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Owen L Boyd
Owen L Boyd
Lindsay Boyd is a writer, personal carer and traveller originally from Melbourne, Australia. He has visited more than sixty countries and lived and worked in a number of them. As a writer he is principally a novelist though he also writes shorter pieces, fiction and non-fiction.
 

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The Immigrants

Oct. 21, 2017 12:16 am
Keywords: None

Translation of the Horacio Quiroga short story Los Inmigrantes

The man and the woman had been walking since four o’clock in the morning. The weather, broken down in the asphyxiating calm of a storm, made the nitrous vapours of the swamp even denser. The rain finally stopped and the couple, soaked to the skin, proceeded obstinately.

The water stopped flowing. The man and the woman then looked at each other with anguished despair.

“Have you the strength to walk a little further?” asked the man. “We might yet manage … ”

The woman, flushed and with sunken ears, shook her head.

“Let’s go,” she said, reviving and continuing to walk.

But a moment later she stopped, taking hold of a branch when she started twitching. The man, walking ahead of her, turned around when he heard her moan.

“I can’t … !” she murmured, her mouth twisted and covered with sweat.

The man took a long look around him and decided there was nothing that could be done. His wife was pregnant. Then, without knowing where he trod, feverish with excessive fatigue, he cut branches, spread them on the ground, and lay his wife down. He sat beside her and cradled her head in his lap.

A quarter of an hour passed in silence. Then the woman shook to such a degree that it was necessary for the man to at once muster all his massive strength to contain the body tossed violently to all sides by the eclamptic attack.

When the attack ended the man remained a moment above his wife, whose arms and knees lay as if fastened to the ground. Finally he sat up, took several hesitant steps, punched himself on the forehead, and went back to cradling the head of his wife, now plunged in a state of deep drowsiness, upon his lap.

She suffered another eclamptic attack from which she arose even more lifeless. Moments later there was another that ended her life.

The man took note of the fact when he was still astride his wife, trying with all his might to contain her convulsions. Terrified, his eyes remained fixed on the blood flecked bubbles of saliva around her mouth, which now leaked into the black cavity.

Without knowing what he was doing he touched her jaw with his finger.

“Carlota!” he said, in a featureless voice devoid of any intonation. The sound of his voice brought him back to himself and sitting up he glanced everywhere with unseeing eyes.

“Too much death,” he murmured. “Too much death,” he murmured again, forcing himself meanwhile to come to grips with what had happened.

Yes, they came from Europe; there was no doubt about that. They had left behind their first-born, a two-year-old. His wife was pregnant and they were on their way to Makallé with friends … The others had gone on ahead because she couldn’t walk well … And in bad conditions, perhaps … perhaps his wife would’ve found herself in danger.

And suddenly he got a hold of himself and looked around with crazed eyes.

“Dead, here … !”

He sat once more and again rested the head of his dead wife upon his thighs. He spent the next four hours wondering what to do.

He could not think straight but with evening about to fall he brought the body of his wife upon his shoulders and began the walk home.

He went around the swamp again. The straw field seemed endless in the silver, unmoving night yet alive with the buzzing of mosquitoes. The man walked on with the same step, his neck bent, until his wife suddenly fell from his shoulders. For an instant he remained standing, rigid, before collapsing behind her.

When he awoke the sun was burning. He ate bananas from the philodendron tree though he would have preferred something more nutritious given the possibility that it might be days before he buried his wife in sacred ground.

He hoist the body anew but found his strength diminished. Wrapping it with intertwined liana vines, he made a bundle of the body and continued with less fatigue.

He walked and walked for three days, stopping, continuing anew, beneath the white-washed sky, devoured at night time by insects, drowsy from hunger, poisoned by cadaverous fogs, bent on a single obstinate idea: leaving this hostile country and salvaging his wife’s adored body.

Come the morning of the fourth day he could not go on and he was scarcely able to resume walking that afternoon. But when the sun sank a profound shiver ran through his exhausted nerves. He laid his wife’s corpse on the ground and sat by her side.

Night had already fallen and the monotonic buzzing of the mosquitoes filled the lonely air. The man was able to perceive them weaving their biting net upon his face; but the shivers increased without surcease from the icy marrow of his bones.

The waning ochre moon had risen at last behind the swamp. The pernicious fever rushed out.

The man threw a glance at the horrible whitish mass that lay at his side and bringing his hands to his knees sat staring straight ahead at the poisonous swamp. In the swamp’s farthest reaches his delirium painted a picture of a Silesian village to which he and his wife Carlota Proening returned, happy and wealthy, to look for their adored first-born.

 
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