The most marked memories of childhood, mine and those of most people, are related to family ties, the first house where we lived or at least the first where we were aware of having lived, friends from the neighborhood and of course that neighbor with whom a virgin cocktail of hormones began to stir.

From among the memories of the father’s scolding, the mother’s food, the complicity with the brothers and the games with the neighborhood friends every afternoon at sunset, from time to time the little face that at some point we began to look different from the rest of the girls appears, the first one that brought uneasiness to the soul, and made us look more than twice in the mirror to make sure that the hairstyle and the chargers of the shorts we were wearing looked good.

Most of my friends on the block were older than me; except for my two younger brothers, I was the smallest of the group that met every afternoon to kick ball, fly kites, or just talk. I had, and still have, a strong admiration and great appreciation for my friends; together, we played soccer, learned to fish in the river and fight children of the neighboring blocks; sometimes we had confrontations between us, but the next day it was as if nothing had happened, we shook hands and the friendship continued.

That was our world at ten, it was perfect, carefree, running in the rain or waiting for mom’s call to go to dinner in a hurry and go back to the street to sit in our corner until everyone arrived to continue the difficult work to be children. It was all we had and it was more than enough, but too bad, it would not last forever.

With growth, life becomes complex and friends, for different reasons, move away. I was too young to understand it, but the day came when my friends began to lose interest in barefoot racing, the ball, and fighting. They became strange: they dressed well, they smelled perfume and the worst: they started talking to the girls on the block. It was terrifying, a boy does not talk to girls, they are strange and they play with dolls, I thought heartbroken and confused.

I remember so much my best friend at that time, I will not say his name to protect his identity, I will call him Fidel, just for the purposes of this story. We were inseparable, we liked the same music, that of the Beatles and Elvis Presley; he was a better student than I was, but in order not to make me feel bad, he became the worst. We always went without shoes running like possessed people and on weekends we went out to the mountains to hunt or fish and once we swore that we would always be friends; we have kept the oath.

From one day to another, there was an almost scandalous change in Fidel; he no longer played with us, he did not take off his shoes, he did not even join us in fights with the neighbors on the block. He seemed ill, he was withdrawn, he hardly spoke, he just sat in the corner and stared with lost eyes at the neighbors’ window, fixed, imperturbable, except when Luisa Alejandra, Mr. Román’s youngest daughter, appeared, then the color of his face turned green, like that of the dead.

Luisa Alejandra was hardly allowed to go out to play, they were taking care of her from the horde of gamines (us) who screamed like crazy every afternoon; only on Fridays she was allowed to come out at the street door and Fidel went from green to white. That pathetic scene repeated many Fridays, until he dared to approach and talk with the neighbor; I lost my best friend that day.

With the sadness of the betrayed friend, I demanded his reprehensible attitude and in response, he told me, in a melancholic and proverbial tone: someday, when you grow up, you will understand.

More than thirty years later, for work reasons, I visited the city where Fidel lives today. We met by pure chance, but it was a wonderful time. Already he exhibited a considerable bouquet of gray hair and I a beautiful curve of prosperity (they also call it a belly). We talked about everything, about his children and mine, about his activities and mine and of course, it was mandatory, about the distant time of our childhood in the crooked street of the little town where we grew up.

We surf most of the night between memories and laughter: when we painted the school desks black or when we tied together the shoelaces of the math teacher so that he fell, or the afternoons we stole the hosts and the wine from the church, so many innocent memories … we also spoke, of course, of his platonic love with Luisa Alejandra, today happily married and living abroad, and we laughed and philosophized about those times when we woke up to life and adulthood. I did not know, until that moment, that Fidel was always intrigued to know which neighbor was the one who kept me awake, like him, for the first time, so he asked directly and without hesitation. It was not one Fidel, it was three! I answered emphatically. I think he got a little worried; in our block, the only girls, considerable for those affections, were only four: Luisa Alejandra, my younger sister and her two sisters.

Three, it can’t be! who were they? he inquired eagerly. He breathed a sigh of relief when he knew who they were: The Dávila! I said. They were the first three women who stole my peace of mind, who made me spend whole nights with my eyes glued to the ceiling. I noticed that he sighed relieved to see that his sisters were not part of the matter and he immediately let out a burlesque laugh that interrupted to say: I don’t understand, I don’t understand, explain to me.

It was logical that he did not understand, the Davila, were three quite old ladies when we were children. I think the youngest was in her sixties by then; devout Catholic, beautiful, highly educated and single. They were our lifelong neighbors, when neighbors were like family; they got up early every day to go in single file to pray to the church and in the afternoons they repeated the rite, they never missed a mass. They loved me quite a lot.

The oldest of them used to squeeze my cheeks with her hands and through her teeth she yelled at my mother: this little black man is very pretty, when he grows up I’m going to marry him, I always considered that as a gesture, rather distressing, of kindness; I was the ugly duck in my house and she was trying to comfort me, I thought. The second one was less expressive, but she showed me her affection almost every day, with a plate of exquisite food; that has always been a good strategy to reach a man’s heart; she was exceptional in the kitchen. And, the youngest, thoughtful, always appeared with a toy for me.

What was not pleasant at all was what those three beautiful old women did to me on dark nights.

At that time, Fonseca was a very small town with many needs, including electrical service, which was only provided one or another day a week. On dark nights, my family and everyone on the block, sat at the doors of the houses looking for a bit of freshness under the dark and starry sky of the peninsula; the neighbors in question were always with us; from their mouths I heard stories about the founding of the town, the thousand-day war, the treasures hidden in the courtyards of the houses by the aborigines who inhabited those lands before the colony, among others; It was nice to hear the warm sound of their voices and the leisurely rhythm of their stories, my father and mother fell asleep listening to them placidly to the sedative sway of their rocking chairs and they, as if they were waiting for that moment, changed the chronicles of history for stories from beyond the grave, that’s where the fun ended.

In synchronized turn, each told two scary stories without losing their cadence. They were six tales that could terrorize the bravest. They knew and enjoyed what they were doing; Like us, they were aware that my parents slept like lulled babies, even so, they addressed them: “friend, -said the one who spoke first-, you knew that many years ago…” and thus began some stories that chilled the blood and twitched nerves.

The Davila, every night before going to bed, told us stories about spirits in pain, ghosts, demons and demon-possessed people, apparitions and terrors. It was an ordeal that only ended at thirteen, when a new power plant was installed and power cuts became a thing of the past, but by that time, I was a completely traumatized child. Literally, darkness threw me into a panic, I was not even able to go to the bathroom alone, I was full of fears that consumed me. And that anguish accompanied me until the first years of my adulthood.

I remember one particular night in some January; the breeze was cold and it ran swiftly shaking the branches of the trees violently, when entering the alley that led to the corner of my house it whistled gloomy and furious, the moon that shone imposingly at times was overshadowed by banks of black clouds, a creepy atmosphere that Chepa, the youngest, capitalized on without hesitation; it had the perfect atmosphere.

I could see in the gloom, that she leaned her head on the rocking chair, closed her eyes and lowered the volume of her voice two tones and a few seconds the acceleration of her rhythm. I opened my eyes terrified and my heart was going to burst; my dad, my mom and my brothers were asleep, that moment was for me and she was going to make it memorable. The story of that night was that of La Llorona; I was moaning inside uncontrollably.

After a few minutes, long enough for Chepa to finish her macabre story, my dad came back from his nap, the Davila said goodbye and we all went to bed. That was usually the end of martyrdom, but this time it was actually the beginning of my true ordeal.

In the early morning, -I was awake, of course-, I heard the heartrending cry of a woman; the breeze carried and brought the crying and I almost went crazy. I woke up everyone in my house; at first, my dad did not believe anything, until the moan traveling in a gust of breeze let itself be heard and my dad at a bound was sitting on the edge of his bed.

In the end, it was not the weeping woman who appeared in the neighborhood that night; a neighbor of ours suffered the painful loss of her little daughter due to a very serious illness, but that painful coincidence left a mark that would accompany me for many years.

Those were the first women who took my sleep away; today, I remember them with great affection, the same one that I professed to them as a child, and with gratitude. The stories that scared me so much as a child have become the raw material of many of my stories, some already published, others in the process of being published. I never imagined that in writing I would find a way to exorcise my fears and eternalize my neighbors, the three pretty old women who are no longer with us.

In addition, I learned several important life lessons: first, that fears are actually lies that settle in the mind and that paralyze if we do not face them, some years later in the city of Valledupar, I had the first great opportunity to face mine, I’ll write about that later, surely; and second, that what doesn’t destroy you makes you stronger.


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2 thoughts on “Neighbors”

  1. Yedenira Cid

    Los amores de juventud siempre dejan gratos recuerdos (bueno, en realidad todos), como a usted acerca de su amigo Fidel.

    Le envío gran saludo y mis afectos desde México.

    Pd. ¿Esta historia es reeditada?

    1. Muchas gracias por tu comentario, Yedenira. Un saludo gigante a ti y mi afecto y respeto a tu tierra linda. Es la misma historia, solo trasladada al inglés. La traducción la hace mi esposa.

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