One Hundred Years of Solitude - Chapter 19

   Although she had not noticed it, the return of Amaranta ?rsula had brought on a radical change in Aureliano’s life. After the death of Jos?Arcadio he had become a regular customer at the wise Catalonian’s bookstore. Also, the freedom that he enjoyed then and the time at his disposal awoke in him a certain curiosity about the town, which he came to know without any surprise. He went through the dusty and solitary streets, examining with scientific interest the inside of houses in ruin, the metal screens on the windows broken by rust and the dying birds, and the inhabitants bowed down by memories. He tried to reconstruct in his imagination the annihilated splendor of the old banana-company town, whose dry swimming pool was filled to the brim with rotting men’s and women’s shoes, and in the houses of which, destroyed by rye grass, he found the skeleton of a German shepherd dog still tied to a ring by a steel chain and a telephone that was ringing, ringing, ringing until he picked it up and an anguished and distant woman spoke in English, and he said yes, that the strike was over, that three thousand dead people had been thrown into the sea, that the banana company had left, and that Macondo finally had peace after many years. Those wanderings led him to the prostrate red-light district, where in other times bundles of banknotes had been burned to liven up the revels, and which at that time was a maze of streets more afflicted and miserable than the others, with a few red lights still burning and with deserted dance halls adorned with the remnants of wreaths, where the pale, fat widows of no one, the French great-grandmothers and the Babylonian matriarchs, were still waiting beside their photographs. Aureliano could not find anyone who remembered his family, not even Colonel Aureliano Buendía, except for the oldest of the West Indian Negroes, an old man whose cottony hair gave him the look of a photographic negative and who was still singing the mournful sunset psalms in the door of his house. Aureliano would talk to him in the tortured Papiamento that he had learned in a few weeks and sometimes he would share his chicken-head soup, prepared by the great-granddaughter, with him. She was a large black woman with solid bones, the hips of a mare, teats like live melons, and a round and perfect head armored with a hard surface of wiry hair which looked like a medieval warrior’s mail headdress. Her name was Nigromanta. In those days Aureliano lived off the sale of silverware, candlesticks, and other bric-a-brac from the house. When he was penniless, which was most of the time, he got people in the back of the market to give him the chicken heads that they were going to throw away and he would take them to Nigromanta to make her soups, fortified with purslane and seasoned with mint. When the great-grandfather died Aureliano stopped going by the house, but he would run into Nigromanta under the dark almond trees on the square, using her wild-animal whistles to lure the few night owls. Many times he stayed with her, speaking in Papiamento about chicken-head soup and other dainties of misery, and he would have kept right on if she had not let him know that his presence frightened off customers. Although he sometimes felt the temptation and although Nigromanta herself might have seemed to him as the natural culmination of a shared nostalgia, he did not go to bed with her. So Aureliano was still a virgin when Amaranta ?rsula returned to Macondo and gave him a sisterly embrace that left him breathless. Every time he saw her, and worse yet when she showed him the latest dances, he felt the same spongy release in his bones that had disturbed his great-great-grandfather when Pilar Ternera made her pretexts about the cards in the granary. Trying to squelch the torment, he sank deeper into the parchments and eluded the innocent flattery of that aunt who was poisoning his nights with a flow of tribulation, but the more he avoided her the more the anxiety with which he waited for her stony laughter, her howls of a happy cat, and her songs of gratitude, agonizing in love at all hours and in the most unlikely parts of the house. One night thirty feet from his bed, on the silver workbench, the couple with unhinged bellies broke the bottles and ended up making love in a pool of muriatic acid. Aureliano not only could not sleep for a single second, but he spent the next day with a fever, sobbing with rage. The first night that he waited for Nigromanta to come to the shadows of the almond trees it seemed like an eternity, pricked as he was by the needles of uncertainty and clutching in his fist the peso and fifty cents that he had asked Amaranta ?rsula for, not so much because he needed it as to involve her, debase her, prostitute her in his adventure in some way. Nigromanta took him to her room, which was lighted with false candlesticks, to her folding cot with the bedding stained from bad loves, and to her body of a wild dog, hardened and without soul, which prepared itself to dismiss him as if he were a frightened child, and suddenly it found a man whose tremendous power demanded a movement of seismic readjustment from her insides.