No one could imagine that one day Peyto would grow old. If he didn’t work or make an effort, or shrink from worries. The stress passed him by. Otherwise, he ate little. His daily bread was an odyssey. Sweet fire the oven that made it the indulgent hands of charity.
He was no ordinary beggar. However, more to ask would suggest. He visited the houses without embarrassment imploring with a look, with a gesture, because he did not articulate his words well. He warned, and accepted any looseness of commiseration. A crust of bread, a coin. That which was enough to help drag the heavy existence of him.
From a very young age, poliomyelitis distorted his speech, his hands and his feet, which is like saying his future. He walked unbalanced: a little stiff, a little lopsided. He seemed in constant conflict with the whims of gravity.
In some soft corner he must have snuggled his fatigue to dock every night at the station of sleep. The physical sleep, the lethargy, because Peyto lived without illusions. His world was far from the daily beat. All social circles were closed to any pretense, which in him did not exist, nor could there exist. A woman’s entrance into the circle of his fantasies was rendered useless.
He was a patient trapped and lost in his own labyrinth, of which he did not know doors and corridors. That’s why his routine was walking, always walking. Road without origin, without arrival. Walking, walking, endless surface of a sphere. He must have been very hurt by his condition. He was trying to work. He sometimes walked with the hoe on his shoulder displaying, with a dignified flag, a sign of renunciation of begging; as if to say: – Look, I want to earn my bread with the worthy sweat of the one who toils.
He weeded patios, tried a conuco and planted some fruit on the land of Doña Caridad, one of his protectors. His effort was vain, but his laboring idleness was clean: pure, naive, innocent.
By whim to annoyance, the naughty children bothered him and made him angry. They humiliated him by shouting “stick legs”, “ginger leg”. They made fun of his defects and attacked his sensitivity, disturbing his sad calm. It seemed a moral theft to trade compassion for foolishness.
Sometimes Peyto reacted, trying to chase them and throwing stones at them. But this disabled person was a testament to peace. Rancor did not nest in the fronds of his breath. He never offended. Soul of rose and heart of cloud; his hands could not fly, but they had the vocation of butterflies: fragile, weak, disoriented, defenseless.
In those years of youth, for many of us the future was a vague, unprecedented, insecure hope. Each day seemed like a miniature horizon, a piece of becoming under construction. Unknown path from which we barely had a starting point.
Peyto lived without hope, without a future, without a future. His circular path did not distinguish calendars, seasons or changes. His life was a chain link to routine. He lived eternity his way. Every day was the same.
In random wanderings, sniffing out his prey, Peyto sensed safe targets. The convent of the Gray Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, which housed some eight nuns who came on mission to Yamasá, was one of these.
In a way, these sisters were a living example of some Mendicant Order: they had taken vows of poverty. And nothing better than a poor person to understand the urgency of the beggar. Sister Susana, persistent compassionate hand, asked Peyto one day:
– And how will you do when we are no longer with us?
Peyto, like an expert theologian, without hiding his gesture of sadness and astonishment, replied:
-Then we will eat glory.
The nun could never escape the memory of that unexpected response that did not seem possible to come from a helpless and truncated intelligence. Accustomed to despair, he perhaps came to conceive, albeit dimly, that eventuality and sought a refuge in a weightless future that only had a shoe in the wisps of smoke of a transcendent spirituality learned by heart at mass.
It is impossible to recreate the history of a town without including its recognized, loved, admired characters. Those who put their seal of indelible identity in the imagination of their community.
Anthropological needs of collective memory, identity remembrances without which all history limps, it is incomplete.
In Yamasá, Cirico and Pirula were famous, two garbage collectors, employees of the city council, whose dedication and zeal in their work were celebrated with the widest recognition by the entire population.
Despite the miserable salary they received, they exhibited a disposition and joy unbecoming of their condition.
Some families compensated for their attitude by giving something away, but that was not the reason for their commitment, because with or without a gift, Cirico and Pirula enjoyed such a good reputation that people saw that unhygienic job as if it were an office job.
The two of them knew that their lives depended on that positive disposition and they assumed it with admirable integrity. So much so, that the unjust cancellation of Cirico, just because his son publicly joined another party contrary to the government of the day, ended up plunging him into such deep misery that it led him to sterile suicide.
For the people, the dignity of those two men counted more than the work itself.
Those recognitions were the other gain, the lasting one, the one that is lost in the shadow of time, but lives on the path of history if it can be collected, recreated, willed.
Those lives, those examples, however, were ephemeral.
Peyto was a long trajectory, a permanent presence, a life. His mother, Micaela, in whose care he was, was a poor laundress. Since he was able to get up and take dark notion of his handicapped condition, he took refuge in the dubious cast of charity and freed his mother from the burden she represented.
In a small town this is a difficult challenge, but it can be assumed that Peyto never went to bed without a meal and probably always brought his mother some of the coins he earned from his daily work as a beggar.
Somehow the kind hands were wanting him, internalizing him, loving him as one of their own. A need for spirituality challenged by the call of one of the theological virtues. But Peyto became a creditor of great affection, in addition, for his presence at the wakes and the parties of the majá (solidarity treats of the peasants to grind their rice).
Frequent guest of the sad mourners, he never missed a wake.
Therefore, his wanderings, his permanence, his influence, place him among the intangible values that identity treasures and whose memory rolls in the popular imagination asking to be rescued.
The only Tribute.
“One night respect
came down and put a beautiful crown on you
respect of mortals
that death finally made you a person”
The bells tolled that afternoon with a funereal touch. In the serene and dismayed environment a solemn silence crowded. A giant procession of sorrowful souls gathered around the summoning pain. The sorrowful faces said, without saying, how big the sadness was.
The streets were floods of grown silence while all the spaces became small.
Twenty cathedrals would have been needed to house half of the faithful who aspired
the last sublime gesture of charity: to give, at least, a look of afflicted love to the disfigured recumbent body.
His life had been a tragedy, the last day his cruelest torment. His hands did not know how to defend him from the fire that consumed his modest house. He burned to death.
After the mass, the silent, massive march towards the Campo Santo was prepared.
Suddenly the crowd noticed an unusual gesture: at the head of the procession would march the building authorities, religious, firefighters, a uniformed school representation.
The music band would perform funeral marches to the final resting place.
Peyto was an institution, an emblem, an icon of the people. That was the subtle message of that crowd.
Nobody had aroused so much sympathy for the cause of a last goodbye. Peyto couldn’t see him, the only tribute to his existence found him asleep forever. But the echo of him echoed through time to the ear of the eternal.
The hasty march of the days, with their load of daily urgencies, prevents us from anticipating the foreseeable emptiness that the farewell of a living effigy could leave. That was him.
His wanderings, his permanence, his roots, place him among the intangible values of popular roots that the identity treasures whose memory must be preserved as a heritage for future generations.
If Colombia has in Francisco el Hombre an immortal minstrel from the Caribbean coast who defeated the devil in a difficult accordion duel.
If Havana exhibits in a bronze statue José Ma. López Lledín, The Knight of Paris, the most famous globetrotter of that mythical capital;
Yamasá has its historical icon of small-town folklore, the tireless walker, the hustle and bustle of the sphere behind the great utopia: the daily fight for the right to live