One Hundred Years of Solitude - Chapter 15


   At five o’clock in the afternoon, when they had come to the last station in the swamp, she got out of the train because Fernanda made her. They got into a small carriage that looked like an enormous bat, drawn by an asthmatic horse, and they went through the desolate city in the endless streets of which, split by saltiness, there was the sound of a piano lesson just like the one that Fernanda heard during the siestas of her adolescence. They went on board a riverboat, the wooden wheel of which had a sound of conflagration, and whose rusted metal plates reverberated like the mouth of an oven. Meme shut herself up in her cabin. Twice a day Fernanda left a plate of food by her bed and twice a day she took it away intact, not because Meme had resolved to die of hunger, but because even the smell of food was repugnant to her and her stomach rejected even water. Not even she herself knew that her fertility had outwitted the mustard vapors, just as Fernanda did not know until almost a year later, when they brought the child. In the suffocating cabin, maddened by the vibration of the metal plates and the unbearable stench of the mud stirred up by the paddle wheel, Meme lost track of the days. Much time had passed when she saw the last yellow butterfly destroyed in the blades of the fan and she admitted as an irremediable truth that Mauricio Babilonia had died. She did not let herself be defeated by resignation, however. She kept on thinking about him during the arduous muleback crossing of the hallucinating plateau where Aureliano Segundo had become lost when he was looking for the most beautiful woman who had ever appeared on the face of the earth, and when they went over the mountains along Indian trails and entered the gloomy city in whose stone alleys the funereal bronze bells of thirty-two churches tolled. That night they slept in the abandoned colonial mansion on boards that Fernanda laid on the floor of a room invaded by weeds, wrapped in the shreds of curtains that they pulled off the windows and that fell to pieces with every turn of the body. Meme knew where they were because in the flight of her insomnia she saw pass by the gentleman dressed in black whom they delivered to the house inside a lead box on one distant Christmas Eve. On the following day, after mass, Fernanda took her to a somber building that Meme recognized immediately from her mother’s stories of the convent where they had raised her to be a queen, and then she understood that they had come to the end of the journey. While Fernanda was speaking to someone in the office next door, Meme remained in a parlor checkered with large oil paintings of colonial archbishops, still wearing an etamine dress with small black flowers and stiff high shoes which were swollen by the cold of the uplands. She was standing in the center of the parlor thinking about Mauricio Babilonia under the yellow stream of light from the stained glass windows when a very beautiful novice came out of the office carrying her suitcase with the three changes of clothing. As she passed Meme she took her hand without stopping.