Chastisement By The Lambs
According to very diverse -- and always very reliable -- sources, the 'Chastisement by the Lambs' is becoming increasingly common in several parts of Buenos Aires and the surrounding area.
All reports agree in their description of the Chastisement: suddenly, fifty white lambs appear -- you could say 'out of the blue' -- and immediately charge towards their victim, obviously chosen beforehand. In a few short seconds they devour the person, leaving only a skeleton. As suddenly as they arrived, they then disperse -- and pity anyone who tries to block their escape! Many fatal cases were recorded early on, before prospective heroes learned from the fate of their predecessors. These days, no one dares oppose the Chastisement.
There is little point in going into the details of the phenomenon -- everybody is largely aware of the facts thanks to the media, and photographic and video documentation is widely available. Nevertheless, the majority of people are worried by the Chastisement and its consequences. The majority of people, however, are simple, they lack education and the power of reflection, and their concern is limited to a desire that the Chastisement did not exist. Of course, this desire does not put an end to the Chastisement and certainly does not help to determine its causes or raison d'être.
These people's basic mistake is that, as immersed as they are in the facts of the Chastisement itself, they have forgotten the victims. During, say, the first one hundred executions, what kept me awake at night was the irrefutable existence of lambs that were not only carnivores but predators -- and of human flesh at that. Later, however, I observed that by concentrating on those details I had been neglecting something essential: the victims' personality.
So I began investigating the lives of the deceased. Borrowing my methodology from sociologists, I started with the most elementary: the socio-economic data. Statistics turned out to be useless, the victims came from all social and economic strata.
I decided to change the focus of my investigation. I searched for friends and relatives and eventually managed to extract the pertinent information from them. Their statements were varied and sometimes contradictory, but gradually I began to hear a certain type of phrase more and more frequently: "Let the poor man rest in peace, but the truth is that ..."
I had a sudden and almost irresistible insight into the situation and was almost completely sure of my germinal hypothesis the day the Chastising Lambs devoured my prosperous neighbour, Dr. P.R.V., the same person in whose office ... but I will come to that.
In an absolutely natural way, P.R.V.'s case lead me to the definitive understanding of the enigma.
The truth is, I hated Nefario -- and while I would not want the base passion of my hate to pollute the cold objectivity of this report, nonetheless, in order to provide a full explanation of the phenomenon, I feel obliged to allow myself a digression of a personal nature. Although it may not interest anyone, this diversion is essential -- as long as I am believed -- for people to judge the veracity of my hypothesis concerning the conditions necessary to trigger the Chastisement by the Lambs.
Here is the digression:
The fact is, the climax of the Chastisement coincided with a lugubrious period in my life. Troubled by poverty, by disorientation, by grief, I felt I was at the bottom of a deep, dark well, and incapable of imagining any way out. That is how I felt.
Nefario meanwhile ... well, as they say, life smiled at him, and naturally so since the only objective of his wicked existence was money. That was his only concern -- earning money -- money for itself -- and toward this holy purpose he concentrated all his merciless energy without regard for others. Needless to say, he was overwhelmingly successful. Nefario truly was what you would call a 'winner'.
At that time -- I have already said this -- I found myself in a very needy situation. It is so easy to take advantage of anyone who is suffering! Nefario -- that greedy vulture who had never read a book -- was an editor. For want of better things to do, I used to undertake some translation and proofreading jobs for him. Nefario not only paid me a pittance but also took pleasure in humiliating me with excuses and delays.
(Suffering abuse and failure was already part of my persona, and I was resigned to them.)
When I delivered to him my latest batch of work -- an awkward and hideous translation -- Nefario, as on so many other occasions, said to me:
"Unfortunately, I am unable to pay you today. Haven't got a penny."
He told me this while in his lavish office, well dressed, smelling of perfume and with a smile on his face. And of course, as a 'winner'. I thought of my cracked shoes, my worn clothes, my family's urgent needs, my burden of pain. With effort, I said:
"And when do you think ...?"
"Let's do this," his tone was optimistic and protective, as if he were trying to help me. "I can't do this Saturday, because I am taking a short break on the Rio beaches. But the following one, around eleven in the morning, come to my house and we will settle this little account."
He shook my hand cordially and gave me a friendly and encouraging pat on the shoulder.
A fortnight went by. The yearned-for Saturday arrived, and so did I at the beautiful Once De Septiembre Street. The green of the trees, the smell of vegetation, the radiance of the sky and the beauty of the district all made me feel even more desolate.
At five past eleven I rang the bell.
"The master is resting," I was told by a maid in uniform.
I hesitated a moment and said:
"And the lady of the house?"
"Who is it, Rosa?" I heard someone ask.
"It's me, madam." I raised my voice, clinging to the possibility: "Is mister Nefario at home?"
Rosa went inside and was replaced by the cosmetic-covered face of Nefario's wife. In a tone that reminded me of a heavy, cigar-smoking tycoon, she enquired:
"Haven't you been told that the master is taking his rest?"
"Yes, madam, but we had an appointment at eleven ..."
"Yes, but he is resting just now," she replied in an unappealable manner.
"Might he have left something for me?" I asked stupidly, as if I did not know Nefario!
"But we had an appointment at ..."
"I am telling you, he did not leave anything, sir. Please don't be annoying, sir."
At that moment I heard a jabbering, bleating sound and witnessed the arrival of the Chastisement by the Lambs. I moved to one side and, so as to be more secure, climbed the fence, although my conscience told me that the Chastisement was not searching for me. Like a tornado, the lambs burst into the front garden and, before the last ones could arrive, those in the lead were already inside the house.
In a few seconds, like a drain swallowing water from a sink, Nefario's door absorbed all the animals, leaving the garden trampled, the plants destroyed.
Through an exquisitely designed window, Mrs. Nefario appeared:
"Come, sir, come!" she pleaded tearfully, her face congested. Please help us, sir!
Out of a certain sense of curiosity I went in. I saw the furniture overturned, mirrors broken. I could not see the lambs.
"They are upstairs!" I was informed by Mrs. Nefario as she pulled me in the direction of the danger. "They are in our room! Do something, don't be a coward, behave like a man!"
I managed to resist, firmly. Nothing could be more against my principles than to oppose the Chastisement by the Lambs. A confused cacophony of hooves could be heard coming from upstairs. The round, woolly backs could be seen shaking happily, accompanied by some forceful movements aimed at an unseen object within the mass. For one fleeting moment, I perceived Nefario; it was only for a second: dishevelled and horrified, he shouted something and tried to attack the lambs with a chair. However, he soon sunk into the white, curly wools like someone violently swallowed by quicksand. There was another centrical commotion and the growing noise of jaws tearing and crushing, and every now and then the thin, sharp noise of a bone being cracked. Their first withdrawal manoeuvres told me that the lambs had accomplished their task and soon after the little animals started their swift descent of the stairs. I could see some bloodstains in the otherwise unpolluted whiteness of their wool.
Curiously, that blood -- to me a symbol of ethical affirmation -- caused Mrs. Nefario to loose all reason. Still addressing me with tearful insults and telling me that I was a coward, she irrupted in the living room with a large knife in her hands. As I knew very well the fate of those who attempted to obstruct the Chastisement by the Lambs, I respectfully remained in the background while observing the short and remarkable spectacle of the dismemberment and ingestion of Mrs. Nefario. Afterwards, the fifty lambs reached 11 De Septiembre Street and, as on many other occasions, they escaped by dispersing into the city.
Rosa -- I do not know why -- seemed a little impressed. I called out a few comforting words to her before, free of hate, saying good-bye to the girl with a smile.
It is true: I had not and would not manage to obtain from Nefario the payment for that awkward and hideous translation. Nevertheless, the green of the trees, the smell of vegetation, the radiance of the sky and the beauty of the district filled my heart with joy. I started to sing.
I knew then that the dark well into which I had sunk was beginning to be lit up with the first rays of hope.
Chastisement by the Lambs: I thank you.