I went to the ocean in search of oranges, a thing that the ocean does not have. —
We are not great friends, I mean, the water and I. The process of undressing one´s wear, that tedious movement that requires you to drop all your mechanisms of self-defense, is no different from getting wet. One must give up on all the coatings that protect our weak and tender bodies; opening to someone is like throwing away one’s shield in front of an armed soldier. The bare cold of my body, the falling of every twitching garment, my skin like caramel in the mouth of a cavernous stranger—reveal the raw veils with which my spirit hides the precious layers of thought that protect my opinions.
We believe, Manuel and I, that there is only one sacred action, there is one time in a human´s life that defines all the derivations of the major junction. It is when one delivers their delicate heart to the other. When the soul jumps out of its skin and displays its tender fragility; it is clear, like a glass screen tainted by a transparent transaction, that there is a time when the skin begins to remember, when one´s body surrenders and the liquid forms its sad friendship with the intimate realization that emotions are real.
Manuel worked the land before the flush came and took it all. He brushed the plantation´s hair and combed it in different styles that were appealing. He dug the holes when it was potato season, cut the grass when it was freshly sparkled by the glimmering dew and fed the cows before anyone was up. It was through these exhausting jobs that his back swelled like a hunch and reminded him of the convoluted tasks that he had to cross out of the niches of his mind and the many borers he found shimmering in the canes he had to harvest. These were the colors of his life—green, brown and worth living.
Under his hands, the state was as spruce as a pampered baby; he moved the soil so that sowing would breeze by the feverish afternoons of the island painted with a blue, red and white sky, the one blessed by a lonely star. This was one out of the many plots of ground under the tropical sun; this was the land that found pride in Manuel’s second hand, in the rusted edge that he sharpened so that it could easily cut through day and night, the nature of his work—the machete.
I went to the sea in search of ripe fruit, tired of working my ass off and thirsty for liberation. Yet we grew up in a land that feared the ocean and we were sure that the waves were meant to curl our vulnerability. But I kept my faith that perhaps, some day by the distant shore, I could find a shell, a rock, a fragment, something that would hint at a clue or a reflection of a life where I belonged. Not the dull appearance that tired my eyes with the same landscape and the same construction of precarious images. Somewhere, beyond the horizon, the tide would find a tender refuge and a secret land would flood out of my being. The orange trees (my orange trees) would grow up in hundreds; their leaves swarming the air like little boats setting sail towards their dreams.
“Manuel, how do you do it?” I had asked him.
“What do you mean?” he replied with a crimson eagerness.
“Aren’t you tired of this bad dream?” I asked as my hand landed erratically on his shoulder.
“What dream, what do you mean?” he replied, swiftly slapping my hand like a fly swatter.
“I mean you work from dawn to evening, the world revolves and progresses while you are stuck under another man’s venue; your body asks for rest and your machete will soon give up on living. Look at it, it has more dents than my teeth!” I laughed and a frustration swallowed the light from his gravel eyes.
He stared through me, walked away and left me hanging from one of the many branches that he knew held my forbidden dreams and mysticisms. I secretly knew he would come back immediately; he often needed that dramatic release before he could reveal his kind demeanor.
Manuel acted like that, he was a magnet for attention; he would look at you and slowly pierce his gaze until he pulled your attention into his deep hazelnut reality. He liked to spread his eyes on you and engage in a conversation without muttering a single syllable. I could barely stand as he weaved me into the spider web of his qualities: he found no interest in humans, he was hungry for hard work and he was in love with the tangible world; he had everything that I found demeaning. You could only imagine him wearing a cowboy hat, pretending to be something slightly other than a rancher, lining up his telenovela stache and smiling directly to the eyes of your mind. He knew how to arouse one’s fantasies by feeding them to the hungry wolves, that is how he got me to commit to the dream I had buried long before the day I left for sea.
“You know, if you don’t like it here, you should leave,” he had said, under the honest light of a February morning, “you are different, you are better than this island, you should go to the world and see it.”
It was then when his eyes really dug inside of me and left a seed that I would always carry with me. Under the shadows of the almond trees, his gaze pleaded and begged me to set sail and never return. His eyes were sharp as they sent me on a journey to atone for the decisions he could not make in the past. Even though he was dry, harsh and his gestures fled like runny sand, his pupils were clear and they communicated that it was okay for me to set sail for meaning.
Deep inside, something told me that he meant well for every possible end that could derive from my decision. So, as I interiorized his words, as I left everything behind, including Manuel and the night that clothed my goodbye, the air smelled fresh and moist.
I dipped my hand in the water, the hopes hold. —
Up in the sky, the day reveals a violet light. The clouds dissolve like dust lifted from the blue desert plain. The sand reflects bright pearls and abundant riches; the palm trees are a forbidden cliché and the coconuts run around a paradise someone else must have painted. As I plunge into the beach, my heart aches and I feel a gagging threat and fear, it is the water.
The wind is hurtful and no longer a breeze, the clouds look away strangely and reject my presence as they go away. I see into the frame that holds the water, its mystery eclipses the reason why I came. The weight of my emotions keep slowing my thoughts, I feel like I am sinking. In order to ground me, I point with my finger, slowly moving towards the horizon line. Advancing through a couple centimeters, concentrating my sight in the surface as if the scenery was my appearance, as if a fragment of me could jump into the mirage in front of my eyes, I delineate the boundaries of the sea, where I went to look for a land to grow my oranges, that which I wished I could bear fruit in me. I keep delineating, as the sun’s pride spreads through the very matter that my tips are handling, and it is good to let the heat settle deep into my skin, like my fingertip about to surrender into this sand for the first time. Now I continue as if, moving a few steps towards the landscape, caressing the warm and shining water, following the wake-trails like Machado´s wayfarer, the tide is taking over the land and the water is becoming the glimmering thing where I am standing.
The ocean is breathing, the waves beginning and ending, the water reflecting the sky and the sky reflecting the water; in between the facing mirrors, I search for a spot to grow my oranges. The landscape is empty and there is no land, for a moment everything is gone and not a single spirit dares to interrupt the heavenly sense of harmony. My hands try to grasp the moment, but it escapes past my very intention to posses it.
The day is soon flooded with fear, like a meteor striking the earth, like a realization that expands and contracts into meaning—despite the odds of planting my seeds, my faith holds, I will grow a miracle. My hopes stand firm in the land of my emotions—the sky, the ocean, the wind and the sun. I believe I came to the right place to foster my being.
When I look deeply into the landscape, I imagine all the other wanderers who came to the same point where I am standing. Did they manage to find what they were looking for? They probably stood there, like me, ready to try the space for themselves and attempt to plant some seeds in it. They probably captured the instant in time, so that it would be another object to ravish their souls, with the arrogant belief that the site was their breakthrough. And under an alien light, they would have felt the notion that they have already been here; in every nook and recess of the water, the light slowly reveals what is familiar. Like the wanderers, I know this crescent beach, these mesmerizing corals and shells, the sand so gray and real, the tantalizing sky, its sharp shades of white taking over the boundaries of the image. It all deceives a perfect façade, I look directly into the sun and as it bends the illusion of discovery, the air becomes insurmountable.
You then split away from the photograph in the textbook. The title of the page reads, “The Lure of the River.” The picture is from a random paradisiac beach in Latin America, you do not care about the misplacement, you are used to it.
Your surroundings deceive another reality, another sense of space and depth. Outside, the sky bleeds shards of frozen water. How cruel, how inhumane to stab the clouds with cold and dare to waste the holy water. Still, you let go of the image that reminds you of the past; it might as well be forgotten. Why did you even think about it? Why did you identify with the picture? A photograph is a reminder of a life that is always fugitive, that something was broken in time, like the many hopes you did not succeed in achieving. In this case, you pretend that you are the strange body in the image, that the individual’s failure to represent is your failure. You do not feel authentic, like the stranger in the photograph, you do not belong to space that you have been photographed into.
You look outside again, the distance between the worlds that battle in you is far beyond any illustration. Anything that occurs within you is beyond the boundaries of representation, yet you insist and persevere and imagine yourself moving through the white hills that jump into your sight. You are battling whether to go to campfire or not.
The glass then stumbles into your gaze and realize you were stuck in one of the multiple spaces that occur inside your mind. You stand up and reject the seat that is sticky with sweat and hours spent on an intellectual prowess. With tender animosity, you push your weight towards the window and look into the reflection of your body. In the mirage, the colors play into lights and the lights turn into memory. You remember, and you are not happy to remember, that you had opened your doors to the water and your interior had sunk like a bottle inside a bottle. There are no oranges in the sea, you cannot grow them either and you try to forget it because remembrance is an exercise of resentment. But you cannot avoid thinking of the water, you cannot let go of it or of the fact that it dressed you up with the illusion that something was wrong with being hurt and deceived, naked. You came to the water with the hopes to heal your insecurities, but the water killed your land, disappeared your oranges and hanged the fabric that had held you in.
Now, in your head, the hours die indifferently while your skin expands like soggy bags that contain your vessels, and again your skin contracts only to stretch out the map scarred by the doings of your own internal trepidations. Like paper, your emotions fold and unfold as your mind goes through change and struggle. You keep looking through the window and remember that you had been marked and that the water reveals your denial: you are ashamed of your own desire to go out. It might be a good idea to let these feelings behind and meet some people. Perhaps it would be good to walk under the night´s shimmers. It could be good to let the heart rest and allow yourself to be sheltered by people.
Heavy as a rock, you force yourself into the dark spiral, the murky liquid that you have idealized in spirit and recognized as your one true wish. The diaphanous screen reflects your pain and yearning, it gasps away your delusions because of the cold nature that it triggers, the strangeness that they had forged in you without making a distinction between you or the other inanimate objects: the cannibal, the barbarian, the other.
However, you know that today could be different; the campfire may be the door to a new experience. The possibility is there and you contemplate the reason why you do not want to cross its threshold. Through the window, you see yourself recede with the rough memory in hand and the citric smell pullulating, like a reminder that life is the meaning that you breed. You then stand up and walk around, as certain as you are confused you look back and remember by reconstructing the walls of your childhood, the fraternal arms of your parents, those who embellished you with care and indulgences in order to overprotect you. Time has passed in the blink of an eye and you walk through the empty streets of your trauma, the yellow light bulbs are hurting your eyes, you are running away from home and about to find refuge in the dark alleys of your own damn suffering. Even in your memories, the trauma of the past seems warmer than the trauma of the present. You look down and see yourself reflected on a puddle of water, an image that instantly takes you back to the glass that is reproducing the abstract images of your anger towards your father, like a chain that pegs you to the price of memory, reigniting the invisible wounds that swells through you.
Tired with age and stress, you will walk away and pick up the textbook. You cut out the photograph and look into it, your body rejects the caricature of the brown body that looks like your father, and while you posses a fragment of meaning between your trembling fingers, you realize that it is too late, your roots have drowned in the water of this new reality, you have left your land and in this instant, when the dread has flooded your body, you are still searching for a land to call your own.
I let the orange run, which will search for its center. —
The fire, an excessive amount of wood burning, oscillated towards the night with a gentle movement and stayed put. The amount of work had been especially heavy that day, and having to work tomorrow, he had almost missed the campfire that the others had organized for people to come as they please.
The light stretched over the multiple somber faces and revealed their many features like the climax of a difficult journey. Deep into the group of people, beyond the blurry edges of one or two young folks, an individual sat on a log of wood where light and space unfolded on a circle organized by a multitude of strangers. A spark landed on her surroundings and lit the smile with which she invited everyone forward, and gave no option other than to follow the command of her deep and sensual voice. Above, the sky glittered because of an infinite number of stars; below, he stared politely at them and all the other scary figures that shone under the moon’s light. Like a collection of ivory statues, they expressed no emotion or gesture other than the ones allowed for these occasions. And he knew too well that he had come by the fire on an ominous day, surrounded by gloomy strangers that buried any route or possibility for escape, for he was at the heart of the gathering and he was doomed to stay.
He had come to realize that nothing seemed real in this place. There was an air of darkness around the land when he observed the landscape. And that darkness expanded in a way that it woke up a feeling of uncertainty in him, a feeling that was close to terror. No one spoke and for as long as the silence lasted, he looked directly into the eye of the night.
“Would you like to hear a story?” she said to challenge the stillness, “a scary story.”
A few nods and stares answered for the crowd, which, at this point, was already meshed into an organism that functioned as an independent body. She continued.
“The night was so dark that the streets of New York seemed on fire. Drunk with lilac colored wine, three friends wandered through Sunset Park. The night was about to die, but they had insisted to wait until twilight. They decided to sit by the top of the hill, so when the time came they could see the sunlight hit the buildings. When, distracted by the bark of a dog, they noticed that one of them was missing.”
She stopped; it had started snowing. The wind raged through the branches of the trees; the branches cracked into brown and green pieces that landed on the ground and fumed.
“News had spread about a murderer,” she regained her pace, “and each day, as the victims shushed the disemboweling and beheadings, the numbers piled in the cemeteries. As a measure, people were avoiding public spaces and deserting the streets before it got dark. Their mothers had warned the three of them, but they did not believe the rumors of the big city. Still, if there was a tiny chance in the knit of possibility, they took it for granted that New York is a city of multiple stitches. They were willing to take the risk.”
The crowd shivered and pulled everyone closer to the fire. The snow was a laced mantle of white fabric that covered everything other than what was in the proximity of the heat. By now, her words had penetrated deep into the horde of ears; having dug with strength and determination, the words had found their space inside their minds. Simultaneously, she caught her breath to continue and he felt a snowflake land on the surface of his head. It felt strange and unfamiliar, like a touch of distance.
He discovered that he had been trembling. The temperature had dropped a couple degrees Celsius and the snow kept swarming around the multitude. He could not stand still; his heart was galloping and wishing for the story to end. It was dark and getting darker; it seemed to him that all that darkness came from him, that the land was as dim as his feelings and that the crowd was out to consume him. However, that was not the case. No one was out to get him, no one was truly aware. That made the situation all the worse.
The light painted yellow and orange glimmers on her face. She looked both beautiful and terrifying. The trees kept dancing to the rhythm of the wind. It was a soft melody, a whisper that resembled the gloomy tenor of the flute. She seemed conscious of this as her tongue boarded the tune like an extension of it, “As they were running towards their destiny, searching for the friend that the night had made missing, they could not avoid but think that this was all a bad joke, a jest of sinister. One by one, they searched through each venue, bathroom and bench, but the friend was invisible. The sky was about to shout some color, when they heard a trace of sound like footsteps. They were quiet but heavy, similar to the movements of the jaguar. As they came forward, the mist descended to the ground level and the shriek of metal scraping against the cement became more and more earsplitting. The two boys could feel the edge of the killer’s weapon on their heads. The sun started to make its appearance, and as the two boys started running towards the exit, they found the bowels of their friend; they were pink and stained by crimson, clinically cut and shredded into pieces. And as they watched the horror that opened before their eyes, a hand, smooth and deceitful like a serpent, landed on one of the boy’s shoulders. It was Manuel, his brown arm on the air, holding the machete.”
The company of people shuddered while the idea of Manuel sprinkled like bad water. His impression landed deep into their unconsciousness, on the black and damp soil where the fetish found its center—the allure!
In Manuel, he had found a mirror of himself and he felt dirty with the heated fantasy through which the strangers swelled and aroused their unthinkable depravation. It was fit for him to be mistaken for Manuel and when he attempted to find an exit from the circle, he tripped and hit his face against the snowy ground. The light stroked his appearance in front of everyone, unveiling the white mask of a foreigner. One could only imagine the individual’s expression as he leveled his gaze to the others’. Their eyes met and the crowd’s somber features pretended to be awake and conscious. The fire adorned their body with luminescence, yet they held no knowledge of the roots that bred in them, of the seeds that fed from the coffers of an infinite blindness
Do not break it with a knife, my heart goes inside. —
Manuel, it was a surprise to find your letter under the shrine of my guardian angel. I never managed to craft a reply because these words with which you have trusted to me, were the last air molecules that I needed to grow in emotional measure. Now that I am away, in a space that allows me to breath in all the distance, that forgives me a sense of transcendence, beyond the seedlings of my being and towards a land of independence, where I have nurtured branches that I can call my own, my first oranges are sprouting and their peels shine with a sense of who I am.
I left home in search of something, since I felt fragmented and incomplete, missing from the fabric of our family and hence, of existence all together. My journey was an abstract exploration, a white canvas and an opportunity to fill the void with a somewhat familiar trace or shimmer, for what I wanted was to be content. Belonging was a word that I performed and like an automaton fulfilling its mechanical function, its meaning just came and went, like a meal that I forced myself to eat in order to demonstrate that I was grateful, it was not something that burnt in me with red passion or the smooth skin of a nectarine.
When I left, blinded by the sparkling color of discovery, I had a drought of knowledge as to why I had fostered the decision to leave everything behind. What I did know was that my life in the South was clouded by a solitary sky and the days grooved by a hole that was always sinking. I felt (which by no means signifies that I thought, because this idea was, by that time, too large for me to fully comprehend), that mom and you had trapped me within the walls of an experiment, because the carefully constructed lies that you used to build a stairway to the hopes deposited on me, was a route that was predetermined and a road that I was not willing to take. Existence already circumscribes us to a vessel, doing the same with a fixed narrative would be a sin equal to the one of marriage. For me, it was a pledge too early to undertake; it was the dawn of my life and I was starting to notice the treacherous veils that you had woven and unwoven inside of me.
I saw, with an eye cursed with a desire for detail, the privileged strings that you weaved into my clothing. Pieces of silver, golden and white fabric that you patched together like little eggs that lied inside our family’s nest. At first, because I was yet to feel the weight of what I was wearing, I carried your dress as a proud symbol that differentiated me from the rest. I felt special when the clothes touched my body with such accuracy and finesse, tact, as some people would dare to say. I would see the other kids cavort through the unexplored world of the kindergarten, all dressed with colors that spoke in this exact refined way. But there was something that pinched in me with a harsh strangeness, deep inside the consciousness of who was me, the thought that we were covered in immense beauty and ornaments hurt me; there must have been something that we had wronged with all the other kids that existed beyond our bubbled screen. And I won’t describe what does not belong to me, but I know you know what I mean. I am sure because you taught me the value of the things that you sweated for, all the work that you underwent to get me all these freedoms that, back then, I did not know how they had come to be.
Dad, I admire you not for what you have given me, but for all those hopes you could not make true, for the pride you hold on your own detriment and your will, which is your natural force. Still, there is a reason that works my memory and explains why I left home. You held me hostage of your charity, a similar crime that you reflected onto mom, trapping me in your endless locution as to why I owed you the gift of life.
I remember that when your face boiled angry colors, frustrated with my decisions to differ, you would build a birdcage for my dreams and imprison my hopes out of spite. When I traveled North and faced the water, I experienced an imprisonment that drowned my confidence just the same. It dressed my naked being, that which is honest and vulnerable, still a baby wanting to be held. You were the first instance of my heart drowning; your mark hurts so deep into my skin. I remember your words chopping down the branches of my self-stem, the trunk of my appearance and the roots of thought that you yourself planted so to speak.
However, the saddest part was that I had to equip my tongue with a dagger and face the beast that tormented my youth. We often exchanged meaningless blows, they were irrelevant as violence is usually a childish bluff, but when I held you in my arms to kill the monster, you melt into water again and again. I tried to stab the fact that you had made me, the pejorative that I was as depraved as you—the skin, the face, and the gestures—everything that reminded me that your forcefulness lived in me. But it all liquefied through your presence and it haunted me until, one day, I showed up unarmed and talked to you. Plants like it when you speak to the ears of their soul, but we often forget that plants speak in a different language than we do, so we have to speak to them through our actions and not kill them with the toxins of our words. They like it when we change their soil and we water them with bluntness and attention; they cherish the individual who moves them, so they can shower under the sun’s care; they are spoiled ones, the plants, they grow from the nutrients of our patience and the time we invest on them. I will do the same for you.
Sometime along my voyage, when I looked over starboard and at the wake-trails, I felt the wind hitting my face and the world opening in a nutshell, in a form of material freedom that my hands could trace; it was rough. I went through its harsh edges, polished with a hard material that would not budge, it was rigid and a thing that I was not sure I understood. Perhaps it could have been all that I ever wanted, but my fingers were not so sure, they were not convinced about the bifurcating corners, their dark surface that assured that I would get lost. Thus I thought of you as a compass, as an example that would guide me all the way to shore. This rusty metaphor might be stained with overuse, yet I found a land for my oranges because of your efforts. And enlightened by the knowledge that was seeded in me, I am harvesting the seeds of your hard work. If only that had been a solitary effort, I would not be writing to you at this moment.
I know you gave up your own oranges so that I could bloom under the influence of the summer moon. That is why I want to share my fruit with you. Yet I ask for you to be fair and cautious; do not use a knife to cut through me. Do not tear me apart; please peel me and undress my tender skin so I can surrender the fear of you.
The flowers of the orange tree, are spread by the wind. —
One day you wake up and your neighbor, the orange that used to hang next to you, has disappeared. When you submerge deep into contemplation and go back into the moment when the mother tree had borne fruit again. The grown oranges shine smugly, the trees line up in bands distributed at six meters apart from each other, forming a conglomerate of strips that perhaps could be infinite. You are both just clementines, feeding from the old branch that is sustained by a trunk, which is rooted to the ground and at the same time to the world that is the plantation. The days stretch a long journey, the dirt lifts high with the wind, the clouds remind a white impression of green mountains and prairies, the leaves float around the air graciously, the ocean water can be smelled in the breeze, with all of these sensations at your disposal, time and space seize to be.
You suspend in your spot eagerly and you wait for the distant day when Manuel will pick you up. Throughout all the fruits that have been borne like you, it is quite an effort that has been made for all of you to be round and orange and sweet. No fruit has ever come without soil or water, or a hand that does not care for the life it seeds. The two of you know this from the handbook, that which Manuel whispered every day as he sprinkled love and attention to the many mother trees. And every day was the same struggle, as you both woke up and brushed through the hours, waiting for him to point towards the ripe fruit and secretly hoping that the chosen one would be you.
It was not enough to be present in the form of a young orange, for you both knew that you had many bumps, which made a series of imperfections that you hid by borrowing each other’s leaves. Your lives revolved around the image of Manuel, obsessed by the validation that his brilliant eyes spread through you; drawn by the jealousy that the older oranges drove on you, he became the reason for your existence, that preoccupation with being something unique and special, worthy of being picked. Yet destiny selects no favorites and even though chance strikes like a thunder, luck takes its time to turn, shift and develop the transitory matter that events tend to obscure.
Perhaps we should have been happy that we were born, we should have felt lucky we sprung out as a result of all those seeds that once showered, like the yellow flowers that rained back then, when the South fell under the umbrella of one fetishized town. We were not failed seeds; we did not grow to be crooked or blemished or wicked; we were picked by Manuel to be taken where all the other fruits went. Even if nobody had come and said, “you! I pick you!” we should have stood without wavering, we should have been glad because we were part of something; we should have stayed and defended the mother tree. Because in our mother tree we felt the wind share its touch against our peels, the sun feeding us patiently when we were not capable enough to eat, and the horizon’s company when every threat had been a movement and we were all scared to fall because the ground seemed so new. We should have been grateful with life before we were disappeared.
So a couple of days later, after your neighbor is long gone, Manuel gardens the many other versions of you that the mother trees gave birth to. The plant, that which holds you still and wondering, lies in front of him; he looks at it with a steep determination and with one stroke of faith, it happens, he picks you! He then masquerades a basket, where you become part of the many lucky others who are as special and unique as you. And while you deceive a happy orange, he takes you to the black room.
“It is cold and wet in here,” you think and you will think that for the next forty-eight hours of your life. You smell the citric death, the bodies piling and moshing into one soggy bunch. Something moves and as you all shiver together, Manuel comes back and one by one he weights your mass (there is not much matter in you, yet there is still some value in the pleasure that will be derived from your golden juices). He measures your body and when he is done, he sticks his mark recognizing you as a child of his; you are now part of the family’s brand, its gestures and ways will stain you forever. And then you feel weird with yourself, all naked and vulnerable in front of him. Are you enough of an orange for the now withdrawn version of your hero?
He throws you and your siblings inside a wooden box. It is as if he never cared for you, as if you were just one of the many others he used for his own good. The air is heavy and he carries the box. Slowly and patiently, he piles multiple boxes into a truck and before snapping the doors closed, he prints a logo on the wood, “Manuel’s Ranch: A Hundred Percent Fairtrade, A Hundred Percent Paradise, A Hundred Years of Success.” He then closes the door and for the next forty-six hours the world is absolute silence, just the occasional bumps of the road.
You close your orange eyes and see yellow and red lights. Outside, the landscape surrounds a thick change, there are many buildings planted to the ground and they grow higher than the mother trees. The truck zigzags, moves to the right and then pulls to the left only to pull to the right back again. Just when you thought you had reached the heart of the labyrinth, the truck stops.
Your eyes are still closed, yet you know what is happening, you see it through your mind’s sight. Outside, the metallic containers hold numerous oranges following the pace of man. Now, you are in a cargo boat and your bodies are being delivered to the North. When you realize you are in the sea and space is reduced to every independent motion. Each movement feels emotionless. You then think you see a glimmer of your neighbor in all the other oranges that could easily be mistaken as them. That is when you see through the fakery of the light bulbs and in the immense suffering of your nightmare, a succession of events unroll in you like the knowledge of what will happen: you have smiled when the box is opened; North or South, it has seized to matter—you have all been brought together into a mass, collected in the coffers of the consumer; your hopes have gleamed through equally bright peels; you have married to one ideal, that you are a unique and special being; you are all disappearing from the different and simultaneous plantations, from the custody of the tyrant Manuel, from the multitudes of him; in a flash, a hand has already picked you and you have screamed while the stranger cuts violently through you.
That is how your love has me, spread through thought. —
After the campfire, he started rushing back to his room and saw the clear Bennington sky above him. He shucked off the bad taste of the black night, directed his eyes into the center of his clock and sighed with relief until he found the energy to change his destination.
Throughout his walk, he had realized that everything was a mistake. He should have gone to sleep instead. Earlier that day, he had hoped to make new friends. It was difficult for him to engage in a community dominated by reserved customs and traditions. Back home, dealings were of public domain and, to some extent, they were here as well, except that people did not immediately assume that there was an intention conspiring behind every transitory act. He had learned the hard way that a hug did not always mean a hug. There were shades of meaning hiding behind the curtain of the action; he had wrongly assumed that a hug always signified that one means no harm. It did not make sense to him for actions to be judged between good or bad; and even worse, to do the same with people, humans were just humans, everything else appeared like an intricate construction of sorcery, that is to say, artifice. Yet, his experience, when everyone else had seen his face smeared with white, had hurt exactly the same way as it did when people told him, back home, that it was ridiculous to pursue writing.
He was past the old Jennings house and going down the hill. With the Dining Hall as his new destination, he did not allow any distractions to get in between him and the hot meal at the end of his day. As he looked back towards the blurred mirage of a red barn, he was occupied with the desire to contemplate the horizon. The view from Jennings towards the colonial dorms has always been the most honest glance of the campus. It hides all the right angles to make it feel as if the world has swallowed you inside its dark mantle and that, as he knew, was a pleasure reserved only for those who wish to be forgotten.
Winter had sat deep into the air. Breathing in the nocturnal breeze that turned into icy daggers, the dry emptiness of the landscape, he pushed through the mounds of snow that he felt ran inside his precarious sneakers. His bones chattered and asked for mercy. And struggling to get past the snow that had sunk into the ground, he just wished to make it in time.
It was of hugs, of their demanding fragility, that he thought as he crossed through the ungarnished corridors of the visual arts building. He did this in order to save some time and regain the heat that he had lost. The day’s climate weighed on his shoulders and accustomed to the perennial nature of his spring, he felt deep in his gut that he needed the familiar warmth of a hug. It seemed to him that hugs, those needy requests for isolated attention, were crucial and that their existence was attributed to the need of putting back together the pieces of a whole, of the once innocent child that has shattered and whose fragments are scattered and even lost. We all carry the scar of childhood and as strong as we pretend to be, something must make us feel less broken, less scared by the imminent threat of being alone. This is why he felt the need to hug each stranger and somehow attempt to give a piece of him to amend the pain he knew too well. This is why he also felt offended when others would not trust him and assured that his hugs were ill intentioned. When one truly begins to understand the pain of childhood, that this is a collective secret that we all breed, it makes the more sense that we keep a distance from each other, for we have all hurt and been hurt. However, he felt the need to hold the world in.
While he stood in front of the screening room, trying to figure out how he was going to face the white snow, he was sure that we all secretly wished for a private proximity, an unspoken complicity, one that we do not know how to get without upsetting the tribe’s authority. He was sure that the issue was not a matter of feelings but of all the rules and customs that layered the different colors of the Northern mask. So he felt upset about what had happened at the campfire, not because of the events themselves or the transgression, but because it was these different ways which misunderstood all honesty and instead of bringing them together, it became a reason to build a distance between two similar pains.
It was almost time for the Dining Hall to be closed. He kept silent. He was about to open the door, when he heard some loud footstep that came all the way from the second floor to meet him.
“Yo, Seb, how are you?” Malach asked in his usual half-joking tone.
A hug followed that shook off all façades.
“Yo, Malach,” I said mocking him, “I’m fine, how about you?”
“I am trying to get some dinner if you know what I mean,” he responded without really answering my question.
“I was about to go there, want to come with me? I could cook some fried rice for you.”
“You are unbelievable man, thank you so much. You don’t really have to do it.”
We were already past the construction site of the school’s main building by then and I could not tolerate the snow penetrating through the opening of my sneakers. Malach was speaking about some cuts and edits, which made his videos closer to his urban essence, that ineffable flavor of what he was trying so desperately to capture in a three minute form. He then looked directly into my outfit and said:
“Yooo, aren’t you too exposed?”
“I guess I was not ready for the winter.”
We swiped our cards by the counter in the Student Center, the improvised building we used as replacement of the main building—the ruins of the College’s heart.
“So, are you finished with your writing?” he asked as he realized it was way after any hot food had been served.
“Perhaps, I am not sure man. I am trying so hard to put in so many elements together.”
I took out the scrap that was supposed to be Manuel from “The Lure of the River.”
“Here, have a look.”
He observed the photograph, registered it with his videographic memory and added:
“It would be cool if you could collage yourself into that beach.”
“Right? I mean, the photograph is some clichéd bullshit but the scenery is perfect for playing the fetish game”
He laughed and saw through the irony that grew within my words. We cooked some over done stir-fry and sat in one of those centered round tables that we usually avoided. There was no one inside, so sitting there, in the middle of the social stage, felt less awkward because there were no eyes fixed on our bodies or Bennington saviors attempting to atone for the politically incorrect. We could breathe without being a catalyst for righteousness or an amulet you use to show that you, yes you, were woke and not afraid of the ambiguous threat of difference.
“So, how was the campfire?”
“I really don’t want to talk about it”
He saw the pain in my eyes and said nothing. He hugged me again.
“Do you want something else,” I added timidly, with a tone that trembled like a sad shade of blue.
“Let’s get rid of these plates then we can do whatever.”
We went down the stairs, the ones towards the right because they were closer to where the compost bins were. The containers revealed a silent disaster. We looked at each other and shared a friendly reminder, we had met during the dish running shift. Together, we worked the dish room every Wednesday. I ran the dirty dishes from eight to four and Malach came at noon and stayed until the Dining Hall was closed. During those hours of labored proximity, we found something we both cherished, a meeting point, it was work.
“Do you remember?” he pointed as we left our plates.
“How could I ever forget,” I replied as we went up the stairs.
On our way out, I took an orange. And as I dug my finger in, penetrating deep into its meat, the orange shone with a sense of having persevered, it had made it all the way here. We walked out of the building; in my hands, the peeled orange, I could not help but feel the same.