The Color of Life


Camilo Cienfuegos, by Alexis Esquivel

THAT MORNING MY mother didn’t threaten me with if I left my breakfast I wouldn’t go to Salvador’s study to see him paint. Those words were enough to accept any of her commandments.

Salvador had become used to my presence. I understood not to bother him. From a corner, I watched his ritual of preparing the oils with the care of a great alchemist. I was trying to learn his every move because I aspired to be his amanuensis. For me, happiness was being able, one day, to prepare his palette, squeeze the tubes, and even, with time, help with a precise stroke. I delighted in seeing how canvas ceded space to other colors. Unintentionally he was introducing me to a world of lines, dots, a kaleidoscope of images that never repeated themselves. In the end, tired, he covered it with a pure white cloth to protect both it and the eyes of his daughter and wife.

But that morning my mother didn’t mention my friend Salvador. And as a symbol of disobedience, I left the completely full glass of milk. I looked in her eyes but she avoided me. She said I could no longer watch him paint: he had died at dawn. I didn’t know this word and shrugged my shoulders. Then she explained that death was like the uncle who left on a raft whom we would never see again. I ran to drink my milk, I didn’t want this punishment, but she stopped me and held me to her breast. That morning I fell asleep on the sofa and had a fever. The neighbors approached, watching me with pity. Mysteriously they whispered in each other’s ears. Salvador’s study would never again open in my presence. I lost my appetite and the hole in my life seemed like it would never be filled.

I even looked through the window of Salvador’s house and I saw him hiding in the green of his last painting, he put his finger to his lips so he wouldn’t be discovered, then he laughed. I kept quiet about the last secret he shared with me. He taught me not to reveal the themes he painted when the curious asked. Sometimes I caught myself talking to him. It was enough to know that he was still there, putting the final touches on an unfinished painting. So from that day I knew that death is inconclusive; to the rest of the world, I’m crazy. A started taking the pills the psychologist recommended.

Since that experience I fight against what seems definitive. I know that behind every breath, image, word, is the bravery of someone who patiently waits to be heard, seen, named. The opportunity is also a cry of hope.

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