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Elcano, Pajaro’s Father
With great apprehension Matica followed Pajaro to his father’s hut. As much as she knew, he was the oldest and wisest in their village. She had never seen him and was afraid to confront him. I think not even Dad had seen him lately, she thought. He probably met him in the beginning, when we arrived. Yes, I remember him walking with Dad. Yes. He must be really old now because he never comes out of his hut anymore. I have seen people around his hut tending to him, but that is all. She had asked about him once, but she never got a real answer. Why does he want to see me now and for that matter personally? Why can’t Pajaro go alone and show the leaf to him? Why me as well? Will he accept me? Will he be mad at me? Will he laugh at me? Scream at me? Her old insecurity grabbed her again, squeezed her heart.
Her heart pounded against her chest. She kept back a little. Do I really like to see him, go to him? Not really. She didn’t know how to tell Pajaro, so she just tottered after him.
Pajaro stopped in front of his father’s hut and turned to face Matica and Simeon, who still had followed but kept further away. Pajaro said to Matica, ‘Please let me go in first, alone. I will call you in if he is strong enough to see you now. All right?’
Matica could only nod, a bit dazed, and thought in that split second: He’s sick? He might not want to see me. Oh goody. But if he wants to see me, what can I say? What should I say?
Pajaro knocked at the door. She looked at the leaf in Pajaro’s hand and thought: The leaf is the reason I come to see him. Can he speak English?
After hearing a strange croaking noise from inside, Pajaro opened the door quietly and slipped in, closing it quietly and slowly behind him.
Matica waited outside the door, staring at it as if she wanted to penetrate it, to see what’s behind it. It seemed an eternity to her, but in fact it was only a few seconds later when the door opened again and Pajaro slipped out to her. He said, ‘My padre wants to see you now. His name is Elcano. Please address him with his name or ‘sir’. Come.’
He took her hand and together they walked in. He really wants to see me personally, Matica thought, toddling timidly after him. Pajaro’s hand was empty she noticed. Elcano must have kept the leaf.
Inside, Pajaro let her hand go and closed the door behind her. Matica leaned against the door, letting her eyes get adjusted to the dim light of the room. A sharp and unpleasant sour smell touched her nose. She lifted her hand to cover up her nose, but Pajaro could just prevent it by grabbing her hand. He bent down to her and whispered into her ear, ‘I know, but please cope with it and don’t cover your nose. He’s very quickly offended.’
Matica nodded, confused and bewildered.
When her eyes became adjusted to the dim light after a few seconds, she could see a big wooden bed on blocky wood stumps. The bed had a small, wooden headboard, leaning against the wall and a small footboard. A tall wooden cupboard with one door stood beside the bed. Nothing more was in the small room. The clean linen of the thick bedding was thinly striped in grey and blue. On the thick stripy grey and blue pillow rested a round, light brown coloured, wrinkled, bald head. Matica couldn’t see his face. Elcano had turned his head to look out of the only window in the room. A light breeze moved a branch of a nearby tree in front of the window. It seemed that Elcano was watching it.
As Pajaro and Matica kept standing by the door, not moving at all, waiting, the round head turned slowly around to face them. Groaning noises escaped his open mouth with colourless, wrinkly and thin lips. A very sharp nose, not too big and not too small, in a much wrinkled and very thin face captured her attention; also his high and deep furrowed forehead that ended in the bald scalp. She couldn’t see his eyes. They were hidden and nearly covered by thick, bushy white eyebrows. His high cheekbones stuck out and framed his face, standing over his shrunken cheeks. His ears on either side looked large within that withered face. His face ended in a bony, wrinkly and pointy chin.
Strange sounds escaped the thin-lipped and colourless mouth as he wiggled around and tried to sit up higher. Pajaro went to his side with three big steps and held him steady by putting his hand on his chest. ‘Padre, please do not sit up. It’s not good for your health,’ he said.
Elcano grumbled something, then he tried to sit up more in spite of his son’s warning, grumbling further and louder with the effort.
He is persistent, Matica thought. But he’s not using his arms to sit up. He only wiggles around.
Sighing, Pajaro took another pillow out from the cupboard, puffed it up and, lifting Elcano up by his shoulders with one hand, he stuffed the pillow behind his thin and wrinkled shoulders to support his padre. Elcano nearly sat up in his bed now. He grinned, satisfied, and it seemed to Matica as if he would split his face in half with his wide mouth. ‘Padre,’ Pajaro said, ‘you really should not sit up.’
‘Aaaahhh, I want to see the girl, the daughter I never had.’ Elcano’s voice started with a croak, but then his voice changed into a very thin and high-pitched sing-song, while he made a dismissive hand sign.
He speaks English. That’s good, Matica thought. He refers to me as daughter?
Relaxing for a few seconds after the strain to sit up, Elcano rested his head on the pillow and closed his eyes, breathing deeply with open mouth. But soon he opened his eyes again, lifted his head and fixed them on Matica. She still stood by the door, not sure if she should approach Elcano.
They stared at each other. His gaze intimidated her, nearly paralysed her. She couldn’t take her eyes away from his eyes as if they hypnotised her. They looked dark and round and were deep-set under the white, bushy eyebrows but looked alert and bright and were moving constantly.
A bit frightened about what to do and what was to come, Matica tried to hold his stare, but her eyes wandered down to his very thin neck, lined with hundreds of wrinkles as well. Two thin, wrinkled arms came down from his wrinkled shoulders, ending in wrinkled, very thin and bony fingers as his hands rested on the bedding. His fingers look like skeleton fingers. It looks as if they don’t have any flesh around the bones, only the skin was pulled over the bones, she thought. His body was hidden under the bedding.
Wow, she thought. How old is he? Probably a hundred years, and can’t walk any longer. Now he’s confined to the bed. Or is he sick? Yes, what’s wrong with him?
Remembering why she was seeing Pajaro’s father, Matica’s eyes went up to Elcano’s eyes again. Next she felt Pajaro’s hand on her shoulder, pushing her towards Elcano’s bed. She jerked and closed her eyes, nearly fainting. It was so unexpected and so sudden, but it brought her out of her studying
Elcano. She recovered quickly, looked up at Pajaro and nodded. Coming closer to Elcano’s bed, a fresh smell from the bedding hit her nose.
‘Finished inspecting me?’ Elcano said in his croaky, high-pitched, sing-song voice. A smile parted his face and showed big, long, brown teeth.
‘I’m sorry, but …’ she stuttered, then was lost for words.
‘I know, I know, yes, yes, do not apologise.’ He lifted one thin arm. The skin of his arm sagged and flapped. ‘Everybody is the same when they see me the first time,’ he croaked. ‘I know how I look. Not a pretty sight, hey? I am used to being looked at.’ Next he mused, ‘Not long ago, I was still handsome. Well, yes, that is over.’ He licked his thin lips with a floppy, pale tongue. ‘Yes, yes, I am one hundred and seventeen years old. You probably wanted to know, right?’
Matica could only nod then whispered, ‘Sir, I’m …’
‘Eeeeeeaaa, it is all right, believe me.’ Elcano’s arm went into the air again then he cleared his throat. ‘There you have it. My body,’ he tapped the bed he was laying on, ‘doesn’t like to live anymore, but my brain will live and is functioning very well. Yes, yes, it is the truth. They have a fight, my body and my brain, every minute of the day and night and I have to live with it in between. I tell you that, just in case you wonder. Yes, yes.’
Matica, boldly now, stepped one step closer, leaning forward and said, ‘Sir, Elcano, how come you speak such good English?’
Elcano said in his high-pitched voice, ‘My son here,’ he lifted his thin arm and pointed with the bony middle finger at Pajaro, but then his arm fell back on the bedding. It was too hard for him to hold his arm up. ‘Yes, my son is teaching me. He is so good and looks after me. I love him very much.’
He wiggled in his bed to sit more comfortably then he lifted up the thin hand again and with the extremely bony middle finger, he winked at Matica to come to his side. Pajaro pushed her more.
Her feet nearly didn’t obey her, but finally they stepped forward, step by step. Pajaro squeezed her shoulder to encourage her. Standing beside Elcano’s bed now, close to his head, she could see that he was holding the leaf in his other hand.
‘You want to know what it does, Pajaro told me.’ He lifted the leaf. ‘Why?’
Trembling, she explained. ‘Well, sir, Elcano, I don’t know if you have heard that I’m flying on Talon …’
‘Yes, yes, I know that. Pajaro informs me of everything. Go on.’
Matica, stepping nervously from one foot to the other, became uneasy under his stare but went on. ‘Well, sir, Elcano, when Talon was too tired to land properly with me after flying too long, he crashed against a tree and I was thrown off him and cut my elbow badly on the tree. So, Tima flew off and came back with the leaf. She gave it to me to put it on the cut. It stopped the bleeding instantly and it healed very quickly. And now, my dad was bitten by a spider twice, as it looks, and had a bad reaction. Tamo gave him that leaf to put on the bite and to eat one.’ She inhaled deeply, thinking
that Elcano wanted to say something because he lifted his hand that held the leaf. But he kept still, just looked at the leaf. ‘Sir, Elcano,’ she went on, ‘you must know, his leg was swelling up to double its size. He probably would have lost his leg if Tamo hadn’t given him that leaf. Maybe he would
even have lost his life.’ She nodded. ‘Most likely he would have. Now, my parents would like to know if you recognise that leaf that can heal. You’re our only hope, sir.’
Elcano looked at the leaf in his hand, then he lifted his hand a bit to have a clearer view of it, then he rumbled, ‘Hmm …’ He didn’t say any more for the next few seconds. He just studied the leaf, turning it a few times. Then he said in his croaky voice, ‘Yes, yes, Pajaro told me all about your father. Yes.’ Holding the leaf close to his eyes now and twirling it at the stem between his thin and bony fingers,
his fingers suddenly trembled, then he glanced at Matica in surprise. His eyes widened and he wrinkled his forehead even more than it already was.
‘Padre, are you all right?’ Pajaro asked, concerned.
‘Yeah, yeah,’ Elcano said, looking back at the leaf again and making a dismissive gesture and pushing even Pajaro’s helping hands away.
He’s recognising the leaf, Matica thought, but she didn’t say anything.
Not believing what he was holding in his hand, Elcano, still looking at the leaf, shook his head as if it couldn’t be possibly be true. ‘Hmm … hmm …’ was all he grunted for a long, long time, still staring at the leaf, turning it over and over.
Pajaro and Matica waited patiently.
When he spoke again, he looked with his sharp eyes at Matica. She had the feeling as if his eyes were piercing her. ‘Hmm yes, yes, I remember. I thought that plant was extinct and lost. We, my parents, used it a lot in the early days. A lot. I was only a child then. Yes.’
Nodding and looking at the leaf, he croaked in his high-pitched voice, ‘Hmm … So, the condors found it again. That is marvellous, wonderful, really splendid. It must be bursting out again, regrowing and restoring itself, I would say. It must be growing somewhere in the mountains. Hmm, yes, yes.’ Elcano brought the leaf close to his mouth and opened his mouth as if he wanted to eat it, but then his hand with the leaf fell back on the bedding again. He closed his mouth and his eyes for a while, shaking his head.
He wants to eat it. It would probably make him whole again, Matica thought.
Sighing, Elcano then said with his eyes still closed, ‘If I would … no, no, it is not for me, not anymore. We have to preserve it. I would need too much of it. Yes, yes, we should leave it to the birds. Yes, we do not need it anymore. But maybe so. If the condors know about it and use it, so
could we. Amazing birds, yes, truly, that they know about it. Extraordinary. We should adore them. And we ignored them. But we didn’t know.’
Those were Pajaro’s words, Matica thought and looked up at him. Pajaro grinned.
Elcano kept quiet again and rocked himself back and forth on the pillows then he looked directly with soft, dark eyes into Matica’s eyes. ‘So, they saved your father’s life with it, hey?’ He extended his arm with the leaf to Matica, asking her to take it. She took the leaf back, frightened to touch his bony fingers. ‘Yes, it is true. It has healing powers. We called it … ,’ then he said a word Matica couldn’t make any sense of. Elcano continued, ‘In your tongue it would be, I think, “restore to health tree” or “healing tree”. It is a tree, not very big, but nevertheless it is a tree. The leaves cure all sorts of sicknesses, not only poison spider bites or wounds as it was with your arm and your father.’ He pointed at Matica. ‘We never found out why it has that power. We are no scientists. I have forgotten who first found out about the leaves’ power. But it was a man. He was alone and fell ill while climbing the mountain. He probably would have died if he hadn’t stumbled upon that tree. Half dead, he fell under that tree and, inhaling the fragrance of the crushed leaves, he became better. He brought the leaf down to us and told us where it was. Since then we used it a lot in the old days. But I have
to confess that we used it too much, for every little thing. One day, no leaves were left on the tree. We had exhausted it. But then with your medication we didn’t need it anymore anyway. But …’ He looked thoughtfully at the ceiling, breathing heavily. He was nearly out of breath because of his long speech but he went on, saying what he must, ‘But I guess the condors just told us we still would need it, can use it. The medication didn’t help your father, did it? But that leaf did.’
Matica nodded. ‘Yes, sir, Elcano, the leaf did. I saw its effect. After a few hours his fever broke and never came back again, even though he was so fatigued. Dad thinks that it was a bad reaction to the bite. Thank you, sir, Elcano for telling me.’
Nodding, Elcano ended the conversation, rested his head on his pillow and closed his eyes.
Matica waited if Elcano might want to tell her something else. But as nothing happened, she looked up at Pajaro. He too was waiting.
Presently Elcano waved his wrinkly hand. It was a gesture to release them. Pajaro bowed his head slightly then turned around, putting his hand on Matica’s shoulder again. ‘Come,’ he whispered.
He was waiting for Elcano to release us, Matica thought and followed his example by bowing her head, then she followed him.
Nearly at the door they heard his croaky voice again. ‘I will keep it in mind.’
They turned around and looked at him. He still had his eyes closed. ‘I should know your name, as my daughter. So, what is your name?’
‘Matica, sir, Elcano.’
‘Ah yes, yes. Matica,’ he said, pronouncing it ‘Rapeada’. Matica grinned. ‘Tell your father that I want to see him as soon as he can walk again. Will you?’
‘Yes sir, Elcano, I will tell him.’
‘And,’ he croaked on with closed eyes, ‘the poachers will come back.’ He said it as a statement, not as a question. Matica trembled and closed her eyes but held herself in check since she sensed that Elcano wanted to say more, and she wanted to hear it. Pajaro grabbed her shoulder and squeezed it to give her strength, knowing about her difficulty hearing that word. Elcano went on, ‘But do not worry. They will not get Talon. Do not worry. No, do not worry. My people are here. They not let it happen. Anyway, we are all connected.’
They waited, but soon they realised that he had fallen asleep, so they went outside and closed the door quietly behind them.
Once outside Matica inhaled deeply, then leaned her back against the wall of the hut and closed her eyes.
We are all connected. I’m his daughter.
Pajaro looked at Matica, amused, but you could see in his eyes that he was a bit concerned. ‘Matica? Are you okay?’
Matica didn’t answer him immediately. Instead she inhaled deeply then she opened her eyes and looked at Pajaro. Finally she nodded, ‘I guess. Yes, I am.’ She pushed herself up from the hut and, rubbing her face with one hand, she admitted, ‘Wow, what a man you have as a father! He’s brilliant.’
‘Tell me about it.’ Pajaro nodded. ‘I know, believe me. It will be a great loss when he passes away.’ Pajaro’s eyes glinted as if he had tears in his eyes. ‘He taught me all I need to know for my life and the lives of my people.’
‘Yes, he’s so wise, so … oh, I don’t know. So incredible, awesome … well, I don’t know the word for him.’ She started to walk, Pajaro at her side. ‘You’re really fortunate to have him as your father, you know, and his teaching. ’
After a while she added, ‘And we are fortunate to have you now. You have all his knowledge.’
‘Well, I hope so,’ Pajaro said, a bit embarrassed, finding out that he didn’t like to be praised, but he liked to give it. ‘Have you seen my padre before?’
‘No.’ Matica shook her head.
‘Well, then it was time. We don’t know how long he still will be with us. His body is breaking down.’
‘Not his spirit.’
‘You can say that again. His spirit is alive and well. They are fighting each other.’
Matica suddenly looked up at Pajaro and yelled, ‘Pajaro, did you see his gesture?’
‘Which one do you mean?’
‘The one, you know.’ She brought her hand with the leaf to her mouth.
‘Oh, that one.’ Pajaro slowly nodded. ‘He was tempted to eat the leaf. Is that what you mean?’ He looked down at Matica.
She nodded. ‘But he refused it, sadly.’
‘Yes, he changed his mind. I wish I knew what he was thinking right then.’
‘Yes, me too. But … would it have restored his body?’ Pajaro asked her.
Matica shrugged her shoulders. ‘We’ll never find out if the leaf is that strong. However, I would think that he would need many more than only one leaf.’
‘Hmm, undoubtedly. Do you think me, or better you, should ask Tamo to bring more of the leaves for him?’
Matica looked up at him, surprised. ‘Well, I don’t know. He was surely tempted to take it, but he didn’t. You heard what he said.’
‘Yes. I guess so. I cannot force him to take it anyway, if he doesn’t want it.’
‘Pajaro, thank you for letting me see and talk to your father, your padre.’ She whispered the last word then she went on, looking up at Pajaro. ‘I have to confess that I was a bit nervous and fearful to go with you to see your padre. But now I’m happy that I could talk to him, that you even let me talk to him. Thank you, Pajaro.’
Pajaro just nodded politely. ‘You are welcome, Matica. And I can understand that. Many feel that way.’
‘Yeah? Well, all right.’ Then she continued, looking at the leaf in her hand. ‘Now we know for sure it’s a healing leaf. It’s interesting, isn’t it?’ She looked up at him and saw Pajaro’s forlorn look.
‘Pajaro? What is it?’ Frowning, she reached up with her hand and touched his arm slightly.
Pajaro sank at the bench that stood close by. He hunched over then put his head into his cupped hands. Matica sat beside him, waiting to see if he would tell her more.
Finally, Pajaro straightened up and confessed, looking straight ahead, ‘I hope that I will be like him one day. I remember him when I was a little boy. I sat on his lap and he played with me, or I sat on his shoulders. Oh yeah, he could do that for hours when he had the time. I loved that time with him so much. But this playtime also was an education time. It didn’t happen very often, only twice or three
times a week, I think, but I believe it was often enough to get some of his wisdom, his knowledge, his understanding of people into me. I admired him always and looked up to him. Still do. Even Mum was sometimes amazed about his knowledge.’
‘Pajaro.’ She looked into his sad face. He now stared at the ground. ‘Pajaro, you will be like him. I believe you are like him already. You don’t believe in yourself as yet. Like father like son, you know.’ Then she whispered, not really knowing if she should say it, she a child, he a grown-up, but
her conscience told her to say it, ‘My Dad always taught me, don’t let the fear take over your conscience.’
He looked at her. ‘Your father is wise too. Very good indeed. I think my padre told me that as well. Yes indeed.’ His voice was low and scratchy.
‘Pajaro, your father gave his knowledge to you, his understanding when you were small.’ She looked at the ground. ‘Never stop getting all of his knowledge, even now, where he might not live for long anymore. Spend time with him.’
He looked, astonished, at her. ‘You seem so wise too, like my father, your father.’
She made a dismissive gesture. ‘Dad told me never to give up, to get all the knowledge there is, from whoever you can get it. You can never get enough of that.’
‘Very wise. Well, I have to confess that I am not spending as much time with my padre as I probably should. Do you think I should spend more time with him now?’
‘You asked me for my advice?’ He just nodded. ‘Then, yes, you should, particularly now, when you don’t know how …’ She left it unspoken.
Pajaro sat up straight, then he nodded. ‘Yes, I will. Thank you, Matica. It will break my heart when he passes away.’
Matica looked at him, didn’t know what to say next, didn’t want to break the closeness to him yet. Pajaro had never opened up to her in such an intimate and warm way as much as she knew, not even to her dad and mum. However, she couldn’t just sit there, saying nothing, or could she? Friends can sit together and say nothing. She remembered Job in the Bible. How his friends were sitting with him in his grief when everything around him fell to pieces. Only after a very long time they started to encourage him, what they thought would encourage him, but in reality they were judging him. All right, she thought, I will sit with Pajaro until he is ready to say something again.
After a while Pajaro sat up and looked around. His eyes were red and a bit swollen. He wiped them then he looked at Matica. ‘Hey, Matica,’ he stated, ‘you are still here. I thought you went home. Is there something else?’
Matica shook her head. ‘Well, no, not really. I just sat with you to comfort you. But I wanted to ask you if I ever met your mother?’
‘That is very thoughtful of you. Thank you.’ Then he whispered, ‘No, she passed away before your parents and you came to us.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ She whispered, ‘Simeon asked me something. Well, Elcano referred to me as his daughter and he said we are all connected.’
Pajaro nodded. ‘Yes, he mentioned that once to me already. That is his belief.’
‘Pajaro what did he …’ but she stopped, seeing Simeon coming towards them.
Simeon said, ‘Sorry to interrupt, but Elcano is calling you, Pajaro.’
Pajaro jumped up but said very quickly to Matica, ‘I know what Simeon asked of you. But don’t bother with school today or tomorrow. Tell your story when your father is well enough to come to school as well. So you both can tell us together.’
Pajaro disappeared into his father’s hut, but Simeon remained with Matica and stated, ‘Yes, I think that’s a better idea. So you both can tell us. Did your mother tell you about the poachers yet?’
Matica started to tremble hearing that word again. She closed her eyes.
‘Oh, my God, Matica, what is the problem?’ Simeon asked.
She inhaled deeply by craning back her neck, then she shook her head as if she wanted to shake that word out of her mind. ‘It’s the word p-o-a-c-h-e-r-s.’ She spelled it quietly, not speaking it out. ‘I can’t hear that word. Please, can we call them now “you know who”?’
‘Right, right. I am sorry, Matica. I did not know. Yes, we will call them that from now on. And I will tell all the others as well, so no one says that word anymore.’
‘Thank you, Simeon. And no, we didn’t have time yet. Mum mentioned them. But that was all. What is it?’
Simeon looked very uneasy and unhappy.
Matica asked again, ‘Did you see them? Are they on the way here? Or did you hear more about them? Anything?’
‘Well, Ben, my brother living in Cajamarca, told me just before we got your father that they are snooping around. They go from village to village asking about condors. There is still more. But your mother should tell you. I told her what I heard just now, when you were with Pajaro and his padre.
What I want to say is, they are really close. We have to be alert.’
Her heart sank into her stomach when she ran home, yelling, ‘Thank you, Simeon!’