,” and with his free hand he handed her a handkerchief.
It may have been at that moment when she saw the stain from his wound and his dirty pants.
She stopped crying and, frowning, asked:
“What have you done to yourself? What have you been up to? You have blood.”
“It’s nothing, forget about it, I fell on a cliff.”
There was a truce. Andrea caressed the wound through the handkerchief but insisted:
“Tell me the truth, for once,” she entreated. And she added again: “I hate lying, falsehood, you know that. Tell me what’s happened, please.”
“I’ve told you: I want to leave,” and he added nothing more because he realized that his strength lay in silence or at least in being laconic.
“Sure, now you don’t need me any more,” Andrea said, emboldened.
Oh God! What else was she going to try? Why wouldn’t she accept the only explanation?
“Don’t talk nonsense.” He took his hand out of hers, put it, pillow-style, under his head alongside the other, and shut his eyes as if to show infinite patience.
“You don’t like me any more,” she then said and went silent, waiting for him to deny it. But he neither spoke nor moved.
And only after a moment, overly fearful that if she did not make the effort then he would not, she stretched out her hand and put it on his cheek tenderly. “You don’t like me any more,” she repeated and added, “Isn’t that so?”
He moved her hand away as if, in order to say what he had to say, he could not admit any contact.
“It’s not that I don’t like you. I don’t like myself when I’m with you.”
“But why? What’s happening?”
“You know perfectly well what’s happening,” he said with some indifference. “You know it, and you know even better than I do,” but he would not have been able to explain it. He repeated again: “I want to leave, I have to leave,” almost regretfully, as though someone were forcing him and he were resisting.
“Is it because of Chiqui?” she asked as if she had suddenly found the solution.
“It is not because of Chiqui,” he answered in the weary tone of voice that one uses to respond to unjustified jealousy. He knew why she was saying it. With that tiresome precision in the memory of the jealous, which keeps awake in their consciousness the discovered clue upon which they concoct and buttress plots until they find one that seems to align with the truth, she still remembered that look that she caught not by chance but because she always lay in wait. It had happened on the first, or perhaps the second, day of the voyage. Chiqui, who had been lying down in the bow, had sat up with the jar of lotion in her hand. For a good while she kept busy spreading it on her legs at the same rhythm as the swaying of her body. Suddenly she raised her head, and above the sunglasses that had slid down to the tip of her nose her eyes met those of Martín, who had come up on deck with a book a moment before and had sat in the pool next to Tom, and who looked back at her without flinching and with assurance. Martín was not wearing sunglasses and even so he held out, breathless, and when in an almost automatic gesture he moved his glance away and to the right, where Andrea had settled in order to untangle the fishing line, he felt naked before her. He could not see her eyes because at that very moment, perhaps as she slightly lifted her head from the line that had kept her obsessed for the last ten minutes so as turn it toward him, the sun had become reflected in the mirrored lenses of her glasses, blinding her. But he knew that she had caught the long exchange of looks by the barely insinuated contraction of her lips and by her way of opening her mouth expectantly as if at any moment she would begin a deeper breath, a gasp. Disturbed probably by the discovery or by the inert scrutiny to which Chiqui (whose eyes, though unseen, he felt fixed in him) was still subjecting him – and not so much by the attraction that he felt for her nor, as at other times, by the desire to produce in Andrea an anxiety that she would eventually give back to him, as by the turbulent pleasure of being the object of an unknown intention – he did not, until much later, notice Leonardus, who a moment before had replaced Tom at the helm and was using the magical power of his little eyes so as not to miss, nor to betray, that game of superimposed looks and intentions.
“It isn’t because of Chiqui,” he repeated, thinking of that initial contact which, perhaps consumed in itself, had not happened again, “it isn’t because of anyone. Only because of me and also because of you.” The cock crowed tunelessly again in the dawn that had begun to make its way through the darkness and invade the world. The daylight, which was now gushing in through the hatchways, unchecked by the thin canvas curtains, mocked the dim shine of the lampshade that Martín had redirected toward the ceiling. “It’s because of us, both of us,” he insisted. But Andrea was no longer hearing him; she was slowly undressing without ceasing to look at him and when she finished she calmly lay down beside him. But he was not moved either by her prolonged look nor by her intention, nor even by the memory of all the times when she had acted the same way when she revealed, even recreated by herself, the nature of their intimacy, so deep that it wiped clean the setbacks of their strange relationship, so complete that it left no room for other voices or other spaces, so inexorable that it augured the perpetuity of its existence.
She had been crying and in the light of day her eyelids were red and swollen. But for the first time he did not see in them the shine that would incite him to get her back once again, to convince her, to submit her, to make her confess to what point she was in his hands and belonged to him, come what may, as great and heinous the outrage to which he had subjected her might have been. For the first time he did not recognize in that face that of the one who had left everything behind to follow him, even more beautiful in the lines of fatigue and pain, delirium and alcoholism, that he himself had imprinted in its features; but only the pathetic face of a woman who was aging and leaving her soul in the overwhelming effort of competing with herself.
“Everything ends when desire runs out, not when hope clouds over,” he remembered, and drew her toward him only to see how she would shiver, but nonetheless sure that in a last attempt at overcoming him she would feign a vehemence that by now would never surface spontaneously, clenched as she was by fear and by pride of seeing herself relegated, and because she too knew that those hands were no longer the ones she had seen tremble so many times. And in the play of simulations and distortions of one mirror facing another they repeated their duplicity to infinity, until they both fell exhausted, battered, wounded, still avid and humiliated by having laid bare to each other the futility of their useless pantomime.
<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>
The powerful whistle of a one-note siren that had come to a halt and was piercing the air had something strange about it, like the obstinacy of a corner of fog in full sunlight. Martín opened his eyes, and his still-sleeping memory sent him obscure and unfathomable messages that nonetheless inflicted on him a sharp, deep pain. Someone had opened the curtains and the brutal light blinded him. It must be past noon, he thought. Andrea wasn’t there, and the disarray of the cabin, like an image of his own discouragement, wounded him in an unaccustomed way. Confused noises came from the harbor and the pier, and as they took on meaning he remembered that today the steamer from Rhodes would be coming, and among the mists of his sleepy anxieties he managed to deduce: if it does then it’ll bring the part we’re waiting for, and with a little bit of luck we’ll be able to set sail this very afternoon and we’ll leave the island once and for all.
He went to the bathroom and did not shower but washed his face with cold water, because a piece of paper on the mirror reminded him that water had to be conserved until the boat could go to refill from the hose at the other end of the harbor.
There was no one belowdecks. They had gone to buy provisions or to accompany Leonardus in going to make a phone call, as always, he thought, there’s nothing they like better. He went up a couple of steps of the stairway leading to the top deck and put out his head. A rickety packet boat showed, over its red-painted hull, an obsolete smokestack, overly flattened, with the black-and-white anagram of the shipping company that was keeping it alive. It had begun the maneuver for docking at the pier, almost directly across from Giorgios’ restaurant, and two sailors out of an operetta, in white sailor caps and blue-striped jerseys, had the gangplank ready from the gunwale. On land, beside the two men who were waiting to pick up the ropes, thirty or forty people remained motionless while observing the slow maneuver. Giorgios had left the confines of his café, taking a wheeled cart to the boat for picking up the merchandise. Behind them other people approached in small groups. They all moved slowly, as if the heat – suspended in some rays of the sun that by dint of showing their intensity had lost their shine – barely allowed them to advance. The midday air was hazy and sticky.
Martín returned belowdecks, poured himself a cup of coffee that he found, still lukewarm, in a can on the stove, and went back up to sit down in the pool, under the awning.
“This heat will kill us,” he said aloud, but he knew that it wasn’t the heat.
From behind him, Andrea’s voice startled him. “Come,” she said, “it’s true, it’s hot.”
He had not seen her when he looked out on the deck, nor later; she must have been lying on a sofa in the cabin.
“Come,” she repeated, and put a hand on his knees, “it’s cooler in the cabin.”
Martín, motionless, put his guard up.
“No, I’m fine here,” and waited for her angry reaction.
But Andrea did not insist. She passed in front of him and went to sit down over the main hatchway, barely shielded from the sun by the corner of the awning that Tom had fastened to the cleat on the side of the mainmast, and as though she had suddenly lost interest in him, she set out to contemplate the disembarking of people and packages, though her manner was scornful and ill-tempered.
On the balcony, the couple had regained their place, because the sun, though still high in the metallic sky, had begun a slight descent and a strip of shade was projected upon it by the eaves. The woman was wearing the flowery robe and the man a pajama top. Sitting opposite each other they were still in the same attitude and position as the previous day, with that look of irritation that becomes set over the years in the expression and in the insolence with which both kept their necks raised and their faces in opposite directions, avoiding each other; he, with his hands crossed on the table, focused his attention on the Rhodes steamer, while she, facing him and unwilling to see him but hanging on what he was doing, sighed every so often and looked at him sideways.
Just like us, though Martin. People are too much alike.
“Is there any coffee that’s made?” asked Andrea without raising her eyes.
“Yes, there’s a little left.”
“Can you bring me a cup?”
Martín went to the kitchen, poured her a cup, put a paper napkin on the tray and went to take it to her. He didn’t want to sit with her, but he didn’t know how to leave without provoking a reaction that he did not desire, nor did he want in any way to restart the preceding night’s talk. He remained standing, leaning on the mainmast, and thought that once she had finished her coffee he could leave with the pretext of taking back the cup. She looked at him and began to drink in little sips, as though the coffee were boiling hot.
Dislike, at times, shows up unexpectedly in trifling details that may carry as much of a charge as the obscure reasons that motivate it. Andrea finished her coffee, wiped her lips with the paper napkin, crumpled it and put it in the cup before handing it to him, and, without knowing why, Martín hated her for it.
He went down again, left the cup in the sink and, like a child escaping the teacher’s attention, went up the stairs trying to make no noise, slipped past the pool and was about to leap on the gangway when he heard the shouts:
“Haven’t you got anything to tell me? Didn’t you say that today you would tell me all about it?”
But he did not turn around; he continued down the gangway, and, at full speed and not stopping to hear if she was calling him, followed the pier in a direction away from the square opposite which the Rhodes steamer was tied up. He walked hurriedly along the boardwalk, which by this point was getting narrower as the buildings became scarcer until it faded into a path covered with rubble and sharp stones, partly invaded by the sea. There were no boats or people and a little further the power plant, silent and deserted at this hour, blocked the way to a promontory that enclosed the inlet of still and muddy waters where the garbage from the dump floated and rotted, protecting it from the wind. A hulk that was tied up to land and which must have served for storage held above it a motionless cloud of big blackish flies. The bridge had partially collapsed and the worm-eaten and storm-battered timbers invaded the orlop deck among sacks and crates. There was no way except back, and since he didn’t want to return to the boat and be alone with Andrea, or pass in front of it and expose himself to her calling him, he sat down on the ground in such a way that he could not be seen from there and killed time by looking at it. It was a very old boat, which must have been a fishing barge, had long ago lost its last coat of paint and oozed dampness.
Suddenly something moved among the sacks, and it was then that, paying closer attention, he noticed a shape that was breaking away from that strange amalgam, a man curled about himself, like the one had seen yesterday in the market, his back leaning against a box and his head folded over his chest, wrapped in a too-small rag under which his bare feet showed: the one-eyed man. Fear paralyzed him, fear that he thought he had banished after the chase, perhaps calmed by other anxieties and terrors that had replaced the one-eyed man, the dead dog, his lost wallet, as though they belonged to the realm of fiction or nightmare; but there it was again, that confused fear of being found out or of having that part of him, which neither he nor anyone else had noticed before, made public. He rose almost on tiptoe so as not be seen, lightly stepped away for the first few meters, and once he was at some distance away from that putrid cove he began to run and did not stop until he got to the Albatross, the only place that offered him protection. He leaped onto the gangway, not caring who was aboard, got into his cabin, drew the hatchway curtains, plopped onto the unmade bunk and covered his face with the pillow. All he wanted was for time to pass and for the Albatross to set sail once and for all.
<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>
After a while he heard some steps on deck and some voices, and the motor of a launch that was approaching by the bow. Pepone’s voice, giving Andrea instructions to help her jump. Leonardus calling him, Martín, get out of the cabin already. And Chiqui’s, Martín, come on, we’re going to the Blue Cave, we’ve got food and wine, hurry up.
He would have preferred not to answer, to stay shut in until sailing time; but in any case they would have found him and forced him to go, and, with no pretext for refusing an insistent demand that he could do nothing against, he went out on deck and let himself down over the gunwale until his feet were in the launch.
Tom and the two mechanics were arriving on board at that moment laden with toolboxes, and long before Pepone had moved away they had already begun to dismantle the deck in order to get into the entrails of the engine.
He looked at his watch, and it was only two in the afternoon.
“How long will it take them to fix the problem?” he asked as a greeting.
“Two or three hours,” said Leonardus. “Between one thing and another I don’t think we’ll sail before seven or eight. But we’ll be able to get to Antalya and take the taxi that will be waiting for us in time to get to Marmaris, though we may not get any sleep, get on the first plane to Istanbul and not miss the connection either to Barcelona or to London.
“Don’t be in such a hurry,” said Andrea, who had sat down beside him. “You haven’t left the island yet, and a lot of things can still happen.”
He heard her perfectly, though he made her a sign to let her know that the sound of the engine had drowned out her words. Andrea responded to him with an incredulous grimace, pulled her hat down to her eyebrows, and turned toward Pepone, who, as he was moving away from the Albatross and making headway out of the harbor, recounted in a shouting voice the adventures that the town had gone through that night.
“It was the old woman,” he bellowed, “they found the dead dog in one of the streets on the hill, opposite the garden where she goes every afternoon to pick herbs for her remedies and ointments. And she hasn’t denied it. In fact, she hasn’t even responded to the priest’s accusations, and she hasn’t even said how she got blood stains on her skirt.”
So the one-eyed man hasn’t talked, Martín thought. We’ll leave and it’ll be over. What could they do to the old woman? And whatever they do, what would it matter to her? She hardly knows anything.
“If they don’t lock her up for that it will be for something else. They’ve been looking for her for a long time,” Pepone continued. “As a matter of fact she doesn’t do anyone any harm, but the priest has it in for her. Whatever happens in the town, it’s her fault.” With a kick he put the engine cover, which the jiggling had displaced, back in place, and went on: “They were going to kill her yesterday. First they followed her on her errands but then they let her go, but when after midnight the soldiers found the dog killed with stones, this time a larger group got together and they started to look for her as if they were out hunting. They found her almost at daybreak, huddled under a fallen dome among the ruins of the old monastery. She was crying without stopping her singsong, and she was wiping her tears with her skirt. Two women grabbed her and pushed her out of there, and she, maybe because she was numb from the time that she had spent in that posture, could not stand up and fell in the middle of the ring of people that had formed around her. People started to shout at her and somebody hit her with a stick. They got excited over that, or maybe because in this town nothing ever happens to get us out of the lethargy and the boredom, one of the women threw herself on her: witch, she called her, witchier than a witch. The others yelled too, and one man, the one from the tobacco shop, threw a stone at her. At that moment the corporal, the chief of the detachment, came and had it out pretty roughly with the people, who scattered in a moment. Otherwise they kill her.”
“You were there?” Leonardus asked.
“Of course I was there, that’s how I know. But I didn’t throw any stones at the old woman. I have nothing against her; I’ve seen her for years, mumbling and walking around the streets and digging in garbage piles. She doesn’t do anyone any harm.”
He put his cap on firmly and went on: “They took her to the police station, and at least one night in her life she slept under a roof. Though she doesn’t sleep. They say she stood the whole night and hasn’t stopped singing and crying.
“What will happen to her now?” asked Chiqui, though she did not wait for the answer and went to the scant portion of the deck that remained free in the bow to lie down, smear oil on herself and sunbathe.
“They say that the priest will judge her and that they’ll use the occasion to put her in jail, so that she doesn’t walk any more. She’s very old already, no one knows how old, and she’s been searching for her sons for more than forty years. That’s why she was crying, they say, because they wouldn’t let her keep on searching.”
Until dinnertime there was no further talk about the old woman. It was Giorgios himself who did it, though there was not much for him to add to Pepone’s version. There were more people in the restaurant that evening; two green bulbs were lit in the virgin grapevine arbor, and it seemed livelier because of the sailors’ voices from the deck of the Rhodes steamer. It was only eight o’clock but the night was already black.
They had returned from the Blue Cave late, detained by Pepone’s ghostly stories and by that bath that Chiqui wanted to take, in spite of everything, in the cold water inside the cave, but the sudden and precocious end-of-summer sunset surprised them only when they were already going to dine at Giorgios’. They had time to disembark by daylight, leap style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>Albatross, cross the deck while avoiding the grease spots left by the mechanics, and sit down in the pool to have a drink before nightfall.
Andrea had remained on board and Martín, who would have wanted to do the same, could barely keep up with what was being talked about. And when Tom showed up half an hour later and told them that everything was in order and ready for sailing, he left his yogurt dessert half-eaten and, not waiting for Chiqui to finish her dinner, got up and paid no attention to the shouts of Leonardus, who had suddenly lost his hurry and wanted to open another bottle of wine. He went to the Albatross with Tom in order to wait. The ten minutes that Chiqui and Leonardus took to get back felt endless, though he made no show of impatience over it or over the slow pace at which the final errands and payments and farewells were made. He made an effort not to get consumed nor to hear that voice of bad luck whispering in his ear that anything could still happen at the last moment. And when at last Pepone, on the pier, untied the moorings, and the clatter of the chain over the bow told him that he could stop looking at the alley where he had expected all night that the priest or the corporal or perhaps the one-eyed man with his wallet would show up, because the Albatross was moving away from land, he hardly found any relief for his anxiety.