The trip takes about eight hours, enough time for Alfonso to get lost countless times in recurring thoughts, memories of days gone by when existence seemed so superfluous, so unnecessary to him. And now the terror that has taken over his body keeps him hoping to continue living, despite all the dangers that await him, for sure, at the end of this new journey through the desert. A journey that ends abruptly, his eyes are opened and night falls on him, flames in torches intermittently illuminate the space between him and Peter, on the other side of the circle, drawn with stones, which separates the space before them and the crowd of people who look anxiously at the sides of the improvised quadrilateral. Women, old people and children wait for the beginning of the festivities raising their voices to the stars, energetic songs in the same indecipherable language as before. A man walks among the crowd, they open the way for him, this attitude of the audience makes Alfonso think that this man has to be special among them. He brings with him two long bones, human femurs, Alfonso supposes. The truth is that, having witnessed the dismemberment of Pedro’s brother before, the situation does not impact him greatly. The man buries a bone in the sand, near Alfonso, another near Pedro. Then, the man approaches the center of the circle and introduces himself to the rest of the people, bows and addresses Alfonso and Pedro in perfect Spanish, points out clear and simple rules for the festival, both have to fight, only one will survive, the battle is not over until one of them falls dead.
Tell me, what do you desire?
A question is born in Alfonso’s mind, words that the wind does not bring with it and that no person has pronounced.
Do you want to see it?
The voice returns, a tingling leads Alfonso to raise his gaze, above Pedro, further back from the people who are shouting effusively behind him. Barely visible in the darkness, an extremely thin woman, her long black hair covering her sex and breasts, her arms as thin as branches, her ribs marked, buried. She is sitting on a structure that Alfonso is unable to decipher. Her feline eyes are fixed on Alfonso. She blinks…
Tell me, what do you want? Give me the life of that man and you will have it.
Alfonso can only think of Amelia and the car in the middle of the road. Whether the hours they spent together actually happened or was all an illusion, it is all he can wish for. The woman smiles and a warm breeze lifts the ashes from the torch to the stars. Time rewinds, the sun rides back and forth across the sky, the stars regain the intensity lost in movement and the days return to the car and the woman sleeping inside.
Life is a choice.
Standing outside the car, Alfonso prepares to leave in search for help, Amelia sleeps inside. Alfonso wants to turn around, back up, get back in the car and see her once more. He stretches out his arms and almost manages to touch the window, but almost is an eternal space that stands between them.
What do you say?
The voice brings him back to the dark night, to the burning torches, to the ecstatic shouts of the spectators and to Pedro, who gets up in a hurry, takes the long bone, buried in the sand, with his hands and throws himself against Alfonso. Savage, liberated, he has surely been offered a similar bargain. Alfonso leaves his thoughts aside and turns to the side to avoid the first attack.
Wait! We don’t have to do this.
Useless, Pedro does not listen to Alfonso’s words, takes the bone with more force and attacks for the second time, Alfonso does not manage to avoid completely the blow, ends up receiving it in the left arm, falls flat on the floor. Breathing heavily, the pain in his arm prevents him from moving or thinking clearly, he has lost sight of Pedro, his eyes rest for a few seconds on the woman, who is still looking at him.
Take what you wish.
The voice sentences, the sands rise, the music drowns, the sun embraces, Amelia sleeps, the fly dies, the feet hurt, the old man burns. Alfonso receives the next blow directly in the stomach, flies through the air and falls into the sand for the second time. Pedro balances the bone in his hands, feels victorious, apologizes, remembers his brother, there is a way to bring him back to life.
The voice returns and a war cry emerges from within, from the entrails of Alfonso, like an intense howl that fuses with the moon and the stars. The roar leads him to get up with new strength, forgotten about the pain, he leaves all his thoughts behind and surrenders to the battle. A hasty turn leads him to evade another attack by Peter and to stand in front of the bone on the ground. A fourth blow from the right, the bone in his hand and Alfonso manages to block Pedro’s attack, although the force of the impact sends him back to the ground. A supreme effort, propelled by his furious breathing, leads him to keep his eyes on his opponent’s movements. Alfonso feels light, prepared, jumps up, grabs the bone and launches his attack before Pedro can react. The first attack doesn’t have enough energy to hurt, after all, Pedro’s body is more robust than Alfonso’s. However, the clash of forces has an unexpected consequence; now Pedro feels that he has won the battle. This leads him to ram Alfonso with the full weight of his body, confident, throwing him back to the ground, one step forward and Pedro raises the bone in the air with the intention of hitting Alfonso directly in the head to end the fight. The bone falls hard into the sand, however, Alfonso manages to move quickly to kick Peter’s right knee hard, making him fall to the ground. Pedro rolls around on the floor screaming in pain. An agile jump leads Alfonso to get up once more, in front of him, a wounded prey waits. Pedro crawls on the ground, backs away without letting go of the bone, still firm in his hands. Alfonso notices this, he knows that Pedro has not given up, he is probably more dangerous now than before.
But, what am I doing? Are we really dueling each other to death?
The hesitation leads Alfonso to stop, confused, observes the expectant public, all ecstatic in the candor of the battle and the promise of blood. Enough time for Pedro to swing the bone in his hands with force and succeed in throwing it into the air, impacting Alfonso in the middle of the face. The blood gushes profusely from the wound, Alfonso falls to the floor with a lost look, when hitting the ground he loses consciousness. When he wakes up, Pedro is almost completely up. The blood that flows from his forehead goes into his eye sockets, clouding his vision, the taste of rust that he feels in his mouth makes him feel that he has also broken a lip, or perhaps he is swallowing the same blood that prevents him from seeing. He doesn’t know and Pedro takes advantage of the moment to pick up the bone again. He staggers, but manages to do so, hobbling over to Alfonso, squeezing the bone in his hand, breathing a sigh of relief.
I’m sorry kid, I owe it to my brother.
Exhale… the air escapes from Alfonso’s chest and is lost in the cold of the night. The spectators now shout in excitement, expectant of the outcome, the climax is approaching. Alfonso prepares to die, he doesn’t feel defeated or lost, just tired. He wonders about the causes of this tragedy, he does not know, and yet, once again, his hands seem to almost touch the fogged-up window, to wake up Amelia, the beauty who sleeps inside the car lost in the middle of the desert.
I would have liked to see her again.
The last wish.
Why do you want to see her? – the voice returns.
I don’t know… I just know that I want to see her.
Alfonso responds without even trying to hide the confusion that has accompanied him all his life.
You know what you have to do – the voice ends.
Hope, Alfonso’s eyes open wide, his muscles tense, new strength leads him to turn quickly, to avoid the death blow that Pedro throws without hesitation. The bone hits the ground and draws a crater in the sand. Alfonso stands up nimbly and his arms swing hard, an almost reflex movement at a speed that surprises Alfonso himself. The bone almost burns the air and a low whistle is heard, fast and fleeting. Peter’s teeth fly, blood accompanies them on their journey into the void. The bone in Alfonso’s hands is shattered, it breaks in two when it impacts the skull of his adversary. One blow is enough to knock him down, Alfonso releases the bone and his body loses all strength, almost falls to the ground again, but manages to stay on his feet. Lying in the sand, Pedro’s body shakes reflexively for minutes before coming to a complete stop, the battle is over.
The spectators retire quietly, few words are heard as they leave the circle of stones. Alfonso stands in the middle of the place, his chest swells strongly with each breath, his eyes completely dilated do not lose any movement around him, it takes a while for him to return to normal. The withdrawal of the people reveals the rectangular object, on which, sitting on top, is the woman with long black hair. The object is a mirror as clear as crystal waters. By the angle at which it is placed, it reflects the brightness of the stars, now more visible after the torches are extinguished. As he approaches, Alfonso manages to see his bloody face reflected on the surface of the mirror and is amazed at the clarity with which he can see himself. The woman on the mirror smiles, then directs others to bring the body of the newly deceased closer to her. Two men take Pedro and drag him to a basket placed just below the mirror. The dark-haired woman gives some instructions, the men place Pedro’s head in the basket, the rest of the body in the sand. One of the men takes a bone, approaches the mirror, the woman screams and the bone falls hard, crushing Pedro’s skull. Again and again, the blows rumble on the ground, Alfonso stares silently, the situation shakes him, but he feels he no longer has the strength to respond in any way. Blood and pieces of the skull are scattered on the surface of the mirror, others fall into the sand and are lost from sight. The woman comes down from the frame of the mirror and spreads the blood with her hands, until she completely covers the surface of the mirror. Then, she raises her arms to the sky, takes something, an invisible rope that joins her to the stars. She occupies the rope to tie Alfonso, circulating around him, whispering words that cannot be heard. The woman returns to one side of the mirror and throws the other end of the rope into the reflection, with movements that remind Alfonso of the nonsense of mimes in the city square. But the mockery fades as Alfonso feels the rope tighten and his body is propelled forward, into the blood, into the darkness and the light of the stars reflected in the mirror. Alfonso cannot move his arms, he is really tied to a rope that he cannot see. In vain he tries to back up, his feet are buried in the sand, but he cannot help sliding.
Now you can see her, can you? – the voice gets into Alfonso’s mind.
Yes, I do, I can!
Don’t ever forget, remember!
Alfonso makes a decision and closes his eyes, another battle is over for him, he will no longer fight the force that drives him forward. A lightning strike hits the frame of the mirror, while Alfonso cuts through the glass with his whole body and shreds it completely. The void and the stars break and, from the openings, an intense light receives him, so strong and warm that the outline of his body disappears, vanishes, is extinguished. And for billions of years there is only calm, infinite stillness, full of undecipherable happiness, nourished by a complete existence. However, with the passage of time a memory emerges, like a stain on the surface of all creation, an opening through which energies escape and sprout, altering the consistency of the luminous surface, the intensity recedes and an explosion leads the whole to separate, through the empty space that covers it. Alfonso becomes himself again, he recognizes his self as a finite person, as legs, as arms, as his hands that try to hold on to the lights that escape like sand between his fingers. Entire galaxies struggle to stay together, but the repulsion is very strong, tears are lost in the movement, farewells that last for eons, like raindrops drawing the wake of birth, preparing to move forward, they go deeper, more into the depths. Suns burn and give life to the planets, pass by Alfonso’s side, light up with force and turn without stop, until losing everything, until disappearing and, with them, thousands of lives are lost once more. Until the whole horizon of events bids farewell to the whole light and embraces the dark mantle. The void is the only thing left and Alfonso keeps himself, remembers himself, clings to his memories, to what remains of him, the cold freezes his lungs, his breath stops, and a new calm begins. Millions of years pass again, when will it end? The voice returns to Alfonso’s frozen mind, wakes him up and his heart beats once more.
Time, previously stopped, now goes backwards, light and blinking, shy on the horizon line, with time it gains strength and light returns, suns burn strongly and galaxies meet again. Alfonso is dragged once more to the center of the whole truth, to the uncontainable, undeniable, imperishable light that embraces him and drives him down, a fall as long as the space between the stars. Alfonso lets himself go, lets out a cry from the entrails to leave aside the nervousness, the excitement, to be reborn. And when the light collapses, his eyes can barely stand the morning glow, but he adapts quickly, looking at the sign in front of him, it’s the name of a gas station and the fuel price list. A sense of familiarity seizes him, the wind moves the sand scattered on the concrete, reminding him that he has already been there, but has he been there?