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It is grey weather when we go to see the old man in the city where he lives now. In the suburbs: low houses, streets luminous with rain, a wave of cloud tumbling down the mountains. The city’s three volcanoes seem to watch us through the window as we drink imported whisky out of small tumblers and listen to Don Jesús talk, his eyes bright with recollection. He tells us how his uncles, still tall in his memory after eighty years, had travelled the high dunes road from Mollendo that day of the maremoto, their mules laden with contraband spirits.
As he tells it, the path winds along the top of the dunes, the three brothers ride, and the sea crawls at their feet. They reach the village by the river’s mouth; the path skirts it, high above the beach. Their own house lies over on the flat land beyond. Mother, they can see, is standing in the patio pointing at the sky over the dunes, inland. She is shouting something they are just too far away to hear. They turn and look behind them. A vast cloud of red dust has climbed from nowhere into the sky above the desert and is glowing out the sun. The uncles spur the mules on, straining to catch their mother’s words.
… and then the ground roars such as to make sand run, earth fall and rocks flow from the mules’ hooves. And the sea … the brothers look towards the beach but the sea has quietly taken its leave. There are acres of wet sand stretching away, small boats laid suddenly among kelp, stones and fish alive with seagulls, the beach become a plain. You could walk on the ocean floor, look out to the horizon’s suddenly hurling wall.
at a full gallop
he places the child
high in the branches