The cold light of the fridge was reflected on the wooden table and the white lime walls when he stepped into the dining room. He fixed his hair and approached slowly. He heard the dry sound of his bare feet on the cold clay tiles. Wearing his nightclothes, he paused at the edge of the light. Behind him stretched the long corridor where lit by the moon, hung different objects made of leather and metal he didn't recognize. He looked left at the room given to him. He pressed the toe on his right foot, keen on the tile. When he stepped forward, the steam of his print faded. Finally, he looked at the wrinkled face blue and white from the light of the refrigerator, the hollow creases below the eyes, the thin eyelids.
It was dark outside and cold, and there was no breeze. He could hear something move in the corrals. He stood still at the edge of the cold light. Buenas noches, he said.
Nothing in the house could be heard but the humming of the cooler and the buzzing of cicadas. He answered from the fridge. Buenas noches, joven.
Dark and cold and no breeze. The glow of the neighboring town on the horizon. He stepped closer and extended a hand to greet him. The old man placed the plastic cup on the table and returned his handshake.
I'm very tired, long trip. We'll talk better tomorrow. Good night.
He closed the freezer and took the cup he'd left on the table and walked towards his room at the end of the long corridor behind the boy. Joven, he thought.
When he heard the door close, he walked to the inner patio that looked over the lake and the corrals. He planted his feet in the cold grass and stood there in the surrounding night. He stood there for a long time.
After a while, he lit a cigarette. He smoked briefly and stubbed out the cigarette in the ground and saved the but in the pocket of his pants. He turned to his room and heard a horse neigh. He stopped and waited for another. He could feel the horse in the corral behind him. It came from his left as if it had been arriving for many years, and the animal had been neighing forever. Some other horses that he could not see answered with bellows for some seconds. He wanted to neigh too but thought better. He looked at the objects made of leather and metal that hung on the corridor. He saw the long shadows. He noticed his profile running over the uncut grass and saw that it muddled with the darkness of the house. The shadow of the house beheaded his own.
She looked at him from the hammock when he entered the room and stared at his naked torso and his night pants. How did it go, she asked. It didn't sound like a question.
He took the butt from his pocket and threw it at the bin next to the door and walked to the table in the room, and drank water. She closed the book resting on her legs and tossed it gently on top of one of the two beds. She stood up from the hammock with effort and standing up stretched her body as a deep yawn came of out her mouth. Then she walked towards him and tousled his hair and extended her hand, asking for water.
Good, he answered.
Yeah, good. Normal.
You'll talk better tomorrow.
Yeah, he said that.
He drove all day; he's exhausted.
He's a good guy, you'll see.
I didn't say he wasn't.
He took a sip of the water. The moonlight was shining on the plants through the window of the room. A dog loomed close by and sniffed something in the direction of the house.
He saw the woman step out of the car behind the house. He was smoking next to the old altar for the local virgin they had erected a couple of feet away from the house. He finished his cigarette and flung it at the floor and stepped on the butt as if to bury it and walked towards the car. He took a couple of plastic bags from the trunk and walked to the kitchen with the bags full of fruits and vegetables hanging from his hands. Then he walked back to the car. It had rained overnight, and still, the dew rested on leaves, and the earth was mud, and the women were sitting chewing on something by the door of the kitchen. The canopies that the workers had put up shook and flapped, and the words of the woman inside the kitchen were lost in the wind. The women watched him as he waited. None of them talked to him and stood up from the plastic chairs and entered the dim kitchen. Dogs ran out from the pantry's door and got lost behind the tiny adobe building that housed the stoves and galleys and the groceries and the women. He waited a moment longer before turning and walking to the main house.
In the afternoon, he undid the latch on the entrance to the house and walked back to the car and rode the passenger's seat. The sun burned heavy, and everything seemed gold from the dust lifted by the vehicle on the road. The vibration from the rocks on the trail obscured the sound from the radio. He stretched and raised the volume, but the music from the small speakers was still lost. The way ran like a thin belt between the endless acres of amber plains divided by low stakes, placed there by the founders already many years ago, and they stood there because that had been the law back then and today all respected that although the times were different now. The wind carried the bellows and neighs of horses and cattle, and he could smell the breath of the beasts and hear the metal under their hoofs and the cries of the men and the dogs that lived with them. The road was muted on both sides by the ghost of a land that endured time and left the years go on by as if they did not exist or did not matter and were lost in their history and in their stories, and everything was a memory of the lives of others.
They drove with the sun as it coppered their foreheads, and the red dust settled behind them. They turned south as he realized they had reached the town.
He stood by the car smoking while she paid. An old lotto ticket laid on the ground, and he knelt to pick it up and looked at it in his hands. The paper was thin and fragile and brittle. He read the words on the bill. Six hundred million. Fraction only two thousand pesos and pays two hundred million. Draw two four seven five June sixteen 20**. Series twenty-four. Three nine five zero. The lottery of Meta. Plays every Wednesday at ten-thirty in Villavicencio. The lottery of Meta, he thought.
They got back after dusk. She drove faster on the way back. The last light of the day had fallen behind their backs on the plains to let out the refreshing blue of shadows and the twilight and the cold.
The last scarlet heron brushed the sky. To his right yellow lights were turned on in faint cottages.
The land was founded in 19**. Sixty years later, her grandfather was still the only man to have died in the house that was raised there. Electric light had arrived a few years before she was born, and the aqueduct had been difficult to bring. The original land had been two thousand three hundred acres outside of the town that used to rest by the road to Paz, the original house was two rooms made of limestone and zinc roofing. That was in 19**. That same year her uncle raised his house a few miles from his fathers,' and their cattle shared the prairies. Six years later, her grandfather left with thirteen cows. Her grandfather was buried, and the cows burned. In 19**, her father raised the first fences. By 19**, the lands of her uncle and the lands of her father were clearly marked. That same year the winter lasted longer than usual. In 19**, the first oil industries arrived.
Her grandfather had come from Boyacá with his wife and their children. As kids, they all ran and jumped and kicked like weaned-off foals. They almost died from drowning, from snake bites, crushed by a horse, stung by wasps, lost in the plains. They seemed to only be afraid of dying as old men. Her uncle was the oldest and her father, the youngest. He met her mother in the plaza and decided to have a life together. They had three kids, two boys and a girl with skins the color of chestnut honey and jet black manes. Only their father still lived there. The rest had taken their own roads and came back once or twice each year to their grandfather's house. None of them had been born there.
He joined him from the house to the stall where the horses had been waiting since dawn. The men that were hiding from the sun under the thatched roof stopped talking as they stepped inside. They all greeted the man, and some said his name. One of the workers whistled to the rest, and they all stood up to ready the horses. He took out his cigarettes, lit one, and left the box on a bench, and placed the lighter on top it. He watched the workers set the saddles on their shoulders and approach the horses. He told him that he'd never saddled a horse although he'd ridden plenty as a boy in the estate of a great uncle who hated kids riding horses. He believed only men should ride.
The man chuckled noiselessly. Then he asked for a cigarette. He drank some coffee from a pewter cup he'd brought with him and lit one as he shook his head.
You don't need to be a man to ride a horse. You need to not fear the animal because it can smell it on your body and throw you off the saddle.
A worker wavered for a moment when he heard the man's voice. He thought he was talking to him. He kept on working when he realized he wasn't.
I don't think I'm afraid of them, the boy answered. The man exhaled the smoke. You don't have to. They're good animals. Loyal. His voice was easy and musical. He drank more coffee. The boy watched him. The man tightened his lips and drummed his fingers on his leg. So, you're an artist too, he said. Not a question. Not a claim.
I paint and draw.
So, an artist.
It's not the same.
No? I thought it was. How's it different?
The boy smoked a couple of times from his cigarette. He smoked hard to draw the answer from the smoke. Artists can mean many things, don't you think?
An artist's an artist, the man said. The man was right. The boy didn't answer back. They stood silently while the men saddled the horses. The light had changed, and the spines of the ponies were yellow with the sun. The beasts sweat, men, and horses sweat. He lit another cigarette and kicked the soil under his boot. He looked at the dust raise for some seconds and then fall back to the earth again. He raised his brow to the plain and then lowered it again. Someone was bathing in the lake.
That will kill you. Didn't you just put out one?
While we wait.
Come, I'll show you how to saddle.
He called one of the workers by his name and asked him to bring the birdie. The name of a horse. The sun was sitting on the red sky, and the zinc roof blinded him. A while later, the worker came back with the horse, saddled. The man turned back to the boy. Well, some other day.