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Matilde Daviu



I was initiated in Jerusalem while the saints worked behind my back. The first signs surprised me lying down in a hotel in Istanbul after walking in the Topkapi Gardens. By then the rescue of the divine had become a fight between gentlemen, and I dragged my mercurial messenger’s shadow along the streets of the ancient capital of Byzantium: there where the Crusaders lost their skins four times, where flesh rotted within armor, and scimitars had stopped cutting the air. I initiated myself at the doors of the West, attached to the Mediterranean shore, looking at the coasts where the first ships sailed. I was born there, between the sea and the desert, in the free zone on the Phoenician coast.

Sunlight lengthens distances. I oriented myself by the age of those trees, which at that time were newly planted. I am again in the plaza, and I discover the ancient marble fountain and also the old walls. Nothing remains from those old houses except, perhaps, the flaking paint of a window fighting for its own existence. Now, and only now, I begin to perceive its hidden presence in this and that, and then in the word, in that one, the one that baptized me and the one I am begging for here. My memory wanders and comes back with difficulty because of my reminiscences, because of my thirst to stay. It tangles and untangles, cheats me and wanders away again across the imaginary regions that gave so much pain and pleasure to my absolute inhabitant, to my forgotten one, found again, lost but regained at the first sign as if I were my own witness that afternoon in Istanbul. I turned my youth into a frenetic search for the witness who showed up suddenly, surprising me. Only now I perceive him more powerfully because I know he is there, here, in me, within me, in this ray of light, in this sunfilled kernel of wheat inside me, in this heartbeat, in this exhalation, in this very brief pause, timeless and immeasurable.

I look out at the afternoon as if it were the dawn. Beyond this apartment window, the city spreads out without drama. Who, then, is the ascetic? The one who lives far from the world or the one who is calm in the middle of a crowd in the plaza? When my mind gets quiet, I can do everything painlessly. The interior journey is long and brief. Once I wanted to swallow the sky. What did I do or what didn’t I do? Where did I abandon the witness? Could it be he stayed behind at the crossroads to enter Sanchi or on the stone steps that lead to the river behind the Maheswari Temple? Did I find him peeking at my first tears during my visit to the master at Alandi? I found him and I lost him in Mandu, in Benares, and in Agra, and I lost him totally in the ancient market of Cairo, in the city of Caracas, and during all those years that I stayed in New York. Today I thought I had found him again for a brief moment, but . . . Had I really found the inhabitant, the only witness who speaks to me from the dream about the seized awakening?

My nostalgia was contained in the first sign and in the search for what is inside me. Does his voice breathe within me and within his voice the voice of the forest? And who can cross what, if I am only one voice crossed by beings? Reason seemed not to help much until I was surprised by the witness of my own life, while I rested on the bed of that hotel as old as an empire. You kept looking for the forbidden space, even if the presence of what seemed unnameable was reflected in the mirror in Marmara and on the verandas of the bridge of gold, on the side of the dormant barges in the port, or surprised us, in each other’s arms, behind the heavy Byzantine doors or playing in the bed of some vizier. The zero-hour announced the agony of the oil fields’ little kings. You could see them, opulent, with big bellies, dressed in linen and silk from head to toe, coming down from the Syrian hills on the border, driving black Cadillacs, and stopping in front of the Beirut Casino. Behind them, they left their harem, fountain, horse, Eden, and ruby dagger in the hands of some youth who was peeing outside the covered market in Damascus.

Translated from the Spanish by Raimundo Mora and Eugene Richie

MATILDE DAVIU is a Venezuelan writer, born in Maracaibo in 1942. Currently a professor at Universidad Metropolitana in Caracas, she teaches art and literature, especially of the New York School and the avant-garde. Her work has appeared in several journals such as Zona franca, Revista nacional de cultura, and El nacional, as well as in the short story collections Maithuna (1978) and Barbazúcar y otros relatos (1979). In the United States, translations of her stories have been published in Nimrod and many other magazines, as well as in the Anthology of Contemporary Latin American Literature (1986) and the anthology Pleasure in the Word (1993). “The Witness” is from her most recent collection of stories, El Juego infinito (Caracas: Criteria Editorial, 2005).

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