Some woman came to the door, and it was a surprise. Some woman came to the door barefoot. She held it open in a way that indicated the visitor should enter. This visitor, the young teenaged boy, seemed to provoke much curiosity from her; she just stood there assessing him, wondering probably if this is what the children in America looked like, pulling in the smell of detergent from his clothes. She was thinking, maybe, that there were green bills folded neatly and concealed in the large envelope he was holding. And the young man could not access any emotion. There was anxiety perhaps. He felt it. After all, he had been awakened quite early that morning and called upon to set out on this much-anguished about segment of his visit back to the country of his parents; the country of their ancestors and those that had brought them there by force; his country. But the land had belonged to no one, at least, not anyone who had come by ship. And that indigenous group who stood most in right to lay claim to the creeks and waterfalls, the internal islands and the rain-drenched leaves, the tough bark and minerals that rose to the sand’s surface like stars reflecting on water; those who stood shoulder to shoulder and greeted the barges as they sailed in, did not subscribe to a philosophy that allowed them to see nature as a possession. It was natural to behold how the trees ascended and bended to the side. He had remembered them that way, looking as if they stopped in the middle of some sort of dance. He had sensed how time itself seemed different when he stepped out of the airplane. It was at once familiar and terrifying. He felt the commingling of the spirits. They swayed in between the coconut palms. They spoke languages in the wind that beat against the blue pick-up truck, which whisked him away from the airport. He could barely believe that he had been born in this place. That he had actually been produced there. And now, he had returned as a mere observer; a visitor with roots somewhere in the vicinity.
The boy was made to understand that he could not let his month-long vacation end without visiting his grandfather. It was a mandate. The task had been looming like a loose chandelier above him and now the inevitable was actually happening. He had sat quietly in the passenger seat of the vehicle as it climbed into the hills. He watched the bungalow houses flicker past him on stilts, and was mesmerized. It seemed appropriate somehow that this man would live in a place as removed from the city as it was. Everything about the old man was obscure, his story spoken about in patches and pieces. What had any of them really known about him? The boy had watched his own father discuss the elder with that aloof look held by those that are simply speculating. His eyes were devoid of familiarity. There was no ownership in his tone. And still there was a mandate.
Some woman had come to the door and ushered him in. He walked past her stare and into the back room. She watched him walk to that back room without compassion and left him there alone with the old man. The wood on the walls was graying from neglect. Bags of clothes had been flung into a corner and leaned on one another for support. A solitary window opened out into a budding jungle and was held up by a stick. The old man lay in his bed. He beckoned his grandson with a trembling voice and mimicking hands. The boy approached his relative. He pulled a nearby chair closer to the bed as he was instructed to do. He looked at the man’s face and saw something in it that he had known. The man started to speak. He asked about the boy’s mother and father, his brother and sister. He spoke about age and isolation and learning by living. He wanted to know what life was like in that other world. Was it not cold? Was it everything people described it to be? He had always wanted to discover for himself, he said, the answers to those questions. The boy nodded, not being able to imagine that he had ever known any other kind of existence, although he had. But all of that recollection had grown dimmer with time and relevant only as a point of reference, as something that had shaped him in some imperceptible way. He remembered this man, standing above him at a standpipe, pouring liquid on his head from a bucket of herbs and saying prayers of protection. It was the memory that devoted him to this elder in secret; the idea that someone thought him precious enough to protect in such a sacred manner. The boy was unexpectedly overcome. He huddled by his grandfather and gripped the edge of the mattress. And he was suddenly taken aback, for the old man started to weep. He just wept and wept.