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16/12/2015

AVeryOldManwithEnormousWings

AVeryOldManwithEnormousWings
byGabrielGarciaMarquez

TranslatedbyGregoryRabassa

OnthethirddayofraintheyhadkilledsomanycrabsinsidethehousethatPelayohadtocrosshis
drenchedcourtyardandthrowthemintothesea,becausethenewbornchildhadatemperatureall
nightandtheythoughtitwasduetothestench.TheworldhadbeensadsinceTuesday.Seaandsky
wereasingleashgraythingandthesandsofthebeach,whichonMarchnightsglimmeredlike
powderedlight,hadbecomeastewofmudandrottenshellfish.Thelightwassoweakatnoonthat
whenPelayowascomingbacktothehouseafterthrowingawaythecrabs,itwashardforhimtosee
whatitwasthatwasmovingandgroaningintherearofthecourtyard.Hehadtogoveryclosetosee
thatitwasanoldman,averyoldman,lyingfacedowninthemud,who,inspiteofhistremendous
efforts,couldntgetup,impededbyhisenormouswings.
Frightenedbythatnightmare,PelayorantogetElisenda,hiswife,whowasputtingcompressesonthe
sickchild,andhetookhertotherearofthecourtyard.Theybothlookedatthefallenbodywitha
mutestupor.Hewasdressedlikearagpicker.Therewereonlyafewfadedhairsleftonhisbaldskull
andveryfewteethinhismouth,andhispitifulconditionofadrenchedgreatgrandfathertookaway
anysenseofgrandeurhemighthavehad.Hishugebuzzardwings,dirtyandhalfplucked,were
foreverentangledinthemud.TheylookedathimsolongandsocloselythatPelayoandElisendavery
soonovercametheirsurpriseandintheendfoundhimfamiliar.Thentheydaredspeaktohim,andhe
answeredinanincomprehensibledialectwithastrongsailorsvoice.Thatwashowtheyskippedover
theinconvenienceofthewingsandquiteintelligentlyconcludedthathewasalonelycastawayfrom
someforeignshipwreckedbythestorm.Andyet,theycalledinaneighborwomanwhoknew
everythingaboutlifeanddeathtoseehim,andallsheneededwasonelooktoshowthemtheir
mistake.
Hesanangel,shetoldthem.Hemusthavebeencomingforthechild,butthepoorfellowissoold
thattherainknockedhimdown.
OnthefollowingdayeveryoneknewthatafleshandbloodangelwasheldcaptiveinPelayoshouse.
Againstthejudgmentofthewiseneighborwoman,forwhomangelsinthosetimeswerethefugitive
survivorsofacelestialconspiracy,theydidnothavethehearttoclubhimtodeath.Pelayowatched
overhimallafternoonfromthekitchen,armedwithhisbailiffsclub,andbeforegoingtobedhe
draggedhimoutofthemudandlockedhimupwiththehensinthewirechickencoop.Inthemiddle
ofthenight,whentherainstopped,PelayoandElisendawerestillkillingcrabs.Ashorttimeafterward
thechildwokeupwithoutafeverandwithadesiretoeat.Thentheyfeltmagnanimousanddecidedto
puttheangelonaraftwithfreshwaterandprovisionsforthreedaysandleavehimtohisfateonthe
highseas.Butwhentheywentoutintothecourtyardwiththefirstlightofdawn,theyfoundthewhole
neighborhoodinfrontofthechickencoophavingfunwiththeangel,withouttheslightestreverence,
tossinghimthingstoeatthroughtheopeningsinthewireasifhewerentasupernaturalcreaturebuta
circusanimal.
FatherGonzagaarrivedbeforesevenoclock,alarmedatthestrangenews.Bythattimeonlookers
lessfrivolousthanthoseatdawnhadalreadyarrivedandtheyweremakingallkindsofconjectures
https://www.ndsu.edu/pubweb/~cinichol/CreativeWriting/323/MarquezManwithWings.htm

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concerningthecaptivesfuture.Thesimplestamongthemthoughtthatheshouldbenamedmayorof
theworld.Othersofsternermindfeltthatheshouldbepromotedtotherankoffivestargeneralin
ordertowinallwars.Somevisionarieshopedthathecouldbeputtostudinordertoimplanttheearth
araceofwingedwisemenwhocouldtakechargeoftheuniverse.ButFatherGonzaga,before
becomingapriest,hadbeenarobustwoodcutter.Standingbythewire,hereviewedhiscatechismin
aninstantandaskedthemtoopenthedoorsothathecouldtakeacloselookatthatpitifulmanwho
lookedmorelikeahugedecrepithenamongthefascinatedchickens.Hewaslyinginthecorner
dryinghisopenwingsinthesunlightamongthefruitpeelsandbreakfastleftoversthattheearlyrisers
hadthrownhim.Alientotheimpertinencesoftheworld,heonlyliftedhisantiquarianeyesand
murmuredsomethinginhisdialectwhenFatherGonzagawentintothechickencoopandsaidgood
morningtohiminLatin.Theparishpriesthadhisfirstsuspicionofanimposterwhenhesawthathe
didnotunderstandthelanguageofGodorknowhowtogreetHisministers.Thenhenoticedthatseen
closeuphewasmuchtoohuman:hehadanunbearablesmelloftheoutdoors,thebacksideofhis
wingswasstrewnwithparasitesandhismainfeathershadbeenmistreatedbyterrestrialwinds,and
nothingabouthimmeasureduptotheprouddignityofangels.Thenhecameoutofthechickencoop
andinabriefsermonwarnedthecuriousagainsttherisksofbeingingenuous.Heremindedthemthat
thedevilhadthebadhabitofmakinguseofcarnivaltricksinordertoconfusetheunwary.Heargued
thatifwingswerenottheessentialelementindeterminingthedifferentbetweenahawkandan
airplane,theywereevenlesssointherecognitionofangels.Nevertheless,hepromisedtowritea
lettertohisbishopsothatthelatterwouldwritehisprimatesothatthelatterwouldwritetothe
SupremePontiffinordertogetthefinalverdictfromthehighestcourts.
Hisprudencefellonsterilehearts.Thenewsofthecaptiveangelspreadwithsuchrapiditythataftera
fewhoursthecourtyardhadthebustleofamarketplaceandtheyhadtocallintroopswithfixed
bayonetstodispersethemobthatwasabouttoknockthehousedown.Elisenda,herspinealltwisted
fromsweepingupsomuchmarketplacetrash,thengottheideaoffencingintheyardandchargingfive
centsadmissiontoseetheangel.
Thecuriouscamefromfaraway.Atravelingcarnivalarrivedwithaflyingacrobatwhobuzzedover
thecrowdseveraltimes,butnoonepaidanyattentiontohimbecausehiswingswerenotthoseofan
angelbut,rather,thoseofasiderealbat.Themostunfortunateinvalidsonearthcameinsearchof
health:apoorwomanwhosincechildhoodhasbeencountingherheartbeatsandhadrunoutof
numbersaPortuguesemanwhocouldntsleepbecausethenoiseofthestarsdisturbedhima
sleepwalkerwhogotupatnighttoundothethingshehaddonewhileawakeandmanyotherswith
lessseriousailments.Inthemidstofthatshipwreckdisorderthatmadetheearthtremble,Pelayoand
Elisendawerehappywithfatigue,forinlessthanaweektheyhadcrammedtheirroomswithmoney
andthelineofpilgrimswaitingtheirturntoenterstillreachedbeyondthehorizon.
Theangelwastheonlyonewhotooknopartinhisownact.Hespenthistimetryingtoget
comfortableinhisborrowednest,befuddledbythehellishheatoftheoillampsandsacramental
candlesthathadbeenplacedalongthewire.Atfirsttheytriedtomakehimeatsomemothballs,
which,accordingtothewisdomofthewiseneighborwoman,werethefoodprescribedforangels.
Butheturnedthemdown,justasheturneddownthepapallunchesthatthepentinentsbroughthim,
andtheyneverfoundoutwhetheritwasbecausehewasanangelorbecausehewasanoldmanthat
intheendatenothingbuteggplantmush.Hisonlysupernaturalvirtueseemedtobepatience.
Especiallyduringthefirstdays,whenthehenspeckedathim,searchingforthestellarparasitesthat
proliferatedinhiswings,andthecripplespulledoutfeatherstotouchtheirdefectivepartswith,and
eventhemostmercifulthrewstonesathim,tryingtogethimtorisesotheycouldseehimstanding.
Theonlytimetheysucceededinarousinghimwaswhentheyburnedhissidewithanironforbranding
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steers,forhehadbeenmotionlessforsomanyhoursthattheythoughthewasdead.Heawokewitha
start,rantinginhishermeticlanguageandwithtearsinhiseyes,andheflappedhiswingsacoupleof
times,whichbroughtonawhirlwindofchickendungandlunardustandagaleofpanicthatdidnot
seemtobeofthisworld.Althoughmanythoughtthathisreactionhadnotbeenoneofragebutof
pain,fromthenontheywerecarefulnottoannoyhim,becausethemajorityunderstoodthathis
passivitywasnotthatofaherotakinghiseasebutthatofacataclysminrepose.
FatherGonzagaheldbackthecrowdsfrivolitywithformulasofmaidservantinspirationwhileawaiting
thearrivalofafinaljudgmentonthenatureofthecaptive.ButthemailfromRomeshowednosense
ofurgency.Theyspenttheirtimefindingoutiftheprisonerhadanavel,ifhisdialecthadany
connectionwithAramaic,howmanytimeshecouldfitontheheadofapin,orwhetherhewasntjust
aNorwegianwithwings.Thosemeagerlettersmighthavecomeandgoneuntiltheendoftimeifa
providentialeventhadnotputandendtotheprieststribulations.
Itsohappenedthatduringthosedays,amongsomanyothercarnivalattractions,therearrivedinthe
townthetravelingshowofthewomanwhohadbeenchangedintoaspiderforhavingdisobeyedher
parents.Theadmissiontoseeherwasnotonlylessthantheadmissiontoseetheangel,butpeople
werepermittedtoaskherallmannerofquestionsaboutherabsurdstateandtoexamineherupand
downsothatnoonewouldeverdoubtthetruthofherhorror.Shewasafrightfultarantulathesizeof
aramandwiththeheadofasadmaiden.Whatwasmostheartrending,however,wasnother
outlandishshapebutthesincereafflictionwithwhichsherecountedthedetailsofhermisfortune.While
stillpracticallyachildshehadsneakedoutofherparentshousetogotoadance,andwhileshewas
comingbackthroughthewoodsafterhavingdancedallnightwithoutpermission,afearfulthunderclap
renttheskyintwoandthroughthecrackcamethelightningboltofbrimstonethatchangedherintoa
spider.Heronlynourishmentcamefromthemeatballsthatcharitablesoulschosetotossintoher
mouth.Aspectaclelikethat,fullofsomuchhumantruthandwithsuchafearfullesson,wasboundto
defeatwithouteventryingthatofahaughtyangelwhoscarcelydeignedtolookatmortals.Besides,
thefewmiraclesattributedtotheangelshowedacertainmentaldisorder,liketheblindmanwho
didntrecoverhissightbutgrewthreenewteeth,ortheparalyticwhodidntgettowalkbutalmost
wonthelottery,andtheleperwhosesoressproutedsunflowers.Thoseconsolationmiracles,which
weremorelikemockingfun,hadalreadyruinedtheangelsreputationwhenthewomanwhohadbeen
changedintoaspiderfinallycrushedhimcompletely.ThatwashowFatherGonzagawascured
foreverofhisinsomniaandPelayoscourtyardwentbacktobeingasemptyasduringthetimeithad
rainedforthreedaysandcrabswalkedthroughthebedrooms.
Theownersofthehousehadnoreasontolament.Withthemoneytheysavedtheybuiltatwostory
mansionwithbalconiesandgardensandhighnettingsothatcrabswouldntgetinduringthewinter,
andwithironbarsonthewindowssothatangelswouldntgetin.Pelayoalsosetuparabbitwarren
closetotownandgaveuphisjobasabailiffforgood,andElisendaboughtsomesatinpumpswith
highheelsandmanydressesofiridescentsilk,thekindwornonSundaybythemostdesirablewomen
inthosetimes.Thechickencoopwastheonlythingthatdidntreceiveanyattention.Iftheywashedit
downwithcreolinandburnedtearsofmyrrhinsideiteverysooften,itwasnotinhomagetotheangel
buttodriveawaythedungheapstenchthatstillhungeverywherelikeaghostandwasturningthenew
houseintoanoldone.Atfirst,whenthechildlearnedtowalk,theywerecarefulthathenotgettoo
closetothechickencoop.Butthentheybegantolosetheirfearsandgotusedtothesmell,and
beforetheychildgothissecondteethhedgoneinsidethechickencooptoplay,wherethewires
werefallingapart.Theangelwasnolessstandoffishwithhimthanwiththeothermortals,buthe
toleratedthemostingeniousinfamieswiththepatienceofadogwhohadnoillusions.Theybothcame
downwiththechickenpoxatthesametime.Thedoctorwhotookcareofthechildcouldntresistthe
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temptationtolistentotheangelsheart,andhefoundsomuchwhistlingintheheartandsomany
soundsinhiskidneysthatitseemedimpossibleforhimtobealive.Whatsurprisedhimmost,
however,wasthelogicofhiswings.Theyseemedsonaturalonthatcompletelyhumanorganismthat
hecouldntunderstandwhyothermendidnthavethemtoo.
Whenthechildbeganschoolithadbeensometimesincethesunandrainhadcausedthecollapseof
thechickencoop.Theangelwentdragginghimselfabouthereandtherelikeastraydyingman.They
woulddrivehimoutofthebedroomwithabroomandamomentlaterfindhiminthekitchen.He
seemedtobeinsomanyplacesatthesametimethattheygrewtothinkthathedbeduplicated,that
hewasreproducinghimselfallthroughthehouse,andtheexasperatedandunhingedElisendashouted
thatitwasawfullivinginthathellfullofangels.Hecouldscarcelyeatandhisantiquarianeyeshadalso
becomesofoggythathewentaboutbumpingintoposts.Allhehadleftwerethebarecannulaeofhis
lastfeathers.Pelayothrewablanketoverhimandextendedhimthecharityoflettinghimsleepinthe
shed,andonlythendidtheynoticethathehadatemperatureatnight,andwasdeliriouswiththe
tonguetwistersofanoldNorwegian.Thatwasoneofthefewtimestheybecamealarmed,forthey
thoughthewasgoingtodieandnoteventhewiseneighborwomanhadbeenabletotellthemwhatto
dowithdeadangels.
Andyethenotonlysurvivedhisworstwinter,butseemedimprovedwiththefirstsunnydays.He
remainedmotionlessforseveraldaysinthefarthestcornerofthecourtyard,wherenoonewouldsee
him,andatthebeginningofDecembersomelarge,stifffeathersbegantogrowonhiswings,the
feathersofascarecrow,whichlookedmorelikeanothermisfortuneofdecreptitude.Buthemusthave
knownthereasonforthosechanges,forhewasquitecarefulthatnooneshouldnoticethem,thatno
oneshouldheartheseachanteysthathesometimessangunderthestars.OnemorningElisendawas
cuttingsomebunchesofonionsforlunchwhenawindthatseemedtocomefromthehighseasblew
intothekitchen.Thenshewenttothewindowandcaughttheangelinhisfirstattemptsatflight.They
weresoclumsythathisfingernailsopenedafurrowinthevegetablepatchandhewasonthepointof
knockingthesheddownwiththeungainlyflappingthatslippedonthelightandcouldntgetagripon
theair.Buthedidmanagetogainaltitude.Elisendaletoutasighofrelief,forherselfandforhim,
whenshewatchedhimpassoverthelasthouses,holdinghimselfupinsomewaywiththerisky
flappingofasenilevulture.Shekeptwatchinghimevenwhenshewasthroughcuttingtheonionsand
shekeptonwatchinguntilitwasnolongerpossibleforhertoseehim,becausethenhewasnolonger
anannoyanceinherlifebutanimaginarydotonthehorizonofthesea.

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