«At noon the family ate lunch in silence. They exchanged accusing glances and scarcely uttered a few elementary words. Mr. Carlos Barrientos noticed that there was something wrong going on and, after leaving half of his meal on his plate, he called his wife aside and had a word with her in one of the libraries»
By Alberto JIMÉNEZ URE
Fortunato´s mother surprised him when he was tenderly hugging the docile gorilla that his father had (acquired in) brought back from African, where he conducted an important anthropological investigation in behalf of the Central University of Venezuela (UCV).
-¿What are you doing there, son? –asked Ana Cecilia, alarmed, through the open window of the cabin that they had especially built for Chellenna.
-Nothing, mom — the university student replied, visibly afraid.
-You certainly must have been doing something with Chellenna, for you are naked and sweaty…
-I was taking a shower back in my room when I heard her cries and came running: I thought that the gorilla was sick and rushed down to check her out. Remember that I am an advanced veterinary student.
Mrs. Barrientos had her doubts, not knowing if Fortunato was telling the truth. But she conveniently dropped the matter and told the young man:
-I will take care of Chellenna. Go back to your bedroom… Be quick.
The Barrientos lived in a huge house with twelve rooms and an equal number of bathrooms. Nevertheless, its only inhabitants were the couple and their three children (Fortunato, Lucila, Enmanuel) plus two maids.
The indignant mother didn’t notice that the romantic scene between her eldest son and Chellenna had also been witnessed by Lucila. Right before lunch, the fifteen-year-old brat entered Mrs. Barrientos´ bedroom and told her that Fortunato had engaged similar and even graver wrongdoings.
-I have seen him lying in bed many times, undressed, on top of Chelenna — she uttered-. I have even used one of the telescopes from dad´s expeditions […] Fortunato has always been careless and never bothered to cover the window with improvised curtains. Enmanuel also knows about it. This seems to be troubling him.
-Perhaps he never used sheets or towels to cover the windows because he didn’t want the maids to be concerned- Ana Cecilia recognized her suspicions weeping uncontrollably.
At noon the family ate lunch in silence. They exchanged accusing glances and scarcely uttered a few elementary words. Mr. Carlos Barrientos noticed that there was something wrong going on and, after leaving half of his meal on his plate, he called his wife aside and had a word with her in one of the libraries.
-What´s going on here, Ana Cecilia? –he asked her holding a frown.
-This is something really grave, Carlos — the woman said and started to cry once more-. Fortunato is having sexual relations with Chellenna.
-With Chellenna? Is he crazy?
-Except for you and me, everyone in this house knew about it, even the maids.
In spite of the fact that Carlos and Ana Cecilia were highly educated people and that their marriage was quite modern, they chose not to take Fortunato to the psychiatrist. They feared that the problem would grow out of hand, involving the Barrientos family in a scandal. That´s why they decided to send him off to the United States to complete his education, away from Chellenna, who was a well bred and inoffensive gorilla that Carlos bought from some African hunters for five thousand North American printed forefathers.
The years passed and Fortunato hardly ever wrote to his parents. He only did so twice: When he finished his Veterinary Science education in New York and the eve of his wedding with Susana, of whom he didn’t send pictures nor gave any details. On the other hand, the prideful Barrientos received abundant photographic evidence and newspaper clips proving their son’s academic achievement.
To stop his parents from attending his graduation, Fortunato dropped off the official invitation in a mailbox next to his apartment building when it was too late.
-You don´t need to fly to New York — he repeatedly told them over the phone-. Immediately after I get my diploma I will return to my country. It would be best for me if you send me the money that you planned on spending in plane tickets, lodging and in acquiring superfluous items. Life here in this city is tough…
A month after graduating, Fortunato informed his progenitors that he no longer wished to return to Venezuela and announced his marriage with Susana:
-«I don’t want to see you in my wedding –he discourteously told his mother over the phone-. Tell dad to stop sending me money…»
In the course of a decade, none of the Barrientos had any news whatsoever of Fortunato: where he worked, the place where he resided and who was Susana remained in absolute secrecy.
Ana Cecilia was suddenly struck with cancer and, two months before she died, she posted several ads in the daily newspapers with the highest circulation in American, by means of which she exhorted her son to return to Caracas and see her: «I will die, Fortunato, without the grace of seeing you from my deathbed one last time… » –ending her request with these words.
One morning, when he was thumbing through the New York Times, Fortunato read his mother´s message under the following headline: To Fortunato, from his condemned mother in Venezuela. Touched by the news, the veterinarian bought several airplane tickets and made reservations for his wife, their two daughters and himself. He placed an urgent telegram announcing that he would fly to Caracas that same weekend.
Together, Carlos, Lucila and Enmanuel went to the «Simón Bolívar» Airport to greet the eldest heir of the Barrientos family. Slowly, bearing chains, from the stairs of the flying machine stepped down two (biped) half-human creatures followed by a beautiful female dog: who Fortunato, with deep love, called Susana.