By Orlando Plata González
Illustrated by Henry González
Selection and Compilation: Carolina Fonseca
Sometimes, perhaps influenced by a wandering comet or the ridiculous custom of indulging old nostalgia, I unwittingly cross a threshold that disconnects me from my normally cheerful persona. I open the door to the imps of melancholy, who escape to occupy every corner of my room. Then I pack up my rainbows, wrest my sun away from the deer, carefully fold my full moon, put away my favorite asteroids, and fly in search of a new constellation where I can establish my kingdom of astral thoughts and mind games. So, if you know all this, why does it still surprise you that I have my head in the clouds?
Nowhere Man //o-o\\
Do you want to know a secret? I still miss you, dear John; I always will. We will never know how many songs you could have sung, how many surprises your immeasurable talent could have produced for us, what other great magic mystery story you were going to tell to take us with you through the universe; you were not the only one to imagine a world with no countries or religions, where we could all live in peace and enjoy strawberry fields forever, knowing that all you need is love, and all you know is that tomorrow never knows. You and I have grander memories than the road that unfurls before us, but we just might crumble soon.
Amidst the commotion, disorder, indolence, soccer predictions, anger, guffaws, strident voices, belittling adjectives, envy, nauseating news programs, fanaticism, unsanitary restaurants, and intolerance, my soul rises toward my homeland in the stars, leaving below the stifled murmur of the primitive horde along with the remains of a lost, hollow, and lugubrious civilization that is no longer mine. My spirit thus wanders in the ethereal realms of thought, freedom, and clarity. That is why I can say (in agreement with the great Baudelaire) that “I felt pass over me the wind of the wing of imbecility,” as I spread my translucent wings and flew far away in search of new horizons. That is why they call me “the madman”; that is why they laugh at my subtle silence; that is why I am happy.
Utopia in the Sky with Diamonds
I reminisce about that world where cartoons were pretty, logical, and entertaining. It may well represent an era that thought it stood at the gates of Utopia, nearly touched the Heavens, and dared for the first time to speak to God as an equal, that created universes of psychedelic fantasy and managed to frighten Big Brother. But in the end, chaos, anarchy, frenzied consumerism, fanaticism, and the inevitable human stupidity turned it all into a show, a parody, a dogma. We were domesticated by appliances: they embalmed our idols and made them into cardboard puppets; they stole our favorite songs and used them to sell cereal. They found the most beautiful and innocent woman in the world and gave her to the most iconic president in order to kill them both.
Today I checked my online newsfeed and it seems that it changed overnight to English, a language I understand fairly well. Nonetheless, I worry that some day it might decide to switch to Swahili, that a glance out the window will reveal the imposing shape of Kilimanjaro, with giraffes, zebras, and gnus grazing on the grasslands of the Serengeti, and that I will suddenly turn into a Masai warrior who dances a shimmying “Watusi,” lives in a mud hut, doesn’t know Spanish grammar, hunts lions with a spear, and one fine day sets out in search of a tree trunk to make a drum, because that means I would have become Karaiba Kunta Kinte, son of Omoro.
Sometimes I imagine that I am not a famous writer, winner of the most coveted literary awards and enjoying worldwide influence, besieged by admirers, the media in search of an interview, amateur authors looking for the secret of success, and critics who debate my ideas (already proven by science) about the mass extinction of a large part of Earth’s flora and fauna and the dramatic genetic regression of the human species and its consequent division into two new races, one of which (Homo ciber subsapiens) was forced to return to the caves and most inhospitable regions of their lands. In some northern regions, they were even exterminated or deported en masse to the moons of nearby planets that had already been colonized by the big corporations that have replaced countries in governing the world for generations now. But that is already vox populi.
Given these circumstances, how can I explain that I chose to assume the anonymous identity of an editor at a travel magazine and a newspaper, who lives a low-profile existence in his hometown and walks serenely down the street without being recognized by anyone, enjoying the wonderful feeling of being an ordinary person in a world tapping on death’s door amid the last groans and embers of what was once so proudly known as human civilization.
Infinite Crises in Wastelands
People say that we live in hard times and that the world is in crisis, but to paraphrase Borges —in his story “The Immortal,” I think— “we are always in times of crisis.” And he’s right. Who knows the feelings of a dinosaur blinded by the brilliance of the meteor that would destroy its species, an Australopithecus as the earth split under his feet when Africa cleaved from America, a gladiator when he stepped into the arena and said his last words, a Christian in Nero’s time as he stared at the lion that would devour him, an Inca faced with vicious, ruthless Pizarro, an Aztec seeing fulfillment of the gods’ prophecy in the fateful sails of Cortés on the high seas, a Jew looking out his window at the SS marching by, the dog Laika looking out the porthole of Sputnik II as its home shrank to a distant blue dot, or a polar bear floating on an ever smaller ice floe, farther and farther from his ivory home, all because of stupid two-legged creatures who have no idea how to live.
I know this is not very uplifting and the last example points to a challenge that the human race has never faced before. Or, has it? Do not millenary civilizations follow on the heels of immemorial empires in cycles so long that we consider them eternal?
Born in Bogotá in 1963, the author has published several stories and articles in Panorama of the Americas and the Bogotá-based El Espectador, publications for which he works as a proofreader. In these Seven Postcards… the author jumps between the ethereal and the mundane so abruptly that each postcard could well be the voice of a different character, but all are suffused with a yearning for the kind of utopia so eagerly sought by authors like Thomas More (Utopia), Francis Bacon (The New Atlantis), Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), Voltaire (Micromégas), Samuel Butler (Erewhon Or Over the Range), and George Orwell (1984), among others.