Aureliano made progress in his studies of Sanskrit as Melquíades?visits became less and less frequent and he was more distant, fading away in the radiant light of noon. The last time that Aureliano sensed him he was only an invisible presence who murmured: “I died of fever on the sands of Singapore.?The room then became vulnerable to dust, heat, termites, red ants, and moths, who would turn the wisdom of the parchments into sawdust.
There was no shortage of food in the house. The day after the death of Aureliano Segundo, one of the friends who had brought the wreath with the irreverent inscription offered to pay Fernanda some money that he had owed her husband. After that every Wednesday a delivery boy brought a basket of food that was quite sufficient for a week. No one ever knew that those provisions were being sent by Petra Cotes with the idea that the continuing charity was a way of humiliating the person who had humiliated her. Nevertheless, the rancor disappeared much sooner than she herself had expected, and then she continued sending the food out of pride and finally out of compassion. Several times, when she had no animals to raffle off and people lost interest in the lottery, she went without food so that Fernanda could have something to eat, and she continued fulfilling the pledge to herself until she saw Fernanda’s funeral procession pass by.
For Santa Sofía de la Piedad the reduction in the number of inhabitants of the house should have meant the rest she deserved after more than half a century of work. Never a lament had been heard from that stealthy, impenetrable woman who had sown in the family the angelic seed of Remedios the Beauty and the mysterious solemnity of Jos?Arcadio Segundo; who dedicated a whole life of solitude and diligence to the rearing of children although she could barely remember whether they were her children or grandchildren, and who took care of Aureliano as if he had come out of her womb, not knowing herself that she was his great-grandmother. Only in a house like that was it conceivable for her always to sleep on a mat she laid out on the pantry floor in the midst of the nocturnal noise of the rats, and without telling anyone that one night she had awakened with the frightened feeling that someone was looking at her in the darkness and that it was a poisonous snake crawling over her stomach. She knew that if she had told ?rsula, the latter would have made her sleep in her own bed, but those were times when no one was aware of anything unless it was shouted on the porch, because with the bustle of the bakery, the surprises of the war, the care of the children, there was not much room for thinking about other peoples happiness. Petra Cotes whom she had never seen, was the only one who remembered her. She saw to it that she had a good pair of shoes for street wear, that she always had clothing, even during the times when the raffles were working only through some miracle. When Fernanda arrived at the house she had good reason to think that she was an ageless servant, and even though she heard it said several times that she was her husband’s mother it was so incredible that it took her longer to discover it than to forget it. Santa Sofía de la Piedad never seemed bothered by that lowly position. On the contrary, one had the impression that she liked to stay in the corners, without a pause, without a complaint, keeping clean and in order the immense house that she had lived in ever since adolescence and that, especially during the time of the banana company, was more like a barracks than a home. But when ?rsula died the superhuman diligence of Santa Sofía de la Piedad, her tremendous capacity for work, began to fall apart. It was not only that she was old and exhausted, but overnight the house had plunged into a crisis of senility. A soft moss grew up the walls. When there was no longer a bare spot in the courtyard, the weeds broke through the cement of the porch, breaking it like glass, and out of the cracks grew the same yellow flowers that ?rsula had found in the glass with Melquíades?false teeth a century before. With neither the time nor the resources to halt the challenge of nature, Santa Sofía de la Piedad spent the day in the bedrooms driving out the lizards who would return at night. One morning she saw that the red ants had left the undermined foundations, crossed the garden, climbed up the railing, where the begonias had taken on an earthen color, and had penetrated into the heart of the house. She first tried to kill them with a broom, then with insecticides, and finally with lye, but the next day they were back in the same place, still passing by, tenacious and invincible. Fernanda, writing letters to her children, was not aware of the unchecked destructive attack. Santa Sofía de la Piedad continued struggling alone, fighting the weeds to stop them from getting into the kitchen, pulling from the walls the tassels of spider webs which were rebuilt in a few hours, scraping off the termites. But when she saw that Melquíades?room was also dusty and filled with cobwebs even though she swept and dusted three times a day, and that in spite of her furious cleaning it was threatened by the debris and the air of misery that had been foreseen only by Colonel Aureliano Buendía and the young officer, she realized that she was defeated. Then she put on her worn Sunday dress, some old shoes of ?rsula’s, and a pair of cotton stockings that Amaranta ?rsula had given her, and she made a bundle out of the two or three changes of clothing that she had left.