Every time I look at my face in the mirror, I think that I cannot remember my Uncle Hector’s face. What was his nose like? What color were his eyes? Did he have scars from his fights with crocodiles in the Amazon River? The last time I remember his presence, the sun awoke like a big eye among the clouds. In my memory of that Sunday, the yellow flowers of my mama’s dress, the bench at the Evangelical church, the Pastor Venur in a suit, and my papa’s striped shirt stay in my mind, but my uncle has a black hole over his face. He has no eyes, no mouth, no nothing.
That morning the rain fell on our town of Leticia, not too heavy, illuminated by the sun. My mama told me that God was crying that Sunday.
“A drop here and a drop there, in a sunny day. This rain is God’s tears for the suffering of humankind.” Mama sent me to the kitchen for pots to save the water. “Sacred water,” she said. I tried to lift the biggest of the pots.
“Manolo! You’re always exaggerating. Not that one, it’s too big. That’s the same size as the ones used for the army’s kitchen,” she said, nodding toward the edge of town, where the green forests eat the houses, the trucks, electrical poles, even the soldiers in camouflage.
I thought she saved the water for drinking, but no, she sprinkled the water around the house, praying all the time. When I asked mama why we could not take showers with that water, she said, “It is sacred, and shut up!” We always run out of water, but that’s not a big problem. I always swim in the house’s tank near the school where I can even catch tiny fishes with my hands. When I came from Bogotá, I used to sweat a lot. I was wet all the time. Now it’s not that bad. I think it’s because I wash my face more often, being careful not to swallow water. Don’t wanna catch diarrhea. I like to see the reflection of my wet face in the mirror.
My mama says that this dimpled chin makes me handsome like my papa. Did my Uncle Hector have the same chin? The more I look in the mirror, the less I can remember. If at least I could be sure of this chin, I could draw his face. I want to splash more water on my head. I have sweated at lot and I need to feel fresher. My eyes look like those lakes in the forest covered with leaves. I’m going to play soccer again before the electricity goes off at 6:00 p.m. Mama misses the TV soap opera that she used to watch in Bogotá every day at 8:00 p.m. In Bogotá, the city I came from, we had TV until midnight.
I have done homework for math and bio. For drawing class I painted already the faces of my mama, my papa, and little brother; the only one missing is my Uncle Hector. Tomorrow is Saturday and I do not have to go to school. I do not understand how I cannot remember my uncle’s mouth, but I can remember how every Saturday we sat on the porch fanning away mosquitoes and listening to him. He always had a story to tell. How the pink dolphins steal women from the shore of the Amazon River to marry them. The tale of the naked tree that holds thousands of parrots. Behind the tree, a kingdom lay. If you cross the tree, you can never come back to town. In that kingdom humans work for the parrots, translating human language into colors.
“Why?” I asked my uncle.
“Because parrots can talk, but they cannot understand if they do not see a color. So, in that world, the colors abound more than words.”
When I asked him about the location of the tree, he pointed toward the airport—the only way anyone can come here. Well, the Indians also come by canoe. And we have big boats, too, that make waves in the water. But most people come by plane, once a week. My papa sometimes takes me there and I look for the parrots’ tree behind the airport.
I wonder if this town, Leticia, could be the parrots’ kingdom because of the colors of the flowers and the huge green leaves of the giant water lilies that hold three people without sinking. Here, it’s very different from Bogotá. The heat increases by the hour, by the minute even, and taking four showers a day will not stop clothes from sticking to the skin. Bogotá had white churches and gray avenues, small flowers, the violets, and pensamientos, the fog every morning with hot chocolate. In Bogotà my mama was always praying to El Divino Niño del 20 de Julio. I miss the Catholic church. I felt big when I joined the line and the father gave me the sacred communion.
We stopped going to mass because here, in Leticia, Papa said so. I think he also forbade my uncle from going to the Catholic church. When my papa would tell him to go to the Sunday school, my uncle would wrinkle his nose, putting two of his fingers inside his nostrils. I can do what he did, but I cannot remember the shape of his nose or the color of his skin. Was he white as me, pearl-colored, as my mama tells me I am?
That Sunday, the last day I saw my uncle, we crossed the International Avenue and went into the dusty street where the chapel is, right there behind the cathedral. I am not sure if my uncle was with us or not. I think after the sermon Pastor Venur shook my papa’s and mama’s hands, but he left my uncle with his hand hanging. I think. The pastor’s eyebrows wrinkled like devil’s eyes on Halloween, but the face of my uncle is dark. Or sometimes, his face takes the shape of a horse’s face. Well, the pastor took my papa to the side to talk about business because the Pastor Venur is my papa’s partner at the store.
My papa moved here two years ago and started a merchandise store, Regalía, near the harbor. He travels back and forth to Bogotà and brings a lot of things for the store like jeans, appliances, and notebooks. Four months ago he made us pack our things, even though my mama cried because she did not want to come here. I could see the forest from the airplane, an endless green carpet with the Amazon River like a huge brown snake wriggling across the trees. I had my eyes pasted to the window, waiting for the plane to turn and show one more time the forest, when my mama reminded me that I was going to meet my Uncle Hector. I had seen him in pictures before, but my mama cut the photos and now all those pictures have holes in place of his face. It seems like she does not like my uncle’s face no more. When I arch my right eyebrow, she yells, “Don’t do it! You look like your uncle!” But I like to arch my eyebrow. It is cool and sometimes I do it in front of the mirror to see if I can remember my uncle’s face.
I am not sure if the last Sunday that I saw my uncle he had lunch with us. Our table was round. Mama sat on my left, next my little brother who did not want to eat, then my papa. So, if my uncle was there, he would have been on my right. But when I try to place the eyes of my mind on him, I cannot look in that direction. I am sure that later he stayed in his bedroom at the end of the house. I think that if he would have had lunch with us that day, he would have told us a story, maybe not. Let me see: my uncle never sat at our table for lunch or for dinner. No, he might have eaten with us sometimes. Everything is dark. For that Sunday’s lunch we ate salad and pink gamitana with farofa that mama got from the Brazilian store across the border. One thing that is clear to me is my papa’s anger. He complained about my uncle, “He never shows up to work and he always has a story, an excuse,” he said. “It is unspeakable what he did at the church. He is a demon.”
Our daily job was to kill the flies after lunch and before Papa went to his store. But on Sundays Papa took more time doing this. We never withdrew from that battle, but we never won. My papa told me the flies have eyes around their whole bodies, so they can see us from any angle. The flies are black but shine with green light. I think the green lights are their eyes. We caught them in our fists, interrupting their acrobatic flights, and shook them like a maraca, then threw them against the floor. Quickly, our feet finished them off.
My uncle said to my papa, “The flies come back because they need to see their mate’s death. When one of them is dead, they think that they are going to die, too. So they will lay one thousand eggs in the place where a fly died.”
My papa laughed that off, but my Uncle Hector clearly knew what he was saying. He was younger than my papa, but he had come here more than ten years ago, when he was fourteen.
The giant flies, the ones the size of a rosebud, are the most dangerous. When you try to catch them, they don’t fly away. They come straight at your eyes like a bullet.
“They like to pee in your eyes. If they pee you will never see the world as you knew it,” said my uncle one day during the daily bug combat. Well, I am not sure. Anyway, my uncle told me that flies can see more than humans. Dogs see less than humans; they only see in black and white. Parrots see in more colors, but flies do not only see more colors, but other worlds as well—what is behind the stars and what is behind the eyes of the moon.
“That’s why horses cannot survive here in the rainf orest. They see everything bigger than it really is,” he would say.
“But everything is giant here, wine-colored ants the size of my thumb,” I replied.
“You have not seen anything. In the middle of the jungle, everything is really giant there,” he added.
Uncle Hector also told me that if one day I camped in the forest, I had to be careful with my words.
“Thoughts stay as thoughts, but if I say a word, it turns into a giant creature. That’s why the nine mine explorers who went up to the Putumayo River were all found murdered days later.”
The day before the expedition, they got crazy for the blond women who had arrived in a floating house. I had never seen a house like that, a boathouse with a porch and roof. Well, the miners drank in that house. I saw men paying to get in and blond women with red lipstick waved, greeting people from afar. My uncle told the miners not to talk about women in the jungle.
“They did not listen to me. All of them were found strangled with a huge rope of blond hair,” he said.
If I go to the jungle one day, I will keep my mouth shut like the Indians who come here and never say a word. But I am so puzzled about something: How can I remember my uncle’s words, but not his face?
As I said, I’ve not seen my uncle since that Sunday. We crossed International Avenue and Pastor Venur greeted us at the chapel’s door. I don’t think I saw him that Sunday. He was locked inside his room, wasn’t he? The Friday before that Sunday, he went to the church, but he did not sit with us.
Pastor Venur was preaching while knocking on the pulpit. “Jesus is not going to warn you. Are you going to be ready? At any moment, Jesus and His army will fly in the sky for His sons and daughters. If you are in sin, if you are not ready, you are going to stay in tribulation.” The pastor moved his hands and looked up, repeating by memory, “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him.” He added, “Watch, therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning. You will listen to His trumpet.”
The light went off at that moment and the sound of a trumpet thundered. I closed my eyes and I implored God with all my strength. My mama hugged my little brother and me, crying. I heard all the people from the church screaming, but I did not dare open my eyes. In my mind the bugs grew bigger than I had ever seen them. The flies also had long blond hair like a woman, with teeth that bite. My breath slowed down when the light came back. I opened my eyes and I could see the pastor grasping my uncle’s arm, shaking him. My uncle had his head bent and in his right hand held a trumpet. I remember the trumpet and Pastor Venur’s angry face. I remember the laughs of the congregation, but not my uncle’s face, nor the color of his eyes.
That Sunday, after it stopped raining—or God stopped crying, as my mama says—the guy from across the street invited me to go to the lake. I didn’t go. I was scared, and still I am scared to go there. I had, and I still have, pimples on my back. Piranhas cannot see, but they can smell blood and devour a person in minutes. There wouldn’t be a chance to make it; thousands of piranhas would come to eat me if I had the littlest spot of blood. My uncle told me. But when did he tell me that? It was a Saturday night like always. His voice is there, his skinny body, but not his face.
Since my uncle did not tell us a story on the last Saturday night, I expected to see him Sunday. But he remained sleeping all day, locked in his bedroom, the last door at the end of the hallway. Yes, in that house we had my mama and papa’s bedroom, next, without a door, my little brother’s, followed by the kitchen, my bedroom, and one more bedroom, my uncle’s.
My mama did not doze off that Sunday afternoon because she had visitors. She poured the sacred water—God’s tears—in each corner of the house. The honey paper strips, fly traps, jam-packed the garbage can. We hung new ones.
“Mama, why did God cry today?” I asked.
“Because the devil has a soul in his hands, but he is going to be liberated,” she said, raising her hands with palms facing up.
Later on people from the church dropped by, like flies, watching everything. Around 6:00 p.m., Pastor Venur told my mama, “Be sure the children go to sleep. The demons can filter through their eyes.” Clapping, she sent us to bed. They put my little brother next to me. My mama kneeled at the edge and prayed. The croak of the frogs followed up the prayers. The pastor’s voice boomed and I opened my eyes and my mama yelled at me, “Go to sleep, now!” I pretended to be sleeping. My little brother snored next to me.
Women’s voices were near my bedroom, while the men’s voices were near my uncle’s bedroom. I think women were separated from men. The pastor’s voice went loud:
“Who are you? For Christ’s sake, I asked you who you are!”
A raspy voice came from my uncle’s bedroom. “My name is Setebos!”
“Setebos, why are you torturing this man?” the pastor asked.
All the house remained in silence and waited for the answer.
“Setebos, why are you torturing this man? I ask you in the name of God’s Son.”
I heard the raspy voice again. “My name is not Setebos!”
“Jesus!” the pastor shouted. “You said that your name is Setebos.”
“I lied…Ha, ha, ha!”
I listened to the different names of the demon, names of men and women, and the voices of the men and women in prayer. All of this became a drop of water, the sound of a drop of water in my mind. And I dreamed about my uncle.
“Manolo,” he said to me. Faceless, he stood up on a rock. From that rock the Amazon River came down.
“Look under that tree. I buried a guaca, an Indian treasure there. There is not only gold and jewelry in this guaca, but also a secret word, a word that means everything because it has all the colors from the parrots’ kingdom. The devil himself watches over that guaca, but only you can come here to get it. Come, come, come,” he said, as he waved his hand at me. His voice vanished in silence, and the silence woke me up.
Everything was silent, I couldn’t hear croaks, nor prayers, nor the pastor’s voice. I opened my eyes and my mama was sleeping on her knees at the edge of my bed. At that moment, a long wolflike howl escaped from my uncle’s bedroom. My mama jumped and put her right hand over my brother’s eyes. I closed my own with all my might. My eyes itched as if a fly had peed on my eyes and I heard my mama repeating, “Oh my God.”
My little brother woke up and cried as the thunderous pastor’s voice shouted, “Alleluia!”
I did not go to school the next day. Mama let us sleep until eleven, but I don’t remember seeing my uncle at home. The day after that, I went to school and my classmates talked about the wolf they heard from my house on Sunday night. I lied and told them I didn’t know anything.
On my way back home, I did not take my regular way, the straight walk along the International Avenue. People were running to see a motorcycle accident there, and I wanted to avoid the crowd. I took a shortcut around the airport,walking along empty streets and dusty small pathways with bushes full of spider webs. From afar, among the brushwood, a colorful tree with each leaf a different hue was shining. Close up, I knew it was the tree full of parrots that my uncle had told me about. I ran away. I ran and I don’t remember when I got home. I was in bed when the doctor talked to my mama.
“It is nothing serious, doña. He will have a fever for a couple more days. It is normal. His swollen eyes will come down with the fever. It is a common disease around here. People call it ‘The Chinese Eyes.’ There is nothing I can do, but it is not serious anyway.”
I think it was during those days that I heard it was my uncle that had died in the motorcycle accident. I don’t remember attending his funeral.
The other day an Indian girl walked along the river and a wave of water enveloped her. It was like the sea, but it turned out to be a pink dolphin that caught her and pulled her down into the river with him. Everybody looked for the girl. The town wondered endlessly at her whereabouts, but I kept my mouth shut.
I never ask about my uncle. Nobody says anything about him, not even a single word. Neither pictures nor clothes are left. I cannot see his bedroom because we have moved from that house. My papa lost his fight against the flies; they came back in the millions. It seems that my eyes have grown big as a horse’s, that this world has become even bigger, and like the parrots I do not even have words for it. Maybe a big bug had peed on my Uncle Hector’s eyes. Mama says that he had weird eyes. Looking at myself in the mirror, I try hard to remember my uncle’s eyes, at the very least, but I cannot. These days when I see my own eyes, I become unsure. I just can’t remember if they were always green.
 Revelations Chapter 1, 7.
 Mark Chapter 13, 35.