Translated from the Spanish by Tyler Gebauer
“The Messiah is born!” yelled the midwife as she ran through the narrow street where echoes scattered with ease.
As the announcement arrived the windows of every dwelling opened up: the Messiah had been born, and all the village needed to be informed. The news reached the schools and the doors were pushed open, causing a pile of uniformed, noisy students to fall out. There was a ringing of bells, the handful of vehicles passing through created a serious ruckus, fireworks exploded, and the music and tears of devotees burst forth from the chapel.
From a speaker placed on the top of the town hall, a piercing voice announced the news and repeated it continuously. All made their way to the house where the child was born. People vied for the right to take the placenta, certain that the ingestion of the organ would remedy the incurable ailments of their family or friends.
A group of pilgrims approached in a slow march, exceptional in their prayer and song. Farmers and ranchers hastened to prepare their goods and present them to the parents of the newborn; they tore wheat and corn from the root, and the stables became makeshift slaughterhouses.
Pandemonium reigned over the uncontrollable townsfolk; the village intoned in a single voice of song, explosions and yelling.
The mother, exhausted, slept with the newborn cradled in her arms.
The father stealthily looked out the window, taken aback by the crowd’s welcome. Among the thicket of voices that reached his ears, the most discernible were the requests to come out and present the savior. The crowd did not understand that the babe needed rest and the Messiah did not understand their festive mood, much less that he was the reason. Someone needed to rein in the chaos, to send everyone to their respective places, since this euphoria would do nothing but cause trouble. That is when there appeared from amongst the tumult a man of authority who, raising his gruff voice, demanded calm.
“Everyone must leave! Let us not forget that our Messiah is still but a little child. I do not know what urgent matters draw you here, but just like you I have been awaiting this moment. He has arrived, and we lose nothing waiting a little longer!”
The uproar diminished to just a murmur in every home. From time to time, someone would knock on the door like a madman asking to meet the son of God, and it fell to the midwife to brusquely shoo them away. No one, not the governor of the community, nor the powerful trackers of opium and alcohol, had the right to see him yet.
Enthralled, Mario and his wife Josa kept watch as their son, still nameless, slept. The midwife situated herself like a dog in front of the door, seated but ready to sprint out and bark her speech — now memorized from so much repeating — in the case of any impatient visitor.
“Impatience is a sin! Get out of here, or I swear meeting the savior is the last thing you’ll do!”
Inconsolable, they would end up asking for forgiveness, or depart in complete silence, until one of them made a more precise demand:
“At least tell us what his name will be! We must know his name, so that we can commend ourselves to him every day and night!”
For the first time after many hours, the midwife left her post to go to the parents. What will this miraculous child be called? Even she needed to know the answer, because saying “Jesus” in every song and prayer could be heresy if his name ended up being something else.
A new era was at hand. After the pandemic, nothing more than a count of 593 individuals in a small Latin American community remained. The fateful coincidence that the majority of survivors were adults made the continued production of foodstuffs sustainable, and prevented any pause in systems of education or maintenance of social order.
Despite the sense of decline that each of them felt, and the hopelessness that grew with the dawning of each day, the promise carved into an old tree lifted their spirits. The prophecy declared the exact date and time, and even the initials of those who would be the parents: M and J. It would seem dikcult to find, among so many men and women, the chosen ones whose names began with the aforementioned consonants, but it proved easier than expected.
Of all the inhabitants there were only some 80 married couples, and among them, Mario and Josa seemed to be the chosen ones. When Josa revealed she was pregnant, the midwife, obsessed as she was with the divine prophecy, performed the necessary calculations and concluded that the birth was likely to occur on the appointed date.
And indeed it did: the offspring left the womb on a Wednesday and let out its first cries at exactly 11:30, the time and day carved into the tree.
They nailed a notice on the door that said the following:
Lucio will be the name of the Messiah, after the father of Mario. Conduct your prayers and give thanks with this name. P.S. Soon we will show him to everyone, and visitors will be allowed.
Their request was satisfied, but the faithful needed more; now they demanded an image. Mario suggested to Josa that they show the firstborn by walking with him silently through the streets, without any fanfare, but she refused, claiming that it was still too soon, that she needed a few more months to feel certain: she worried that someone would snatch her son from her arms. Mario, adopting Josa’s position, was left with no other option than to stick his head out the window and respond to the desperate few, now a handful that sat waiting outside the house.
“Josa fears for the safety of our child, please understand! We need more time. For now you have a name, which is Lucio, and as for a symbol or image, I reckon we can continue worshiping the cross.”
No one disagreed. They were the words of the biological father, after all, influenced perhaps by heavenly counsel. The village responded unusually to the parents’ concerns for the safety of the child savior.
In less than a week, an atmosphere of peace had fallen over the inhabitants; kindness and courtesy prevailed like never before. Every person carried in their mind the idea of offering a paradise suitable for Lucio. A utopia, the result of actions premeditated by mankind with the end goal of creating a loving world for the savior.
They would not crucify him; instead, they would make sure that Lucio stayed alive as many years as possible. That was the only thought people had: they did not want to commit the same errors as the Jews when the son of God was made flesh in another land and another time.
All was optimism and harmony since the arrival of the Savior, despite the poor crops, the thinness of the cattle, the dismal weather that alternated between dry and rainy days. Even if some of these elements did not aid in the construction of a semi-divine world, the collective mindset sustained their extreme optimism.
Mario and Josa soon noticed the behavior of the village. That was when Mario decided to bring a message to the town hall and, making use of the loudspeaker, pronounced the words that all were eager to hear:
“Tomorrow, at four in the afternoon, from the balcony of this town hall, the son of God will be revealed!”
Behind the oldest and infirm walked the children, the most faithful, and, at the end, the ordinary townspeople.
Unlike the day of the birth, there was no unrest, only the songs of praise with the name “Lucio” inserted roughshod where there had once been a “Jesus Christ.”
Each of them, tilting like the plaster sheep that were once used in the depictions of the first birth, raised their heads towards the balcony where, in a few minutes, the acclaimed child God would come forth.
There was a pause in breathing and a certain agitation among the crowd when a silhouette appeared behind the curtains on the balcony, until the figure became clear. It was only the midwife, coming out slowly and bowing timidly to the crowd.
“A miracle has occurred! As you all know, our Messiah is only a few months old, but he can already talk. A moment ago, he said, ‘Mom, Dad, I want to go see them!’”
Again there was an uproar, and those who fainted did so before Lucio appeared, because nobody wanted their unconsciousness to deny them the joy of meeting the Messiah.
The whole world recited the three syllables of the little one in chorus.
The clock struck a quarter past four in the evening and the unmistakable silhouettes of Mario and Josa, baby in tow, began to form on the curtains.
Applause, shouting, singing and weeping made for an auditory cocktail that seemed to have sprung from the depths of hell. The scene was grotesquely reflected in each individual’s facial expression, forming a gaping mass of eyes and mouths. The parents, disgusted, observed a single heap of flesh, and felt as though they were gazing upon a demon incarnate.
Appalled, Josa took a step back, attempting to leave and hide with her son. Mario saw his wife’s movements out of the corner of his eye and had the same thought: flee. But a giggle from Lucio overcame his parents’ plans.
Mario, without further reflection, picked up his son and raised him up like a trophy. Once again the screams and excitement of the public had to be squashed by the hoarse voice of that same authoritative man:
“Enough! I will ask the questions; if someone wishes to speak to him, he can come and whisper it in my ear. Then I will tell him with my own voice!”
Mario held up Lucio a little higher, as a gesture of kindness that showed the offering of his son to the people. Then, all were silent.
“We will not ask questions now, Lucio. May your first words be your will only.”
“I am hungry and thirsty.”
“Messiah, redeemer, soon we will satiate your human needs. Simply give us words of hope that we so need”
“I have a question,” said Lucio with a toothless smile.
“Whatever you ask, Lord.”
“Why do you call me Messiah, and why all this commotion?”
“Because you are our savior, the son of god.”
“You are mistaken, that was my brother, he was with me in there. I am the other one.”
The outcry began like an enormous yawn. Josa and Mario, who carried the child in their trembling hands, turned, terrified, to look at Lucio, who displayed a giant grin to the horrified audience. Silence returned, sad and disappointing, and the man with the hoarse voice interjected to ask the sole and final question, but now his voice, rather than strident and imperious, was a hopeless echo.
“If you are not the Messiah and you say that you accompanied him, why was he not born with you?”
Before responding, Lucio let out a brief chuckle; he then smiled, again showing his lack of teeth.
“I ate him. As you all know, there’s not much space in the womb, and he liked to move and stretch too much.”
There are no fitting words to describe the terror let loose after hearing Lucio’s statements. The village turned against the evil brother. Even though Josa and Mario were aware of the direness of the situation, they still chose to protect him; in the end, it was their son. But such was the dismay in the village that, instead of setting the stake, sharpening the guillotine or preparing the gallows, they merely decided to banish Lucio and his family.
Leaning out of their windows every torrid night, walking crestfallen and with hurried steps past the house where he was born, their prayers hardly rising above a whisper in the church, the village remained, awaiting their own extinction. At least, to console themselves, they had received a new symbol: that of the nameless and unborn savior. After the scarceness of their days, humanity disappeared while worshiping the image of one fetus swallowing another.
About the Author
Joselo G. Ramos is an author from Zacatecas, Mexico who writes fiction and essays. His work has been featured in the magazines Punto en Línea, La Soldadera, ACultura, Círculo de Poesía, Efecto Antabus, Revista Marabunta, and El Guardatextos. He received a scholarship for the “Interface Festival” in Monterrey in 2017, and he is a member of the literary workshop “Los Hijos de Alicia.” He has published two books: Más Inquietante (Hijos de Alicia) and Mal Viento (Taberna Literaria).
About the Translator
Tyler Gebauer is a freelance literary translator from Spanish to English who has translated for organizations and writers based out of Chicago, Mexico City, Bolivia, and El Salvador. He graduated from Carleton College with a BA in Classical Languages, and Loyola University Chicago with an MA in Spanish Language. You can find him online at www.linkedin.com/in/tyler-gebauer-1992n.”