A week after her husband was cremated, lying awake on the endless expanse of bed, she spent the night terrified at the thought that she was already starting to forget his face. The prickled contours of his beard, the crow’s feet etched deep, the curious labyrinth of his ear: what she once took fore granted was now becoming the fuzzy, distant memory akin to a long gone vacation. When morning broke she took the train to Plaça Sant Jaume and sat on the terraza of a café for a very long time. The sweepers in their neon green uniforms brushed the streets clean of cigarette butts and plastic wrappers of various colors. Tourists, maps folded into shirt pockets, cameras heavy on their necks, gazed up at the City Hall and Generalitat, mouths drinking in the open blue sky. The sunlight coated the columns and caught the gleam of the statue dedicated to Jaume the Conqueror. The old lady, still nursing her cold poleo menta, avoiding the eyes of the waitress, stared at all of this with the same indifference one watches a cat lick itself clean.
Soon it was noon, and she grew hungry. She paid for her tea and walked through the middle of the plaza, which had grown more and more crowded. This is why she had moved to the suburbs, she thought grumpily as she weaved through throngs of tourists and vendors selling random toys. She was in no rush to get home, but she didn’t want to stay here, and so she was wending her way to the metro, already thinking about what she could snack on, when it happened. In midflight, its wings stretched wide, its head lifted high, the pigeon had crashed to earth not three feet away from her. It was still twitching and when she took a step back, nearly tripping over a pair of Japanese grandmothers, it spasmed one last time before resting down and dying. Here one minute, gone the next, she thought, staring at the twisted wing, the broken beak. Like her husband who was chewing a bit of ham and the next minute is lying on the floor, dead and unfeeling as ancient wood.
This was what the old lady, the boy’s grandmother, remembered as she descended in the elevator. Her grandson had been injured. Voices rose and fell as she reached the ground floor, sounding like the lost minor notes of a symphony. As she walked toward the front door and then the exit she breathed deeply and tried to shake the image of the dead bird and her dead husband from her weary mind.
The boy was staring at the ground, covering his right eye with one hand. His mother, sitting silently next to him, was rubbing his back. He was not crying. When the boy looked up and saw the old lady he stood up as if to receive her and let his hand fall. She was both relieved and appalled to see that the boy had only a bruised eye. Worse things have happened. When she stiffly embraced him and kissed his forehead she saw that it was not a bruised eye after all. The upper part of his cheek had been scraped as if he had fallen from a bicycle, and for a moment the old lady considered asking him if he had not simply taken a spill. But soon, stoically, he told them what had happened as if recounting historic events: the boys in the park had teased him, and pushed him when he tried to get out of their way. The ringleader, a gap-toothed boy of eleven, was the one that pushed the boy. He did not have the foresight to break his fall with his arms and fell sideways onto the rough asphalt. A neighbor girl saw the whole thing happen and had rushed to let them know.
The grandmother mechanically put a hand on his shoulder. Seventy-four summers, and only the cruelty of children still shocked her. They were wont to fight; this she knew from her own two sons. The one who had abandoned his family was submissive to his younger brother, and though he never instigated, he always hit back. Her other son, the one she buried in his first communion outfit, played rough starting in the womb, lashing out at her as if he knew the fate that awaited him. A year and a half apart they came, and they tore at each other’s hair and broke the other’s toy or screamed until he was blue in the face. This was not cruelty; this was what children were like.
But the thought of a boy not yet twelve, still uneven in build or beard, lifting his hand to push another child, blood boiling on the infant wound: this was what the old lady could not bear. Her throat felt dry and she motioned for the boy to sit next to his silent mother. She sat next to him and for a moment the three of them did not move or speak, each lost in their separate sacred worry.
After a moment had passed and the spring breeze had threaded leaves through the air, the boy’s mother stood up, as if she had suddenly remembered something.
It’s getting late, she said. We should put some ice on that.
The boy stood and kissed his grandmother. She did not know why, but for the first time she feared it would be for the last time. Electrified by the thought, she got on her feet. The boy was standing next to his mother, expressionless. The boy’s mother gave the old lady the two kisses and without sharing a word they walked away from her, toward their own lives and own home. She made her way up the small ramp that led back into her building. Ascending in the elevator, higher and higher toward the realm of fading memories, she thought that dying was a cruel curse placed on us all, but being forgotten about seemed far worse.