I. The goddess of time past
Julian, Maximilian’s father, died on October 25th 2014.
From that day on, his nights were plagued by dreams.
Julian died of a combination of cataracts in both eyes, two hernias, an enlarged prostate, cirrhosis of the liver, melancholy, solitude, and sorrow. The last days of his life he vomited bile and cried tears of blood.
I had never stopped to think about my liver until Maximilian told me so.
The last days of his life he could not eat, he could not drink, he could not speak, he could not urinate, and he could not defecate. He did and did not do all this with his eyes wide open.
Maximilian saw Julian die and whispered his goodbyes through the screen of his mobile phone. Max was in Tokyo. His father lived and die in Bogota.
The night that Julian died he saw himself as the golden snake of fire spat to the skies by a fire breather. He also saw his hands throw live clucking chicken into a cauldron full of boiling water.
Julian was born four days before the 353 airplanes led by Commander Mitsuo Fuchida attacked Pearl Harbor, damaged and destroyed small vessels, planes, and several battleships, wounded 1,178 people, killed 2,403, and led to the United States to declare war on Japan the following day.
Julian and Fuchida used to share the same birthday.
Julian saw the light of birth in a rural town in the outskirts of Medellin. He was the ninth of the ten children, preceded by Daniel, Enrique, Francis, Theresa, Eugene, Manuel, William, Helen, and followed only by Victoria.
They left this world in a different order.
Massive heart attacks killed Francis, William, Theresa, Enrique, and Manuel. Cirrhosis killed Julian. Cancer killed Eugene. Helen and Victoria are old and alive. Apparently Daniel too, although no one knows for sure.
Louis, Max’s Grandfather, found out he was sick the year of El Bogotazo, the nation-wide riots triggered by the murder of presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. It is still unclear who shot the two bullets that pierced Gaitán’s neck and the two that pierced his back.
El Bogotazo left the capital in flames and ruins. Juan Roa, Gaitán’s presumed murderer, was lynched by the mob, his face crushed with a brick, his mutilated body tied with neckties by the limbs, dragged for miles, and abandoned in front of the presidential palace.
The country was immersed in a state of violence and hatred that remains to this day deeply rooted in the hearts and souls of its inhabitants.
The cancer in his pancreas killed Louis a year later. His wife Emma followed him before Julian’s tenth birthday.
Ten orphans. Victoria, the youngest, was 4. Daniel, the elder, was 24. The elder siblings shared the little left by Louis and Emma and took the household over. Julian did not like much this new arrangement. He left home with a bag of full clothes when he was twelve.
Julian slept on a bench in the middle of a park his first night in Medellín. He found job and shelter before the second. Berenice, the owner of the buñuelo factory where he was employed for at least a year, a woman short, kind, and obese, offered him a mattress on the attic floor, a small stipend, a cup of hot chocolate and a couple of buñuelos every morning in exchange for his help cleaning the shop and cooking the round and fragrant treats.
Julian woke up at half past three every morning, reheated oil, mixed pounds of salty hard cheese, flour, baking powder, salt, cornstarch, milk, salt, and sugar, shaped the white dough into balls big enough to play tennis with, dropped them in the scalding oil, took them out when they were gold and crispy, placed them onto trays covered with paper towels, and took them to the shop’s counter.
He then cleaned the mess, sold the golden balls with hot coffee or chocolate to the hungry patrons, had breakfast, and was free to leave before noon. I used to stink of cheese and grease all day long, he told Maximilian. His afternoon job consisted in selling Long Play records, the latest sensation, in the downtown streets of Medellin.