[Image Credit: Dolores Ayerza, “Luz a los indígenas 1,” 2017]
Everyone strays from the road. It extends from the paved avenue to a barren plot. An electricity tower protrudes from the horizon. A parallel line drawn by 10 quebracho trees keeping an equal distance from each other. 4 people traverse the crop. On either side the bush wood grows. Houses are fewer and temporary. Commuters turn left or right. Enter crouching through trampled paths.
The interwoven branches shield homes of cement or carp from the Northern wind. A breeze and particles of soil enter through the holes of the netted windows. Each has a yard. Soil as hard as stone or brick pavement, little or no growth. Owners and neighbors meet there, outdoors.
A man in the shade and another in the sun. Both wear grey dress pants and colorful but faded soccer jerseys. They stare at the ground. The hem of their pants covers their ankles and fold over their shoes.
The one wearing dress shoes stomps his feet. Steps where the bricks separate the soil from the veranda. Alerts his granddaughter. He sees her playing in the bush.
The other wears crocs. The tip of his left foot dips into the sun. “I see your toes through the holes,” says Felix, “They look like stones.” Yellow nails curl over the edge of the toes.
They watch a bottle wrapper flutter. One end is buried in the soil but the other floats. The girl watching them emerges. Runs past. Stops before the plastic sheath. Shields it from the wind till the free end floats to the ground. Stomps it down.
Juana is five years-old or short for her age. Felix likes children that do not outgrow their parents. She keeps her back to him. Calls attention to herself but pays none to them.
Plops herself down. Shuffles her feet with increasing speed and force. The compressed soil breaks apart. She is digging a hole. The dirt that lifts off the ground covers her legs. Her heels chafe. Her mind is quiet. She imagines ropes around her soles tied loosely enough to create tighten and rub when pulled.
A man towers over her. The one with brown dress shoes. Felix places his large hand on the crown of her head. She notices him when his fingers get stuck in her hair. It is matted and caked in mud. “Playing too rough,” says her grandfather.
She cackles. Everyone laughs. The dust settles. Sore feet grow visibly immobile. Eroded colors change in tone. Her lime green yellow floral patterned hemmed dress has grown beige.
The old men join their neighbors on lawn chairs. They offer them food that is dry: chipá, mbeju, sopa paraguaya. Or sticky: guayaba, ice cream or soda when it drips and dries on your skin. Felix prefers tereré. It is bitter and does not taste like water.
Clothes that adhere to your skin, swift movements that make you out of breath and wet, or even a heavy bowl of something fried resting in a mound in your gut are unbearable in the sweltering heat. Felix only speaks, eats and moves when he must and can.
Cumbia streams from a portable TV radio. A man addresses his mistress. Her undergarments show regardless of what she wears over them. They are alike. He looks unkempt no matter how much he spends on clothes.
The lyrics agitate the listeners. They turn to the girl for entertainment. She is tracing a circle around herself in the dirt with a stick. It leaves a faint white mark. Like dry skin scraped off. Presses the tip down in the middle of the ring. A full stop.
Juana does not crawl but hop to her grandfather. Her hands nearly reach the ground when her feet lift off. She crouches by his side. Hunched like an animal. Felix does not look at her. Sips from the tereré straw. Stares at what is in front of him.
She slips her hand into his pocket. It is not empty. Grasps a little ball of thread from the undone seam. Pulls till the pocket comes inside out. It breaks free.
She hides behind the trumpet tree. A low-lying branch with five yellow flowers protrudes from the trunk. Juana strangles the stems of the blossoms in her meaty palms. Tears them off the branch. Rips off the gold petals one at a time. Braids the malleable stalks with the thread. Returns to the circle she traced. Places the plait atop the dot in the middle. Presses her wrist against it. Ties the spare ends. It means something to her.
Elisa Taber is a writer and anthropologist. She explores the interstice between translation and epistemology in the indigenous narratives of the Paraguayan, Bolivian, and Argentine Gran Chaco. Both her stories and translations are troubled into being, even when that trouble is a kind of joy. Elisa was born in Asunción, raised in La Paz, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Jakarta, and currently lives in Montreal.