by Tatiana Hinojosa
Translation by Amanda Kauffman
The musical dawn in charge of the municipal band announced the beginning of the festivities of San Martin of Loba, patron of Astrea, a municipality located north of the department of Cesar. The sound of the fliers encouraged the sleeping hearts, submerged in the perennial tranquility that is common in distant villages.
The harangues that were repeated in their wake were heard, provoking the joy of the companions.
“Hurray for the festivities of San Martin of Loba!” Yelled some parishioner.
“Hurray!” Dozens of people responded in chorus.
Dilia saw that Florentino, her father, was approaching worriedly; the humble room lit up with his figure in the door frame, held in one hand the lock of oil, while, with the other, he kept the curtain away from the fire. She pretended to be asleep. Since the death of her mother, her father, now seemed to worry more, and she did not want him to get angry like other times, but, when he saw them lying in bed, he went away.
Her mother was called Ernestina, her face appeared fleetingly in their memory, years ago she had died giving birth to her younger sister; she slept next to her, she took the blanket and tucked her in, sneaked over the bed that felt warm and soft, like the candorous and indelible caresses of her mother.
“Dilia, Dilia, get up!” She was woken up by father with pats on her back, trying to get her out of that deep sleep. “Gather your things. I’m going to take you to my mother’s.” he told her.
She got up and went out into the yard, the annoying rumbling of her stomach gave away his unexpected visit to the fire pit, the firewood seemed scarce and with that amount it was impossible to make breakfast, perhaps her father had forgotten to bring it the night before; the Brazilian tree used for these needs was obtained on the other side of the village.She decided to sit and wait a few minutes, the kitchen was her favorite place, there they used to settle in from a very young age, her mom used to tell them amazing stories, she taught them the numbers and some letters, the ones she knew. Going to school was a privilege that very few enjoyed. She sat there looking at the wood chips that, desperately, disappeared, turning into ashes that spread with the wind.
“Dilia I gave you an order, hombeeee! I thought you were ready. Let’s go!” yelled her father, a little angry.
She ran out, towards her sister, who was still asleep.
“Mother, take care of her,” she vehemently pleaded.
She felt a void in her heart and looked wistfully at the silhouette that pressed the old quilt hard, she wanted to take it, but she understood that she would need it more, her courage had already been born in the beautiful stories of her mother, especially, the one in which King David had defeated his enemy with the strength of his heart.
She arrived at her grandmother’s house, greeted her fondly, and talked at length about the health of her siblings, then showed her her room to fit her dresses in the trunk, her protector looked at her with approval, while organizing the garments. Then she called her and said:
“Listen, ‘mija’, help me organize the house, relatives always arrive when there’s parties and in the afternoon we will go to Mrs. Melba’s to have a dress made for you for the procession of San Martin.”
At her age, the illusion of attending one of the ballroom dances made her smile with a certain rascality, although she knew that her grandmother would not allow it. That afternoon, the seamstress was waiting for them.
“Good afternoon, come in Dilia,” greeted the seamstress with kindness. “Browse the fabrics while your grandmother looks at the latest model.”
Dilia gladly accepted the invitation and, graciously, her eyes turned ecstatically to the fabric stamped in yellow and brown, she took it and explained to the seamstress in detail the model she wanted.
“The skirt should be wide, princess style, the blouse with sleeves and delicate lace, very tight at the waist, so it reveals my figure, and not very low.”
“Don’t worry, Dilia,” explained very courteously the seamstress. “At your age, even the most ordinary of fabrics would highlight your candid and glamorous beauty.”
With a gesture of gratitude, she turned to look at her, while touching that delicate cloth that invited the caresses of a lover attracted by the gentle movement of a dance. With the turns, the silk would unfold and attract everyone’s attention. Her grandmother Maria agreed to buy it too after repeated begging.
When they left, could already sense the town was already imprisoned by the revelries. In the park there were all kinds of trinkets, a tall and very attractive man called for attention with a soap and plants for good luck, she saw how one by one people gave money to that stranger; while her grandmother spoke to one of her friends, she continued to observe the neatness of his manners and the insistent voice that touched the emotions of those present. She remembered that on Sunday in church, the priest explained in his reading: “It is, therefore, the faith, the certainty of what is expected, the conviction of what is not seen”. So, why did they put their faith in those soaps and plants? Worried, she wanted to warn them, but her grandmother forced her to leave.
The day passed very slow, the laboriousness of the home never ended, it seemed like others did not care about the hours that were spent, even fixing a bed to make it look well stretched and that called tired bodies to a comforting sleep.
“Well stretched, Dilia, and don’t forget to go to Mr. Enrique’s for the shopping for lunch.” Her grandmother stated.
“Yes, ma’am.” she replied with a tone full of discontent.
Her longed-for moment had arrived, it rained heavily on the day of the procession, but she had no reason to worry. San Martin of Loba came to soothe the village with his spontaneous rain, from a cold breeze that was rare in those villages where the sun shines with great force.
Her mother told her that San Martin, was a Roman soldier, who belonged to the imperial guard, and it was in the city of Amiens (France) where the legend says that he found a beggar battered by the cold of the inclement winter, to whom, without thinking twice, he gave half of his cloak, and that once in a dream Jesus appeared covered with the other part of it, saw through that omen his real mission, dedicating his life to caring for and protecting the homeless. Her mother walked the procession with them every year, she was a faithful devotee of the saint, that day she would do it.
The procession started at four o’clock. It was still raining. Some people offered their penance crawling on their knees, others walked backwards, children wore white, women and men, still with impassable pain in their faces, silently continued their march; some paid back favors received and others cried out to the saint for a miracle. Dilia stood by her grandmother wearing her beautiful dress, praying the prayer that her mother taught her from an early age. At one of the stops, she managed to see her father for a moment, who embraced her effusively.
“Daughter, how are you?” He asked in a choppy voice.
It seemed that his pain would not allow him to speak, and every word was choked, choked by tears that pressed to get out.
“Daddy, I’m fine.” She hugged him and offered him her best smile, she wanted to reassure him, she didn’t like it when she saw him frown in concern.
Arriving at the house she hung her accessories in a makeshift wardrobe that she had made with ropes and fine wire hooks, there also remained her beautiful satin dress, she was ready to bewitch any elegant young man in the region; she would go to that party, and she would sneak out to do so.
The next day, after lunch, she heard in the distance a voice through a loudspeaker that heralded the ball dance that would take place in the village; she breathed deeply, her heart swelled like it wanted to get out of her chest, and exhaled a generous breath of air, she had to calm down, the excitement should not be reflected on her face… Everything was already planned.
“Grandma, can I go to my friend Mercedes’ house? I want to show her my new dress.”
“I said you could wear it on the day of your fifteenth birthday, which is next week.”
“Ok, grandma, but can I go?” She insisted.
“All right, but just for a while.”
Now she had to wait. She finished her chores quickly, at six o’clock in the afternoon she would be ready to go to her first dance, she hid her dress in a bag and went to her friend’s house that was only two blocks away from hers. Mercedes was excited, her mom had gone to the empanadas sale store, they would take the moment to change and leave.
“Dilia, you look beautiful, no one will notice me.” Her friend expressed in an envious tone and childish voice.
“Don’t say that, you look like spring itself.” She told her, alluding to her flower-printed dress.
They walked stealthily to the party, no one could see them, they heard the sweet melodies that, with expertise, the musicians played, they did not know how to dance, but would allow themselves to be carried away by the magical songs of porro and vallenato.
Finally, they arrived. All their teenage fears drifted away with the gentle cadence that prompted dancing, the imposing hall full of lamps with dim lights and chandeliers on all sides, dazzled them. The furniture surrounded the central space, waiting for the dancers to sit down or cool off with a drink, in the background the band maintained everyone’s enthusiasm. Its cheerful and contagious rhythms seemed to release the laziness that reigns in forgotten villages.
How she enjoyed being there! She didn’t understand the reason for so many restrictions to attend the dances, if they existed from the very beginning of humanity.
Mercedes, she looked for her friend, who had disappeared for an instant, she did not see her, there were many people, at last she managed to spot her in the center of the dance floor, where the shadows blended in the amplitude of the danceable surface.
She remained on that piece of furniture for almost an hour, no one invited her to dance, she felt a little sorry for her, but that would not alter her happiness, she already knew where the force originated: in the heart; she knew how to control her emotions very well. Suddenly a handsome young man approached.
“Good evening!” Greeted the elegant young man affectionately.
“Good evening, I’m Dilia,” She introduced herself, very enthusiastic.
“Dilia, a pleasure.” He said, as he sat next to her.
They conversed and laughed a lot, and even tried to dance, but it was observed that the synchronicity of their movements was not the best. Each dancer’s feet were handled independently of their partner.
Soon it was to return, the light of the municipal power plant worked until ten o’clock at night, then they would turn it off, and the people who would be plunged into a deep darkness. She said goodbye to him, her friend was already beckoning her to leave. How happy they were returning home; they would never forget that magical episode.
She entered the house very carefully, fearful of what would happen, she rolled the seat that was used to lock the door, went to her room and went to bed. Only a moment had passed when her grandmother appeared in her room.
“Dilia, I didn’t hear you arrive, I fell asleep, tomorrow get up early, my son and grandchildren came from El Dificil.” Her grandmother announced.
“Alright, Grandma, good night.” Dilia nodded.
She wanted her to leave so she could continue dreaming about that lovely man who had stolen her heart.
The next day, her grandmother, very early, began the day-to-day work. Dilia had also gotten up.
“Dilia, say hello to your uncle and your cousins.” Ordered the noble woman.
“Cousin, how are you?” She waved nervously.
The knot that formed in her throat felt like it was going to choke her, she couldn’t move, she was pale, she seemed to fade slowly, a strong hand held her. She couldn’t believe that her cousin was the same man from the night before she had dreamed about spending the rest of her life with.
“Come, you need some fresh air, cousin.” The young man told her, pulling her out of her stupor.
It was enough to look into his eyes possessed by loneliness to know that he would always be with her. No one would stop them. They made a pact to run away together, they were careful to communicate with keywords, which only they could understand. Mercedes became the cheerful celestine who hid when the afternoon died out, and brought her reasons inside the same house so as not to arouse suspicion in the family; until night came when they risked defying their luck to face the future together.
Even with family protests and disagreements, the marriage between Dilia and her cousin took place. They went to live in El Dificil, Magdalena, place where the parents of her spouse resided. During their early years of marriage, they erred from one estate to another, he in agriculture and she in the work of the home. They had eleven children who they filled with joy each morning, the quiet life in the area offered them well-being and peace. One afternoon tinged with deep red, Dilia rested in the rocking chair, at which point her husband warned her that they had to leave. With great serenity he explained that he had got a job with better conditions. She looked at him with great tenderness and embraced him, that month the butler repeatedly scolded him for his awkwardness and slowness in his agricultural work.
She, for some time, had noticed outbreaks of tiredness in him; the morning before, she observed how the fingers of his right hand moved uncontrollably, he wanted to hide it from her, although his head seemed to do the same thing. They went the next morning to Mr. Carlos’s estate, who treated them as if they were family from day one, took care of the children and enrolled them in school. They didn’t all finish high school, but most did.
Her beloved husband got worse, she helped him in what he couldn’t do, he gradually lost the light in his eyes. However, at that time, some famous specialists had arrived in Barranquilla, and they traveled to the immense city to review its deteriorated health. The employer, kindly, helped with the trip expenses. All the way, Dilia stayed next to him, describing the paradisiac places they crossed; when they reached that capital, the doctors, after observing it, diagnosed him with paralysis. He underwent a risky surgery and recovered his vision, but over time, his complications continued increasing. They returned to Barranquilla for the post-operative appointment, that day the doctor referred him to another specialist, who ruled out the paralysis and confirmed the name of the disease: Huntington.
Dilia, now knew why God had given her so much strength in her soul, and from San Martin she also learned what true compassion is; their children inherited love, honesty, the gift of service, and being worthy in their work from their father. Unfortunately, six of them have died from the same disease and two more are affected. His father died at the age of forty, broken by this ailment.
One of Dilia’s most cherished memories was the trip she made to Rome, Factor-H is one of the means that has been put in her way to achieve her purposes, the blessing of Pope Francis now accompanies her always, every day she finds another reason to express her love for one’s neighbor, she understood from that moment what her real mission was. She has wanted to share this story with the sole purpose of exhorting all those who, like her, keep alive the illusions, of those who find themselves in this situation, because faith is born in the hearts of men and it is what makes them truly brave.