“Was Carlos who brought us the life jackets that evening?” “No, it was Juan who gave them to us. Carlos’d already disappeared by then.” “Strange, I wrote his name down in my diary. Here it says that Carlos and Federico joined us in the boat.” “No, Carlos left to the village in the afternoon to fetch the provisions. He gave them to Juan and told him that he’d return only after sunset. He’d to stay at the village to contact the rescue team and inform that we were crossing the river that night. We’d lost all contact with him after Juan returned.” “But I was so sure that Carlos was with us. He fell in the water when our boat hit a rock after all.” “No dear, that happened with Federico.” “Now you are wrong, Federico didn’t know how to swim! It was Carlos because I remember him swimming back to the boat. I tried to pull him out of the water but I let his hand go when the boat hit the second rock.” “Actually it was Federico who couldn’t swim. He managed to float because of the life jacket so we steered the boat towards him. You tried to pull him out but the current dragged him away.” The man hesitantly raised his sunglass above his eyes to search in that diary any information that could contest her claims. “Also, our boat didn’t hit another rock,” she added. “Federico fell in the water while trying to remove one of the oars that got stuck in the rocks. We hit the rock a little before that.” “Come on, do you remember when we lost our lantern? It happened exactly at that moment. With the second shock the lantern fell in the water and I lost Carlos.” “No dear, after Federico’s disappearance you tried to search for him and ended up dropping the lantern in the water.” A heavy silence fell in between them; they both knew how difficult it was to revisit the past. They sat back to back, the only way they could revisit that event. In between them there was a wall made of those memories. Invisible to the eyes, ruthless to the sense of touch.
The man inspected his diary one more time. He found there a chaotic jumble of annotations. Entries didn’t progress in an orderly manner; some days had extensive descriptions while others had random sentences or were even left in blank. He started that diary as a memoir for the article he wanted to write about the Colombian civil conflict once they returned to Bogotá. However, the village they were volunteering was assaulted by FARC’s militias so they had to seek refuge in the forest. His writing severely degraded after that. For some reason the entry of the village attack only had names registered. There he found two unknown names. “Strange, who are José and Maria?” “Dear, check the backside of this page.” He followed her instruction and found there more annotations. They were clearly added sometime after the original entry, they had no curves of fear. “But I thought the owners of the cottage we were called Camilo and Valentina.” “No sweetheart, Camilo was the villager who found our boat. We met no Valentina.” The man inspected that page and found several names crossed out. “So there was no Valentina then?” “No, Camilo was alone when he found us. We hid inside his truck while we moved to the next village.” He decided to trust that information and thus crossed out the name Valentina. So many names were inserted and crossed out in that diary throughout the years; people he’d actually met and people who only visited his dreams. The wall in between them grew rougher, its bricks of memories became sharp like thorns. The woman realized their threat so she gently rubbed her back against his to shrug them off of their wall. The man appreciated that act.
“Why Juan’s name isn’t crossed out?” he hesitantly asked. This time she didn’t reply immediately. She was searching for the manuscript of a story she wasn’t sure she could retell anymore. After a deep breath she dug out the right memories to relive. “After we got the provisions from Juan he decided to reach the base in the other village through the road. He knew it was unlikely for the rescue team to get Carlos’ message on time so he wanted to make sure someone would receive us on the other side of the river. He thought the militia wouldn’t come that day anymore so…” “But the rescue team didn’t come,” he abruptly interrupted. “Exactly, Camilo found our boat when he came to fish early in the morning. We asked him about the conditions of the roads and if he had seen someone who looked like Juan but…” “But when did the shooting start?” he interrupted again. There were some critical developments she hadn’t covered yet but she was glad she could jump them this time. “It began a while after we entered the road. Camilo said that the militia used to ambush travelers at the abandoned village so he left us at an old house by its entrance to check out things first. He warned us to remain vigilant so you stayed in front of the stoned fence that surrounded the house to watch out for the road. I stayed at the opposite side of where you were, checking any movements in the backyard. You covered my blind spot and I yours. It was at that time that we heard the shotguns. What happened right after I don’t know, I just remember crouching against the wall and covering my head with my hands. When the shooting stopped I called your name but you didn’t reply. I stood up to check the other side of the fence and I found you right below my nose, crouching against the wall like I did. However, you didn’t try to protect your head, you just stayed there staring at the road. I touched your head and called you again but you didn’t respond. It was only when I crossed the fence and came to your side that I saw you were in that catatonic state.” The woman took another deep breath and tried to find the words that could bring that story ahead. The man noticed her struggle. “I’m sorry that I can’t remember well things from those days.” “Don’t be, it’s better to focus on what we learned with them.” “Do you think this peace deal will really work for Colombia?” “I do honey, both sides are tired of fighting.” “Maybe the time for forgiveness has finally come” he conceded. A cool breeze blew in to soothe their hearts, bringing with it a scent of restoration. That stoned fence that once witnessed their horrors still bridged their past with their present, but they knew that time was able to soften its surface and let the seeds of peace also lay roots in their hearts.
This story is a collaboration between Those Thousand Words and Just Peace Festival, an event hosted by the city of The Hague to celebrate the International Day of Peace. Click on the picture to visit its homepage for more information.