Short Stories

Mamadou smiles while drinking a cup of tea

It was late. The New Year rose nervously and sought to gather itself in all haste. How had he been so careless? How could she let time pass like this? Now, before leaving, I had to make sure everything was in place. Many things depended on your care.

He felt his whole body well and saw that autumn was where it had always been, that the leafless poplars of January shivered in the cold by the brook of the valley, and that the weed sprouted in the meadow where, in spring, the calf would taste. Acre taste for the first time.

There was not a moment to lose! He lined the forests, surveyed the deserts, reviewed the oceans, and lovingly brushed up the flock of birds that, on May 4, would land on the moldy wire of that fence. Everything was ready except him, who was late! He knew that if it was not in time for the meeting with the Old Year, time would stand still and the year now beginning would be all mixed up.

He hadn’t left yet when he felt a look on his face. He realized that someone was staring at him, that small eyes bored into his much larger ones. The New Year was in a hurry, but there was no choice but to stop and turn back. But where to look?

He surveyed Africa, which now by June was between a remnant of dry savannah and the onset of the rainy season, a little late this year. And it was there that he saw a boy looking at him, lying on the floor, unable to continue breathing. Next to him were other children, some already with their eyes closed. Nearby were camp tents, roaring doctors scouring the dust from side to side, cries, shouts, and a flag with a wrinkled red cross.

A young doctor was looking at the child lying on the floor and, with a gesture of resignation, was taking her wrist.

“We’re not on time,” he said to the nurse.

“His father died, barely here,” he answered.

They both avoided looking him in the eye, so the child looked at the New Year insistently, as if expecting some response from him. But the New Year couldn’t remember anything, and the Old Year’s footsteps were already on the other side of the twelve chimes!

However, when the New Year looked at Mamadou again – that was the boy’s name – he sighed. And as she ran for the appointment, her sigh condensed into a cloud. The wind caught that cloud and pushed it through the cold corridors of the sky. The seasons had a little discussion until they decided to get the cloud on the right day. Finally, the sigh turned to rain, which began to fall on the cornfield that Mamadou’s father would finally reap. The New Year knew this handful of grain was little. He knew that Mamadou’s father would die when he arrived at the refugee camp, and he knew that Mamadou would see his body extended.

But thanks to that little May corn, Mary could tell the nurse:

– Quickly! We are still on time.

And the New Year saw a sparkle in the doctor’s blue eyes.

And I, who have just written this, and who know that the New Year has arrived in time to meet the Old Year and that, therefore, this year will know no mistake, I smile as Maria and Mamadou have tea with me. Mamadou still speaks bad Spanish, but seems to understand everything. Maria, his new mother, tells him something funny and Mamadou smiles while sipping a cup of tea.
   José Zafra Ana Garralón The Great Book of Christmas Madrid, Anaya, 2003 (Translation and Adaptation)


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