There is such solitude in that gold.
The moon of these nights is not the moon
the first man saw. Long centuries
of human vigil have filled her with
an old lament. See. She is your mirror.
Jorge Luis Borges
The sun was setting across the Pampas, amorously spilling the last rays of gilded amber light from its alembic brazier, like an upturned can of sepia paint on shag carpeting, coating the landscape with a tawny hue. The gathering clouds were settling, low and heavy with portent.
A middle aged Mupuche, traditionally dressed in bombacha pants held fast with a red and black Trarüchiripa belt and a navy boina made his way home past our camp with his hunting dogs, proudly holding aloft a Patagonian Mara which resembled a jackrabbit or very large hare, proclaiming it to be the evening meal. I tended to the rice in our hobo stove while Ed finished carving a rook for a miniature chess set he had begun making from shafts of wood gleaned from the surrounding wacke.
“Just the bishops after this, maybe one more day carving” “ Rice is almost done” I answered. The clouds gave a repugnant growl and internal lightning illuminated grotesque shapes through its darkening tulle. Backlit by a repressed full moon.
“Looks like you owe me five pesos”
The rain finally came, several hours later while we slept, I in a hammock and Ed in his swag on the ground. Ed had woken as the first drops became a downpour and kindly shook me from my slumber. We took shelter under a nearby tree. But it became clear we weren’t the only presence in the woods. What I first took for thunder Ed presumed to be of more animalistic origins.
“Kev, there’s something in that tree” “where” Ed drew my attention, pointing into the darkness to a tree about fifteen metres away. I could see nothing until the lightning unveiled a strange silhouette amongst the branches. I shone my torch up into the boughs and two large green eyes shimmered back, there was more growling, but this time, not from the clouds.
There was a loud crack as the branch that the emerald eyed beast was resting on gave way, and the chimera crashed to the ground vociferating profusely. As soon as it had come to earth it was on its feet and fleeing into the cimmerian while Ed and I made attempts to impersonate an inedible species of biped. Lots of clapping, shouting and waving of arms.
Unable to return to sleep we packed our sodden belongings and returned to the road.
There was a service station about a kilometre away. We could see the glow of the forecourt from where we camped. Raindrops danced effusively on the tarmac as passing trucks sprayed us with a slimy mixture of dirt and oily rainwater which ran down along the neck beneath our shirt collars. Dripped from the end of our noses, our fingers. Leaving a filthy residue in every crevice of skin. It filled our boots and drained our spirits.
At the service station we were able to get hot coffee and a popular Argentine treat of alfajores. We sat silently in our booth, trying not to draw attention of the pools of water gathering around our feet, smearing the nice clean floor with the produce of the road. The sun rose but the rain continued, eventually becoming a light drizzle.
With our coffee and our welcome long expired we returned to the verge, cold damp arm outstretched. Surprisingly, we didn’t have to wait long for a truck driver, sympathetic to the plight of two wet gringos, to stop and offer a ride. We climbed into the cab. Ed took the only passenger seat in the fifty year old mercedes truck and I settled down in the space between he and the driver, while rain lashed the windscreen, gears crunched, mate and stories were passed round in succession. The driver, hearing our story of the previous night, produced photos of a dead puma. Ed and I looked at each other knowingly. Thats what we had seen in the tree!
Truck drivers on long hauls in Argentina will often pick up hitch hikers on the long stretches across the pampas and central deserts. The act of conversing keeps them awake so as they don’t drive off the road and have an accident as a result of tiredness. I however, promptly, drifted off to sleep. The truck roared obstinately, eating up the miles of road, hastening us, west, towards the Andes.
Jorge Luis Borges is a 20th century Argentine poet and writer.
K. C. Dorney is a 21st century vagabond.